Time was changing and so does my life. I started to earn at the age of 21 and incidentally my first day at work was 7th December 1992 – the day after Babri Masjid demolition at Ayodhya. It’s only after my joining that I came to know that the office belonged to a prominent political figure in Congress.
I worked there for more than three years and, as a fresher, I could say I learnt quite a few things during my initial months at work; but overall, it was a waste of time as there was nothing more to learn from after a certain period of time and my salary too remained meager with no future prospects. During this time however, I realized the importance of speaking English and utilized my free time there to learn the language well.
I was never good at studies, but I did have a passion for reading books. There was an old book seller in the vicinity of our office whose stall I used to visit quite often during lunch hour. I remember having bought an old copy of Mahatama Gandhi’s autobiography “My Experiments with Truth” for Rs.10/- only from there. It was an old edition of 1960s and the print price was rupees three only.
By this time I had turned into a person much like a present day ‘अंध भक्त’ (a blind devotee) full of bias against the largest minority of the country. I had also become a huge admirer of Balasaheb Tharkre, the founder of Shiv Sena, a radical political party well-known for its extreme Hindutva views. I remember, once during one of our English language classes, we were given the task to speak on our role models. To the utter shock of our Christian English teacher, I spoke about Balasaheb Tharkre. She just couldn’t believe that a person of such soft demeanor like me could actually idolize a radical political personality. “Do you really admire him”, she asked. I could sense the feeling of ‘hurt’ hidden behind her smiling face, but I was too proud of my views to retract or show any remorse.
I give an example of how ridiculously fanatic I had become in my views by that time that I couldn’t even stand the title of the cover story of a prominent news magazine on Babri Masjid demolition, which read – “कलंकित हुआ सारा देश” (Image of the whole country tarnished). I replaced the first two words of the heading by pasting a slip on them to read “झूम उठा सारा देश” (The whole country rejoiced).
Today I get scared when I see such religious and political fanaticism all around. I was only 21 then and, considering my impressionable age, I could forgive myself for holding such irrational and biased views against a particular minority community; but today when I see people of almost all age groups, from all strata of society and from all walks of life mindlessly pouring venom in the already poisonous environment, I feel sorry for the nation. By the time these people would realize their mistake, like I realize today, I’m afraid things may go completely out of hands.
The sympathy wave that followed Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination during the general elections, helped Congress back to power. Although the Congress fell short of an absolute majority by a few seats, the minority government headed by PV Narsimha Rao, who was actually set to retire from active politics after the elections, sustained its full five years term. Known as the “Chanakya of Modern India” PV Narsimha Rao was the first Prime Minister from South India. He was a polyglot, who could speak nine Indian and eight foreign languages.
Manmohan Singh, an acclaimed economist, was appointed as Finance Minister under whose aegis several economic reforms were undertaken to revive the Indian economy. Manmohan Singh was a man of ‘unimpeachable integrity’. Giving an example of Manmohan Singh’s integrity, Jairam Ramesh in his book “To the Brink and Back – India’s 1991 Story” says – “[…] what better example than what he did after he [Manmohan Singh] and Rao had taken a decision to devalue the Indian rupee? Manmohan Singh was worried that his personal rupee balance, born out of modest dollar savings from his South Commission stint in Geneva during 1987-90, would swell with the proposed changes in the rupee-dollar exchange rate. Therefore, he informed the prime minister that the ‘windfall’ gains would be deposited in the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.”
This was also the time when new scams and scandals started to surface one after another. In early 1991, while interrogating the funding of a terrorist outfit, CBI conducted raids on hawala brokers namely Surender Kumar Jain and his brothers. During the raids CBI inter alia seized two diaries containing names of several prominent politicians in abbreviated form, who were supposedly the recipients of hawala money. Though Rao’s name was not figured in the infamous Jain Diary, during the investigation, one of the CBI officials recorded a confession from Jain about the payment he had made to Narsimha Rao.
Then got exposed the biggest stock market scam in April 1992. Exploiting the stock market loopholes, broker Harshad Shantilal Mehta, popularly known as the Big Bull of Dalal Street, engineered the multi-crore securities scam in collusion with corrupt bankers, government officials and politicians and duped investors of crores of rupees. In this matter too, fingers were pointed towards PV Narsimha Rao. Harshad Mehta alleged to have paid rupees one crore to the then Congress President and Prime Minister towards party fund apparently to get himself off the hook in the matter.
In the JMM Bribery Case of July 1993, it was alleged that four JMM (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha) MLAs along with a few other MPs were bribed to ensure survival of Narsimha Rao government during the No-Confidence Motion moved against his government. Narsimha Rao and Buta Singh had to face prosecution in the matter as one of those MPs namely Shailendra Mahato, who had accepted the bribe, turned approver.
Narsimha Rao’s association with the self-styled godman Chandraswami (real name Nemi Chand Jain) further tarnished his as well his party’s image in the eyes of people. Apart from his involvement in various cases of financial irregularities and shady deals, Chandraswami was also probed for his alleged role in financing the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Jairam Ramesh’s book “To the Brink and Back – India’s 1991 Story” thus mentions Rao’s closeness with Chandraswami – “[…] his relationships with the sleaziest of characters – Chandraswami being the most notable of them – which I saw at close quarters, were inexplicable and did no justice to a man of such erudition and learning.”
The sensational Naina Sahani murder case, involving a youth leader of Congress Sushil Sharma, also took place during this time. Sushil Sharma had killed his live-in partner with his revolver on the night of 2nd July 1995 on the suspicion that she was having an affair with a fellow Congress worker. Sushil had cut Naina’s body into pieces and tried to dispose them of in a tandoor of his ‘Bagiya Restaurant’ at Ashoka Yatri Niwas, Delhi. Sushil Sharma’s Congress connection gave a bad name to the party already struggling with its public image.
Narsimha Rao’s tenure would also be remembered for the rise of right wing Hindu fundamentalism, which ultimately paved way for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to come to power.