Jairam Ramesh's book needed to be told

Natwar Singh
Natwar SinghSep 03, 2015 | 09:46

Jairam Ramesh's book needed to be told

As of now the Congress party has four intellectuals. Jairam Ramesh is one of them. He combines subtlety of mind with openness of character. An engaging individual with a perpetual and benignly mischievous grin. He has the knack of turning up at the right place at the right time. He is a laptop wizard. And he is TV savvy. I know him well. Whether this does me any credit is a moot point.

His last book, Green Signals I used it as a sleeping pill. The present volume (To The Brink and Back: India's 1991 Story) is likely to have a long shelf life. The 1991 story needed to be told. At that time Ramesh converted himself into an insider unwebbing the bureaucratic web. He sat on the economic reform high table.

He became a key figure in the PV Narasimha Rao's fluid establishment. Generally economists are not known for writing gripping prose (Keynes is an exception).

Jairam has written with panache and verve. I did however skip the last 27 pages - the microscopic print was an assault on my ageing eyes.


The 1991 economic reforms were Narasimha Rao's inspired undertaking. He showed unusual grit and determination. His first choice was IG Patel, who declined for reasons of indifferent health. If memory serves me right Manmohan Singh had very recently produced the south commission's report. It had a non-alignment flair. It was promptly jettisoned. The PM gave his finance minister full backing. Manmohan delivered. He is the best finance minister India has had. This cannot be said of his prime ministership. He is an outstanding number two.

The PM had a strong team for the selling of the reform package. Pranab Mukerjee, P Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, AN Verma. Parliament was not fully for the reforms and the new industrial policy, neither senior members of the Congress were, nor the left.

The corporate sector was apprehensive. It had it so good for decades under the licence raj. Soon they came round, suddenly a dozen dollar billionaires emerged. The economists were divided. PN Dhar, IG Patel and Narasimha Rao were for the reforms. Thirty five leading "left" economists were opposed.

These included former members of the planning commission like Hanumant Rao, Arun Gosh, Rajni Kothari, Ashok Mitra. In the annexure, six of the names of the 35 are given.

For once PV dug in his heels. A revolutionary Budget was introduced in Parliament on July 24, 1991 by Manmohan Singh. Earlier, on July 9, 1991 the PM made a fighting speech over All India Radio recommending the reforms. Jairam takes credit for writing this speech.


On July 15, Narasimha Rao made the speech of his life. "What have I done? What had the government done? We know that there are alternatives to what we have done. We have only salvaged the prestige of this country. Samutpanneardhamtyajatipandit ah. This is precisely what we have done. I do not say that the economy has been booming or is going to boom immediately. What I am saying is Sarvanshe Samputanne. The translation is provided by Jairam… "The Sanskrit saying in the prime minister's speech means that the wise man, in the event of total ruin, wriggles out by giving up some of his possessions, this done in the hope that he will save himself from total destruction by using what is left properly."

You can't quarrel with this. The motion of confidence was not carried. "And so we lived another day," writes Acharya Jairam Ramesh.


A non-economic chapter is unexpectedly introduced - "The Prime Minister Gorbachev Goof-up". He quotes me at some length. I criticised the PM for unnecessarily casting a shadow on our relations with the Soviet Union. I was not the only one who had done so.

The final chapter is a hyperbolic panegyric on Narasimha Rao. To claim that the Congress party did not treat Rao shabbily is to economise on the truth.

Last updated: September 03, 2015 | 09:46
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