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Book Review: Father Of Reforms

P.V. Narasimha Rao was even denied a memorial or last rites in the national capital, so insecure was the first family of Congress

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The Congress system OF the pre-1991 era gave way to a fractured polity in the wake of the Mandal-MarketMandir changes of the 1990s. The Congress system was symbolised primarily by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. It was the hegemony of the Congress system that resulted in various governmental schemes being named after Nehru, Indira, and Rajiv. But for the academia, Nehru was the most common and popular reference point. It is often said that justice has not been done to other Congress leaders who shaped our destiny. It was the obsession with the First Family that made the party relegate even Lal Bahadur Shastri to the background.

Little wonder then that the party all but disowned Telugu bidda P.V. Narasimha Rao — the low-key but Machiavellian prime minister who transformed the country by way of economic liberalisation. He was even denied a memorial or last rites in the national capital, so insecure was the first family of Congress. It was only when the Congress dithered that the BJP tried to appropriate the legacy of Rao, by describing himself as the father of economic reforms.

Historian Ramachandra Guha has often lamented that we don’t do biographies of personalities from contemporary India.

It is this gap that Vinay Sitapati fills by his masterly work on Rao — Half Lion — wherein he resurrects Rao and restores him to his rightful place in the Congress pantheon. Sitapati, who trained as a journalist, and went on to do his Ph.D, combines interviews with a treasure trove of letters and documents made available by Rao’s family to produce a masterly work.

The book, which traces Rao’s life from Telangana to years in power and later across 15 chapters, is a must-read for those interested in the making of modern India