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India's reforms man Manmohan Singh ends 33-year-long innings in Parliament

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NewsDrum Desk
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New Delhi, Apr 3 (PTI) Soft spoken, erudite and modest, Manmohan Singh has exited public life with his retirement from the Rajya Sabha - the former prime minister and architect of India's economic reforms slipping out of politics as quietly and without ceremony perhaps as he entered it 33 years ago.

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The man who famously spoke of studying under the dim light of kerosene lamps in his village without electricity and went on to become a storied academic is the copybook reluctant politician, almost stumbling into the rough and tumble of mainstream politics.

Singh, 91, hailed for putting India on the road to liberalisation in the early 1990s and also criticised for turning a blind eye to allegations of corruption during his 10-year tenure as PM, became a member of the Rajya Sabha for the first time in October 1991 and was re-elected for five more terms.

He was among the five Rajya Sabha members whose tenure ended on Wednesday.

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Singh was finance minister in the Narasimha Rao-led Congress government and continued in his post till 1996. He went on to become prime minister from 2004 to 2014. Sonia Gandhi declined requests from the Congress to become prime minister and named Singh instead, their partnership steering the country’s ship for a decade till the BJP won in 2014.

The six-term Rajya Sabha MP, however, could never become a member of the lower house. Singh contested only one Lok Sabha election from the South Delhi constituency in 1999 and was defeated by BJP's Vijay Kumar Malhotra.

His stint in the upper house was continuous, except for a two-month gap in 2019 when he was given a Rajya Sabha berth from Rajasthan.

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Singh was a Rajya Sabha member from Assam for five continuous terms, from October 1, 1991, to June 14, 2019, and thereafter, was again elected to the House from Rajasthan after the short gap. He has been a member from Rajasthan since August 20, 2019, and his term ended on April 3.

Singh was the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha from March 21, 1998, to May 21, 2004. He was also the leader of the house when he was the prime minister between 2004 and 2014.

He has often been accused by the BJP of running a government that was marred by corruption. The party called him "MaunMohan Singh" alleging that he did not speak out against corrupt leaders in his cabinet.

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"So, not only did Dr Manmohan Singh preside over the most corrupt government in independent India’s history, he also made Indians poorer. On the contrary, PM Vajpayee and Modi made Indians richer,” BJP’s Amit Malviya said on Wednesday.

During the fag end of his tenure as PM in 2014, Singh had said, "I honestly hope history would be kinder to me than the contemporary media, or for that matter, the opposition parties in Parliament." Of late, he had not been keeping good health and was often seen attending Rajya Sabha proceedings, especially during crucial voting, in a wheelchair.

During the farewell for retiring members in the Rajya Sabha recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded Singh's role as a member of the upper house and said his contributions would never be forgotten. Modi also noted that he came to vote while being in a wheelchair, and he did so to strengthen democracy.

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Vice President and Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar paid a personal visit to Singh's residence on Tuesday and he along with his wife greeted and felicitated the Congress veteran for his long innings in Parliament.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge also visited Singh and lauded his achievements in Parliament. He said in a letter that he would remain a "hero" to the middle class and the aspirational youth.

Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi has also hailed Singh's leadership and described him as the finest person with the brightest mind.

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Known not only for his vision that led India to become an economic powerhouse, Manmohan Singh is also recognised for his hard work and his humble, soft-spoken demeanour and many considered him a man of thought and integrity.

India's 14th prime minister presided over a decade of growth and development. Under his stewardship, India witnessed the highest growth rate averaging 7.7 per cent to become a nearly USD 2 trillion economy when he helped it catapult into an economic power and helped raise the living standard of millions, his party has said.

At the core of Singh's idea of India was the belief in not just high growth but ensuring inclusive growth, which was enshrined in the passage of several key legislations that ensured citizens the legal Right to Food, Right to Education, Right to Work and the Right to Information.

India's growth story under him began when the public servant and bureaucrat Singh turned into a politician and during his tenure as Finance Minister from 1991-1996 he scripted several bold economic reforms.

"No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come. I suggest to this august House that the emergence of India as a major economic power in the world happens to be one such idea," Singh said while ending his iconic budget speech in Parliament in July 1991, thus ushering in a new era and the emergence of India as an economic power.

Born on September 26, 1932, in Gah village in what is now Pakistan's Punjab province, Singh received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Economics from Panjab University in 1952 and 1954 respectively and completed his Economic Tripos from Cambridge University in 1957. He followed this with a D.Phil in Economics from Oxford University in 1962.

Singh went on to teach at Panjab University and the Delhi School of Economics before he joined the Government of India as an Economic Advisor in the Commerce Ministry in 1971. He was soon promoted to Chief Economic Advisor in the Finance Ministry in 1972.

After a short stint at the UNCTAD Secretariat, he was appointed Secretary General of the South Commission in Geneva from 1987-1990. In addition, Singh also held the positions of Secretary in the Finance Ministry, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Advisor to the Prime Minister and Chairman of the University Grants Commission. PTI SKC MIN RT RT

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