How PV Narasimha Rao made history

Economy and politics watchers fondly recall 1991 as a watershed year for India. This is the year India “opened up” their economy, this is the year we made a significant step towards abolishing license-quota-permit raj. But who was behind the scenes doing this? Is it one man’s vision or that of an entire system? Was it a conscious choice or a last-resort attempt to revive/ recover/ salvage the sinking country? Was it driven by top-down decision making or an economic-political version of Arab springs? Was it Manmohan Singh? Or Rajiv Gandhi? Or was it, as Baru refers to him, PV? What is the role of other countries?

Baru writes. As with his previous book, and in some ways, more than his previous book, the author is decidedly apolitical in his views. Though he is primarily a journalist, because of his stint with Dr Singh, I assumed, incorrectly so, that I can only get pro-Congress views from him. In this book, there are no soft-corners for anyone or anything. He stays at equipoise even while stating factual shortcomings about everyone from Nehru to Rao himself. There is no partisanship or political correctness even while talking about the ways of the politicians.

I was expecting some more specifics of the crisis that was averted by the actions of PV — how bad the crisis was? Were we a month to default? And while the policy actions would yield long-term results, how exactly was the crisis averted? Was it just the pawning of the gold and the IMF loan? Was there something else? How badly was the license-quota-permit raj crippling us?

In any case, this makes up for a good read. I only wish the author picked a different writing style. The zig-zagging of timeline and the misleading chapter names make it a little hard to comprehend.