Shyama Charan Shukla: Aristocrat by disposition
THOUGH AILING for some time, the passing away of Shyama Charan Shukla on Wednesday at his hometown is, nevertheless, a matter of deep sorrow and shock for many of his contemporaries and admirers in the State and in Delhi, including many in the civil and police services.india Updated: Feb 16, 2007 14:38 IST
THOUGH AILING for some time, the passing away of Shyama Charan Shukla on Wednesday at his hometown is, nevertheless, a matter of deep sorrow and shock for many of his contemporaries and admirers in the State and in Delhi, including many in the civil and police services.
One of the most colourful personalities of his time, Shukla was the last of the aristocrats in MP politics, though not exactly by birth yet certainly by disposition. Those who had the privilege of working with him in whatever capacity could never forget the warmth and affability with which he treated them.
I can safely testify to the fact since my term as the Superintendent of Police, Bhopal, partly coincided with his first stint as the State chief minister. In an era before a horde of Additional DGs, IGs and DIGs subverted his position in the hierarchy, the district superintendent of Bhopal was a fairly important functionary and was regularly in and out of the CM’s presence. This was especially so as the DM then lived in Sehore. Two episodes of considerable significance stand out in my memory.
He took over as the chief minister for the first time in March 1969 after the fall of the infamous SVD or defectors’ government, led by the maverick Govind Narain Singh, in whose regime standards of political and administrative ethics sunk to their lowest levels, never to fully recover. Not that it was entirely his doing.
The composition of the ragtag team that he collected to form his cabinet and the circumstances that caused the revolt in the Congress legislature party against the redoubtable D P Mishra, were tailor-made to rip apart the administrative fabric.
When the uneasy coalition realised that the collapse of the experiment was imminent due to persistent wrangling and ideological contradictions, the Congress defectors started trekking back to the parent party in ones or twos. Late one night in March 1969, the SVD leaders gathered in the Raj Bhawan to plead with the governor that their members had been kidnapped by the Congress leadership, led by Shukla and that a case of kidnapping be registered against him and his colleagues.
As was to be expected the governor referred them to me as the local SP. In keeping with the flavour of the times, my response was that cases are registered in police stations and not by SPs or IGs and they should therefore approach the police station concerned with the FIR.
The other event relates to the case of a senior cabinet minister who inadvertently became a victim of a blackmailing conspiracy by a woman of easy virtue, then serving in the BHEL, and her boyfriend. The duo allegedly managed to take some questionable photographs of the minister with the lady. When the news broke out in the morning, IG B M Shukul took me to the CM to inform him of the happening. After having related the incident, I also ventured to suggest in all sincerity that the minister should tender his resignation to contain the likely political damage. His short response to a young SP’s exuberant plea was characteristic of him. “Mr. Dhillon”, he said dryly, “You conduct your investigation and leave the political management to me.”
As it happened, the minister and the Congress survived the embarrassment. But then those days there were no insistent TV crews breathing down your neck to extract instant sound bytes by putting words in your mouth.
Not for nothing was he called the Prince Charming. Legitimately proud of his looks, he took great care in dressing up for every occasion. Once while staying in Balaghat circuit house, he turned up in the evening in a black bandgala, visibly relishing the dashing figure he made and enjoying every admiring look or compliment, all of which he took in his stride. In a way, he was the last of our chief ministers, who could be genial and demanding at the same time.
Sadly, none of his successors commanded the kind of respect and admiration from the civil services as he did. Later, when I left the State, he showed an unusual refinement to treat me as a friend and share many anecdotes of the times gone by, including the one about the blackmailed minister. The last time he spoke to me was last year when I was in Raipur on a visit. He was in Delhi for an important party meeting. On learning that I wanted to call on him, he promptly called back from Delhi on telephone to say sorry. His death, indeed, marks the end of an era of gracious, understanding and patrician politicians.