The Onomatopoeia that best describes the legendary P V Narasimha Rao is silence. A deafening silence, indeed. This is more of a metaphor than an oxymoron. For, the very high decibel sound of his silence is heard even after three decades in the fourth dimension — time; and with an equal intensity in all the three dimensions of x, y and z axes of Indian lives.
Most of my senior colleagues wrote about the former Prime Minister of India P V Narasimha Rao on the occasion of his 99th birth anniversary, thanks to the wonderful decision — to celebrate the legend’s centenary —taken by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, who chose to wipe out even the traces of the fact that Rao was a Congressman throughout. The uncouth behavior of the Congress leadership towards Narasimha Rao earned it the notoriety that no other political party in its Indian history would have amassed by its own acts of omission and commission. I am not, anyway, talking about the treatment being meted out to L K Advani.
The Congress should have been grateful to Narasimha Rao, who actually resuscitated and infused life into the party that would have died a natural death after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. It was on its precipice. But, by installing the unassuming Narasimha Rao in the most powerful saddle of India, the top echelons of the Congress demonstrated their wisdom, only to obscure it by its own self-destructive politics. Too many people have too many anecdotes to write about him. Many people have personal and intimate contact with Mr Rao, who I always like to refer to as a “silent killer”.
I am not going to refer to his Economic Reforms or his achievements as there have been celebrity writers like my friend and former Union Minister Sri Jairam Ramesh, and celebrated Editor Sanjaya Baru, who was also a former Media Advisor to the Prime Minister, authored books on those subjects. And, a lot of others too wrote books on him, popular among them was the journalist Vinay Sitapati’s work.
When Rao decimated all his detractors and silenced the motormouths using his political brinkmanship, those polarized against him pulled all stops to humiliate him and mete out an utter disgrace to the “tallest leader” (puny in size, though) of his times and torment him without regard to how diligently he salvaged the country from the throes of economic doom. Hordes of this genre are a legion. They know a zilch about courtesies and dignity.
When India was rebooted economically, the squelching sound of its revival was more audible than ever, fading the jibes of “LPG – Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization”, impaling the foibles of the windbags, who are now showering encomiums on the towering leader.
History judged him as the best Prime Minister India ever had. He grew taller than the tallest after his death. The scumbags in politics pulled him down, but the same politics have now deified him. Many demons are scrambling and scurrying to join the bandwagon of angels, jumping out of the sinking ship of demons like the selfish rats.
I have had the privilege of covering several of his programs and press conferences, as a journalist. Covering many an important events, including the inaugural of Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences at Puttaprthi in Anatapur district of Andhra Pradesh, several of his tours to Hyderabad, numerous political activities, impromptu press conferences – they mostly fall in the category of tête-à-tête at the airport or Raj Bhavan, when he was the helmsman of the Congress, as the Prime Minister and also as the AICC president, I discovered the statesman in the man who preferred pouting to pronouncing his views. Dichotomy was that the “silent killer’s” decisions spoke volumes than bytes. I vividly remember his visit to Hyderabad following the death of then APCC president Majji Tulasidas and also upon the death of former Chief Minister N T Rama Rao.
Without bragging too much about the several programs I had covered, I would package some three to four events/occasions when I felt immensely happy for being recognized by the “big man” of India: first was his maiden visit as the Prime Minister of India to his birthplace and native village Vangara in Bhimadevarapalli mandal of undivided Karimnagar district on October 18, 1994; second was the marriage of his granddaughter at Sri Venkateshwara College of Fine Arts in Madhapur; and the third was when he was on an official visit to Nandyal, the Lok Sabha constituency he represented. And, I will make an attempt to recall a seminar organized by the Department of Economics of Hindu College in Guntur on retrospect and prospect of Indian economy, which I covered.
Considering the length of the raconteur’s accounts, I would split this whole story into two or three pieces. The first one is
***** Visit to Vangara *****
It was indeed an epoch-making moment in the history of the tiny nondescript village. The Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao decided to visit his native village Vangara, where he was born, almost after a decade.
He had last visited Vangara days before he was defeated in Hanamkonda Lok Sabha seat. (C Janga Reddy of the BJP won with the support of the Telugu Desam Party of N T Rama Rao, soon after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Indira’s death evoked a sympathy wave for Rajiv Gandhi elsewhere in the country, but not in Andhra Pradesh. The Telugu Desam Party emerged as the main opposition in the Lok Sabha.).
My dearest friend and colleague S Nataraj, now Managing Editor of Deccan Chronicle and a Senior Sub-Editor then, our ever-smiling photo journalist P Naringa Rao, and I embarked on a journey in a cab from our office very early – around 5.30 am that day. By the time we reached Jangaon (then in Warangal district), it was 7.30 am. All three of us were famished. Thus began the frantic search for an eatery along the road. As luck would have it, we stumbled upon a roadside restaurant. Upon alighting, the mouthwatering aroma of the breakfast items blended with the fragrance of incense sticks wafted through our nostrils, revved the craving to breakfast up to its zenith.
To our disappointment, idly was over and we had to wait longer for the next serving to come from the kitchen. So, the waiter served hot puri and kurma first. By the time, we finished this, the waiter was ready with idly, wada and sambar. How does the order matter for hungry stomachs?
A conversation that seemed engaging to me and Nataraj, however, did not interest the photographer.
Nataraj, who is a deskman and not a reporter all through his career, joined me and Narsinga Rao only to keep company with me as I demanded that he come with me just out of sheer affection. He obliged, of course, with the knowledge of the Editor Mr PNV Nair. Because, he dares not keep the Editor in the dark about any such tour, for he did exactly the same (going out without the knowledge of the Editor) a month before, when we both rode on his bike to Kurnool (I will write about it another time).
During the conversation, I mooted the idea of Nataraj moving to the news reporting bureau and asked why didn’t he and that why was he clinging on to the desk. Pat came the reply from him: “Because that is my bread and butter.” The photojournalist, who was engrossed in binging on the sambar and wada, suddenly raised his head and announced to us: “Please order one plate of that (bread and butter) also for me.” For a while, we were jaw-dropped and then the troika had a hearty laugh.
We reached Vangara around 9.30 am, minutes before the Prime Minister arrived. We managed to access all the places, thanks to the support of the Prime Minister’s grandson, Mr Subhash, who was very affable. All three of us from Deccan Chronicle covered all events during Rao’s stay in the village. While I wrote the story of the “grama sabha”, Nataraj wrote the human-interest story on how the Prime Minister had met his childhood buddies, how he had got 15 of them, who were stranded outside the security cordon, in to meet him. Nataraj, being an extraordinary writer that he is, presented a wonderful copy on how Rao mingled with his friends, eschewing the visage of a Prime Minister, and how he had instantly adorned all the seriousness of the Prime Minister that he is, while leaving the village. Nataraj perfectly captured the mood, the bonhomie between the Prime Minister and his childhood pals, the emotions and affection with which Rao moved about his ancestral home and enquired about his missing friend Odelu. (Copy of the story is attached).
In the “grama sabha”, the Prime Minister accorded a warm welcome to the Chief Minister Kotla Vijayabhaskar Reddy and APCC President Kamaluddin Ahmed, demonstrating the humility of a village elder, leaving aside the supremacy that befell him by virtue of his position. “Many bigshots like Mr Vijayabahaskar Reddy and Mr Kamaluddin Ahmed have come here. I extend my hearty welcome to the Chief Minister and the APCC President on behalf of the people of my village.”
He went on to describe how he used to go to school. “I find it strange to address my own friends from a specially erected dais. I used to get down from the bus at Elkaturthi and come in a bullock-cart to Vangara. After the Husnabad Road was laid, I used to come up to Narsingapur in the bus and then come in a bullock cart. What speech should I give to my own people? Does anybody go to his mother and deliver a lecture?” he asked amid cheers. Rao talked about the drying up of irrigation canals and the village tank that never got filled and when it did, how it used to breach sending the audience into peals of laughter.
Note: Will write the other episodes in the next post.
…………. A. Saye Sekhar