By Ranjana Narayan
He has just completed 200 days out of office, but former prime minister Manmohan Singh keeps himself perhaps as busy when in power, attending parliament for half a day daily, meeting people and attending party meetings. And he hasn’t yet decided on writing his memoirs as yet.
No, he also isn’t troubled by a court direction that he be quizzed on the coal blocks issue as he had anyway offered to be questioned by the CBI, say aides.
Manmohan Singh, India’s 13th prime minister, was known to be a workaholic, keeping a punishing schedule despite his age and his heart condition.
And he continues to keeps himself as busy now after a decade at the head of a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. And he has refused to give interviews, an aide said.
“He sticks to his daily schedule; only now he starts a little later everyday and retires a little early,” the aide told IANS, declining to be named.
A member of the Rajya Sabha, Manmohan Singh rarely misses a day in parliament.
He has made it a point to attend half a day’s session every day during the ongoing winter session, that has been marked by daily opposition rancour against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government and demands for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come to the Rajya Sabha and make a statement on the controversy over conversions and other issues.
“He goes for half a day every day. He does not participate in the ‘hungama’ (‘ruckus),” the aide said.
Manmohan Singh, 82, stepped down in May when the Modi government took over after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the Lok Sabha polls.
Manmohan Singh is also not fazed by a trial court directing the Central Bureau of Investigation to examine him in a coal block allocation scandal during his tenure that is being probed for alleged corruption.
The aide was dismissive about the court direction, saying there was “nothing new in it” and Manmohan Singh had always offered himself for questioning in the matter. The former prime minister held the coal portfolio for some time in UPA-I.
The aide also denied reports that Manmohan Singh is writing his memoirs. “He is not writing any book now. He has not made up his mind,” the aide added.
Manmohan Singh, known for his understated manners and quiet gravitas, has always kept away from flamboyance and is camera shy.
India’s first Sikh prime minister, Manmohan Singh’s light blue turban is synonymous with his image. As prime minister, he sported a simple churidar-kurta in summer and bandhgala dark suits in winter, but the blue turban was a constant, as it is even today.
The former prime minister, who underwent a coronary bypass in 2009, is careful about his diet and health. He keeps to his daily routine of walks and exercises to keep fit and meets people who call on him.
As a member of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, Manmohan Singh attends all meetings. Though he keeps away from publicity events, he recently appeared on a Aap ki Adalat show on India TV and spoke with a degree of clarity and passion on several issues, including the telecom and coal scandals.
On the much-talked about two heads of the UPA government, where Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was reportedly said to be taking major decisions, bypassing Manmohan Singh, the aide said that Gandhi had publicly denied there were two centres of power and both were “working together”.
Sonia Gandhi still calls on Manmohan Singh to seek advice, something which Sanjaya Baru, the former prime minister’s media advisor, also mentioned in his book. “Madam came last week, she comes for advice,” said the aide.
Manmohan Singh, who is widely respected as an ace economist and the brain behind the economic liberalization that began in India in 1991, said earlier this month that India can achieve a growth rate of 8-9 percent provided there is a “national consensus” on methods to take advantage of a globalised world.
For most of a decade, Manmohan Singh had presided over 8.5 percent GDP growth though it almost halved in the last few years, which the then government blamed on the global economic slowdown, high oil prices and the US Federal Reserve withdrawing its stimulus.
In November, Manmohan Singh was conferred with one of Japan’s highest civilian honours – ‘The Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers’ for his contribution towards building Japan-India relations.
The former prime minister, while he preferred to keep a low profile in India, was an energetic persona on his trips abroad and took a keen interest in foreign policy.
At his last press conference on Jan 3, Manmohan Singh had asserted that he had not been a weak prime minister and that history would be kinder to him than contemporary media.