Revisiting PV Narasimha Rao’s foreign policy in his centenary year
Shashi Tharoor and John Koshy | 09 Oct, 2020
Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and US President Bill Clinton at the White House, May 1994 (Photo: AP)
PV NARASIMHA RAO NEVER said, as his associate Manmohan Singh was later to do, that history would be kinder to him than his contemporaries. In the short term, indeed, kindness did not wash over him; his supporters argue that he has been ignored and slighted after his passing. As the country awakens to the legacy of India’s ninth Prime Minister in his centenary year, though, the reassessments are largely more admiring—and none more so than when one looks at his foreign policy.
Economics was part of the foreign policy story. Narasimha Rao, who led the country from 1991 to 1996, took over the prime ministership when India’s economy was failing and its geopolitical position was at its weakest. 1991 was a tumultuous year in the global order. The Gulf War was raging, with the intervention of a global coalition led by the US, which launched Operation Desert Storm to push back Iraqi forces under the leadership of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. In a matter of weeks, Iraq found itself in headlong retreat, ceding not just Kuwait but parts of its own territory. The US won decisively and imposed a harsh peace on the vanquished Saddam. But the conflict—between two countries responsible at the time for over 4.3 million barrels of oil a day—inevitably caused a dramatic shock to the global oil supply. The price of crude oil doubled overnight, triggering economic rifts within countries that found their oil import bills rise drastically, including India, which remains heavily dependent on oil imports for its energy needs.
The picture was hardly prettier elsewhere around the world. Japan, which had steadily developed its economy following the devastation of World War II, was beginning to realise its good run was about to end. Starting with a significant fall in land prices in 1991, the country was staring at the implosion of the ‘Japanese asset price bubble’, a devastating crash in commodities that would set the country back for much of the next decade. A similar story was unfolding in South America, which was still recovering from the Latin American debt crisis. Finally, as the turbulent year wound up, the biggest shock arrived. In December 1991, the USSR, a key friend and partner of India in the global order, dissolved and a single federation split overnight into 15 independent nations. Consumed by its own dramatic metamorphosis, what remained of this former superpower, in the form of the Russian Federation under President Boris Yeltsin, was far more preoccupied with surviving the economic devastation it was still reeling from and removing the cobwebs of communism that had brought it there, than with recapturing the space it had abdicated in the global order.
If the global theatre was in a state of flux, then the domestic situation in India at the time was even more grave. On May 21st, 1991, India was brutally robbed of one of her great and most promising sons, when a suicide bomber took the life of Rajiv Gandhi just as he was set to address an election rally in Sriperumbudur. This tragic event, a terrible repeat of what happened to Indira Gandhi only seven years earlier, sent shockwaves across the country and plunged the nation into mourning at a time when it was already confronted by a host of other seemingly insurmountable challenges. As a grave editorial in The Economist (‘India’s Trial’, May 25th, 1991) at the time put it, ‘The bomb that killed Rajiv Gandhi this week sent its blast through an India already on the edge of tragedy. That is why a single act of political barbarism, in the southern town of Sriperumbudur on the night of May 21st, may yet smash the world’s biggest democracy into sectarian fragments.’
To many that implosion seemed imminent. Politically, the stability of the country was all but hanging by a thread—with the coalition Governments cobbled together by VP Singh (which lasted from December 1989 to November 1990) and Chandra Shekhar (from November 1990 to June 1991) barely lasting months before fizzling out. Challenges to national unity and security were gaining momentum in Assam, Punjab and then united Jammu & Kashmir, where Pakistan was playing an active role in fomenting strife. And finally, partly as a result of the political instability that was rampant, and certainly compounded by poor economic policymaking and conflicting ideas presented by seven finance ministers in the previous six years, the Indian economy was all but teetering on a precipice.
As highlighted in data put together by the Centre for Civil Society, the macroeconomic signals were all in the red. In 1981-1991, India’s external debt tripled and in just the two years between 1989 and 1991, our trade deficit rose by 36 per cent from Rs 12,400 crore to Rs 16,900 crore; our current account deficit rose by 54 per cent from Rs 11,350 crore to Rs 17,350 crore; the rate of inflation practically doubled from 7.5 per cent in 1989 to over 13 per cent by 1991; and in the process of footing our many bills, our foreign reserves had practically halved from Rs 5,277 crore in 1989 to Rs 2,200 crore by the end of 1990. Things got so bad that at one point India barely had the reserves to finance three weeks of imports and there was widespread worry that we would end up defaulting on our external liabilities. With Moody’s downgrading India’s bond ratings, raising funds became all the more difficult and India was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout by humiliatingly staking the better part of our gold reserves as collateral.
While much can be said about the economic reforms that formed the crux of this ‘reinvention’, that story is well known. What is less widely appreciated is the brand of foreign policy that PV Narasimha Rao established during his tenure in office, which was just as vital for the courageous new priorities it articulated and the manner in which these propelled India’s domestic interests
Given these circumstances, it was understandable that most observers anticipated an Indian collapse almost as if it were inevitable. ‘Pity India’ was how the New York Times summarised the mood (‘Why India’s Unity Matters’, June 20th, 1991): ‘Pity India. Not since independence in 1947 has so much conflict beset this huge democracy. A violent election, interrupted by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, has left it without a majority party or a visible leader. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are mired in quarrels; regions clamor for self-rule, and everyone complains about corruption, the economy and an ossified bureaucracy… . If chaos triumphs in India, the tremors won’t be contained. Indian disunion would be a calamity for human rights. It would fragment markets and accelerate a regional arms race fed by new rivalries.’
It wasn’t just propaganda being floated by the foreign press, as some supporters of the current ruling dispensation would have been quick to argue if the same words were written today. The image of an India descending into chaos was shared by many concerned Indians as well, including the veteran journalist Raj Chengappa who noted, ‘There has always been a certain smugness in the way India looked at itself. The myths have been shattered one by one. Instead of a progressive and pragmatic nation, most perceive the country as a trundling rhinoceros swathed in tons of red tape and trapped in a time-warp of its own making’ (quoted in ‘India Reconsiders Its Socialism’ by Steve Coll, The Washington Post, October 22nd, 1991).
Given the near existential questions that were being asked of the Indian polity and what was at stake, the choice of Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao as the ninth Prime Minister of our republic was not greeted with much optimism across the country. Though a veteran administrator, in a career that included a tenure as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, seven terms as a Member of Parliament and extensive experience in the Union Cabinet that included stints in the crucial portfolios of External Affairs, Home and Defence, the question of whether Narasimha Rao was the man capable of leading India out of the darkness that engulfed it was one raised by most—even if it was in whispers in the capital. And understandably so.
Would the scholar, intellectual and polyglot (of whom it was uncharitably said he was a master at being silent in 10 languages), manage the cold calculations and subtle political machinations of overseeing a minority Government? Could a leader with no political constituency of his own, no particular caste equation in his favour nor a mass following, succeed in bringing a divided India together? Could a man who was 70 and had undergone triple-bypass surgery have the energy and drive to be an effective prime minister? Was the choice of this man as prime minister a conniving piece of political engineering by those who wanted an ‘amenable’ figure at the top in the vacuum created by Rajiv Gandhi’s demise? And finally, could a man who was set on his own retirement and departure from the public sphere just ahead of the elections ensure that the newly minted Government would not meet a similar fate as the two that preceded it?
If these were questions raised in 1991, the concerns implicit were convincingly dispelled over the course of the next five years. In PV Narasimha Rao, the country was blessed with an unlikely champion, who displayed his credentials as a masterful administrator and political tactician to lead India through one of its most turbulent phases. Whether it was through his capacity to implement revolutionary economic reforms (aided by the formidable Manmohan Singh) or through his delicate manoeuvring that ensured a minority Government remained in office for the full term, or by changing the very perception of India to the outside world, Narasimha Rao proved to be a force unto himself. And he resoundingly proved his detractors wrong. As Kapil Komireddi puts it in his book Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India, C Hurst & Co, 2019), ‘If Nehru ‘discovered’ India, it can reasonably be said that P.V Narasimha Rao reinvented it.’
While Manmohan Singh, whom Rao appointed Finance Minister in 1991, has understandably become the popular face of India’s dramatic metamorphosis, it was the Prime Minister who had to manage the political challenges. Both Narasimha Rao and Singh deserve every bit of praise for their contributions in liberalising the economy. And it certainly helped that they had an extremely close partnership which ensured that such reforms could be supported by the necessary political backing. Could a technocratic Finance Minister have steered such a major economic transformation without the political cover provided by a shrewd Prime Minister? Singh himself does not think so. As Narasimha Rao acknowledged when speaking about his partnership with Singh: “When he gets into political trouble, I bail him out. When I get into economic trouble, he bails me out” (‘PM Narasimha Rao Meets President Bill Clinton, Talks Business, Plays Down Kashmir’, India Today, June 15th, 1994).
WHILE MUCH CAN be said about the economic reforms that formed the crux of this ‘reinvention’, that story is well known. What is less widely appreciated is the brand of foreign policy that Narasimha Rao established during his tenure in office, which was just as vital for the courageous new priorities it articulated and the manner in which these propelled India’s domestic interests.
Rao’s raw political instincts and his two terms as Foreign Minister in earlier Governments made him a ‘natural’ in the realm of foreign policy. Vinay Sitapati, the author of a superb biography, Half-Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India, gives Rao credit for ‘a realistic assessment of shifting powers’ as evident ‘in his outreach to the US, Israel, Iran and East Asia’. The new post-Cold War global environment and the weakness of Indian economy made peace a prudent choice and reaching out to a triumphant US, as the sole superpower in a newly unipolar world, a strategic preference. He quickly won the support of the Western powers against Pakistan’s promotion of terrorism and militancy in Kashmir, which was essential given the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been India’s international protector. Under his sage tutelage, India was also able to surmount multiple pressures on a wide range of issues, including non-proliferation; establish diplomatic relations with Israel; launch the ‘Look East’ policy for a region overlooked by previous Governments; and recast the priorities of India’s diplomacy from some of the preachy moralism of non-alignment to the purposeful pursuit of economic interests that led to India becoming a serious investment destination.
How then did he reconcile all this with the tallest pillar of independent India’s foreign policy—nonalignment?
Narasimha Rao engineered major changes in foreign policy as India established good relations with incompatible nations like the US and Russia, Israel and the Arabs, Iran and even Pakistan.
Throughout his travels the economic underpinnings of the message Narasimha Rao carried to these lands was made abundantly clear: India was now open for business. And in doing business with India, these countries would find a natural partner and ally on the subcontinent, a partner with whom they already shared many common cultural, social and geopolitical similarities
This was first seen through his articulation of the ‘Look East Policy’ (LEP), which developed the foundations for closer economic ties between India and countries in Southeast and East Asia. To be sure, the prospect was not a novel proposition. But the manner in which Narasimha Rao built on the vision of closer synthesis between India and its neighbours in Asia, as described by his distinguished predecessors, is certainly worth recognising. Those who have read Jawaharlal Nehru’s great classic The Discovery of India would be aware of his reference to Southeast Asia as ‘Greater India’, but that heady romanticism foundered amid mutual suspicions during the Cold War and relations remained distant. The end of the superpower standoff—and thus of the obligation of states to determine their international allegiances in relation to Cold War loyalties and commitments—widened India’s foreign policy options, permitting New Delhi to look beyond the conventional wisdom of its non-aligned years. ‘Look East’ followed.
Initially aimed at improving relations with the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a time when India had embarked upon economic liberalisation, and indirectly at enhancing strategic cooperation with the US— ‘Looking East to Look West’, as Sunanda K Datta-Ray termed it (Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew’s Mission India, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, 2009)—the policy remains a bedrock of Indian foreign policy today, two decades after it first took off. It is instructive that no Indian political party—and several have had turns at government since Narasimha Rao—has questioned either the underpinnings or the manifestations of the ‘Look East’ policy.
One factor helping drive the policy was undoubtedly China’s early interest in the region. During the Cold War, Southeast Asia saw itself threatened by the risk of communist expansion, but once China opened up its economy to the outside world and became a major trading power, the prospects of military adventurism by Beijing receded. Nonetheless, China’s growing economic and military might, for all its talk of a ‘peaceful rise’, cast a shadow over a region that had traditionally been wary of Beijing. India’s interest in engaging with the region more deeply offered the nations of Southeast Asia the prospect of a democratic and non-threatening counterbalance. For years India had been bogged down in its own neighbourhood and dismissed by most—especially by Beijing—as at best a subcontinental power. ‘Look East’ began with trade but soon expanded to include diplomatic dialogue and strategic and military cooperation. It helped that both sides of the equation enjoyed a shared colonial experience, cultural affinities going back to antiquity and, despite the estrangement of the Cold War years, a striking lack of historical resentments to come between them.
In 1992, Narasimha Rao made visits to Japan (responsible for the largest tranche of development assistance to India at the time), South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand; Vietnam and Singapore followed in 1994 and finally Malaysia in 1995. Throughout his travels the economic underpinnings of the message he carried to these lands was made abundantly clear: India was now open for business. And in doing business with India, these countries would find a natural partner and ally on the subcontinent, a partner with whom they already shared many common cultural, social and geopolitical similarities. It was a message that was received warmly in these countries and formed the fulcrum through which these relationships have been further developed through successive governments in both countries. The success in purely economic terms was dramatic: India’s trade with ASEAN rose nearly fortyfold from $2.4 billion when Narasimha Rao started to $81.3 billion today and with the countries of the East Asia Summit by almost as much, coming to account for nearly 30 per cent of our external trade.
Though the potential of economic cooperation has arguably not been fully met, since services trade has still not grown commensurately, the Look East relationship has not been driven by numbers alone. It has developed other dimensions, including in the avenues of defence cooperation, geopolitical alliances, including thriving bilateral relations and cultural exchanges. Equally, as Singh recognised when Prime Minister, “The Look East policy is much more than an external economic policy; it reflects a changed understanding of India’s role in the world economy and signals a significant strategic shift in India’s vision of international affairs” (quoted in Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century by Shashi Tharoor, Penguin Books, 2012).
While Manmohan Singh, whom Rao appointed Finance Minister in 1991, has understandably become the popular face of India’s dramatic metamorphosis, it was the Prime Minister who had to manage the political challenges. As Rao acknowledged when speaking about his partnership with Singh: ‘When he gets into political trouble, I bail him out. When I get into economic trouble, he bails me out’
IF NARASIMHA RAO laid the foundations for a thriving relationship with partners in the East, he was also acutely aware of the need to manage a more delicate situation closer to our borders—the challenge of the dragon. India’s relations with China had, at the time, seen a thaw since the 1962 conflict thanks to Rajiv Gandhi’s path breaking visit to Beijing in 1988. But the concern of Chinese incursions was a prospect that Indians could hardly afford to forget. This, coupled with the growing closeness between China and Pakistan, including through the transfer of nuclear weapons technology and allied knowhow that allowed the latter to successfully become a nuclear state, meant that the Chinese relationship was one that required delicate management.
China became arguably the key relationship he improved dramatically. Rao was greatly impressed with Deng Xiaoping and thought his expertise lay in giving a new direction to Chinese political philosophy without making a break with the past—something he himself was doing in India. Rao adopted a conciliatory yet guarded approach towards China. Despite a cautionary note from a former Indian ambassador to China, marking democratic and pluralist ways as anathema to the visiting Chinese Premier Li Peng, Rao thought that “he is still the man we must do business at least for a little more time to come”.
To address the principal challenge in the relationship—the disputed Line of Actual Control—Narasimha Rao displayed remarkable geopolitical dexterity in finding a mutually acceptable solution that addressed the issue by not addressing it. This came through the signing of the ‘Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the India-China Border Areas’ during his visit to China in 1993. This was widely regarded at the time as Asia’s first major agreement on conventional military disengagement. But why was it special? Through the agreement, both sides agreed to de-hyphenate the issue of the contested land boundary from the rest of the relationship between the two countries. Along with a mutually agreed set of restrictions on usage of airspace and military presence in contested areas, the agreement allowed both countries to finally develop a much broaderrelationship, by essentially sidestepping the question of the contested border. At the same time, both countries agreed to embark on confidence-building measures rooted in the principle of ‘mutual and equal security’, which allowed the countries to disengage from border contestations and move towards a more confident and assured relationship. Subsequently, the military version of these principles was also enshrined in the 1996 Agreement on Military Confidence Building Measures. Apart from allowing India to develop closer economic ties with China, coinciding with the opening up of our economy, this agreement ensured a peaceful adherence to the status quo for a significant period of time. According to biographer Vinay Sitapati, ‘the border agreements with China showed a prime minister who had learnt—perhaps from his own domestic weakness—to set aside unresolvable conflicts and focus on common interests’.
The veteran diplomat Shivshankar Menon concurs (brook.gs/3d3c0vE): ‘Did the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement serve its purpose? It certainly has in terms of keeping the peace and the status quo for almost a quarter century, and in terms of the various arrangements that have made the India-China border one of the most peaceful ones India has.’ At the same time, as Menon points out, a financially and economically stressed India in transition managed to keep defence expenditures around 2.4–2.8 per cent of GDP through the 1990s as a result of Narasimha Rao’s approach, continued by his successors.
There were a number of other areas where the foreign policy of Narasimha Rao is widely regarded as pathbreaking. His pragmatism was visible in Rao’s simultaneous suspicion of Pakistani intentions while keeping the conversation flowing, even while India was warding off the militancy in Kashmir financed and deployed from across the border. Relations with India’s neighbours were also adroitly kept on an even keel.
As part of a general reorientation of Indian foreign policy, including closer ties with the US, in 1992 the Narasimha Rao Government decided to upgrade diplomatic relations with Israel to full ambassadorial level, a previously unthinkable prospect given India’s close relations with the Arab world. But in Narasimha Rao, the country had a leader capable of balancing fraught identities and sensitivities through calculated moves. As Kapil Komireddi highlights, events were set into motion during the visit of influential Jewish leader Isi Libeler who met privately with Narasimha Rao in 1991. The main request he brought with him was for India to vote in favour of upturning the upcoming UN resolution 3379 which equated Zionism with racism. Recognising the utility of a potential partnership with Israel, India voted to repeal the resolution, despite having voted for it previously (and indeed having voted against the very creation of the Israeli state at the UN General Assembly). At the same time, Narasimha Rao made a concerted effort to reach out to India’s partners in the Arab world, particularly Palestine, whose leader Yasser Arafat was invited to Delhi as a guest of the state. Through a well-reasoned deliberation with Arafat, Narasimha Rao was able to get his tacit consent, paving the way for an official upgrade in ties between India and Israel.
Despite a cautionary note from a former Indian ambassador to China, marking democratic and pluralist ways as anathema to the visiting Chinese Premier Li Peng, Narasimha Rao thought that ‘he is still the man we must do business at least for a little more time to come’
The foundation laid so carefully by Narasimha Rao has certainly resulted in a fruitful partnership. The last two decades have witnessed a steady strengthening of the India-Israel relationship, particularly in the defence and security areas, where the two countries’ shared concerns about Islamic extremism have offered common ground for cooperation.
A discussion on the foreign policy of the Rao Government would not be complete without looking at the pivotal role he played in revitalising relations between India and the US. As India opened up her economy, the need for new partners and investments was widely felt as a necessary condition to sustain and drive the economic reforms proposed by the Narasimha Rao Government. With the demise of the USSR and the creation of a unipolar world order, India could hardly afford to ignore the US, which potentially stood to offer the necessary investment and support our country now needed. But this was easier said than done—there were, after all, a number of factors that had placed obstacles in the path of this relationship. These ranged from US President Nixon’s opposition to Indira Gandhi’s intervention in Bangladesh in 1971, to India’s perceived closeness to the USSR, the nuclear question and persistent allegations of human rights violations in Kashmir. On India’s side, the partnership between the US and Pakistan in pushing back the Soviets in Afghanistan, which involved significant military support and aid flowing into our next-door neighbour, remained a key concern.
But Narasimha Rao recognised that such misgivings of the past needed to be set aside and a thriving relationship could help India realise many of its domestic priorities. After astutely managing the Indo-Israel relationship and thereby winning the support of influential Jewish lobbies in America, Narasimha Rao embarked on a pathbreaking visit to the US in 1994, in a six-day trip that included stops in New York, Houston, Boston and Washington, DC. Accompanied by Singh and a formidable group of established Indian business leaders, Narasimha Rao carried a common assurance into all of his meetings: India’s economic reforms were here to stay and America would do well to recognise and support the undisputable potential that was beginning to open up. Powerful players—like the India Interest Group, a lobby of 26 American industrial groups interested in India—certainly helped push the needle in the right direction.
While India needed the US on its side to keep the economic reforms going, it could not afford to give in to US pressure on non-proliferation and compromise India’s security interests by limiting its nuclear programme. Some concessions were made—India agreed to put the brakes on any plans to conduct nuclear tests during Rao’s tenure—but he quietly kept the nuclear programme going while India’s economic growth, spearheaded by his economic reforms, translated into a new status which the US could not afford to ignore. In the process, he set the stage for the Vajpayee Government’s 1998 nuclear tests.
The subtle but unmistakable progress was distinctly that of Narasimha Rao, whose mettle and self-assured demeanour would go on to surprise all who crossed his path. As a cover story in India Today noted (‘A Quiet Triumph’, June 15th, 1994):‘Clearly the most potent weapon was Rao himself. Serious, experienced and mature, he wears the mantle of a statesman, a man who means business and is not interested in wasting unnecessary time on trivialities. In public, he comes across as a diminutive figure, his bald head and drab grey Nehru suits more appropriate to a communist commissar than the leader of the world’s largest emerging free market.
‘In private meetings, however, he is in his element, giving the impression of solid confidence, flexible yet firm, a man who understands the post-Cold War scenario better than most and, more important, India’s potential to play a bigger role than blinkered policies have allowed it to in the past.’
As the world moved away from the binaries of the Cold War, from a period dominated by two power blocs to a world where the concept and spirit of globalisation had begun to take root, India was certainly fortunate to have a leader such as Narasimha Rao to guide our ship through unchartered waters. A polyglot who had mastery over multiple languages (biographers claim he spoke 12, 15, even 17), he had an uncanny ability to convey India’s aspirations and priorities to the rest of the world quite directly. As Komireddi recounts in his book: ‘To his colleagues, Rao remained an enigma, a man who was fluent in twelve languages but, they complained, spoke his mind in none. Visiting Havana in 1980, he received instructions from Indira to persuade the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement to move their next summit from Iraq—then at war with Iran—to India. Rao disarmed the gathering by arguing India’s case in Spanish to the Cubans, Persian to the Iranians, Arabic to the Iraqis and Egyptians, French to a host of African representatives and Urdu to the Pakistanis.’
Throughout his tenure as Prime Minister, he had an unwavering commitment towards the goal of integrating India within the global order while recognising that this was key to unlocking the inherent potential of our nation and ensuring an empowered standard of living for her people. As a masterful administrator and shrewd tactician, Narasimha Rao was capable of making decisions with the full awareness of the sensitivities involved, yet driven by a determination to secure outcomes he believed stood at the core of India’s national priorities. Regarded by those who understood him as a contemporary Kautilya, through his actions Narasimha Rao was instrumental in revitalising India at the turn of the 20th century.
But perhaps most important, and at the heart of his brand of leadership, lay a firm appreciation for the aspirations of the people he led, and a determination to put their concerns above all else. Power for the sake of power mattered little to Narasimha Rao. But the willingness to set aside our differences and work to liberate the spirits of our common humanity most certainly did.
Under Narasimha Rao, the foreign policy of India moved firmly away from Nehruvian idealism to a more pragmatic pursuit of national self-interest. National security analyst C Raja Mohan has compared it to ‘crossing the Rubicon’ (Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India’s New Foreign Policy, Viking, New Delhi, 2003). Yet despite his policy deviations, Rao represented continuity with India’s traditional Nehruvian foreign policy approach. With China, for instance, he delinked the irreconcilable border dispute from other aspects of the bilateral relationship, just as he kept dialogue with Pakistan going even while the Kashmir insurgency was raging at its peak. The essential elements of renouncing force to settle border disputes and upholding the status quo echoed Nehru’s words, and therefore won the support of diehard Nehruvians.
Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s New Year card for 1992 read: ‘Change is the only constant.’ The card depicted the sketch of a spinning wheel gradually transforming into a mechanical gear—symbolic of the evolution of tradition, and not its abandonment. In that image, as we celebrate the rich foreign policy legacy of PV Narasimha Rao, lies the secret of his remarkable success, and a reminder of all that we Indians have to be grateful for, as we mark the 100th birthday of this underappreciated leader.