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Why Is KCR Appropriating PV Narasimha Rao?

The Telangana government laid claim to the absolute ownership over the legacy of PV Narasimha Rao, former Prime Minister of India, who was incidentally the last Brahmin leader of stature from the Telugu states, especially from Telangana.

The era of scholar politicians, to be precise, Brahmin politicians, who ruled the roost ended with PV. He was the third Brahmin chief minister of Telugu states the other two being Burgula Ramakrishna Rao of Hyderabad state and Tanguturi Prakasam Panthulu of Andhra, which later became Andhra Pradesh.

Curiously all the Brahmins were removed from chief ministership unceremoniously by the emergent land-owning castes of the day with one or the other reasons.

Prakasam is now just the name of a district in Andhra Pradesh Brugula is the name of an administrative building in Hyderabad. Invoking their names do not serve any political purpose. On the other hand, PV, who rose to be Prime Minister of India that too as the first outsider from the Nehru-Gandhi family is a gold mine to exploit for rivals of the Congress, more specifically the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).

This is the background against which Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is leading year-long centenary celebrations for PV. On Sunday, in a colourful event, KCR paid rich tributes to the former Prime Minister and Telangana Bidda. He declared he would strive to decorate PV with the Bharat Ratna. He said the state cabinet would adopt a resolution to this effect. He would soon fly to New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Modi to place Telangana people’s aspirations before the centre, he promised.

He also urged the centre that Hyderabad Central University be named PV HCU. Telangana government would install statues of PV across the state. KCR praised PV as a 360-degree personality and added that programs would be conducted to highlight every facet of PV’s personality.

The attempt to rediscover PV has begun just after his death in 2004 when the movement for a separate Telangana state took root.

It was the Telangana sentiment that spurred the need to discover the Telangana Bidda shunned by the Congress party led by Sonia Gandhi.

The indifference to even the final rites of this Telangana Bidda was given its own spin and projected as the extension of injustice meted out to Telangana. And a new PV was born.

Surprisingly, when he was alive, PV Narasimha Rao had never been an inspiration in politics since he was not a mass leader. So the powerful land-owning castes easily drove him to New Delhi and cut his roots in his home state. He had neither headed a faction nor nurtured an army of loyal followers. The state leaders reluctantly accepted his leadership when he became the Prime Minister.

Narasimha Rao’s scholar like reticent personality also erected a wall between him and the people of the state. Even though he was the prime mover of the economic reforms, the person who was in the light was Dr Manmohan Singh. Noted economist Sanjaya Baru explained how this happened succinctly in his book 1991: How PV Narasimha Rao Made History.

In 2015 Baru interacted with a group of educated people in New Delhi and Hyderabad. When asked, on both occasions the audience failed to name PV as the real force behind the economic reforms which steered India from the Nehruvian socialist model to a capitalist version. It shows the level of popularity PV enjoyed among the educated, leave alone ordinary people of Telugu states.

He had not managed to strike a strong political bonding with the state and the people. So his ascetic personality had never been invoked even by KCR in the fiery Telangana movement which was run on the model of communist agitation.

Now Chief Minister KCR discovered that PV is immensely relevant to his political master plan. So the government has unleashed a media blitz ahead of Super Sunday, the day of the birth anniversary of PV. The Telangana government splashed full-page advertisements in newspapers across the nation. TV commercials sang paeans to PV as the son of the soil and a genius.

There is a plan to erect statues in select cities in Telangana to introduce rediscovered PV to the people to highlight the genius of the Prime Minister from Telangana and how he extricated the nation out of the economic morass. Now the PV chant will reverberate in every nook and cranny of Telangana for one year.

Resurrection and appropriation of forgotten personalities to push their political agendas has become par for the course of late. The BJP has mastered this art. The appropriation of Sardar Patel and Netaji are examples.

Some time back, the party discovered a little known 11th century king Suheldev Maharaj in a remote corner of Uttar Pradesh, who the party felt was suitable for appropriation as an OBC icon to attract the vote bank of Rajbhar community.

To commemorate this occasion the Indian Railways named an express train that travels between Ghazipur (UP) and Delhi after Suheldev.

Writing about the appropriation of gods and religion by political parties, noted journalist Prabhu Chawla rightly said “insecurity in the minds and souls of eminently popular and credible leaders about the final outcome of the poll” is the reason behind it. Does this apply to the appropriation of PV Narasimha Rao by TRS?

KCR’s Pending Project

KCR’s Federal Front is in limbo now. When there was a prediction that the BJP was unlikely to get the majority on its own, hoping that non-BJP and non-Congress parties might need a forum, KCR worked proactively to forge a front before 2019 general elections.

He called on chief ministers Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik. Then he broached the idea with MK Stalin of DMK, Tamil Nadu. He had a chat with Hemanth Soren of JMM as well. But the results of the 2019 elections proved otherwise. BJP and PM Modi emerged still stronger.

However, the election campaign in Telangana, which was carefully crafted to send out a message to the people that KCR would become Prime Minister if TRS could win 100 MLAs and 16 MPs, did work wonders.

Everywhere the talk was that KCR, who had successfully convinced the entire political spectrum in India in favour of Telangana, would definitely stitch together a Federal Front and become Prime Minister with two Telugu states contributing more MPs to the coalition kitty.

KCR was successful at least in making Telangana people delusional about becoming the next Prime Minister.

Political events or celebrations are not without meaning. Political prophecies are embedded in these events. The struggle for power and opposition to it are staged at these events. The Telangana chief minister’s decision to celebrate the centenary of PV as a year-long event is brimming with a political message.

There is a clear signal to the people that like the scholar PV, mass leader KCR, who heroically led a 40-year-old Telangana movement to fruition in just 10 years, could also become the PM.

Though not a polyglot like PV, KCR is seen in Telangana as one of the brilliant politicians in the country, with original ideas. That he harbours the idea of becoming Prime Minister is not a secret. The very thought that a second Telangana bidda would become the PM of the country is bound to trigger a wave of enthusiasm among the people.

The PV centenary appears to have been planned as part of this master strategy. If nothing else, the debate on Telangana Bidda as PM candidate might help TRS achieve a big win in 2024.

KCR is expected to revive the Federal Front when the time is appropriate and PV centenary is bound to help TRS prepare the ground for it.

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