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Chandra Shekhar

A socialist, Chandrashekhar began his political career in 1951 and was, over the years, associated with the Praja Socialist Party, Congress and different Janata groups, including the Samajwadi Janata Party of which he was the lone ranger in the Lok Sabha. He was the fourth non-Congress prime minister, after Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and VP. Singh. He was President of the Janata Party from 1977 to 1988.

Shri Chandra Shekhar was born on July 1, 1927, in a farmer's family in village Ibrahimpatti in District Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. Chandra Shekhar was known as a firebrand idealist during his student days. Shri Chandra Shekhar was attracted to politics from his student days and was known as a fire-brand idealist with revolutionary fervor. At Allahabad University, he joined the socialist movement in the early 1950s. After his Master's Degree in Political Science from Allahabad University (1950-51), he joined the Socialist Movement. He had the privilege of having been associated very closely with Acharya Narendra Dev. He was elected Secretary of the District Praja Socialist Party, Ballia. Within a year, he was elected Joint Secretary of the U.P. State Praja Socialist Party. In 1955-56 he took over as General Secretary of the U.P., State Praja Socialist Party.

He was elected to Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh in 1962 on a Praja Socialist Party (PSP) ticket. He was a Member of Parliament since 1962 except for a brief period from 1984 to 1989. From 1977 onwards, he won all Lok Sabha elections from Ballia, except in 1984. In 1989 he successfully contested both from his home constituency, Ballia, and the adjoining Maharajganj constituency in Bihar. He vacated the latter. He joined the Indian National Congress in January 1965. In 1967 he was elected General Secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party. As a Member of Parliament he made a mark by taking keen interest in espousing the cause of the downtrodden and pleading for policies for rapid social change. In this context, when he attacked the disproportionate growth of monopoly houses with State patronage, he came in conflict with the centers of power.

He came to be as 'Young Turk' leader for his conviction, courage and integrity in the fight against vested interested. Starting his political career as a socialist disciple of Acharya Narendra Dev, Chandra Shekhar joined the Congress party in 1964 but fell out with Indira Gandhi over her personality-oriented politics. Named the "Young Turk" in the Congress, Chandra Shekhar expressed his sympathies with Jayaprakash Narayan who was brewing a movement against Indira.

He founded and edited YOUNG INDIAN, a weekly published from Delhi in 1969. Its editorial had the distinction of being among the most quoted ones of the time. During the Emergency (June 1975 to March 1977) YOUNG INDIAN had to be closed down. It resumed regular publication in February 1989.

When Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975, he was arrested under Maintenance of Internal Security Act inspite of the fact that he was a member of the Central Election Committee and Working Committee, top bodies of the Indian National Congress. Shri Chandra Sekhar was among the few individuals in the then ruling party who was imprisoned during the Emergency. His diary, written in Hindi while undergoing imprisonment during the Emergency period, was later published under the title 'Meri Jail Diary'. A well-known compilation of his writings is 'Dynamics of Social Change'.

He became the first president of Janata Party in 1977, when it was formed by the merger of several non-Congress parties. When the Janata Party splintered away, he continued to be president of the original, until 1989, when it was merged with several other non-Congress parties to form the Janata Dal. Shri Chandra Shekhar undertook a marathon walk (Padayatra) through the country from Kanyakumari in the deep South to Rajghat (Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi) in New Delhi covering a distance of nearly 4260 kms from January 6, 1983 to June 25, 1983. The Padayatra was undertaken to renew rapport with the masses and to understand their pressing problems. Chandra Shekhar's Bharat Yatra, the marathon walk from Kanyakumari to Delhi in 1983, highlighted the problems of rural India, and he established centres in various parts in memory of that. He established some fifteen Bharat Yatra Centres in various parts of the country including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to train social and political workers for mass education and grassroot work in backward pockets of the country.

He always rejected the politics of power and opted for the politics of commitment to democratic values and social change. Shri Chandra Sekhar always stood against politics of personalities and has favored politics of ideology and social change. This propelled him more towards Shri Jayaprakash Narayan and his idealist view of life during the turbulant days of 1973-75. He soon became a focal point of dissent within the Congress Party.

In personal relationships, he was 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 parties and ideological divides. When Shri Chandra Shekhar was the Prime Minister, he found a way to make both the sides involved in the Ayodhya tangle, sit across the table and talk.

Popularly called 'adhakshji' for his leadership qualities, Chandrashekhar was a man of many parts and perhaps as many contradictions; he was respected and ridiculed but never dismissed. He revolted against Indira's authoritarian style of functioning but did not hesitate to flout established norms himself. Unmindful of the boost it would give criminals, he adopted mafia don Surajdeo Singh as a friend. He was praised for his six-month 'padyatra' in 1983 but slammed for acquiring land for his Bharat Yatra Kendras.

Chandrashekhar never liked slogans like 'zindabad' raised in his name. He used to snub listeners if, during his election rallies, they interrupted his speech with slogan shouting. But no one minded. The people loved him for his out-spoken and straightforward attitude. v Chandrashekhar was not one of those leaders who use their positions to grossly pamper their own constituencies. When asked about the slow pace of development in Ballia, he would reply: "I am not here to clean drains and build roads. I am busy with the larger issues concerning the Indian public." This attitude did not change even when he became prime minister. "I am the prime minister of India, and have to look after the whole country" he would say.

Despite the ferocious political battles that he fought, Chandra Shekhar maintained excellent personal rapport with his opponents, including V P Singh. He had a special relation with the Nehru family until the last day, which was not severed even after his arrest by Indira Gandhi. Madhu Limaye captured the strange mix of ambition and idealism in Chandra Shekhar as follows. "Chandra Shekhar was intelligent and had a good understanding of issues... While he was not completely free from Thakurvad, the key to understanding Chandra Shekhar's actions was his subjective approach to men and politics... for his friends, he would do any thing." For instance, Chandra Shekhar never expelled from his inner circle Suraj Deo Singh, the coal mafia don of Bihar who was killed in 1991.

After the 1989 election, the Janata Dal was in a position to form the government and Chandra Shekhar believed the post of prime minister was naturally his. But Haryana strongman Devi Lal and V P Singh cut a deal that made the latter the prime minister. After 11-months, Chandra Shekhar used the same Devi Lal to bring down V P Singh, split JD, floated his Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP) and became prime minister with the support of Congress. It was an ambition he had as early as 1977. In 1979 he wrote to JP: "If Shri (Morarji) Desai voluntarily decides to relinquish his post, I will contest the Janata Parliamentary Party leader's election." As it happened, it was Charan Singh who replaced Desai. Making no secret of his ambition to be prime minister, Chandrashekhar split the Janata Dal after the VP. Singh government fell and formed a government that was propped up by Rajiv Gandhi. But he refused to be patronised, resigning when the Congress accused him of spying on Rajiv.

As Prime Minister for a short duration, his statesmanship was well in play. He was very close to finding long-lasting solutions for three of our most important problems-Kashmir, Ayodhya and Punjab. He went to Mali to attend the SAARC conference and cultivated such a personal rapport with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawas Sharif that it became useful in a moment of crisis. A true statesman, he understood the problems of the nation and knew the solutions.

During his short tenure as Prime Minister, the country's foreign exchange reserves dipped to dangerous levels that forced the government to pledge gold at the international market. Neither the march of time nor the vagaries of politics could temper the image of the angry (young) man Chandrashekhar first created for himself as a member of Indira Gandhi's Congress in the Sixties and Seventies. Even his short stint as prime minister in 1990-1991 against the backdrop of the 'mandal' and 'mandir' agitations, and the oil crisis could not soften that image.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:42:07 ZULU