July 05, 2020
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Rao And His Sons: Uneasy Ties

Of the three sons, it's only Prabhakar who is said to have exploited PVNR's position

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Rao And His Sons: Uneasy Ties
IT was perhaps in the early '70s that P.V. Narasimha Rao was first taken by surprise by a suitcase full of money. His eldest son, P.V. Ranga Rao, had collec-ted close to Rs 10 lakh to influence MPs and "key persons" to ensure that Brahmananda Reddy was ousted from chief ministership and his father given the stewardship of Andhra Pradesh.

Narasimha Rao was shocked to see the suitcase with Rs 2 lakh in crisp currency notes that Ranga carried about with him on his mission. He was quick to admonish his errant son. He asked him to stop his ridiculous campaign and return the money to whoever gave it to him. It is not known what Ranga did with the money, but Reddy was ousted and Narasimha Rao replaced him as chief minister in September 1971.

Of his three sons—Ranga, Rajeshwar and Prabhakar—it has been the eldest who has been the most outspoken. Ranga Rao, a committed bachelor after the girl he loved died in an accident, has often been described as a maverick who lets his heart rule his head. After his father rapped him on the knuckles for the means he adopted to oust Reddy, he decided to sever all ties with him. He remained committed to this breach, too, for well over a decade. It was only in 1985, when Narasimha Rao was HRD minister under Rajiv Gandhi, that father and son decided to bury the hatchet.

In the interim—when Narasimha Rao distanced himself from his eldest son—Ranga was sought after by his father's detractors for anti-Rao statements in the Telugu press. The gossip mill also worked overtime during these 12 years. It was said that Ranga was cut up by the influence a woman Congress MP wielded with his father. The MP, who later joined the Janata Party, was even believed to have had a say in political decisions taken by Narasimha Rao. Says a former press adviser to the Andhra Pradesh government: "The hold she had on Rao was much talked about. It was even reported. It was widely believed that the best way to get to PVN was to approach her."

  Narasimha Rao lost his wife Satyamma in 1970. His mother's death came as a big blow to Ranga, who started the Satyamma Narasimha Rao Memorial College in Hyderabad in her honour. A dedicated son, he literally worships his mother and harbours a feeling that his father had neglected the family.

Ranga does not wish to talk anymore about the past. He seems to have had a change of heart ever since his father, as prime minister, spent 24 days in Hyderabad while the eldest son was undergoing a bypass surgery.

For all his quirks, Ranga is not guilty of having used his father's position to further his interests. He prefers to stay out of the limelight and is interested in literature and the performing arts.

It was not Ranga alone who had problems with his father. Rajeshwar Rao, the second son who is now a Lok Sabha MP, also went through a patch in the '70s when he was alienated from his father. The misunderstanding was over a petty sum of few thousands which Rajeshwar had collected for the party and which Narasimha Rao felt he had not handed over to him. The two did not speak to each other for almost two years.

Unlike his elder brother, Rajeshwar nursed political ambitions. At one point, though, he wanted to become a playback singer and even sang light music on local TV but was quick to realise that his voice would not get him very far. His big break in politics came when he took over as general secretary of the Congress' Andhra Pradesh unit in 1991, when Narasimha Rao became prime minister. Rajeshwar began to wield considerable influence in ticket distribution and even now virtually runs the state Congress unit. Apart from running his father's campaign in Nandyal during the Lok Sabha elections, he supervised the periodic yagnas in Madras to ward off evil influences threatening his father's tenure as prime minister. He contested this election from Secunderabad and was elected to the Lok Sabha.

The most favoured son, of course, is the youngest, Prabh-akar. It was with him that Narasimha Rao spent the most time. Also among the sons, Prabhakar Rao—a qualified engineer—fits the bill of the jetset-ting businessman best. He is westernised, likes to dress in business suits and loves to rub shoulders with the glitterati. He shuttles frequently between Hyderabad and Madras and was close to former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha. In fact, Prabhakar is believed to have played a major behind-the-scenes role in the AIADMK-Congress tie-up before the elections.

Politics has been the last thing on Prabhakar's mind, though. In the late '80s, he floated Sinclaire TV, which turned out to be a white elephant. Things changed for the better after industrialist friend Krishna Mohan came into the picture. The two floated three finance companies and refashioned the TV company as Sinclaire Electronic Industries Pvt Ltd. The firm hoped to set up rural telephone exchanges—with a little help from the communication ministry.

On the very day that Sinclaire was rechristened, the Srikakulam Paper Mills, a Rs 246-crore project which was to be the largest such unit in the country, was registered. The entire purpose of floating the three finance companies was to raise monies for this project, which was scrapped when the securities scam brought out certain uncomfortable facts to light. Prabhakar later claimed that he had nothing to do with the paper mill although official records identify him as one of its promoters. And despite there being strong circumstantial evidence, the then prime minister's son emerged unscathed.

Prabhakar is known in Hyder-abad for having used his father's name to the hilt. He is also said to have borrowed considerable sums from local businessmen, for which no records are available. But then, it's not only Pra-bhakar who exploited the kinship with the then prime minister. Even distant relatives would fly to Delhi, confident that they could fix a gas agency licence. Whether the reticent Narasimha Rao was aware of what was happening is—like so many other things surrounding him—something that can't be ascertained.

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