Thursday, September 15, 2016

Half Lion – an entirely readable book

by Uday Oak

Politics makes strange bedfellows is an oft-repeated idiom. But politics is much more than that. It has more twists and turns, more irrational and more ‘defining’ moments than any C category daily soaps.
Remember the phrase ‘analysis till paralysis’? Or ‘no decision is the decision’?
Everyone remembers that BJP got only two seats in 1984 parliamentary elections conducted after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
One of these two was from its stronghold Gujarat. In fact, the person who won the 1984 election went on to win 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998 parliamentary elections from the same constituency, and became a minister in Vajpayee government.
The other seat was won by a one-time-wonder from the other coast of India, Andhra Pradesh. C Janga Reddy, a teacher from Hanamkonda won that election. And then quietly dissolved from the active political scene.
The congress candidate, who managed to lose an election in the biggest sympathy wave (post Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984) India has seen in its existence, had some premonition of the impending defeat. He also contested from another constituency in Maharashtra, won and went on to become Union Minister.
Then, in 1991, he was ‘retired’ from active politics by Rajiv Gandhi and didn’t contest. In fact, he almost made up his mind to give up politics and accept an offer to become a religious head of a mutt. Rajiv was assassinated and the person in question was catapulted smack in the center, to become Prime Minister of India.
This is one way of looking at Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao. And if one looks at his overall life and career, a rather hebetudinous way. This boy from an Andhra village single-mindedly focused on educating himself. He picked up languages almost effortlessly. He was one of the three disciples of the revolutionary leader, Swami Ramanand Teerth to become Chief Minister of a state. The other two were Shankarrao Chavan of Maharashtra and Veerendra Patil of Karnataka.
He was quite a radical, relinquishing Chief Ministership in some 18 months and accepting life in exile, rather than toning down an aggressive progressive stance to which he had already committed. Yes, PV Narasimha Rao took such a strong pro-poor, pro-land-ceiling stand that he had to spend the next seven years in political exile, which he spent in visiting USA and becoming techno-savvy. He was the first (and one of the very few) active Indian politician to start not just using, but also becoming very good in computers, including programming.
PV Narasimha Rao was recently dug out of the archives and remembered as India completed 25 years of ‘globalization-liberalization-privatization’ (GLP). PV Narasimha Rao not only sowed the seeds, but ensured that the GLP stays here, takes roots and becomes a reasonable success.
Vinay Sitapati’s biography ‘Half Lion’ captures the entire journey in a painstaking way. The style is tedious at times, but the subject matter is so captivating that one tends to take a deep breath and trudge through some less-captivating pages in the hope of getting into more captivating pages. And one is not disappointed.
Sitapati had access to the ‘private papers’ of PV Narasimha Rao. And PV was an avid note-taker. So, Sitapati could dispel (and has dispelled) some carefully installed myths (‘PV was sleeping when Babri Masjid was being demolished’ is one such).
The bigger challenge in writing this biography was not to collate facts, which though a humongous effort in itself, is still more in ‘industrious’ category than ‘cerebral’. This book has managed to strike a very decent balance between ‘industrious’ and ‘cerebral’.
When one looks ‘objectively’ at PV Narasimha Rao’s life, one can’t but think of our home-grown and mega-complicated epic, Mahabharat. Rather than hinting inane analogies such as “he was like Karna / Arjuna / …”, let us focus on the whole gamut of human emotions and complex relations. PV Narasimha Rao’s life had a noteworthy complexity of the highest order. So, a political leader without a mass-base, became Chief Minister solely because Indira Gandhi favored him, ran foul of her and got into an exile when he had just crossed fifty (by Indian political standards, a kid), got into her good books again to land up in the Home ministry, showed his lack of mass-base by losing from Hanamkonda in 1984 and his realism by winning from Ramtek, was de-facto Number Two for Rajiv Gandhi, ran foul of him when Rajiv lost power, got back into reckoning by pacifying Rajiv’s widow, and finally ran foul of her. The last part is quite dirty and tragic. PV Narasimha Rao was virtually ostracized by Congress in his last years. His dead body was denied entry to Congress headquarters. His family was not-so-subtly forced to conduct the last rites in Hyderabad and not in Delhi. The reason was, otherwise his family and followers would have clamored for (and horror of horror, might have succeeded) in building a memorial in Delhi for the man. To put the matter straight, some people hold PV in high esteem even today. One such is Manmohan Singh.
The book gives an insiders’ view of all these events and more.
In short, an entirely readable book.

Half - Lion: How PV Narasimha Rao Transformed India
Author: Vinay Sitapati
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
MRP: INR 699

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