Dear Capt Uttam Kumar Reddy, TPCC President
Shri P Chidambaram,
Shri Jairam Ramesh,
Dr. J Geeta Reddy,
Shri PV Manohar Rao,
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am extremely happy that the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee is holding year-long Birth Centenary celebrations of a great son of the soil, our former Prime Minister Late Shri PV Narasimha Rao Ji. I consider it a great privilege to inaugurate these celebrations today.
I am particularly happy that this programme has been organised on a day on which I had the privilege, as the Finance Minister of India, for presenting the first budget of Shri Narasimha Rao Ji’s government in 1991. The Government took office just after the sad demise of Shri Rajiv Gandhi Ji. I had said in my budget speech, referring to Shri Rajiv Gandhi that he “is no more. But his dream lives on; his dream of ushering India into the twenty-first century; his dream of a strong, united, technologically sophisticated but humane India.” I had dedicated that budget to his inspiring memory.
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 Ji gave me the freedom to roll out things, after he fully understood what was ailing India’s economy at that time. On this day, while inaugurating his birth centenary celebrations, I pay my humble respects to the man who had the vision and the courage to push these reforms. Like Rajiv Ji, Narasimha Rao Ji too had great concern for the poor of the country and had told the then Managing Director of IMF, Mr. Michel Camdessus that reforms in India “would have to be mindful of Indian concerns.”
Economic Reforms were preceded by a push in that direction when Shri Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Before that Smt Indira Gandhi, herself was able to grasp the importance of re-orienting our economic policies. But real tough decisions had to be urgently taken in 1991, as we were faced with a foreign exchange crisis, with foreign exchange reserves down to about two weeks’ imports, bringing the nation to the edge of a precipice. 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 Ji was able to carry everyone along, convincing them with his conviction. Enjoying his confidence, I went about my job to carry forward his vision. Victor Hugo had once said that no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come — India’s emergence as major economic power was one such idea. There was an arduous journey ahead but it was time to let the whole world know loud and clear that India was wide awake. The rest is history. Looking back, Narasimha Rao Ji can truly be called the father of Economic Reforms in India.
Hailing from the Karimnagar district of Telangana, Narasimha Rao Ji had embarked on a long political journey starting from the days of freedom struggle. He was first elected as an MLA in 1957, was a Minister in 1962, and the Chief Minister of the combined state of Andhra Pradesh between 1971-73. He had very actively pushed land reforms in the state. Thereafter, he was a Union Cabinet Minister holding several important portfolios. As Minister for HRD between 1985-88, he was responsible for the National Policy on Education – 1986. It had envisaged the setting up Jawahar Navodaya Schools in the country, to bring out the best of the rural talent. He brought his sane wisdom to play as the Minister for External Affairs.
He was an important member of the Congress party, working very closely with Late Smt Indira Ji and Shri Rajiv Ji. He was chosen to become the Congress President after the assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi, halfway through the 1991 Lok Sabha election. The party ended up winning 244 Lok Sabha seats. Though Narasimha Rao Ji himself did not contest the elections but had been the Congress President, he became the automatic choice to become the Prime Minister of India on June 21, 1991. It was on this day that he made me his Finance Minister.
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.
It was also under his leadership that the Indian Space programme got an impetus with the successful testing of the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). India also successfully tested the Prithvi Missile to strengthen and enhance external security capability. He had also asked Late Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in 1996 to get ready for nuclear tests to take India to join a new league, which were later conducted by Prime Minister Vajpayee-led NDA Government in 1998.
That was a difficult era in politics. Endowed with a cool temperament and deep political prowess Narasimha Rao ji was always open to debates and discussion. He always tried to take the opposition into confidence. To cite a few examples, he had deputed Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ji 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 Shri Subramanian Swamy as Chairman of the Commission on Labour Standards and International Trade, with a Cabinet-rank.
Narasimha Rao Ji left behind an unmatched legacy of being a linguist, well versed in 10 Indian and four foreign languages and a scholar. He was one of the first converts to new technology by not only becoming adept with using a computer but also became proficient with programming. This was possible because he was always willing to learn new things.
In conclusion, I once again pay my tributes to the memory of a great leader, our former Prime Minister Shri Narasimha Rao Ji, who was a friend, philosopher and guide to me in many ways.
This is the full text of Manmohan Singh’s speech to mark the birth centenary celebrations of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao on 24 July 2020.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.