Young Turks never die
Like soldiers, Young Turks never die. Neither the march of time nor the vagaries of politics could temper the image of the angry (young) man former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar first created for himself as a member of Indira Gandhi’s Congress in the Sixties and Seventies, his gaunt appearance, piercing eyes, cropped beard and biting comment only accentuating it over the years.
Even his short stint as prime minister in 1990-1991 in the backdrop of the mandal and mandir agitations and the oil crisis could not soften that visage. But in personal relationships, he was exactly the opposite: warm, loyal and full of charm, almost to a fault.
Barring exceptions like VP Singh whom he could not stand, Chandrashekhar had a wide circle of friends cutting across boundaries and ideological divides.
If he counted among his friends, Nepal’s Koirala family, BJP’s AB Vajpayee whom he calls "gurudev" and Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat (who will now have one vote less in the presidential election), NCP’s Sharad Pawar or RJD’s Lalu Yadav, those on the fringes felt privileged to be invited to his retreat in Bhondsi and his kutiya (cottage) in Delhi which, for a long time, was the hub for building the Opposition’s strategy.
Aware that his days were numbered, on one of his recent visits out of the hospital Chandrashekhar held a "farewell" party for his friends and collegues. Almost everyone came. He returned to the hospital, coming out on July 8 on a bier as Ballia, the seat he represented eight times in the Lok Sabha, mourned.
Born in the dustbowl of Uttar Pradesh’s Ibrahmimpatti on July 1, 1927, the 80-year-old leader witnessed the freshness of the Nehruvian era, the loss of innocence between the 60s and 80s when the Chinese and Pakistani attacks took place, Indira Gandhi declared Emergency and the first non-Congress government came to the Centre in 1977---as well as the hope and despair that marked politics from 1980 onwards.
Popularly called "adhakshji" for his leadership qualities, Chandrashekhar was a man of many parts and perhaps as many contradictions, respected, riled, ridiculed but never dismissed.
He revolted against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian style of functioning but did not hesitate to flout established norms himself.If he adopted mafia don Surajdeo Singh as a friend, he was unmindful that it could damage the polity and give a boost to criminals.
He won admiration for his six month padyatra in 1983 but slammed for acquiring land for his Bharat Yatra Kendras and indicted in the public eye for mortgaging India’s gold in 1991.
Making no secret of his ambition to be PM, after the VP Singh government fell Chandrashekhar split the Janata Dal and formed a government that was propped up by Rajiv Gandhi. But he refused to be patronized, resigning when the Congress accused him of spying on him.
A socialist, Chandrashekhar began his political career in 1951 and was, over the years, associated with the Praja Socialist Party, the Congress and the different Janata groups, including the Samajwadi Janata Party of which he was the lone ranger in the Lok Sabha.
Homoured as the Best Parliamentarian in 1995, Chandrashekhar was the fourth `non-Congress’ PM after Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and VP Singh. His tenure was turbulent and controversial. Pushed from the centrestage, Chandrashekhar and former PMs IK Gujral, VP Singh and HD Deve Gowda unsuccessfully tried to float a new forum in 2000. His son is now likely to contest from Ballia.