As Sardar Patel helped Nehru become Prime Minister, it was only after I. G. Patel had 'declined' that Dr Manmohan Singh became India's Finance Minister in 1991 to steer the country's economy and push up reforms.
New Delhi: Reforms are being discussed, especially on the agricultural front and economic recovery post-Covid crisis; it may be relevant to recall the services of I. G. Patel in India's economic governance.
The state of Gujarat gave Mahatma Gandhi and a few other illustrious leaders, such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The western state could have also given the Finance Minister in 1991 to steer a path-breaking economic journey in the liberalisation era, had not a son of Gujarat, I. G. Patel declined the offer from the country's Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. The story is similar to some extent to the Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru episode.
'Indraprasad' was born to the family of Gordhanbhai and Kashbiben Patel and thus got the name – Indraprasad Gordhanbhai Patel. But he grew up popular as I. G. Patel and served four Prime Ministers from close range–Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai. But when it came to Rao–Patel decided to stay away from Lutyens City and the corridors of power.
I. G. Patel was also an optimist and 'visionary'. During the 1971 war with Pakistan (for the liberation of Bangladesh), Indira Gandhi had grown a little nervous, fearing Americans going all out with Pakistanis. I. G. Patel reportedly told the then PM that India could hold on for six months with the food grain stocks and a good amount of foreign exchange reserves. Patel also wrote Indira Gandhi's maiden Budget speech in 1969.
Born on November 11, 1924, he was 67, and he could have become Finance Minister. But the Vadodara-based economic czar decided otherwise, stating having travelled across the world, he wanted to settle down in Vadodara/Baroda.
Thus, P V Narasimha Rao had to hand over the country's finance ministry reins to Dr Manmohan Singh, who knew the country's economic condition as Yashwant Sinha, appointed Dr Singh as the Economic Advisor to Prime Minister Chandrashekhar. Born on September 26, 1932, Dr Singh was 59 in 1991.
Grapevine also has it that even Rao's immediate predecessor, Prime Minister Chandrashekhar, had spoken to I. G. Patel and could have made him the Finance Minister. But the responsibility, later on, went to retired Babu-turned-politician Yashwant Sinha. It was on the advice of Sinha that Dr Singh was made Economic Advisor to the then PM Chandrashekhar.
There are several anecdotes related to Manmohan Singh's stint as the Finance Minister and his overall career. Many, including I. G. Patel, once described Dr Singh as "an overestimated economist and underestimated politician".
When economic liberalisation was unleashed, Late Chandrashekhar once said: "I took the knife to cut an onion; Mr Rao used the same knife to do heart surgery."
Of course, the then Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra, IAS, also played his critical role and briefed Narasimha Rao a day before swearing-in (June 20, 1991) and explained the dismal economic condition confronting the country.
In 2014, just on the eve of general elections, this scribe had quizzed Yashwant Sinha on why he made Manmohan Singh the economic advisor to the then PM Chandrashekhar; he shot back, saying, "Our government could not be blamed. We had to go by the available talent in the country then."
Manmohan Singh deserves all credit for steering the country's economy in 1991 – at a stage when the going was tough.
A few months back, India's Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha had gone to Japan, but his counterpart had even declined a meeting. But it is generally given in Delhi's corridors of power that Manmohan Singh has always remained an 'opportunist' and 'safe playing' operator and ensured that his position remained intact.
Narasimha Rao expired in Delhi on December 23, 2004. The Congress party, especially Sonia Gandhi, decided that Rao should not be allowed a state funeral in Delhi. Sonia deployed the then Home Minister Shivraj Patil and her confidant Ahmed Patel, a well-known political protagonist from Gujarat–to convey Rao's family to take the body to Hyderabad.
Rao's children later agreed to do so. The Congress party had declined Rao all the credit for unleashing the economic liberalisation policy–enforcing that was pretty tough and was also opposed by some Sonia Gandhi loyalists like M. L. Fotedar and Arjun Singh.
It is said Ahmed Patel even told Sanjaya Baru that as PM Manmohan Singh's media advisor, he should advise Rao's family to take the body to Hyderabad. As someone who worked under Rao, Manmohan Singh could have made things different. The Congress leadership and Sonia Gandhi even disallowed Rao's body to AICC headquarters at 24 Akbar Road.
Interestingly, about three years later, in 2007 (July 8), when Chandrashekhar died, the Congress party was again trying to play their old game and deprive a state funeral in Delhi.
But Chandrashekhar's son Neeraj Shekhar, then a Samajwadi Party MP and now a BJP leader, had gone to Manmohan Singh and told him that if no state funeral were allowed in Delhi at a place along with other former Prime Ministers, he would make the last rites strictly a family affair and not let 'any politician' to enter the venue.
This would have embarrassed the Congress leadership and the likes of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; thus, the 'state funeral' for Chandrashekhar was allowed in Delhi.