Hindustan Surkhiyan Desk:Former IAS officer and Asian Development Bank director Prateep K Lahiri’s autobiography, “A Tide in the Affairs of Men: A Public Servant Remembers (Roli Books) says history would judge Manmohan Singh’s performance as Finance Minister (1991-96) much more favourably than the good doctor as Prime Minister (2004-14).
Lahiri has cited many instances to show how Singh sought interventions that were not appropriate and showed that he succumbed to pressure when it came from the “high and mighty.” In his soon to be released memoir, Lahiri relies on his experience of working with Singh, first as Revenue Secretary and then as ADB director where Singh was a member of the Board of the Governors.
Lahiri says Singh is unostentatious to the point of being simple. “it is indeed unfortunate that as Prime Minister (Singh) he has been accused of having presided over a Government tainted by scams. This is perhaps due to the fact that being a thorough gentleman, he lacked the assertiveness needed to curb the errant ways of some of his Ministers.”
He says the Peter Principle, according to which ‘in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence’, applied to Singh who proved to be an excellent Finance Minister but could not live up to expectations as Pime Minister.
“It is somewhat paradoxical that economic management, which was Singh’s forte, was what let down the UPA Government’s second term. It has been said that the trio of Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram and Montek Singh Ahluwalia comprised the dream team that would lead India to prosperity. This is ironical since one of the main factors leading to the decimation of the UPA in the general elections of 2014 was believed to be the mismanagement of economy resulting in the fall of growth rate.”
Lahiri recalls two instances, relating to personnel matters pertaining to professional staff working in the ADB, that Singh wanted to take up with the management of the bank.
“In the first case, I was asked to press for the recruitment of a young woman as a professional staff member in the ADB. I was told that the FM wanted this done since the person was the daughter of a journalist, who had access to the then PM (PV Narasimha Rao).” Lahiri reminisced how the candidate had no other special qualifications or experience.
“I initially conveyed to the Ministry that it would be inappropriate for me to press for the appointment of the journalist’s daughter. However, I was told that there were pressures which compelled the FM to insist on this being done. In the circumstances, I recommended the case to the department dealing with recruitments in the ADB. However, not unexpectedly, they tactfully turned down the request. I conveyed this to the Ministry and was later told that the FM was ‘disappointed,” recalls Lahiri.
Months later, Singh reportedly again took up a case of promotion of an Indian professional working in the bank. He was the son of a very prominent figure in public life in India who was also a personal friend of Singh.