Reinvention of an economist-politician
With his resolute advocacy of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 75, may have finally arrived as a politician.
The economist-politician, hailed as the architect of India’s economic reforms that began in 1991, may well be about to add another feather in his cap: the man who sealed the nuclear deal with the US.
In the hot seat: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.(Photo by: PTI)
“The Prime Minister has certainly come off as a forceful figure who has pushed hard when few politicians would have found the courage to do so,” said Sudha Pai, chairperson of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Political Studies.
Singh’s close associates in the party and the academia, however, refused to comment on whether his courage was rooted in his comfort as a leader who did not have to worry about facing voters in a few months, especially at a time of sharp price rise.
Manish Tewari, a Congress party spokesperson, however, said it would be naive to assume that Singh had suddenly turned a politician.
“The post of the prime minister is a political post. Whether you are directly elected or not, it is an issue of conviction for matters of national interest,” he said.
Born in Gah, now in the Punjab province in Pakistan, Singh studied at Panjab University in India, Cambridge University (where he won the prestigious Adam Smith prize in 1956) and Oxford University before returning to Panjab University as a lecturer and then moving to a position with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development for three years till 1969.
He has held several key positions, including chief economic adviser, finance secretary, governor of RBI, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and chairman of University Grants Commission in the 1980s and 1990s. P.V. Narasimha Rao appointed him the Union finance minister in 1991 at a time India faced a crisis in repaying international debt that propelled Singh to begin economic reforms.
The master deal maker of Indian politics
Ever since he attended a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister on 23 May to mark the United Progressive Alliance’s four years in office, Amar Singh, 52, had spawned speculation of a possible deal with the Union government. On 4 July, his party finally pledged support for the nuke deal, pro-mising to fill the space about to be vacated by the Left.
Amar Singh, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s key adviser, has connections across the political spectrum, corporate houses and even filmdom. He is acknowledged as a master deal maker, which explains why he has become indispensable to the Yadav-dominated party.
Opportunity calls: Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh (Photo by: PTI)
Born in Aligarh, Singh, who loves eating chat and sweets, studied at St Xavier’s College and University College of Law in Kolkata, where he began his political career with the Congress party. He joined the SP in the mid-1990s. By then, he had become a businessman as well, running a factory producing ethyl acetate, used in flavourings and perfumes and as a solvent for plastics.
His gift for turning acquaintances into lasting connections stood Singh in good stead throughout his career. He cultivated his connections that included Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia, actor Amitabh Bachchan, and business barons Subrata Roy and Anil Ambani like perhaps no other contemporary politician.
“Amar Singh has come back with a bang,” gushed Rajya Sabha colleague Shahid Siddiqui, just days before switching sides to join the BSP.
Religious teenager to hard-line Marxist
For almost a year, Prakash Karat, 60, educated at Madras Christian College, Edinburgh University and the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has held his own against the Prime Minister over the nuclear deal.
Nobody, even in the Congress party, expected him to be swayed by the government’s arguments and persuasions, leave alone pressures or deals of the kind that are suspected to be at play behind the Samajwadi Party’s support to the nuclear deal.
Red resolve: CPM general secretary Prakash Karat (Photo by: PTI)
That is Karat’s strength and, equally, his weakness, as he often faces criticism from elected leaders in his own party for being an idealist ideologue who neither appreciates nor panders to electoral compulsions. “Karat typifies Marxists who are excellent at taking positions but extremely poor at gauging the popular mood,” said Sudha Pai.
Interestingly, Karat, who is widely perceived as a hardliners’ hardliner, was a religious teenager who veered towards Marxism only while studying political science at the Madras Christian College. His is a story of a temple-going teenager who shifted gears to become a Leftist student leader and then went on to become the general secretary of the country’s largest Communist party.
Karat was born to Keralite parents on 7 February 1948, in Rangoon, Burma (now Myanmar), where his father worked for British Railways.
He became central committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1985 and was elected to the party’s politburo in 1992. He successfully opposed a decision to name Jyoti Basu as prime minister in 1996. And in 2005, he replaced Harkishen Singh Surjeet as general secretary.
“He is sincere and has good persuasive skills. He is clear about what he speaks and that gives him the image of a hardliner,” said CPM leader Suneet Chopra, who has known Karat since his JNU days.