A Memorial For A Memorable Man

Dasu Kesava Rao

In deciding to build a memorial for former prime minister Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao in the Capital, the NDA Government has delivered a stinging slap in the face of the Congress. It is a pleasant irony that the initiative to perpetuate the memory of the Congress leader, who died unsung and unwept, should come from its political rival. 

dasu kesava rao

Dasu Kesava Rao

Even Congressmen welcomed the move making their party’s embarrassment complete. In its power-inebriated tenure Congress did everything to wipe PV off public memory. PV was one of the most wronged and humiliated Congress leaders. His contribution to the Congress party and its Government under Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi and his own record as prime minister are part of the country’s political narrative despite the ruling dynasty’s maneuvers to downplay them.

PV fell foul of the ‘palace’ when he functioned as the prime minister in his own right and not reporting to the Family as its loyal doormat. After the death of Rajiv Gandhi, he had said politically incorrect things such as, “the days of charisma are over and performance alone matters now.” The countless sycophants and talebearers crowding the Capital’s power corridors succeeded in further widening the gap between PV and Sonia Gandhi, who was under intense pressure to enter politics and take over the party reins.

A smear campaign was started to link Narasimha Rao to every scandal and scam that surfaced during his tenure as the prime minister. The Congress party he had served with utmost loyalty looked the other way when he was enmeshed in a number of cases and was even convicted in one. His detractors watched with sadistic pleasure while he struggled to fight adversity all alone. He was treated as an untouchable. I was present at the Begumpet airport when his aircraft made a stopover on its way to Tirupati. Only a handful of Congressmen turned up to receive their prime minister!

PV was humiliated even in his death. His body was not allowed inside the AICC headquarters for the public to pay homage. PV’s last wish to be cremated in New Delhi was ignored on the spurious pretext that the bereaved family wanted his last rites performed in Hyderabad. Even the manner in which the leader’s body was consigned to flames on the fringes of Hussainsagar Lake is best left unsaid. PV was too cultured and intellectual to employ street strategies to survive. How sad that the late prime minister merited only a passing mention at the 2005 AICC session in his home state!

PV stoically bore insults even before becoming the prime minister. Rumour made the rounds that Rajiv Gandhi, the young prime minster, would send for PV, much senior in age, learning and experience, instead of using the hotline to talk to PV, his Home Minister. Another victim of Rajiv’s hauteur was Foreign Secretary, AP Venkateswaran, whom he had publicly snubbed in December 1986. When a journalist pointed out to an inconsistency between his statement and that of Venkateswaran on SAARC, Rajiv responded ‘you will soon be talking to a new foreign secretary.’ PV lost no time in taking the hint and putting in his papers. Many thought Rajiv’s troubles began with that incident. 

PV Narasimha Rao, who had lifted the country out of near bankruptcy to economic turn-around and ran a minority Government for a full term, was not as successful as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. His pro-poor land reforms angered rich and powerful interests leading to the violent Jai Andhra movement. He could not contain the movement. He had to quit, paving the way for President’s rule. His enemies within the party and the Government had the last laugh.

NT Rama Rao was so happy at PV’s appointment as the prime minister that he set aside his pathological contempt for the Congress and said the Telugu Desam would not contest the by-election to Nandyal parliament seat in 1991 to facilitate PV’s victory. The Telugu bidda had won the seat with a record majority.

PV had a great sense of humour. The sparkling wit found expression at literary and cultural events. Sample this at a seminar in Hyderabad. Speakers lamented the decline of Telugu language and voiced serious apprehensions over its future. He put them at rest with the following anecdote.

‘Do you know how we won our freedom?’ Answering it himself, he said one Muthuraman Thevar spoke in English in Parliament. A British officer, who followed the speech, could not stand it any more. He shot off a cable to Lord Mountbatten ‘Sir. It is time we packed up and left. They are murdering English,’ PV explained, leaving the audience in splits. So, that was how the British gave up India.

He earned the sobriquet ‘non-resident CM’ for his frequent trips to Delhi, said to be 30 in the first 50 days in office. ‘When is the next trip, sir?’ asked a journalist sarcastically. ‘My next trip is to Bombay’, he snapped back. 

He likened the Congress party to a train. ‘Some got in, some got down, but people like me stayed on through thick and thin’, he explained.                    

The great leader’s soul will really rest in peace when the Delhi memorial becomes a reality. It is a measure of the man that both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh legislatures urged the Government of India to confer Bharat Ratna on him and to build a memorial for him in the nation’s capital.

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