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Leaving Without Enemies

Updated: June 5, 2010 12:39 pm

Bhairon Singh Shekhawat after doing his matriculation was a very happy person when he landed a job in the police. But Shekhawat had an unpleasant innings as a cop however he was destined for bigger things in life and rose to become the Vice President. Shekhawat was unmoved when the Rajput rulers and Nobles and landlords ganged up against Congress by forming a political outfit Ram Rajya Parishad just after independence in 1947. Shekhawat did not join the Rajput’s outfit and contested from Danta Ramgarh as a Bhartiya Jan Sangh party’s candidate. He had no money and moved in a bus from one place to the other. A weekly Hindi newspaper from Jaipur that wrote a few good words about Shekhawat was the only publicity material that he possessed. He used to give it to a young man who was literate in the village. The young man would read it out in the villages and hamlets introducing what Shekhawat was and what were his profile. He won the first election for Vidhan Sabha in 1952. The die was cast. Then Shekhawat became a witness to many a political battles and some of them were fought in his leadership. At 29, he used to come to the Vidhan Sabha in Jaipur with a turban tied to his head and he would speak mostly in Marwari. But he would read a lot and his primary source of information were the newspapers-both Hindi and English. He would cut news items from the newspapers and paste it for his reference and while preparing question for the Vidhan Sabha he would take the help of the newspapers clippings. Thus he became media friendly and had a lot of friends in the media. And he would be in touch with journalists to get their feedback and informations.

            But after becoming the Chief Minister it was the same media who dubbed him as a person who was a prisoner of indecision and a person who was scared of taking decision because of his poor political will. He was known to be a person who was a slave of the officialdom and would go by the advise of the bureaucracy.

            Shekhawat never believed in protégés and stooges and he kept such people at arm’s length while rewarding them with cushy positions.

            But Meetha Lal Mehta, a retired IAS who served him as his chief secretary remembers him as person who was committed to his decisions and sticking to it.

            Mehta said Shekhawat had a very strong networking in the society that provided him the feedback and the feedback and personal information gathered from his friends and supporters helped him in the decision making process.

            He was the leading lights of first the Bhartya Jan Sangh and then the BJP, but he was considered a secular person and had a Muslim minister in his cabinet in Ramzan Khan. He was known as a liberal in the BJP hierarchy who distanced himself from the RSS. But when Shekhawat as a chief minister one day in Jaipur shed his inhibition about the RSS and went to attend a RSS rally wearing the khaki shorts, white shirts and the black cap Shekhawat lost his image as a person who was a liberal in politics. A decision that wiped out his secular image.

            Shekhawat led a transparent life and was a stickler to honesty and principles in public life. The former Vice President had to face the wrath of his own Rajput community over the issue of glorification of sati.

           “Ajatshatru” Shekhawat

His Food for Work programmes had become a mass movement in State

It was a territory which I had never visited before nor did I fancy visiting it again. A place deep in the interior in the Pali district of Rajasthan where one morning in February 1979, I found myself visiting a site for a road across the Aravalli hills that would one day join Udaipur which places east of Pali. It was originally a camel route.

            Hundreds of members of one particular hill community Girasia Bhils with the majority dressed in colourful clothes were busy in building this road with precision which had become later the envy of the Public Works Department, I was told. Almost everyone I met there, several kilometers away from even a good tea stall, spoke about one man who has been the inspiration for this project—Bhairon Singhji Shekhawat although he was not present at the site.

            Guiding me to this place from the district headquarters was someone who predeceased Shekhawat by only a few months, as if giving a notice to his friend to leave for their heavenly abodes quickly, Mr KL Kochar a former IAS officer who had accompanied me to the project site from Pali. Knowing both of them intimately till a few years ago, I could not forget Mr Kochar who was, I felt, an alter ego of Bhairon Singhji.

            Mr Kochar was a faithful IAS officer in the 1960s and later too who was known to be close to the long-standing Congress Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Mr Mohan Lal Sukhadia. Despite that he was a good friend of Bhairon Singhji because the “ajatshatru”: BJP leader was a friend of everyone he came across. When Mr Shekhawat became the Chief Minister in 1977, he wanted an efficient Public Relations executive and he naturally thought of Mr Kochar, who was already known for his efficiency during the Sukhadia regime.

            This is a story Mr Kochar himself told met during this trip when I was “covering” the Food for Work and Antyodaya programmes for the Hindustan Times of which I was a special correspondent then. Bhairon Singhji asked Kochar to join as the Director of Public Relations. Mr Kochar flatly refused to accept this post saying he was known as a “Sukhadia Man” and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) people would not trust him. However, Mr Bhairon Singhji insisted. Mr Kochar again refused. But when Bhairon Singhji insisted, Mr Kochar had told him that if as a friend he was asking him to join as DPR, he would refuse again. However, if he ordered as the Chief Minister, as a loyal servant of the Government, he would have to agree. Bhairon Singhji had said “Well, I am asking you to join, in my capacity as the Chief Minister”. And Mr Kochar joined. This relationship lasted till the death of the two veterans.

            Most of the good publicity the Food For Work (FFW) and Antyodaya programmes received in the Press (There were no television channels those days) was owing to the groundwork done by Mr Kochar.

            I had visited Rajasthan to write about several food for work sites on various areas in the state but mainly in the desert areas of western Rajasthan, which Mr Kochar had made me visit repeatedly. This could be because he was from Bikaner and an alumni of the Ganga Singhji Inter College there. However, more development sites were waiting to be discovered by the Press and I was happy to visit them in desolate desert areas where once we had exhausted all the drinking work and our jeep too would not move unless the engine was cooled. This was north of Bikaner and in fast even north of Lunkaransar where I had found men and women were working under the blazing sun on a road project under the Food for Work programme.

By Arabinda Ghose

In 1987 a young widow Roop Kanwar in Deorala village of Sikar district was forced to commit sati and forcibly made to sit on the pyre of her husband and die. She was immolated with her husband by her own relatives even as she cried for life. But the relations insisted she will have to follow the Rajput tradition of

sati. The incident of sati was condemned all over the world, yet the Rajput community insisted that sati was a tradition and Roop Kanwar met the fate she was destined to. Then followed the events of glorification of the sati with Rajputs coming out with their swords and defending Roop Kanwar and going to Deorala village to pay homage to the Roop Kanwar. The state was ruled by the Congress and Harideo Joshi was the Chief Minister. When thousands of Rajput wearing khaki turbans turned up on the street to defend the rituals of sati, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who was the leader of the Opposition and also the leader of the community went against the community and defied the glorification of sati vehemenently. This stand of Shekhawat against his own community was met with angry reaction and the various Rajput Sabhas collectively decided to ostracised him. Undeterred Shekhawat faced the wrath of the community and anti slogans against him to stick to his stand”.

            “Babo Sa” Shekhawat, after the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan conflict was a witness to the scene when a large number of Hindus from the Sindh province of Pakistan who were persecuted by the Pakistanis fled from Pakistan leaving their own homes to settle in India. Shekhawat for months together worked with the refugees from Pakistan in Jaisalmer and Barmer and worked for their rehabilitation. He worked to see that the Hindu migrants were given Indian citizenship.

            Just after the emergency was lifted in 1977 and elections were announced for the Lok Sabha, Shekhawat who a member of Rajya Sabha played a key role in the formation of the Janta Party and the merger of the Bhartiya Jan Sangh with it. He was tipped for a Cabinet berth and was a nominee of the Janta Party president and his bosom friend Chandrashekhar, but he opted to be in the state politics and became the Chief Minister.

            There were many who thought he would have been the best choice to become the Home Minister of the country and solve the issue of Kashmir once and for all. After serving three innings as the Chief Minister Shekhawat switched over to the national politics and with the help of his senior friends in the BJP became the Vice President. But he totally miscalculated on numbers when he contested against Pratibha Patil for the presidential election that he lost badly.

            The kidnapping of the late Union Minister and a tall figure among the Jat leaders of the state Ram Niwas Mirdha’s son Rajendra Mirdha from his Azad marg residence at C Scheme in Jaipur by a group led by the noted Khalistani Liberation Force leader Navdeep Singh Kadiayan on Feberuary 17,1996 came as a big challenge to Bhairon Singh shekhawat as the Chief Minister.

            But Shekhawat took the abduction of Rajendra as a personal challenge. This author could see how late Shekhawat over telephone would convince late Ram Niwas Mirdha assuring him that his son would return safe. KN Thakur was the DGP then and Shekhawat would old meetings with the security and itelligence officials. After receiving first hand information from various sources Shekhawat insisted that the kidnappers were hiding in Jaipur. Shekhawat has served for a few years as a cop in Sikar police and had the typical police instinct in him. Shekhawat proved himself right and Kadiyana with his accomplice Daya Singh Lahoriya, a woman and a young boy was hiding at Jaipur with Rajendra Mirdha.

            There was an encounter when kadiyan was killed. Shekhawat was on the spot within half an hour and went to see the body of the dead Khalistani commando. His wrist watch was still ticking, but the life had gone out of his body. Shekhawat saluted the “martyred” Sikh leader and ordered rewards for the cops.

 By Prakash Bhandari

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