Do you think we went very slowly looking back the way we grew post 1991... do you think we have wasted time in the 80s and we could have achieved more?
Of course we could have achieved more.
What went wrong and why didn’t we liberalise?
What is the advantage of China? They began the economic liberalisation process from 1978 uninterrupted. (Their) system is different. But if we could have done it, firstly it was resisted strongly and a polity which is subjected to the public opinion it cannot ignore the public opinion as such. So, naturally we had to retrace in the 80s. After my departure from the Finance Ministry naturally we had to retrace. But even then Rajiv Gandhi introduced certain liberalised mechanisms, liberalised measures. And what we started from 1991, if you look at the Congress manifesto of 1991, the entire roadmap of liberalisation was stated in the manifesto.
The other thing I wanted to ask you was about West Bengal. How is the party doing, do you think you will win the assembly elections?
Our party no doubt has suffered to a considerable extent after Mamata Banerjee parted company with us because a large chunk of our supporters have gone with her.
In addition to that, she has been able to muster the non-Left and non-Congress supporters also in her umbrella. She has been able to bring them under her umbrella. So she is a formidable force.
That’s why when we entered into an alliance with her; we could defeat CPI (M) for the first time since 1977. We won.
There is a strong base (for Congress). (In) about 9 Lok Sabha constituencies … we have won 6. And in these areas we are very strong but in the rest of Bengal, we are not so strong.
But I am confident that if this combination, works well it would be possible for us to get a comfortable majority.
I remember we interviewed Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and we talked about liberalisation and he felt he had missed opportunities. He said I have been sitting with PKM, which apparently is what he called you, he will be my finance minister and we will liberalise much faster. Do you have any regrets and if it hadn’t been for his assassination you would have been the Finance Minister in 1991?
That is speculation.
No. He said that on record.
He might have thought of it. But anyway…
No. Why should I have regrets?
I want to ask you a little bit about your relationship with Manmohan Singh because people in the media have always speculated that there was a time when he was the RBI Governor and you were finance minister and now he is a Prime Minister and you are working under him. So therefore there must be some hierarchical resentment?
There is no question of that. This is absolutely baseless.
Do you enjoy being finance minister again?
It’s a very difficult task.
Why? These are good times compared to the 80s.
No, but India’s finance ministers always have to face a lot of challenges.
You have dealt with Manmohan Singh as a civil servant, as a colleague, as a Prime Minister. What do you think his greatest strength is?
His strength is that he can carry people with him. He does not impose his own will. He tries to build up consensus. At the time of debate after the Left’s withdrawal of support, on civil nuclear cooperation agreement with US, they created disturbances. But I used one phrase and I believe it. Beware of the fury of a quiet man.
Is there a fury to Dr Manmohan Singh?
There is no fury. But I used that phrase though there was no fury. But here what I wanted to convey was his firmness and his commitment to his cause.
It is well known that you and Manmohan Singh get along. But not as well known is whether you really want to be Deputy Prime Minister?
There was absolutely no question of that because I am a devoted student of the Constitution. I know there is no such thing as Deputy Prime Minister except a few words to be put after the name.