A devoted disciple of the socialist savant Acharya Narendra Dev, Chandrashekhar lived in his life the values of democracy, secularism and socialism. He served the Socialist and the Praja Socialist Parties loyally for several years. As a firebrand activist, he led cane growers of Uttar Pradesh to resist price disparities.
He was jailed for fighting for the trade union rights of Modinagar’s textile workers. However, the PSP Chairman Asoka Mehta’s decision to join the Congress Party in 1964, ostensibly to fight against the rising forces of Bharatiya Jan Sangh and the Swatantra Party, led Chandrashekhar as well to follow suit. He was then a PSP member of Rajya Sabha.
In the Congress, Chandrashekhar fought the establishment and came to be known as a ‘Young Turk’, along with Mohan Dharia and Krishan Kant. The Young Turks were initially staunch allies of Indira Gandhi when she declaimed her famous Garibi Hatao slogan, but later Chandrashekhar was compelled to challenge her autocratic style. When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975, he joined Jaya Prakash Narayan and was imprisoned for the Emergency's entire 19 month duration.
After release from jail, Chandrashekhar led the Janata Party with distinction for a dozen years. He stood firm against the machinations of the Jan Sangh group in the party on dual membership. Nor did he fail to assert himself against the self-seeking ambitions of some of the party’s tall leaders.
Chandrashekhar's 1983 Bharat Yatra, covering the length of the country from South to North on foot, was unique for a politician. He strove not only to communicate hope to a disillusioned people, but also to carve out new directions of politics. He set up several Bharat Yatra Centres in almost all the regions of the country to undertake constructive social work.
When Operation Blue Star occurred on June 5, 1984, he was the only political leader who warned the country of its tragic consequences, a warning which went unheeded. The tragic consequence was Indira Gandhi’s despicable assassination by her own security guards, its terrible backlash and the subsequent alienation of a whole religious minority community.
The agitation launched by the Sangh Parivar against the Babri Masjid distressed him greatly. He brought it up with the BJP leaders, particularly Atal Behari Vajpayee with whom he had friendly relations, but to no avail. On the eve of the demolition of the mosque, he publicly asked Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to adopt the strictest possible measures for its protection.
The electoral victory of the National Front in 1989 - a conglomerate of the Janata Dal with some regional parties - brought out the hidden rivalry between the two stalwarts, VP Singh and Chandrashekhar. Chandrashekhar opposed the election of VP Singh as leader of the party’s parliamentary group, but he was tricked and checkmated by Devi Lal. Yet later he did not hesitate to join hands with the same Devi Lal in pulling down the government. He was handsomely rewarded by the Congress Party for this service and made Prime Minister. His long-cherished ambition was thereby fulfilled, but it cost him heavily. Thereafter, he kept losing friends and followers and, during the last 15 years, lived in solitary splendour.
(The writer is a veteran socialist who worked closely with Chandrashekhar for a long period, specially when the Janata Party was in power.)