Dec. 25, 2009
This is the day 40 years back when the giant finally slept after a tumultuous 94 years of struggle against British rule and Indian misrule! Quite a guy, this Rajagopalachari! Look at what he does as an octogenarian.
In 1959 (aged 81), he starts the all-India ‘Swatantra party’ in opposition to beloved friend Jawaharlal’s Congress. An old but dauntless man poking his walking stick at the giant-wheel of Congress corruption and Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘dreamy’ acceptance of Socialist doctrine.
Swatantra would be a party for free market economy and against ‘permit and licence quota raj’ , the mother of all corruptions in free India, ‘in which money, unlike water, flows upwards’!
Rajaji’s views would find application in India after three decades. No wonder he was famous for gazing into the future!
Comparably, that was a local Rakshasha. He finds an international demon in the atom bomb and campaigns against it with the enthusiasm of a student activist. More or less a 19th century man (he was born in 1878), the 20th and 21st century’s apocalyptic concerns stir up a ‘crusading enthusiam’ in his ageless breast!
US president John F. Kennedy hears the elderly ‘civil resister’ with rapt attention as he argues the case against the A-bomb. (The visiting elder, on his part, is simply astounded by the US president’s complete informality! At first he has not realized that the young man who has come in is Kennedy, and asks, ‘Am I in the presence of the President of the United States’!).
India’s envoy to the US, B.K. Nehru, who was present with Rajaji and Kennedy, would later write in his reminiscences, that it was one the best argued cases he had ever heard. ‘‘I have had the good fortune of being present when great men have argued their points of view with each other…But I have seldom seen a case presented with such lucidity of argument, such economy of speech, such felicity of language, such gentleness of manner, and such command of facts as Rajaji displayed that day’’.
It was not an idealistic shot at peace from a political pontiff…it was an argument for sanity, the rights of other nations and universal well-being without endangering the United States own interests, given the facts of the case. And the man arguing of behalf of the world was a man of 83 and a half summers!
After the stop at White House, the old man makes a beeline to the Vatican for a meeting with the Pope. It turns out that his talks with the Pope are not barren; later there is a papal circular (encyclical) against nuclear tests.
In Madras, for the 1962 general elections, the Swatantra party gives tacit support to the DMK, the same party that had carried out a relentless attack against Rajaji in 1954 for his new educational scheme! Rajaji campaigns with Anna, and for the first time since independence paves the way for a credible opposition in the state : the DMK with 50 seats and the Swantantra with eight.
In 1965, never afraid of contradictions, the 87-year-old campaigner fights shoulder to shoulder with the Kazhagamites against Hindi imposition. He had been the first to impose Hindi back in the late thirties when premier of Madras presidency. But then there was no fear or question of northern domination and southerners becoming second class citizens. All Indians were anyhow second class under the British!
Coming out from near death in August 1966, Rajaji and Anna engineer a DMK led front to victory in March 1967. Long before Mayavati thought of a Brahman-Dalit front, Rajaji is implementing a Brahmin-non-Brahmin grouping ! Outgoing Congress chief minister Bhaktavatsalam sees a ‘new virus sweeping the state’, while Rajaji sees a ‘burst of political health’ . Who is right?
When Anna dies within a year after a fight with cancer, nonagenarian Rajaji is at the Marina mouring him with a frozen heart, for ‘the people of Tamil Nadu have lost their right arm’.
When the Congress splits in 1969, and the Karunanidhi led DMK joins Indira, Rajaji is back with his long-time Congress rival Kamaraj, with the ‘Save Democracy’ slogan, at the age of 91! How times change, and venerable political pandits are made to look like errant schoolboys! But the old man has in view the bigger picture of a dictatorial Congress’s defeat, and plods on.
The figure of the enemy has got blurred, the battle lines seem fuzzy…but the bow is in one’s hands, and the arrow has been aimed…one musn’t dither! Hark the command of the Geethacharya!
When the Karunanidhi government is returned victorious after the 1971 mid term polls, prohibition is shown the door. The old man makes a visit in ‘uncommonly heavy rains’ to Gopalapuram. Were the rains a prophecy of the coming decades when every street corner would have a government run liquor store and every street would boast of a drunkard lying on the pavement?
The DMK split in October 1972 : MGR starts his own Kazhagam after being expelled. Rajaji is on the dot : ‘The DMK will be the loser in this business’. (Perhaps even he would not have imagined that the ‘business’ itself would be lost to the DMK for 13 long years).
The end come, on Dec. 25, at the very hour at which I am typing these words. The old lieutenant turned political foe, EVR, who was at the hospital, turns up the next day too at the Triplicane cremation. He sits in his wheel-chair mulling god knows over what!
It is a life of ceaseless action…much of it described here carried out after finishing the translation of the Ramayana, which he considered his greatest contribution to society. He translated the Mahabharata too, and bravely trudged on in the Kurukshetra of politics, where truth seldom wins. But dharma has to plod on, even if on one leg.
Nobody dared question his spotless honesty and integrity, though in the murky swamps of caste politics many had gotten away with accusing him of being casteist. It was the bitterest cup he ever drank.
(Rajmohan Gandhi’s ‘Rajaji – A Life’ is a meticulously chronicled work on Rajaji. It has been my companion for quite some time. Dr. H.V.Hande’s short Tamil biography ‘Mootharignar Rajaji’ is also a useful book…Many publications on Rajaji occupy a separate shelf in my personal library)
Picture – Courtesy Indian Express – Now…The New Indian Express .