The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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For Sonia’s flock, Rao is now history

New Delhi, April 1: As the Congress leadership unfolded its strategy for the poll challenges ahead with a two-day national convention of grassroots workers and a huge rally last week, one man must have realised how isolated he was.

P.V. Narasimha Rao, who headed the last full-term Congress government at the Centre, was nowhere to be seen — either at the convention or at the Sunday rally at the Ramlila ground.

Not once did any leader, from party chief Sonia Gandhi to the block presidents who addressed the convention, mention the former Prime Minister or his government. It was as if the party had erased from its memory, at least for the time being, that the Rao government existed.

This is despite Rao’s presence at all big party gatherings, including AICC sessions, over the past three years.

Perhaps, for the first time, none of the speakers even found it necessary to mention that it was the Rao government that had initiated the bold economic reforms in 1991. Maybe, it was for tactical or other reasons, but it was also the first instance that the Congress did not remind that it had heralded economic reforms in the country.

But Manmohan Singh, Rao’s finance minister and the person whose name is so closely identified with the reform policies, was among the leaders on the dais at both the convention and the rally.

His prominent place may have been intended as a subtle message — that the party was committed to carrying forward the reform process.

However, what Manmohan said at the convention about economic reform policies rather suggested his transformation as a Congress leader.

In his speech on economic policies, he did not even attempt to spell out how the party intended to approach the reform question at a time when the country is going through a period of change.

On the contrary, the former finance minister started with the virtues of five-year plans and then went on to talk about scams in the stock market and financial institutions.

Manmohan made critical comments on divestment, cheaper price of cars and galloping price of petrol and petroleum products and how the policies underlying these developments were ignoring the central issue of eliminating poverty.

It appeared that the legacy of Rao, his government and his finance minister may not suit the party at this critical stage as it tries to regain political ground at the national level.

It also underlines something else: that the Congress has matured as an Opposition party.

Perhaps, this is the reason why the party leadership has adopted Rao’s 1992 Tirupati AICC session slogan — “Desh bachao, desh banao” — for the coming electoral battles, though the Rao government’s legacy has no place.

Sonia ended her address at the Sunday rally at Ramlila maidan on a similar note: “Desh ko bachayenge aur desh ko banayenge.”

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