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Less fortunate as Chief Minister

By Dasu Kesava Rao

With Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Hyderabad in 1972 during his stint as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

HYDERABAD, DEC. 23. Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao, who died in New Delhi today, was at the helm of affairs in Andhra Pradesh during its most turbulent phase. He took over as Chief Minister from Kasu Brahmananda Reddi in September 1971 in the aftermath of the violent separatist Telangana agitation. Not much later, Mr. Rao too became a casualty in a similar movement for a separate Andhra that rocked the State in the early 70s.

Popularly known as PV and hailed for his distinguished record as Prime Minister for pioneering economic reforms and steering the minority Government through a full term, Mr. Rao was less fortunate as Chief Minister. The manner in which he handled the burgeoning Jai Andhra movement showed him up as a prisoner of indecision and vacillation who failed to gauge the ground realities.

The origin of the separate Andhra agitation may be traced, among other things, to an apparently innocuous reaction of Mr. Rao to the Supreme Court judgment upholding the validity of Mulki (domicile) rules. "This brings finality to the matter," he said at a press meet. This was not to the liking of Ministers from coastal Andhra who nursed a feeling that non-Telanganites were treated as second-rate citizens.

Ministers from Andhra and Rayalaseema stayed away from the Cabinet meeting called by Mr. Rao and, instead, held a parallel session in the Secretariat under the "presidentship" of Raja Sagi Suryanarayana Raju, a senior Minister. Mr. Rao's close aides requisitioned a "godman" from Rajahmundry to ensure that the dissident Ministers attended the next Cabinet meeting. That did not materialise either. B.V. Subba Reddy, who stayed next door to Ananda Nilayam, the Chief Minister's official residence, broke away and went on to lead the movement culminating in the fall of the PV Ministry and the imposition of President's rule on January 13, 1973. The movement was strengthened, say Mr. Rao's supporters, by influential landlords irked by his land reforms.

Shrewdness missing

The political shrewdness Mr. Rao demonstrated as Prime Minister was not much in evidence during his tenure as Chief Minister. He depended heavily on the party high command, having spent 40 of his first 50 days in office in Delhi seeking advice and guidance.

At the height of the agitation, Mr. Rao failed to assess the seriousness of the deteriorating law and order situation. Nor could he read the "mood" in New Delhi, not even when a high-power committee of the party was despatched to Hyderabad on January 8. It was a signal for him to "go." The committee recommended the imposition of President's rule.

In a frantic bid to save the tottering Government, he inducted some staunch integrationists into the Cabinet on January 9. Four days later, the inevitable happened. President's rule was clamped. Mr. Rao also incurred the displeasure of Indira Gandhi on one occasion. A senior Central intelligence officer was made to wait for long to discuss a "for your eyes only" file with the Chief Minister.

Once in, the officer was reluctant to discuss the highly sensitive issue as a woman Congress leader was also present.

Mr. Rao reportedly assured him that her presence would be no problem. This was carried to "madam Prime Minister."

All this, however, did not diminish Mr. Rao's image as a multi-faceted leader — a linguist, scholar, connoisseur of art and culture and above all, a seasoned politician.

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