PV Narasimha Rao's contributions to nation beyond economic reforms: Dr Sanjaya Baru

Update: 2023-06-28 13:37 GMT
Sanjaya Baru. (Photo: PTI)

Dr Sanjaya Baru, author, former media adviser to the-then PM Dr Manmohan Singh, and editor-journalist, economist, professor and think-thank strategist, spoke exclusively to Sriram Karri in October 2016 during the release of his book, ‘1991: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Made History’ about how former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s contributions span beyond economic reforms, and why he is one of the greatest PMs ever.

Deccan Chronicle reproduces the interview on the occasion of Narasimha Rao’s birth anniversary. Excerpts:

How do you rate various Prime Ministers of India (those who have finished their terms)?

An objective yardstick would be to compare the India they inherited at the time of assuming office to the India they created while demitting office. Jawaharlal Nehru steered India and built a foundation for a nation, a society and an economic order, and set a place for India globally. From foreign policy and state of national politics to the strength of his (Congress) party and economic realities — Nehru left us a stronger nation. Had he quit in 1960-61, the world would have hailed him as one of the greatest founding heads of government; China war eclipsed his glory.

Indira Gandhi etched her place in history by breaking Pakistan and helping in creation of Bangladesh — else, Emergency, strengthening of family’s grip over politics, corruption, decay in economics, and confused implementation of non-alignment were all failures. Rajiv Gandhi, contrary to the spin Sonia Gandhi has tried to put, was the biggest failure. He squandered a very large mandate, weakened his party, confused national policies, ruled with the help of a coterie, was haunted by corruption charges, the economy went spiralling down. He knew of problems but had neither the vision nor the resolve to solve them.

In contrast, a weak PV took over an India on the brink of economic bankruptcy, having to mortgage gold to avoid crossing the lakshman rekha of defaulting on loan repayment, dealt with problems in Punjab, Assam and Northeast. He began with a government without a majority, he turned around not only the economy but the way in which the world treated us. Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh (UPA-1) were good terms but fell short of what they could have done. UPA-2 was a disaster, second only to Rajiv’s term.

Did Rajiv risk India’s future with his petty politics with Chandra Shekhar? What would have been likely political consequences had Rajiv not been killed?

Yes, Rajiv was playing a game of dangerous brinkmanship between December, 1990, to March 1991. He was more concerned about getting re-elected and was less bothered about the long-term interests of the country. He was in fear of any success Chandra Shekhar might have dealing with the crisis and the Congress and so pushed him to quit.

Counterfactual test — What if Rajiv had not been killed?

I believe that had Rajiv not been killed, he would still not have come back to power. In such a scenario, a Congress-led or Congress-included coalition would have more likely than not been led by P.V. Narasimha Rao himself.

Sonia and PV could not stand each other?

If Rajiv and PV were from different worlds, Sonia and PV were from different planets. They were respectful publicly, and Rao gave her due respect. But she had to showcase him as someone who did not deserve any respect to protect her husband’s image. Hence, she created and strengthened a narrative that Rajiv was the visionary who wanted to liberalise India whereas PV was the man who weakened the Congress.

In projecting PV, or giving him his rightful role, were you not ignoring his failures — like corruption or Babri Masjid demolition?

One of the ways in which PV’s legacy was diminished by Sonia was to overemphasise the Babri Masjid episode as one of the biggest national shames and the reason for the decline of the Congress. The decline of Congress began after 1984, after Indiraji’s death. Be it Ayodhya or the handling of 1984 riots or the scale and depth of corruption, PV’s historical legacy is no worse than any other PM. Every PM has his pluses and minuses, so did PV.

Will history treat PV more humanely, respectfully and fairly than Sonia and majority of middle-class Indians whose life he changed?

It has already started happening. Some of the books that have been published this year have started showing to Indians how he has changed and made India. History will be kinder and fairer to him and grant him his due place as the second greatest PM.

If not a Prime Minister, would P.V. Narasimha Rao really have become a priest?

Yes, he was considering and talking to various Hindu spiritual gurus. Or maybe he would have joined a think-thank. He was chosen by 1991 and destiny to save and carve a new strong India, and he did — not only with panache but also a pout.

What can politicians, especially Narendra Modi, learn from PV?

PV was old, a heart-patient, and did not know how long he would be PM. He acted immediately. No politician should think they have too much time. Modi was slow to push for policy change in his first year but he has now gained momentum. PV taught us that the best time to solve a problem is now.


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