At a time when Manmohan Singh’s prime ministership has come under the scanner from the books of Sanjaya Baru and Natawar Singh, the former PM’s daughter Daman Singh has sprung to her father’s defence with her own book, “Strictly Personal, Manmohan and Gursharan”. She says her father is not a manipulative politician or a wheeler-dealer.
In an exclusive interview with TOI ahead of the release of her book, Daman reveals many aspects of Manmohan Singh’s life. Excerpts:
Q: Your book says your father didn’t believe in 2009 that Congress was going to win a second term?
A: Yes he said that in a casual moment. I didn’t probe it. But he said that no, no I don’t think we are coming back. He seemed to believe so, although it was said in a light hearted way.
Q: What was the relationship between your father and Narasimha Rao?
A: My father got a call from him and overnight he was the FM. He had a month to present the Budget. The economy was in a ghastly mess. Narasimha Rao made it all happen. Without him, my father could not have done anything. The ideas and radical approach came from my father, but it was Rao who made it politically feasible. My father always says it was a minority government that changed the course of India’s entire economic policy. My father felt if he had five more years he could have done more.
My father says it is difficult to change things in India unless the system breaks down completely because in a large democracy its only when things reach breaking point that people are willing to change the system. You can’t impose radical change from above. There was a lot of resistance to reforms from within the Congress party, he had to constantly explain to people what he was doing. The whole process was very difficult. Narasimha Rao had to steer the party through it.
Q: Was your father attacked from within because he tried to bring change?
A: C Subramaniam was someone greatly admired by my father. I discovered while writing my book that Subramaniam pushed the green revolution, but at the political level he was called an agent of America. Radical change is hard to bring about. Subramaniam lost his seat. Pioneers don’t get rewarded, pioneers are never remembered.
Q: Do you feel your father was unsuited for politics?
A: I don’t think he is a misfit in politics but manipulative politics does not come to him easily. He’s not a wheeler dealer. But he survived, didn’t he? Against all odds, against all the doomsayers he survived. He’s not a reluctant politician. He enjoys a challenge, he takes risks and does not play safe. In fact, my father is a risk taker.
In 1991, the question was not about joining politics but on whether to become FM or not. Politics came along with the job, it’s not as if he joined politics and then got the job. He took an enormous risk in 1991, he risked his entire life’s reputation on economic reforms. 1991 was like a war situation.
Q: Do you feel your father’s reputation has been damaged by revelations in the books of Sanjaya Baru and Natwar Singh? Did you feel you had to rescue your father’s image?
A: I haven’t read either of the two books. They’re not the sort of books I normally read. As far as I can tell Natwar’s book is about politics which is not the kind of book am normally interested in reading. I am interested in politics as a process. I wrote this book because I wanted to discover my parents as individuals. And I think they enjoyed talking to me about their life, and reflecting on different parts of their life.
My mother is the power beside him rather than behind him. She’s a people person and she has looked after him all her life. Work drives my father, he’s a workaholic. Whether FM or RBI governor, he enjoyed all his posts. He had no regrets.
Q: You also say that 2005-2009 had not given your family anything to laugh about?
A: Being PM was a massive responsibility, the amount of stress in a routine situation was enormous. He became PM under some unusual circumstances and he had to hit the ground running. It wasn’t something he had been prepared for. The task was more difficult for him than it would be for anybody else … the suddenness of it. Within days he had put together a team and get the policy framework moving. Then the coalition government had its own challenges. Being a civil servant gives you an insight on how policies are made, how they function, gives you access to information, knowledge, chance to observe how things work but when you are in charge that’s an entirely different cup of tea, the responsibility, initiative, so much of it comes from you as one person, aside from of course the entire government machinery.
Q: Did you or any member of the family ever want him to resign as PM when things got controversial, with all the scams and accusations?
A: We may have had our private thoughts but the lines between the political and the personal are very clear in the family. So we never really voiced anything. But we did worry a lot.
Q: It’s said the family wanted Manmohan Singh to resign when Rahul forced the cabinet to roll back the ordinance on criminal MPs?
A: My father was travelling when it happened, he was in the US. Of course, he was bothered. But that doesn’t mean he had to show it. It’s not as if he didn’t see or hear what was being said about him. A lot of things bothered him. He is as sensitive as you or I. He just doesn’t think it necessary to broadcast his feelings.
Q: Did all the accusations and criticisms get to him and hurt the family?
A: Even as FM my father experienced an enormous amount of criticism – personal, professional and political. His family has been brought in, his daughters have been brought in that they work in American think tanks, etc. He’s weathered it. He has the ability not let it affect him. But I feel very bad about it. I don’t read newspapers or TV, I just switch off. But it would get to my son in school and it was very hurtful.
Q: But wasn’t some of the criticism justified? Didn’t Manmohan Singh, the economist PM, in the end, fail to create the economy he would have wanted to?
A: Since 1981 my father was pushing growth oriented economics. He’s never given up. People say he’s worked in WB and IMF and my first reaction is get your facts right, he’s ever worked in those places. That bothered me. The fact that people said he was toeing the IMF line never bothered me. But he always believed in growth as a way to alleviate poverty and he always knew what he was doing and I am glad he did it. In a specific context he did not go along with the radical shift of Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai, but then the context changed. When he was FM there was need for a radical shift and he carried it out.
Q: He seemed to have a lot of respect for Indira Gandhi?
A: Indira Gandhi inspired his respect, based on his personal interaction with her. She was a power house and she spoke to him as an equal. He was a little known civil servant, yet she heard his ideas, took his advice.
Q: And his relationship with Sonia Gandhi?
A: That came later… You’ll have to ask him
Q: You write that he may have been hurt with Rajiv Gandhi’s remark that the Planning Commission was a bunch of jokers?
A: He wasn’t there when it was said. There were a lot of reports in the media that it was directed at my father. Maybe it was a casual remark.
Q: Did he feel helpless about corruption in the system?
A: I spoke to my father a lot about corruption when I was writing this book. He said after he left Delhi School of Economics and entered the ministry of foreign trade, the then minister had a reputation for being corrupt. But my father said without evidence I cannot put a label on him. I thought that was significant. Later on, HM Patel, who my father admired a lot, was falsely accused, humiliated and he resigned from the civil service. My father had a great deal of regret that such a fine civil servant was subjected to this. My father often said the political system does create corruption, elections need money.
Q: How do you think history will judge your father?
A: I don’t see him my father as a victim. He is a strong man with a conscience, he is hugely competent, and his 10 years as PM were just one part of his almost 40 years of public service. His legacy may not be recognized today. But his legacy is his body of work and is valuable.
Q: Why didn’t you write about his years as PM?
A: Those years deserve a book of their own and I am not the best person. I would love it if he wrote that book.
Joint statement from the Greater Toronto Area & Hamilton Mayors and Chairs
We are united in fighting COVID-19 – protecting our residents and saving lives.
While the measures we have taken to stop the spread of the virus have made a difference, this virus has still taken far too many lives in our communities and continues to threaten the lives of our residents.
At the same time, there is no denying the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Jobs have been lost, many businesses have closed or are at risk of closure, and many families are worried about their financial future.
We’ve been hit hard but that’s why it is so important that we keep moving forward and come back as strong as possible.
Today, the GTHA Mayors and Chairs met to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the region and how our municipalities can work together on the economic restart and recovery.
We know the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area alone is projected to lose 355,000 jobs and 28% of GDP along with $894 million in lost wages and $3.7 billion in revenue losses for businesses. This will be felt right across the GTHA but it also threatens the provincial and national economies.
A strong recovery right here in the GTHA is crucial to healing the economic damage done by COVID-19 and helping the families and businesses all governments have been working to protect throughout this emergency.
Ontario’s economy and Canada’s economy need the GTHA to come back stronger than ever when the restart begins.
We are determined to deliver this recovery and we agreed today that the GTHA municipalities will be working together to successfully and smoothly reopen our vital regional economy when the time comes.
We also discussed how we can in a consistent way achieve significant, necessary financial support from the other governments to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and protect our ability to contribute to the recovery. A strong recovery needs strong cities and regional governments.
We have agreed we will work together to share information about our respective financial positions and explore together measures we can advocate to the other governments which will help to ensure the financial stability of local and regional governments in the GTHA.
Our child care and recreation programs help parents get back to work.
Our emergency services keep people safe.
Our transit systems get people to work and home safely.
Our major infrastructure projects – often built in conjunction with the other governments – will help kick-start the recovery and create countless jobs.
Our economic development activities attract jobs and investment.
We built a strong and vibrant GTHA and we know that we will need to come back even stronger and as quickly as we can in order to keep Canada’s economy going.
With the cooperation and support of the provincial and federal governments, we are ready to rise to this challenge.”
Four People Charged in Mississauga Pedestrian Fail to Remain Fatality
Investigators from the Major Collision Bureau have charged four people in Mississauga’s most recent fatal fail to remain collision.
On Thursday, February 15, 2018, at approximately 8:40 p.m., the victim, a 61 year-old female from Mississauga, was struck by a south bound vehicle as she was crossing Mavis Road in the area of Knotty Pine Grove in the City of Mississauga. The vehicle did not remain and the victim, having suffered major injuries, was pronounced dead at the scene.
On Saturday, February 17, 2018 shortly before 7:00 p.m., Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM, a 60 year-old male from Brampton, and the driver believed to be responsible in this incident, surrendered to police at 22 Division. Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM has since been charged with Fail to Remain Cause Death.
Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, a 25 year old female from Brampton, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN a 28 year-old female from Brampton and Gowtham SATKUNARAJAH a 28 year-old male from Brampton have each been charged with Accessory After the Fact in relation to this incident.
Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM will answer to his charge on March 12, 2018. Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN andGowtham SATKUNARAJAH will answer to their charges on Monday March 26, 2018 at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton
Anyone who may have witnessed the collision, have dashboard video footage of the incident or who may have any information regarding this incident is asked to contact investigators with the Major Collision Bureau at (905) 453-2121, ext. 3710. Information may also be left anonymously by calling Peel Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or by visiting www.peelcrimestoppers.ca or by sending a text message to CRIMES (274637) with the word ‘PEEL’ and then your tip.
Justin Trudeau in India: Hug missing! Mounting pressure?
The much publicized and anticipated visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India was marred with questions. The questions were centered on the kind of welcome he would be given in the Sikh dominated state of Punjab. Also the famous hug by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was being anticipated. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally made his much-touted visit to India. He landed on the Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi only to be received by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat not even a Cabinet Minister in Narendra Modi’s government.
He is presently the second rank Minister of State for Agriculture. That comes in complete contrast to the warmth that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his NDA government has generally displayed towards the visiting dignitaries. Only a couple of weeks ago, when the heads of the 10 ASEAN states arrived in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t receive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the airport, as he has previously done with many leaders including Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, Shinzo Abe, and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t join him is all surprising even when Prime Minister Trudeau visited Gujarat. This is unusual because the Indian Prime Minister has set a trend that he always accompanies head of the state when they visit his home state.
Even Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath did not show up, let alone accompany Prime Minister Trudeau to the Taj. However, during Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 15 January visit to the Taj Mahal at Agra, Yogi Adityanath had received Netanyahu and his wife and shown them around as well as hosted a lunch for them. For first three days, none from the executive or the elected representative held any meeting with the delegation.
Media in India is trying to spread a message that the cold treatment given by Prime Minister could be because two of the four Sikh members of Trudeau’s cabinet – Harjit Sajjan and Amarjeet Sohi – support the Khalistan movement. However, had that been the case his visit to Punjab would have got a similar response. However, the Punjab Government led by Captain Amarinder Singh rolled out a red carpet during his stay at Amritsar and even the two leaders held some fruitful discussions.
Thus putting an end to those criticisms that that Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit was devoid of any warmth. Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh, for instance who met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau setting aside his earlier prejudice that he exhibited during the visit of Defence Minister Harjeet Singh Sajjan.
In recent months, Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) in Canada, the United States and Australia have banned Indian officials from visiting gurudwaras and the moment started with Gurudwaras here in Toronto. Could that be the reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not accord one of the warmest welcomes that he is known to provide? Or the use by Canada’s parliament of the term genocide to describe mass killings of Sikhs in India in 1984 has left the Indian Prime Minister disturbed? However, more than Prime Minister Modi, this could have left the Congress party in troubled waters, but that was also not the case as Amarinder Singh hails from the same party.
The lukewarm welcome to Prime Minister Trudeau can have its political ramifications too. Will it hamper the significant 2015 deal, in which Canada agreed to supply 3,000 metric tons of Uranium to power India’s atomic reactors?
Somewhere Prime Minister Modi has not taken the issue of non allowing entry of Indian officials to Gurudwaras and the statement on Genocide too lightly. Prime Minister Modi however has failed to understand that Canada cannot curtail the right of freedom of speech and expression of its citizen.
Two nations perhaps failed to resolve the matter before Prime Minister boarded the flight from Canada and not welcoming Prime Minister Trudeau could be a tactical decision to put pressure on him. With Prime Minister Modi preferring to meet him at the far end of the tour has conveyed a lot about the myopic approach of Prime Minister Modi.