Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Half Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India

Rate this book
When P.V. Narasimha Rao became the unlikely prime minister of India in 1991, he inherited a nation adrift, violent insurgencies, and economic crisis. Despite being unloved by his people, mistrusted by his party, and ruling under the shadow of 10 Janpath, Rao transformed the economy and ushered India into the global arena.

With exclusive access to Rao’s never-before-seen personal papers and diaries, this definitive biography provides new revelations on the Indian economy, nuclear programme, foreign policy and the Babri Masjid. Tracing his early life from a small town in Telangana through his years in power, and finally, his humiliation in retirement, it never loses sight of the inner man, his difficult childhood, his corruption and love affairs, and his lingering loneliness. Meticulously researched and brutally honest, this landmark political biography is a must-read for anyone interested in knowing about the man responsible for transforming India.

371 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Vinay Sitapati

3 books62 followers
Vinay Sitapati teaches at Ashoka University and writes for The Indian Express. He has studied at National Law School Bangalore and Harvard University.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,072 (51%)
4 stars
851 (40%)
3 stars
142 (6%)
2 stars
18 (<1%)
1 star
5 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 299 reviews
Profile Image for Vikrant Rana.
115 reviews4 followers
October 27, 2022
I distincly remember loathing PVN during my growing years, mainly because he gave an impression of a non decisive leader. Over the last decade, as we came to know more about him inspite of all the efforts of the dynasty that still plagues India, that perception has changed and thats an understatement.
Undoubtedly PVN (along with AB Vajpayee) remain the finest PMs that India has produced. It always amaze me how Indian polity is able to propel the best to the top, inspite of it's vastness, all the vested interests and characters. A first rate scholar and a shrewd political mind.

PVN was the arhitect of modern India, still under works, who laid the foundations in tougest of circumstances - lack of his own cultivated political base, minority government, civil strife and the megalomaniac Sonia Gandhi. In all these constraints, he dramatically opened the dead economy, revamped the stale foreign policy and brought strife ridden states (Punjab, Kashmir & North East) under control. Little wonder that the usurper Gandhi family have tried everything to delete him out of the history books.
My homage to the great man to whom the modern India owes much, without even knowing it.

This book itself is well researched with access to documents unavailable earlier. At times though you feel that the author is in awe of Rao's personality and achievement. Though Mr. Sitapati takes a critical look at PVN's shortcomings, it could have been done more objectively. The writing is free flowing and it was thrilling to complete this book in a single seating.
Profile Image for Ashish Iyer.
777 reviews486 followers
June 28, 2020
Probably one of the few Prime minister of India i really admired.

This book talks about how PV Narasimha Rao made strides in Economy, Foreign policy, Defense etc during his era. Millions of Indians including me owe our jobs to PVN's economic policies. If India has finally emerged as a force to reckon with, it is primarily due to the economic policies of PVN. Thanks to him, he brought Manmohan Singh to politics and gave him finance ministry. According to me, PVN and Vajpayee government new policies had helped in lifting millions of Indians out of poverty over the last two decades. Even foreign economists like Robert Shiller who called PVN India's Deng Xio Peng. And its hilarious to see how Congress take credit for uplifting Indian economy, during that time Congress were against Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. Even their mouthpiece newspaper National Herald wrote against them.

From Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi's Yes-man, Rao became his own man and we Indians cannot thank god enough for that. I love the way he changes his character over the period of time and he started taking decisions. Also read this book to know why some Congress and Sonia Gandhi's family hate Rao till this date. Even Sonia Gandhi expected him to be her remote control like Manmohan Singh who became Prime minister from 2004 till 2014.

At one time you have so much admiration for Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao. Then you feel how can Manmohan Singh be so disaster when he was the Prime minister. So many scams under his Prime minister-ship. Anyway i have a huge respect for Manmohan Singh as a finance minister but not as a Prime minister.

Read this book to know the life of Narasimha Rao and along with this read India Unbound by Gurucharan Das. You will love to see how Rao and Singh change the direction of Indian economy. You will also know why Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization (LPG) is important in economy.

And i am giving one less star because i kinda felt this book was hero worshiping Narasimha Rao. Still recommended.
Profile Image for Hrishikesh.
205 reviews265 followers
October 8, 2016
The biggest drawback of any biographical work is that it tends to gloss over the faults of the subject, presenting a flawless picture. For the most part, this book calls a spade a spade. Credit where credit is due, and criticism where it is due. PVNR has been a fascinating figure in Indian History. This is a well-researched and well-documented book, and I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Rajat Ubhaykar.
Author 1 book1,700 followers
May 9, 2020
A marvellous biography that delineates PV Narasimha Rao's rise to power, first as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, and later as Prime Minister, as well as his pivotal role in not just the 1991 economic reforms, but also in shaping India's foreign policy, welfare schemes, nuclear programme, and in bringing peace to Assam and Punjab. However, one aspect of his rule I would have liked to read more about was the exact circumstances under which the Panchayati Raj system gained constitutional status after the 73rd and 74th amendments. This minor quibble aside, Half-Lion is easily one of the best biographies I've read. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Sajith Kumar.
606 reviews101 followers
October 26, 2018
Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao (1921 – 2004) was the first Indian prime minister outside the Nehru family who had lasted a full term in office. He assumed office at a time of great upheaval not only in India but abroad too. Kashmir and Punjab were rife with militancy and LTTE cadres were treading roughshod over Tamil Nadu as part of their insurgency in Sri Lanka. The country’s foreign exchange reserves were at the very bottom of the pit. Its long term ally, the Soviet Union, was visibly crumbling under the crushing weight of communism. The Shah Bano alimony and Ayodhya issues had vitiated the atmosphere. It was a tough time even for a politically strong man to start. Rao was not one, yet when he demitted office five years later, India was a far better place. The central theme of this book is about understanding how Narasimha Rao achieved so much despite having so little real power and influence. It also explains how Rao tweaked the right knobs of the system to bring about the world’s second largest middle class. Vinay Sitapati is a political scientist, journalist and lawyer. He teaches at Ashoka University and writes for the Indian Express.

Narasimha Rao is remembered for his procrastination and indecision in matters of vital interest. Humorous epithets were cast on him such as ‘analysis till paralysis’, ‘when in doubt, pout’, ‘symbol of procrastination, delay and the status quo’, ‘charisma of a dead fish’ and ‘death is not a precondition to rigor mortis’. Sitapati has been successful in dispelling such long accumulated cobwebs on Rao’s intellectual caliber. He was quick and sharp in making a decision and when he dithered, it was not because he was unable to tell good policy from bad, but because sometimes the correct policy didn’t make good politics. This is especially poignant in the Ram Janmabhumi issue. Constitutionally, Rao had to heed the advice of the governor and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who were insistent that the disputed structure at Ayodhya would be safe and there was no need of enforcing central rule in the state. But when it was demolished by karsevaks a few days later, politicians accused him of inaction and bayed for his blood. On the economic sphere too, as protests mounted, the pace of reforms slowed by 1995 in view of the elections scheduled for the next year. The insurance reform bill had to wait twenty years to see the light of day when Narendra Modi made it into his kitty of reforms in 2015. Rao’s triple mantra of devaluation, trade liberalization and delicensing became tainted with corruption scandals by mid-1990s. Harshad Mehta and Enron scams took place. Mehta in fact alleged that he had paid Rs. 1 crore directly to Rao. The welfare, power and labour sectors were where Rao could not do anything. India’s foreign policy was, however, moved away from Nehruvian idealism to a more realist and pragmatic pursuit of national self-interest. He was also instrumental in developing the nuclear devises and keeping it ready for testing. Sitapati argues that logistical and technical issues prevented him from testing it.

Narasimha Rao was not a charismatic leader. Never in his career did the crowds eagerly thronged the maidan to listen to him. He was always in a half-smirk, neither fully committed to a smile nor fully to a frown. His political weakness endeared him to the Nehru family who wanted a protégé. He was made the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh to run Indira’s writ. But when he overstepped his mandate and announced land reforms, he was summarily thrown out to political exile for a while. Rao personally lost 1000 out of his 1200 acres of ancestral farmland due to the ceiling on individual possession envisaged in the act. When he was made the home minister in Rajiv’s cabinet after Indira’s assassination, he was bypassed in the measures to suppress anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. Rajiv’s office directly controlled the police while Rao was forced to keep a studied silence. A large part of the blame for the riots which killed 2733 Sikhs must thus be apportioned to Rajiv Gandhi.

When one considers how Rao transformed India, it is imperative that a clear view of what existed before and what he brought in should be presented. The author makes a brilliant assessment of India’s economic woes in the pre-Rao era. He claims that it was Indira Gandhi and not her father who was responsible for the economic disaster. Nehru’s policy was somewhat agreeable in the post-World War period. However, by 1965, the thinking had changed when national economies began to open up in East Asia. But India remained impervious to ideas from abroad. Indira thundered on the economic front with three draconian measures designed to thwart entrepreneurs in the country – large parts of the economy was reserved for public sector enterprises, limited the size of business houses so that they did not threaten the hegemonic power of the Congress party through licenses, anti-monopoly laws, harsh labour laws and nationalization of banks and finally by isolating India from the global market. The hallowed term ‘self-reliance’ had also become a byword for mediocrity. The economic collapse caused the growth rate to tumble leading to welfare schemes getting unable to make a dent in poverty. This was not missed by experts in the government. By the mid-1980s, policymakers had become convinced of the need for economic liberalization. What was sorely missed was a political environment to support them. Rajiv Gandhi had begun some reforms in 1985, but that sputtered to a stop two years later when he became embroiled in the Bofors corruption deal.

The book ruefully portrays the morass the country had fallen into by the early 1990s. Rajiv’s lavish policy of deficit financing required overseas short-term loans to be taken and repayment was due. By mid-1991, the country possessed foreign exchange reserves worth only two weeks of imports whereas the minimum safe level was funds for three months of imports. A default on external debt obligations was round the corner. To add insult to injury, the IMF required India to physically transfer 21 tons of solid gold from its coffers to that of the Bank of England in London as surety to a loan. Contrary to many people think, the ‘solution’ to the economic problem was not devised by Manmohan Singh who was Rao’s trusted finance minister and a world-renowned economist. Sitapati claims that the blueprint for economic reforms was prepared by senior bureaucrats and handed over by Naresh Chandra, the Cabinet secretary, to Rao a day prior to swearing in. It talked of fiscal discipline, dismantling trade barriers and removing the licenses, permits and anti-monopoly laws that tightly bound domestic entrepreneurs. Not only that, Manmohan Singh was only the second choice of Rao. I G Patel, a former RBI governor and director of the London School of Economics, was the first, but he politely declined the offer. Thus the mantle fell on Singh who got a free hand to dislodge arcane regulations which he himself was also partly instrumental for implementing in the Indira era. The Rao-Singh team did wonders. Within just a month after swearing in, the currency was devalued by 20 per cent, a new industrial policy that scrapped the license-quota-permit system was announced and the first budget did away with many controls that unnecessarily throttled the economy. In ten months’ time, reserves grew to comfortable levels, enough for six months of imports.

The change in fortunes of a politician happens fast and totally unforeseen. This book narrates it in good detail. Rao was denied a party ticket to contest the 1991 elections. That also meant the end of his political career – he was already seventy. He was to turn to spirituality as the head of a Hindu ashram at Courtallam in Tamil Nadu. Then everything changed on that fateful night of May 21, 1991. Rajiv Gandhi’s death by a suicide squad of the LTTE catapulted Rao to the most powerful chair in India. However, managing his widow Sonia Gandhi was a tiresome task. Not content with donating Rs. 100 crores of tax payers’ money to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Rao conferred the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour on Rajiv and even extended elite commando protection to Sonia’s family. As prime minister, he spoke to her on phone twice a week, visited her every week and obliged her whims in the party and government. However, by mid-1993, rifts developed. When Sonia accused him on the slow progress of the investigation into Rajiv’s death, he stopped meeting her altogether. After Sonia became Congress president in 1998, Rao – the person and his legacy – was wiped clean from its history books. He was denied a party ticket for the 1999 elections. When Rao died in 2004, the Nehru family plotted to deny him a place for eternal rest in Delhi. Even his body was not given a chance to lie in state in the Congress party headquarters.

The book neatly argues its case for rehabilitating Narasimha Rao to the rightful place he deserves in the pantheon of Indian leaders. This is mostly hindered by the opposition from the Congress party – Rao’s own party – which is motivated by spiteful sycophants of the Nehru family who cannot digest the fact that Rao was the only Congress prime minister not from the Nehru family, yet managed to complete his full term in office. The author had access to the diary and personal recordings of Rao, which helped him bring out a book that presents some new facts unknown to anybody. A good number of photographs are included, as also a comprehensive section of end-notes and a good index.

The book is highly recommended.
Profile Image for Shom Biswas.
312 reviews39 followers
June 2, 2023
Vinay Sitapati's magnum opus, "Half Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India," is a fun, well-written, and extremely readable exploration of the life and political journey of one of India's most enigmatic leaders. Sitapati delves into the depths of history to paint a portrait of the man who quietly steered India through a transformative phase.

In this meticulously researched and very well-written book, Sitapati presents a well-rounded account of P.V. Narasimha Rao, the man who served as India's Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996. Rao's tenure is widely regarded as a turning point in Indian politics and economic reforms, yet his contributions often went unrecognized or were overshadowed by the narratives surrounding other political figures of his time. Writing a getting-his-dues portrayal, without being ever accused of hagiography, is a tightrope; and I felt that Sitapati manages to walk that tightrope adroitly.

Sitapati's writing style weaves together political intrigue, personal anecdotes, and historical context, drawing the reader into the complex world of Indian politics during a critical period. The author's meticulous attention to detail and his ability to capture the essence of Rao's personality make "Half Lion" an engaging and enlightening read. For example: One of the most fun stories was the one about how Rao became an expert at computers after a jibe from Rajiv Gandhi to the 'old fogies' in his ministry. Then, did you know that the prototype of the Navodaya schools started while PVNR was the Education Minister? Interesting nuggets like this are strewn about this book.

Through his narrative, Sitapati presents Rao as a master strategist, navigating the treacherous waters of coalition politics with skill and finesse. The author sheds light on the challenges and obstacles Rao faced, both within his own party and in the larger political landscape, while emphasizing the visionary nature of his policies.

Sitapati meticulously explores the pivotal moments in Rao's career, including his role in the economic reforms that transformed India's trajectory. The author examines Rao's initiation of liberalization policies and his efforts to dismantle the license raj, which had stifled the Indian economy for decades. Through Sitapati's narrative, readers gain a deep understanding of Rao's visionary approach to governance and his determination to drive India towards progress.

"Half Lion" goes beyond a mere political biography. Sitapati delves into the personal side of Rao, providing glimpses into his early life, his intellectual pursuits, and the remarkable resilience that defined him. This multidimensional portrayal adds depth and richness to the narrative, allowing readers to connect with Rao on a more intimate level.

Furthermore, Sitapati skillfully captures the socio-cultural milieu of the era, offering readers a broader understanding of the historical context in which Rao's transformative policies took shape. The book encompasses pivotal events in Indian history, including the Babri Masjid demolition and its political repercussions. Sitapati offers a balanced analysis of Rao's handling of the situation and the challenges he faced in maintaining social harmony. These chapters provide critical insights into the complexities of identity politics and the delicate balance between maintaining law and order while preserving communal peace. Rao is not given a free pass...

"Half Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India" is fun, if you are a fan of warts-and-all political biographies. A very good book, exceptionally well-researched. Rather readable, never boring, if sometimes repetitive - which is unavoidable considering the format Sitapati chooses.

(PS: Trying long-form reviews after a while now. Let's see how this pans out.)
33 reviews7 followers
August 9, 2016
I was less than a year old when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, and a week away from turning two when the 24 July 1991 budget that dismantled decades of industrial policy was announced. And I have very hazy memories of staring up at an old television screaming about the then worst electoral defeat of the Congress party, and the ascension of Vajpayee as the prime minister.

I was, however, old enough to remember the controversy over the humiliation Rao endured even in death, where his ashes were left unattended, some time after Sonia Gandhi refused permission for his body to enter the Congress headquarters in Delhi, a practice followed with every deceased former Congress president, let alone former prime minister. And all I ever heard of Rao's tenure as PM spoke of a man in perpetual indecision. Vinay Sitapati's book is a start to set this record straight for millenials like me.

Opening with a description of said humiliation at Rao's funeral, Sitapati launches into the making of Narasimha Rao. From his birth to a prosperous Brahmin family, Rao would go on to become one of the finest scholars in the erstwhile kingdom of Hyderabad. After flirting with the idea of pursuing a doctoral degree in astronomy, Rao would respond to the call of socialist politics and join the Congress party. Sitapati beautifully (and later, a little too often for my liking) sketches the contradicting roles that Rao has had to play through his political career, starting with his short reign as Chief Minister, which was a post that required him to be at once powerless (so he could follow Indira's orders) and powerful (so he could convince others in his cabinet to follow Indira's orders). The title is an obvious reference to the mythical Narasimha, the creature which was neither man nor lion, and whose contradictions positioned him as the only one capable of slaying Hirankashyap.

Sitapati's account is a meticulously researched one, thanks to the access he was granted to Rao's personal letters, diaries and papers. Coupled with extensive interviews with the who's who in the Congress party, as well as bureaucrats who served in Rao's cabinet, Sitapati brings out Rao's side of the story to many many controversies that, as I stated emphatically in the introduction, am too young to remember. The story Sitapati narrates is one of a leader who , by the time he became prime minister, could measure up his enemies, be aware of his own blind spots and weaknesses, and hatch schemes that would make Machiavelli and Chanakya proud, if not blush altogether, to push through radical changes in India's economic policy. These abilities would go on to help him build a political consensus on a variety of thorny issues that confronted India while running a minority government through its full term of five years in ill health and out of favour with Sonia Gandhi and the coterie of Nehru-Gandhi loyalists in the party. During his tenure, India's industrial policy would get a makeover, it's relations with the USA and China rewritten, its nuclear programme carried through to near completion, the seeds of a social democratic republic sown (only to be destroyed by later regimes), the Kashmir and Punjab militancy addressed (albeit in a very controversial manner), and perhaps most importantly for the Congress party, a brief glimpse of a Congress party shorn off the influence of the Nehru-Gandhi clan.

Sitapati pulls no punches either while putting the reader practically in the room with the Prime Minister through his ugly side. Whether pointing to evidence that Rao was powerless but complicit in the Sikh massacres after Indira Gandhi's assassination, his dithering and overconfidence that saw the fall of the Babri Masjid, or his knowledge of his party's bribery of MPs that saw him survive a no confidence motion, Sitapati never fails to bring to the reader the worst of Rao.

Some of the chapters that make for excellent reading are the ones that deal with Rao's economics, especially the political deal-making that had to go through to see it through parliament. What stands out in these chapters was his ability to make the opposition parties (who outnumbered him) feel heard and part of the decision making process, even though they were ideologically opposed to most of Manmohan's reforms. That Rao was able to beautifully disguise the liberalization within the garb of Nehruvian socialism is a stroke of political genius, something which even Jairam Ramesh comments on in his own book on the 1991 budget.

In the end, Sitapati conclusively proves his point that Rao not only belongs in the pantheon of radical reformers, such as Franklin Roosevelt, Deng Xiaopeng or Lee Kuan Yew, but is in a league of his own if one considers how much he helped legislate with little or no political power.
Profile Image for Santhosh Guru.
158 reviews45 followers
October 31, 2020
Fantastic read. Like many, I didn't have any opinion about Narasimha Rao. I used to think it was Manmohan Singh, who was the architect of the economic liberation of 1991. But this author has established with facts and undeniable arguments that MMS is a hedgehog and it was PV Narasimha Rao, the fox, who provided the rock-like support and propelled reformations forward.

I am really awe at his diverse skills and ability to learn things extremely fast. PVN is truly a polymath, who must be remembered and we should get inspired from.

I highly recommend it, if you like biographies or interested in Indian politics.
Profile Image for Suman Srivastava.
Author 3 books50 followers
August 21, 2022
Fascinating book. I have read a lot about the 1991 reforms and how the team led by Manmohan Singh created them. This book talks about how those reforms were sold politically. Also about PV Narasimha Rao’s role in helping create a new foreign policy doctrine and even helping India become a nuclear power. Balanced book and also talks about his flaws and mistakes. I’ve come away with more respect for skilled politicians and the role they play in a democracy.
Profile Image for Prathyush Sambaturu.
6 reviews1 follower
October 22, 2020
This book is a simple yet authoritative narrative of the story of P V Narasimha Rao (PVNR) in the arena of Indian politics (and Congress) starting as a humble party member, to a puppet Chief Minister of Andhra, to a humble significant number two in the Congress, and ultimately to the most powerful office as the Prime Minister of India. It presents Rao as the most underrated Prime Minister of India who deserves credit for much of India's progress in the 1990s. The author of the book points out that Rao was one of the few Prime Ministers of India, who is vastly experienced in dealing with issues both at the state level and the center unlike many of his predecessors. He also analyses that, PVNR did learn a lot from each of his failures as a Chief Minister of Andhra in the 1970s and his experiences as a Union Minister, to play lion, fox, or mouse depending on the situation.

The author carefully provides pieces of evidence- collected by a thorough research that includes a vast variety of sources- to support each of his arguments. The central theme of this book is to examine, how a person lacking political charisma and support from his own party members not only ran a minority government for five years but also was able to achieve remarkable success in various aspects such as Economic Reforms, Foreign Policy, Nuclear Programme, etc. The author likens some of the tactics and strategies used by Rao during his tenure as the Prime Minister to those suggested by Chanakya and Machiavelli in the past. He also provides the narrative of how Sonia Gandhi and the Congress disowned Rao after he stepped down as the Congress President, obscuring him from the party’s past.

This book presents the various shades of Rao's personality as a scholar, a writer, a devoted Hindu, a speaker of more than 10 languages, an enthusiast in computer software. It also provides accounts of his relationships with his wife and family, and two of his lady confidantes. It is a genuine attempt by the author to project his view of P. V. Narasimha Rao without being biased in favor of his protagonist. This book provides a good account of the enigma that is Rao, also answering some of the lingering questions on of his role in various controversial incidents that happened during his tenure as the PM and the Home Minister.

I would like to end this review with the following quote by Natwar Singh on Rao:
"Unlike Nehru, his knowledge of Sanskrit was profound. Nehru had a temper, PV a temperament. His roots were deep in the spiritual and religious soil of India. He did not need to "Discover India".
Profile Image for Deepu George.
237 reviews25 followers
February 20, 2021
PV Narasimha Rao has always been somebody whom i revered. What ever the world around me say about him, i ve always looked upon him as somebody who changed the history of my country.
As a person who had my childhood during the socialist times of Indira and Rajiv and the times of change under Narasimha Rao and Manmohan singh I literarily observed India around me changing from Black and white to colour. Although he was one person everybody loved to forget, for me he was somebody who stood for change.

This book mainly focuses on his years as prime minister and his earlier years are just explained so as to give an understanding to the readers, how those years changed his outlook and moulded him to be the prime minister he had been.
How he changed India economically is the main focus. How much he is misrepresented regarding the Babri Masjid times by the media, the change in foreign policy which he brought in for the better are all explained.
Although the title of the book is half lion... I would prefer a title Mouse and the fox... Because he knew when to be a mouse and when to be a fox... The author fail to put forward much details to explain the title of Half lion except his name being Narasimha.
One drawback of the book is although this book works well in removing some of the grey areas in his life, it just brushes through his darker side like the JMM cases and other cases against him.. Those could have been delt in a little more detail...
Anyway really enjoyed reading about the Prime ministerial years of the man who changed india for the better
Profile Image for Umesh Kesavan.
424 reviews162 followers
July 18, 2016
The book tries to answer the intriguing question "How could the head of a minority government with so little leeway achieve so much in terms of economic reforms and foreign policy?".The book combines political philosophy with rigorous research to provide a sympathetic (and not hagiographic) portrait of one of the most misunderstood and maligned leaders in contemporary Indian history. A must read book to know a man who well and truly transformed India
Profile Image for Aditya Kulkarni.
89 reviews38 followers
March 1, 2018
Excellent book on one of India's best ever Prime Ministers. The book as the name suggests deals with how PV Narasimha Rao transformed India. When he took over as the PM in 1991, Indian economy was in deep trouble, 3 states were troubled by insurgency, and Indian foreign policy had to be changed. How PVN turned all of these around, despite leading a minority government forms the majority of the story. Vinay has done extensive research and has resurrected the legacy of PVN Rao, the half lion.
Profile Image for Raja Baradwaj.
21 reviews2 followers
May 4, 2020
The Indian PM’s I admired growing up. I distinctly remember his Singapore address, arranged by Lee Kuan Yew, the a senior minister in Singapore. When the Pakistani High Commissioner, Salim Nawaz Khan Gandapur ambushed Sri. Rao with his lengthy diatribe during Q&A. The way the Indian PM shredded him without him even knowing what happened, is etched vividly in my mind.

This book gives a good view of who Sri. Rao was and his make-up. A very good read !!
Profile Image for Yash Sharma.
247 reviews15 followers
January 12, 2021
Half-Lion, How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India is a book which I strongly recommend to every Indian out there, especially to the millennials.

This meticulously researched biography not only tells us about the man who dismantled the License-Permit-Quota Raj of Indira Gandhi, but it also reveals that how his own party treated a former Prime Minister who should have been included in history books.

For the detailed article you can visit my website- https://dontbignorant.in/p-v-narasimh...
Profile Image for Vin.
220 reviews6 followers
March 1, 2018
Best Indian biography I've read - what an amazing man. There's something to be said for non-strongman leaders.
60 reviews5 followers
August 30, 2017
In the early 1991, the Indian economy was going through its worst and egregious phase ever. In other words , it was in tatters- a total financial mess. A party was well positioned for power in next general election. However, the party had grown itself by tethering to a single family. Prosperity without it was unthinkable. The leader of the party was however assassinated. The reign of an imbroglio and fractured nation was then handed over to a seemingly unimpressive , harmless and powerless person. He was presented with financial predicament. This person neither had the charisma nor had the popular support. He neither controlled parliament nor his own party. He was always confronted by the dissidents within his party. Still, he had to operate in a fractious democracy with several limits on his powers. However unexpectedly, this underrated leader with his dexterity, wisdom, smartness, sagacity and cunningness , was instrumental in bringing changes which transformed economic dynamics of the nation, which not only put the nation back on track but also grew at impressive rate thereafter. Obviously he is Mr. P.V. Narshima Rao. He served for full five years . Despite odds, serving full term can be considered protracted. The irony is that he was declared persona non-grata by his own party who disowned him later, blaming him for some failures during his tenure. As one of his ex-colleague Salman Khurshid rightly pointed out that he is a tragic figure who is remembered for so much that went wrong but not for so much that went right. Still nobody can deny his rightful place in Indian history.

What was the crisis all about? India’s foreign exchange reserves at that point of time could sustain only two weeks of import. The safe level is six times that amount. This had hamstrung Indian economy. India had plunged into external debt, lacking dollars to repay. Foreign lenders including IMF were withholding loans. Finally to overcome the current situation, gold had to be mortgaged.

How was it created? Remittance from Indians working in Gulf region had dwindled due to Gulf war crisis, upshot of which was price of oil getting trebled. Due to political uncertainty in Delhi, there were some panic withdrawn of money , somewhere amounting to 900 million dollars. There were some reckless borrowing during Rajiv Gandhi years. These short term loans were due in early 1991. Moreover, the foundation of Indian economy was so weak that it was susceptible and vulnerable to such uncalled changes.

What were the logjam that was making the economy sluggish? First , the economy was dominated by public sector enterprise and private entrepreneurs could operate in few restricted areas. Secondly, business house size was limited so that none can challenge the hegemony of Central government that is ruled by Congress. This was done by implementing various laws, which were made much more stringent during Indira Gandhi times. These were licenses, anti monopoly law, labour laws and nationalization of banks. As mentioned private sector was permitted to operate in few areas only and that too requires licenses issued by bureaucrats, who also determine how much these private enterprise can make and at what price. Labour law was meant to protect labours but on the contrary, companies began to hire few workers. Nationalization was done to improve rural credit which however starved industrial houses of capital. Anti monopoly law further curtailed the growth of the economy. Third, was isolating India from global market. To become self-reliant, protection from foreign competition became an integral part of government policies. This however reduced both flow of money and consumer goods. Furthermore, there were restrictions on the import of raw materials and technology , which Indian factories desperately needed. Exports were not profitable because the currency was artificially valued.

The book is on P.V.Narshima Rao and yet in the last three paragraphs, he was not even mentioned once. You cannot appreciate and hold the man in high reverence, unless you know about the crisis and four decade policies that made Indian economy chronic and inimical.

It was Jawahar Lal Nehru , who believed in socialism. Policies and decisions were highly influenced by his thinking. It was a nascent economy and his decisions still can be justified to some extent. However, in next decade, the world economic order was changing , more prominently in underrated East Asian nations. On her first stint as Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi who shared her father’s ideology failed to capitalize in favour of the nation. In contrast, her policies made Indian economy even more rigid. The socialist ideology that was being followed was not aligned with the reality and the harsh truth was that it had become quixotic and worthless. The ills of the economy were identified in early 1980’s. Rajiv Gandhi too was in favour of dismantling state control over the Indian economy but his reforms were just baby steps. Even he could not do it despite the fact that he had the highest mandate ever in Indian history.

Now entered the scene was P.V. Narshima Rao. After taking over stock of the situation, he began to create a team that consists of his opponents within the party, who were appointed out of political compulsion. But his team in majority consists of aficionados, who had similar thoughts, belief , vision and disposition and one of them was Manmohan Singh, an apolitical person who re-wrote his name in the history as the best Finance Minister of India. Economists and experts have been pitching in for reforms in the last decade. The implementation however requires political backing. This was easier said than done. The duo had to overcome rigid Congress party, panicked industrialists , divided parliament and critics. To add to their woes, there were class of people who benefited from the existing economy and were very powerful like business houses, trade unions, rich farmers and in some cases politicians and bureaucrats too. Each policies were picked up , some changes were made in it , then made it look as if they have been piggybacking on Nehru’s Industrial policy. The fact was however just opposite. These were done without any fanfare. This ploy of using Nehru’s name as an exemplar ensured that at least his party was behind the revolutionary changes.

What were the revolutionary changes? Industrial licensing except for industries was abolished. Public sector monopoly was limited to few sectors only. Anti-monopoly restrictions were eased and permitted level of foreign investments was increased.

Babri Masjid demolition is one of the blots in his impressive career. This is one fiasco , where his party men were too eager to put the blame on him. The gathering of Kar-sevaks in large numbers was an insinuation of coming troubles. He was assured by UP government of adequate security measures. Then President rule cannot be applied on a State because of law and order had not failed prior to demolition. Moreover, all decisions were based on consonance. Demolition however, could not be prevented. When Sonia Gandhi became president of the party, the seed of hatred by his own party men was already planted in her mind. On the Babri Masjid issue, Mr. Narshima Rao was a subject of odium. Party disowned him and even after death, his funeral was denied in New Delhi.

Prior to becoming the Prime Minister , he had bought with him wealth of political experience as Union Minister holding key portfolios like Home, Defence and Foreign, as well as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Let’s face it that he was not a rectitude and did display Machiavellian characteristics at times. Though allegation of JMM MP bribery , Enron and Harshad Mehta scam tarnished his image somewhat but he had to his credit , myriad number of achievements, the most revolutionary and sweeping being economic reforms. Apart from this, employment guarantee and food security social schemes were initiated during his reign. As we found out from the book ,his transformation of India was also extended to foreign policy and national security as well. Though he was mortified, and subjected to the jibes of his own party men but the fact is that it was nation’s destiny that he was there at the right time and at right position. It would not be right to say that History has judged him incorrectly. Had it been the case , we would not have read books on him and writing such reviews. Though disowned by his own party , BJP government built a memorial ghat for him in 2015. We knew about the economic challenges and decisions that facilitated quantum jumps. What difference author has bought here are hitherto unreported backroom discussions and scuffle. Narshima Rao and Manmohan Singh may be the face of the economic reforms but the author has also given due space to his other team members like not forgotten Naresh Chandra and Amar Nath Verma, who have made innumerable contribution . Also bought to the reading space is dirty , nasty, and murkier world of politics. The author has covered every key events right from pre-independence days. These events are put in chronological order too. It’s informative and extensive. Every aspect is covered. The subject matter deserves a reading and the author has done full justice to it.
Profile Image for Ankur Vohra.
59 reviews1 follower
July 30, 2016
I was not even 10 years old when Mr. Narasimha Rao came to power and it was only round about 98/99 that I started following National Politics on a regular basis with my source of Information being the regular media houses and the impression that they had created on me for Narasimha Rao was of a leader who would cling to anything- Money, Baba's anyone who has able to help him for the sake of being in power and a leader who did not do substantive much for the country apart from letting Mr. Manmohan Singh to bring upon the reforms in the Indian Economy which was again not initiated by him but merely brought upon by our Balance of Payment crisis in 91- That was the, opinion till I had read this book. Now, I can see, how wrong I was and how little did I knew about this great man.

A scholar, a statesman and a shrewd politician who knew how to not only survive but also thrive in his circumstances. This book sheds light on his personality and how he manoeuvred India out of some of the most tough and hostile times for our country. A surviver, he knew how to make the most of the resources at his disposal and now when you look in hindsight you can see clearly his legacy and contribution to Indian state. A must read for anyone interested in Indian Contemporary politics post the fall of Soviet Union and tumultuous years of India's Economic Reforms, Babri Masjid, Insurgencies in Kashmir, Punjab and North East. Through this book, you would not even know Mr. Narasimha Rao better but you would also have a glimpse into those crucial years when he was at the helm as the PM of our country although, I must say that writer seems to have a soft corner and in awe of his subject. I think, he will surely get more people to take notice and reflect on this amazing personality through this book.

I will recommend this one.
Profile Image for Yash Sharma.
247 reviews15 followers
July 27, 2020
The "Ninja Turtle'' who transformed India : P.V. Narasimha Rao

Half lion, how P.V Narasimha Rao transformed india, is brilliantly reasearched biography of the man who not only dismantled the so called ''licence-permit-quota'' Raj and opened up the Indian economy, but he also applied in letter and spirit the ancient Vedic principle of Vasudhaiva kutumbkam, which means 'The world is one big family'.

And the main USP of this book is to understand how PV Rao achieved so much despite having so little Power.

For more information You can visit - https://dontbignorant.in/
5 reviews1 follower
September 3, 2016
Completed the book half lion a book on Narashima Rao. The book starts with two basic things one being PVN did not have the majority what Deng Xiao Ping had in Chinaand second he hanlded India when all the borders were in boil

The book talks about how much of machivelisam he had and how he ran a minorty government for 5 yrs with zero charisma

Surprising that after 1984 India only in 2014 gave a clear mandate. Do not miss what he was doing during the destruction of babri masjid or how he handled Clinton during CTBT

The biggest revelation which came out from this book was unknown to me Deng and PVN had lot of similarities..and both rose post thier purging.
Profile Image for Sankarshan.
87 reviews165 followers
July 7, 2016
The abundance of footnotes, citations and reference material makes this book a great read. It is a well rounded attempt to introduce the legacy of PVNR while setting the context of his government and his political thinking. Also, the anecdotes which bring up the basic decency inherent to a few members of the establishment; or, the incredible pulchritude of politics when played by seasoned actors is worth reading.

The writing is helped by the arrangement and break-down of the chapters. Go ahead and read this and perhaps the turbulent times would make more sense thereafter.
Profile Image for Vidhu Shekhar.
4 reviews2 followers
July 20, 2016
Amazing book. Writer has done good work collecting personal papers from PVNR's family, though I suspect that the material is much more there and this could easily have been 100 -150 pages more. The kind of life that PVNR lead!

In the drought of any credible sources for PVNR's period, one of the defining period of India, and steered by a man who didn't even had majority, this is definitely worth a read.
Profile Image for Debjani  Banerji.
129 reviews1 follower
July 30, 2017
PV Narasimha Rao has always fascinated me. His Economic Revolution has transformed India and where we are today. Unfortunately he was never given his due and that saddened me. The genius and the knowledgeable man he was, I believe history and his party should have given him much more respect than what he got.
This biography lucidly written by Vinay Sitapati is an easy read and you are soon transported into the era of PV Narasimha Rao. And the end of the Congress era with his decline.
Profile Image for Ramnath Iyer.
50 reviews5 followers
November 10, 2018
A favourable (and mostly fair) portrayal!
In democratic politics, especially in coalitions of disparate groups, it helps to be able to change persona : to be a lion at times, pushing through one’s agenda with ferocity, but be a fox at other times, waiting slyly for an opponent’s weakness and acting only when the signs are propitious. With a name that translates into half-lion, half-man, Narasimha Rao, who I regard as the most important and best Prime Minister India has had in my lifetime, was perhaps pre-ordained to play that role to perfection.
But when the great leaders of India are mentioned, somehow Narasimha Rao is often forgotten and doesn’t get the credit that he so massively deserved. This is probably because he did not belong to the Nehru-Gandhi clan (indeed he fell out of favour with Sonia Gandhi during his term as PM and sycophantic Congressmen dutifully also sidelined him in his retirement). Nor was he an eloquent speaker capable of casting a spell on audiences, as some of his right wing successors have been. But what Vinay Sitapati’s book “Half Lion” highlights is the range of matters in which his policymaking was decisive and significant in altering the long term direction of India for the better.
This biography is therefore a much needed antidote to the general neglect that most Indians have for Rao, even as they are pre-occupied with self-congratulatory messaging on the country’s revitalized standing and enjoying the fruits of economic growth, both of which would simply not have happened without the vital changes pushed through by Rao in the Nineties, whose prime minstership stared with a bankrupt country but who left behind one that was thriving and on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.
The author draws on numerous interviews that he conducted with players in Indian politics, and benefitted from access provided by Rao’s family to the prime minister’s personal papers, of which there were meticulously kept tomes. While the role of Rao in changing the Indian economic model away from faux-socialism and doing away the growth stultifying “Licence Raj” is well known, his difference in other lesser known and appreciated areas are brought out in this largely favourable but mostly very fair portrayal.
The policies he implemented as education and health minister, both at the Centre and earlier at the state level, were precursors to the large scale policies put through with fanfare by later governments. Becoming wily fox when needed, he quietly kept to himself the role of the industry minister and put through the opening up of industry, to protests from many industrialists used to the old way of doing things, even as attention and praise was focused on his technocrat finance minister. Sitapati does a good job of highlighting these, as well as Rao’s difficult and controversial roles at the time of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom and the destruction of Babri Masjid.
These two episodes weren't high points in Rao's political life, and the author could have been a bit more incisive in examining them. That little quibble apart, a well written life story of a multi-faceted personality.
January 1, 2020
Great well-written, thought provoking political book. I must admit I picked it up only to read about the 1991 Indian economical liberalisation. Once I read those chapters, I was intrigued by PV Narasimha Rao's motivation and thought process. Then ended up reading the entire book in 2 days.

It is remarkable what he achieved in those 5 years. It is also remarkable how his own party abandoned him in his last hour.

Manmohan Singh deserves all the praise he gets for the reforms in 1991. However this book shows the reforms world have still happened without him, for PV's first choice for finance minister was also a technocrat (IG Patel). Without PV though, changes would have never happened as evidenced by scarce reforms enacted by all subsequent prime ministers. PV deftly navigated politics and used every trick in the book to overcome obstacles and changed a billion lives.

He had multiple opportunities to continue to be in power and he refused to take short cuts for morality reasons. he knew aiadmk was a liability in 1996 and DMK will win all 40 seats in Tamil Nadu (thereby deciding who the prime minister will be) but stayed away from DMK due to their ties to ltte group who murdered Rajiv Gandhi. He was given an option to break congress after 1996 elections to take some MPs with him to merge with BJP. Rejected that also due to his loyalty to a party, which cast him aside eventually.

This book shows how ideas are cheap but implementation is everything. Everyone born in India owes a debt to Narasimha Rao and deserves to know the true story. It is a shame he died poor and alone. This book does some justice to this great man by retelling this quintessential indian story.
April 27, 2022
This is a story of a man who did a lot for country but never got recognition he deserved.
This is biography of P.V. narsimha rao
'An honest man but a great politician '.
He was loyalist of Nehru-gandhi clan for more then 5 decades yet he was only usurper to claim highest seat in Delhi Darbar which led to eternal hatred congrese had for him despite his uttermost loyalty to the family .
This book talks about how prime minister Rao sailed Indian ship in its most turbulent times to safe shore. This book talks about his rise to power via always being a yes-man to Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. Decision made by him in economy, foreign policies, defense etc shaped the pathway for the india of future. When he was CM of Andhra as well as PM of india he took decision which were good for common people and yet had concequences for his political career. When he swore in as PM Indian economic was in Mayday calling but his Swift actions to liberelize against he party ideology saved the economy.Apart from LPG reforms he shaped modern India's foreign policy amidst the collapse of USSR.he pacified Punjab, Assam and Kashmir.

I think the format sitapati choose is where details are repeatable but despite it is never boring . Author explains the role of Rao as both prime minister and home minister in controversial decisions like Babri mosque demolition. Author reveals various shades or rao as a scholar, a Hindu Brahmin,a socialist, writer, a speaker of more than 10 languages.
Rao was of the few congressmen of that era who were not Oxford-Cambridge elite.
Fir me the the view of gopal krishna Gandhi
" He was too shy of his own truths to our them straight ,but too honest to hide them, He was too proud to be hypocrit".
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is keen to understand the eningma Rao was.
Profile Image for Prahalathan KK.
27 reviews4 followers
May 12, 2022
Not much is known about this former PM of India in spite of being the first Non Nehru Gandhi family member to complete a full five years as PM. Hence, I was curious to read this book and finished it wiser.

This is the story of a true blue Congressi, Nehru Gandhi Loyalist who was made Andhra CM and then PM for the same reason - his perceived weakness and lack of vote base. While Manmohan Singh is popularly perceived as the Finance Minister who liberalized India, this book paints a picture of how PM Rao plotted and enabled all of that. How he deftly planned and maneuvered his party the opposition and the country is detailed.

The book has an interesting chapter structure chronologically followed by specific chapters on important topics. This focus helps ease of understanding as a simple chronological narrative may have been tougher to grasp. Topics covered include the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Managing Sonia Gandhi, Nuclear Policy and his foreign policy
Displaying 1 - 30 of 299 reviews

Join the discussion

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.