P V Narasimha Rao — a politician of destiny

Just finished reading Sanjaya Baru’s new book — on 1991 and P V Narasimha Rao.

In an increasingly polarised (and biased) world of journalism — Baru is from a fast vanishing tribe, who are able to keep facts separate from opinions and loyalties. He is one of the remaining few — who believe in research and corroboration through reading and interviews and do not pass off anecdotal evidence (read gossip) as “inside knowledge”.

Being an economic journalist and a seasoned political observer — Baru was particularly well placed to write this book that is as much about Narasimha Rao as it is regarding the economic watershed in India’s post-independence history. 1991 could have been a turning point for Indian politics as well had the Dynasty not struck back with vengeance — reducing PVNR from a man of destiny to a footnote in history. It is divine retribution, perhaps, that after 25 years — there is a reassessment of his contribution restoring in small measure his rightful place as one who has significantly steered the country onto a new trajectory despite odds.

I have already tweeted a lot of snippets from the book as I was reading it. It is a serious chronicle of a very important period that may not interest a lay reader looking for juicy tidbits of the PVNR years. Therefore, it may not become a best-seller like his previous book The Accidental Prime Minister — which had a lot of ‘masala’ as it were. But, this is serious stuff for the archives.

Finally — the question that I was left with when I put down the book — was a counter-factual one: Where would India have been today — if it did not have the Nehru — Gandhi Dynasty ruling it (directly or via proxy) for the better part of 70 years ? My simplistic conjecture in hindsight are as follows:

If Patel or someone other than Nehru had become the first Prime Minister — it is most likely he would have still followed the Soviet model of Planned Development with a dominance of Public Sector, while paying lip service to the concept of Mixed Economy. But, where they would have most likely differed is on Nehru’s policy on Kashmir and China and probably not made the same mistakes. Besides, we would have seen stricter enforcement of both economic legislation as well as general law and order in the country — arguably with lesser corruption. Most importantly — as PM they would have been the “first among equals” and not created a cult like Nehru — to lay the seeds of four generations of Dynastic Rule to follow.

One common thread in Baru’s recent works — are two Congress Prime Ministers, who achieved whatever they did despite the Gandhi family (specifically Sonia Gandhi)’s shadow.

There is little reason to believe — if Lal Bahadur Shastri could take Pakistan head-on in 1965 — someone else in his place would not have acted similar to what Indira Gandhi did in 1971. Also, probably, there would not have been the Emergency of 1975.

Going by Baru’s account — the country would have been better off economically if guided by professional economists and not suffered from the compromises of populist policies for the survival of a single family.

Finally, just to please the Left Libs on my time-line, it might have prevented the Hindutva backlash and, therefore, the rise of a Narendra Modi.

#SanjayaBaru #PVNarasimhaRao #SoniaGandhi #NarendraModi