New Delhi, May 10: Overseas friends have started receiving farewell notes from Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister who often found himself more at home — not to speak of warmth and respect — abroad.
At 7pm on March 18, Singh, buffeted by a torrent of domestic criticism, received a phone call of gratitude. Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked him for India’s refusal to support the West over Crimea.
This past week, Singh has returned the favour to Putin and other world leaders he considers his friends. Days ahead of stepping down, Singh has written farewell letters to Barack Obama, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Germany’s Angela Merkel and former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, among others.
“He thanked them for working with him in building bilateral relationships,” a PMO official told The Telegraph. “They stood by him,” said another, “when his own nation appeared not to. It’s natural he wants to thank them first.”
Singh’s formal farewell to cabinet colleagues and a planned address to the nation will come in the days ahead. Sonia Gandhi is scheduled to host a farewell dinner for him on May 14.
Singh has been roasted at home for failing to curb relentless inflation. His party has sometimes appeared cool to him, and Rahul Gandhi last year publicly chastised his government over an ordinance to protect convicted legislators.
But two days later, Singh received thanks from Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York for agreeing to let the bilateral dialogue continue despite domestic criticism.
“The PM appears more at home, more relaxed when he’s not actually at home but on overseas trips,” a senior official said.
Part of the global respect Singh enjoys comes from his background as a Cambridge-educated economist who turned India’s economy around in the 1990s. At the height of the post-2008 economic crisis, Obama referred publicly at least twice to “advice” from “Dr Singh” at multilateral meetings.
Diplomats also cite Singh’s rare ability not to antagonise those he opposes. On the margins of the UN General Assembly last September, Singh was invited to the White House for a bilateral meeting although India was opposing a US plan to attack Syria.
“There aren’t too many who can count both Obama and Putin as friends,” a diplomat said. “The PM managed it; that’s no mean feat.”