PV Narasimha Rao – The Half Lion

We live in a time where every aspect of our lives is blown out of proportion.

For example, take the word “Epic”. Dictionary for this word stands for something that is majestic, grand and heroic. Like the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. But the same “Epic” has become a slang these days. At my workplace, any task that might take a few weeks is referred to as Epic. And that is very common. Kids use the term Epic as an adjective for literally everything! Wait, are we digressing here? Well, no. Please read on.

Another example of misplaced fear is by calling any crime perpetrated by random persons or some overreach from ruling Government of the day is termed as “attack on democracy”, “idea o India is being questioned” or “Constitution is being undermined”!

If we really want to know when was the last time the very idea of India was under attack, you have to look into our history, not too way back though. Independent India had two major periods where the foundational principles of our country were under attack. The survival of the nation was at stake. We were staring at a situation where the survival and stability of the nation was looking bleak.

First time this happened was during the Partition of India in 1947. Around 20 million people got displaced and an estimated 1 million Indians lost their lives in those riots. For a new born democracy, this could have been a deadly blow. We did recover from that phase, but paid a very heavy price. Death and displacement of millions of our citizens is something that can be described as a once in a century crisis. Do read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India if you really want to know the enormity of that crisis. And in case you are visiting Amritsar, please go Partition Museum which is walking distance from the Golden Temple. You will find it extremely hard to hold back your tear while walking through the aisles of this museum. https://www.partitionmuseum.org/

Second time we had such a massive challenge was in late 1980s and early 1990s. This was a period of massive unrest in the country.

  • Kashmir unrest took a violent turn in the absence of a credible political force
  • Punjab was still boiling with Khalistani violence, so much so that conducting elections itself was considered to be impossible
  • Assam was going through a tough phase of violence
  • Babri Masjid controversy and the related violence
  • Mandal Commission report on reservations was threating to divide the entire country on caste lines
  • Economic situation of India was so bad that we were sending Gold out of the country to get Forex and avoid IMF loan defaults.

The man who was primarily responsible for taking us out of this phase was PV Narasimha Rao, the Half Lion. We came out bruised and battered but we came out strong which laid the foundation of economic growth for next 2 decades and counting. And PVNR did all this despite running a minority government for 5 years. Yes, he did not even the support of 270 MPs in Lok Sabha but still pulled off the most transformational economic policies that Independent India had ever seen. Not even after his death in 2004.

Vinay Sitapati’s “The Half Lion – How PV Narsimha Rao Transformed India” is an impeccable work of research. It is extremely well written and covers the life and time of PVNR with lot of details. The author has a really good narrative style – you could just make a movie out of this book since the screenplay and editing work is already done for you! The book starts with the mistreatment PVNR got in his death and then goes back to the youth days, state level politics and central level politics. Narrative then covers how the economic crisis was created and how it was handled. Babri Masjid demolition, PVNR’s relationship with Congress, foreign policy changes, Nuclear weaponization program are some of the key chapters covered. The author presents a well rounded view of PVNR. Both the strengths and mistakes are very nicely articulated.

And for the people who believe in WhatsApp forwards as the only truth, please do read this book. It is a very interesting commentary on the massive challenges India faced. How PVNR used the most difficult challenges to divide his opposition and find solutions. How he stayed in the background, used Dr Manmohan Singh as a shield and pushed through those transformational economic policy changes.

This book is an exceptionally good read. Go for it. It is the story of The Half Lion who steered us through the second most difficult time of our very existence as an independent democracy.

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