Friday, December 31, 2004

In Memoriam: P.V.Narasimha Rao

Last week, we failed to note the passing of a giant personality in the politics of Modern India. Former Prime Minister Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao died of cardiac arrest last Thursday, December 23, 2004. He was 83.

It is said that there are politicians and there are statesmen. Somehow, the two are talked of as if they are exclusive. Mr.Rao was one heck of a proof that they are not necessarily so. One of the very few scholars among the politicians of the past two decades, Mr.Rao was noted for his astute, and many times dangerously unpopular, handling of the economy, all the while keeping his minority government alive by sheer cunning of playing the left against the right and vice versa.

He assumed the leadership of the country when it was at its lowest point - both in morale and in economic morass. Some unjustly claim that Mr.Rao was, at best, a reluctant reformer, who became the accidental hero for simply surrendering to the diktats of the World Bank. Take their view with a huge ladle of salt. We must remember that it took great courage to even surrender (if that is what you insist calling it) in face of such huge hardship that it was bound to entail, and the prevailing political atmosphere. And Mr.Rao dared.

Though a multilinguist, he was never known for a silver tongue. In fact, in the current atmosphere, dominated by politicians who talk loud and do nothing, the sphinx-like Rao, who silently ushered in such a big revolution as the economic reforms, could not but be remembered with nostalgia.

In spite of all his wily machinations to keep his government alive, Mr.Rao is remembered by erstwhile political opponents, including his personal friend, Mr.Vajpayee with respect (Vajpayee acknowledged Mr.Rao's big contribution to Pokhran II in his condolence message) Even after his government attained majority in the Parliament (conceded, by unsavory means), Mr.Rao reached out across the aisle. If, today, there is reasonable consesus on the economic reforms agenda, that is the legacy of Mr.Rao.

Sure, there are numerous things that could be said to sully his memory. But remember that it is more a reflection of us, and not him, if we choose to let those overshadow his great contribution to India.

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