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Narasimha Rao passes away

By Our New Delhi Bureau

Narasimha Rao at a function in Hyderabad in October 2004. — Photo: P. V. Sivakumar

NEW DELHI, DEC. 23. The former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, died today at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences here. He was 83. He leaves three sons and five daughters.

Mr. Rao had been hospitalised since December 10 last following cardiac and respiratory problems. He needed repeated resuscitation and was in the intensive care unit. His condition was stable this morning but later he suffered a cardiac arrest from which he could not recover.

The end came at 2.10 p.m. and his youngest son, P.V. Prabhakara Rao, and other family members were present at his bedside.

Seven-day mourning

The Central Government has announced a seven-day national mourning and the Union Cabinet, which met in the afternoon, recorded Mr. Rao's "dedicated services to the nation" and the "leadership he provided in carrying out the economic reforms." The condolence resolution passed by the Cabinet, presided over by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, said that Mr. Rao was a "statesmen, scholar and linguist" who strove to improve the condition of the common man.

Hailing from Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Rao was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh from 1971 to 1973. When he became the Prime Minister in 1991 he was affectionately called "Telugu bidda," the Telugu son who had done his State proud.

News of the death swept through Parliament, which was in session — it was the last day of the winter session. In the Lok Sabha, the Leader of the House, Pranab Mukherjee, announced it while in the Rajya Sabha the Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Suresh Pachauri, made the announcement. The Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, said the House had lost a former member and former Prime Minister who was an elder statesman. In both Houses, members stood up to observe a two-minute silence before Parliament was adjourned sine die and the valedictory speeches were done away with.

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, were among the first to pay their respects to the departed leader when the body was brought to Mr. Rao's residence at Motilal Marg at 5 p.m. Earlier Dr. Singh said that Mr. Rao was like "a father figure to me whom I could turn to when in doubt." Ms. Gandhi said: "His contribution at the State and national level will be remembered for generations to come. We shall miss his wise counsel. We have lost a valuable senior colleague."

End of an era

The former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said Mr. Rao's death had brought an end to an era. He said that many had called him a "Chanakya." He was a statesman, a freedom fighter, a writer, and an intellectual who had left an indelible imprint on the nation.

The Congress Working Committee met at the AICC headquarters late in the evening to join the nation in paying tributes to its former president. In a five-paragraph resolution, it said that Mr. Rao would be remembered for consolidating economic reforms in the early 1990s.

Mr. Rao's residence received a steady stream of personal friends, VIPs, Members of Parliament and others who came to offer their respects. While the former Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar, went to the AIIMS, Mr. Vajpayee, the Leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani, the Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, the Janata Dal (United) leader, Sharad Yadav, Cabinet Ministers and politicians from different parties were at the residence to pay their respects.

Politicians from across the political spectrum paid glowing tributes to the scholar-statesman who steered the country at a difficult time. They said that he stabilised the country's economy and initiated the economic reforms; he ended the black days of terrorism in Punjab; in Kashmir, he revived the stalled political process that led to the holding of Assembly elections soon after his five-year tenure as Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996 came to an end.

Many firsts

Mr. Rao, who led the first minority government at the Centre, was the first Prime Minister from the south. He emerged as a surprise choice of the Congress for Prime Minister after the 1991 elections during which Rajiv Gandhi, then Congress president, was assassinated.

Mr. Rao had, in fact, packed his bags and left New Delhi to retire, as he was not a candidate in the 1991 elections. But he came back to become the PM. In the early days after he assumed office even the main opposition party, the BJP, hailed him as the "best Prime Minister" the country had had.

However, towards the end of his term he lost the goodwill — the Jain hawala case made him many enemies within the Congress and outside in other parties as many big political leaders were caught in that scandal. And, perhaps, as many saw it, his biggest political mistake was that the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992 when he was Prime Minister.

For this the Congress paid a heavy price and he could not win the electoral battle in 1996, leading to the formation of the United Front Government supported by the Congress from outside.

Cremation tomorrow

The cremation of the former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, will take place in Hyderabad on Saturday, December 25.

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