At launch of his book Changing India, Singh says he wasn’t the PM who was ‘afraid of talking to the press’, calls RBI-govt relationship like one between husband & wife.
New Delhi: Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh took on his critics at the launch of his book Tuesday, saying he was never “a silent Prime Minister”. He also took a subtle dig at his successor Narendra Modi, saying he was never afraid to talk to the press.
Singh was speaking at the launch of his book Changing India, which not only throws light on his tenure as Prime Minister, but also on his life as an economist and a policy-maker.
“People say I was a silent Prime Minister. I think these volumes speak for themselves. I wasn’t the PM who was afraid of talking to the press. I met the press regularly, and on every foreign trip that I undertook, I had a press conference on my return, in the plane or after landing,” Singh said.
He even recounted an incident from 2005, when an invite from the National Press Club in Washington D.C. made PMO officials nervous.
“I remember vividly, in 2005, when I went to Washington, the National Press Club invited me. Our officials were nervous that I will not be able to manage the National Press Club. But that was a very successful press conference… That will give you an idea of what all I was able to achieve in dealing with the ladies and gentlemen of the press,” Singh said.
Terming life as a great “adventure and enterprise”, he said he had no regrets. “The country has been immensely kind to me and I will never be able to repay its debt,” he said.
On economic policy
Singh said that governments have changed, but the thrust of India’s economic policy has remained the same in the last 25 years.
“India is one of the few countries to grow at 6.7-7 per cent on average in the last 25 years. Despite all the hiccups and hurdles, I have no doubt that India will get its action right. The emergence of India as global power is one such idea whose time has come,” he said.
Asked about farm loans and the impact of waivers on the economy, Singh said: “We have to honour the commitment that was part of the election manifesto. I haven’t studied the impact, but since a commitment has been made, we have to honour it.”
Speaking about the autonomy of the RBI and the recent resignation of governor Urjit Patel, Singh said: “One has to respect the autonomy and independence of the Reserve Bank of India. At the same time, I would say the relationship between government and RBI is like a husband and wife.
“There will be hiccups, there will be difference of opinion, but ultimately, these must be harmonised in a manner that these two great institutions can work in harmony. Whosoever is governor of RBI, I wish him well.”
Praise for Indira Gandhi
Singh also praised late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for encouraging free speech. He recounted an incident where she was all set to address the nation, and had written in her speech that the Janata Party government had made a mess of foreign exchange.
When Singh, a prominent economist and then-governor of the Reserve Bank of India told her this was not the case, she removed that part from her speech. “Such was the greatness of the PM, she did not discourage free thinking,” he said.
The former Prime Minister, who was born in 1932 in what is now Pakistan, also recalled how the Partition affected his studies.
Singh did his Class VI-X in Peshawar, where his father was posted at the time. Speaking at the launch, he recalled that by the time he completed his Class X examination at Peshawar in 1947, India had already been partitioned and he had to make the journey across the border. Peshawar, he said, never declared the results of his Class X exam. “I had to repeat the matriculation exam in 1948,” he added. However, he said, he had no regrets.
This is an updated version of the report.