Manmohan Singh, the man known as the architect of India's economic reforms, has found himself thrust into the nation's top job by Sonia Gandhi's surprise decision to stand aside. Pundits expect his reformist instincts to clash with his Congress party's pledge to help out the hundreds of millions rural poor. But Mr Singh, who began India's reforms as finance minister in the early 1990s, sees the two going hand in hand. Widespread poverty is his first concern. 'Our economic reforms are half incomplete,' he said. 'We have to take these reforms to their logical end. Seventy per cent of our people are in the rural areas, and we have to give them good water, primary health care and elementary education.' Mr Singh, 71, was speaking at his New Delhi residence, where for more than a week he has averaged just three hours sleep. He was talking with party president Mrs Gandhi until 3.30am yesterday. Their long-standing relationship is, by many accounts, easy and comfortable. 'It helps having a European mind,' he said of Mrs Gandhi. 'She likes to be told things straight, not in the Indian roundabout way.' Mr Singh credits her with having helped Congress recover from its underdog position. 'It's her stamina, her interaction in Parliament. She has grown with the responsibility and she has been a unifying factor,' he said. Although Mr Singh thinks land reform is impossible 'without a revolution', what is important is for 'sharecroppers to get their rights established so that they can invest in their land with security. We need to be like the communist government in West Bengal'. Can India achieve economic growth rate of 8 per cent every year? 'Eight per cent would require a Herculean effort,' he said. 'Our investment rate is too low. But perhaps in five years' time we can do it. If we can attract the same foreign investment flows as China does, then we can do it. But we have to change the mentality of foreign investors. And we can do that if we have stable policies. 'Meanwhile, if we can have economic growth at 6.5 per cent in a sustained manner, we can make an impact on poverty and unemployment. China's long-range rate is probably nearer 6 per cent, not the higher figure they claim.' On India's top foreign-policy issue, relations with Pakistan, he said: 'We have to find a way to stop talking of war with Pakistan. This is stopping us from realising our economic potential. Two nuclear-armed powers living in such close proximity is a big problem. So how far would he go to compromise with Pakistan over Kashmir? 'Short of secession, short of re-drawing boundaries, the Indian establishment can live with anything.' He added: Meanwhile, 'We need soft borders - then borders are not so important. People on both sides should be able to move freely.' Independent India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, promised Kashmir a plebiscite. 'A plebiscite would take place on a religious basis,' Mr Singh said emphatically. 'It would unsettle everything. No government of India could survive that. Autonomy we are prepared to consider. All these things are negotiable. But an independent Kashmir would become a hotbed of fundamentalism.' Corruption is endemic in India and coalition politics has compelled Mr Singh to give a cabinet post to Laloo Prasad Yadav, who heads a regional party. In 1997, Yadav had to give up his post as chief minister of the impoverished state of Bihar on charges of corruption, which are still pending. Still, Mr Singh appeared to suggest Yadav wasn't typical. 'Political power has been passing into the hands of a new type of leadership. And they don't make a distinction between state and private property,' he said. 'Government officials have large discretionary power. We have to deregulate even more so that this discretionary element is much reduced.' For the self-effacing, incorruptible, former economics professor, the premiership is visibly overwhelming. He cannot talk more, he says apologetically. 'I have to get on top of the issues.'