Aakar Patel has a piece in the latest Lounge where he compares LK Advani with Manmohan Singh. His analysis of Advani is spot on, and I’m with him on his opposition to the man. But he looks at Singh through rose-tinted glasses:
At 30, he understood the problem with Nehru’s economic model. At 59, he got the chance to set it right, and he did.
This is flat-out wrong. In the little I’ve read of his writings and speeches before 1991, Singh doesn’t say a word against against Nehru’s economic policies, and in fact seems to support the Fabian Socialist framework he built. I have the transcript of a seminar on price controls that was held in the early 80s, and Singh, in his speech, speaks just like a Nehruvian apparatchik. His reputation as a reformer came after 1991.
And the reforms of 1991 came about not because of the inner conviction of Singh or Narasimha Rao, but because there was simply no choice. We faced a severe balance-of-payments crisis, and the IMF loan we needed to save the country was conditional on reforms being carried out. And so they were, and worked wonderfully well. However, once that crisis passed, the pace of reforms slowed.
In his years as PM, Singh has carried out very few reforms. This is not entirely his fault: the government depended on the support of the Left for much of this time, and they blocked many of the reforms that we need. But he also supported schemes that Nehru and Indira would have been proud of, such as the NREGA—though one could argue that this was Sonia Gandhi’s baby, and he didn’t have an option. Regardless, nothing he has done in these last five years justifies his reputation as a reformer.
That said, I obviously support Singh over Advani as PM: the divisive politics of the BJP is a deal-breaker for me, though this is a matter of degree, as the nature of Indian politics dictates than any party that wishes to do well must be divisive. Such it is.
Also read: Profit’s No Longer a Dirty Word.