India yet to pay PV his due

India yet to pay PV his due

India yet to pay PV his due, If Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy demanded a Ratna for Rao, the two Telugu Chief Ministers of Telangana...

P V Narasimha Rao’s tenth death anniversary last month would have gone virtually unnoticed amidst the cacophony over Bharat Ratna that was awarded to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and freedom fighter Madan Mohan Malaviya. Except that Narasimha Rao also figured on the wish list of many.

If Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy demanded a Ratna for Rao, the two Telugu Chief Ministers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh displayed a rare unity on this issue. Although the Congress in Telangana swears by him, honour to Narasimha Rao is a remote possibility considering that the party he served lifetime seems disinterested. And the ruling BJP has its own list of greats.

Bharat Ratna apart, frequent laudatory references were made to Narasimha Rao’s contribution during the Lok Sabha polls campaign and after. Much of it, though, has been to score political brownies against the Nehru-Gandhi family that never really liked Rao and his completing the full tenure as the PM. But on Rao’s 93rd birth anniversary in June, former President APJ Abdul Kalam hailed him as one of the best PMs India has ever had.

On a personal note, Narasimha Rao was kind to me. I interacted with him when he was the external affairs minister and then, the home and defence minister and later, the PM. During the 1984 Lok Sabha election campaign at Ramtek, near Nagpur, he would inquire if I had had my breakfast. I was frequently invited to the banquets for visiting foreign dignitaries at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He took note, I was told, of my dispatches from parts of Andhra Pradesh that I toured prior to the 1996 election.

One of my last meetings was during the 2004 elections. He was ailing, but was his usual incisive self. He analyzed the events, but took care not to take sides. “Don’t mind if I tell you that your English language newspapers do not determine how the people vote. The local writer in the local language influences them,” he said. I could not but agree with him. And he proved right within weeks, when “Vibrant India” campaign collapsed.

Narasimha Rao was hailed as the Modern day Chankaya during his prime ministerial period. He demolished the existing ‘License Raj’ system, thus reversing the social reforms of Rajiv Gandhi, which did not go down well with the Gandhi family. Like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Rao put nation ahead of the political system. He had all but retired by the late 1980s and did not seek the party nomination for the elections. But Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination brought him back into the saddle. Long before Manmohan Singh became an “accidental prime minister” in the words of Sanjaya Baru, Rao became one, and was the first Congressman outside of the Nehru-Gandhi to complete a five-year term.

When he took office, the economy was in the shambles, a bottomless pit without foreign exchange reserves. The Soviet Union, India’s biggest ally, was disintegrating. And mujahideen returning from Afghanistan were diverted by Pakistan to Jammu and Kashmir, starting off a wave of militancy. Rao managed it all with his incisive approach.
He chose Manmohan Singh as the finance minister and backed him up to the hilt in ushering economic reforms. But for that, reforms would have floundered. Virtually all Rao’s cabinet colleagues had grown up with socialistic thinking and feared reforms. Singh acknowledged this repeatedly. Under Rao, India’s economy made a paradigm shift to liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation.

In his column in June 2011, calling him “the unsung hero of India story”, Swaminathan Aiyar records that in Rao’s first month in office, “the rupee was devalued. There followed the virtual abolition of industrial licensing and MRTP clearance. At one stroke, the biggest hurdles to industrial expansion disappeared. Who was the industry minister who initiated these revolutionary reforms? Narasimha Rao himself! He held the industry portfolio too.”

“Yet he did not want draw attention to himself. So he ingeniously made the delicensing announcement on the morning of the day Manmohan Singh was presenting his first Budget. The media clubbed the Budget and delicensing stories together as one composite reform story. In the public mind, Manmohan Singh was seen as the liberalizer, while Rao stayed in the background.” One of the major side effects of the reforms has been the IT revolution which has made India the Knowledge Hub of the world. These measures helped curb the brain drain. Graduates who were leaving India due to lack of opportunities began to reconsider their options because of the in-house IT, BT & BPO revolutions. Many of them stayed back in India and some of them who had fled to US and Europe returned. That march continues today.

Rao was the architect of India’s Look East Policy.” For too long India had looked- West. It was time to re-arrange the focus on Tiger economies of Southeast Asia. He personally visited some of those nations to remove perceptions that India was a newcomer. Ambassador Amar Nath Ram, whom he chose to provide the nuts and bolts to the new policy, recalls that Rao had a rare meeting with the Thai monarch when he emphasised that India was only returning to a region with which its relations were ancient. Subsequent Prime Ministers from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Narendra Modi have followed and followed up on what Rao began. These premiers have also followed up in another vital sector – nuclear capability. I can do no better than quote late K Subrahmanyam, the doyen of strategic community. “In an obituary tribute to Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee revealed that Narasimha Rao urged him to conduct the nuclear tests. Presumably Rao did not look at India's nuclear status from a partisan point of view and he did not mind the NDA and Vajpayee getting all the credit. Narasimha Rao told me, (journalist) George Verghese and a few others during our Kargil Committee interview that he had clearly instructed Manmohan Singh as finance minister to make all necessary funds available to operationalise the nuclear arsenal. That was one of the reasons why the funding for conventional defence was restricted in those years.

“The nuclear weapons programme was conceived of and nurtured by Indira Gandhi. Though Rajiv Gandhi was a strong supporter of nuclear disarmament, he did not hesitate to launch the weapons programme when he found that the Indian national security interests demanded India's developing weapons. Narasimha Rao operationalised the arsenal.” Someday, Narasimha Rao will receive his due.

By: Mahendra Ved

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