The evolution of India’s foreign policy – Part VIII

Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and his administration had a profound impact on India’s image around the world. He was himself a consummate diplomat. Rao understood the importance of nation’s foreign policy and its impact on the domestic growth. He implemented his life-long agenda of unshackling the Indian economy. He was the first non Nehru-Gandhi Prime Minister to have completed a full five year term. Naturally his impact on India was very significant and long lasting. Narasimha Rao’s world view was significantly different from the Gandhi family. India is believed to have covert relations with the state of Israel since 1969 but it was Rao administration that established full diplomatic ties between the two countries on January 29, 1992. Madhavsinh Solanki was the Foreign Minister of India at that time. Israel has become a strong ally of India since then. Prime Minister Rao was intellectually persuaded to declare India a full and open ‘Nuclear Power’ but Americans leaned on him heavily to give up the idea. According to Vajpayee when he became the PM in 1996 Rao handed him a piece of paper which simply stated ‘Bomb is ready. You can go ahead.’ (referring to a nuclear device) and asked that it should not be made public. Vajpayee revealed this only after Rao’s death. Rao also launched the Look East foreign policy.

While Narasimha Rao succeeded in transforming the Indian Economy and Foreign Affairs, his administration was very week domestically. Kashmir insurgency that was brewing since 1989, flared up during the 5 year term of Prime Minister Rao. He was successful in curtailing the Punjab militancy but failed to stop the demolition of Babri Masjid by the goons of VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad) on December 6, 1992. This destruction of the disputed structure, which was widely reported in the international media, unleashed large scale communal violence, the most extensive since the Partition of India. It is widely believed that the 1993 Mumbai Bombings, which claimed hundreds of innocent lives and left thousands injured was the Muslim underworld’s retaliation for the demolition of the Babri Mosque. This proved to be the single most damaging incident in India’s domestic policy. As I have written earlier, it was a phony excuse for Muslim extremists who were waiting for any such opportunity to create sectarian unrest; it was an idiotic lapse of judgment as far as Ministry of Home Affairs was concerned. This unnecessary violence gave India a very bad name in the international media and damaged the country’s reputation. But for his failed domestic policy P V Narasimha Rao would have been acclaimed as one of the most successful PMs of India! Despite his failures, Rao would remain the father of Modern India.

General elections were held in India in 1996 to elect the members of the 11th Lok Sabha. The result of the election was a hung parliament, which would see three Prime Ministers in two years and force the country back to the polls in 1998. The May 1995 defection of high profile Congress Party leaders like Arjun Singh and Narayan Dutt Tiwari divided the party into smaller factions. Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as the single largest party with only 161 seats in the parliament followed by Indian National Congress with 14o seats. The then President of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma, invited the leader of the largest party in parliament, Bharatiya Janata Party to form the government. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as the new Prime Minister on May 15, 1996. He was required to prove a majority in the parliament by May 31, 1996. Vajpayee tried to build a coalition but failed to convince the moderate parties to support the BJP’s agenda. Instead of facing a loosing ‘confidence vote’ on May 31, he decided to resign as Prime Minister in just 13 days. Congress Party then declined to attempt a majority as the second largest party. Instead they agreed to support H D Deve Gowda, Chief Minister of Karnataka, as the next Prime Minister of India. He took office on June 1, 1996. Meanwhile the country drifted and India’s foreign policy was non-existent. Deve Gowda couldn’t last even a year and resigned on April 21, 1997.

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