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How does your Prime Minister’s Office function: Narasimha Rao had asked UK

After former finance minister Manmohan Singh launched major reforms in 1991, then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao was so frustrated with bureaucratic delays that he sent this “unusual enquiry” to London.

india Updated: Aug 07, 2018 06:24 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Narasimha Rao,PMO,Manmohan Singh
Former PM Narasimha Rao circumvented usual channels and sought advice on how the British PM’s private office is organised through the then London representative of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Mohit Sarobar.(File Photo)

After former finance minister Manmohan Singh launched major reforms in 1991, then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao was so frustrated with bureaucratic delays that he sent what the UK government considered an “unusual enquiry” to London.

Rao circumvented usual channels and sought advice on how the British PM’s private office is organised through the then London representative of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Mohit Sarobar.

Confidential documents declassified and released by National Archives show the request was first made to the department of trade and industry, which forwarded it to 10 Downing Street. David Melville of the department wrote to Stephen Wall in the PM’s office on June 29, 1992: “We spoke about the request from the Indian Prime Minister via Mr Sarobar of the Confederation of Indian Industries for a brief explanation of how our Prime Minister’s Private office is organised... The Indian Prime Minister apparently finds his office over bureaucratic, and is looking for ideas on how to make it more efficient... Our officials feel the request is quite genuine.”

Rao’s request was taken forward by Christopher Prentice of the foreign office in a letter to Wall on July 27, 1992.

The letter stated that London had an interest in encouraging the Indian government’s economic and liberalisation reforms. Prentice wrote: “We know that Mr Tarun Das, director-general of the CII, has regular private meetings with the Indian Prime Minister. We understand from Tarun Das that Narasimha Rao has indicated privately to him some frustration at bureaucratic delay in implementation of policy, particularly over economic liberalisation and privatisation.

“We have no reason to doubt that this unusual enquiry is genuine, and the reason why it has been addressed via the unconventional route of Mr Sarobar is presumably to circumvent likely bureaucratic obstacles within Narasimha Rao’s own office.”

Das said on Monday that he did not have “regular meetings” with Rao, but added that he did “have regular meetings with Principal Secretary to PM, AN Verma. The PMO was driving the reforms and CII was trusted to provide data, analysis and suggestions”.

“All this was done quietly, out of media attention. 1991-1996 was a period of close working between the government and CII to push the reforms. In this work, CII offices in Washington, London and Singapore were also involved,” he added.

Both Melville and Prentice suggested that Wall arrange to give an “informal account” of the way the UK Prime Minister’s Office is organised, with the latter adding: “This should give the Indians some food for thought.”

The reforms unleashed by Singh in the budget on July 24, 1991 were backed politically to the hilt by Rao and closely monitored by the West. His landmark budget came in the context of an economic crisis when India had to pledge gold with the Bank of England. The reforms brought about the expansion of the services sector helped by a liberalised investment and trade regime.

First Published: Aug 07, 2018 03:29 IST