Former PM PV Narasimha Rao pioneered India’s economic reforms

Om Sharma
By Om Sharma 4 Min Read

FEBRUARY 11, 2024


“A more nuanced and politically loaded reading will not ignore that the award also exploits the fault-lines between Rao and the Gandhi family leadership.”


The decision by the Narendra Modi government to posthumously confer the Bharat Ratna upon PV Narasimha Rao underscores recognition for a transformative political leader. Rao’s pivotal role in initiating economic reforms in 1991 rescued India from the brink of economic collapse, a time when the nation faced the specter of sovereign default and the humiliation of pledging its gold reserves to secure bailout funds from international financial institutions.

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Narasimha Rao’s posthumous recognition with India’s highest civilian honor underscores not just his pivotal role in shaping the nation’s economic trajectory but also exposes the underlying political tensions within the Congress party. Rao’s ascension to the prime ministerial position amidst a tumultuous economic landscape in 1991 was instrumental in steering India away from financial collapse. While the reforms implemented were largely attributed to his finance minister, Manmohan Singh, Rao adeptly packaged and navigated them through the intricate corridors of the Congress party’s ideological framework.

Despite his deft maneuvering, Rao’s legacy remains tainted by political missteps, notably the Babri Mosque demolition, exacerbating his fractious relationship with the Gandhi family. This nuanced perspective on Rao’s accolade highlights the complex interplay between economic pragmatism and political expediency, offering insight into India’s intricate socio-political tapestry.

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Narasimha Rao’s legacy as India’s prime minister during a critical juncture in the nation’s economic history is intertwined with intricate political dynamics, notably the strained relations between him and the Gandhi family leadership of the Congress party. Despite his pivotal role in orchestrating economic reforms, Rao’s tenure was marred by controversies such as the JMM bribery case and the Harshad Mehta scandal, tarnishing his reputation within the party. Moreover, the contentious demolition of the Babri Mosque under his watch further strained his ties with Sonia Gandhi, accentuating the factionalism within the Congress. Rao’s posthumous recognition, while acknowledging his economic stewardship, serves as a reminder of the complex interplay between personal rivalries and national governance.

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The conferral of India’s highest civilian honor upon Narasimha Rao symbolizes not only recognition of his instrumental role in liberalizing the economy but also underscores the intricate web of political alliances and enmities within the Congress party. Rao’s adept navigation of economic reforms, albeit overshadowed by controversies and strained relationships, highlights the delicate balance between policy pragmatism and political survival. While his estrangement from the Gandhi family stemmed from contentious events like the Babri Mosque demolition, Rao’s contributions to India’s economic resurgence remain indelible. His legacy serves as a testament to the complexities inherent in governing a nation amidst shifting ideological landscapes and entrenched power dynamics.

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