Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | December 24, 2004
Rao became prime minister in 1991. Within six months, he brought K P S Gill, then chief of the Central Reserve Police Force, back to Punjab.
"Rao understood Punjab well. He never interfered in policing," says Gill.
Rao followed a two-pronged strategy. First, he appointed Gill as the state police chief in December 1991 and then resumed the democratic process in the violence-torn state.
After the violence was brought under control, an assembly election was held in February 1992.
"We were effective because we were allowed to do our job," Gill says. "Once people voted the Congress to power and Beant Singh became the chief minister, I hardly interacted with the Centre."
Girish Chandra 'Gary' Saxena, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing and former governor of Jammu and Kashmir, agrees with Gill. He paid handsome tributes to Rao saying, "A highly intellectual and well-endowed prime minister, Rao never kept a remote control with him."
Rao could not get the kind of results in J&K that he did in Punjab for which he was accused of dithering.
But Saxena has a different explanation. "Many times, Rao kept many decisions on hold. It could be seen as an indecisive act but to Rao the problems were not ripe enough for solutions.
"His grip on the facts about Kashmir and related issues was perfect. After comprehending a problem, Rao would say that it has to evolve till it's ready to be resolved. Till that time, the problem needs to be managed well," he says.
Saxena says Rao knew how to handle bureaucracy. "Rao was courteous and considerate while dealing with bureaucrats. He never hesitated to delegate authority. We know how he had left the responsibility of Punjab on Gill and chief minister Beant Singh."
When J&K was under President's rule and Saxena its governor, he called on Rao every two months to discuss the situation in the terrorism-hit state.
Once, Saxena went to see him at a time when J&K was going through difficult times. Saxena handed over a resignation letter to Rao saying the prime minister may need it in the near future.
Rao told him, "Gary, we have known each other since many years. I'll not take any decision without informing you in advance."
When the situation became difficult and dicey, Rao accepted Saxena's resignation but only after resisting as much as he could. And, he did keep his promise (to inform Saxena beforehand).
Saxena concluded saying, "I will remember him for giving stability to the country when it was needed most. He had a scholarly bent of mind and coherent thinking. The man had his own vision and philosophy on life."