Citizens' Issues
History Will Not Be Kind to Dr Manmohan Singh
He had two rare opportunities that any person could wish for, to change India; but history will remember that he presided over the most corrupt government in independent India
At his last press conference in January 2014, Dr Manmohan Singh had, almost wistfully, expressed the view that “history will judge me more kindly.” That hope seems completely dashed by two events. 
The first two rounds of e-auctions for the coal blocks, cancelled by a Supreme Court order, have fetched cumulative bids of over Rs2 lakh crore for 32 producing blocks. The bids vindicate and surpass the comptroller and auditor general’s (CAG’s) three-year-old report that estimated a ‘notional’ loss of Rs1.86 lakh crore to the exchequer due to arbitrary policies and the improper allocation of coal blocks. 
Vinod Rai, who was the then CAG, was severely maligned by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, with former minister Kapil Sibal claiming that there was ‘zero’ loss. Today, the UPA government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh stands exposed and it is now an established fact that he stood by and allowed the plunder of national resources, even if he did not touch a penny of the loot. The loss was not merely ‘notional’. Most of the coal mine allottees quickly availed bank loans. Consequently, the banking system has a massive exposure of Rs5 lakh crore to entities connected with the coal sector and a chunk of them is already classified as bad loans or ‘non performing assets’. 
Dr Singh often attributed his inaction to the compulsions of coalition politics, which were clearly more important than  his oath of office as prime minister of India. It is hard to imagine that history will remember this kindly. 
A second blow to Dr Singh has been the embarrassment of being summoned by the special court under the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) this March. The case pertains to charges of corruption, breach of trust and criminal conspiracy in the award of a specific coal block to Hindalco, an Aditya Birla group company. Some commentators argue that this is the least controversial of the coal block allotments and that it will be difficult to make the charges stick. But, remember, court judgements are always about specific violations and not about the relative merits of a case in a milieu of exceptional corruption and arbitrariness. 
The Hindalco coal block allocation will be argued, decided and appealed, before a final conclusion is reached; but, even if the court verdict does not indict Dr Singh, history will have made up its mind long before then. 
As far as Dr Singh is concerned, the battle of public perception is already lost. This is evident in the stinging condemnation and lack of sympathy for the mild-mannered former prime minister on social media which is dominated by young Indians. In fact, simple demographics tell us why history will be particularly unkind to Dr Singh. Over 65% of Indians today are below the age of 35 which means that they were 10-year old or less when Dr Singh’s appointment as India’s finance minister in 1991 came like a breath of fresh air. They know Dr Singh only for his forgettable 10 years as prime minister and the repeated humiliation he has suffered from his ministers, bureaucrats and the Congress party. 
It is true that history will not be dictated by the views of 35-year olds; but let’s look at how history is already re-assessing the bouquets and brickbats for India’s economic liberalisation. 
To those of us who were already in the workforce in 1992, Dr Singh’s brilliant academic credentials and professional achievements held the promise of good governance, reform and development. India, then, was so much in awe of this mild-mannered, incorruptible man, who seemed set to deliver us from decades of humiliating shortages, low wages, high taxes, scarcity of basics like telephones, scooters and a cooking gas connection. 
India revelled in its new freedom. To Dr Singh went the entire credit for reforming capital markets, permitting foreign portfolio investment and unshackling business from the licence-permit-raj and restrictions on capacity expansion and foreign investment. 
Many scandals plagued the Narasimha Rao government too; but none of them ever stuck to Dr Manmohan Singh. We continue to face the consequences of some of those disastrous policies even today. Consider this. India was the first country where public outrage at the gold-plated Enron power project at Dabhol led to its cancellation and unfortunate resurrection. An atrocious power policy and sanctioning of expensive independent power projects (many were cancelled), without fixing distribution issues, has ensured that most of India still reels from acute power shortages. The finance ministry and Dr Singh’s chosen bureaucrats and aides were in charge of clearances. There was a telecom licensing scandal too even in those days. 
The Harshad Mehta scam of 1992 exposed the lawlessness in the capital market which was then controlled by a cabal of brokers. They had their tentacles in public sector companies which handed over crores of rupees for ‘portfolio management’ based on political contacts and kickbacks. 
A consequence of the scam was that the capital market was made ready for foreign investors with automated, single-screen, paperless trading but it shut out retail investors. Large-scale loot of gullible investors was permitted in, what is now called, the ‘vanishing companies scam’ between 1992 and 1995. Under Dr Singh’s liberalisation programme, the office of the controller of capital issues (CCI) was scrapped allowing fly-by-night companies to rip off investors with fake claims and projects without any checks. That the retail investor is nearly extinct is hurting the government’s disinvestment programme even today.
A series of independent regulators was set up under Dr Singh’s dispensation without any accountability towards investors, consumers or depositors who are their biggest stakeholders. This remains a problem too. 
None of this ever stuck to Dr Singh. Instead, the then prime minister, PV Narasimha Rao, took the blame for every scandal of that period, since he provided the political leadership. Indians of a certain vintage—mainly 50 years and above—continue to view Dr Singh with rose-tinted glasses and are saddened at his plight. 
Ironically, Dr Singh’s disastrous two-term stint as prime minister has led to a reassessment of PV Naramsimha Rao’s tenure, although he was reviled, humiliated and discredited by the Congress party itself. In fact, history is a lot kinder to Dr Narasimha Rao and has given him due credit as the reformer who ensured India avoided a sovereign default and gave a hard, if short-lived, push to economic liberalisation. 
Dr Manmohan Singh, on the other hand, had a God-given second opportunity to serve the nation as its prime minister for 10 long years. He sacrificed it all at the alter of coalition politics and presided over one of the most corrupt and draconian regimes that India has seen. 
The loot during his two terms extended from land grab (SEZs) to telecom spectrum, coal allocation, pricing of natural gas, the commonwealth games and the destruction of public sector undertakings in aviation and banking. Then there was the 2G scam, where it is clear that Dr Singh was fully informed about the dubious spectrum allocation at the cost of the national exchequer. He ignored written warnings by Union ministers like Kamal Nath.  In fact, the 2G-spectrum scandal unfolded in full public glare and was widely reported by the media, but Dr Singh did nothing.
Shady chit funds and ponzi schemes thrived due to political patronage gobbling the hard-earned savings of the gullible; but the government watched in silence. Dr Singh did little even when scams like e-stamping were brought to his personal attention nor did he protect whistleblowers from the vendetta of those involved.
Why would history be kinder to Dr Singh? Those of us, who still feel sorry for this weak but personally honest man, hope that his humiliation stops at a fair assessment of his tenure and he does not have to face the ignominy of a judicial indictment. 


(Sucheta Dalal is the managing editor of Moneylife. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006 for her outstanding contribution to journalism. She can be reached at [email protected])



Ramanath nakhate

2 years ago

All the good things Singh did during his tenure as the Governor of RBI, as the FM in the P.V.Narasimhsrao's ministry and as the PM in the UPA -I and all his personal virtues have been overshadowed by his deeds of commission and omission during UPA -II. What India could not achieve in the first fifty years of independence has been achieved during the fifteen years of Singh at the helm as FM and PM, technological advancements not withstanding during the same period. His contribution towards globalisation, economic reforms and financial liberalisation etc. in India cannot be undermined. He lifted the economy out of balance of payment crisis. He was able to ensure that our country was not affected by subprime crisis of the USA with the able assistance of his FM, P.Chidambaram and then Governor of RBI, Y.B. Reddy. India saw 8.5% robust GDP during his tenure as the PM. His extended second term to head UPA -II was degenerated by 2g Spectrum, CWG, Coal block allotments .
The law of the land will take its course. Sucheta Dalal could have been a bit kind to
Dr.Singh 's standing.

Mahesh S Bhatt

2 years ago

Man who got economic liberalization of 1991 which lifted 30 mill people from poverty.

Manmohan becomes Principal Architect of Indian recession in 2014 by creating great disparities across Infra/telecom/Airlines/Real Estate industries by coming Alibaba of 40 theives.Jobless growth in 10 years of UPA.

Architect of Congress's lowest 44 seats perfomance in able guidance of Sonia & Co.

Bhagwat Gita says being silent spectator to the crime is also part of Crime.

Our legal eagles detroyed million worth of Value of TELECOM/Infra/Mines/Real Estate/Airline Industry by one & only one way of CORRUPTION.

All are scot free legal blessings/manipulations.
Does Parliamentary immunity should be granted when Political parties create personal wealth.

Can state not confiscate the wealth??

I have heard corrupt politico's shake hands with wealth exchange.

Recent example Modi meeting Pawar why simple 21000 crore irrigation scam adjustments.

Carry on Indian Politicians


Ananth Swaminath

2 years ago

Very nicely written article.. brings out some serious truths.. much can and will be said on both sides to protect and maintain each others stance - but nothing can wipe away the sheer truth that India did face 2 full decades of barbaric corruption at the hands of the Congress Govt...


2 years ago

He should be jailed to keep his position and toenjoy the luxury of PM he allowed his cabinet collegues and sonia family to indulge in corrpution knowingly pu people life to misery

Carlos De Souza

2 years ago

Do you think the two Gujarathis running the show today are any less corrupt than MMS and the UPA ?? Time will show who is right.

SAYED Thahir

2 years ago


Bhalchandrarao C. Patwardhan

2 years ago

MMS is already"history"! But notice how the word "coalition", on the basis of which he expressed his helplessness, also contains the word "COAL"!


2 years ago

He is a scamp. A typical Nehru-Gandhi acolyte and Khangresswalla masquerading under a blue turban, behind a beard and a whining wheedling voice heard, yet half heard, between two scams.


2 years ago

Dear Ramesh
By any angal Rahul look's like sehjada ?
By any angal Modi look's like SEWAK ?


2 years ago

'Cash for vote' engineered by him to win trust vote following the left pull-out from UPA-1 on the fallout of Nuclear deal is ample proof of his venality. History will only remember him as the shameless and servile PM who had no guts to stand up to the corrupt machinations of Sonia's coterie and the tantrums of the 'Shahzada' Rahul Gandhi.


2 years ago

After 10 years people will say old government was better than this one as almost in 10 months of Chaiwala's rule common public who voted for this strong none transperant government like under Chinese wall serving to nation sorry serving to ADANI TATA AND SO ON.......

D Venkatesh

2 years ago

Dr. Singh as India's PM, was an embarrassment and an utter shame to all right minded Indians. He couldn't speak or present himself in any public forum and chose to remain mum on all critical issues. What kind of a PM goes through the motions in a self-abasing manner for ten whole years? Even Devegowda spoke several sentences when he managed to stay awake. Mum mohan Singh is now at the bottom of the country's PM list and pips Devegowda to that dubious distinction. Dr. Singh had an illustrious career and should have retired with dignity. I hope history roasts him. I hope he makes it to every text book in schools, in all languages, to teach our young students what not to be.

jaideep shirali

2 years ago

An accomplice to a crime can hardly be called innocent, this applies to MMS as well. For a PM to claim that he could do nothing about corruption due to compulsions of coalition politics, was an insult to the citizen. To add, the murky ISRO Antrix deal took place right under his direct control. MMS deserves what he got, the buck has to stop at the PM.


2 years ago

Monetary gain is not the only way of gauging a person's honesty/ dishonesty. Apart from the losses (notional and real) he has caused to the nation, MMS is also guilty of the following:
- he misrepresented that he was a resident of Assam for Rajya Sabha membership.
-he did not resign from PMship despite his admittedly sub-par performance due to "coalition compulsion".

He can be compared only to the profligate medieval potentates who misruled India.



In Reply to smohan 2 years ago

Mohd. Bin Tughlak?

K. M. Rao

In Reply to N.Paramasivam 2 years ago

Please don't insult Tuglaque. He had guts to do what he felt was right. Knowingly the enormous damage inflicted on the country, MMS allowed it to happen.


2 years ago

Monetary gain is not the only way of gauging a person's honesty/ dishonesty. Apart from the losses (notional and real) he has caused to the nation, MMS is also guilty of the following:
- he misrepresented that he was a resident of Assam for Rajya Sabha membership.
-he did not resign from PMship despite his admittedly sub-par performance due to "coalition compulsion".

He can be compared only to the profligate medieval potentates who misruled India.

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Digital Age

This is with regard to “NGO Clean-Up Needed” by Sucheta Dalal. In USA, if an NGO’s income is less than $25,000 a year, all it has to do is file a brief statement online, called an e-postcard. The NGO files a short form every year to indicate it is still active, with the names and addresses of the directors for a fee of $5 with it to take care of the regulatory requirements. The charity commissioner’s office in our country must be brought into the digital age as soon as possible. If they don’t have (wo)man power, I am sure that they will get many volunteers to help them digitise their records.

Meenal Mamdani, online comment


Lost all relevance!

This is with regard to “SEBI De-recognises Regional Stock Exchanges” by SD Israni. This should have happened a long time back; these exchanges were unnecessarily kept alive. Once demat and screen-based online trading became a reality, these exchanges lost all relevance. Investors should have moved away from these exchanges because, I suspect, most companies listed on these must not have been very good, in any case. Companies can shift to the BSE and SEBI should help them in this.


No point saying investors are at the receiving end.

Anil Agashe, online comment


Fix this soon!

This is with regard to “Corporate Espionage and Worse: All Too Common” by Sucheta Dalal. The biggest scams in Delhi relate to counterfeit currency and counterfeit documents, oil and defence deals and, now, judgements from the justice dispensing system. This is, in addition to the loot, scoot and stack of assets abroad.


The present espionage scandal appears to have bound all three together. Hopefully, the new administration will be able to fix this soon.

Veeresh Malik, by email


Contradictory Signals?

This is with regard to “Fortnightly Market View: Reflation Is Here” by Debashis Basu. Last fortnight, the Which Way column indicated that a short-term top was possible. Now, the same column is mentioning a bullish move will continue. The market PE (price-to-earnings ratio) is 24 today (2 March 2014) which is grossly overvalued. Do Moneylife and the market expect earnings to grow more than 20% next year? How to go about this market? Are we to buy, based on more growth, or wait for the earnings to improve? Moneylife is giving contradictory signals and readers are confused. Kindly, provide the needed clarification.

V Ganesan, online comment


Analysis after one year of preferential allotment?

This is with regard to “Unquoted” section in Moneylife magazine. The scrips discussed on stock manipulation are mostly penny stocks. Recently, there have been news reports that the manipulation of penny stocks, after preferential allotment, is to earn LTCG (long-term capital gains) and launder money. The analysis of these stocks, covering aspects like whether the company had done preferential allotment during the past 1-1.5 years (since statutory lock-in of one year is applicable for preferentially allotted shares and to earn LTCG) and the change in the number of locked-in shares of those holding 1% or more of the shareholding, is available on the BSE website immediately after preferential allotment. A similar analysis, which is done one year after preferential allotment, may provide a more insight into the manipulation of penny stocks.

RM Krishna, feedback alert


Developments in Insurance Broking

I would like Moneylife to decipher the recently floated regulations on insurance marketing firms (IMFs). The validity of such a model of distribution seems to be in question, as insurance brokers are already in operating. Also, the regulations allow for 12th standard passed persons to sell insurance products of two life insurers, two general insurers and two health insurers.


While brokers are not allowed to receive any compensation beyond the IRDAI-stipulated product commissions, IMFs are allowed to claim reimbursement from insurers. This is not fair to brokers and corporate agents who incur customer acquisition costs similar to those of IMFs. I would like Moneylife to study this distribution model.

Subba Rao, feedback alert


Criticism of NPS is not correct!

This is with regard to “Just 3 Products to Save Taxes & Earn High Tax-free Returns” by Jason Monteiro and Yogesh Sapkale. I am not able to understand why there is criticism of NPS (National Pension System). This is one of the schemes especially created for retirement {other than PPF (public provident fund) and EPF (employees’ provident fund)}. This Scheme is now backed by an Act of Parliament. There is one regulator and the regulations are being framed which will be applicable soon. It gives the option for a subscriber to choose the asset allocation as per his/her risk-taking abilities. Returns are market-linked. Slowly, tax benefits are being provided. Maybe, in future, it will come under EEE (exempt-exempt-exempt) category, as it is a long-term retirement savings product. Returns are less volatile than in equity schemes, whose future performance cannot be predicted.


It appears that Moneylife is prejudiced against NPS. It is a long-term product and comparing it with equity mutual fund products, which are short-term (there are very few long-term investors), is incorrect. In equity mutual funds, investors come and go, as and when they make money or incur losses.


In my view, Moneylife must revisit its stand on NPS now.

Suresh Bisht, by email


Jason Monteiro replies:

Our analysis is based on the present situation. As and when the regulations are put in place, we will change our views. We mention that one should invest in Section 80C investments, such as ELSSs, for the long term, i.e., 10 years or more. The equity exposure under NPS is limited to just 50%.


Poor Financial Literacy?

This is with regard to “The Fad of Financial Literacy” by Sucheta Dalal. NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) paints on buses and trains and organises a few video films and audio films in the name of financial literacy. Still, many persons do not know the difference between loans and investments! Several others do not distinguish between money and wealth. MCA’s (ministry of corporate affairs) ritualistic investor education doles are meant to reach the Budget targets and do not fulfil the needs of financial literacy and financial education.

B Yerram Raju, online comment


Simple basic stuff!

This is with regard to “Common Sense Investing” by R Balakrishnan. I have always enjoyed reading the author’s columns, online as well as in Moneylife magazine. I love one of the definitions of value investing that calls it ‘boring’. That’s where people get it wrong. Nowadays, everyone wants exciting news/stocks/career. But the fun actually lies in ‘simplicity’ and ‘simple basic stuff’.

Ritesh Gulrajani


Generate more power!

This is with regard to “GMDC: Growth Phase”. GMDC must think of putting up the second plant to produce the much-needed power in the country and also increase briquettes. Can GMDC associate with Neyveli Lignite and use their joint strengths to generate more power?

Dr Anantha K Ramdas


Sharing and caring

This is with regard to “When doctors assume that they know what a patient wants” by Prof BM Hegde. Thank you, Dr Hegde, for creating awareness about the grey areas in healthcare. The gradual disappearance of the concept of ‘family doctor’ in India and the transfer of healthcare responsibilities to machines and specialists are causing avoidable agony to those who approach hospitals for medical attention. The medical profession and pharma industry are becoming parasites on the ill-health of patients. Some self-regulation and some amount of sharing and caring from the government can reduce the agony.

MG Warrier


Future returns?

This is with regard to “Stock market: Still a Good Time to Jump in?” by Debashis Basu and Jason Monteiro. Everybody is talking about the Nifty and the Sensex, as if all other stocks don’t exist. Though the Nifty is making new highs, the Small-cap Index is well below its life-time high... The future returns would come from this sector... Of course, stick to quality names!

Vinayak Bhimrao Mudholkar



MG Warrier

2 years ago

This refers to Suresh Bisht’s view that ‘Criticism of NPS is not correct!’. Perhaps the comments have restricted implication as Bisht has compared National Pension System(NPS) with two essentially savings instruments namely PPF and EPF. NPS has not yet proved its efficiency as a substitute for Defined Payment based Pension system which was available to government and public sector employees. Kindly seen my letter on the subject published in the previous issue Moneylife (March 19)

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