PV Narasimha Rao, a social democrat and hardcore pragmatist

One of the statesmen-politicians of India, PV Narasimha Rao’s term as Prime Minister was one of the most transformative periods in the history of post-independent India

By   |  PV Prabhakar Rao  |  Published: 2nd Aug 2020  12:04 amUpdated: 1st Aug 2020  10:46 pm
File photo of former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao

(PV Narasimha Rao – A tribute by his son)

June 28, 2020, marked the 99th birth anniversary of PV Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister of India, whose term from 1991 to 1996 laid the foundation for the rapidly-growing Indian economy of today. One of the statesmen-politicians of India, Rao’s term as Prime Minister was one of the most transformative periods in the history of post-independent India.

Commitment to Rural Development

His birth in a farmer’s family, his upbringing in rural India, and his own experiments in agriculture as a progressive farmer left Rao with strong insights into the rural economy.

He realised that if the country has to grow, infrastructure has to grow, manufacturing has to grow for employment generation, but most importantly, there has to be a huge rural development programme. He never believed in piecemeal rural development. He advocated comprehensive and overall development of all the sectors contributing to the rural economy and rural welfare.

Rao wanted clean water to be made available, women empowerment through DWCRA, improvements in primary health, primary education, empowering of artisans, animal husbandry, poultry, small and tiny scale industry, khadi and village industry, textiles, in fact, improvements in every possible sector. Implementing such schemes for rural development would require huge funds. And so, the allocation of funds was increased to Rs 30,000 crore in the Eighth Plan from a mere Rs 7,000 crore in the Seventh Plan. Ambitious targets of Rs 60,000 crore were set for the Ninth Plan.

But where did these funds come from? The answer to this question comes from Rao’s vision for economic reforms. For the first time in the history of Independent India, he proposed that the large infrastructure projects, hitherto being funded by the State, instead be thrown open to the private sector and foreign investors. As a result, it became possible to utilise the thousands of crores, which would have been tied up in these projects, for rural development and social welfare. He used to say, “Let the top be taken care of by private funds and we will take care of the grassroots.” The idea was to create more wealth for the country which could be effectively and meaningfully distributed between development and welfare.

PV – Socialist or Capitalist?

Naysayers have often accused the first generation economic reforms of 1991, and Rao, of being pro-capitalist.

As evinced by the concept of ‘reforms with a human face’, and with his personal commitment to rural development, it is clear that the reforms were neither capitalist nor socialist. If increasing the wealth of the nation is a capitalist idea, then the appropriate redistribution of such wealth amongst the people is a form of socialism. Both go hand-in-hand.

So was Rao a socialist who went astray? Was he a capitalist? Did he stay a staunch socialist? In my analysis, he was a social democrat who believed in hardcore pragmatism. Ultimately, no ‘ism’ mattered to him as long as his policies yielded results and benefited the poorest of the poor. The vision of the economic reforms was ultimately to improve the lot of India’s economically backward population.

Rao braved many brickbats in attaining his vision. He was aware of the strong socialist-capitalist criticism he was facing, but did not care as long as the common man benefited. He quipped during the Tata Memorial Lecture 1999: “I lost one job pursuing a so-called socialist policy, and as though to compensate that, I lost the second one pursuing the capitalist policy!”

A great patriot-statesman

Rao once said, “I have been a doer throughout my life, less of a talker and very few to talk for me.”

In the years after his term as the Prime Minister, this has largely been true. Rao has been ignored at best, and unfairly vilified at worst. It is only now that India is waking up to the fact that this man’s foresight and vision paved the way to a better and greatly improved (and still improving) India.

He spelled out the most important decisions post-Independence, so much so that if someone sits down to write the history of post-Independence India, he will have to write it in two parts – pre Narasimha Rao’s term as PM and post Narasimha Rao’s prime ministership. The result of his efforts is that the foreign exchange, which was hovering around Rs 3,000 crore in 1991 increased 15-fold by 1996. GDP grew from 3.5% to 7-7.5% There was substantial increase in growth figures of industry, agriculture and exports and the inflation almost halved from the double-digit figures of 1991. The benefits of his policies are still being enjoyed by the average Indian.

PV Narasimha Rao
PV Prabhakar Rao

The name PV Narasimha Rao brings to our mind attributes like intellectual excellence, exceptional political sagacity, and a man of learning. Above all, it carries the image of a great Prime Minister who changed the destiny of millions of Indians through his policies. It is time we honoured the man who spent his life serving his country and his fellow-citizens by awarding him the Bharat Ratna.


(The author is president of Swami Ramananda Tirtha Institute of Socio-Economic Research and National Integration, a member of Swami Ramananda Tirtha Memorial Committee, and Managing Director of a not-for-profit company he started in the name of his father, statesman politician PV Narasimha Rao)

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