Noting that the economic liberalisation process in 1991 triggered by an economic crisis had helped lift 300 million people out of poverty, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said that the reforms process unleashed the spirit of free enterprise which has helped produce some world-class companies and help India emerge as a global power in many sectors.
Dr Singh, who was the Finance Minister in the Congress-led government of then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, also said that “too many lives and livelihoods have been lost that should not have been” in the COVID-19 pandemic and it “is not a time to rejoice and exult but to introspect and ponder”.
He said the road ahead is even more daunting than during the 1991 crisis.
In a statement on the 30th anniversary of economic liberalization, the former Prime Minister said Congress ushered in significant reforms of India’s economy and paved a new path for the nation’s economic policy.
“On this day 30 years ago, in 1991, the Congress party ushered in significant reforms of India’s economy and paved a new path for our nation’s economic policy. Over the last three decades, successive governments have followed this path to catapult our nation to a $3 trillion economy and into the league of the world’s largest economies,” he said.
“More importantly, nearly 300 million fellow Indians have been lifted out of poverty in this period and hundreds of millions of new jobs have been provided for our youth,” he added.
“The economic liberalisation process in 1991 was triggered by an economic crisis that confronted our nation then, but it was not limited to crisis management. The edifice of India’s economic reforms was built on the desire to prosper, the belief in our capabilities, and the confidence to relinquish control of the economy by the government,” he said.
Dr Singh said he was “fortunate to play a role in this reform process along with several of my colleagues in the Congress party”.
“It gives us immense joy to look back with pride at the tremendous economic progress made by our nation in the last three decades. But I am also deeply saddened at the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of millions of fellow Indians,” he said.
Dr Singh said the social sectors of health and education “have lagged behind and not kept pace with our economic progress”.
“Too many lives and livelihoods have been lost that should not have been. It is not a time to rejoice and exult but to introspect and ponder. The road ahead is even more daunting than during the 1991 crisis. Our priorities as a nation need to be recalibrated to foremost ensure a healthy and dignified life for every single Indian,” he said.
Dr Singh recalled that he had quoted Victor Hugo in his budget speech and said it was time to remember Robert Frost’s poem.
“As Finance Minister in 1991, I ended my budget speech by quoting Victor Hugo, ‘no power on Earth can stop an idea whose time has come’. Thirty years later, as a nation, we must remember Robert Frost’s poem, ‘But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,'” he said.
Dr Singh delivered his budget speech on July 24, 1991.
The liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991 is credited with unleashing competitive markets and enabling the forces of creative destruction leading to benefits that can be witnessed today also.