Taking for granted

One can get into taking for granted when things go well. Taking India, for example, it pays to remember the quagmire of the License Raj. The nation was in dire straits in 1991 after decades of centralized mismanagement. It had come to the brink of defaulting on its obligations. The central government had to use the nation’s gold bullion as collateral in return for a loan from the IMF. Under the able leadership of P. V. Narasimha Rao, India was able to adhere to the terms of the IMF and liberalize the economy in return for getting bailed out. In doing so, Narasimha Rao was saving the civilization from economic collapse. Today, India is seeing a return to some level of prosperity, although it is by no means out of the woods yet.

A much worse scenario was seen in other countries like Romania. As part of a government mandate, women were required to have as many children as possible. Given the overall poverty, children ended up getting abandoned and orphanages overflowed. Many lives were lost because of centralized mismanagement.

What decentralization and the great benefits property rights brings to societies cannot be underestimated. Central planning and central management bring no accountability and any mistakes made affect vast numbers of people. On the other hand, economies that are antifragile are managed locally. Any mistakes made only affect locals and such mistakes are corrected because it is much easier to enforce accountability.

A rare animal

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?