Sunday, July 08, 2007

Chandra Shekhar, politician with conviction who failed to succeed


The passing away of former prime minister and the last of socialists, Chandra Shekhar, truly marks the end of an era. He came into politics after Independence, and he took to socialism with sincerity and honesty. He was not an ideologue though his mind was quite clear about socialist ideas. He was a thinking politician, but he was neither a pedant nor a dud. There was a certain political intelligence, which could connect socialist ideas with the conditions of the people. It is a virtue which no other politician of his generation, nor of the next, have acquired.

He was not however a charismatic politician. He could not sway the masses. But his political commitment was fierce. So, he was not an easy pushover though he could never climb to the top. Chandra Shekhar must have felt, and with much justification, that there was much that he could do because he knew the country and the people, and he had the necessary political ideas to deal with the issues. But the game of politics in a democracy is a merciless gladiatorial battle, and Chandra Shekhar, had no chance.

He knew that he was no populist, against another big virtue with a socialist like him. He never indulged in rhetoric. He spoke about issues in a direct, honest fashion. He failed to connect with the people. He was no great communicator, But he would not play the game according to the needs of the situation. He was quite conscious of personal integrity. He would not ever stoop to conquer which many of his contemporaries in all the parties did.

He also was a man who stood by a personal code of hour -- a quaint code which puzzled political pundits -- who cared for friends, especially when they were in trouble. He was not exactly a superstitious man but he did not hesitate to be seen in public with godman Chandra Swami. Nor did he fight shy of attending the party for arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi, who happened to be a friend of Chandra Swami. There was something of the unbending Rajput/Thakur temper that marked Chandra Shekhar out in Indian politics. He did not really flaunt it. He just lived by it. He was also a realist who did not wax eloquent against corruption. He understood that there are more important things in politics than to arraign opponents with charges of corruption. He would not stoop to attack others where they are weak. Again, his adherence to this personal code of honour is to be seen in this. That is why, he disdainfully observed that Bofors case is the work of a sub-inspector, while V.P.Singh used it to climb to the post of the prime minister.

Of course, there were many things he did not, or could not, do in Indian politics. He had a golden opportunity to build the Janata Party after the emergency. He remained the party president for 11 years, and the party withered and splintered. Had the Janata Party remained, the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), could have been stymied. But he showed no dynamism and flexibility to manage a national party. He seemed to remain a provincial Thakur politician of the Hindi heartland which is sad because here was the man who felt for the lot of the poor across the country. A genuine socialist.

It was always moving to hear him speak in Lok Sabha -- simple, straightforward, and to the point. He never wanted to score brownie points.

Chandra Shekhar is a political paradox in many ways. he was a socialist, who could be pragmatic. He firmly believed in political justice but he did not indulge in hypocritical talk. He had no patience with sanctimonious pretense.

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