Skip to main content

Inconclusive mandate "likely", will require a leader whose appeal cuts across parties

By Mohan Guruswamy*
At a time when an inconclusive mandate seems a very likely outcome, we will miss personalities like AB Vajpayee and Chandrashekhar, more so the latter, who had larger than life personalities and whose appeal cut across party lines so as to be able to weld together many factions in a united cause. Narendra Modi's acolytes know this and hence they keep asking "if not Modi, who?" Clearly a person like the late Chandrashekhar will be missed in the next Lok Sabha.
I met Chandrashekhar for the first time in early 1981, shortly after his party was decimated by the Congress-I in the mid-term elections that followed the collapse of the dismal Janata Party experiment. We were on a flight to Cochin from Bangalore and since he and I were seated next to each other, and since it was a hopping flight we had much time together.
Till then Chandrashekhar was whom I used to see on stage under lights from the dark anonymity of the audience, but I now felt knew the person in the green room as well. It was much later that I came to know the man from the hero and I learnt that little separated these two. The river of time has flowed some since that day in 1981 but the man and hero continue to be indistinguishable to me.
If politicians are performers and all politics is theatre, Chandrashekhar was a method actor who would have made that great acting master Lee Strasberg more than proud. He was ordained by history to play a role, but he had imbued the character with his unique personality and every public posture had its roots in a past that had seen enough adversity and struggle.
The naiveté of early post-independence socialism, its innocent hopefulness, its incredulous belief that we humans are all innately capable of great generosity towards each other, and its belief that all social and economic problems have public policy solutions came through in every speech and every political act. There was nothing fake in this. The sheer honesty of it all showed so clearly. Nothing about him was ever contrived.
Today audience tastes have changed. Professional actors, mere singers and dancers, lip syncing words they don’t understand and moving their limbs to the choreographer’s script, have begun to straddle our public life. Politics is now more about inciting passions than exciting our imagination. It is a vocation rather than a calling. It is about base selfishness rather than selfless service to make a great dream come true. We have all become imbued with a cynicism and hopelessness.
Chandrashekhar’s talents, abilities, passion and razor sharp intellect put him head and shoulders above the rest. This is what made him unique, even when he sat alone, hunched on the front bench of parliament eyes intent and ears not missing a single nuance or telling inflection, as eager as a newcomer would be on his first day in the marketplace where national aspirations are reconciled into what is possible and feasible. The politics of policy were his only passion.
I was with Chandrashekhar one evening in 1985 at Pune airport after a long hot day of electioneering in western Maharashtra. He was campaigning for his candidates as well as those belonging to whatever party Sharad Pawar then had. Those who wanted him had typically provided him with a car that had to be stopped every few dozen miles and cooled down with mugs of water poured into it and over it.
When it came, it came practically without any fuel. We paid for the petrol and all day long Chandrashekhar addressed meetings of farmers and small traders who moved by the idealism and sheer decency of the man manifestly apparent, despite not being able to speak their language, plied him with cash, mostly soiled and crumpled small denomination notes and coins smoothened by age.
I kept counting each take and they amounted to a tidy sum each time. Chandrashekhar would keep ordering me to dispense this to candidates each time we stopped for him to make the same speech for a different candidate or a different audience. The money never stayed long enough, and neither of us had the good sense to keep even our own money from the cause of candidates, many of who were clearly going to lose their deposits.
Anyway, when we reached Lohegaon airport late, partly because of the stalling car, the flight to Bombay had left and that was reason enough for the local party officials to leave. We arrived tired and wondering what next when we discovered to our chagrin that neither of us had any money. There was a flight to Bangalore in a couple of hours, which was in any case tomorrow’s destination.
After washing up in the small VIP lounge and after fortifying ourselves with some tea helpfully provided by the IA officials we sat down to take stock of our situation. Chandrashekhar found all this truly hilarious and would, much to my irritation, frequently break out into bouts of laughter. “Don’t worry,” he would say, “things will work out” -- only increasing my irritation.
Now the Indian Airlines duty officer showed up wanting to know if we wanted to go to Bangalore. Chandrashekhar told him yes, but that we did not have tickets and sotto voce added, no money either. The IA official did not bat an eyelid. He just said: “Sir, I did not ask for the money. If you want to go to Bangalore I will give you two tickets on my responsibility. The money will come, I am sure.”
Two tickets were provided and we were off to Bangalore. This was soon after Rajiv Gandhi had stormed into office with 425 Lok Sabha seats and when Chandrashekhar himself lost his seat fromm Ballia. The Indian Airlines officer said something very thoughtful. He said: "Sir you may have lost an election, but you have not lost your credibility. Even your word is not required. I consider it an honour to be of some assistance to you.”
When we arrived at Bangalore, the run of bad manners continued. The Janata Party was in power in the state. Once again an old claptrap Ambassador was provided. The city was festooned with giant cut outs of the Chief Minister, Ramakrishna Hegde, who had just embarked on his version of value-based politics. As we drove through the dusty back roads of Karnataka, there was not a single poster featuring the party president. But there was not even single disapproving reaction from Chandrashekhar.
The second day we ran into HD Deve Gowda at Mandya’s government guesthouse. This was my first encounter with Deve Gowda. It was early in the morning when Deve Gowda rushed in with tears streaming down his ample cheeks complaining about how Hegde was not even providing him with a seat on the dais in the election meetings. Chandrashekhar tried calming down Deve Gowda. But this only resulted in more evocative wails.
After Deve Gowda settled down somewhat and went to his room, Chandrashekhar very perceptively remarked: “Deve Gowda is not a man who forgets and one day he will get his back on Hegde.” That day came when Deve Gowda as Prime Minister threw Hegde out of the party, whatever it was called then, without even a pretense of due process.
Chandrashekhar’s precise perception was unique. It came from a deep understanding of the people of India, our history and our present situation. His wisdom is derived not from Marx, Lenin or even Laski, but inspired by the lives and sayings of Buddha, Kabir, Nanak, Gandhi, Narendra Deva, and Jay Prakash Narayan.
It was this perception that made him differ with Indira Gandhi when the Indian Army was sent into the Golden temple at Amritsar to ferret out a man who should have been nipped in the bud much before. After the carnage he remarked to me that anyone who knows Sikh history and understands what has made them so unique would know that this was something that will not go unanswered. The great lady paid the price a few months later.
I have been educated at one of the world’s great educational institutions. But what I have learnt from him far exceeds what any university can give. That politics without passion was meaningless. That policy without compassion was useless. That kindness, courtesy and civility to those less privileged than oneself must not be contrived as an act of magnanimity but should come naturally. That consideration to others is the essence of democracy.
He taught me a thing or two about what it took to be a civilized person. It has been my good fortune to know this truly and uniquely civilized man and call him my friend and teacher.
---
*Well-known policy analyst. Contact: mohanguru@gmail.com. Source: Author's Facebook timeline

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen