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The Fine Art of Forgetting

The Fine Art of Forgetting
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While the Congress party left no stone unturned to celebrate the birth anniversary of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, closer home, the...

While the Congress party left no stone unturned to celebrate the birth anniversary of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, closer home, the anniversary of Tanguturi Prakasam, a doughty crusader of the Telugu people and the first Chief Minister of the Telugu speaking state went unnoticed

The birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was celebrated all over the country and in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress bastion, with great fanfare on August 20. Party devotees marked the day holding meetings and garlanding his statues. They said he was a young, dynamic leader with vision, led the country into the 21st century and ushered radical reforms in panchayat raj system. Several ministries of the central government and public sector undertakings vied with one another to swamp newspapers with full-page advertisements that recalled his reform fervour.

Hundred and forty-one years ago, on August 23 was born Tanguturi Prakasam, a doughty crusader of the Telugu people. I chose ‘Telugu’ to describe Prakasam to steer clear of controversies plaguing the term “Andhra”, anathema to certain sections of the Telugu-speaking people. The birth anniversary of this statesman went unnoticed. No meetings to recall his unorthodox ways of solving problems. I am not too sure if the lone statue in Hyderabad of the first chief minister of Telugu-speaking State was garlanded. (Prakasamnagar opposite the Begumpet airport has gradually become Prakashnagar, showing in what hurry we are to consign national legends to the limbo.) Leaders were understandably busy shuttling between Hyderabad and New Delhi wheedling their case for separate statehood for Telangana or retention of the present unified State.

There was hardly a mention in the media of any event to mark the 141st birth anniversary of Prakasam in Hyderabad. The Hans India carried a feature written by his great grandson, Tanguturi Sriram. The present generation may not know that it was Prakasam who as Revenue Minister in the composite Madras State piloted the bill that led to eventual abolition of zamindari system. He strove to translate the communist dream of ‘dunne vaadide bhoomi’ (‘land to the tiller’), Gandhiji’s dream of Gramswaraj and prohibition.

It is well-known that he had bared his chest and dared the police to shoot him and hence earned the sobriquet ‘Andhra Kesari’ for his reckless courage. The context is less known, though. There was widespread resentment against the visit of the Simon Commission whose members were greeted with black flags and ‘Simon, go back’ slogans wherever they went. The police banned protests when the Commission visited Madras in early 1927. They opened fire on demonstrators defying the ban, near Madras High Court, killing one person. The police cordoned off the spot where the body lay and warned the irate mob of dire consequences if they did not disperse. Prakasam came forward, bared his chest and dared the police to shoot him. Sensing the danger of playing with fire, the police allowed him and other leaders. The crowd hailed the lion-hearted Prakasam as Andhra Kesari.

I have read on the Internet (Wikipedia on Tanguturi Prakasam) about his trip to Hyderabad. I quote: “He visited Hyderabad state in 1948, while the Nizam was still in power, despite Nehru’s warning against doing so because of concern for his personal safety. He met Qasim Razvi and warned him about pushing his luck too far. The Razakars were impressed by his courage and accorded him a march of honour [citation needed].” So much for his courage.

As editor of Swarajya, he had defied ban, seizure, closure and arrests to keep the newspaper going and did not hesitate to sell his property to save the newspaper. The list of people who had worked in Swarajya reads like a who is who of Indian journalism.

Prakasam had enough wealth as a lawyer to own mansions in several places. He gave away the last rupee of his earnings for the country and left nothing, just nothing, for his family. Diehard followers took care of his food and other needs in the evening of his life. He died in Hyderabad on May 20, 1957, following sunstroke suffered during a tour. To sum up his philosophy of life, I quote from Tanguturi Sriram’s article: “I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do, let me do it now. For I shall not pass this way again.” I vaguely remember his brief visit to our Barkatpura house a few months before his death on my father’s request. A distant relation to us, he was too weak to get off the car.

Every major programme of the Government is designed to perpetuate the memory of the Dynasty. No quarrel with this; the departed leaders deserved it. Can we pretend that other national leaders do not merit similar recognition for their great services?

Nearer home we have such great leaders as Pattabhi Seetaramaiah, Duggirala Gopalakrishnaiah, Konda Venkatappaiah, Kasinathuni Nageswara Rao, Mutnuri Krishna Rao, Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, Suravaram Pratap Reddy, Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Konda Venkata Ranga Reddy, Maqdoom Moinuddin, Ravi Narayan Reddy, Sarojini Naidu, Swami Ramananda Tirtha and many others. Their contribution too needs to be acknowledged in a proper way by the government, the people and the media.

A grateful government had carved out Prakasam district with Ongole as headquarters to mark his birth centenary in 1972. The barrage across the Krishna at Vijayawada also bears his name. With the passage of time, Prakasam’s memories also receded into the back pages of history. Even ritualistic tributes on anniversaries may become a rarity for the likes of Prakasam in the years to come.

How subtly have the market driven media and society perfected the art of forgetting the past and ignoring freedom fighters and other eminent persons? Wah!

(The writer is former Chief of Bureau, The Hindu, Hyderabad)

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