Saturday, 19 November 2016

Review: Half - Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India

Half - Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India Half - Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India by Vinay Sitapati
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Take half a Lion, add a mouse and fox to make a whole, and dress it with a garland of Ambition, you have made yourself the Prime minister of India from 1991-1996, Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao. P.V. Narasimha rao is mostly known to us as the Prime minister who led the '91 reforms, ended the License quota raj, failed to prevent the destruction of Babri Masjid, led over the biggest stock market scam, and one who opened up Telecom and Satellite TV to private sector. He is also seen as someone who was done a great injustice by the Nehru - Indira Gandhi clan, and denied his rightful position in the history. Someone, who people like to think of as a underdog.

PVNR, Landed Brahmin from Andhra who was a staunch socialist, began his political career with a loss to a Communist Candidate. He would go on to win eight elections after that, and holding every significant post in the Indian political arena, from the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, to the ministries of Law, Justice, Education, Foreign affairs, Culture and many more. He would become a Prime minister of the Indian union and go on to be the first PM to complete five years with a Minority Government.

PVNR started out as a Socialist who implemented land reforms while he was CM and would ultimately be unseated by Indira for the sin, just as swiftly as he was "nominated" for the post. PVNR faced with such situations many times in the future, was always careful. He never spoke against the party High command. And this would later prove to be a boon when Congress wanted someone who was not anathema to the various factions.

The book has a hagiographic undertone to it. It whitewashes a lot of areas, and when it does criticize him, does it measured sentences which are drowned by the unabashed praise for him. The handling of 1984 riots, and the overconfidence in letting 1922 Babri Masjid destruction are dealt in some detail, however fail to address all the view points. The author seems a bit too eager to claim these as one off mistakes, that were to be seen as mere abberations in a life long career in politics.

His vision as Union Education and Culture Minister, which was renamed as Human resource Development ministry is impressive. He also played the defence ministry round well, and at time held both Law and Information portfolios.

When he was the Prime Minister, he led the fabled economic reforms, carefully placing Manmohan as his fall guy. He also led India's Nuclear program and came very close to testing it in '96. Contrary to popular belief, Ab Vajpayee merely exploded the bomb, which was already ready when he assumed office. Narasimha Rao was also a quick adopter, realising the advantages of capitalism rather quickly, and always made it a point to take businessmen from CCI, the anathema to ASSOCHAM, on his foreign visits. He also opened diplomatic relations with Israel, came to an agreement with China on certain border issues, led the reform of Stock market while being accused of accepting a Crore in Bribe.

PVNR was a polyglot, and could speak fluently in ten languages, 7 of them Indic. He also was and continues to be the only Prime minister who could program in COBOL and BASIC, and used his personal computer extensively. He was a scholar in the true sense of the word. But he was also petty, vile and cunning, and not in the least unambitious. He played the game until the very end and perhaps this book is too kind to him in many ways.

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