June 20, 2016

P V Narasimha Rao: Accidental PM and Accidental Reforms

IDFC Institute Visiting Fellow Shankkar Aiyar writes in The New Indian Express about the impacts of former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao.

 

Excerpts below:

 

"... Contemporary discourse about reforms is dense with alibis about the difficulty in implementing reforms. It is true that the 1991 reforms were compelled by an unprecedented crisis. What is equally true is that Rao confronted the challenge with courage and converted it into an opportunity...

India’s political history is dotted with missed opportunities, it is a litany of how change has often eluded the political economy. The saga of 1991 reforms is an instructive testimony on engineering transformative change. Without doubt, the individual is critical. Also critical is the institutional mechanics of the transformation...

At the leadership level, he leveraged the lack of an absolute majority to blunt the high command. Within the party, he split and pit individual interests to overcome institutional resistance—licence and controls was after all an article of faith within the Congress party.

Rao enjoyed uncommon bonhomie with political leaders. On being called the political guru, Atal Bihari Vajpayee crowned Rao as “guru ghantal”, the master of guile. In Parliament, Rao deployed guile and guerrilla politics—leveraging conflicting interests and competing compulsions, pitting the BJP against the Left on economic policies and the secular brigade against the BJP in social policies.

At the operational level, Rao planned well—reflected in the choice of ministers and the fact that he chose to retain the critical ministry of industry...

Rao also sculpted the re-engagement of India and the Indian economy with the world. He focused on building relations with the US (addressing the US Congress along the way), European Union, Brazil, Israel and South Africa. He also authored the Look East policy, creating new avenues. India was opened to foreign investors and foreign markets to Indian business. Despite vociferous opposition, Rao ensured India’s entry into WTO...

For sure, the Rao regime was far from perfect. The Congress blamed him and Rao himself could never live down the demolition of the Babri Masjid—born out of a combination of gullibility, complicity and incompetency. There was also the stench of corruption—like it was in UPA II. Means often justified the end as Rao split parties, courted controversy, and engulfed the regime in the JMM scandal. In a seminal lecture on Mahatma Gandhi at the UNESCO in May 1995, Rao observed “the political actor in Gandhi, through his long career, was subordinate to the moral actor”. The thought must have weighed on Rao.

There is though no disputing the transformation Rao engineered... It is this man that India must credit for laying the foundation for the $ 2-trillion economy the country boasts of today, for the transformation from penury to the promise of prosperity..."

 

Read the entire article here.

Topic : State Capacity / In : OP-EDS
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