The low-profile reformer who may now lead India

He has been an academic and a civil servant. He is a fervent admirer of Margaret Thatcher. And now Dr Manmohan Singh is the man most likely to be charged with uniting India.

Dr Singh is one of Sonia Gandhi's closest and most trusted supporters. The 71-year-old MP accompanied her on Tuesday morning when she met President A P J Abdul Kalam and discussed forming a government. Since the election, he has been actively involved in writing up a shared economic programme with the allies of the Congress party.

Dr Singh was finance minister in the Congress government of the early 1990s and was responsible for introducing the reforms that liberalised India's economy, making it more attractive to entrepreneurs and foreign investors. When he took over as finance minister in 1991 India was almost bankrupt. His reforms helped pave the way for the country to reach the point where its economy is growing faster than any other in Asia, other than China.

In his maiden speech as finance minister, Dr Singh quoted Victor Hugo, saying: "No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come."

A Sikh from Punjab, Dr Singh is a powerful embodiment of the Congress Party's stated aim to be a force for promoting a secular India. The deposed BJP styled itself as primarily the party of the Hindu majority.

He also appears to have that rare political quality - the ability to unite. Admired by both the poor and the business elite, he is seen as someone who understands that the country must change, but that it must do so in a way that benefits the many, rather than just the few.

He prefers to keep a low profile and is seen as a genial politician who keeps himself above petty power games. He once told an interviewer that he was "very surprised" when he was invited to become the finance minister.

"I didn't believe it. When I asked some friends of mine [whether or not I should take it] they said, "You are going to become the scapegoat. You're going to fail and maybe within six months you will be out'."

But he did not listen. "Here was an opportunity to play a political role, and there was an odd chance that we would make a success of it, in which case I would have a footnote in India's history." Now Dr Singh stands on the brink of having a chapter to himself.

The other name being mentioned in connection with the post is Pranab Mukherjee. Another former finance minister, the 67-year-old had never won a parliamentary election before last week's poll but was first drafted into the federal cabinet in 1980. An author, journalist and teacher, he came close to being prime minister after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in 1991 but lost the subsequent Congress party leadership contest to P.V. Narasimha Rao.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones