(Left) Shakti Sthal, the memorial to Indira Gandhi; (top right) Shanti Van, the memorial to Jawaharlal Nehru; Veer Bhoomi, the memorial to Rajiv Gandhi. Pictures by Prem Singh
May 28: N. Chandrababu Naidu has promised to push for a memorial in Delhi to Telugu bidda (son) P.V. Narasimha Rao, who he alleged had been “hounded” by Sonia Gandhi even after his death.
Addressing the Telugu Desam’s 33rd annual convention at Gandipet on the banks of Himayatsagar lake, 25km from Hyderabad, the chief minister-designate of Seemandhra said his party would strive to resurrect Telangana’s self-pride with a national memorial to the former Prime Minister who was cremated in Hyderabad although he died in Delhi.
Naidu appeared to be trying to woo people in Telangana where the Desam, which is seen as a Seemandhra party, has done poorly in these elections.
Rao, a towering Congressman with a career spread over five decades, was a close associate of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. When he became Congress president and Prime Minister following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in May 1991, he is believed to have had Sonia’s support.
But the Babri Masjid demolition and a series of scandals during his tenure, together with palace intrigue and one-upmanship, drove a wedge between the Prime Minister and 10 Janpath.
By the time Rao died on December 23, 2004, his isolation was complete. His mortal remains were not taken inside the Congress headquarters at 24 Akbar Road for people to pay their last respects, as had been customary for party chiefs and senior leaders.
Despite a special Union cabinet meeting at 3pm that day to offer condolences, the UPA government took no decision on the funeral arrangements.
|P.V. Narasimha Rao
At Rao’s 9 Motilal Nehru Marg residence, there was no one from the government or the party to receive his body. There were no flowers, no carpets laid out by the administration for mourners to sit on, not even a shamiana on the lawns. His friend, Kishore Chandra Dev, a Congress leader of considerable standing, finally made arrangements for a shamiana and flowers.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had been Rao’s finance minister, appeared visibly moved as he remained quietly by the side of the body. Sonia stayed for a few minutes.
Earlier this year, Singh’s media adviser Sanjay Baru wrote in his book, The Accidental Prime Minister, that when Singh went to pay his last respects after Rao’s death, Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel reportedly asked him to encourage Rao’s family to take the body to Hyderabad for the cremation. “Clearly, it seemed to me, Sonia did not want a memorial for Rao anywhere in Delhi,” wrote Baru, who too is from Andhra Pradesh.
Ahmed Patel denied Baru’s allegation, saying Rao’s family had wanted the cremation in Hyderabad. A memorial was built to him on the banks of Hussainsagar Lake in the city.
The national capital has several samadhis of Prime Ministers, Presidents and even deputy Prime Ministers. Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi and Chandra Shekhar all have memorials in the capital, as do Zail Singh, S.D. Sharma, K.R. Narayanan and Jagjivan Ram and Devi Lal.
Like Rao, another former Prime Minister V.P. Singh was cremated outside Delhi — in Allahabad on the bank of Ganga. I.K. Gujral, who died in December 2012, was consigned to the flames on a plot located between Nehru’s memorial and that of Shastri. His son Naresh, an Akali Dal member, is upset that a memorial to his father has not come up yet.
Last year, he had sought BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s help to take up the matter with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But Singh had argued that he was bound by a decision of the Vajpayee cabinet, of which Jaitley had been a part, not to build any more individual mausoleums. At the most, he could have a bronze plaque installed, Singh said. The Vajpayee government had planned that there should be a common national memorial park for all future Presidents and Prime Ministers.
But Naidu is not the first to propose another memorial for Rao. In 2010, Madhya Pradesh’s BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had a visitor. It was B.S. Kumari, a granddaughter of Rao, who requested him to set up an institute in the former Prime Minister’s memory.
Chouhan had agreed “in principle” to grant land at a nominal price in Bhopal and provide help, sources said. The meeting created an impression that the BJP was keen to usurp the legacy of Rao the way it had in the past championed Congress leaders such as Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose and Lal Bahadur Shastri, who it claimed were “marginalised” by the party.