India's Best Student: Dr. Manmohan Singh

The Prime Minister stood first in class throughout his academic life.

Meet India’s best student

Whenever he was asked for the secret of his professional success Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would say only one thing, “I am what I am because of my education.”
He has often thanked his family for ensuring that he went right up to college and then had opportunities to win many scholarships that finally helped him get a PhD from Oxford University.
Manmohan Singh was born into a family of modest means in the village of Gah in Pakistan. For the first 12 years of his life he lived there, a village which had no electricity, no school, no hospital, no piped drinking water.
He walked for miles every day to school and studied at night in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. When asked once why he had poor eyesight he confessed that it was because he had spent hours reading books in that dim light.
It was his hard work that enabled him to finish his schooling and attend college in Amritsar, where he lived after the Partition. He then won a scholarship to go to Cambridge University in England to do his Master’s in Economics. Another scholarship helped him complete his PhD.
He won the coveted Adam Smith Prize in Economics for his outstanding academic record. He always stood first and was a brilliant student.
For all his brilliance, he was a very shy boy. He once told Mark Tully, the famous BBC correspondent in India, that throughout his stay in Cambridge he used to bathe with cold water because the moment hot water was available in the hostel all the other students would come in to bathe and he felt shy to show them his long hair.
As the only Sikh student in the hostel he felt inhibited to remove his turban in front of others. It is this shy boy who became the darling of his teachers because he was such a good student.
He returned to India to teach at his college in Amritsar. One day, his neighbour, renowned writer Mulk Raj Anand, took him to meet Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Panditji asked him to join the government. But he had a commitment to teach at the college and so he could not accept that offer.
Later, when he was working at the United Nations under the famous economist Raul Prebisch, he got an offer to join Delhi School of Economics as a lecturer. He immediately accepted that invitation and decided to return to India. Dr. Prebisch was shocked. So many brilliant economists would be delighted to get a UN job and this young man was giving it up to teach in India? “You are being foolish,” Prebisch told Manmohan Singh, adding, “But, sometimes in life it is wise to be foolish!”
Manmohan Singh returned home first to teach and then to work in the Government.
He has held every important job in the field of economic policy making in India: Chief Economic Advisor to Government of India, Finance Secretary, Governor, Reserve Bank of India, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission, Union Finance Minister and now Prime Minister.
In 2005 when he visited Kaula Lumpur for the India-ASEAN Summit he was introduced at the ASEAN Business Forum meeting as “the world’s most qualified Head of Government”!
That is what makes us all proud. No country in the world has a more qualified head of government and India has never had such a highly qualified Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh’s life is a record of excellence and of merit being rewarded. His life will always be an inspiration to young people who want to work hard and achieve something based on their learning.
No rich parents, no influential uncles, no wealth, no inheritance, no one to pull strings and ‘put in a word’ – it was always his merit, his hard work, his honesty, his intelligence and, above all, his deep love for India that energised him. Every young Indian should feel inspired by the life of Manmohan Singh!
Sanjaya Baru served as media advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from 2004 to 2008, and is currently Editor at Business Standard.