Why would a politician demand ‘Bharat Ratna’ for someone from a rival party?
This is exactly what the Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and his party colleagues are doing now. The Chief Minister, who considers Congress as the principal adversary in his home state, has revived the demand for conferring Bharat Ratna on former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. He has also unveiled his government’s plans to organise year-long birth centenary celebrations of the former PM from June 28.
After completely decimating the Congress in the State, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is keen on owning the political legacy of Narasimha Rao, a self-made “Telangana Bidda” (son of the soil) whose accomplishments are held in high esteem among the people of the two Telugu states.
By building a fitting memorial for PV, organising centenary celebrations on a grand scale and pitching for Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, the TRS leadership is sending an oblique message to Congress, mocking the grand old party for not giving the veteran leader his due.
In PV, the TRS sees a fiercely independent leader who defied the diktats of the dynasty, took his own decisions to steer the party and the nation in difficult times, and suffered humiliation at the hands of the coterie.
Many in Telangana, cutting across party lines, feel that PV was not given the honour that he deserved by his own party. He was the only Congress leader outside the Nehru-Gandhi family to have completed five years as PM at that time.
There is a perception that despite his immense contribution to transforming the economic landscape of the country through a set of bold reforms, PV was not given the pride of place by the Congress leadership. PV died on December 23, 2004 when Congress was in power at the Centre and in the combined Andhra Pradesh.
Despite requests from his family, the Congress top leadership refused to perform his final rites in New Delhi. Instead, it insisted that the body be sent to Hyderabad for cremation without any delay.
“PV never got his due as Congress had become so servile to the Nehru-Gandhi family that they were not willing to give credit to an outsider like him despite his achievements,” says Sanjaya Baru, journalist and author of the book “1991: How PV Narasimha Rao Made History”
“PV led the country economically, by handling India’s payment crisis, and also politically, by assuming leadership of the Congress after Rajiv Gandhi’s death and announcing at a meeting in Tirupati that the party would conduct organisational elections for the first time in almost two decades,” says Baru in his book. He served as the information advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Hailing from Karimnagar district in Telangana, PV had earned a niche for himself in the state and national politics as a scholar-politician, a polyglot, and an astute strategist. He had served Congress at various levels and became the Chief Minister of the combined Andhra Pradesh in 1971. He rose to national prominence, held several key portfolios including External Affairs and Home and was credited with drafting the new education policy.
The TRS’ love for PV is quite paradoxical. The veteran Congress leader was never supportive of the demand for Telangana state, though many of his contemporaries from the region were involved in the statehood agitation in the late 1960s.
Nearly three years before his death, the TRS was founded with the single point agenda of achieving statehood. And PV was never known to be close to KCR at any point in time, neither in the run-up to the formation of the TRS to revive the Telangana movement nor after that.
“PV enjoys tremendous goodwill among the people of Telangana. He is the true son of the soil who went on to occupy the highest position in the country. The TRS wants to own him up now,” a senior political analyst S Ramakrishna said.
The government is set to spend ₹10 for the centenary celebrations and a grand memorial is also on the anvil.
“A year-long celebration means a year-long discomfort to the Congress which can neither openly own up PV nor ca it disown. And, the celebrations will serve as a constant reminder of how Congress leadership had humiliated him,” he says.
Changed India’s destiny
“As an architect of economic reforms, PV changed the destiny of the country. He deserves Bharat Ratna,” the chief minister said. A resolution requesting the Centre to confer the highest civilian honour on him would soon be passed by the Assembly.
“I will personally meet the Prime Minister and request him to confer Bharat Ratna on PV and we will also request the Centre to put up PV’s portrait in Parliament,” KCR said.
Apart from a memorial in Hyderabad, five bronze statues of PV will be installed at prominent locations at Hyderabad, Warangal, Karimnagar and Vangara, the native village of the former PM, and also at Telangana Bhavan in Delhi.
“A well-read person who knew several languages, he was one of the finest masters of political science. Without a majority government, he was able to give India the needed stability. It was because of his brilliance that he could enjoy the support of various political parties in Parliament on different issues,” said Purushotham Reddy, a retired professor of political science at Osmania University here.
PV’s stint as chief minister of the combined AP was marked by the bold decision on land reforms. His government in 1971 released the excessive landholdings of individuals, paving the way for redistribution of lands among the marginalised communities. This was probably one of his bravest decisions as it angered the rich and influential sections.
His grandson Subhash, who is with the BJP, recalled that his grandfather was never after money but was an intellectual politician who had several innovative ideas to change the destiny of the nation.
The biggest blow to his image came in 1992 when, under his watch, the Babri mosque was demolished, triggering communal riots across the country. After Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the party, PV found himself being systematically sidelined. He was mired in corruption cases but was left to fend for himself as the party refused to back him.
When he died, his body was not allowed inside the AICC headquarters in Delhi and was flown to Hyderabad. There was widespread public criticism about improper arrangements made for his funeral on the banks of Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad.