Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has re-ignited the demand to accord the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour, to former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.
Stating that Narasimha Rao “changed the country’s destiny for the better and deserves the award”, KCR said that the state cabinet and state legislature will pass a resolution in this regard and he would also personally meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue.
Behind the long-standing demand is the ‘Telangana pride’, as Rao, who hailed from the state, managed to transcend regional borders and emerge as a national figure. There is also an underlying sentiment that the former PM did not get his due in his lifetime nor after his death.
The demand for a Bharat Ratna was made many times when the bifurcation movement panned out in Andhra Pradesh. KCR has for a long time used Narasimha Rao's example to drive home the point that Congress disrespected regional leaders. Telangana Jagruthi, an organisation run by KCR's daughter Kavitha has been observing 'PV Narasimha Rao Jayanti' for years.
“As far as Telangana is concerned, he is a very important figure. He was part of the anti-Nizam student struggle and subsequently became very active in the Congress party. A Minister at the state-level, he went on to become the first Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh from the Telangana region,” says Professor Kodandaram, who was a key figure of the Telangana statehood agitation.
As Chief Minister, Rao implemented land reforms that have been praised by almost every person who succeeded him in the state. He went on to lead the country as the first Prime Minister from the Congress who did not belong to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
In his book 1991: How PV Narasimha Rao Made History, Sanjaya Baru argues that the senior politician led the country economically, by handling India’s payment crisis, and also politically, by assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress after Rajiv Gandhi’s death and announcing at a meeting in Tirupati that the party would conduct organisational elections in late 1991–early 1992, for the first time in almost two decades.
Speaking to TNM, Sanjay Baru said that PV never got his due, as "The Congress party had become so servile to the Nehru-Gandhi family that they were not willing to give credit to an outsider like PV for any of his achievements."
"One has to look at the list of Bharat Ratnas and then ask why PV Narasimha Rao does not qualify. He saved India from a crisis in 1991 and initiated major changes in Indian foreign policy that have stood the country in good stead over the years. All political parties should support this demand," he added.
It has been well-documented that the Congress top leadership refused to perform his final rites in New Delhi despite requests by his family, instead preferring that the body be sent to Hyderabad.
The leader’s body was cremated on the banks of the Hussain Sagar in the afternoon, but by night locals who visited the spot noticed that it was not fully burnt, but the fire was about to die out.
Images of the half-burnt body of the former PM were broadcast by Telugu TV channels turning it into a big controversy, with opposition parties alleging that the Congress had disrespected a former PM by not arranging enough firewood for his cremation.
Speaking about the incident in 2014, KCR had said, “I was in Delhi when PV died. I was among those who felt very sad upon his death. He was a great man.”
In fact, observers believe that the Congress’ snub came as a shot in the arm for proponents of the Telangana movement. In fact, Rao finally got a memorial in New Delhi only in 2015, after the BJP came to power at the Centre.
“Rao was also a prolific writer, some of his stories in Telugu like Golla Ramavva are very popular. In that respect, people from Telangana consider him a towering personality. He led the state’s politics and gave shape to it over decades. Keeping all this in mind, there is support for the claim (of Bharat Ratna). He is not viewed just as a leader of the region but as a national figure,” Kodandaram said.
Others like Professor K Purushotham Reddy, who used to head the Department of Political Science in Osmania University, the same campus in Hyderabad where Rao himself spent a few years as a student, argue that the former Prime Minister is a national figure.
“PV Narasimha Rao is a national figure. It is just incidental that he was born in Telangana. 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,” Reddy said.