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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 1 January 6, 2024

Remembering Chandra Shekhar | Jeevesh Gupta

Friday 5 January 2024


“I am just an ordinary political worker. Intellectuals are those who talk of something which is beyond them.” Were the words of Chandra Shekhar when he was asked whether he was an intellectual in politics during his 7 month tenure as Prime Minister of India. These lines very well reflected this man’s political ethos.
In spite of the paradoxical streams in his political practice, this socialist from a farmer’s family in Ibrahimpatti village (Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, India) never lost his basic moorings and perspective.

For him the nation and its people came first. At the time of attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, this die hard rustic socialist stood against the majority view of the parliament. Most of the members were in favour of waging a war against Pakistan whereas he felt that the war was not the solution. He felt that we should protect our house and put it in right order to ensure security of one and all. In case we declared war, it would simply mean loss of life and further insecurity and distress across the nation. The very next day, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, compared Chandra Shekhar with one of the character from the Mahabharata called Shalya. The PM said that Chandra Shekhar like Shalya drove the chariot of Karna (read as India) and praised the chariot of Arjuna (read as Pakistan). Such was Chandra Shekhar’s larger than life demeanour that he chose not to respond to a comment made by a highly regarded PM. But India never went to war.

Being as succinct as he was, he delivered a landmark extempore speech at the SAARC summit in Male. On being invited by the Pakistani Prime minister, Nawaz Sharif for tea the same evening after his speech, he discussed the militancy issue in Kashmir and Punjab. His relations with Nawaz Sharif paid off and he managed to gather his support for reducing tension in Punjab. Nawaz Sharif mentioned his inability to help in Kashmir as that was a much wider issue in Pakistan.

An octogenarian journalist based in Delhi remembers Chandra Shekhar as someone who always fought for human rights. He remembers one of the instances where he approached Chandra Shekhar to speak about the great Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khui, who had refused to cooperate with the dictatorial government of Saddam Hussein and was put under house arrest. Chandra Shekhar was to leave for Lucknow and promised Nawab Sahib (the way he addressed this journalist) that he would speak on the arrest of Khui at the Chota Imambara in Lucknow during his meeting with the Muslim community. Chandra Shekhar spoke at great length and condemned the arrest of Khui which sent ripples across the entire community. This was his commitment to issues related to humanity where he or his country was not even involved in the faintest manner.

Remembering Chandra Shekhar as the iron man would not be wrong. We can never forget this man who refused to succumb to political condescension and resigned from the post of The Prime Minister of India. As soon as the largest member of his coalition (Indian National Congress) started threatening him, he decided that he could not run the largest democracy being dictated by others.

The only message he had for the youth was that they should stop practicing hypocrisy. He once said, “Everyone wants to be a politician but he will still say that he wants to keep away from politicians. I know no one who will openly say that he is close to a politician. But if he does not get a chance to meet the politician when in power, that person gets hurt.”

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