1991 How P.V. Narasimha Rao Made History by Sanjay Baru ; Published by Aleph ; Pages 216 ; Price Rs 599/-
Sanjaya Baru is Consulting Fellow for India International Institute for Strategic Studies, London. He was Media Adviser to Manmohan Singh. He has been connected with several dailies. He is the celebrated author of “ An Accidental Prime Minister” about Manmohan Singh .
In the book under review he makes an earnest attempt to alter the existing belief that makes Manmohan Singh as the prime mover of the 1991 economic reforms and place the credit at the doors of P.V. Narasimha Rao.
The book is an account of the politics, the economics and the geopolitics that combined to make 1991 an important year in India’s recent history. The central character was Narasimha Rao. It was the year that made Narasimha Rao and the year Narasimha Rao made history.
Rao was India’s first accidental Prime Minister, and a path-breaking one. He took charge of the national government and restored political stability ; assumed leadership of the Congress , proving that there was hope beyond the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty ; pushed through significant economic reforms and steered India through the uncharted waters of the post-Cold War period.
The brinkmanship, the one-upmanship, the short-termism of the 1989-91 period, driven by the petty ambitions of myopic and inexperienced leaders, was replaced by a long-term vision of the long-distance number. Narasimha Rao was India’s Man of Destiny.
Baru’s long association with principal players of the time and his access to several others by virtue of being a journalist enables him capture history as it was made. Baru's account of the year in the life of Narasimha Rao, based as it is on his personal rapport with him, is absolutely unputdownable.
Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister at a time when the country was faced with deep economic and political crises. On the economic front there was a severe balance of payments crisis, with a potential debt default staring at the country. On the political front, two coalition governments fell between late 1989 and mid 1991. Besides, the BJP’s Ratha Yatra, led by L.K. Advani, left a trail of destruction and communal violence behind it, especially in northern and western India. V.P. Singh in his short stint as Prime Minister had also decided to implement the Mandal Commission report on reservation for backward classes in government jobs, leading to protests. In this environment, Rao provided the crucial economic and political stability which was so desperately needed.
There is not much in the book that talks of the razing of the mosque at Ayodhya. This too happened during Rao’s tenure, and his critics hold to this day that he could have prevented it but did not. The jury is still out. Baru concludes aptly, “Two decades after he demited office and a decade after his passing away, India is finally coming around to remembering him by the highs of his first year in office.”
27 / 11 / 2016