Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao

"When I don't make a decision, it's not that I don't think about it. I think about it and make a decision not to make a decision." Inaction is also action.

Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao (June 28, 1921 – December 23, 2004) was the ninth Prime Minister of the Republic of India. He was often nicknamed Chanakya by the media.

After beginning his political career as an active freedom fighter, Rao served brief stints in the cabinet (1962 - 1971) and chief ministries (1971 - 1973) for the state of Andhra Pradesh. He then rose to the national level in 1972 by serving in several ministries, most significantly home, defence and foreign affairs (1980 - 1984), in the cabinets of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. He was the first PM from South India and Andhra Pradesh.

After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the general elections of 1991, Rao was chosen to lead the Congress party, and when Congress won a plurality in parliament later that year Rao was invited to head a minority government. He was the first person outside the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to serve as Prime Minister for five continuous years. He was also the first prime minister to lead a minority government for full term (five years).

Rao's initial years in the office were turbulent due to a severe shortage of foreign exchange reserves, a stagnant economy and political unrest. India faced a severe balance of payments crisis and Rao was instrumental in initiating free market reforms that helped end the "licence raj" that was a mainstay of India's post independance economic policy. Rao provided the much needed political will and support to his able financial minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and finance secretary Montek Singh Ahluwalia in pushing economic reforms. The Indian economy has grown by an average of 6.3% between 1991-2000, a growth rate that continues to be sustained with a predicted rate of 6.7% in 2005 (source: IMF World Economic Outlook). Rajiv Gandhi's gruesome assassination created a deep sense of insecurity and panic. Rao effectively steered the country out of that mode and put India on the threshold of 21st century.

A polyglot, Rao could read and write in 17 languages.He could speak and write Urdu, Marathi, Hindi, Telugu and English like a native. He learnt European languages like French and Spanish too. He translated Jnanpith Award winner Viswanatha Satyanarayana's Telugu novel Veyi Padagalu (literally Thousand Hoods) into Hindi as "Sahasr Phan". Rao studied at Osmania University and the Universities of Mumbai and Nagpur, acquiring Bachelor's and Master's degrees in law.

Rao rarely spoke of his personal views and opinions during his 5 year tenure. After his retirement from Indian politics Rao published a novel named The Insider. The controversial book, which follows the career of a person as he rises through the ranks of Indian politics, resembled events from Rao's own life. Rao, however, denied any connection.

Rao suffered a heart attack in December 2004 and died at the age of 83.

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