NEW DELHI: Ever since Sonia Gandhi became the Congress president in the late 90s, P V Narasimha Rao became the insider-outsider. His was a legacy that sat uneasily with the party, which never officially disowned him, but never owned him either. His memoirs written in his lonely autumn years before his death also did not help revive his political reputation.
Though, Manmohan Singh, the apolitical person Rao inducted into his Cabinet as Finance Minister, later went on to become the longest serving Prime Minister of the country after Jawaharlal Nehru. Nonetheless, except for Singh, who made this ritual visit to Andhra Bhavan on Rao’s birth anniversary, no one in the Congress mentioned the Telugu-bidda, or PV, except in private.
However, with the Congress relegated to a fringe role in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh politics, it seems to have dawned on the party that maybe it’s time to reclaim his contributions, particularly on the economic reform front, to win back his state.
Former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh’s recently launched book -- ‘To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 Story’ -- appears to be one such attempt.
Though Ramesh in an interview to Express vehemently denied that his attempt to restore the Rao legacy had anything to do with the Congress, the fact could not be ignored that his book somewhat coincides with Rao’s photographs re-appearing at Congress conclaves and in certain committee rooms of 24 Abkar Road.
Not just that, the local units of the Congress have been advised to celebrate and commemorate events of state stalwarts, including that of Rao, who has been seen as the first “right- wing” Congress Prime Minister.
During Indira Gandhi era, except during her last years, the party had taken a left-of-the-centre line, junking the mixed economy of Nehru-Shastri time. This is the perception that Ramesh tries to break in his book.
In the book, Ramesh highlights the fact that Rao and Singh never advocated unbridled free market economy or supported government disinvestment from public sector.
It’s always been an economic reform with a human face. And as Prime Minister, he counts that Rao was astute enough to reach out to the Opposition leaders.
“On June 26, 1991, he met Chandra Shekhar, V P Singh, L K Advani, Harkishan Singh Surjeet and some others “separately”. This was before he called an all-party meeting, where the Finance Minister gave “an extensive briefing on the state of the economy, a comprehensive picture on the financial crisis the country was facing, and a clear signal that a default on international payment obligations had to be averted at all costs. The meeting served as a good political gesture so very early in the game,” Ramesh recalls in the book. It almost comes as a suggestion how politics and difficult situations were and could be dealt with by heads of governments.