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Poll pundit

CEC N Gopalaswami intends to spend his post-career days popularising Sanskrit: as a child, he was encouraged to read the scriptures, writes Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Jun 08, 2007 00:44 IST

Gujarat has seen its fair share of riots and violence. Yet, all this has not stained the memory of Chief Election Commissioner Needamangalam Gopalaswami who spent 25 years of his career in the state. To him an average Gujarati was, is and always will be peace-loving, despite ‘aberrations’. Gopalaswami’s Gujarat, from where he shifted to New Delhi, is one which had upright officers including a revenue secretary who used an office vehicle for his father’s cremation but ensured that the petrol expenses were debited to his salary account; the insomniac Madhav Lal Shah who would wake him up at odd hours to recount woes of villagers during Gopalaswami’s tenure as District Magistrate; Sarvodaya worker Babalbhai Mehta who took on the governor because the latter defended Emergency.

Then there were the politicians who gave Gopalaswami a tough time. If there was an MP who threatened him because he arrested his henchmen, there was also the local MLA who asked him to “pack up” after the former was sworn in as minister. Gopalaswami had told him: “Sir, I am in the northern district of Gujarat. So wherever you send me I will be closer to home [Tamil Nadu]”.

For someone who has been blamed by Mulayam Singh Yadav for unseating him (because of the seven-phase poll schedule in UP), Gopalaswami is magnanimous. Politicians, he believes, need to be taken seriously: “They have their ear to the ground and cannot be rubbished.” For one who cracks the whip as CEC, Gopalaswami comes across as someone who cannot hurt a fly. Had it not been for his chemistry teacher, he would have become a research scholar in the US. But the one who has left a profound impact on him was a “pradhanacharya” who spent his life setting up schools to teach Sanskrit. Taking a leaf from his book, Gopalaswami intends to spend his post-career days popularising the language: as a child, he was encouraged to read the scriptures. “No one ever asked me to do my homework but emphasis was on reading the Vedas.” Fun-time reading was Rajagopalachari’s Mahabharata and Ramayana.

Had it not been for an all-girls music class, young ‘Gopu’ would have taken music as a subject. “I did not want to be the odd man out. Instead of joining the class, I picked up whatever I could from the corridor,” he says. Today he’s an avid listener of Carnatic music instead.

Gopalaswami’s trademark is the long vermillion tilak that runs right down his forehead. Ask him and he’ll say it represents Lord Vishnu. Ask him more and he will take you through a verbal tour of the 108 Vaishnava temples of which he has paid obeisance in 70.