The bane of modern Indian history is the unconscionable distortions injected into it by historians owing allegiance to the Marxist and Nehruvian schools. This has resulted in a string of untruths being bandied about for decades about personalities and events both in the pre and post-independence eras.
Such is the grip of these two schools over academia that even after free-thinking historians, who are not prisoners of ideology, exhumed many truths that negated the mythologies palmed of by these palace historians, misrepresentations continue to permeate the textbooks and lectures in schools and colleges.
Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar, Syama Prasad Mukherjee and Rajendra Prasad are some of the names that immediately come to mind, the national leaders whose contributions have been deliberately ignored and who have been victims of the falsification of history. In more recent times, a prominent victim of the machinations of these two schools is PV Narasimha Rao, one of India’s most cerebral and successful prime ministers who saved India’s unity and integrity and pulled the country out of an economic rut during 1991-96 and put it on the high road to growth.
The purpose of the so-called scholarship by entrenched academics from these two schools has been three-fold: one, to present members of the Nehru-Gandhi family as near faultless individuals who were deeply wedded to the core values of the constitution and who sacrificed everything for the country; two, to present all their contemporaries as petty individuals with petty goals and with questionable commitment to constitutional values; and, three, credit all national achievements to members of this family and all failures to others.
This shameless and continuous glorification of one political family makes one wonder whether our academia secretly pines for a return to monarchy. Seen in the context of this fraudulent output by these historians, specially in the capital’s universities, Vinay Sitapati’s Half Lion — How PV Narasimha Rao Transformed India — comes as a breath of fresh air.
Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister at a critical moment in the nation’s history. India was standing at the door of the International Monetary Fund with a begging bowl and its foreign exchange reserves had slipped to such an alarming low that there was danger of default on loans.
Rao picked up Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister and began the noble task of dismantling the socialist economy that Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had thrust on the country. He opened up the economy, liberated it from the licence-permit raj, unshackled the entrepreneurial instincts of millions of Indians and invited foreign investments into various sectors. These decisions brought about a spectacular turn around in the economy, restored hope among Indians and gave them the confidence to take on the world. He also pulled Punjab, which was engulfed by secessionist forces, from the brink and saved the unity and integrity of India.
Instead of acknowledging the man’s phenomenal contribution, the Nehru-Gandhis and academics and writers hovering around this family, have falsely accused him of damaging India’s secular fabric and of being complicit in the fall of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Having pinned this monstrous charge on him, they hope this will wipe out his phenomenal contribution to the country.
One scholar even spread the story that Rao was napping while the masjid was being demolished. Another said he was “doing puja” while the demolition was on.
Sitapati’s scholarly book covers a whole range of issues from Rao’s early days to his tenure as a union minister, his prime ministership, the challenge on the economic front, the crisis in Punjab and elsewhere, the nuclear policy and the fall of the Babri Masjid. For want of space, this column will confine itself to just the Babri Masjid issue.
The author throws up enough evidence to demolish the false accusations made against Rao regarding his conduct on December 6, 1992. He shows how Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to Muslim fundamentalism and then swung to appease Hindu sentiment. He opened the locks of the Ram Temple and even blessed the Shilanyas ceremony for the temple.
Sitapati shows how the Union Cabinet was unwilling to impose President’s Rule in Uttar Pradesh prior to December 6, merely on the suspicion that the BJP government in the state would not protect the structure. Article 356 of the Constitution cannot be invoked on assumptions. The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA), that considers such issues, met five times in November alone. The state’s governor too sent a report saying the law and order situation, specially on the communal front “is satisfactory”. Yet, Rao ensured massive deployment of central forces near the disputed structure prior to December 6. The situation that prevailed just prior to the demolition was that “the Supreme Court, the state governor and law ministry officials, all seemed against central rule”.
That is why after the demolition, Mr Pranab Mukherjee told partymen, “All decisions were taken in the meetings of the Cabinet and CCPA. Responsibility is collective; the onus cannot only be on the prime minister or home minister.” Sitapati, who had access to Rao’s personal papers, takes us through this narrative that presents facts that negate the spurious theories that have been in circulation. There is lots more to this book, but that will have to wait till later.
Half Lion is the first scholarly effort to correct the distortions that have crept into our understanding of social and political developments in India over the last three decades. It also seeks to restore Narasimha Rao’s well deserved place in the pantheon of great Indian leaders.
A Surya Prakash is Chairperson of Prasar Bharati