In his book, To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 Story, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh hopes to set the record straight about the dramatic events surrounding the 1991 reforms. In an interview to The Quint, he says that then-Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao’s role in the 1991 reforms should be re-evaluated.
Ramesh says “political biography in India is all hagiography, it’s all Bhakti Yoga” and that Rao was a “much-misunderstood man but he did a lot of things to make him misunderstood.”
The Quint: One question I’d like to ask is, Manmohan Singh is seen as the architect of the reforms, but this book has Narasimha Rao on the cover...
Jairam Ramesh: Mr Narasimha Rao couldn’t have done what he did without Dr Manmohan Singh. Very clear, okay? Dr Manmohan Singh couldn’t have done what he did without Narasimha Rao [either]. Mr Narasimha Rao provided the political leadership, the political manoeuvring, the political manipulation, the political craftiness, the political outreach, the political communication, which is very essential.
Dr Manmohan Singh was the architect, he was. He designed the package, he mobilised the bureaucracy.
The Quint: Had it not been Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao? Had it been somebody else? There was a VP Singh government two years before, there was a Chandra Shekhar government…
Jairam Ramesh: I’ve dealt with the issue. There’s a Tolstoy view of history that individuals don’t matter, it’s events that do. But you know at the same time, Louis Pasteur, whom I quote also says, “Chance favours the prepared mind”.
And both Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Narasimha Rao, pillars of the ancient establishment, no doubt about it, they were pillars of the establishment. They were well prepared for this change and they converted a crisis into an opportunity. Not everybody can seize a crisis and convert into an opportunity.
TQ: Now that’s not a story that is very well known…outside certain circles.
JR: Mr Narasimha Rao unfortunately, as I’ve written in my book, was a much misunderstood man. But he did a lot of things to make him misunderstood, you know. So he was not his best friend, unfortunately. By the way, he publicly once or twice criticised Dr Manmohan Singh…on the price inflation issue, I’ve mentioned, where he actually distanced himself from Dr Manmohan Singh and he told Manmohan Singh in one meeting, “you know if the going gets tough, I’m going to get going, and you have to face the flak.” But, you know, there was an understanding. The only word to describe this is a ‘jugalbandi’. It was a jugalbandi you know it was like a Ravi Shankar-Ali Akbar Khan jugalbandi.
TQ: You spoke about ‘Chetan Bhagatising’ this book. What does that mean?
JR: I have a lot of respect for Chetan Bhagat. You know we went to the same IIT, Bombay. I’ve followed his career. This is a book written in a very simple, conversational style. When my wife read it, and she’s not an economic or economic administrator, she said it’s very snappy, very chatty.
TQ: What are your hopes for this book?
JR: I’m hoping that this would lead to a re-evaluation of the role of Mr Narasimha Rao. I find that Mr Narasimha Rao is either made into a villain or he’s made into a hero, by people who want to fight today’s political battles on yesterday’s political leaders.
Political biography in India is all hagiography. It’s all Bhakti Yoga as Dr Ambedkar said. We’re a nation, not of Karma Yogians or Gnana Yogians but we’re a nation of Bhakti Yogians. The Chinese Community Party passes a resolution that Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong. And Mao himself tells Kruschev in 1958 that out of Stalin’s ten fingers, if seven fingers were good and three fingers were bad, do we need to reject Stalin?
So I think we need honest, frank appraisal of personalities, of events, of episodes, and that’s what I’ve tried to do in this book. I’ve tried to be balanced, I’ve tried to be objective. I’ve no reason to be a camp follower of Narasimha Rao but I think that we owe it to history that we look at our leaders, we look at the people who man these positions of power in their totality.
TQ: On that note, thanks very much and all the best with the book.
JR: Thank you.
Book: To the Brink and Back: India’s 1991 Story
Author: Jairam Ramesh
216 pages, Rs 395/-