Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao is one of the forgotten heroes of Indian politics. He had very nearly retired from active politics and returned to his home-state, Andhra Pradesh, when Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to the suicide bombers in Sriperumbudur during the course of the 1991 election campaign. PVN re-entered the “cesspool” to become India’s first prime minister from the South, eventually becoming the first from outside the Gandhi-Nehru clan to complete a full five-year term despite leading a minority government.
The slow, soft, measured “Chanakya” quietly ushered breathtaking economic reforms through Manmohan Singh that, at first, rescued an almost bankrupt nation from collapse and then set it on the path of high growth, while beginning the dismantling the licence-quota-permit raj. Yet, it would be fair to say PVN, who presided over the demolition of the Babri masjid in Ayodhya paving the way for the BJP-led government of Atal Behari Vajpayee, has not got his due, either as a prime minister or as a visionary.
Corruption charges swirled around the scholarly Rao and his family in his later years. He could not get a decent funeral in Delhi. And even to this day, there is only grudging acknowledgement of PVN’s role in India’s contemporary politics. At Rao’s birth celebrations on June 20, Chiranjeevi, the film star-turned-politician, floated PVN’s name for the nation’s highest civilian honour, Bharat Ratna. Is it time for the nation to salute PVN’s role? Or has he already been consigned to the dustbin of history?