Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dear historians - Stop discrediting P.V.Narasimha Rao

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:
This year, India is celebrating 25 years of economic liberalization. Two authors, Vinay Sitapati and Sanjaya Baru, have bought to us two books – one a biography of P.V. Narasimha Rao and the other is a detailed account of how P.V.Narasimha Rao enabled the reforms to be rolled out, amidst great resistance. Social Media has also been on the fore-front to celebrate P.V.Narasimha Rao’s role in ushering in reforms, which many classify as one of the best things to happen to India.
The English mainstream media was conspicuously silent on his role in this landmark event (not surprising, given how Sonia Gandhi led congress party has ignored one of the best Prime Minister’s the country had). With social media providing a platform for ordinary citizens to appreciate the role of the former PM, the mainstream media seems to have jumped into the fray to start discrediting him.
Questions about Narasimha Rao” screamed the Op-Ed headline in The Hindu today. One may jump at me saying, is it wrong to question Narasimha Rao? Of course any one can question anyone – the point of this article is not that!
The byline read (emphasis mine) – “Twenty five years after the historic summer of 1991, he is given too much credit for introducing economic reforms and apportioned too little responsibility for the horrors of 1984 and 1992”
I was trying to comprehend the statement with an open mind. Narasimha Rao was the Home Minister in 1984 and Prime Minister in 1992. Either the Home Minister of the country is responsible for both 1984 and 1992 or the Prime Minister is. How can you apportion blame alternatively, based on your likes of dislikes? Is this the kind of questions one would want to ask “about Narasimha Rao”?
And then the author goes on to write this (emphasis mine) – “Any historical reckoning of his personality must first take cognizance of the fact that he was at the center of two of the three most violent events of India after 1947: the anti-Sikh violence of November 1984 and the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992
I keep wondering which of the three “violent events” he has given the third position to – Nellie Massacre, Bhagalpur Riots or the post-Godhra riots. Because depending on his choice, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is also the “center of two of the three most violent events of India after 1947”.
 After quoting a bit from the books above, the author goes on to tell us this (emphasis mine):
But while Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister was the final decision-making authority, did he make an imprint on the liberalization programme?
Do you now see why I had trouble getting over just the byline? If the Prime Minister was the final decision-making authority, how is PVNR responsible for 1984?  The author then goes on to write that irrespective of who was at the helm of the affairs during that period, the reforms would have gone through because there was no other alternative. He tells us that:
In the closing years (1988 and 1989) of the Rajiv Gandhi government it was known that a balance of payments (BoP) crisis was building up. This gained momentum through the V.P. Singh government (December 1989-November 1990)….
I marvel at the choice of words – 2 years out of a 5 year term are designated as “closing years”. No overwhelming assertion that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi or Finance Minister V.P.Singh screwed up big time – just a mere “a balance of payments crisis was building up”. The author spends considerable time telling us that there are many behind-the-scenes people responsible for this reform process. There are quite a few articles on social media that have also credited Prime Minister Chandrashekhar and Finance Minister for beginning the process. It is the Mainstream media that fed us so far that Finance Minister Manmohan Singh was the brainchild behind the 1991 reforms. It was social media that destroyed that argument (albeit very late) and therefore now the mainstream media is trying to strike back!
Also, would the author be ok if I extend his “The larger point is that an understanding of the major changes that took place in 1991 cannot be framed in terms of the decisions taken by a handful of personalities.” argument to both the 1984 and 1992 events he is referring to? Because it is very easy to do so – all I need to do is explain the circumstances prevailing in the country at that point of time.  It is very easy to explain all the events that led to 1992, but I am keen to know if my argument will really be accepted then!
The author ends thus (emphasis mine): “Let us wait for government records of the time to be opened up so that historians can tell us the complete story of July 1991. And let us wait for more scholarly work so that History can pass judgment on the political persona of Narasimha Rao.
Shall we then not wait for the government records of the time to be opened up so that historians can tell us the complete story of 1984 and 1992? Obviously not – because it doesn’t suit us! And I am still trying to wrap my head around let us wait for “more scholarly work” on PVNR. The contempt and disdain the liberal cabal has for the enormous volume of existing “scholarly work” merely because at the end of the day, his leadership of the country through its most turbulent times, overturns his shortcomings.
There is a very key take-away from the article for me though. Rajiv Gandhi presided over one of the most inept regimes of Independent India. The article tells us that the Home Minister in 1984 was instructed by the PMO to “do nothing”. The article tells us the balance of crisis payment started building up in 1988. The article tells us that “larger structural adjustment loan which did not go far because of the collapse of the Chandra Shekhar government.” The article doesn’t tell us why the government collapsed – it was because Rajiv Gandhi withdrew support citing two constables outside his home.
It is nobody’s contention that PVNR’s role should not be questioned. Infact, his biography does a good job of telling us the various facets of his personality. No Prime Minister is perfect. Riots have happened in the country during every single Prime Minister’s rule. If that was the benchmark to judge them and “damn them in history”, we wouldn’t have any Prime Minister to look up to! Prime Ministers who have risen through the ranks have multiple sides to their personality. The various facets of PVNR are all well documented, given his vast experience in public life. There really is no need for “more scholarly work” merely to satisfy the ego of the liberal cabal. All facts are out there – the people are the best judges. 


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