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B. K. Karanjia

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In Safe Hands

Long years ago the Greek dramatist Aeschylus wrote: "Long tarries destiny, but comes to those who pray." India’s prayers have been answered, for destiny has come to us twice in the recent past in the person of Manmohan Singh, achiever and deliverer, who as former Finance Minister opened the Indian economy to the world of liberalisation and roused the national spirit to global endeavour.

Dr. Singh brought about a transformation of the Indian economy with the deficit brought down from 65 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product to 5 per cent, the tax base broadened, import duties lowered, efforts made to awaken public sector undertakings from their stupor with disinvestment measures, with the rupee made partially convertible against the dollar. It was as if the Indian economy was awakening to a new dawn.

Destiny has come again with Dr. Manmohan Singh becoming our Prime Minister at a time when changing and going global calls for a fresh commitment in the context of environmental sustainability, endangered now more than ever before. As the report "Our Common Future" by the World Commission on Environment and Development puts it, industry is now required to build the strategies to meet the challenges of sustainable development in three stages — pollution prevention, product stewardship and the development of clean technology. It is difficult to conceive of anyone other than Dr. Singh — modest, soft-spoken, scholarly, refined and resolute — in his new shining avatar, to be able to put these strategies into motion.

CHANGE is privileged to reproduce in this issue a lecture delivered by Dr. Singh in the series of Memorial Lectures organised by Godrej as part of its Centenary Celebrations. Entitled "The Challenge of Entrepreneurship", the lecture offers a deep insight into his thinking. He deplores the country’s abysmal performance in export, which works out to just 0.6 per cent of world exports, far lower than the potential of our economy. He gives a lucid account of what in his opinion is wrong with our economy and how as Finance Minister he set about to set it right. He concludes: "Our country needs disciplined high-quality entrepreneurs who are filled with an intense pride and are committed to the pursuit of excellence and consider themselves accountable to society at large."

But to get the full measure of the man, the lecture needs to be read along with his first address to the people as Prime Minister. For it is in this latter capacity that he sets out to right a grave wrong which as Finance Minister he could do little about. "I am convinced," he said, "that the Government, at every level, is today not adequately equipped and attuned to deal with the challenges (of economic and social reforms) and meet the aspirations of the people." If Dr. Singh is able to reform the moth-eaten, corruption-ridden administrative structure, which even some would-be investors have complained about, he will have achieved what none of his predecessors were able to or dared to.

In the same spirit, unlike those who are content to piously deplore the rising incidence of suicide among farmers, Dr. Singh is taking concrete steps to raise the agricultural sector and give farmers a new deal, making loans more easily and cheaply available, among other measures. If some people still persist in calling him a figurehead, they have obviously no head for figures.

How right the Congress President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, was, when, graciously yielding the Prime Ministership to Dr. Manmohan Singh, she declared: "The country is safe in his hands"!

B.K. Karanjia