New Delhi: Signalling a shift in the Congress’ political posturing, the party high command heaped praises on late prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao Friday as part of celebrations marking the 29th anniversary of the 1991 economic reforms.
Rao was the PM in 1991 when he and then finance minister Manmohan Singh ushered in a series of economic reforms, especially pertaining to liberalisation.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi issued statements, commending Rao’s “bold leadership” and “erudite personality”.
Praising Rao’s political milestones, Sonia, in her statement, said: “Above all, he was a dedicated Congressman who served the party devotedly in various capacities.”
Rahul stated: “On this occasion, we celebrate the legacy of a man whose contribution continues to shape modern India. From joining the Congress party in his teenage years to becoming the PM of the largest democracy, his remarkable political journey reflected his grit and determination…”
The statements were part of the messages written to the party’s Telangana unit for announcing year-long centenary celebrations of the former PM. Rao was born on 28 June 1921 in Telangana’s Karimnagar district.
Under the leadership of Former PM #PVNarasimhaRao & the then Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, India unleashed an era of reforms to take our economy & society to new heights. Ever since, we've seen a booming growth in terms of GDP as well as in the living standards of people. pic.twitter.com/ZsMrxY3Ary
— Congress (@INCIndia) July 24, 2020
In a speech, which was played at the party’s Telangana office via video conference Friday, former PM Manmohan Singh praised Rao for giving him the “the freedom to roll out things”, and also compared him to former PM Rajiv Gandhi.
“Like Rajiv Ji, Narasimha Rao Ji too had great concern for the poor of the country,” Singh said.
The Congress has until now refrained from holding any celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1991 economic reforms.
How Congress treated Rao
It’s not often that the Gandhis praise Rao — a leader Sonia shared a strained relationship with — so effusively.
As prime minister, Rao often found himself ignored by Sonia, who maintained a distance from him.
The Congress faced a massive drubbing in the 1996 Lok Sabha polls, for which the party high command deemed Rao guilty. It was also under Rao’s rule that the veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani’s rath yatra across Uttar Pradesh and the subsequent Babri Masjid demolition took place in 1992.
When Rao died in 2004, his body was not allowed to enter the AICC headquarters on 24, Akbar road in Delhi, but was kept outside as the gate was “tightly shut”.
Last year, Rao’s grandson, N.V. Subhash, who is a member of the BJP, demanded an apology from the Congress and accused the high command of “sidelining” Rao.
On the occasion of Rao’s birth anniversary last month, the Congress did not participate in any celebrations, even as the Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao announced year-long celebrations to highlight Rao’s ‘360-degree personality’, and also demanded a Bharat Ratna for him.
Race to appropriate Rao’s legacy
The Congress’ efforts to pay homage to Rao come a month after they sensed the Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s attempt to appropriate the former PM’s legacy.
But not just the TRS, even the BJP has also left no stone unturned to praise Rao and also snubbed the Congress for not giving Rao his due.
Last month, in a Mann ki Baat episode, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to Rao, and called him a “great political leader and scholar”.
PM Modi had, last year, in the Lok Sabha slammed the Congress for never speaking “about the good work of Narsimha ji”.
Last year, on Rao’s birth anniversary, PM Modi had tweeted that he will be “remembered for taking pioneering steps that contributed to national progress”.
Remembering Shri PV Narasimha Rao Ji on his birth anniversary. A great scholar and veteran administrator, he led the nation at a crucial juncture of our history. He will be remembered for taking pioneering steps that contributed to national progress.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 27, 2019
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