Former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao of the Congress party has been posthumously honoured with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. This decision, along with the previous recognition of another Congress leader, former President Pranab Mukherjee, fits into the larger political narrative of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It highlights the perceived historical negligence of stalwarts outside the Nehru-Gandhi family by the Congress.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the Rajya Sabha, took a pointed jab at the Congress, claiming that the party had not considered BR Ambedkar worthy of the Bharat Ratna and often bestowed the honour upon their “own family members.” Modi accused the Congress of naming parks, streets, and squares after their family members while advising the BJP on social justice.
The decision to confer the Bharat Ratna on PV Narasimha Rao, known for his tumultuous relationship with the Congress, especially with Sonia Gandhi, raises questions about the party’s acknowledgment of its leaders beyond the Gandhis. Rao’s tenure as Prime Minister witnessed significant events such as the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, economic reforms, and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery scandal.
The Congress distanced itself from Rao after his tenure ended in 1996, attributing its defeat in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections to him. Despite his pivotal role in opening up the Indian economy, the party refused to recognise Rao’s contributions for years. However, in recent times, the Congress made efforts to include Rao in its pantheon of icons. Sonia Gandhi surprised many in 2020 when she praised Rao for his leadership skills and contributions to the party.
Sonia Gandhi’s relations with Rao were known to be frosty, and the decision to honor him with the Bharat Ratna may reignite memories of the past. The Babri Masjid demolition during Rao’s tenure remains a sore point, and the timing of the award, coming weeks after the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, adds a nuanced political dimension.
The BJP, led by Modi, aims to capitalise on this decision to reinforce its narrative that the Congress has a history of sidelining its leaders who are not part of the Gandhi family. The recent Bharat Ratna for LK Advani, a key figure in the Ram Temple movement, aligns with this strategy.
Sonia Gandhi’s relationship with Rao, while initially cordial, reportedly soured in 1992. Rao, a senior minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, had contemplated retiring from active politics after the 1991 Lok Sabha elections. However, Rajiv’s assassination altered the political landscape, leading to Rao’s unexpected ascent as the Prime Minister.
Rao was not Sonia’s first choice for the Prime Minister’s post; she preferred Vice President Shankar Dayal Sharma. Nevertheless, she did not object to Rao’s elevation and endorsed the proposal. However, tensions between them escalated in 1995 when Sonia criticised Rao’s government for the slow progress in the investigation into Rajiv’s assassination.
The eventual fallout between Sonia and Rao culminated in his marginalization within the party. After his tenure, Rao faced exclusion from the Congress’s narrative, and his contributions were downplayed. He was replaced by Sitaram Kesri as Congress president, and his political isolation continued until his death in 2004.
Controversy Surrounds PV Narasimha Rao’s Funeral: A Tale of Political Intrigue
In an excerpt from a book detailing the events following the demise of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, revelations unfold about the political manoeuvring that marred his funeral. Rao, who served as India’s Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996, passed away on December 23, 2004.
The account describes the arrival of various political figures, including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee, at Rao’s residence. The political drama initiated when Home Minister Shivraj Patil suggested to Rao’s family that the body should be cremated in Hyderabad, which was met with resistance from the family favouring Delhi, where Rao had spent the majority of his political career.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad also urged the family to consider Hyderabad for the final rites. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, offered a grand funeral in Hyderabad, further intensifying the political undertones surrounding Rao’s death.
Sonia Gandhi’s silence during these deliberations hinted at a possible reluctance to have Rao’s funeral in Delhi, which raised eyebrows. The family, seeking assurance, approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who affirmed that a memorial would be built in Delhi.
The family’s insistence on a Delhi memorial reflected a desire to secure recognition for Rao’s contributions to the nation, considering the historical neglect he faced post-retirement from the Congress. Despite the assurances from Congress leaders, doubts lingered within the family due to the party’s treatment of Rao in his later years.
The excerpt sheds light on the funeral procession, which saw leaders from various political parties paying their respects. However, the journey took an unexpected turn when the funeral carriage approached the Congress party headquarters at 24 Akbar Road.
Contrary to tradition, the gate to the Congress headquarters remained shut, preventing Rao’s body from being taken inside for party workers to pay their respects. The family, bewildered by this deviation from norms, sought an explanation. While some Congress leaders expected the gate to open, it remained closed, with speculation pointing to Sonia Gandhi as the one who did not give the order.
This revelation adds another layer to the complex relationship between Sonia Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao, highlighting the political intricacies that continued even after his demise.
The BJP, through these recent recognitions, seeks to underscore the Congress’s historical neglect of leaders who were not part of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Modi’s strategic timing of these awards, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, aims to shape a narrative that the BJP values and remembers its stalwarts, even those from rival parties.
The Bharat Ratna for P. V. Narasimha Rao, while acknowledging his contributions, also reopens chapters of political history and personal animosities, setting the stage for renewed discussions on the Congress’s complex relationship with its leaders outside the Gandhi lineage.