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Manmohan & Machiavelli

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RADHIKA RAMASESHAN Delhi Published 17.08.06, 12:00 AM

New Delhi, Aug. 17: Manmohan Singh is the unlikeliest harbinger of a new order or a radical change. Nor did he fancy himself as one, so far. At least not publicly.

But today, as he began his reply to the debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal in the Rajya Sabha, he showed he was as game as any mortal to allow a peek into his personal life and political career.

If Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the master of weaving words into conundrums, the straight-speaking Singh never lost sight of his brief. So even when he spoke — with a quote or two from Machiavelli’s classic, The Prince — the context was the nuclear deal.

“If you are trying to alter the status quo, there are problems. Changes upset those used to existing ways of thinking. Status quo means having the satisfaction of being rooted in reality. But the only constant is change. The country has to be prepared to think big and I sincerely believe the path we have identified is the right path,” he said, referring to the agreement with the US.

Quoting from the Prince, he said the “enemies of reform” were those who profited from the old order.

Singh recalled that he was born in a very poor family on the other side of Punjab. “My father had studied only up to the eighth standard. But he was a freedom fighter. I could not have been here in politics but I am here because I have the blood of a freedom fighter’s son. I may be a latecomer in politics but the party to which I belong fought for India’s freedom. It has a heritage any party must be proud of,” he said.

He added that he could say in all “humility” that for the two years and three months he has been Prime Minister, “my effort was to do my very best to serve the vital interests of this country”.

He plucked a quote from his first budget speech to prove what he meant by “best”.

“No power can stop an idea whose time has come. India’s time as a major pole of the world economy had come in 1991. I was criticised by the Left and Right and all kinds of names, epithets were used. But 15 years later, who will say what I did was wrong? If we had not launched reforms, I shudder to think how India would have fared in the Asian crisis of the mid-nineties.”

Singh said what mattered most to him was serving the “millions of Indians who suffered”.

“That is the principle which inspires me for what remains of my life. No power on earth can take that privilege away from me.”

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