India has had 15 prime minsters since independence. 6 have served a full term or more. I wanted to reflect and assess their performance, especially with respect to their impact on the economy.

Unless I am missing somebody, here the fifteen:
Jawaharlal Nehru, Guljarilal Nanda, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Morarjee Desai, Charan Singh, Rajeev Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandra Sekhar, Narasimhan Rao, Deve Gowda, IP Gujral, Atal Bihar Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi.
Nanda, Shastri, Morarjee, Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandrasekhar, Deve Gowda and IP Gujral served two years or less. Modi is a work in progress. So I just want to rate the six who had a chance to impact the lives of the people. I want to rate them on an absolute scale of 1 to 10 and also rate them Best to worst.

Here are my ratings:

Vajapayee 10 Best
Narasimhan Rao 9
Nehru 6
Rajeev 3
Indira 2
Manmohan 1 Worst

Here are my reasons. Vajpayee was a phenomenal reformer. Liberalization of Telecom Sector, Finance Sector, Automobile Sector, Golden Quadrilateral Highway system,Pradhan Mantri’s Gram Sadak Yojna, Disinvestments come to mind at first blush.

Narasimhan Rao set India on path to liberalization and broke the old mold!

Nehru nurtured core institutions. His economic policies were disaster but he left working structure in place.

Rajeev started the early computer revolution. A wasted generational change opportunity.

Indira was an all out disaster on the economic front.

Manmohan turned out to be Nikamma (a do-nothing), as Advani had called him. wasted 19 years and dragged back to the policies of Indira.

I am sure this is going to be controversial, but I want to get a debate started.






  1. R. Ramnath Reply

    This is an interesting provocation; I am taking a break from my work to write this and it is going to be long.

    To begin with, couple of corrections in name-spell. It ought to be Rajiv, I K Gujral, Gulzari Lal.

    Coming to your performance evaluation on the 6 PMs, I have the following to say:

    1. One need not be a PM for 5 years to leave an impact on a nation; a short-duration leader can do wonders too and leave an impressionable footprint.
    2. If you agree with my point, I would include Chandra Shekhar too as an impressive PM. He was considered a good administrator and was much respected. The others amongst the B category aren’t worth mentioning (Charan Singh was on the hot seat for a few weeks; in fact he said his life’s ambition got fulfilled the moment he became PM. Deve Gowda is known for his frequent foreign sojourns with a planeload of family members and extended families; he was good at sleeping through parliamentary sessions too. Gujral was a philosopher and less of a PM and is supposed to have given an interview virtually each day of his premiership.)
    3. I would rate the PMs in the following descending order:
    a. P V Narasimha Rao – 10
    b. A B Vajpayee – 9
    c. Jawaharlal Nehru – 7.5
    d. Indira Gandhi – 6.5
    e. Manmohan Singh – 5
    f. Rajiv Gandhi -2
    4. Here are the reasons, in brief, why I rank them in this order and the ratings that I gave:
    a. Narasimha Rao was very intelligent, a multi-linguist, quiet worker and installed as PM by Congress under the impression that he would be a rubber stamp and do their bidding till Sonia takes over. He proved otherwise. He selected an intelligent FM and is supposed to have made radical changes and reforms to the Indian economy and financial system. In fact the real reform process was started by Narasimha Rao.
    b. Vajpayee was a grass-root worker, a great orator and a well-read man. When he took rein the second time, the treasury was empty and when he lost the elections, the country’s reserves and economy was in a pretty good shape. He initiated the peace process and took everyone along with including the opposition benches.
    c. Nehru was a part of the freedom movement, a good speaker. However what goes to his credit is the fact that he brought in a socialist framework in the initial years of independence thus paving the way to set up strong core sector industries which gave strength and strong roots to the Indian industry and economy. He also encouraged development and strengthening of the democratic institutions which ensured that India became a strong democracy with an independent judiciary and rule of law. He didn’t mess with the structures. Personally, I think Sardar Patel would have made a better PM.
    d. Indira Gandhi, because she was a firm lady, a great leader and a tough nut to crack. She handled the Shimla agreement well, handled the Pak aggression in 1971 well, did away with princely states, brought in privy purses, nationalised banks and broke Pak into two which was much desired. She was a leader among the vast ocean of men; not an easy task.
    e. Manmohan Singh, well read, RBI guv, FM etc in his CV and worked with Narasimha Rao to set the reform process rolling. He was not corrupt and his UPA 1 tenure was fairly successful with reasonably good achievements at various sectors/levels. Where he failed as a PM was that he was blind to corruption, failed to put down his foot before the Cong President when he was in an enviable position to do so as he was already retired, financially secure and drawing a handsome taxable and tax free pension. A man who could have done what he wanted failed to do either because of lack of guts or greed for the post.
    f. Rajiv had nothing much to contribute. He was a good guy but not meant for politics (his brother Sanjay was competent). Rajiv screwed up by sending IPKF to Sri Lanka (as a payback, he was assaulted by the Sri Lankans during guard of honour; it was terrible to watch). He had a bunch of his cronies/sycophants. Bofors happened during his tenure and he could have very well stopped or punished the 1984 rioters. Computerisation was already happening and if you still want to give him or Sam Pitroda credit, I don’t mind. As a PM, he did nothing significant to my knowledge except for carrying his family genes.

    R. Ramnath

    • Kanwal Rekhi Reply

      Glad to see this perspective. As an entrepreneur, I do not like Socialism. Socialism can not and does not deliver on economic front. India was left behind when all other Asian countries raced ahead.

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