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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2648

Some Reminsces OF P.V. Narasimha Rao

By R. K. Bhatnagar - Syndicate Features

Former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao breathed his last two days before Christmas in 2004 at the age of 83. A great linguist and leader par excellence, PV, as he was affectionately called, was a realistic and practical person. I worked with him first in the External Affairs Ministry and later on in the PMO and thus had an occasion to see him and know his qualities of head and heart from a close range.

The month of June was highly propitious for him. He was born on June 28, 1921 at Vangara village in Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh. Again it was in the very same month, June 21 to be precise, he was sworn in as the 9th Prime Minister of India in 1991 by the then President R Venkataraman.

In a public life spanning over six decades he had seen many vicissitudes. He entered public life as a student at the impressionable age of 15, when he participated in ‘Vande Mataram’ movement launched by the students of Osmania University against the discriminatory rule of Nizam of Hyderabad. The history of India’s struggle for Independence is full of heroic acts but to wage a struggle in a princely state was indeed a difficult and onerous task. With his fighting spirit inculcated at a young age thus, he became a part of the agitation launched by Swami Ramananda Tirtha in Hyderabad.

After a number of breaks in his studies, PV completed B.Sc., and law studies. A short spell in legal profession saw him as a whole time Congress worker. With his sincerity and hard work, he rose to be the AICC general secretary and went on to become the Congress President. In 1968, when the AICC held its plenary session in Hyderabad, he was a minister for education in the Kasu Brahmananda Reddy government. He edited the party organ, Souvenir, and according to a former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, ‘PV’s pen marks were discernible on every page that went through the editor’s desk’.

PV had an abiding interest in literature. He had a number of tomes to his credit. Not surprisingly, he had won a Central Sahitya Academy award. He translated into Hindi, ‘Veyipadagulu’ (Thousand Hoods of a snake), a monumental work in Telugu, which fetched the author Vishwanatha Satyanarayana, the Jnanpeeth award. PV also translated into Telugu Harinarayan Apte’s much acclaimed (Marathi) novel, ‘Pan Lakshat Kon Gheto’. For 20-years, PV was the Vice President of Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha. He was also the chairman of Andhra Pradesh Telugu Academy. He is remembered in Andhra Pradesh for the push he gave to land reforms and for championing Telugu as the medium of instruction upto college level.

Sauvé and soft spoken PV was at home with every group be they students, scientists, army commanders or bureaucrats. His pleasing manners endeared him to every one. He was, at one time, the only Indian who personally knew all the heads of government because for nearly three decades he was in the thick of activity that mattered as a window to the rest of the world. Though he was not designed as deputy prime minister, all along he occupied this position with under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. He looked after all the important ministries of the Union Government, like External Affairs, Defence, Home, Human Resource Development, Health and Family Welfare. In fact, he held the charge of External Affairs twice from Jan 1980 to July 1984 and again from June 1988 to December 1989.

He was modest, candid, and popular with the media. I had an opportunity to travel with him to Nepal in 1982 as his spokesman along with a group of ten veteran journalists. J N Dixit, who went on to become a one man think tank on Indian diplomacy, was the Joint Secretary heading the Publicity Wing of the Foreign Office. Immediately after reaching Kathmandu, PV swung into action and with his sweet temperament and persuasive powers helped India re-establish its goodwill and friendly ties with the then King. He briefed the press correspondents about the progress of the talks each day. He particularly looked after the comforts of the med8ia. On return, he remained at the Delhi airport to see for himself that each member of his entourage was cleared by the customs and got transport to go back home.

The visit of Chinese foreign minister Huang Hua was a major event during his stint at PV’s stint as External Affairs Minister. He was the first top ranking Chinese leader to come here after the 1962 aggression. A large number of photographers had assembled in the South Block to cover the meeting. Photojournalists were anxious to get a good picture of the handshake. And they asked PV to stand at a particular place to receive the Chinese dignitary and thus give them a good angle. In his typical style, he replied: ‘I will stay and receive Huang Hua where my protocol will ask me to do so’. In the External Affairs ministry, he has to face many difficult situations but he came out with flying colours. During NAM and CHOGM summits in 1983 he was at the helm of affairs with Natwar Singh as the Secretary. Both summits went off well and it was no mean achievement.

PV always maintained a low profile; he was publicity shy through out. He never formed a group or participated in petty rivalries. He was upright, straight, and forward looking. He liked to work in the background without claiming that he had done this and that. In 1987, when the Vice president R Venkataraman was selected by the Congress Party to be its nominee for the high office of the President, PV made a major contribution. He accompanied Rajiv Gandhi to inform RV of the decision. Kamalapati Tripathi, G K Moopanar and some other leaders were also present on the occasion. I was present at the Vice President’s House at that time in my capacity as the Information Officer. I know for one that PV had played a dominant role in the nomination of Venkataraman but he made no bones about this. After Rajiv Gandhi and other leaders left, he stayed back for a tête-à-tête with RV.

Narashimha Rao led a simple life. He was a vegetarian. Though a diabetic and had underwent a by-pass surgery, he maintained good health. The office of Prime Minister is not a bed of roses and is really taxing. Jawaharlal Nehru used to work into the midnight. So did Lal Bahadur Shastry, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Rao followed their foot-steps. His needs were few. He loved to sit on a sofa in his drawing room, which could be described as his study. He met visitors in this room and also disposed off flies. The files were kept on the sofa beside him. Though widely travelled he was not enamoured of foreign goods. He used a fountain pen (only one particular brand was his favourite and companion) with sharp tip. He loved to carry the pen in his pocket. It is creditable that as foreign minister first and later on as prime minister he did not use costly foreign pens.

PV was a great admirer of our national language, Hindi. The Publications Division has brought out a volume of his speeches sin English. He was not happy. He asked me to compile his speeches in Hindi. He highly appreciated the book which was released by President Shankar Dayal Sharma. Surprisingly, he was not present at the book release function, saying he preferred to remain in the background.

As Prime Minister and leader of the Congress party, PV was conciliatory in his attitude towards others but was always firm ideologically. He stood for consensus in arriving at important decisions but not at the cost of principles. He was secular to the core and cosmopolitan in outlook. Officers and staff from all states communities and religious tags worked in harmony in his PMO. One of the personal secretaries, who looked after his parliamentary constituency in Andhra Pradesh, was from Garhwal. He worked with PV till the last.

- Asian Tribune -

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