Technocrat could be India's new premier

Manmohan Singh, the 71-year-old technocrat Sonia Gandhi reportedly wants to be India’s next prime minister, orchestrated the financial reforms that helped transform the nation into a regional economic power.

Manmohan Singh, the 71-year-old technocrat Sonia Gandhi reportedly wants to be India’s next prime minister, orchestrated the financial reforms that helped transform the nation into a regional economic power.

Reports that Singh could become prime minister helped send the country’s stock markets soaring, just a day after suffering their worst-ever losses the day before.

“When the markets got a whiff that Sonia may not be prime minister that was the biggest kick for the markets,” said Sindhu Sameer, chief dealer at Bombay-based Batlivala and Karani Securities. “If Sonia is out, then Manmohan is in and he is the poster boy of India’s reforms.”

Singh, an Oxford-educated economist who was born into poverty, is Gandhi’s choice to head the incoming government, Indian television stations reported

Singh, who spent years in various government posts, was plucked from relative obscurity in 1991 to become finance minister in a Congress party-led government - and helped dramatically change a stalled economy.

During the 1991-1996 government, he championed a series of sweeping reforms, devaluating the rupee, slashing subsidies for domestically produced goods and privatising some state-run companies.

Perhaps most importantly, he ended the “licence raj”, the regulations that forced businesses to get government approval to make nearly any decision.

In a country where government-run economies had long been the norm, the changes signalled a revolution. By 2004, India’s economy, which had crept along for decades, was racing at more than 8%.

But as the outgoing government learned last week when its campaign of Shining India failed miserably with voters, India’s economic miracle has left many untouched.

While per capita income has risen in recent years, hundreds of millions of Indians still live in poverty, with tens of millions in villages without electricity, running water or access to even basic health care.

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