… Rao was the senior most Congress leader then
In his book Natwar Singh has written that PV Narasimha Rao used to come from a family attached to the land. His intellectualism was unmatched. His knowledge of Sanskrit and culture was amazing. He was a thinker who believed in continuous learning. Personally, every color of life was involved with him. He was also a mastermind. His sneaky satire was very deadly. In 1990, he made up his mind to retire from politics when Rajiv Gandhi refused to give him a Rajya Sabha ticket. This hurt him a lot. He was the senior-most leader of the Congress and it was natural for him to be angry at not being given the ticket. But like a settled human, he did not make a big point of it and decided to shift to Hyderabad.
Natwar Singh told the story in the book
Former Foreign Minister Natwar Singh wrote in his book ‘One Life is Not Enough’, ‘I first met Narasimha Rao in 1976. The occasion was a havan program at his residence in Panchsheel, Delhi. It was organized by his guru Chandraswamy. He was made the foreign minister in May 1980. This selection of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a surprise then. Till then he did not have much knowledge about diplomacy and any aspect of foreign policy. He kept himself low profile as a foreign minister within a few days of his beginning. Did not take any major initiative. He then delayed making decisions, hesitating. He was also lethargic on several occasions. He felt very lonely. But I saw a big change in him after becoming the Prime Minister. He looked like a completely changed person.
The challenge was for the selection of Finance Minister
When Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister, the first challenge before him was to get the country out of the economic crisis. Then there was such a situation that even gold had to be mortgaged to avoid the crisis. The only question before Rao was who should he choose as finance minister. It was then believed that this post would be the crown of thorns. At that time, the first choice for this post was being described as IG Patel, who was an eminent economist. But he refused to accept the post due to health issues. Also, he was not keen to shift from Gujarat to Delhi.
‘When I met Narendra Modi’
On February 4, 2014, I met Narendra Modi, who was then BJP’s PM candidate. The meeting took place at his residence in Ahmedabad. My son Jagat was also in the meeting when he was a BJP MLA from Rajasthan. Early in the meeting, I made it clear to him that no one had come to meet the greed of the post. I had this desire to talk to them about diplomatic and foreign policy and put my views before them. On February 4, 2014, I met Narendra Modi, who was then BJP’s PM candidate. The meeting took place at his residence in Ahmedabad. My son Jagat was also in the meeting when he was a BJP MLA from Rajasthan. Early in the meeting, I made it clear to him that no one had come to meet the greed of the post. I had this desire to talk to them about diplomatic and foreign policy and put my views before them. I wanted to give the benefit of my sixty years of experience in diplomacy. I told him that after becoming Prime Minister, he would be a foreign minister himself. But for the past few months, one thing I had noticed continuously was that he did not mention foreign policy even once during his election campaign. They asked me my thoughts.
Manmohan Singh made finance minister
After this Narasimha Rao called Manmohan Singh. He was then posted as the General Secretary of the South Commission. Initially Manmohan Singh was also hesitant for this post but later agreed. His first breakthrough came when the IMF, with confidence in his economic recovery, decided to give a loan of about $ 1.5 billion. Many senior Congress leaders were angry that Narasimha Rao was moving towards liberalization policy, bypassing socialist economic policies that had been in place for years. He felt that this might end Nehru’s established tradition. They were apprehensive about the open market hypothesis. Due to this, some months of reforms were very challenging, but in the next 6 months Manmohan Singh proved himself right by his policies.
Natwar advised Modi to take a lesson from Congress
About this meeting, Natwar Singh further wrote, ‘I told him that India has ignored the friends of SAARC countries for the last few years. As far as I remember, Manmohan Singh did not go to Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan or Sri Lanka. I told them that if we are not able to play the role of a sensitive and guardian to our nearest neighbors, then how will we show our leadership among other countries of the world. I told him that from Ahmedabad one could see another viewpoint, different from Delhi. Similarly, Kolkata will look different from Mumbai and Chennai. I told him that the foreign policy of the country has been stable for the last 67 years. I told them that there are 54 Muslim countries in the UN. In such a situation, we cannot move forward ignoring the Muslim countries, nor should we do so. I also told him that Jawaharlal Nehru had made three serious mistakes on the foreign policy front and now he has to find an alternative.
PM Modi accepts preference for SAARC countries
Natwar Singh wrote in the book, ‘I was very happy when I saw that Narendra Modi started his foreign policy with efforts to increase closer with SAARC countries. He called the heads of these countries for the swearing-in ceremony. It is possible that others have also given such a suggestion but I am happy that their decision was appreciated by the world community.
(Natwar Singh’s book ‘One Life Is Not Enough’, courtesy of publisher Roopa Publication)