One is known for ushering in the biggest economic reforms in India’s history that changed the course of the country and left a deep impact on millions of people. The other was elected by the biggest mandate in three decades on the promise to turn around the sputtering economy and boost growth.
But former prime minister Narasimha Rao and current PM Narendra Modi don’t have much in common, said a panel of experts at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Rao’s biographer Vinay Sitapati and political analyst Sanjaya Baru point out that his style of functioning was almost by stealth, to say one thing and do another – a method that helped the Congress leader outmaneuver not just opponents and economists but his own party. “Modi’s style is reform by battle,” says Baru.
The two leaders also differ in the manner they delivered. “Modi made the big mistake of assuming he had 10 years in power and his first year was a complete waste,” says Baru.
In contrast, when Rao was presented with the roadmap of India’s economic liberalisation in June 1991, he didn’t know if he would continue as prime minister for even a year. “But he wanted to leave an impact on the country,” says Sitapati, whose book Half Lion on Rao came out last year.
He described Rao as a pragmatist who was a lifelong socialist but took half-a-day to change his mind when presented with the sobering facts of India’s economy. “But once decided, he was able to execute the plan at incredible speed.”
Sitapati says the showpiece of Modi’s reform policy – the scrapping of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes – wouldn’t have been Rao’s favourite idea. “He had grown suspicious of an expanded role of the state.”
But Baru suggested that the so-called demonetisation move was a political gamechanger by Modi, who was able to displace Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal as the primary crusader against corruption. “There has been no violence or riots after demonetisation in a country where there are protests over a bull-taming sport.”
Both concurred that Rao had been treated shabbily by the Congress with former PM Manmohan Singh being the only person in the party to credit Rao.
“The sad economic condition was the legacy of Rajiv Gandhi and despite a minority government, Narasimha Rao left a lasting legacy. Despite having the largest numbers, what is Rajiv Gandhi’s legacy? Narendra Modi needs to understand this,” Baru said.
Watch: Sanjaya Baru and Vinay Sitapati talk about the policies of former PM Narasimha Rao
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