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28th June: A forgotten date

28th  June is not an important date in the Indian political landscape.  But it is a date that new so-called aspirational India should keep a note of. It is the birth anniversary of India’s 9th  Prime Minister P V Narasimharao. The Millennial or Generation Z population in India, who have benefitted from the deeds of this particular politician in the Indian Landscape may or may not be aware of the significance of few actions that were taken by the prime minister who inherited empty coffers and braved all the political brunt of something as unthinkable that time as the opening of economy to foreign investment.

Many would attribute credit to then FM Dr. Manmohan Singh. But though as economist Dr. Singh would have suggested the norms or policies, it was another thing to run a coalition government always under threat of political instability to have pushed these economic measures. The politics of India from 1989 till as late as 2014 was marked by coalition governments. Barring the infrastructure focus of the Vajpayee regime during 99-04, the years always had political compulsions which resulted in political majority abused for wrong policies or policy paralysis.  Thus the period of 91-96 when PV Narasimharao ruled was the base of India Story.

As a kid, I grew in the small window of economic growth in the mid-80s. The reforms came in and allowed opportunities for middle and lower-middle-class kids like me to look forward to global careers, opportunities which earlier were very scarce. I remember getting jobs in banks, factories, the public sector was so difficult. Entrepreneurship was something out of the syllabus for any middle-class constituent. Money really trickled down due to liberalization. We now can think of eating out, spending large sums on an outing, shopping, traveling every week. Earlier which I mean as late as mid 80s was an annual event. Our kids dream of international careers, jobs that can post you globally, jobs in MNC and brands. The Investment has trickled into booming construction, (un) real estate, transportation, agriculture, logistics, banking, and so on. Tier two city children compete with metro kids thanks to communication and technology. Though we have severe gaps in basic infrastructure, urban planning, education, and healthcare, we had driven our population under poverty to the middle-income category which is reflected in GDP with purchasing power parity. Thus it is very important for current incumbents to focus on many concrete reforms to revive the Indian story after corrections of GST and setback due to economic impact of a pandemic arising out of virus originating from Wuhan.

Younger generations may know his role in guiding the economy through reforms but they may not know his key role in many things that can be termed as political suicide in earlier politics. He guided a minority government through policies and steps which ensured free elections in Punjab and got a democratically elected government which led to the resolution of the crisis. He initiated India’s look east policy and facilitated the entry of India into ASEAN. Under his regime, India started diplomatic ties with Israel and Taiwan (partially). Dr. Kalam admits his role in rekindling India’s nuclear program Though it was the Vajpayee government that actually did the Pokharan II, Narasimharao shared many briefings to Vajpayee Govt. He kind of cleaned up the mess created in Kashmir by VP Singh government with a tough stance against militancy.  In 1994, when the UN was voting against India for Human Rights Violation in Kashmir, some nimble diplomatic steps taken in Iran, Our Government led by Narasimharao saved the day for India’s Position in Kashmir.

As a person, Narasimharao was soft-spoken. He was educated, multilingual, and even equipped himself with IT skills then like many professionals. I would say he was the first prime minister of India who mastered Sanskrit. He was the first prime minister from the non-Hindi speaking belt and peninsular

India. His ascent to Prime Minister Post was a boost to the national integration of India. I still remember his speech in Marathi during the inaugural world Marathi meet. What he said that languages cannot remain sacrosanct with technical correctness they have to evolve and include.  He was the one who created the identity of leaders within Congress who had their own standing outside the dynastic successors. Though because of that, he stood the brunt of the neglect during his last days.  One event in Dec 92 and allegations done by the mastermind of the stock market scam maligned his reputation. Also, his political maneuverings during parliamentary votes were questioned.  But for me, it was a (non) action of a statesman. He had a unique style of doing things correctly yet making them appear as things taking their own shape out of his non-action. That’s why maybe he did not get credit for many stellar and difficult things that any Prime Minister of India has ever done.

As a representative of Gen X which saw liberalization unfurl, I feel very thankful to PV Narasimharao. Our Gen-X rode on the waves of free economy and easily acclimatized ourselves from deprivation to consumption. We have seen boons and banes of new tech coming in. We got accustomed to global brands and got recognized worldwide. We became a part of the world and the world saw there was more to India than snake charmers and elephants. We have a long way to go but our young economy and numbers definitely matter for the world. Eventually, globalization would have caught up but maybe our generation X or millennials would have missed out. And our infrastructure would really have made it difficult for the population we have today. Sometimes I wonder if we would have seen new lows thanks to our stagnant economy and limited investment. Thankfully there was one man at the guard during those delicate years and after the lowest level of politics seen in India. But then his contribution still remains unsung and 28 th  June doesn’t get any recall in our collective memories.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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