The Pune book release of 1991-How P.V. Narasimha Rao made History, authored by political commentator and policy analyst Dr. Sanjaya Baru, took place on the 25th of October 2016 at Yashada. The programme was carried out in the format of a conversation between the programme committee Chairperson, Dr. Dileep Padgaonkar and Dr. Sanjaya Baru.
Dr. Padgaonkar began by mentioning the significant contribution of P.V. Narasimha Rao towards giving a new direction to India’s macroeconomic and foreign policy, but also that his contributions have largely been neglected, until Dr. Baru decided to write this book. “Why is it”, he inquired, “that authors and academics, have not chosen to do, what you have just done?”
Dr. Baru responded to this question by drawing attention to the fact that the economic reforms of 1991 were covered extensively in academic journals, in the media, etc. but not a single political scientist had generated a comprehensive analysis of the politics of 1991. The only book available was a collection of newspaper articles on this theme by JNU professor C.P.Bhambri. He argued that political science as a profession, has failed in India, as it has neglected to cover politics on the ground.
The refueling of the American Military planes was an aspect that was discussed elaborately. It was suggested by Dr. Baru that Narasimha Rao may have picked up the thread of foreign policy from the former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, who was more in tune with what was happening globally, which showed when he allowed American military planes to refuel in India.
Narasimha Rao’s presidency of the Congress party was also touched upon, as was the landscape of competition for the Prime Ministerial position at the time, with Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar and Arjun Singh bringing in tough competition.
Dr. Baru talked about Narasimha Rao’s acumen in understanding multiple domains, having served as Minister of Defense, Minister of External Affairs and Minister of Home Affairs. He cited the example of his address as Prime Minister to the nation on the evening of 22nd June, which was drafted solely by then Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra. In this address he stated his agenda as Prime Minister, which covered everything – industrial reform, foreign policy, trade policy reform, etc. Dr. Baru thus referred to Narasimha Rao as an ‘Activist Prime Minister’, who “didn’t just sign on the dotted line”.
Briefly touching upon the dynasty politics of Indira Gandhi and what it means for a democracy, Dr. Padgaonkar guided the conversation towards the highs and lows of Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister. He mentioned that while the 1991 reforms were considered as his highs, the Sikh riots and the Babri Masjid bombing are considered as his lows, given that he was the Home Minister when these unfortunate events took place.
Dr. Baru responded by pointing out that every PM has his share of highs and lows but PV Narasimha Rao was unfairly erased from the public memory by his own party, owing to his share of mistakes. He concluded by saying that his purpose of writing the book was to give Narasimha Rao his due credit as an important Prime Minister, without denying his failures and mistakes.