The most popular and talked about prime minister’s (for both the right and wrong reasons) in India’s history have been Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shashtri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, and our current prime minister Narendra Modi.
But one prime minister who did a great job for the country yet doesn’t receive due recognition is India’s 9th Prime Minister – PV Narasimha Rao. The reason why his contributions are kept in the shadow is probably because Congress doesn’t want him to become a leader of greater significance that Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi.
Natwar Singh, a senior Congress leader wrote this about Narasimha Rao – “Unlike Nehru, his [Narasimha Rao] knowledge of Sanskrit was profound. Nehru had a temper, PV a temperament. His roots were deep in the spiritual and religious soil of India. He did not need to ‘discover India’”. This statement makes it amply clear as to why the Congress never gave him due respect.
Following are some reasons why Narasimha Rao was one of the unluckiest of prime minister’s, and why his tenure both as a prime minister and as a politician was very tough –
- The most probable reason why he was chosen to become the PM was that he didn’t threaten anyone and seemed to be a man who could be controlled (just like Manmohan Singh). He was in the twilight of his political career, and was an Indira Gandhi loyalist.
- His government was a minority government. He didn’t have sufficient numbers to be guaranteed a full 5-year term. He had to deal with three kinds of opponents throughout his reign –the left bloc and their allies, the BJP which was on the rise, and his own partymen who were jealous of the fact that an outsider had become the PM. The biggest obstruction in him being able to bring about reforms came from his own party which was hell bent on preserving the socialist legacy of Nehru and Indira.
- After decades of following the Russian mode of socialist economics, the Indian economy was on the verge of collapse and growth had become stagnant. Narasimha Rao had to usher in reforms to ensure that the decrepit economy recovered, and he did exactly that. But he was severely criticized by socialist nationalist economists for his reforms.
- The security condition in the country was alarming as India was facing massive separatist movements in Kashmir and Punjab. Also, the country was recovering from the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Narasimha Rao had to deal with the situation.
- On the international front, India’s closest ally the Soviet Union or the USSR had collapsed and had lost its superpower status. India had to make new allies which fell upon the shoulders of Rao. But it wasn’t an easy task to do so as it would have angered the Left and other political parties.
- All the credit for the liberalisation of the Indian economy goes to Manmohan Singh as that is what the Congress wants. But Narasimha Rao deserves equal credit for it. He was instrumental in dismantling License Raj and reversing the socialist policies of Rajiv Gandhi.
- He also had to deal with the riots that followed the Babri masjid demolition, the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts, 1993 Latur earthquake, and other such events.
- During the intermediate stages of his reign, he was accused of corruption in the Harshad Mehta scam. Lawyer Ram Jethmalani who represented Mehta called it a ‘PV Narasimha Rao scam’ and accused him of taking a 1 crore bribe. He was later acquitted of the charges of corruption.
- Rao had to deal with personal financial crisis as well. He had to sell his house in Hyderabad to pay his lawyer and medical bills and also to pay for his son’s and granddaughter’s education.
- Rao passed away in 2004, and the humiliation he received at the hands of his own party shocked the nation.The Congress party didn’t even allow his body to enter the party headquarters in Delhi. His family members were forced to hold his cremation in Hyderabad even though they wanted it to be done in Delhi as befits the honour of the PM.
- 13 years have passed away since his death, and not one Congress leader ever speaks of him. His achievements are purposely left out by his own party.