The good professor is back - with a better mandate

May 16th, 2009 - 3:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Murali Krishnan
New Delhi, May 16 (IANS) The good professor, who many were ready to send into retirement less than 24 hours ago, is back in the saddle - a second term as prime minister for a man who stood steadfastly by his principles and was ready to sacrifice his government rather than succumb to the demands of realpolitik.

Manmohan Singh now gets a renewed - and strengthened - mandate to run the country, and this time around the agenda before him is more or less set with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance emerging victor in this bitterly fought election which many thought would end in a split verdict.

The 76-year old economist turned academic turned politician knows that, despite never having won a Lok Sabha seat, he enjoys considerable goodwill and the confidence that Congress president Sonia Gandhi reposes in him - and this will make his job easier.

“Having led the government for five years and with the mantle falling on him again, he is now perceived as being a strong political figure also. And that is important,” said a prime ministerial aide.

Five years back when the mild-mannered Manmohan Singh reluctantly accepted the prime minister’s post after Sonia Gandhi’s act of renunciation, many felt that he was not suited for the rough and tumble of the office as he was just too nice a man to survive in the cut-throat world of politics.

However, this election saw the emergence of the politician in Manmohan Singh, who had no hesitation in silencing his rival, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, who made the prime minister’s “weakness” a major campaign issue - until he hit back.

“Having been declared the prime ministerial candidate, Manmohan Singh had to not just show that he was confident and assertive to take on Advani but also send out a strong message that it was he who would be able to provide a ‘nirnayak sarkar’ (decisive government) if voted to power and in turn steal the thunder,” said the aide.

As the only person to have held all the top jobs in the government relating to the management of the country’ s economy, topping Manmohan Singh’s economic agenda will be the presentation of a regular national budget. This budget will assume added significance in the wake of a fall in industrial output, sharp fall in exports, loss of jobs and an overall slowdown of the economy triggered by the worst global downturn in six decades.

With the Left unlikely to be an albatross around his neck, he is also expected to find it easier to push some key policy changes - such as hiking the foreign investment limit in insurance from 26 percent to 49 percent, entry for overseas pension funds in the domestic sector and limited entry for global chains in multi-brand retailing.

Before the verdict, the prime minister had confided to some his aides that unless New Delhi had a strong government in charge, the neighbourhood situation could witness calamitous shifts with grave implications for India, especially with Sri Lanka heading for a final denouement, Nepal embroiled in internal conflict and Pakistan in an existential crisis.

With him back at the helm, the highest priority will be given by his government to respond to the difficult situation in the neighbourhood, his aides confirmed.

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