With the Prime Minister's portrait in the background, the title on the cover reads The Underachiever — India needs a reboot.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has long been lauded for his pivotal role in liberalising the Indian economy, has been termed an “underachiever” by a top U.S. magazine, which says he appears “unwilling to stick his neck out” on reforms that will put the country back on the growth path.

Dr. Singh (79) is featured on the cover of Time magazine’s Asia edition, which will be out next week. With his portrait in the background, the title on the cover reads ‘The Underachiever — India needs a reboot.’

Is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh up to the job, Time’s report titled ‘A Man in Shadow’ asks, adding that apart from facing the challenges of a slowdown in economic growth, huge fiscal deficit and a falling rupee, India’s Congress party-led UPA coalition “has found itself fending off corruption scandals and accused of showing a lack of economic direction.”

“....investors at home and abroad are beginning to get cold feet. Voters too are losing confidence, as rising inflation and a litany of scandals chip away at the government’s credibility,” the magazine says.

Pointing to Dr. Singh’s fall “from grace,” the magazine says, “In the past three years, the calm confidence he [Dr. Singh] once radiated has been absent. He seems unable to control his Ministers and — his new, temporary portfolio at the Finance Ministry notwithstanding — unwilling to stick his neck out on reforms that will continue the process of liberalisation he helped start.”

At a time when India cannot afford a slowdown in economic growth, “laws that could help create growth and jobs are stuck in Parliament, sparking concerns that politicians have lost the plot in their focus on shorter-term, populist measures that will win votes.”

“Now that [Dr.] Singh is interim Finance Minister as well as PM, he has greater scope and a fresh opportunity to turn things around — but it’s by no means certain that he can,” Time says.

Over the past 20 years, Dr. Singh’s “avuncular visage and signature powder blue turban were synonymous with India’s rising star, a fixture on front pages since the early 1990s, when, as Finance Minister, he played a pivotal role in liberalising the economy and setting the nation on the path of fast growth,” says the magazine.

Personal integrity

In a national capital full of bluster and backroom deals, the quiet economist has long been admired for his restraint and personal integrity. The country clocked a 9.6 per cent growth in his first term as Prime Minister.

“For the past two years, the Congress-led coalition has found itself fending off scandals, most notably the corrupt awarding of 2G spectrum at prices below market value,” the magazine says.

It adds that Dr. Singh’s “squeaky clean image” took a hit when anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare levelled charges against him and more than a dozen of his Ministers over the alleged misallocation of coal mining rights.

India’s “battered economy” is another menacing concern for Dr. Singh, Time says.

The magazine says some believe Dr. Singh’s “unofficial power-sharing agreement” with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has “tied his hands and that he lacks the clout to go against other party stalwarts.”

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