As I know him
An idealist and non-conformist in Indian politics
The passing away of Chandrashekhar, the former Prime Minister, is a personal loss to me. I couldn’t do anything a whole day as I was so sad and so many memories rushed through my mind all the day. The days I spent with Chandrashekhar and his devoted band of friends, colleagues and admirers.
The last time I saw him was on the third day of my visit to his Prime Ministerial residence on the Race Course Road in New Delhi and on the last day in the morning I told him; “I must see you today as I am leaving for Madras in the evening! “To which he called Gautam, his secretary and shadow: “Fix a time for ……..”and by then someone, an admirer of course, caught him by his shoulders and stopped him to talk to him. It was the janata darshan!
Why the third day? There is a story behind this and I would narrate it some other time! I was at that point of time a bit detached form active politics and as soon as reached Delhi and I went to his old residence,3,Southern Lane, and left a note that I was in Delhi and if he so desire he could call me! My son (he was then at the Delhi School of Economics, studying) said: “No, you can’t say this to a Prime Minister! After all he is the PM and you can’t imagine your old days of friendship with him and say this…”
So, I was persuaded by my son and so we went to see him at his official residence. Every time I met him there was some interruption or other and he gave me his ears but we couldn’t meet him properly. So, the final request and the final pleading of Gautam (I knew Gautam for long):”No, sir, you shouldn’t leave Delhi without seeing Saab. This evening at six you are seeing him for sure…”
So, this time at the same time another unexpected visitor dropped by. This visitor was none other than Dhirubhai Amabani himself! So, this time also we missed seeing the PM, so too many others, Governors and, if I remember correctly, even Dr.Verghese Kurien! So, instead of seeing the PM we saw him engaged with Ambani and we, I and my son were left with Mukesh Ambani for company!
Anyway, my association with Chandrashkekhar goes back to the early 60s when I was very much in Delhi, as a budding and activist Congressman!
I came back from Oxford at the end of 1961.As soon as I landed in Coimbatore I went straight to the local Congress office and enrolled myself as a Congressman!
At that point of time, I was very much a Nehru man, having come into close contact with him for many years when I was studying at Santiniketan where Nehru was an annual visitor as the acharya (chancellor) of Visva Bharati. There were so many memorable moments in my life when I personally interacted with the great man.
And in England this bond stregnthened. Soon I also corresponded with Shyam Nandan Mishra, who was a junior minister in Nehru’s Cabinet and also a member of the “Ginger Group” of which Mrs.Indira Gandhi wad then a member.
In the early 60s Nehru was very much alive, though battered by the Chinese invasion and I was summoned to edit a magazine to boost the Congress party morale by Atulya Ghosh, then Treasurer of the party.
In those heady days of idealism I was drawn to the Socialists within and outside the Congress. Thus, I was as much an admirer of J.P.Narayan, Ashoka Mehta and as others within the Congress party. In fact, I saw one day Narayan, Mehta in the company of E.F.Schumachar and Arthur Koestlar at my own New College Quad by chance and later in the day there was tutorial in politics where my tutor, James Joll, engaged me in discussing about anarchists in Indian politics in which he included Narayan and others! It was a lively discussion.
One day in Delhi I walked into the office of the “Young Indian” magazine office at Connaught Place and there I met Mr.Dayanand, a lieutenant of Chandrashekhar. I could write English well and the Young Indian editor caught me almost by an embrace saying I was the man they were all waiting for. The rest is history, as they say!
I became a staunch admirer of Chandrashekhar and he had all I was expecting in an idealist in politics. I wrote almost every page of the Young Indian journal for years!
To cut the story short, I remember one day in 1977 or so, I received a letter from Chandrashekhar asking me an article for a special number of Young India devoted to reconciliation of JP and Mrs.Gandhi’s politics.
All the great leaders like Y.B.Chavan and others had contributed to the number. Chandrshekhar put mine as the opening article! That number must be in some archive like Nehru Museum.
I used to meet him whenever I was in Delhi and this continued from 1962 onwards to almost to the end of his tenure as the PM. Afterwards I lost touch with him.
So, I have so much to feel lost when he passed away.
What attracted me in the early years was his fierce idealism! His belief in socialism. He could thus stand alone, and he stood alone most of his life, he fought Mrs.Gandhi and also he stood for the best in Indian political idealism, till the last.
There is much to write about what he achieved and what he could have achieved more.
I have only pleasant thoughts about our meetings. He could be utterly disarming. Once after a long conversation at the Janata Party office at the 7,Jantar Mantar Road where I used to work as a Congress pamphlet writer for some time under the giants, Kamaraj, Atulya Ghosh. Sadiq Ali and where I used to meet so casually all the greats, Morariji Desai, Mrs.Gandhi herself and so many others.
After we finished our conversation, Chandrashekhar wanted to go somewhere and he called for his vehicle. Mr.Balakrishnan, the office custodian for so many years came in and said: “There is no money for petrol for the car!”. Chandrashekhar didn’t say a word and said to me: “Come bhai (or bhayya?).Let us go..” He said this and took me along the stairs down. Soon after when we reached the road he summoned an auto rickshaw and got into it and waved to me and went off..! That was the man!
It was in his company I was introduced to the Karnataka leader, Ramakrishna Hegde. Hegde had by then acquired lot of name and fame and I used to meet my journalist and academic friends like Romesh Thapar who used to say “the alternative to Rajiv Gandhi was Ramakrishna Hegde”! Such was his stature then.
So, when Hegde became chief minister in 1983,I thought it was just natural! I was then living in Coimbatore and I made a special trip to Bangalore to meet Hegde. I met him and one of the suggestions I made was to get a book written about Chandrasekhar.
That was how my bond with Karnataka political leaders got strengthened. In fact, I was an early admirer of Nijalingappa whom I had met in CBE over a dinner hosted to him as the Congress President, then through my association with Kamaraj it lasted for some years. I also became an early admirer of Veerendra Patil and then Hegde. So I am happy to see now that so many tributes to Chandrasekhar by the current leaders in the state. B.L.Shnakar and others have spoken so admiringly and I am pleased with this link with the past and the present.
In a way, the same cant be said of the current leaders in Delhi where they all seem to be utter strangers to Chandrashkhar, the man and his mission!
That is what politics seems to be all about. Time serving is also politics, time servers are also politicians!
But it was not so in the past, the past period I am talking about.
Socialism was a noble creed one time. The 1959 book, Congress Socialism, edited by Sampurnanand and the last article by Nehru on “Vedantic Socialism” was also my last Socialist creed! It is still worth paying to know how the Congress party evolved over its 122 years of history.
There is a trend to “disown” this legacy. I ,as one who can lay some claim for this legacy, am still convinced this current disregard for the past traditions and values would be over-turned by events and also by the very evolution of the ideas and ideology of the Congress organisation.
The Socialists like Chandrasekhar would inspire the youth by their steadfast idealism. Chandrashekhar would be remembered always for idealism in politics.