Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for his integrity

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lost the Lok Sabha election from South Delhi in 1999 but he immediately returned Rs 2 lakh he had taken from writer Khushwant Singh for hiring taxis saying he had not used it.

This act of the Prime Minister's integrity finds a mention in a new book "Absolute Khushwant: The Low-Down on Life, Death and Most things In-between" written by the 95-year-old author Khushwant Singh.

In the book written along with Humra Quraishi, a columnist, the eminent author says Manmohan Singh is the best Prime Minister India has had even rating him higher than Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister.

"I really got to know him at the election he lost from South Delhi. This was in 1999. I was surprised and impressed because the son-in-law (of PM), whom my family knew, came to borrow some money-just two lakhs-to hire taxis that were needed for campaigning. They didn't have even that much to spare. I gave the money in cash," recounts Khushwant Singh.

But days after the election, Manmohan Singh called him and asked for an appointment. He went to see him with a packet.

"'I haven't used the money' he said and handed me the packet with all the cash I had given his son-in-law. That kind of thing no politician would do," he said.

Khushwant Singh said "When people talk of integrity, I say the best example is the man who occupies the country's highest office."

Giving the reasons for rating the Prime Minister higher than Nehru, Khushwant Singh says Nehru had vision and charisma but he had his faults.

"He (Nehru) was instinctively anti-American and blindly pro-soviet and socialist. He could also be impatient with people and had favourites.

"Manmohan has a free and extremely good mind. He can't be accused of nepotism. Nehru could. Indira could. No one would say that of Manmohan Singh," he writes in the book published by 'Penguin Books'.

The author known for his popular column 'malice towards one and all' says the economist-turned-politician had "the courage to disagree with Nehru's socialist vision and turn away from Mrs Gandhi's legacy".

"He (Manmohan Singh) pursued a pro-America policy. he opened India to the world, championed the private sector and set us on a path of economic progress without compromising India's interests.

"He has completely turned around our sick economy," Khushwant lauded adding that the former Professor has "remained grounded" even after assuming the top post of the country.

Khushwant says Manmohan Singh is also very humble and simple. He grew up in small village in a family of very modest means and struggled to get an education.

"Initially his ambition was to be a college professor, find a small flat and settle in Chandigarh then chance changed the course of his life and took him to Cambridge and Oxford, the UN and the highest positions in India's financial institutions, and now he is Prime Minister. But he remained grounded," he said.