Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Half Lion by Vinay Sitapati

Image result for half lionVinay Sitapati brings forward the story of one of India's most reclusive Prime Ministers, PV Narasimha Rao. I believe that any man or woman who ascends to the highest office in the country deserves a study of their extraordinary life.  PVN Rao lived a life most extraordinary. Vinay Sitapati chronicles his life from his childhood years in Telangana to his support of right-wing nationalist movements and then his slow rise in the Congress party.

PV Narasimha Rao was an only child and early in his life he was pushed out of his home for further studies. By age ten he was fluent in multiple languages, was married and had left home for studies. Reading about great men also gives us a reason to reflect on our own lives; A mere child of ten had been through more than people go through in their entire lives.  In his university years, PVN Rao became cognizant of the atrocities being perpetrated by the Nizam of Hyderabad on his Hindu populace, this led to Rao joining a Hindu right wing group who fought the Razakars(Nizam's goons).

Later, Rao joined the congress party. Rao was elevated by Indra Gandhi to become the CM of Andhra Pradesh. Rao was a political animal, his myriad experiences had led him to become politically astute and he made sure that he was in the good books of India's political dynasty, the Nehru-Gandhi family. Rao knew never to cross the Nehru-Gandhi's. Even when Indira deposed him from the chair of CM, he remained loyal. Biding his time...

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Rao eventually returned in the good books of the monarchy and held several portfolios under both Indra and Rajiv. He was pushed out again by Rajiv and was contemplating becoming a Hindu Monk. Fate had something different in store, Rajiv was assassinated by the radical LTTE. Sonia Gandhi gave the green light for him to become PM. Rao became Monarch from Monk. Rao wanted IG Patel as Finance Minister, to take care of India's weak economy. Patel refused so Rao appointed future Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as India's FM. Together the two of them put in place a team of liberal economists who ended the license raj and opened India to the world. Rao, a staunch Socialist who abhorred Capitalism, traveled to the US decades earlier before becoming PM. He was flabbergasted when he saw the US and traveled around. Capitalism had ensured surplus food supplies, jobs, and innovation. PVN Rao now wanted to replicate that in India, to do that he had to tread through shark infested waters.

PVN Rao was heading a minority government. He was NOT a Nehru-Gandhi, his reformist agenda irked the left and the right. His own party men were not loyal to him and on top of everything he had to deal with Sonia Gandhi. The book is aptly named Half Lion. Rao was half lion, when it came to economic reforms, he was half fox when dealing with his political adversaries and he was half mouse when dealing with the Nehru-Gandhi clan. He had the unusual gift of matching frequencies with people. Rao's success in his economic reforms can be seen throughout India today. His reform was on the same level as Deng Xiaoping. He was also instrumental in making India a nuclear state, it is said when Vajpayee was coronated as PM, Rao told him everything is ready, you just need to detonate.

Rao was also the architect of many successful schemes for the poor. He also helped tide over terrorism in Punjab. Rao opened up to the US and since then we have had friendly relations with the American behemoth. Rao's achievements are underplayed by the Congress as they fear his true legacy is more substantial than all of the Nehru-Gandhi family combined. Even some of Rao's incredible works are portrayed as being initiated by Rajiv Gandhi. Eventually, Rao lost the elections and again fell out of favor with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Rao was not only a political Chanakya, he was also a man of other immense talents. Some might even term him as a true Genius, and I'm not just throwing the word genius like movies or media does, I believe if he gave an IQ test the man would score near genius levels. He was fluent in 10 languages, the man spoke Marathi so fluently that he stood from Maharashtra in elections and won every time, confusing his constituents of whether he was a Marathi or not, on account of his command over the language. He was well versed in computers, and could do coding in UNIX! he was an innovator and often came up with practical solutions to farming and mechanical problems. He also wrote several books and was an avid reader.

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Rao's political life was also mired in controversy. His inaction during the Babri demolition (some even say that he was the mastermind behind the demolition) has tainted his image. His inaction during the Anti-Sikh riots when Congress workers murdered hundreds of Sikhs was also deplorable. Although his good work far overweighs his negatives he is not fondly remembered and his work is credited either to the dumb finance doctor or the assassinated monarch. Sonia Gandhi was so scared and angry at the success of PVN Rao, that when he died she refused his body to enter the AICC office.

I do think that we need to study Rao's tenure as PM more carefully. Slowly evidence will emerge that the man was the greatest PM we have ever had. In my opinion, he should be awarded a Bharat Ratna, to honor his legacy and bring him out of obscurity.

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