The proposal to have a memorial for former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in the national capital is clearly a political move aimed at embarrassing the Congress party, which failed to honour its erstwhile leader. Rao has been hailed by even his many critics as the politician who gave a momentum to the policy of economic liberalisation when he appointed Dr Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister in 1991, much to the dismay of many of his colleagues in Parliament. He is also seen in secular circles as someone who could have but did not prevent the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya in 1992. Many in the Congress consider him as the person who destroyed the grand old party in the two populous North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, so that he could remain in power. However, Rao, while targeting his adversaries consciously or inadvertently, helped the cause of national security when the infamous Jain diaries came out with sensational disclosures about politicians who had allegedly resorted to hawala transactions. The politicians may have got a reprieve from the courts, but the exposure brought into public domain the threat posed to national security, since the channels for alleged financial dealings were also the conduit for money transactions by some of the terrorist and militant organisations, besides the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should issue fresh instructions for probing the hawala channels, in order to reach out to black money stashed abroad as also to safeguard national security.
The debate over Rao’s memorial dominated many TV channels throughout the week, with the Congress spokespersons putting out a weak defence of why no memorial was made in Delhi for their leader who was the first politician outside the Nehru Gandhi family to complete a full five-year tenure. After him, it is only his protégé Manmohan Singh who repeated the feat twice and although Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister for over six years, he never completed a full tenure, as he declared early elections six months before his term ended in 2004.
The BJP-led government, which had a few months earlier turned down the request from former Union Minister Ajit Singh for a memorial for his father, the late Chaudhury Charan Singh, seems favourably inclined towards building one for Rao. The reasons given to Ajit Singh included a Vajpayee government resolution prohibiting any new memorials in the national capital as also a Supreme Court ruling. It is evident that the rules may now be changed and Rao may get his due at the Ekta Sthal Samadhi complex, which has at least six other memorials on the Yamuna embankment. The Urban Development Ministry is examining the proposal, after the Andhra Assembly passed a resolution driven by the Telugu Desam Party for a memorial for the former Prime Minister once described as the Telugu Bidda.
There may be many who may want to know why a memorial for Rao and none for Charan Singh. If an explanation has to be given in political terms, a Rao memorial is a befitting tribute to him by the present government, given that several top leaders in the Congress till this day accuse him of colluding with the Sangh Parivar for demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. In this context, he is regarded by the same group of people as the first Prime Minister of the BJP. Rao had been given advance information by his intelligence agencies as also his colleagues, most notably Makhan Lal Fotedar, that there was a conspiracy which was on for bringing down the disputed structure and adequate precautions should be taken. However, he paid no heed to the warning and this led to a huge showdown with Fotedar in the meeting of the Cabinet that evening. Fotedar subsequently left the Union Council of Ministers. The Sangh Parivar always acknowledged Rao’s role and this could be the reason for the BJP using the occasion to score brownie points against the Congress.
On the other hand, Charan Singh was seen as a sort of a villain by the Sangh Parivar, since he took over as Prime Minister after breaking the Janata Party with the help of the late Raj Narain in 1979 on the issue of dual membership of erstwhile Jana Sangh leaders. Raj Narain and his socialist friends had been demanding that Jana Sangh leaders, after their merger in the Janata Party, should give up their association with the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which they were not inclined to. Therefore, there are still some top functionaries of the Sangh who would never want Charan Singh to be accorded any status and also because, he was perhaps the only Prime Minister who did not win a vote of confidence in Parliament.
Politics apart, when there are roads named after members of the Rao government in New Delhi and many nondescript personalities, there is no logic in denying him a memorial. Between us.