Manipal, India — Manmohan Singh, India's present prime minister, was brought back from Geneva to India as economic advisor to the government in 1990 by the commerce minister at the time, Subramanian Swamy. The long-time bureaucrat had been particular that a protege, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, be made the commerce secretary, a condition that was accepted by the minister.
A year later, Singh became finance minister in the first regular Congress government to be headed by an individual not from the Nehru family. P.V. Narasimha Rao was determined to accelerate the pace of economic reform, aware that the statist policies of the past had led India to bankruptcy, and in Manmohan Singh, found a willing instrument in the process.
Sadly for the country, by 1995, Rajiv Gandhi's widow Sonia began a political destabilization of Rao, afraid that his continuance would permanently block the Nehrus from reclaiming the Congress Party. From the beginning of that year till Rao's election defeat nearly two years later, the cautious finance minister obeyed the new signals and slowed down the reform process to a crawl.
Fortunately for Manmohan Singh, his numerous contacts in the Delhi media ensured that this phase was ignored, and that he -- rather than Rao -- got the credit for the 1992-96 reform package. It was therefore with substantial expectations that the 280-million strong Indian middle classes welcomed the takeover of formal power by Singh eight years after the 1996 election defeat of the Congress Party.
Nearly four years on, these hopes have died, together with the reforms.