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Accidental Prime Minister

Ajay K. Mehra

Sanjay Baru
Aleph, New Delhi, 2017, Pg 216, Rs. 499

VOLUME XLI NUMBER 2 February 2017

In 1991, India was compelled to move away from the Nehruvian ‘Socialistic Pattern of Society’ and ‘mixed economy’ that heavily depended on public sector enterprises to do miracles and import substitution, even though the model of planned economic development personified by the Planning Commission and the five year plans it fashioned was retained. The state in India in these 44 years of post-Independence economic development had developed an overwhelming presence on the economic scene, not only through the public sector behemoths, but also through the regulatory regime that came to be derogatorily known as l i c e n s e - p e r m i t - quota-inspector raj. Indira Gandhi since her 1971 electoral victory, that was the culmination of her five year power struggle with the old order in the Party, transformed the Nehruvian policy framework into a giant populisms machine that her successors in the Janata Party could further complicate, but not overturn. 1971 also was the beginning of a period during which India’s political surface turned brittle, hence an apparent political stability rested on fragility that destabilized electorally stable regimes. Indira Gandhi was destabilized since 1974 despite a two-thirds majority, a retrospective view of the Janata Party tells us that it was built on instability and was unlikely to last it full term, Charan Singh would not have been so naïve as to expect that the Sanjay-Indira combine would allow him to rule till 1982, Indira Gandhi’s second run was marked with avoidable conflicts and was a drain on the economy, Rajiv Gandhi hardly realized that he had inherited a weak party structure from his mother and was deluded himself with a three-fourth majority that did not prevent him from being politically uncertain by 1986. The regimes since then, uptill now—coalitions and apparently majority government of Narendra Modi under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government—have been regimes with political uncertainty hanging around them. No wonder, populism remained a policy option with all the governments till the options ran out in 1991. Sanjaya Baru has lucidly written a very readable account of the year, the era and the man (P.V. Narasimha Rao), whom he calls India’s first accidental Prime Minister (p. 4), for not having been given a ticket by Rajiv Gandhi for the 1991 general election, (he was packing his bags for a return ticket to Hyderabad). However, a leaderless Congress after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination picked ...

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