The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No place for aging Rao at Shimla session
Narasimha Rao

New Delhi, June 30: The man whom Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi considered one of the brains in the party will not be there when the Congress meets next week for a brainstorming session in Shimla.

P.V. Narasimha Rao, who got an embarrassing certificate from the Kanchi Sankaracharya recently for performing a “punya karya” by “allowing” the installation of Ram Lalla at the disputed Ayodhya site, is not among those to whom the AICC has sent formal invitations.

But, on record, the party leadership was unwilling to confirm whether or not the former Prime Minister would attend the Shimla meet. “We are yet to finalise the list. Probably, we might do it tonight,” was how Ambika Soni, AICC general secretary in charge of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s office, put it.

But Soni dropped hints that Rao does not figure among the 250 leaders who would be invited. AICC office-bearers, functionaries of affiliated organisations, members of AICC departments, leaders of the party’s parliamentary wing, state unit chiefs and legislature party leaders would account for around 160 members. This would, according to Soni, leave only 90 slots open.

That Rao would not find a place among the 90 is all the more likely because Sonia, Soni said, has specifically instructed AICC general secretaries to include as many younger leaders from the states as possible to fill the open slots. Rao, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday at a quiet function in Hyderabad, can hardly qualify for inclusion in the youth category.

Rao’s marginalisation began after 1996 since the late Sitaram Kesri deposed him as party chief. Today, except for AICC sessions — to which he has to be invited as a former party chief — he hardly finds a position of honour at Congress meetings.

His presence alongside Sonia at the Bangalore plenary session two years ago fuelled talk of a possible rehabilitation, but it was short-lived.

Party sources said there was a compelling reason why the Congress cannot afford to bring Rao back under the limelight. “The party is being accused of following a policy of soft Hindutva. That is a serious matter, serious enough for us to place on our Shimla agenda,” said a source. “Given this, do you expect us to invite Rao who was just recently praised by the Sankaracharya over the Ayodhya issue'”

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