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Rao was simply magnificent despite huge challenges: Ramesh

Narasimha

P V Narasimha Rao was “simply magnificent” in the initial months of his prime ministership which saw “a life of circumspection gave way to courage” at a time when India faced its “Greece moment”, a new book by a former Union minister says.

“Without doubt, Narasimha Rao confronted huge challenges. Yet in the very brief period I saw him at the closest of quarters, I have to say that he was simply magnificent. A lifetime of circumspection gave way to courage,” Jairam Ramesh says.

The book “To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 story”, which is being released next week by Rupa, is claimed to be the first account of the fast paced change narrated by an insider.

A key aide of Rao, Ramesh was uniquely positioned to both participate and observe at a time when India faced an unprecedented financial crisis in the backdrop of political uncertainty and crumbling investor confidence.

He says the “fox-hedgehog” combine of Rao and the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh rescued India in 1991 in perhaps its darkest moment which could well have mirrored “Greece in 2015”.

Detailing as to how the prime minister went about the task, Ramesh says Rao was in some ways “counterpart” of Chinese revolutionary Deng Xiaoping in India.

“Both were old men. Both had their ups and downs (more downs than ups). But when the moment came, they seized the opportunity to leave their imprint – Rao did it in June 1991, and Deng did it first in 1978, and then, more famously, in 1992,” he says.

Noting that Rao’s “masterstroke” was the appointment of Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister, Ramesh says that in Singh, Rao found a “tailor-made bulwark”.

He says it is true that Rao had told his Finance Minister right at the very beginning. “Manmohan, if things go wrong, your head is on the chopping block; if we succeed, the credit will be ours.”

“Notwithstanding this warning, and despite the enormous pressure and criticism he faced, Rao backed his Finance Minister to his heels, allowing him full freedom even when his instincts told him not to,” he says.

He says almost the entire Congress believes that he wanted the masjid out of the way so that the permanent solution to the imbroglio at Ayodhya could be found.

According to Ramesh, there was no doubt the responsibility for ensuring that December 6, 1992 never happened was “his (Rao’s) and his alone”, even if there may be different views on his culpability to what transpired that.

He says almost the entire Congress believes that Rao wanted the masjid out of the way so that the permanent solution to the imbroglio at Ayodhya could be found.

“Rao’s problems truly started with the Harshad Mehta securities scam that first came to light in April 1992 and thereafter the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. An event that many of his party colleagues, believe he helped orchestrate, or allowed to happen, or at the very least knew of it as it unfolded, without intervening decisively,” Ramesh writes.