| Sonia Gandhi and CPM leaders Sitaram Yechury and Harkishen Singh Surjeet at the Congress headquarters to pay their last respects to Narasimha Rao. (PTI)
New Delhi/Hyderabad, Dec. 24: Even in death, P.V. Narasimha Rao kept away from the Congress headquarters that he had avoided since being forced to step down as party chief in humiliating fashion eight years ago.
The former Prime Minister's 9, Motilal Nehru Marg house in Delhi is barely 200 metres from the 24, Akbar Road Congress headquarters but Rao never visited the office after being forced out of the top party job just months after the 1996 Lok Sabha election rout.
His body was not about to do so either.
The flower-decked army gun carriage carrying Rao's body was to have been kept briefly at the Congress office this morning for the party rank and file to get a last glimpse before it was flown down to Hyderabad. But the gun carriage could not make it past the main gate, where it was kept for nearly 40 minutes as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and several ministers paid their last respects and laid wreaths.
The Congress veteran's body, accompanied by his family members, was taken from Delhi to Hyderabad on a special flight this evening. Sonia deputed AICC treasurer Motilal Vora and general secretary Ashok Gehlot to accompany the body.
Minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, Prithviraj Chavan, the designated minister for the state funeral, as well as Andhra Pradesh Union ministers S. Jaipal Reddy, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, Renuka Chaudhury and Panabaka Laxmi were on the flight.
Singh will attend Rao's funeral tomorrow afternoon. The funeral has been brought forward by two hours as the Prime Minister has to rush back to Delhi, Andhra chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy said. AICC officials said Sonia is also likely to attend.
The Andhra government today allotted 4 acres on the banks of the Hussainsagar lake here for a memorial to the former Prime Minister. Rao, the last Congress Prime Minister until Singh took possession of the chair in May, will be cremated on the banks of the lake.
Rao's family initially wanted the cremation to take place at the Ramananda Thirta Institute of Rural Development and build a memorial there. The former Prime Minister had wanted a memorial to come up next to that of his political guru Swami Ramananda. But a new site was agreed on after the government consulted his family members.
Rao's body returned to his home state today, 10 years to the day that his then cabinet colleague Arjun Singh mounted a challenge to his leadership.
Arjun did not win his battle, but Rao lost his, having to abdicate in favour of Sitaram Kesri. The manner of his exit made the former Prime Minister avoid the Congress headquarters. But he did make a few token appearances at AICC sessions after Sonia succeeded Kesri as party chief.