A tribute to Chandra Shekhar
Karpoori Thakur was not well and was admitted in AIIMS. Since I had worked with him as his Principal Secretary when he was the Chief Minister of Bihar between 1977 -79 and was very close to him personally, I went to see him.
Chandra Shekhar also came to see him about the same time. It was my first meeting with him. He knew that I had put in my papers to quit the IAS. He invited me to meet him. I visited him a few days later at the residence of a common friend, Dayanand Sahay, MP.
We talked for about an hour. Chandra Shekhar wanted to know my future plans. I told him that I wanted to do socio-development work in some village in Bihar. He had just returned from his epoch-making padyatra. He shared with me his thoughts on what he had seen and the need for change.
At the same time he emphasised that if I wanted to be an agent of change in society, politics was a better option. We parted company without reaching a conclusion.
A few weeks later Indira Gandhi was assassinated and Delhi witnessed the horrible massacre of Sikhs. Chandra Shekhar plunged himself wholeheartedly into providing relief to the suffering Sikhs. I joined him in this effort. I remember how when we went to a relief camp in the Trans-Jamuna area, the Sikhs there were belligerent and would not allow any political leader inside the camp.
However, when we informed them that it was Chandra Shekhar who had come to commiserate with them, they readily allowed him to enter the camp. Such was the goodwill he enjoyed with the Sikhs after the courageous stand he had taken on the Blue Star Operation.
I entered politics at Chandra Shekhar’s persuasion. I joined the Janata Party because of him. He gave me all his affection and support, made me General Secretary of the Party and his Finance Minister when he was briefly in government. I can never forget him and his contribution in moulding my life.
Chandra Shekhar was a statesman. He had a complete grasp of the country’s problems and clear views about their resolution. He had the courage of his conviction and remained undaunted in the face of the gravest challenge. He was a powerful speaker, his speeches often bringing tears to people’s eyes. Above all he was a great human being, considerate, compassionate, friendly, courteous and extremely helpful to friends and critics alike.
At the time of the 1984 Lok Sabha elections I was a greenhorn in politics. The Janata Party decided to field me as its candidate from the Hazaribagh constituency. I withdrew a few thousand rupees from my bank account to finance my election. Dayanand Sahay was aware of my plight. He told me that there was some money lying with him on the Party’s account and if I requested Chandra Shekhar he could give me a part of it.
I met Chandra Shekhar at the Jantar Mantar office of the Janata Party, but could not bring myself to raise the issue of money. He guessed that something was troubling me and asked me about finances for my election. I told him I had withdrawn a few thousand rupees from my bank account. He at once telephoned Dayanand Sahay and instructed him to give me the whole amount.
Both Sahay and I were surprised at this generosity. He collected chanda, even small amounts of ten and twenty rupees, to help political workers in need. His generosity knew no bounds. I can write a whole book on such incidents.
He was extremely courteous. One summer afternoon, I had gone out for lunch with my wife and Mohammad Anwar, a close friend, and his wife. On the way back I told them that I would drop by Chandra Shekhar’s place briefly for some urgent work. I drove to his residence in South Avenue Lane, parked my car outside, and went in.
After the meeting he came out to see me off and asked where my car was. I told him I had parked it outside as my wife and friend were in the car. Chandra Shekhar was very annoyed and scolded me for not bringing them in and leaving them outside in the heat. He did not even have his chappals on. He rushed barefoot to the car outside and told my wife and my friend that I was an ahmak – a fool- to behave that way. My friend could hardly believe his eyes - such a great leader being so humble and courteous.
A few months ago, when I fell ill, he came home to visit me, although being sick himself, he could barely walk, or talk.
Chandra Shekhar’s life is a saga of courage. He did what he thought was right and never cared for the consequences. Being a member of the ruling party then, he was under no compulsion to stand by Jaiprakash Narain and go to jail during the Emergency. He has left a trail which must be traversed if we want to build an India of “Gandhi’s dreams and JP’s aspirations”.