SINGH, MANMOHAN (1932–), finance minister (1991–1996), prime minister of India (2004–). Dr. Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, became India's thirteenth prime minister, and its first non-Hindu premier, in May 2004. Additionally, he holds the portfolios of minister of planning and minister of nuclear energy and space. At the time of his appointment, he was not an elected prime minister, having been nominated by the Congress Party in 1991 to India's upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha. Credit for the victory of the Congress Party–led coalition in the 2004 general elections goes to Congress Party president, Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born wife of the assassinated former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Widespread opposition among extreme Hindu nationalists against the prospect of a foreign-born Italian-Indian Roman Catholic becoming prime minister prompted Sonia Gandhi to deny herself the position of prime minister. Instead, she chose Manmohan Singh to take her place.
Since the Congress Party did not receive enough votes in the 2004 general election to form a majority government, it heads a coalition government, supported by a group of parties called the "Left Front" that includes members of India's Communist parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party of the state of Tamil Nadu, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, and other regional parties. Prime Minister Singh's first cabinet of twenty-eight members included eighteen Congress Party ministers. Of the total of sixty-seven Cabinet ministers and ministers of state, the Singh ministry included forty-four Congress Party members.
Manmohan Singh was born on 26 September 1932 in Gah, a village in western Punjab (now in Pakistan). After graduating from Punjab University, Singh went to England to continue his education. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Cambridge University, and then moved to Oxford University, where he obtained a doctoral degree in economics. He was subsequently a professor at Punjab University and the prestigious Delhi School of Economics. Singh is the recipient of several honorary doctorates and other awards and honors at home and abroad. Apart from publishing several articles in the field of economics in prominent journals, he is the author of India's Export Trends and Prospects for Self-Sustained Growth (1964), an early critique of India's planned economy and inward-looking trade policy.
Singh began his career in the administrative services of the government of India in 1971. He was economic adviser in the Ministry of Commerce, then chief economic adviser in the Ministry of Finance. He has occupied other positions in the Indian government bureaucracy as secretary in the Ministry of Finance, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and adviser to the prime minister. He was the leader of the Congress Party opposition in the Rajya Sabha between 1998 and 2004. He also worked in Geneva for some years at the United Nations Commission on Trade Development Secretariat and was secretary general of the South Commission in Geneva between 1987 and 1990.
Between 1991 and 1996, Singh was India's finance minister in the Congress Party government of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao, and during his tenure he spearheaded the economic reform movement in India. He is credited with the economic transformation of India from socialism to free market capitalism, policies that were continued subsequently by the coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party. His economic initiatives have been continued under his new Congress-led coalition government of 2004. In the early phase of his prime ministership, some questioned whether Dr. Singh would have sufficient political clout to address India's myriad problems, especially given his modest demeanor. But the economic policies underlying the new government bore his stamp of authority and augured well for this future as prime minister.
Raju G. C. Thomas
Venkateswaran, R. J. Reforming the Indian Economy: The Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh Era. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing, 1996.