The Man Who Reinvented India
Kapil Komireddi looks at the career of P.V. Narasimha Rao, India's ninth Prime Minister and someone who came in at a critical moment to reorient India on the path towards modernization:
The man who led India's transformation was an unlikely pragmatist. He was 70 and had undergone triple-bypass surgery when he assumed office. A career politician, he had no political constituency of his own. There was hardly a voice that did not lament his elevation to the premiership. And yet if Jawaharlal Nehru "discovered" India, it can reasonably be said that PV Narasimha Rao reinvented it....
He determined to focus on trade during his first visit to the US. The Americans received him as something of a revolutionary. The Wall Street Journal praised him effusively for repudiating Nehru's "xenophobia" and embracing the markets. Morgan Stanley released a report stating that Rao's reforms were moving India toward "tigerisation". A group of major US businesses - including AT&T, GE, Ford and Coca-Cola - formed an autonomous lobbying group called the India Interest Group to promote India in Washington. Bowing to the markets, Clinton assured Rao that the US would no longer air its concerns about human rights in public, even if proliferation would remain an issue. By the end of 1995, India was attracting more foreign investment than it had managed in the previous four decades combined and two-way trade with the US had jumped to $7.3 billion.
But as with all legacies, the results were decidedly mixed:
India's progress does not manifest itself in these troubled villages in the form of clean water or electricity or schools or sanitation. It appears in the shape of heavy machinery sent to extract prized minerals from tribal lands and the arms of paramilitary forces used to displace villagers. The poet Dom Moraes once wrote that India had "the most brutally stupid middle class in the world". Illustrating his claim, an overwhelming majority of media commentators uncritically cheer on the state, giving rise to a false idea of symmetry of power between the Maoists and the government. This is also Rao's legacy.
Rao led India out of one of the one the worst crises in its history, opened it up to the world, dismantled corrosive old orthodoxies, and pursued unthinkable new friendships. In doing so, he corrupted India's democracy and crippled its commitment to secularism. He left behind an India that is wealthier (but more unequal), confident (but less empathetic), and integrated into the world economy (but closed to its poorer citizens).