In recent times, P. V. Narasimha Rao has been one of the mostly unknown greats. He led the Indian people through a near crisis and helped to make sure the country came out better off on the other side.
After gaining independence in 1947, India had pursued a mostly central-planning oriented policy. In practice, this had led to decades of stagnant growth. Also, towards the end of the eighties, the external debt had ballooned to an untenable percentage of its GDP and default seemed inevitable.
It was at this juncture that Rao shrewdly coordinated the beginning of the economic liberalisation process. He left the economic planning to Manmohan Singh, while he took care of the political packaging of this process. Overall the process went over smoothly and, today, India is on the verge of becoming a major economic player.
He also made very wise moves in foreign policy with the Look East policy. This, along with other diplomatic moves ensured that India had great relations with all countries in East Asia, the Middle East and the West.
Throughout all this, he was very self-effacing and never took any credit for any of the above historic events.
His record was not without flaws, however, as the Babri Masjid conflict took place during his term. This began a long and bloody religious strife between the two biggest communities of India.
Apart from his political achievements, he was also a versatile scholar, well versed in 17 languages. He was also very familiar with the classic Sanskrit works. He wrote some very trenchant critiques of the Indian political class in his book, The Insider, and in his pseudonymous article, The Great Suicide.
Overall he was a rare animal who stood out among the political leaders of recent times, who remains unsung in spite of his achievements. Who knows, this may very well be according to his own plans?