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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 December 2004, 11:49 GMT
Narasimha Rao - a reforming PM
PV Narasimha Rao
Mr Rao led India's ambitious economic reforms programme
PV Narasimha Rao, who died on Thursday, served as India's prime minister at a time of significant change in the country.

He was catapulted to the leadership of the Congress party to fill the vacuum created by the assassination of the former premier, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991.

He went on to lead India through a bold economic reform programme, laying the foundations for what has become one of the world's fastest growing economies.

But his tenure was also marred by the destruction of the ancient Babri mosque in the holy town of Ayodhya by Hindu nationalists in 1991.

It triggered widespread violence between Hindus and Muslims in which some 2,000 people died.

Bold new path

When Mr Rao became India's prime minister, he inherited a bleak economic situation with India close to bankruptcy.

Hindus at Babri Mosque in 1992
The destruction of the Babri mosque marred his premiership
In a move that surprised many, he brought in a career economist, Manmohan Singh, to serve as his finance minister.

It was a decisive period in India's move from a socialist-style economy to greater privatisation, engineered by Mr Singh who was to go on to become prime minister himself.

By the time Mr Rao was voted out of office in 1996 - the first Indian outside of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to last a full-term - the economy was on a path of rapid growth.

But the shadow of religious violence also looms large on his legacy.

The destruction of the Babri mosque was seen as the most serious threat to India's secular identity since independence, and the failure of his government to protect the mosque cost the Congress Party significant Muslim support.

Bribes stain

He and Congress were to suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of India's voters in 1996. The loss of Muslim support and Mr Rao's inability to sell the reforms to the rural majority were seen to be the main reasons for the defeat.

Four years later he became the first Indian prime minister to be convicted of corruption.

Indira Gandhi
Mr Rao was a loyal follower of the Gandhi family
He was found guilty of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to a regional party in 1993 to support Congress in a vote of confidence.

The conviction was, however, overturned later.

PV Narasimha Rao was born on 28 June 1921 in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

An astute and dour-faced politician with a trademark pout that was a cartoonists' delight, he was a lifelong loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the dominant force in Indian politics since independence.

A scholar who could speak several Indian and foreign languages, he served under both Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv, as foreign, defence and home minister.

Like many politicians of his generation, Narasimha Rao's political activism dated back to the struggle for independence.

He was also a poet and writer and after his retirement he wrote a book following the career of a person rising through the ranks of Indian politics.

Ex-Indian PM Narasimha Rao dies
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15 Mar 02 |  South Asia
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12 Oct 00 |  South Asia


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