Congress should thank PV Narasimha Rao for helping it survive in turbulent times

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It matters little when he judge a dead man but still if we are doing so, it is better to give him his due and not drag his name into controversies.

But it was precisely what senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar did when he said the "pro-Hindu mindset" of late prime minister Narasimha Rao had encouraged the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 on the eve of the latter's 95th birth anniversary (June 28).

narasimha rao

Why demonise Rao for the Babri tragedy?

On the occasion to release Half Lion -- How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India by Vinay Sitapati, Aiyar said Rao felt he could solve the Ram Temple issue by talking to sadhus and saints and many others present on the occasion saw the demolition of the mosque as his "biggest failure". [Arjun Singh's book exposes the writer, not Narasimha Rao]

Vice President Hamid Ansari, who was also present at the book-releasing event, said Rao's "harm" caused by Rao continus to take a heavy toll on the country's life.

Though nobody missed the opportunity to praise Rao for his initiatives to undertake economic reforms, but that is not something of an extra-ordinary act. What is more disappointing is to demonise the man for whatever his party had done in order to maintain the minority voters' trust.

Appeasing the majority was something that Indira and Rajiv Gandhi had started long before Rao

Ironical it may sound, but it was Indira Gandhi who had shown a tilt towards the Hindu vote-bank in the early 1980s. Post-emergency, Indira Gandhi's Congress faced with a new reality where the middle-class, buouyed by the late JP Narayan's revolution, was waking up.

Having tasted defeat to a conglomeration of the middle- and the propertied class in the form of the Janata Party in 1977, the Indira Gandhi regime now moved away from its Left populism of the early 1970s and flirted with the right-wing Hindu identity to wrest back the advantage from the opponents. She also stressed on the issue of national unity in these years, another means to reach out to the nationalist sentiments.

After her assassination in 1984, her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi also continued with the same stand and added another angle to the story: economic liberalisation. But though the Congress came to power with its biggest ever mandate in 1984, the subsequent goof-ups made by the Rajiv government in appeasing both the majority and minority communities (read Babri Mosque issues and Shah Bano case) and the Bofors scam caused the Congress massive damage and helped the BJP to cement its place in Indian politics.

BJP jumped to 120 from 2, thanks to Rajiv regime's goof-up

The Rajiv regime's failure saw the BJP's popularity rise among all strata of the Hindu society---the upper-caste, middle-class and of course, among the fanatics. This era saw the rise of a form of religiosity connected with business and politics and it perfectly suited the needs of a majoritarian party like the BJP. The result: BJP's MP count in the Lok Sabha rose from 2 in 1984 to 120 in 1991 and the Congress had lost both Indira and Rajiv by then.

With a hapless party under him, Rao had to show some leadership to help it survive

Thus, it was no wonder that as a leader of a minority government, Rao had his worries over survival. There were threats to a hapless Congress then through the rise of Hindu nationalism, the issue of backward castes and the rise of the regional parties. Rao's idea to liberalise the economy was one of the counter measures to tackle these issues for an open economy would see the governments garner more revenues with which the needs of the people could be met.

So, in a way, Rao was more a social democrat than a supporter of free-market who wanted to de-escalate polarisation in India's politics to save the Congress and also with it, the social unity of the country.
Manmohan Singh, Rao's finance minister who also played his part in liberalising the economy and became the next PM from the Congress in 2004, missed out on these points during his time to keep the nationalists of the BJP at bay.

Why isn't the Congress pointing to the Gandhis for the BJP's rise? Blaming a dead man is a far more convenient thing to do, isn't it?

Therefore, it is not entirely right to find a villain in Rao. The Congress showed its ugly face by demonising the man who did better than many members of the Gandhi family but yet doesn't much of renaming after him in the country's public life. He was leading the Congress when the Gandhis didn't exist (1991-98) but yet managed-not only in ensuring the party's survival but also its place in history by pioneering a change in India's economic and foreign policy.

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