Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao (28 June 1921 23 December 2004) was an Indian lawyer and politician who served as the 9th Prime Minister of India, from 19911996. His ascendancy to the prime ministership was politically significant in that he was the first holder of this office from a non-Hindi-speaking region, belonging to the southern part of India. He led an important administration, overseeing a major economic transformation and several home incidents affecting national security of India. Rao, who held the Industries portfolio, was personally responsible for the dismantling of the Licence Raj, as this came under the purview of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. He is often referred to as the “Father of Indian Economic Reforms”. Future prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh continued the economic reform policies pioneered by Rao’s government. Rao accelerated the dismantling of the License Raj, reversing the socialist policies of Rajiv Gandhi‘s government. He employed Dr. Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister to embark on historic economic transition. With Rao’s mandate, Dr. Manmohan Singh launched India’s globalisation angle of the reforms that implemented the International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies to rescue the almost bankrupt nation from economic collapse. Rao was also referred to as Chanakya for his ability to steer tough economic and political legislation through the parliament at a time when he headed a minority government.
According to Natwar Singh, “Unlike Nehru, his knowledge of Sanskrit was profound. Nehru had a temper, PV a temperament. His roots were deep in the spiritual and religious soil of India. He did not need to “Discover India”. 11th President of India APJ Abdul Kalam described Rao as a “patriotic statesman who believed that the nation is bigger than the political system”. Kalam acknowledged that Rao in fact asked him to get ready for nuclear tests in 1996 but they were not carried out as government at center got changed due to 1996 general election. The tests were later conducted by Vajpayee-led NDA government. In fact Rao briefed Vajpayee on nuclear plans.
Rao’s term as Prime Minister was an eventful one in India’s history. Besides marking a paradigm shift from the industrialising, mixed economic model of Jawaharlal Nehru to a market driven one, his years as Prime Minister also saw the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a major right-wing party, as an alternative to the Indian National Congress which had been governing India for most of its post-independence history. Rao’s term also saw the destruction of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh when BJP’s Kalyan Singh was CM which triggered one of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots in the country since its independence. Rao died in 2004 of a heart attack in New Delhi. He was cremated in Hyderabad. He was a versatile personality with interests in a variety of subjects (other than politics) such as literature and computer software (including computer programming). He spoke 17 languages.
PV Narasimha Rao had humble social origins. He was born in a Telugu Brahmin family in a village in Warangal District, now in Telangana, but later adopted and brought to Vangara village of Bheemadevarapalli mandal of Karimnagar district in Telangana, then part of Hyderabad State, when he was three years old. His father, Pamulaparthi Sitarama Rao, and mother, Pamulaparthi Rukmini (Rukminamma), hailed from agrarian families. Popularly known as PV, he completed part of his primary education in Katkuru village of Bheemdevarapalli mandal in Karimnagar district by staying in his relative Gabbeta Radhakishan Rao’s house and studying for his Bachelor’s degree in the Arts college at the Osmania University. He later went on to Hislop College, now under Nagpur University, where he completed a Master’s degree in law.
Rao’s mother tongue was Telugu, and he had an excellent command of Marathi. In addition to eight other Indian languages (Hindi, Oriya, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil and Urdu), he spoke English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German and Persian. Along with his distant cousin Pamulaparthi Sadasiva Rao, Ch. Raja Narendra and Devulapalli Damodar Rao, PV edited a Telugu weekly magazine called Kakatiya Patrika in the 1940s. Both PV and Sadasiva Rao contributed articles under the pen-name Jaya-Vijaya.
Narasimha Rao had three sons and five daughters. His eldest son P.V. Rangarao was an education minister in Kotla Vijaya Bhaskara Reddy‘s cabinet and MLA from Hanamakonda Assembly Constituency, in Warangal District for two terms. His second son, Late P.V. Rajeswara Rao, was a Member of Parliament of the 11th Lok Sabha (15 May 1996 4 December 1997) from Secunderabad Lok Sabha constituency.
Narasimha Rao was an active freedom fighter during the Indian Independence movement and joined full-time politics after independence as a member of the Indian National Congress. His tenure as Chief minister of Andhra Pradesh is well remembered even today for his land reforms and strict implementation of land ceiling acts in Telangana region. President’s rule had to be imposed to counter the Jai Andhra movement during his tenure. He rose to national prominence in 1972 for handling several diverse portfolios, most significantly Home, Defence and Foreign Affairs, in the cabinets of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. In fact, it is speculated that he was in the running for the post of India’s President along with Zail Singh in 1982.
Rao very nearly retired from politics in 1991. It was the assassination of the Congress President Rajiv Gandhi that persuaded him to make a comeback. As the Congress had won the largest number of seats in the 1991 elections, he had an opportunity to head the minority government as Prime Minister. He was the first person outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to serve as Prime Minister for five continuous years, the first to hail from the state of Andhra Pradesh,and also the first from southern India. Since Rao had not contested the general elections, he then participated in a by-election in Nandyal to join the parliament. Rao won from Nandyal with a victory margin of a record 5 lakh (500,000) votes and his win was recorded in the Guinness Book Of World Records. His cabinet included Sharad Pawar, himself a strong contender for the Prime Minister’s post, as Defence Minister. He also broke a convention by appointing a non-political economist and future prime minister, Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister. He also appointed Subramanian Swamy, an Opposition party member as the Chairman of the Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade. This has been the only instance that an Opposition Party member was given a Cabinet rank post by the ruling party. He also sent Opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to represent India in a UN meeting at Geneva.
|#||Position||Took Office||Left Office||Institution|
|1||Member of Legislative Assembly||1957||1977||Manthani, Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana)|
|2||Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha||1977||1980||Hanamkonda, Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana)|
|3||Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha||1980||1984||Hanamkonda, Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana)|
|4||Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha||1984||1989||Ramtek, Maharashtra|
|5||Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha||1989||1991||Ramtek, Maharashtra|
|6||Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha||1991||1996||Nandyal, Andhra Pradesh|
|7||Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha||1996||1998||Brahmapur, Odisha|
Adopted to avert impending 1991 economic crisis, the reforms progressed furthest in the areas of opening up to foreign investment, reforming capital markets, deregulating domestic business, and reforming the trade regime. Rao’s government’s goals were reducing the fiscal deficit, Privatization of the public sector and increasing investment in infrastructure. Trade reforms and changes in the regulation of foreign direct investment were introduced to open India to foreign trade while stabilising external loans. Rao wanted I.G. Patel as his Finance Minister. Patel was an official who helped prepare 14 budgets, an ex-governor of Reserve Bank of India and had headed The London School of Economics. But Patel declined. Rao then chose Manmohan Singh for the job. Manmohan Singh, an acclaimed economist, played a central role in implementing these reforms.
Major reforms in India’s capital markets led to an influx of foreign portfolio investment. The major economic policies adopted by Rao include:
- Abolishing in 1992 the Controller of Capital Issues which decided the prices and number of shares that firms could issue.
- Introducing the SEBI Act of 1992 and the Security Laws (Amendment) which gave SEBI the legal authority to register and regulate all security market intermediaries.
- Opening up in 1992 of India’s equity markets to investment by foreign institutional investors and permitting Indian firms to raise capital on international markets by issuing Global Depository Receipts (GDRs).
- Starting in 1994 of the National Stock Exchange as a computer-based trading system which served as an instrument to leverage reforms of India’s other stock exchanges. The NSE emerged as India’s largest exchange by 1996.
- Reducing tariffs from an average of 85 percent to 25 percent, and rolling back quantitative controls. (The rupee was made convertible on trade account.)
- Encouraging foreign direct investment by increasing the maximum limit on share of foreign capital in joint ventures from 40 to 51% with 100% foreign equity permitted in priority sectors.
- Streamlining procedures for FDI approvals, and in at least 35 industries, automatically approving projects within the limits for foreign participation.
The impact of these reforms may be gauged from the fact that total foreign investment (including foreign direct investment, portfolio investment, and investment raised on international capital markets) in India grew from a minuscule US $132 million in 199192 to $5.3 billion in 199596. Rao began industrial policy reforms with the manufacturing sector. He slashed industrial licensing, leaving only 18 industries subject to licensing. Industrial regulation was rationalised.
National security, foreign policy and crisis management
Rao energised the national nuclear security and ballistic missiles program, which ultimately resulted in the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests. It is speculated that the tests were actually planned in 1995, during Rao’s term in office, and that they were dropped under American pressure when the US intelligence got the whiff of it. Another view was that he purposefully leaked the information to gain time to develop and test thermonuclear device which was not yet ready. He increased military spending, and set the Indian Army on course to fight the emerging threat of terrorism and insurgencies, as well as Pakistan and China’s nuclear potentials. It was during his term that terrorism in the Indian state of Punjab was finally defeated. Also scenarios of aircraft hijackings, which occurred during Rao’s time ended without the government conceding the terrorists’ demands. He also directed negotiations to secure the release of Doraiswamy, an Indian Oil executive, from Kashmiri terrorists who kidnapped him, and Liviu Radu, a Romanian diplomat posted in New Delhi in October 1991, who was kidnapped by Sikh terrorists. Rao also handled the Indian response to the occupation of the Hazratbal holy shrine in Jammu and Kashmir by terrorists in October 1993. He brought the occupation to an end without damage to the shrine. Similarly, he dealt with the kidnapping of some foreign tourists by a terrorist group called Al Faran in Kashmir in 1995 effectively. Although he could not secure the release of the hostages, his policies ensured that the terrorists demands were not conceded to, and that the action of the terrorists was condemned internationally, including Pakistan.
Rao also made diplomatic overtures to Western Europe, the United States, and China. He decided in 1992 to bring into the open India’s relations with Israel, which had been kept covertly active for a few years during his tenure as a Foreign Minister, and permitted Israel to open an embassy in New Delhi. He ordered the intelligence community in 1992 to start a systematic drive to draw the international community’s attention to alleged Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism against India and not to be discouraged by US efforts to undermine the exercise. Rao launched the Look East foreign policy, which brought India closer to ASEAN. He decided to maintain a distance from the Dalai Lama in order to avoid aggravating Beijing’s suspicions and concerns, and made successful overtures to Tehran. The ‘cultivate Iran‘ policy was pushed through vigorously by him. These policies paid rich dividends for India in March 1994, when Benazir Bhutto’s efforts to have a resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir failed, with opposition by China and Iran.
Rao’s crisis management after the 12 March 1993 Bombay bombings was highly praised. He personally visited Bombay after the blasts and after seeing evidence of Pakistani involvement in the blasts, ordered the intelligence community to invite the intelligence agencies of the US, UK and other West European countries to send their counter-terrorism experts to Bombay to examine the facts for themselves.
Challenges faced in office
Economic crisis and initiation of liberalisation
Rao decided that India, which in 1991 was on the brink of bankruptcy, would benefit from liberalising its economy. He appointed an economist, Dr. Manmohan Singh, a former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, as Finance Minister to accomplish his goals. This liberalisation was criticised by many socialist nationalists at that time.
Handling of separatist movements
Rao successfully decimated the Punjab separatist movement and neutralised Kashmir separatist movement. It is said that Rao was ‘solely responsible’ for the decision to hold elections in Punjab, no matter how narrow the electorate base would be. In dealing with Kashmir Rao’s government was highly restrained by US government and its president Mr.Clinton. Rao’s government introduced the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), India’s first anti-terrorism legislation, and directed the Indian Army to eliminate the infiltrators from Pakistan. Despite a heavy and largely successful Army campaign, Pakistani Media accuses that the state descended into a security nightmare. Tourism and commerce were also largely disrupted.
Babri Mosque riots
In the late 1980s, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) brought the Ram Janmabhoomi issue to the centrestage of national politics, and the BJP and VHP began organising larger protests in Ayodhya and around the country
Members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) demolished the Babri Mosque (which was constructed by India’s first Mughal emperor, Babar) in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992. The site is the supposed birthplace of the Hindu deity Rama . The destruction of the disputed structure, which was widely reported in the international media, unleashed large scale communal violence, the most extensive since the Partition of India. Hindus and Muslims were indulged in massive rioting across the country, and almost every major city including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bhopal struggled to control the Unrest.
Later Liberhan Commission, after extensive hearing and investigation, exonerated PV Narasimha Rao. It pointed out that Rao was heading a minority government, the Commission accepted the centre’s submission that central forces could neither be deployed by the Union in the totality of facts and circumstances then prevailing, nor could President’s Rule be imposed “on the basis of rumours or media reports”. Taking such a step would have created “bad precedent” damaging the federal structure and would have “amounted to interference” in the state administration, it said. The state “deliberately and consciously understated” the risk to the disputed structure and general law and order. It also said that the Governor’s assessment of the situation was either badly flawed or overly optimistic and was thus a major impediment for the central government. The Commission further said, “… knowing fully well that its facetious undertakings before the Supreme Court had bought it sufficient breathing space, it (state government) proceeded with the planning for the destruction of the disputed structure. The Supreme Court’s own observer failed to alert it to the sinister undercurrents. The Governor and its intelligence agencies, charged with acting as the eyes and ears of the central government also failed in their task. Without substantive procedural prerequisites, neither the Supreme Court, nor the Union of India was able to take any meaningful steps.”
In yet another discussion with journalist Shekhar Gupta, Rao answered several of the questions on the demolition. He said he was wary of the impact of hundreds of deaths on the nation, and it could have been far worse. And also he had to consider the scenario in which some of the troops might have turned around and joined the mobs instead. Regarding dismissal of Kalyan Singh (government), he said, “mere dismissal does not mean you can take control. It takes a day or so appointing advisers, sending them to Lucknow, taking control of the state. Meanwhile, what had to happen would have happened and there would have been no Kalyan Singh to blame either.”
In 1993, a strong earthquake in Latur, Maharashtra killed nearly 10,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. Rao was applauded by many for using modern technology and resources to organise major relief operations to assuage the stricken people, and for schemes of economic reconstruction.
Purulia arms drop case
Narasimha Rao was charged for facilitating his safe exit of accused of 1995 Purulia arms drop case. Although it was never proved.
Corruption charges and acquittal
Rao’s government was facing a no-confidence motion in July 1993, because the opposition felt that it did not have sufficient numbers to prove a majority. It was alleged that Rao, through a representative, offered millions of rupees to members of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), and possibly a breakaway faction of the Janata Dal, to vote for him during the confidence motion. Shailendra Mahato, one of those members who had accepted the bribe, turned approver. In 1996, after Rao’s term in office had expired, investigations began in earnest in the case. In 2000, after years of legal proceedings, a special court convicted Rao and his colleague, Buta Singh (who is alleged to have escorted the MPs to the Prime Minister). Rao was sentenced to three years in prison for corruption. “I sentence the accused PV Narasimha Rao and Buta Singh to rigorous imprisonment up to three years and a fine of 100,000 rupees ($2,150),” the judge said in his order. Rao appealed to the Delhi High Court and remained free on bail. In 2002, the Delhi High Court overturned the lower court’s decision mainly due to the doubt in credibility of Mahato’s statements (which were extremely inconsistent) and both Rao and Buta Singh were cleared of the charges.
Rao, along with fellow minister K.K. Tewary, Chandraswami and K.N. Aggarwal, were accused of forging documents showing that Ajeya Singh had opened a bank account in the First Trust Corporation Bank in St. Kitts and deposited $21 million in it, making his father V. P. Singh its beneficiary. The alleged intent was to tarnish V.P. Singh’s image. This supposedly happened in 1989. However, only after Rao’s term as PM had expired in 1996, was he formally charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for the crime. Less than a year later the court acquitted him due to lack of evidence linking him with the case.
Lakhubhai Pathak, an Indian businessman living in England, alleged that Chandraswami and K.N. Aggarwal alias Mamaji, along with Rao, cheated him out of $100,000. The amount was given for an express promise for allowing supplies of paper pulp in India, and Pathak alleged that he spent an additional $30,000 entertaining Chandraswami and his secretary. Narasimha Rao and Chandraswami were acquitted of the charges in 2003 and before his death, Rao was acquitted of all the cases charged against him,
Later life and financial difficulties
In spite of significant achievements in a difficult situation, in the 1996 general elections the Indian electorate voted out Rao’s Congress Party. Soon, Sonia Gandhi’s coterie forced Mr. Rao to step down as Party President. He was replaced by Sitaram Kesri.
Rao rarely spoke of his personal views and opinions during his 5-year tenure. After his retirement from national politics, he published a novel called The Insider. The book, which follows a man’s rise through the ranks of Indian politics, resembled events from Rao’s own life.
According to a vernacular source, despite holding many influential posts in Government, he faced many financial troubles. One of his sons was educated with the assistance of his son-in-law. He also faced trouble paying fees for a daughter who was studying medicine. According to P. V. R. K. Prasad, an Indian Administrative Service(IAS) officer who was Narasimha Rao’s media advisor when the latter was Prime Minister, Rao asked his friends to sell away his house at Banjara Hills to clear the dues of lawyers.
Rao suffered a heart attack on 9 December 2004, and was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where he died 14 days later at the age of 83. His family wanted the body cremated in Delhi.”This is his karmabhoomi”, Rao’s son Prabhakara told Manmohan Singh. But Sonia Gandhi’s closest aides ensured that the body was moved to Hyderabad. In Delhi, his body was not allowed inside AICC building. His body was kept in state at the Jubilee Hall in Hyderabad. His funeral was attended by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the then Home Affairs Minister Shivraj Patil, the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president L.K. Advani, the then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and many other dignitaries. Rao was a long-time widower and he was survived by his eight children. The Government of Telangana declared his birthday to be celebrated as a Telangana State function in 2014.
Support for Bharat Ratna
Many people across the party line supported the name of P.V.Narasimha Rao for Bharat Ratna. Telangana CM KCR supported the move to give Bharat Ratna to Rao. Even BJP leader Subramanian swamy supported the move to give Bharat ratna to Rao. According to Sanjay Baru PM Manmohan Singh wanted to give Bharat Ratna to Rao during his tenure.
Rao had great interest in Indian literature among 16 languages. He was very fluent in many languages including his mother tongue Telugu, Marathi, Hindi, English, Tamil, Urdu, Kannada, Oriya, Sanskrit, French, and Spanish. He was able to speak 17 languages. Due to his college education in Fergusson College in Pune, then an affiliated college of the University of Mumbai (but now with Pune University), he became a very prolific reader and speaker of Marathi. He translated the great Telugu literary work Veyipadagalu of Kavi Samraat Viswanatha Satyanarayana into Hindi as Sahasraphan. He also translated Hari Narayan Apte’s Marathi novel Pan Lakshat Kon Gheto? (But who thinks?) into Telugu. He was also invited to be the chief guest of Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Sanmelan where he gave speech in Marathi.
In his later life he wrote his autobiography, The Insider, which depicts his experiences in politics.
“Sonia Gandhi praised contributions of all Congress prime ministers except P V Narasimha Rao in her speech … Making no mention of Rao in her 15-minute speech, she said Rajiv Gandhi scripted the course of economic policies that were followed by the government (headed by Rao) for the following five years.”
“Even today, the Congress leadership shows extreme reluctance to acknowledge the role PV Narasimha Rao played in appointing Manmohan Singh as his finance minister and giving him the freedom to unveil the economic reforms package to bail the Indian economy out of an unprecedented crisis. The Congress leadership was correct in blaming Narasimha Rao for his political misjudgment on the Ayodhya issue. But it is now time the same leadership also acknowledged Narasimha Rao’s role in ushering in economic reforms.”