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How Modi fares vs previous PMs

By T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan
Last updated on: June 11, 2018 11:00 IST
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'His record will be clouded by the same negative factors as of Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao, namely, their politics and therefore social policies,' says T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is administered the oath of office by President Pranab Mukherjee, May 26, 2014. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Four years ago, when he took oath as prime minister, Narendra D Modi asked for 10 years in office.

I will transform India, he said.

Now, on his fourth anniversary, it is worth asking if he deserves a second term and what his legacy will be.

The answer, of course, depends on who you ask.

But everyone will agree that he has indeed transformed India, in both good and bad ways.

The government will tell us about the good things it has done.

The critics will remind us of the bad things.

The exercise will not, however, answer the central question, which is this: How will we determine Mr Modi's legacy?

Indeed, how do we determine any prime minister's legacy?


After much thought, I offer a simple test.

It has to do with respect: How much respect does a former prime minister command?

This, in turn, is based on what Shakespeare said: 'The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft-interred with their bones.'

Respect for prime ministers, I therefore believe, depends on how many errors of judgement they make.

The fewer the errors, the higher is the respect.

The scale is of 0-5. The weight is 50:50 for economic and social policies.

To further refine the idea, let me add that the worst errors of judgement are those that were caused either by not listening to the advice of senior colleagues; or, worse, listening to the wrong ones; or, the very worst, not seeking such advice at all.

For reasons of space we need not discuss those who score zero. They are Charan Singh, V P Singh, H D Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral.

Chandra Shekhar, who was PM for about six months only, is an anomaly.

He was quite outstanding while he was there.

It was Rajiv Gandhi who pulled his government down.

The Results

Jawaharlal Nehru


Our first prime minister, regardless of what the RSS and the BJP say, is remembered with great respect.

But he doesn't get the full five marks because he lacked judgement in critical matters.

These were the handing over the UN Security Council membership to China when it was ours for the taking; incorporating Article 370 in the Constitution when no one else wanted it; the toppling of the first Communist government in Kerala in 1959; and the 1962 defeat by China.

Photograph: Rediff Archives
Indira Gandhi


She deserves very little respect because her judgement was always for near-term gains and therefore entirely faulty.

Thus, she fostered corruption, declared the Emergency, converted the Congress party into a closely-held family firm and broke up Pakistan, thus worsening our security.

Photograph: Rediff Archives
Morarji Desai


Prime ministers should not advocate the drinking of urine, your own or a cow's.

That's very poor judgement.

Photograph: Rediff Archives
Rajiv Gandhi


He is guilty of four major errors of judgement: Keeping up his family's friendship with the late Ottavio Quattrocchi; sending the IPKF to Sri Lanka; opening the locks at the temple in Ayodhya in 1986; and performing shilanyas there in 1989.

Rajiv Gandhi and Ottavio Quattrocchi.Photograph: Rediff Archives
P V Narasimha Rao


His main error of judgment was political in not doing anything when the mosque at Ayodhya was being demolished.

But because he liberalised the economy, he gets 2.5.

P V Narasimha Rao addresses his first press conference after completing one year of his government. Photograph: Rediff Archives
Atal Bihari Vajpayee


No major errors of judgement. Hence full marks.

Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Santiniketan. Photograph: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters
Manmohan Singh


Also, no major errors of judgement except in dealing with his Cabinet colleagues.

He just wasn't firm enough, even when he could have been.

Then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh speaks to the media after winning a trust vote in Parliament. Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI


Post demonetisation, a notice at an eatery in Mumbai. Photograph: Reuters

What, then, of Mr Modi now? So far he has committed two major errors.

One is economic -- demonetisation.

The other is political -- his acquiescence in the RSS's social agenda.

The former's effects were temporary and are wearing off.

But the latter is going to be as big a problem as Rajiv Gandhi's temple policy and Narasimha Rao's mosque policy turned out to be.

While Rajiv is accorded respect by only the Congress, it is the opposite with Narasimha Rao.

The result is that whenever anyone talks about Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao's great contributions, someone else pops with their policy towards Muslims.

This is the likely fate of Mr Modi also.

He has done some remarkably difficult things in the last four years and deserves full credit for that.

But recalling Shakespeare, his record will be clouded by the same negative factors as of Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao, namely, their politics and therefore social policies.

Production: Ashish Narsale/

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