There I was, watching my own funeral! Mourners, dressed in white, silently passing my body, covered in a sheet, paying silent obeisance to my weeping widow, but unable to see me sitting there! I could see them, I could hear them, but they not me! Surreal!
'He was a good man', said the person behind me, 'and it was he, as Finance Minister, who opened up the economy to competitive forces by removing the license raaj'
'Yes,' agreed his neighbour. 'I remember having to wait 10 years to be allotted a Fiat car, which was of such poor quality that there were defects I had to point out when being delivered! I was given the option of either taking it or waiting indefinitely for the defects to be rectified'
'Nowadays,' said a third, 'we get a choice of vehicles off the shelf and with much better customer care. He really did India a big favour by removing the license permit raaj'.
I smiled with smug satisfaction at these comments. I was trying to turn around and say something to the folks making these comments but somehow they couldn't hear a thing. Was I really dead? Was I really watching my own funeral? It was surreal!
'True,' said the guy to my right 'I remember that he took the decision to export the country's gold in order to secure a line of credit, as India's coffers were empty. But after opening up in the early 90s we never looked back'
'And an honest man!' exclaimed the person to my left. 'I am told that even after being made Finance Minister he stood in queue to catch a bus, insisting on public transport until advised that it was a security risk. Where do you find such people now?'. His comments gladdened my heart; at least some people remembered.
'All of that is true,' said a gruff looking man in front of me, 'but that was when he was Finance Minister and was given political protection by Prime Minister Narashimha Rao. Sadly, he didn't give the same political protection to continue with reforms when he became Prime Minister'
I started to protest, but no one could hear me!
'I agree,' said the guy next to him. 'Look at his inability, or unwillingness to take action against those who looted the country. Do you remember the Commonwealth Games scandal and the telecom sale of 2G scandal? What's the measure of honesty if you allow, as Prime Minister, such loot to take place and do nothing about it?'
'True,' exclaimed the chap on my right 'after that year, I think it was 2010, things just got worse! Corruption became so rampant and the fiscal deficit widened because of the loot that should have gone into the country's coffers. We are again in a bad fiscal state with our coffers nearly empty. How sad that an honest Prime Minister was unable to stanch the rot'.
'Haan yaar,' said his neighbour. 'Imagine India was once called a BRIC country, with such potential. Just because he was not
strong enough to take on the e Argentina cleaned up its act and the popular acronym is now BRAC. What a pity! But kya Karen, such is our takdeer'.
I was really saddened to hear this. Partly because it was true! I had thought that if I concentrated on the big picture, such as the nuclear deal with US to secure our energy needs, as well as a seat on the UN Security Council, and the introduction of things like GST and UID, I would have made a big contribution to India. Yet I find no one remembering me for all this; instead I am being held responsible for the corruption that is increasing.
We did sign deals to set up nuclear power plants, which met a part of our energy needs. We did, finally, set up large solar thermal farms and made these commercially viable. We did manage to find more gas, making gas a major component of our energy mix. And, because of the economic growth in the first two decades of the 21st century, we did secure a seat in the Security Council. Yet no one is mentioning this! That hurts!
'You know,' said the gruff looking guy in front of me, 'because of the loot by corrupt politicians, we did not spend enough on preserving our resources. Now look at the water shortage. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are almost at war with each other because of a fight over sharing of water. A large part of the blame would rest on his shoulders.'
'Not only that,' said the guy behind me. 'Because of the loot we have not been able to spend enough to modernise our army, airforce and navy, or equip our local police force and now we have serious incursions almost every month.'
I stood up to protest!
And found myself in my office, woken from my reverie!
I made a vow for 2011.
I am Prime Minister of India. I will not let people remember me for unbridled corruption. That will not be my legacy. I will
take steps to stanch the rot.
For starters I will ask for details of accounts held in Swiss banks and other tax havens. They have been waiting for us to ask them, and I shall.
I will vigorously pursue those who have looted the nation, never mind how highly placed they are or what political ramifications there will be. I want to be remembered as the person who cleaned up India's reputation for corruption.
I will remove all tax exemptions, especially on agricultural income, which is only used to launder black money generated for corruption and not for farmers. I will place a higher tax exemption limit for farm income and tax anything above it. I will do away with double tax treaties that also distort capital flows and allow money stashed abroad to be reinvested in India with freedom to exit.
I will do away with exemptions for security checks at airports. No one should be exempted. It is only a way for cash to be transported without scrutiny.
I will create an independent Police Commission so that security services are run professionally and efficiently without being subservient to politicians who transfer them. The Commission will decide on transfers and not the politicians.
I will have a dialogue with the judiciary and provide enough resources to clear the backlog of cases. This would help clear up the criminalisation of politics, as criminals can enter Parliament unless convicted. I will work with the judiciary to have a time bound programme for convictions, instead of interminable adjournments.
I will do this for India.
I love India.
And I am Manmohan Singh, its Prime Minister. If I don't help my country, who, after me, will?
Conceived and penned by : J Mulraj