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THE timing could not have been worse for P.V. Narasimha Rao. Already dogged by allegations of corruption, the former prime minister and Congress president has one more set of embarrassing revelations to fend off. Former Andhra Pradesh chief minister and one-time Union industries minister Jalagam Vengala Rao has come out of retirement with his memoirs, Naa Jeevitha Katha (My Life Story), in which he has exposed Narasimha Rao's past and also the state Congress unit. The references will perhaps not implicate Narasimha Rao in a fresh scam but is likely to show him and the Congress in poor light—and is bound to be lapped up by Rao-baiters.
Particularly damaging to Narasimha Rao is Vengala's revelation of the Congress president's affair with Lekshmikanthamma, a former Congress MP—which led to Rao's ouster as chief minister in 1973. The autobiography quotes Indira Gandhi as having remarked to the author that "PV has done nothing but flirt around with Lekshmikanthamma". She felt that it was irresponsible of Rao to be so smitten. The Rao-Lekshmikanthamma affair has often been spoken about in political circles. But now that a former colleague has made a reference to it in print, it could prove to be embarrassing. There is also mention of how Narasimha Rao's elder son, P.V. Ranga Rao (a former minister in the ministries of N. Janardhan Reddy and K. Vijayabhaskara Reddy), used to make frequent trips to Delhi during Vengala Rao's tenure as chief minister to complain about his father's affair with Lekshmikanthamma (then Lok Sabha MP from Khammam). Vengala Rao claims that Mrs Gandhi once told him she was quite annoyed with Narasimha Rao's behaviour: "I pity Ranga Rao and I did not expect PV to be such a characterless person, that toowhen he has so many grown-up children."
But Vengala Rao says he had no mala fide intent in penning his memoirs. Which is one reason why he has not yet decided to release the book at the national level. "I have no intention to embarrass any individual in the party. Some of my well-wishers forced me to recall some of my memoirs and publish them. I dictated the text to my daughter-in-law, Vanu, for an hour everyday. It was edited by Bhandaru Parvatnala Rao, who served four chief ministers as press adviser. My effort in the book was only to put certain facts in proper perspective. Beyond that I have nothing against anyone," he says.
Much of what is written in the book is gossip which made the rounds in political circles in Hyderabad at one time or the other. The 75-year-old tough-talking former chief minister is known to be a maverick and his detractors say his autobiography is only an attempt to tarnish his opponents' image at the fag-end of his political career. Much of what he has written is from personal experience and is not substantiated by any further evidence. Thus a prime minister, MP, or MLA is quoted as having told the author about a particular happening and Vengala Rao has faithfully noted it down—mostly word-of-mouth accounts which have little or no back-up references.
This is perhaps why many state-level politicians have not yet taken a serious note of Vengala Rao's outbursts against predecessors and successors in the government and in the Congress. Vengala Rao, by his own admission, has not "stepped into Gandhi Bhavan ever since I relinquished office as Andhra Pradesh Congress president". And his bid to expose political rivals has no more than a "he said so" kind of relevance. Says PCC chief K. Rosaiah: "How can I react to what Vengala Rao says are his personal interactions with senior leaders?"
MANY of the book's facts relate to people who are not alive to contradict the author's claims. For example, Indira Gandhi is not alive to confirm or deny Vengala Rao's claim that he was the first one to be informed about the imposition of Emergency. Similarly, with Rajiv Gandhi—there is no way one can verify if the author had advised him on dismissing the S.R. Bommai government in Karnataka. According to Vengala Rao, this was an advice which went unheeded.
Justice Jag Mohan Sinha, former judge of Allahabad High Court who had set aside Indira Gandhi's election in 1975, has denied the author's claim that he had informed Jayaprakash Narayan of the judgement two months in advance. Justice Sinha dismissed the allegation as "an out and out lie" and said that it was "unfortunate that a person of Mr Vengala Rao's position was party to it".
The book levels serious corruption charges against Kasu Brahmananda Reddy (erstwhile AICC president and a former Union minister). Reddy has been accused of collecting huge sums from rice mill owners—he later contributed a chunk of it to party funds when the irregularity came to Mrs Gandhi's notice. Vengala Rao is cut up with Reddy for canvassing against him and foisting Narasimha Rao as Andhra Pradesh chief minister—back in the Seventies.
To gauge the pulse of his partymen as well as the market, only 1,000 copies of the memoirs, priced at Rs 250, were printed initially. And since the response has been good, a further 1,000 copies are to printed. The book may be wanting in hard facts but it has enough masala to keep its sales alive.