Former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao’s mastery over Sanskrit was the highpoint of his speech in Parliament during the vote of confidence faced by the then government in July 1991, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has written in a new book.
The book, The Brink and Back, is an account of the events leading to the path-breaking economic liberalisation unveiled by Rao’s government with Manmohan Singh as the Union finance minister. Critics often accuse the Congress, dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family, of not giving Rao the credit of pulling the country out of its biggest economic crisis. Rao died in December, 2004, at the age of 83.
Ramesh, an economist-turn-politician known to be close to the Nehru-Gandhi family, was closely associated with Rao during a crucial three-month period when India faced the economic crisis. "The highpoint of Rao’s forty-five minute intervention came when he lapsed into Sanskrit: What have I done? What had the government done? We know that there are no alternatives to what we have done. We have only salvaged the prestige of this country. Samutpanne ardham tyajati panditah. This is precisely what we have done. I do not say that the economy has been booming or is going to boom immediately. What I am saying is sarvanshe samputpanne," Ramesh writes in the book.
To The Brink and Back by Jairam Ramesh. Rupa (Rs 395; PP228)
Subsequently, he describes meaning of Rao's Sanskrit lines, "…the wise man, in the event of total ruin, wriggles out by giving up half his possessions; this is done in the hope that he will save himself from total destruction by using what is left properly."
Ramesh says that through his speech, Rao had "unknowingly served notice to the BJP —Sanskrit was not its monopoly!"
The Congress leader highlights how throughout his speech Rao drew from ancient Indian wisdom, apparently as a counter to the present BJP-led NDA government’s attempts to position itself as the custodian of the knowledge in ancient texts of the country.
In this context, Ramesh refers to the former Prime Minister’s unpublished manuscript, ‘Liberalisation and the Public Sector’ where he wrote, "Bhasmeebhutasya dehasya punaraagamanam kuthah. (Once your body is consigned to the funeral pyre, where is it going to come back from?)’."
"I only wish I could have discussed this further with Narasimha Rao since I believe the materialist traditions in Indian philosophy have been unfairly downplayed and distorted in favour of mysticism and spirituality," Ramesh writes in his book in another veiled dig at the saffron brigade.