NEW DELHI: P V Narasimha Rao, simply PV to Congressmen who were quick to disown the former Prime Minister once the tide turned against him, remains an enigma.
Not even the books Rao wrote in the lonely years of his political wilderness could adequately answer how he achieved economic liberalisation heading a minority Congress government, why he could not stop the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, and why his relation with Sonia Gandhi soured to the extent it did.
Now a new posthumous biography of the former PM, based on Rao’s handwritten notes, letters and texts, hitherto kept away from the public domain, promises to solve some of the closely guarded secrets, including why he called off the nuclear test.
For the first time, Rao’s family granted access to the documents to 32-year-old author Vinay Sitapati, whose book, Half-Lion: How Narasimha Rao Transformed India, was released on Monday by Vice-President Hamid Ansari.
Unveiling the book, Ansari said that the sections relating to the management of Parliament and the demolition of the mosque would invite commentary. A far more sizzling portion of the book is devoted to the use of the Intelligence Bureau by Rao to monitor the activities around Sonia Gandhi and other political opponents, both within the Congress and outside.
Half-Lion debunks stories that Rao slept through the demolition. Instead, it tries hard to correct that perception with the help of commentaries from his personal cardiologist from AIIMS, and shows that Rao was stressed and had to be medicated to avoid a health breakdown on December 6, 1992.
The author forwarded the thesis that the Babri demolition was a political agenda hatched as much to demolish Rao. The way former Congress minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was present in the audience, objected to the charge that the Congress had tried to “demonise” Rao to attract Muslim votes amply proved the point.
The panellists, including foreign policy analyst C Raja Mohan and political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, argued that Rao’s role was more serious and direct in the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 when he was Union Home Minister than in 1992, but he was vilified by his party for the latter.
An astute politician, a polyglot and an intellectual among pygmies, Rao, everyone admitted, completely changed the economic and foreign policy template of India through his pragmatism.
Ansari summed up, “The good that Narasimha Rao did to the country lives after him and has changed the very surroundings in which we live and work; the harm too lives on and continues to extract a heavy toll.”
Ansari hailed Rao’s role as the initiator for change in basic economic policies. “The crisis of 1991 was the catalyst. To him goes the credit for grasping the opportunity,” he added.