Mr. L.K. Advani has ranked Mr. Narasimha Rao as the most respected prime minister that the country has had besides Lal Bahadur Shastri. For what it may be worth, the following are my listings:
I would put Jawaharlal Nehru at the top of the list of prime ministers, any time, any place, in any company. Whatever his faults, his weaknesses, his major mistakes, the shortnesses, his major mistakes, the shortcomings of the family members who succeeded him, he was certainly the prime minister who contributed most to the country.
Nehru was a democrat, not just consciously so, or because he was constitutionally bound to be, but in actual spirit. He had all the opportunities and the mass popularity to kick democracy and its institutions aside and take over the country, but not once did he even consciously consider this.
Without him in the initial and developing years of the nation, we would have become another Pakistan or Bangladesh, or any of the other countries which started as democracies and quickly folded up. And it is because of the foundations that he had laid that we continue to be a democracy. So, in my very first choice, I differ with Mr. Advani.
In my second prime minister, I am nearer Mr. Advani. I select Lal Bahadur Shastri. A simple, straight-forward person, a doerand not a talker, he won a war for India with the minimum of fuss and rhetoric, then in all magnanimity made peace with the vanquished, restored the people's pride in the nation, and died before, position and sycophants could corrupt him.
Consider this behavior with that of Indira Gandhi, Empress of India, when the Indian army overran East Pakistan. She gloated and screamed and generally behaved in a manner which, if nothing else ranks her in my list of Indian prime ministers as second last. Her greatest handicap was that she remained prime minister for too long, just as Lal Bahadur's greatest advantage was that he was there for too brief a period.
Of course, Mr. Chandra Shekhar was a prime minister for an even briefer period. But I am not even considering him as a prime minister and therefore he does not figure in my list. I think he will be prime minister once again, after Narasimha Rao, and he will be a compromise prime minister of a larger Congress party. That is when I will consider his performance.
Rajiv Gandhi stands one place ahead of his mother. I would like to give him the benefit of doubt and immaturity, well meaning but totally incapable and inefficient. Narasimha Rao, for the time being I would place him somewhere in the middle, on level with Morarji Desai but considerably above Charan Singh. And last on my list I would put Mr. V.P. Singh. And what I object to most in him is that he is not what he seems to be.