Born On: June 28, 1921
Born In: Vangara, Andhra Pradesh
Died On: December 23, 2004
Career: Political Leader, Lawyer, Activist, Poet
P.V. Narasimha Rao is best remembered as the first Prime Minister of India outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to serve in the office for complete five years. He was also the first politician from South India to hold this position and rule for a full term. By winning the elections with a majority of 5 lakh votes, Narasimha set a new record in the books. Implanting major economic transformation and several home incidents affecting the national security of India were just a few of his achievements made during his service in politics. He is known as the “Father of Indian Economic Reforms” and “Chanakya” by some people for his magnificent and phenomenal contribution towards industrialization and economic and political legislation. However, just like every coin has two sides, so did P. V Narsimha Rao’s term as a Prime Minister - the nation witnessed the Babri Masjid destruction in Ayodhya, thereby declaring his term as an eventful one in India’s history. Besides, he was the talk of the town in association with several corruption and scandal charges.
P.V. Narasimha Rao was born as Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao to P. Kanga Rao and Rukminiamma in a decent agrarian Niyogi Brahmin family. He was born in Laknepally village of Warrangal district in Andhra Pradesh, but was shifted to Vangara village in Karimnagar district at the age of 3. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Arts from Osmania University and master’s degree in law from Fergussan College from University of Mumbai (now under University of Pune). Though his mother tongue was Telugu, Narasimha he could speak Marathi very fluently. Apart from eight Indian languages, he also had a good hold of English, French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Greek, Latin, and Persian. He began editing a Telugu weekly magazine titled “Kakatiya Patrika” in the 1940s, along with distant cousin Pamulaparti Sadasiva Rao, Ch. Raja Narendra, and Devulapalli Damodar Rao. Narasimha and Sadasiva wrote article under the pen name “Jaya-Vijaya”.
Entry into Politics
Narasimha Rao served as an active freedom fighter during the Indian independence movement and joined politics full time instantly after India attained independence. He became a member of the Indian National Congress and served as a follower of Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, Chief Minister of Hyderabad State. In 1951, he became the member of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and thereafter, a member of the State Legislative Assembly in 1957. He held several important portfolios, such as the Minister of Law and Information from 1962-64, Law and Endowments from 1964-67, Health and Medicine in 1967, and Education from 1968-71 under the Government of Andhra Pradesh. After holding various ministerial positions in Andhra Pradesh, Narasimha was elected as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in 1971. His election surprised several people, regarding a Brahmin holding taking up the position of a Chief Minister. With the split of Indian National Congress in 1969, Narasimha favored Indira Gandhi and continued to be loyal to her during the Emergency and until her death. By 1985, he had gained immense popularity across India for holding several portfolios under the cabinets of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. He served as the Minister of External Affairs from 1980-84, Minister of Home Affairs in 1984, and Minister of Defence from 1984-85. Thereafter, he assumed the post of Minister of Human Resource Development in 1985.
Tenure as a Prime Minister
There has been news of Narasimha Rao contesting for the post of Indian President along with Zail Singh in 1982. After holding diverse portfolios, Narasimha opted for retirement from politics in 1991. However, after the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, Narasimha got a chance to make a comeback. With the 1991 elections, Congress won the largest number of seats allowing him to rule the minority government. Narasimha presumed power on June 21, 1991 and became the first person outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to serve the nation for five continuous years. He was also the first South Indian and the first person from Andhra Pradesh to achieve such an accomplishment. But he had not contested in the general elections. Thus, he participated in a by-election in Nandyal to join the parliament. The opposition did not stand against him since he was the first Prime Minister from Andhra Pradesh. As such, he won from Nandyal with a phenomenal success of a record breaking 5 lakh votes. This was registered in the Guinness Book of World Records. He elected Sharad Pawar as his Defence Minister and Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister.
Challenges Faced as a Prime Minister
Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister of India at a time when the nation was on the verge of bankruptcy. As such, he appointed the former governor of Reserve Bank of India, Manmohan Singh as the Finance Minister to take charge of the declining capital market. It was during this period that Manmohan opened foreign investment, reformed capital markets, deregulated domestic business, and reformed trade regime. Narasimha was successful in destroying the Punjab separatist movement and neutralizing the Kashmir separatist movement. His government introduced India’s first anti-terrorism legislation, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) according to which the Indian Army eliminated all secret agents in Kashmir. But the state transformed into a nightmare, despite numerous army campaigns affecting tourism and commerce largely. During his tenure as a Prime Minister, the nation witnessed the most disastrous time even since the Partition of India, the demolition of Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992. With not much support from Narasimha Rao, the country experienced massive riots throughout the country, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Bhopal. However, in 1993, Narasimha Rao was praised for the use of modern technology and resources to rescue people and provide relief operations to them from the strong earthquake in Latur in Maharashtra.
Achievements in Economic Reforms
Amongst the several achievements made by Narasimha Rao under his leadership, the liberalization of the Indian economy is considered to be a major one. These reforms were adopted to stop the upcoming international default in 1991. As such, they progressed in several areas, including foreign investment, improving capital markets, deregulating domestic business, modifying the trade regime. He aimed at reducing the fiscal deficit, privatizing the public sector, and increasing investment in infrastructure. Initially, Rao insisted on appointing I.G. Patel as his finance minister. But when the latter declined, Manmohan Singh was selected. Some major economic policies adopted by Rao included introducing SEBI Act of 1992 and Security Laws (Amendment), abolishing the Controller of Capital Issues in 1992, opening of India’s equity markets to investment by foreign investors in 1992, starting the National Stock Exchange in 1994 which became India’s largest exchange by 1996, encouraging FDI to increase the maximum limit of foreign capital in joint ventures from 40 to 51 percent, and others.
Achievements in National Security
It was due to Narasimha Rao’s efforts in national nuclear security and ballistic missiles program that India successfully carried out the 1998 Pokhran nuclear tests. These tests were believed to be initialized during Rao’s term, but were declined due to American pressure when the US intelligence sensed them. Further, it was also alleged that Rao himself leaked the information to get more time to develop and test the thermonuclear device which was not ready by that time. He increased the amount spent on military training and courses to train the army for terrorism and insurgencies. He directed necessary steps to increase the national security of the nation and handled the Indian response to the terrorist seizure at Hazratbal holy shrine in Jammu and Kashmir. Rao undertook several agreements with foreign countries, like Western Europe, the United States, and China. Even the relations with Israel were made public which were otherwise secret until 1992. With this, Israel was allowed to open an embassy in New Delhi. Narasimha Rao also received much admiration with his marvelous dealing of crisis management after March 12, 1993 Bombay bombings. He visited Bombay personally and asked US, UK, and other West European countries to send their intelligence officers to Bombay to investigate the facts and involvement of Pakistan in the blasts.
Not just during his rule in the office as the Prime Minister of India, but also after his tenure, Narasimha Rao was known for being associated with direct and indirect charges on corruption. In the 1993 elections, his government was not showing any chances of winning with a majority. As such, Rao was believed to have paid millions of rupees to members of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and Janata Dal to vote in favor of him. After the completion of his tenure in 1996, investigations began in the case. In 2000, Narasimha Rao and his colleague Buta Singh were convicted of the charges but Narasimha appealed in the higher court and hence, remained at flee on bail. Both Rao and Buta Singh were cleared of all charges in 2002. In another case, Rao, along with K.K. Tewary, Chandraswami, and K.N. Aggarwal, were indicted for creating false documents indicating that Ajeya Singh opened a bank account in First Trust Corporation Bank in St. Kitts and deposited $21 million in it, thereby destroying his father, V.P. Singh’s image in the public. Though this incident took place way back in 1989, he was charged of it only in 1996 after the completion of his Prime Ministership by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Due to lack of evidence, he was released, along with the other accused. In a third case, Narasimha Rao, Chandraswami, and K.N. Aggarwal, were charged of cheating Lakhubhai Pathak, an Indian businessman from England, for $100,000. This amount was in exchange of supplying paper pulp in India. But Pathak insisted that he had spent an additional $30,000 on entertaining Chandraswami and his secretary. However, there were acquitted due to lack of evidence in 2003. But, this was imprinted as a large black mark on Rao’s administration for his remaining years and even after his death.
After Narasimha Rao completed five years as the Prime Minister of India in 1996, the Congress Party was defeated badly in the general elections. He served as the President of Congress Party until September 1996, after which Sitaram Kesri replaced him. Under his leadership, Rao maintained an authoritarian stance on the party and the members, which led to exit of various prominent Congress leaders, the most popular amongst them being Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Arjun Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Mamata Banerjee, G.K. Moopanar, and P. Chidambaram. In spite of being a popular political face, Rao suffered from financial troubles with his son’s education being financed by one of his son-in-law. He also found it difficult to educate his daughter for medicine. As per PVRK Prasad, an IAS officer and media advisor of Rao was asked to sell Rao’s Banjara Hills property to pay the dues of all advocates.
Narasimha Rao suffered from a heart attack on December 9, 2004 and was admitted to All India Institute of Medical Sciences. He struggled for 14 days and breathed his last on December 23. Despite his family’s request to cremate the body in New Delhi, Rao’s body was refused entry in AICC headquarters and hence, was taken to Hyderabad where it was displayed at the Jubilee Hall. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Bharatiya Janata Party president L.K. Advani, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and the then Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram were amongst the many celebrities and dignitaries who attended his funeral. He was cremated with full honor by the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Dr. Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy.
1921: Born in Laknepally, Warrangal, Andhra Pradesh
1940s: Started editing in Kakatiya Patrika
1951: Became a member of All India Congress Committee (AICC)
1957: Elected as a member of State Legislative Assembly
1962-64: Became Minister of Law and Information under Andhra government
1964-67: Served as Minister of Law and Endowments under Andhra government
1967: Elected as Minister of Health and Medicine under Andhra government
1968-71: Served as Minister of Education under Andhra government
1971: Became Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh
1980-84: Elected as Minister of External Affairs under central government
1984: Served as Minister of Home Affairs under central government
1984-85: Became Minister of Defense under central government
1985: Selected as Minister of Human Resource Development under central government
1991: Elected as the ninth Prime Minister of India
1992: Introduced SEBI Act and Securities Laws (Amendment)
1992: Divulged relations with Israel and opened up Israeli embassy in New Delhi
1993: Ordered investigations in 1993 Bombay bombings
1994: Started the National Stock Exchange (NSE)
1996: Term as Prime Minister ended on May 16
1996: Accused of bribing Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Janata Dal MPs
1996: Became President of Congress Party
1996: Replaced by Sitaram Kesri as President of Congress Party in September
1998: Pokhran nuclear tests carried out
2000: Convicted of the bribery charges but appealed to high court
2002: Freed of the bribery charges
2003: Acquitted of charges for asking extra money from Lakhubhai Pathak
2004: Died on December 23 of a heart attack in New Delhi aged 83