P V Narasimha Rao: Bharat Ratna for a Blotted Legacy

p v narasimha rao
P V Narasimha Rao

In the last leg of its second 5-year tenure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is showering Bharat Ratnas at an unprecedented pace. In a span of few weeks, 5 people have been awarded the Bharat Ratna, a record number in any given year since the inception of this highest civilian honor in 1954. Mr P V Narasimha Rao, who holds the distinction of the first non-Gandhi family Congress Prime Minister to have completed a full 5-year term in office (1991-1996), joins this coveted list. While some in the mainstream media have lauded this event, it behooves us to look at three important events in PV Narasimha Rao’s long political career that smack of egregious misconduct and willful malfeasance. The scale of these events would ideally lead to political demise and relegation to ignominy in the annals of history but in this case have proven to be non-issues in conferment of the tallest laurel in the country.

The first event dates back to 1984, precisely the 6 dreaded, dark days between October 31st- November 5th, when Sikhs were slaughtered in the streets of New Delhi (and other places across the country) by frenzied mobs in retaliation to the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The home minister of India and de facto man-in-charge of the country at the time was none other than Mr PV Narasimha Rao. According to the government’s own estimates, upwards of 3350 people were killed in New Delhi alone while the actual tally is thought to be manifold higher. Congress government of the day virtually washed its hands off of the basic responsibility of protecting the citizens. Police stood by as mute spectators as unspeakable horrors were committed against hapless Sikhs in an act of systematic genocide, a tool that has since been used by rightwing mobs with impunity against other minorities in similar subsequent massacres. How could a learned, self-proclaimed intellectual like Mr Narasimha Rao let such a pogrom play out under his watch as the home minister? A tongue that eloquently spoke 17 languages chose to remain tongue-tied while fellow citizens were mercilessly massacred. Some of his ardent supporters would like us to believe that this suave gentleman was a mere bystander at the time but another non-Gandhi family Congress Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh, a Sikh himself, that completed not one but 2 terms as Prime Minister of India has publicly stated that Mr Narasimha Rao paid no heed to repeated requests to bring in the Army to stem the violence that will forever remain a blot in Independent India’s history.

The second event pertaining to his legacy is the December 6th, 1992 destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. By then, PV Narasimha Rao was firmly in the saddle as the indisputable Prime Minister of India. It is now a well-recognized fact that he did nothing to halt the juggernaut of L K Advani’s vitriolic Rath Yatra that not only flared up communal tensions in several cities across the country but culminated in the physical razing to the ground of a 500-year old mosque, the ramifications of which are still felt to this day and perhaps for many years ahead. Contemporaries such as Lalu Yadav threw L K Advani behind the bars for flagrantly riling up communal tensions but Union government under Narasmiha Rao surreptitiously allowed him to stoke tensions. Memoirs written by multiple people who were either close to Mr Rao at that time or were part of his cabinet have proven beyond doubt that he intentionally chose the path of inaction and indifference in the light of historic communal polarization. As Asaduddin Owaisi pointed out in his Lok Sabha speech this past week, the Prime Minister of India PV Narasimha Rao was busy and inaccessible in a puja while Babri Masjid was being demolished by saffron goons. No wonder he was labeled as the “first BJP Prime Minister of India” by his party colleague Mani Sankar Aiyar. The singular event of Babri Masjid demolition catapulted BJP from a fringe party to eventually becoming the numero-uno party that it is today under the stewardship of Narendra Modi who owes it to those 1992 events for his eventual rise. In fact, he doubled up as both Advani and PV Narasmiha Rao in a unitary role when it came to his turn in 2002 as both the vitriol-spewing pracharak and the Nero-eque administrator. One has to certainly appreciate the humility of Modi in paying back his respects in kind to Advani and PV Narasimha Rao to whom he owes so much!. With his stewardship of 1992 events, PV Narashimha Rao holds the rare distinction of being at the helm during both of the heinous acts of violence in The Republic of India’s history that make us all hang our heads in shame even to this day.

The third event that also holds historical significance is of a different shade but also blot-worthy in its own regard. In July 1993, PV Narasimha Rao’s minority government barely scraped through a no-confidence motion by allegedly bribing MPs from Jharkand Mukthi Morcha (JMM) and Janata Dal (Ajit) leading to the narrowest margin in history of Indian Parliament of 14 votes. As Fali Nariman put it, “it was in this year (1993) that corruption got institutionalized in India”. The no-confidence motion itself was tabled alleging rampant corruption in PV Narasimha Rao’s government and he solved it by corrupting politics even more. As CPI (M)’s Prakash Karat put it then “The problem created by the suitcase has been solved by the suitcase”. PV Narasimha Rao was eventually found guilty in the bribery case prosecuted by the CBI and became the first former Prime Minister of India to be sentenced to 3-year imprisonment in a corruption case. He obtained reprieve from the Supreme  Court eventually and escaped further infamy.

In essence, these three events depict a politician that went to any length to retain power, threw the constitutional principles to wind and took ideological scruples for a ride. No wonder then he is awarded Bharat Ratna by the present dispensation that out-did him in all those respects and some more!

G Naveen has been writing articles pertaining to politics with emphasis on social Justice for more than 20 years on various platforms. He is a physician by profession. 

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