New Delhi: Vice President Hamid Ansari on Monday hailed former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao for initiating basic changes in the economy with his policies of 1991 but also maintained that while his "good" works have lived on and "changed" the country, the "harm" continues to extract a heavy toll.
"The good that Narasimha Rao did to the country lives after him and has changed the very surroundings in which we live and work; the harm too lives on and continues to extract a heavy toll," Ansari said while releasing a new book "Half Lion - How P V Narasimha Rao Transformed India" penned by Vinay Sitapati.
On the demolition of Babri mosque, Ansari cited the book's assessment in which Sitapati says: "Rao wanted to protect the mosque and protect Hindu sentiments and protect himself. He ended up with the mosque destroyed, Hindus un-attracted to the Congress, and his own reputation in tatters."
"Two sections of the book would invite commentary. These relate to the management of Parliament and to the demolition of Babri Masjid," Ansari said.
"The first was a nightmare by any standard. The Congress was around 10 seats short of a majority. The opposition was split between a right-wing BJP and a left-wing National Front. The Prime Minister was perceived to be weak; so his focus was on wide ranging consultations with the opposition to ascertain issues and seek a consensus on the parliamentary agenda."
Ansari also referred to the controversy of horse trading that almost stuck to the Rao regime and later precipitated as a major legal wrangle.
"The nemesis came with the trust vote of July 26, 1992. Survival at all cost was the government's objective. Unethical tactics were resorted to; these were eventually also found to be beyond the pale of law. The author's judgement is unequivocal: aIt was the worst political decision of Narasimha Rao's career," he said in a reference to the alleged JMM MPs bribery scandal.
On Babri demolition, maintaining that there is no question that Rao made the wrong decision, Sitapati had tried to blame this on the circumstances prevailing then and the unwillingness by Rao to take a decision about imposing President's Rule.
On this Ansari further said the conclusion is unavoidable that the hesitation to act was propelled by political, rather than constitutional considerations.
On economic policies and bringing in economic reforms with Manmohan Singh as the Union Finance Minister, Ansari however said: "The crisis of 1991 was the catalyst. To him (Rao) goes the credit for grasping the opportunity, for making commendable judgements on selection of personnel, and for manoeuvring the changes very deftly through the shoals and rapids of a divided polity."
There was a panel discussion that followed the book release which was addressed by former Union minister Natwar Singh, senior journalist Shekhar Gupta, foreign policy analyst C Raja Mohan and political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta.
In his remarks, senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar attributed Rao's "pro-Hindu mindset" encouraged the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya while Natwar Singh described the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, as "the biggest failure" of Rao.
Aiyar, in his brief intervention also said: "We tried to persuade the Prime Minister to wake up to the danger" but added that Rao declined to do so.
"Rao was completely convinced that by talking to the sadhus and saints he could solve the problem," he said.