Giving former Indian PM Narasimhan Rao due credit for 1991 changes…

Praveen Patil comments on the recent Jairam Ramesh book on 1991 crisis and changes thereon.

He wonders why people do not give any credit to then PM Narasimha Rao. The entire credit has been taken by then FM Dr. Manmohan Singh. All this is sop ridiculous as without the PM’s confidence, Finance Minister could have hardly done anything. Even the choice of a FM is made by the Prime Minister and as we know Dr Manmohan Singh was an unlikely choice:

How history was morphed to glorify Manmohan Singh as the sole architect of 1991 reforms while painting P.V. Narasimha Rao as a reluctant, indecisive and often communal Brahman.

Jairam Ramesh’s ‘To the brink and Back – India’s 1991 story’ is one such example of this intellectual snobbery

Q: Given the minority character of your government, do you feel confident as Prime Minister?

A: Yes, I do feel confident now. Although the responsibility is very heavy, the Congress party can discharge this very effectively. And the kind of response which the government has got from the people during the last three weeks has provided us greater confidence.

Q: Is it due to this that you have resorted to strong economic measures like steep depreciation of the rupee?

A: We mean business now. The country could not wait any longer. These decisions should have been taken long ago.

This is the snapshot of P.V. Narasimha Rao’s interview given to Prabhu Chawla of the Indian Express on 8th July 1991. The then Prime Minister of India, in this interview, comes across as an extremely confident leader who was aware of his historic duty to liberalize Indian economy, especially when he emphatically states, “We mean business now”!

Jairam Ramesh quotes this and another equally unequivocal interview given to K.K. Katyal of The Hindu a day before that, on 7th July 1991, in his book “To the brink and back – India’s 1991 Story.”

Yet, despite these publicly available proofs of Mr. Rao’s total belief in the reforms agenda, Jairam Ramesh presents a subtly contrarian picture when he writes that, “He (Rao) remained emphatic, although I very well knew, as did the Finance Minister, how deeply uncomfortable he was with the move (to devalue rupee), and had, in fact, tried hard to stop the July 3, devaluation”.

Essentially what Ramesh is telling us is simple – do not believe all the interviews, all the publically available records which forcefully state P.V. Narasimha Rao’s total faith in the reforms, but believe my own fantasies that he was a reluctant reformer.

This has been the intellectual snobbery of the last two and a half decades that India has lived with, wherein history has been subtly morphed to somehow glorify Manmohan Singh as the sole architect of 1991 reforms while trying to paint P.V. Narasimha Rao as this reluctant, indecisive and often communal Brahman.

Prime Minister Rao is that conjecture of India’s economic history whom everybody wants to forget by anointing a more pliable individual as the emperor of reforms. But alas, the decade of decay between 2004 and 2014 has put an emphatic full stop to any such effort and Jairam Ramesh’s latest attempt also fails to add any gloss to Manmohan Singh’s checkered CV.

Both Congress and Dr MMS are paying a huge price for this omission. They just could not carry forward the spirit raised by Narasimha Rao and ended up committing harakiri on several issues. This vacant space was ironically captured by BJP, the party which caused PVN huge heart burn during his tenure due to Ayodhya related issues.  Even more ironically, BJP was once a party which believed in Swadesi and now stands for foreign participation in Indian economy.

Though, I have a different take on all this reform business.

In India it is all about who was behind reforms with hardly any effort to institutionalise the process. What we and our media wants is this one person who can take on the system and create huge noise in the process. The end result is all these ideas are just hinged on this one/few person/persons. Things are rosy till that person can push things and factors favor it. As tides turn, we are again lost.

The media and markets had created huge hype around Dr. MMS getting second tenure without the left in 2009. The equity markets had to be closed due to upper circuit. There was a feeling that father of 1991 is going to create another round of magic in 2009.

What unravelled eventually was just unimaginable. The father of 1991 became the father of 2012-13 crisis as well. We can blame the Gandhi family for destroying all this expectations but we still need to question why the chaos could not be prevented? He had all the team and all the economists around him. There was an Economic Advisory Council, Planning Commission chief, Honorary Personal Economic Adviser, CEA in Finance Ministry and what not. I mean you just name it and it was there.

One important factor is lack of team work and institutionalising the process. I mean whichever countries have developed, they hardly care about who was behind the transformation. What is more important is the transformation process and belief in its continuity.

So even this article should not just look to credit PVN but the entire team behind the process. There are many unsung people who must have contributed immensely in the 1991 proposals. But we hardly know about them.

These are lessons for current administration as well which are busy creating this entire hype around select individuals. The efforts should be made to make India a better place not glorify/blemish certain careers/CVs..


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