Indian politicians in a Nutshell: Manmohan Singh

Manmohan Singh, the incumbent Prime Minister of India, is the 13th person to hold this prestigious office. He is also the only person after Jawaharlal Nehru to have returned for a second term, besides being the first Sikh to have become the Prime Minister of India. Singh was born on September 26, 1932 to Amrit Kaur and Gurmukh Singh. After the Partition, his family came away from Gah, which is located in present-day Pakistan’s Punjab province, to Amritsar. His mother passed away at an early age and he was brought up by his paternal grandmother.


Manmohan Singh was a student at the Hindu College. He also studied at the Panjab University in Chandigarh, and then in Hoshiarpur. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1952, and then got his postgraduate degree in 1954, getting the top spot in 1954. He got his Economics Tripos from the University of Cambridge by virtue of being a member of the St. John’s College during 1957. He then also got a D.Phil in economics from the Nuffield College of Oxford University during 1962. 

Career at a glimpse 

Following his doctorate, Singh worked from 1966 to 1969 for the United Nations. His bureaucratic career started when he was recruited as an advisor with the Ministry of Foreign Trade by Lalit Narayan Mishra, former minister of railways for the Indian government. During the decades of 70s and 80s, he occupied several important positions for the Government of India, acting as the Chief Economic Advisor from 1972-76, governor of Reserve Bank from 1982 to 1985, besides heading of the Planning Commission from 1985 to 1987.

During 1991 when India was encountering an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions, P. V. Narsimha Rao, the then Prime Minister, chose Manmohan Singh, rather surprisingly, as the Finance Minister. In the next couple of years he encountered a lot of opposition in this role but took several steps that made the Indian economy more liberal. 

These steps were successful as far as avoiding the crisis is concerned, and Manmohan’s reputation around the world as an economist and policymaker oriented towards reforms received a major shot in the arm. However, Congress was unable to avoid a debacle in the general elections of 1996. After that, he operated in the Rajya Sabha as the leader of the opposition during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime of 1998-2004.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress, won the general elections during 2004 and Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister, unexpectedly, after Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson, decided to not take that post. Under his leadership the first incarnation of the UPA initiated a number of important projects and laws such as the Rural Health Mission, Rural Employment Guarantee program, Unique Identification Authority program and the Right to Information Act (RTI). 

The Manmohan Singh government nearly collapsed during 2008 when the landmark civil nuclear agreement with the US faced staunch opposition and the support of the Left Front parties was withdrawn. During his reign the Indian economy has grown at a good pace but there have been several incidents like the Mumbai attacks of 2008 that have put at risk the country’s security.


The present Indian Prime Minister does not speak much and is highly revered in several circles. The Independent, a prominent British newspaper, has stated that the levels of grace and decency shown by Singh are not commonly seen. He owns a Maruti 800, which is among the most commonplace cars in India. According to Khushwant Singh, he is the best Prime Minister India has ever had and is the finest example of integrity.

The Newsweek magazine stated in 2010 that he is highly respected by other leaders of the world. In fact, the former Vice President of Egypt, Mohammad El Baradei, has stated that he is an ideal political leader. He has also received the praise of Greg Sheridan, the journalist of Australia, as one of the best statesmen in the history of Asia, while the Forbes magazine has stated that he was the most universally respected Indian Prime Minister since Nehru.

However, it has not been smooth-sailing for him since 2009 when he came back for a second term. In 2010 the Time magazine in its Asian edition labeled him an underachiever who was not willing to adopt the reforms necessary for the progress of his country. L. K. Advani, a forceful critic of Manmohan, has called him a “weak Prime Minister” who is unable to act on his own accord. During the coal allocation scam and 2G spectrum scam, the opposition had demanded that he resign.


Following is a brief list of honors that have come Manmohan Singh’s way during his career:





Panjab University

Doctor of Letters


University of Alberta

Honorary Doctor of Law degree


University of Oxford

Honorary Doctor of Civil Law


University of Cambridge

Honorary Doctor of Civil Law


Benaras Hindu University

Honorary Doctor of Letters degree


University of Madras

Honorary Doctorate Degree


Panjab University

Dr. Manmohan Singh Chair at the Economics department


King Saud University

Honorary Doctorate Degree