On May 21, 1991, in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, the dreaded terrorists of LTTE eliminated India’s former Prime minister and Congress President Rajiv Gandhi. Their death led the nation to a state of shock. After his death, the party won the elections. They approached Sonia Gandhi, wife of Rajiv Gandhi, to take over the post of Prime Minister, but because of her state of shock, she decided not to contest.
Then, Congress approached Dr Shankar Dyal Sharma and urged him to take over the PM’s post. Still, he also refused to do that. Following the second rejection, the Congress party selected one of the most outstanding leaders to take this position, who was preparing to retire from political life. Still, life had other plans for him, and he was none other than PV Narsimha Rao, a politician who had served as the CM of Andhra Pradesh for two years.
He was also the former Home and External Affairs Minister in the Cabinet of Rajiv Gandhi and his mother, Indira Gandhi. You would be amazed to know that he had also tried to run for presidential elections in 1982, but unfortunately, Gyani Zail Singh bagged that opportunity. However, now a new opportunity was awaiting him, and that was the post of the Prime Minister of India.
Another exciting thing about Rao was that he was a linguistic man, who knew seventeen languages, in which eleven was Indian, including Hindi and his mother tongue, Telugu, and six foreign languages, including Persian and English.
When Rao took over the Prime Minister’s position, our country was in a state of depression. According to his finance minister and former Prime Minister of India, the foreign exchange was no more than a billion dollars, which was enough only for two weeks for import. He knew that to help India coming out of this depression, he needed to open Indian markets, but that would create a lot of issues for him both from the inside and outside of Congress because masses were hardcore Nehruvian, and were against an open economy.
Moreover, both left and right-wing parties were opposing it, and at that time, he refused to listen to anyone and started his economic reforms. In context to the reforms, he kept the industry ministry under his hand and offered the finance ministry post to the UGC chairperson and former RBI governor, Dr Manmohan Singh.
He also, later, became the Prime Minister of India. Initially, though, with the help of Dr PC Alexander, Rao had approached Dr IG Patel to take over the FM post. However, after his refusal, he had gone to Dr Singh, who later worked under his guidance and helped Rao to open Indian markets. That saved our country from a great economic depression.
Today’s India is one of the top 10 economies of the world, due to the combined efforts of the Rao government. As the industry minister, while he ensured the end of the “License Raj” and confirmed the foreign investment, Dr Singh took off irregular taxes. Although that was Rao’s most significant success, his career is known for the blunders; some by him, and some by his opposition party members.
In 1992, December 6, a mob of Hindutva gangs destroyed Babri Masjid, which led to nationwide anger and hate between Hindus and Muslims, and that took the lives of millions of Indians. Rao tried his best to save the Babri Masjid; according to the book Unfinished Innings, written by his home secretary, Mr Madhav Godbole, his government wanted to deploy 20,000 paramilitary forces in Ayodhya, under Article 355. He also tried to impose president rule under article 356, so that they could form Kalyan Singh’s government, but because of political issues, he was not able to do so.
Eventually, the black day came when the Babri masjid was destroyed, and according to him, on that day, he was in the house, and he had instructed his employees not to call him, and that he would not meet anyone on that day. However, the story told by Madhav Godbole, his home secretary, was very different. He said that the PM was fully aware of what was happening in Ayodhya. His advisors briefed him about the current situation of the Ayodhya. Because of this demolition, his government faced a lot of criticism, but many other things were waiting for him.
On June 16, 1993, a press conference was held in Mumbai. A stockbroker, Harshad Mehta, and his lawyer, Ram Jethmalani, accused Narasimha Rao of taking a bribe of over one crore rupees in December 1991 in the name of the party fund. Like we all know at that time, Harshad Mehta was involved in a 5000 crore Indian securities scam in which he had cheated many Indian banks, while purchasing securities, including equity, mutual funds, etc.
However, the central ministry, later, said that Harshad Mehta was lying because, on that day, the PM was not in Delhi at all. So how can he meet him at his residence, which is in Delhi? As a consequence of that in 1993, opposition parties presented a no-confidence motion against his government. Still, Narasimha Rao managed to win this battle.
Later, he was accused of giving a bribe of one crore rupees to JMM leaders, including Shibu Soren in exchange for their vote in favour of Narsimha Rao, and Shaliender Mehta exposed that. In 2002, the accusation was declared false and malicious by the honourable Supreme Court. Consequently, Narasimha Rao and Sardar Butta Singh got bail in this case.
He also wanted to make India a nuclear state in 1996. He tried to conduct a nuclear test, but due to immense pressure from the USA, he could not do so, and when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became PM, Rao requested him to complete this work. Later, this story was confirmed by BJP leader, Jaswant Singh, who served as Finance and Foreign Minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet. After the rise of Sonia Gandhi in Congress in 1998, he and other leaders like Sitaram Kesari, Sharad Pawar were sidelined in the party.
He retired from politics, and in 2004, he died due to illness, but his dead body was allowed in AICCC Headquarters by the president of Congress, Sonia Gandhi. His family was also forced to conduct his funeral in Hyderabad, and not Delhi, where Narsimha Rao had spent many years. This is how the greatest politician of India and an ex-Prime Minister, who worked hard his entire life for the country, ended up being a neglected man.