Recently I finished reading the book “Half Lion”. The book is about the story of how PV Narasimha Rao (PVNR or PV) transformed India. The book was an eye-opener for me in many ways. Before I get to that part, let me clarify few things.
Before I read the book, I had known very less about PV. Just few images from my childhood days in DD channel of the former prime minister who hardly made any impact in media. One remembers a smug faced man, with bald head, miniature stature, hardly anything charismatic about him that would make him stand apart. In fact, I thought there is anything impressive about him. All that changed after I read the book:
His is the only minority government which completed its tenure of 5 years fully. Minority governments before and after him had hardly survived more than a year. He had minority representation in the Parliament, had his own party members plotting against him and yet he went on to lay a path for India which had played a big role in taking India, where it is today. Here are some of the greatest achievements of his premiership:
We all know Manmohan Singh as the brain behind liberalization which brought the wave of growth and prosperity in India. However, few know that PV is the actual architect of bring in reforms which liberalized the economy, eased the licence raj and imposed restrictions in free trade with other countries. He succeeded in convincing his own party members in voting for the reforms who didn’t want to liberalize Indian economy believing we were selling ourselves to foreign interest.
He is vilified for his role in Babri Masjid demolition and is considered party to the plot. However, the reality is different. His only mistake was to trust the ruling government in UP that they will protect the mosque, (and who eventually had plotted to demolish the mosque). He had even tried back-channels to speak to VHP, BJP leaders to ensure no damage won’t happen to mosque, however selfish interest had backstabbed him.
Vajpayee government got the limelight by declaring India as the nuclear power (by conducting nuclear test in Pokhran), however the reality is PV played a crucial role in furthering India’s nuclear program. According to the book, the nuclear test was planned in April 1996, but since PV’s government lost people mandate in the elections, the test were postponed and PV handed the mantel of the work to Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
When he was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, he brought in land reforms which hurt him as well, since he owned hundreds of acres of land himself in his native village. Yet his belief in having social justice for the land workers, made him push land redistribution reforms (paradoxically, he was replaced as a CM for this very action, because of the landlord lobby).
PM Modi has become famous for visiting foreign countries and wooing investors to invest in India. PV started the initial trend of inviting investors over to India, and marketed India’s potential to the world. Until then, the world saw India as a socialist place which had its doors closed to external world. His pro-foreign policy has been furthered by subsequent governments.
Paradoxically, one of PV’s key actions which backfired against him is this decision to arrest corrupt politicians in the Hawala money case. His own party members were indicted in the case, due to which he lost his own supporters in his party. So much so, for taking actions against offenders, morally right decisions, yet a huge political mistake.
Being the first Non-Nehru lineage person to become the Congress President, he did more than required of him. And for all his contributions to India, he stands vilified by his own party men, abandoned during his final days (his body wasn’t allowed to be kept in Congress headquarters as is the norm and he didn’t have his memorial in Delhi, so to prevent him being seen as an all-India leader).
The best part of PV was he had the ability to play the timid mouse, a wily fox or a courageous lion as the situation demanded. His life offers insights for anyone interested in strategy, and outwitting competitors, may it be political or business. I usually don’t support any political leaders, since this generation leaders are hardly inspiring except a few. Yet, after reading the book, I felt that he hadn’t got his fair share of praise and recognition which he deserved.
This blog is meant as a tribute to the man who as an individual was sincere and placed country interest above himself and achieved so much despite having so little power unlike his predecessors. He truly was one of India’s greatest Prime Minister.
P.S: I loved the author Vinay Sitapati’s writing style. It was lucid and easy to comprehend. A narrative writing which balanced concepts and conversations, the book was a fun read.