Friday, February 13, 2009

Obituary: Lakhiram Agrawal

इसका हिंदी अनुवाद यहाँ पढ़ें.
The Quiet Passage of An Era
I’ve often wondered if Lakhiram Agrawal, the Doyen of Chhattisgarh’s ruling party, died contended? When I last called on him at his Kharsia residence almost two years ago (2007), he wasn’t exactly happy. Part of this unhappiness, I presume, had to do with his son, Amar Agrawal’s recent ouster from the state Cabinet (I had the distinct feeling that he had not been consulted in the matter); but for the most part, it had to do with the way things had turned out not just with his party in Chhattisgarh- ‘the Congressification of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)’, after all, is a common lament to be found in contemporary RSS-polemic, most famously in LK Advani’s autobiography and with increasing regularity, in the editorials of its monthly mouthpiece, The Organizer- but also with the State of Politics in India.

We weren’t alone in that meeting. On a previous occasion that I had met him in 2003, the Press had a field day speculating on what was discussed. This had caused great embarrassment to both of us, especially since political machinations were the last thing on the agenda in what was an extremely informal tête-à-tête. This time, therefore, I invited the Press to be present at the meeting. During the course of our rather candid conversation, he created quite a stir by using the soubriquet ‘Aurangzeb’ (conveniently ignoring the numerous Hindu instances of patricide) to describe some of the leaders of the present state administration. (Funnily enough, nobody wrote a word about this, bolstering my belief that realpolitik, if conducted openly and frankly rather than surreptitiously and duplicitously, isn’t such a bad thing.) At the time- I believe it was just after the Congress’ victory in the Kota bye-election- he wasn’t very confident of the Government coming back to power. For this he blamed, more than anything else, the lack of respect today’s youth have for the old. It wasn’t very difficult to read the meaning of what he said.

The Question that begs to be asked then is this: did his party- the one he almost single-handedly built from scratch against all conceivable odds and facing the full brunt of the then formidable Congress machinery, often traveling on a rickety jeep loaned to him by the Rajmata of Gwalior to remote corners of (the then undivided) Madhya Pradesh along with his longtime companion, Kushabhau Thakre in the hope of winning fresh recruits to forge the Jan Sangh-BJP’s superstructure, so to speak- abandon him in the end?

He seemed to think so: but the abandonment was only partly personal; it was ideological. Like most of his right-wing compatriots, he had begun his long, often arduous, journey hoping to create an alternative to what they believed to be the dynastic-sycophantic and ultimately redundant culture of the Congress. In this, they- he- succeeded superbly; but it was a pyrrhic victory. The alternative that has come into being- that governs today’s Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh- is at best, another, more grotesque, version of that same culture it sought so desperately to replace.

Three Illustrations on the Nature of Power
In this context, Prof. Tan Chung’s perceptive assessment of Chairman Mao’s Revolution comes to mind: analyzing the composition of pre- and post-revolutionary Chinese polities, he found that those running the country as newly-consecrated members of the Politburo were almost exactly the same set of people from the same families that supplied Mandarins to the deposed Manchu Emperors.

Closer home, I recall a friend of my father’s showing me a set of pictures depicting the welcome of various chief ministers to Raipur. At first glance, there appeared to be nothing particularly remarkable about those grainy-yellowing photographs. On closer inspection, I discovered that only the chief minister’s face had changed; everybody around him was exactly the same, offering almost exactly the same poses of energetic supplication. In the photographs, taken over the course of almost two decades, it appeared that this historic party of perpetual welcomers had stoically, even magically, refused to age.

In defense of this ever-youthful breed, I offer the following story narrated to me by the son of a former chief minister of Haryana: on his first morning walk upon assuming office, his father was joined by a certain man who seemed to know what he wanted even before he knew it himself; naturally, over the course of his tenure, this newfound companionship grew into a deep friendship; they became, to use his own word, inseparable. Then, when he fell out of office, there was not one word from this man. Years passed, and he eventually made it back to power. Once again, on his morning walk, he discovered this man suddenly bestride him. Distraught but also bemused, he said to him, “I thought we were very good friends. Where did you go for these many years?” “Go?” the man innocently asked.

“I didn’t go anywhere, Huzoor. It was you who went.”

The Uneasy Patriarch
The above three illustrations illuminate the true nature of power; more precisely, its God-like capacity to cast those in it in its own image. Alas, the BJP, when it did finally come into power, could not escape the bewitching allure of its entrapments. For instance, in many ways, the late Pramod Mahajan became more ‘Congressi’ than any Congressman alive: while the latter consider Power as an Art, Mr. Mahajan developed it into a sophisticated Science, and in the process, transformed forever the way politics is conducted in the country. (The BJP incidentally owes a lot to this transformation for its comeback in Chhattisgarh.)

Mr. Agrawal saw it only too well: in more tangible terms, this implied the sidelining of the Old Guard- and also, the Old Methods & Ideas of RSS Sarsanghachalaks, Keshava Hedgewar and Madhav Golwalkar- by those sworn-in as ministers in recently formed BJP-led governments all over India (or what contemporary political commentators term as the rift between the Sangh & the BJP). His son, he could scarcely forget, was also a minister.

This last aspect, in particular, troubled him: he told me once that whenever his son’s name was discussed as a prospective candidate at party meetings, he quietly left the room so as not to influence the decision in any way. If his son was to be given his party’s ticket, it had to be solely on the basis of merit; not ties of blood. Clearly, he didn’t want to be accused of being a closeted-dynast. After all, his life’s work had meant so much more than the mere aggrandizement of his progeny. It was as if he wanted to proclaim: “Let no one say, I did it all for my sons.”

His apprehensions in this case were, in my opinion, totally unfounded. In fact, only one of his sons entered politics, winning a string of elections from a constituency where his father had very little influence and which was until then considered a Congress bastion. The others continue with his family’s tobacco business. If at all his ‘family’ benefited from his life’s work, it was in the largest sense of the word: the sense in which the RSS ideologues have defined it as the “Sangh Parivar”: “the Sangh,” pontificated Mr. Golwalkar in his seminal work We Or Our Nationhood Defined, “is not an organization within society.” “It is the organization of society itself.”

Mr. Lakhiram Agrawal ought to have, by right, remained the undisputed Patriarch of this all-encompassing Parivar in Chhattisgarh. After all, had it not been for those endless journeys to the back of beyond- Jashpur, for instance, where he relentlessly kept egging a young prince, Dilip Singh Judeo to ‘convert’ from Congress; or to Kawardha, where he impressed upon an equally youthful Ayurvedic physician, Raman Singh, to attend RSS shakhas- there simply wouldn’t be a BJP in government, ever. But for some reason, his protégées kept turning against their mentor.

I witnessed this first-hand when twelve BJP legislators defected to the Congress in late 2001 in what was to be the first- and also, the last- such incident in Indian History. The dominant reason they gave for their defection, shockingly enough, comprised of two words: Lakhiram Agrawal. Quite a few of them complained that despite being party MLAs, he didn’t even care to look down upon them when they touched his feet; this, they said, hurt them no end. When I later told this to Lakhi Uncle (as I called him), he simply laughed. “If that is so,” he said, “then they shouldn’t have bothered to touch my feet.”

Now that I think of it, I believe that what people saw as aloof Arrogance was in fact the Self-respect of a self-made man. In his world, he was clearly under no obligation to reciprocate, or even acknowledge, the obeisance- perhaps he thought of it as nothing more than a phony display of respect; a ruse for obtaining further favors- of those he had, quite literally, called into political existence from out of nowhere. That they- his creatures, really- should expect him to do so was, in his estimation, laughable.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to his point of view. More than anything else, it simply doesn’t make for good politics. As someone who belongs to a family with a fairly long record of doling-out- and in turn, getting- favors, I know only too well that one shouldn’t take them for granted: people, after all, don’t remember the favor; they merely think of it as their God-given right, something they themselves have earned on their own. In not accepting this contemporary value, Mr. Agrawal displayed a naivety not uncommon with men of his generation; and in the process, soured relations with several of his protégées, many of whom are in powerful positions today both within the government and the organization.

A Personal Politician
As for the rest- those of us who weren’t made by, or obligated to, him, for instance- he was courteous to the core, even embarrassingly so. Every time I met him, he always, always addressed me with the honorific “Amit ji” even though he was my father’s longtime colleague in the Rajya Sabha (Council of States); my senior by almost half a century; and my better in every way.

He was also, I believe, a fair critic: he once told me that he thought my father was, in all probability, a better administrator than Arjun Singh, the legendary chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and my father’s earliest mentor; but he also told me that what prevented Papa from becoming really great was his obstinacy to consult others, even those in his Cabinet. Now, I am in no position to say how far this assessment is true of my father’s style of functioning- although the current public opinion, in part fuelled by Mr. Agrawal’s phenomenal propaganda machine, does tend to support this inference- but there is absolutely no denying the sagacity of his advice. After all, the act of consultation is itself significant; it doesn’t matter if it gives rise to consent or not.

In any event, I can’t imagine any other BJP leader of the state making this kind of observation about a political rival, even going to the extent of offering constructive advice to his son to enable a comeback. This is perhaps because Mr. Agrawal didn’t see my father simply as an opponent- a bête noire- to be taken out and destroyed. On the contrary, I imagine he thought of him as a colleague and a friend. Having struggled for the most part of his life, he was not wedded to the machinations of power, which perforce breed the most absurd insecurities in those who wish for nothing more than to cling on to it at any cost.

His world was, therefore, comprised not of do-or-die sort of crafty power plays but of people who even if they didn’t share your point of view, were at any rate, worthy of acquaintanceship. To him, the political never became personal. (To a lesser degree, I see this quality in his son.) Even more, he prized the personal over the political. At his daughter-in-law's funeral last year, he confided to me that after his friend, Kushabhau Thakre’s demise, he didn’t really have the heart to go to Delhi, party meetings or no party meetings: the Ashok Road office, where his party is headquartered at Delhi, reminded him of his late friend especially since the latter- a bachelor wholly committed to his organization- used to live there in a single room, presumably having nowhere else to go.

A man’s life, it is said, can be judged by the people who attend his funeral. Mr. Agrawal held no formal position of power; except as an organizer without compare, he excelled in no particular field; he was neither an academic nor was he an artist. Yet, people from all walks of life- both from within his party and outside as well as those who have nothing to do with politics at all- came from near and far to pay their homage to him; these are people whose lives he had touched and comforted. They came principally because they knew and loved him, personally.

Ideological- or even political- affinity is not a requisite of enduring personal relationships: political enemies can also be personal friends. This is perhaps the most valuable lesson Mr. Agrawal has to offer to politicians of our generation. It is also his most enduring legacy to Chhattisgarh.

6 comments (टिप्पणी):

Hassan Aman Katghora said...

Out of Subject----->>
"Kahan to taye tha charag her ghar ke liye !
Yahan to mayyasar nahin charag ek ghar ke liye !!"


Anonymous said...

First of all above said, Mr Amit your language is far more complicated and lacks the very essense of communicatiion.It really does not need your schlorily words of depiction.

Anonymous said...

Screw the anonymous coward above me.

You are getting better at words and it's a far cry from your archived posts... Keep going!

For once, a balanced and enjoyable read!

-Ashley's lover ;-)

Hitendra said...

A very good post. Your language has become quite easier and understandable. You don't need to worry about that now. But the post was really very good. I don't know if any one from the BJP has written anything for Mr. Aggrawal, atleast not in the blogosphere. I think Mr. Advani's blog (If it is Mr. Advani writing most of the posts) could have mentioned this. Mr. Lakhiram Aggrawal had been synonymous to the organization called BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. His demise is truly a loss to the polity in Chhattisgarh.

MADANLAL said...

good writing, CAME TO KNOW ABOUT LAKHIRAM'S personality, you didn't mentioned his inability to win an election from KHARSIA.

Bhupendra said...

Lakhiramji was a great leader and brilliant organizer with him, Kushanhau Thakare, Rajmata and kaliash Sarang there would have no BJP.

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