Honour of Hot Seat Bearer: I.K. Gujral versus P.V. Narsimha Rao

Kaushal Kishore | December 2, 2012

Twelfth Prime Minister of India, Shri I.K. Gujral died last Friday, on 30th November 2012 after multi-organ failure at the age of 92. Just after the death Dr. Manmohan Singh convenes a special meeting of his cabinet to pay tributes to Late Shri Gujral. Dr. Singh expressed his condolences and said, “In his passing, the country has lost an intellectual, a scholar-statesman and a gentleman politician. I join the nation in expressing our grief and sorrow at the demise of great son of India.” The cabinet declared seven days mourning to condole the demise of I.K. Gujral. He was cremated with full state honour in Delhi in presence of top leadership including President Pranab Mukharjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Vice President Hamid Ansari and many others. The body was consigned to flame at Smriti Sthal located between Jawaharlal Nehru’s memorial ‘Shanti Van’ and Lal Bahadur Shasri’s ‘Vijay Ghat’ on bank of the Yamuna.

Eight years ago, during UPA1 regime, ninth Prime Minister of India, Shri P.V. Narsimha Rao died on 23rd December 2004 after a heart attack at the age of 83. Late Sri Rao was an intellectual and scholar, who started the economic transformation that progressed in successive governments. He. was often referred to as Chanakya for his ability to steer tough economic and political legislation during the minority government. As thus, he was also referred as the ‘Father of Indian Economic Reforms’. Dr. Mannohan Singh was first time employed as Finance Minister by him only to embark on economic reforms. After his death the family members were looking for full state honour and a place by the Yamuna to cremate the dead body. But they got no help from the govt. Finally, his dead body was sent to Hyderabad. There he was cremated with state honour only after the intervention of the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Dr. Y.S. Rajshekhar Reddy.

Late Shri Inder Kumar Gujral was often called IKey. In 20th century India, Late Shri Rao was the last admirer of Gandhi in the hot seat. Both of them were intellectuals and gentleman politicians. They controlled the top political office of the nation in 1990s. After death Gujral’s relatives found the top leadership on their doorstep. Rao’s relatives asked the top leadership for help that they never got. However, he had headed the Congress Party ruled minority government for the full five years tenure.

Ikey was known for the Gujral Doctrine that advocates for unilateralism in Indo-Pak affairs. Until his death he was the President of South Asian Fraternity (SAF). He had founded the SAF in 1990 with likeminded politicians such as Shri Atal Bihari Bajpayee and Late Shri Krishna Kant. The Gandhian activists Late Shri Ram Murthy and Shri Satya Paul were there to promote fraternal relations among the eight South Asian nations. The Gujral doctrine emerged out of their discussions in the early 1990s. It was not confined to Indo-Pak affairs, rather all eight nations were part of that. Unfortunately, he didn’t get sufficient time to execute the doctrine.

Late Shri Narshimha Rao, often called PV, was a prominent figure of the national politics, before his retirement in late 1990s. He was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in early 1970s. Before he was sworn as the Prime Minister, he had headed the top portfolios of the central government in 1980s and 1990s including Home, Defence and External Affairs. He led an important administration of the ruling Congress govt. It was during his tenure and with his mandate that Dr. Manmohan Singh launched the reforms that implemented the IMF policies to rescue the almost bankrupt nation from economic collapse. However, there were scandals of corruption against Late Shri Rao, he was acquitted by the courts before his death. Late Shri Rao won from Nandyal with a victory of record 500,000 (five lakh) votes that was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. He wrote a novel The Insider after his retirement from politics that resembles his own life.

Late Shri Gujral’s stint in the top political office of the nation was for a brief period of 10 months. Whether you call him an accidental Prime Minister or he was a fortuitous man to be in the hot seat. H.D. Deve Gowda, Gujral’s predecessor lost the vote, and the then Congress president forced him to quit. Consequently, Gujral became the Prime Minister of the rickety United Front coalition, as the fierce succession battle erupted. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu. Prasad Yadav were other leaders expecting the top office during that period.

Late Shri Rao was an active freedom fighter like Late Shri IK Gujral. Later he (Rao) joined Indian National Congress after independence. His tenure as the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh is still remembered today for the land reforms and strict implementation of land ceiling acts especially in Telangana region. Late Shri Rao remained loyal to Smt. Indira Gandhi in 1969 during Indian National Congress split, and thereafter during the Emergency period. In the 1990s, he has served the nation as the Prime Minister (1991-1996).

In the due course of time both of the leaders died. I have interviewed some of the great experts, who had attended their funerals, and came to realise the reality. Late Shri Gujral was awarded the full state honour. The dead body of Late Shri Rao was deported to Hyderabad for cremation. What made the two former prime ministers’ death different from each other?

On last Saturday, the last rites took place amid prayers and a 21-gun salute. The cremation of Late Shri Gujral was attended by the politicians from government and opposition, many senior bureaucrats, and diplomats from various countries. The dead body draped in tricolour was brought to Smriti Sthal from the 5-Janpath residence of the deceased by military personnel and close family members. The officers from the armed forces carried on their shoulders the mortal coil of Gujral to the funeral ground. The President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi, A.K. Antony, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Prakash Singh Badal, L.K. Advani, and. many others laid wreaths on the body. The last such funeral that was reported big was long back in the history of 1984, when Smt. Indira Gandhi was assassinated. She was the Prime Minister at the time of her death.

After I.K. Gujral’s death in Medanta Hospital of Gurgaon, the Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde informed the parliament during the session. Thereafter a series of political events commenced that declared week long national mourning and full state honour. In 2004, Shri Rao died in AIIMS, the government got informed, but nothing like that happened. The politics on funeral ground is a part of the power game. There are many political events that emerged on the dead bodies. The political events associated with the two funerals give hints into the plans of UPA government. The nation must adopt a fair policy to declare the state honour and national mourning.

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