Calling P V Narasimha Rao “a dedicated Congressman” who “served the party devotedly in various capacities”, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi Friday said the party takes pride in the “many accomplishments and contributions” of the former Prime Minister.
She said Rao became Prime Minister at a time of “grave economic crisis” and the country was able to overcome the many challenges successfully through his “bold leadership”.
Her statement is significant given the strained relations she had with Rao during and after his tenure as Prime Minister, and till his death in 2004. The Congress released written speeches of Gandhi, her son and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which were read out during a virtual function, organised by the Telangana Congress, to launch year-long celebrations to mark Rao’s birth centenary.
Singh called Rao “the father of Economic Reforms in India.”
In the past, Gandhi rarely spoke about Rao’s contribution. She made a rare mention in her presidential speech at the Congress plenary session in 2010. “Rajiv Gandhi was with us for a brief while but in that eventful time, he set out our country firmly on the path to entering the 21st century from a position of strength. PV Narasimha Rao gave fresh impetus to the process of economic reforms,” she had then said.
In 2018, the Congress remembered Rao at the AICC plenary session with the political resolution paying tribute to him for ushering in economic reforms.
And Friday, Gandhi remembered him as a “most scholarly and erudite personality”.
“After a long career in state and national politics, he became the Prime Minister of India at a time of grave economic crisis. Through his bold leadership, our country was able to overcome many challenges successfully,” she said.
The Union Budget of July 24, 1991, she said, paved the way for economic transformation of India.
“Rao’s tenure was also marked by a number of political, social and foreign policy achievements that have endured. Above all, he was a dedicated Congressman who served the party devotedly in various capacities… Rao was a respected national and international figure. The Congress party takes pride in his many accomplishments and contributions,” she said.
In his speech, Rahul applauded the Telangana Congress for the initiative. Incidentally, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has already made a series of announcements to commemorate Rao’s birth centenary. He has also demanded a Bharat Ratna for Rao.
Rahul said Rao’s contribution continues to shape modern India. “From joining the Congress party in his teenage years to becoming the PM of the largest democracy, his remarkable political journey reflected his grit and determination,” he said. Rahul said it was on this day in 1991 that India embarked on a bold new path of economic transformation.
“Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh played a pivotal role in ushering in the era of liberalisation,” he said.
In his inaugural speech, Singh called Rao “a great son of the soil” and talked about the Budget which he had presented on July 24, 1991. “It was a Budget that changed India in many ways. It ushered in economic reforms and liberalisation. It was a hard choice and a bold decision, and it was possible because Prime Minister Narasimha Rao gave me the freedom to roll out things, after he fully understood what was ailing India’s economy at that time,” Singh said.
He said “real tough decisions” on the economic front had to be urgently taken in 1991 as the country was faced with a foreign exchange crisis.
“But then politically it was a big question if one could take hard decisions to meet the challenging situation. It was a precariously placed minority government, which was dependent on outside support for stability. Yet Narasimha Rao was able to carry everyone along, convincing them with his conviction. Enjoying his confidence, I went about my job to carry forward his vision… Looking back, Rao can truly be called the father of Economic Reforms in India,” he said.
“Economic Reforms and Liberalisation were indeed his biggest contribution but his contributions to the country in different fields cannot be underestimated. On the Foreign Affairs front, he made efforts to improve the relationship with our neighbours including China. India signed the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement along with the SAARC countries. Then the ‘Look East Policy’ was also his brainchild to link India with East and South-East Asian countries,” Singh said.
Singh pointed out that Rao, “endowed with a cool temperament and deep political prowess”, was open to debates and discussion and always tried to take the Opposition into confidence.
“He had deputed Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the leader of the Indian delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva to discuss Pakistan-sponsored resolution to censure India on its record of human rights in Jammu & Kashmir, which was successfully thwarted. He had also nominated Subramaniam Swamy as Chairman of the Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade, with a Cabinet-rank,” Singh recalled.