Time magazine dubs Manmohan Singh ‘underachiever’

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Washington: Dubbing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an “underachiever” the prestigious Time magazine asks whether the architect of 1991 economic reforms can rouse himself and put India back on the high growth path.

“Narrowing the gap between heightened expectations and the nation’s capacity to deliver, should be a job for the man who launched those expectations 21 years ago with such oratorical flourish,” Time says in the cover story of its Asia edition.

“India can only wait to see if Singh can rouse himself, let alone prevail or overcome,” wonders the cover story of the July 16 issue with the blurb: “The Underachiever. India needs a reboot. Is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh up to the job?”

Tracing Manmohan Singh’s journey to the top from his remote farming village in Gah, now in northeast Pakistan, the magazine suggests that the 79-year-old Prime Minister today appears “unwilling to stick his neck out” on reforms that will put the country back on the growth path.

“Last quarter, India’s GDP growth fell to a nine-year low of 5.3 per cent, a steep drop from 9.2 per cent the same period last year and a worrying turn for a country that needs to stay on a high growth path to pull hundreds of millions out of poverty,” the magazine noted.

“With the rupee hitting record lows, a yawning fiscal deficit and a lack of economic direction from the government’s top brass, investors at home and abroad are beginning to get cold feet,” Time said.

Voters too are losing confidence, as rising inflation and a litany of scandals chip away at the government’s credibility, it said, citing a recent national poll suggesting that 66 per cent of urbanites believed Singh and his coalition had lost the right to govern.

“How has India’s technocrat-in-chief fallen so far from grace,” wondered Time magazine, noting that during his first term, India’s economy reached a clip of 9.6 per cent growth.

“Singh’s coalition passed laws to guarantee the right of rural Indians to work while improving civic rights and political transparency. In 2009, when the government was re-elected, the headlines trumpeted: SINGH IS KING!”

Asking whether Manmohan Singh was “Asleep at the Wheel”, Time said: “Business-friendly laws that could spur growth to offset that spending are languishing, and industry is struggling.”

Industry leaders are demanding a host of bold reforms, such as an end to expensive subsidies, deregulation of diesel prices and resumption of a law to allow multibrand retailers like Walmart into India, it noted.

Time suggested that “Singh has joined the public soul searching belatedly, and the electorate will let him know what it thinks of his performance in general elections scheduled for 2014″.

Meantime, other players in the Congress, most notably Rahul Gandhi, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s son, are positioning themselves to take Singh’s place, the magazine said.

“The opposition BJP is also working out its internal power struggles and choosing a front man who can take the government back,” it said.