India Today - To The Point featuring Sanjaya Baru on '1991: How PV Narasimha Rao Made History '

by: Centre for Policy Research

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welcome you're watching to the point is BB not Samara one of the great Prime Minister's who hasn't got the credit he deserves a book that's published on Tuesday argues that point very forcefully it's called 1991 how PB narsimha Rao made history and here it is it's authored is a former editor of the Business Standard in the Financial Express and dr. Manmohan Singh's former media advisor I'm talking of course about Sanjay Barrow and today sanjeev aru is my exclusive guest sanjeev aru your book 1991 how pv narsimha Rao made history is an attempt to credit him not just for transforming the economy but for transforming the entire spectrum of Indian politics you write and I quote Peavey's leadership on the economic foreign policy and domestic political fronts has not received the recognition it deserves in fact you say later on he deserved the Bharat Ratna now everyone is familiar with mr. narsimha Rao's economic reforms what are the key foreign policy reforms and the key domestic political reforms you attribute him but on the poly foreign policy front more than the reform it was a fact that India was faced with the end of the Cold War the implosion of its most important strategic Ally Soviet Union and a complete you know desertion of India by many developed economies that we went knocking on their door for money I mentioned the fact that no reassurance in I went to Tokyo looking for a nobody was interested in India so you he was dealing with a world in which there was India's friends we're disappearing and the countries that matter didn't care for India he changed that equation between India and the rest of the world that's was second he established links with several countries for the first time like South Korea which today is one of the major investors in India and launched the Look East Policy reconnecting with Asia to our East and of course he recognized Israel and launched a new West Asia policy so a lot of initiatives that have stood the test of time what about on the domestic political front what were the key reforms there well the most important thing on the domestic political front was the fact that he revived the Congress party and kept it alive for five full years kept it in office for five full years don't forget that in 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi lost the election he had 197 members in parliament and in 1991 before he was killed all four cars showed that he was not even going to get 197 seats in parliament the Congress was on a decline and the BJP was on the upswing rao reversed that rau well the reverse will happen because of Rajiv Gandhi's death but rau sustained it and kept the party in power for five years now to try and understand why you come to the conclusion that all these achievements haven't got the credit they deserve let's go back to the sort of country rau inherited when he became prime minister in 1991 not only was the economy collapsing but Indian politics as you say had become dysfunctional and global confidence in India was at an all-time low in fact you write in your book India's ability to manage this crisis was in doubt so there were two problems a a serious crisis of multiple types and then the ability to manage it seriously in doubt absolutely you know a current I always say that the way to judge a prime minister is to see that what the country was when the person becomes the Prime Minister and what is the nature of the legacy that he leaves behind by that token narsimha Rao in my judgement was a great Prime Minister because he inherited a complete mess he inherit a political mess in terms of the Mundell Musti Raja tations he inherited a political mess in his own party with the death of Rajiv Gandhi he inherited an economic mess he inherited a complete change in the global power structure and by the time he left office it stabilized the economy he stabilized his party he had established relations with several countries so that transition that if facilitated I think that was his real achievement and your point is that these achievements on all the fronts you just mentioned in five short years were a Herculean achievement no ordinary Prime Minister would have been capable of it and here was the Prime Minister who came in when no one expected him and he pulled this off surprisingly effectively indeed in fact as you just mentioned earlier in 1991 India's biggest problem was a complete lack of confidence in India and by doing all of this he restored confidence in India you just look at the way the world viewed India in 91 and the way the world view India in 96 two different worlds and this is why you believe if herethat Nawaz is just a desert absolutely I mean you look at the list of people who have given bharat ratna true a certainly nurse Mara was figure in that list now instead of the recognition he deserves instead of the part of that man he should have got this is what you write the reality is Congress disowned TV his name was virtually erased from the party's public memory where he died the party shut the gates of its headquarters and refused to bid official farewell to a former president how do you explain this not just contradictory but bizarre behavior by the Congress party well I think by the time he died which was in 2004 the party had constructed a narrative that required it to deal with him in this ignominy sway because they're held him responsible for the Babri Masjid destruction they held him responsible for the fact that the Muslim vote had drifted away from the Congress to the regional parties with Milan Singh in you pee or la loo in Bihar or Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra etcetera and they again pinned the blame on him they pinned the blame on him and therefore they could not have held his tenure because he was held responsible for all the party problems the party was facing but your book actually has a very interesting explanation which I believe in a critical sense as part of the thesis of a book you suggest that Congress under Sonia Gandhi disowned enough Samarra literally shut its doors and gates on him because he proved to be a better Prime Minister than Rajiv Gandhi would have been had Rajiv Gandhi lived to form a government in 1991 you write and I'm quoting he proved to be a better head of government than Rajiv in terms of his ability to provide leadership at a particularly difficult period what makes you say that well first of all it's not just if Rajeev had lived and formed a government I actually argue that he offer a better government then what Raji was able to do between 1984 and 89 when he had more than 400 members of the Congress party in Parliament you know he had this two-thirds majority in parliament and yet if you look at the economy in 84 and the economy in 89 at the polity in 84 and the quality in 89 I mean you know you can see that Rajiv Gandhi's term was not a particularly impressive term he wasted his mandate which is why he lost in 89 and which is why he was about to lose in 91 as well narsimha on the other hand in my judgement proved within a very short time not by 96 in fact by 92 proved that he was in a position to get control over an extremely difficult situation and assert his leadership so I think within the Congress party a lot of people recognized him as a good leader but you really do mean that not Samarra handled the post 91 situation far more effectively far more judiciously then Raji would have been able to do it had Rajiv lived to be Prime Minister absolutely and I say that on the basis of Rogers record I mean I don't just say it out of the blue I'm saying it on the basis of Rogers record in 84 to 89 and in fact his record as an opposition leader from 89 to 91 that he could not have succeeded in the way in business humor audit now in fact in chapter 8 of your book you go one critical and telling step further you say that you don't believe Rajiv would have had the political courage to implement the sweeping reforms that not some are implemented and for which today not sever I was justifiably highly regarded how do you know that but you see the point I make this point in the context of the claims that several congressmen I've made that Raji was the original architect of the reform process that he was the original liberalised but he had all these ideas and if he had won in 91 he would have done all of that and essentially what narsimha or did was to implement Rogers ideas you know Jairam Ramesh has written a book more or less claiming this but for several other congressmen come to believe this and I argue that if dodgy wanted to do what he claimed he would do he would have done it with the four hundred members in Parliament there was no opposition to Rajiv Gandhi between 84 and 89 certainly not in 87 at least VP Singh then leaves an 88 etc but the first two years 84 85 86 Rajiv had no opposition and look at the range of his so-called reforms very limited you know what that super order 1891 was dramatic let me play devil's advocate to that view many people believe that why narsimha Rao actually was able to undertake the sweeping reforms is because there was the political and more importantly economic crisis at that time that crisis particular the economic dimension didn't exist from 84 to 89 admittedly the policies Rajee followed led to the crisis but it happened matured and developed at 89 when Rajiv actually handed over to the next prime minister can you not therefore say that if the crisis gave narsimha Rao the confidence to act the same crisis would have given Rajiv the same confidence yeah well the two points here one Raji was tearing I mean the country was staring at crisis in its face by the beginning of 91 president when Curt Ramon tells Rajiv Gandhi don't pull some her shake her government down because he needs to present this budget to get a loan from the IMF to be able to handle this crisis don't do anything precipitate and yet Rajiv does exactly that so in other words he had the opportunity to help the country move out of a crisis or prevent the country from getting into a crisis he wasted the Duncans ovince de father you could say this proves he was oblivious of the crisis and oblivious and how to handle it he was oblivious of how to handle it he was not oblivious of the crisis he knew exactly what was going wrong in the economy but I think his entire focus was how do I get back to power and if he was oblivious of how to handle it that leads you to the conclusion he lacked the political courage to do what narsimha Rao did absolutely I mean if you had the political courage you have done much more when he was Prime Minister now you mentioned this a moment ago but the conventional traditional view is to save that Congress disowned in our summer out distance itself from gara his mishandling of the Babri mustard in fact it's often said that he was literally asleep as the mustard was falling your book your thesis suggests that in fact the real reason why narsimha I was treated so badly by Congress under Sonia Gandhi is because she wanted to protect and preserve her husband's reputation had narsimha Rao got the credit he deserves Rajeev in comparison would have been overshadowed and then Rajiv would have been pushed into a small corner of history narsimha Rao occupying the grand space she wanted to protect Rajiv hence she disowned an Arsenal and drought virtually wrote him out of history well I can't enter Sonia Gandhi's mind but you know this is a fairly convincing way of explaining a personal approach but I think the party as a whole also accepted this argument that let's put all the blame on her simmer off for all that went wrong because they were defeated in 96 and therefore bury the past and we create this glory of the India Rajiv era as if that was an era of great glory and I'm arguing that reduce tenure was not an era of great glory in fact the corollary is that the love devotion royalty of a wife who by there had become a widow is actually what went against narsimha Rao could well happy could well have been and she was in a commanding position because by then she'd become president to the party but she became president after 98 yes but increasingly more important deed good I mean this is a this is a counterfactual I mean this is a water if argument but I don't rule it out alright let's come at this point to a second aspect of her book which i think is equally interesting the relationship between PV narsimha Rao and dr. Manmohan Singh who we appointed as his finance minister you right PZ made Manmohan in fact you caught something that narsimha Rao said to an unidentified interlocutor he said a finance minister is like the numeral zero its power depends on the number you placed in front of it the success of a Finance Minister depends on the support of the Prime Minister so ultimately the real credit for Manmohan Singh's reforms should go to narsimha Rao precisely in fact the point I make is that the reforms were not Manmohan Singh's reforms they were not Samaras reforms and Manmohan Singh was an extremely important implementer of those reforms in other words he was the most important member of the cabinet for of narsimha Rao he was certainly not Samaras right-hand man now Sumer are at complete trust and faith in him and the two work together no question about it not but Manmohan Singh was secretary rau was first and primary absolutely absolutely because it is Rao who took a view and I mentioned in the book that he wanted a finance minister with an international reputation of being a good economist he first asked IG Patel and I talked about that in the book and when IG said no he didn't want to join come back into government he asked Manmohan Singh so Peary was very clear in his mind what kind of a person he wanted as his finance minister and Manmohan Singh was his second choice yes but he already knew what sort of person he wanted and that meant he already knew what sort of reforms had to happen absolutely that's my argument and in fact therefore one of the critical things of book judges to say that what we today colloquially called the Manmohan Singh reforms correctly should be called the narsimha Rao reform because the primary man is narsimha Rao the executor but secretary person was not noisy yep and you know to be fair to several other writers current I must mention that this argument has been made by some some other for example butcher and das has written this in his book even the recent biography of narsimha Rao by Sitapur dimensions this but I think none of them make the argument as forcefully as I try to make with the quotations I have with the evidence I've brought to bear on this but I think what I'm trying to do is really to underline this point that others have also made absolutely in fact you write it I'm quoting you having name Singh to the finance ministers job PV never interfered with him but and this is equally true because it comes out in a book there were many occasions when narsimha Rao actually had to push a reluctant Manmohan Singh in fact that Samara once told you and I'm quoting there were times I had to push man more than others I had to tell them I will take the political responsibility you go ahead which suggests that even on the economic front raw was frequently the leader he was pushing his own finance minister the belief that the finance minister was being hailed back about is the erroneous and wrong in sitting in fact absolutely right i mean there were many occasions when the leader was dr. Singh when Manmohan Singh would lead a reform and suggestion or Samarra that this is what we should do devaluation is one of them but there were many other occasions where it was narsimha Rao who was telling Manmohan Singh look go ahead do it don't worry I'm with you so I think that balance between the relationship is what I try to restore now there's another very interesting aspect of the relationship between the two men that you bring out dr. Manmohan Singh has a very thin skin and when faced with criticism his instinctive response was to want or to threaten to resign in fact the book says he did it at least three times and on every occasion narsimha Rao literally held his hand and reassured him one gets the sort of image of an understanding elderly adult having to handle a slightly different at times even peevish child yes indeed yes diffident auntie wish to good words who describe the way I think that smaller felt about Manmohan Singh in that period Manmohan Singh evolved in as a leader of the Opposition he became a much more confident person so as a prime minister in fact it was a more confident person but I think as a finance minister he constantly looked to narsimha Rao for support and this is an aspect of the relationship that either with Stein has been forgotten or people never really realized and noticed in the first place it's not just been forgotten current I think the point I'd like to make is that the profession of economists who are the only ones have been writing about reforms repeatedly give the credit only to the economists in the system and not to the politicians in the system I mentioned butcher and Dash's book where he is one of the few who recognizes the role of narsimha Rao now this resignation or series of reservations from dr. Manmohan Singh I handled very differently to the way mr. narsimha Rao handled to other resignations that you write about the first is the resignation of beeches Ambrym in 1992 he was Commerce Minister he faced a series of the financial impropriety or irregularity and he offered to resign at a press conference the Prime Minister called his bluff and accepted and you recounted the story in your book as proof of narsimha Rao's astute political handling why was it astute anthing both Chidambaram and Madras India where politicians who were close to Rajiv Gandhi who saw themselves as close to Sonia Gandhi and to the family and they'd their attitude towards nurse Samara was that you know he's a prime minister that we need not have a sense of loyalty was not as strong on the other hand Manmohan Singh was a creation of narsimha row right there is a difference when Manmohan Singh threatened to resign or offer to resign narsimha Rao held him back he was his man he held him back but when these two politicians offered to resign narsimha Rao actually accepted the resignation to make a larger point in my view and this is based on my conversations with several people who worked with her simmer all that I am boss I am the boss that and though you can't take me for granted in fact you make that point most tellingly when you discuss the Madras India resignation which happened roughly a few months later in 1993 he was Civil Aviation minister at the time an air crash had taken place he resigned but he was hoping so the Prime Minister would reject his resignation thus he would have the halo of staying on at the Prime Minister's request and you write PV saw through the act he was not willing to grant him the halo and so accepted the resignation and then you conclude after these two incidents scindia and earlier Chidambaram every congressman knew who the boss was he stamped his authority of his government by handling these new resignations in the way he did absolutely I don't think after that he got too many I mean the party split a year later which are juicing and nd thievery the old guard walking away but I don't think any ministers wag their tail after he had stamped himself his boss clearly on everyone absolutely now there's no doubt that you really admire the Samara that comes through the book all the way through how does he compare with three other Prime Minister's who's also got a lot of praise Artur Bihari Vajpayee Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru I live within a class of his own you know he was their first Prime Minister he really created the institutions for the first time in a free India so I think it's unfair to compare subsequent Prime Minister's with Nehru what about the ethical but as far as the other two now frankly Indira Gandhi's only great achievement was the fact that she broke up Pakistan and help create Bangladesh otherwise her economic management has come in for a lot of criticism and hence the emergency is well there's the emergency then a foreign policy I mean she was favored here there between the Sheikh called India non-aligned country but was not technically non-aligned went with the Soviet Union and gave the impression to the West that we are allies of the Soviets etcetera she was unable to use the opportunity given by 1972 the Shimla summit to actually come to a settlement with Pakistan she allowed that opportunity to go away so I would actually say that Samara in many ways was even a better Prime Minister than Indira but Indra earned her place in history with Bangladesh much by watch by again oh I think he his main claim to fame was the nuclear test if you look at the economy is only towards the end of wash bias term that the economy begins to pick up otherwise you know for large part of his tenure we were still at six to seven percent rate of growth the the pick up beyond eight percent happens after 2003 so I would in fact say nurse Amara was a better Prime Minister in terms of his performance of the handling of the economy and foreign policy then either India or watch would you in fact then say that with the exception of he'll he was this why would yes and next greatest I would absolutely the second greatest for a second and in the there's very it's very significant Nehru becomes prime minister on the first most important way for India 1947 Nessa morrow becomes Prime Minister on the second most and erm for India 1991 you know when you look back on the history of this country over the last sixty seventy years 1947 nineteen ninety-one will remain the two important turning points and the leadership in those two years was Nehru under swara now as I was reading your book there was the contrast from comparison that kept forcing itself upon me and the more I read the more that contrasts in comparison became vivid and I want to put it to you on the one hand you have narsimha Rao who undertook sweeping reforms as have changed India forever but he didn't have a majority in the Lok Sabha and often he had to act in the teeth of opposition from his own party but the reforms happened on the other hand you have Narendra Modi who was elected with everyone believing that a second set of BIGBANG reforms around the anvil were going to happen Modi has a majority in the Lok Sabha he faces no opposition at all from his party for those reforms haven't happened is the contrast in comparison I'm making a justified in telling one or is it purely journalistic most an interesting one I think 1991 narsimha Rao suddenly realized he had become Prime Minister in a difficult context and for him this was an opportunity he was a hot patient he did not know how long he would live so I think he was counting every day in office and saying I've got to do things as quickly as possible he was pushing himself to doing things mr. Modi on the other hand much younger when he becomes Prime Minister in fantastic health condition thinks he has 10 years in office he's one of his early speeches asked his own party to give him 10 years of stability things there is no hurry I have a majority Congress Party's finished 44 seats and so was in no hurry and in my judgment he wasted his first year I've written this that a lot of things could have been done in the first six months and I think the wake-up call came when the BJP lost in Delhi to Arvind Kejriwal and of course the final wake-up call was Bihar but I think what those two elections showed was that the BJP had wasted its first year and it's only in the last year that mr. Modi has been able to revive the government revive his image and revive the momentum of his government I'm not going to ask you which of the two is greater because Modi's dump is not done I'm going to take a break instead and come back and talk to you about the other side it is not Samara the man because there's a lot about him that comes out which is equally intriguing an equally new and novel we'll be back the moment start see you after the break

welcome back I want you to the point I guess the san jamar oh and by talking about his book published on Tuesday here it is 1991 how PB narsimha Rao made history subject let's come and talk a little about non-stem around the man you report that he was denied a ticket to the Lok Sabha elections of 1991 but more importantly you say that he was thinking seriously of becoming a priest at the core talent beat'em are you sure about the priesthood absolutely in fact this is a story from his media as a PVR ke Prasad who has written about this many years ago in the Telugu media you know I mean it's not known in Delhi it's not known to the country but Prasad was the man who is negotiating with the all the saints in the Sons on the IO jeshu he was the interlocutor between narsimha Rao and Shankar Acharya and various other priests he used to be the head of the Tirupati temple the administrator of the Tirupati temple so he was someone who's very well networked into the Hindu temple system and it is he who revealed this in a in article he wrote many years ago and I only quoted Prasad in this so it was a real possibility that his Rajiv Gandhi hadn't died that Sarah Rao we know wasn't going to stand for elections again that not Sarah could have become a priest yes indeed there's a possibility though he was also looking at another profession which is to get into a think-tank world he was planning to work with the Raja Institute which is in Hyderabad almost the polar opposite of becoming head so in a sense he was uncertain but one of the options he was seriously considering was priesthood yes now in your book comparing between Rajiv Sonia and narsimha Rahu right and I'm quoting you Raji lived in a world where everyone around him each with forks and knives PV was more comfortable eating with his fingers but if Rajiv and P D lived in different worlds Sonia and PV came from different planets there was never any real social connect between the two in other words they were almost destined never to be close to each other absolutely and you know car this is something that narsimha was very conscious of in fact a lot of people who work with him or very close to him who are still around are all conscious of this this contrast between the knife and fork culture or deli and they're not eating with your hand culture of India and I think this is very sharp in the contrast of a shopping their mind saw a lot of them and it's very interesting when mr. Modi gave an interview recently you know he compared himself with David God as opposed true that they leave their bar as you called it I think there is this provincial politician in ER Samara which was very very dominant finally you suggest that even if Rajiv Gandhi hadn't died in May 1991 now America still ended up as Prime Minister because the Congress was in a position to form a government it would have had to be a coalition government and the Allies would have been more comfortable with PV rather than with Rajiv now that's clearly a contractuals bit of speculation very confident of it well I've given an argument why I'm confident of it I mean we look at the other possibilities program Mukherjee was there and said Sharad Pawar was there Arjun Singh was there and I've actually used the autobiographies of all these gentlemen venkatramana Pranab Mukherjee Sharad Pawar foetid are all their autobiographies to look at how they viewed what was happening and it's quite clear to me reading all of that literature that narsimha Rao had the southern and peace with him there's an important factor which I emphasize in my book that a large number of members of parliament at that time were from the south and he was the first South Indian Prime Minister in India in fact the only doctor circumstances would have propelled him rather than Raji that's right my last question the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi loves to throne to Congress he loves to score points against Congress given the great credit you believed that NASA warehouse should have got / didn't get and given the fact that he didn't get it because Sonia Gandhi and Congress actually virtually wrote him out of history do you think it would be fitting for mr. Modi in recognition of what narsimha Rao did to give him the Bharat Ratna absolutely absolutely I think mr. Modi should give understand er simha-dvara throught my gave it to Atal Bihari Vajpayee there is absolutely no reason why he should not be giving it to his hand caucus toka Congress's were at the same yes yes Sanjay borrow a pleasure speaking right


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28 September 2016 on India Today
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