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Former Indian Prime Minister Rao Dies

  • Anjana Pasricha

P.V. Narasimha Rao, a former prime minister of India, has died of heart failure. Mr. Rao died in a New Delhi hospital two weeks after he was admitted for a cardiac problem.

The 83-year-old Mr. Rao became India's prime minister in 1991, months after Congress Party leader Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.

He took charge at a time when India was nearly bankrupt and took the bold decision to introduce free-market reforms in one of the world's most protected economies.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who implemented the reforms as Mr. Rao's finance minister said the opening up of the economy was a historic step. His statement was read by his spokesman, Sanjay Barua:

"He will forever be remembered as the father of economic reforms in India," the statement said.

Mr. Rao served a full five-year term, but lost power in 1996.

The editor of Pioneer Newspaper, Hiranmay Karlekar, described him as a shrewd politician.

"At a very difficult time he presided over the Congress and ensured that the party survived, and gave stability to the country," said Mr. Karlekar.

But Mr. Rao's term was marred by the destruction of an ancient mosque by Hindu nationalists in 1992 in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya. The demolition of the mosque triggered widespread Hindu-Muslim riots in which more than 2,000 people were killed.

His defeat in 1996 paved the way for the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. As the Congress Party threatened to split into small groups, Mr. Rao was sidelined and faded from the Indian political scene.

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