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  • The wise words of Manmohan Singh

    Posted On May 23, 2021

    By Karan Thapar

    Just before he lost power Dr. Manmohan Singh said history would be kind to him. I’m sure it will but it’s too early for such history to be written. However, what the good doctor did not know is that in just seven years things would so drastically change we would reflect on his views, not just with fondness and nostalgia, but as the hallmark of a wisdom we’ve sadly forgotten.


    This struck me when my friend Seema Chishti WhatsApped a link to an interview Dr. Singh gave the BBC in 1999. His glory days as finance minister were over. He was now the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. No one could have imagined he might one day become prime minister. This was, therefore, an interregnum. It was also a time when he spoke out honestly, boldly and said what we needed to hear. Watching that interview was like rediscovering Manmohan Singh.


    Listen to the things he said. They won’t just appeal to your heart and mind. They answer a deeper need. They fill the void that surrounds us. First, on what our politics has been reduced to.


    “Politics has ceased to be a vehicle of purposeful social change. It has become a ticket for power. Power for the sake of power. Not power as an instrument of doing something good for society.” And he placed the blame squarely on our leaders. “Many politicians practice a very divisive politics for narrow sectarian reasons. It may be good politics for the moment but it can be a sort of disaster for our country.”


    So what do we need? “I do believe we need a new type of politics. A politics of frankness, a politics which tells people things straight as they are. We cannot fool our people … I do believe for the last 50 years politicians have been taking our people for a ride and I feel there is a great danger if the gap between what politicians say, promise and do grows the way it has been growing.”


    At the heart of this new politics he saw new leadership. “Leadership is the crux of the matter. Leaders have to be leaders. They have to be pace-setters, not people who follow what is momentarily in the popular mind, look at the opinion polls every day and adjust their thinking to that. Without a measure of strong conviction Indian leadership cannot deliver the goods.”


    And, he bluntly added, we need new thinking. “We need a change in the mind-set of all those who make critical ruling decisions of our national life, be it in politics, economics or social engineering. We need a big change in thinking at all levels but more so in those who are our leaders.”


    So what does this mean for politicians? “Politicians in our country do not adjust their thinking to the changing needs of our time. Our politicians feel whatever they learn in their childhood is adequate stock for them to pronounce on everything in the world. I think there’s contempt for knowledge. Unless our politicians value knowledge they cannot be purposeful instruments of social change.”


    But what if none of this happens? Indeed, what if things get worse? Well, Dr. Singh did not mince his words.


    “We should not assume there is a divine destiny which will ensure India continues to flourish and prosper, howsoever we mismanage our affairs. Great nations like the Soviet Union have perished and disappeared from the surface of the earth. If the Indian polity is not well managed we ought to realize a similar danger could overtake us too … I am not saying this is on the cards right away or it’s inevitable but if we continue to mismanage our economy, if we continue to divide our country on the basis of religion, caste and other sectarian issues, I think there is a great danger of that sort of thing happening. It’s a serious danger.”

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