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Mohan Lal Sukhadia was the first to revolt as a youth leader

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Prakash Bhandari: The over a century-old political outfit-Indian National Congress that is facing a leadership crisis after the party performed miserably in the Lok Sabha elections last year has witnessed a simmering resentment among its young cadre. Jyotiraditya Scindia quit the Congress to join the BJP by making his discontent public that resulted in the fall of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh.

When Jyotiraditya parted from the Congress to join the saffron brigade (BJP), an outfit in which his mother was the “founding mother”, Sachin Pilot who has become the icon of the youth brigade in the Congress tweeted “Unfortunate to see @JM_Scindia parting ways with @INCIndia. I wish things could have been resolved collaboratively within the party,”

But, Pilot who talked of collaborative efforts to get the crisis resolved in the case of Scindia became unrelenting in his own affair. All the collaborative efforts to convince Sachin initiated by the senior leaders failed that caused the political crisis. Scindia bowed out of the Congress when he did not get importance in the Kamal Nath government and joined the BJP.

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But in the case of Sachin, he has categorically stated that he was certainly not joining the BJP. But beyond this, he did not disclose his plans. While Scindia became a member of the Rajya Sabha in the bargain, Sachin’s future looked uncertain and bleak.

It was Congress and congress won the fight for freedom and the party became a political force after Independence and it established its governments in various states of the country. Only the Communists and later some regional parties like CN Annadurai’s DMK could offer a semblance of resistance to the Congress in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal.

After the 1965 war against Pakistan, the Congress under the leadership of Indira Gandhi which was expecting to become stronger on the slogan of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” was surprised to see its popularity dwindling. Congress lost its citadel more in rural areas than in the urban.

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After the 1967 general elections, the Congress’ authority was challenged in the Hindi speaking states that saw the party witnessing a dwindling electoral fortune with the emergence of the Sanyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) that established its government replacing the Congress.

The sudden fall in its popularity forced the senior leaders of the party to evaluate what causes of electoral losses. An All India Congress Committee (AICC) session was held in June 1967 in New Delhi to examine the reasons behind the Congress’ electoral debacles. After evaluating the election results, the finding was that ‘the slow and tardy progress towards the goal of socialism was the cause of the setback’.

In this backdrop, Chandra Shekhar and his friends used the opportunity at the AICC session to pressurise the Congress leadership to take up progressive policies and push for drastic action to bring about fundamental, social and economic changes. This pressure group was the brainchild of Indira Gandhi herself.

At this AICC session, some young radicals in Congress formed a group that was nicknamed ‘Ginger Group’. It provided substantial support to Indira Gandhi against the Old Guards in the party. This group which was called the Yong Turks targeted then finance minister Morarji Desai, S Nijalingappa, SK Patil and Atulya Ghosh. Led by the fire-brand Chandrashekhar, the Young Turks demanded an overhaul in the Congress organisational set up to revive the fortune of the party.

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It was Chandra Shekhar and his ex-Lohiaites associates who managed to revive the Ginger Group from being a non-controversial debating society into a robust and confrontational group that came to be popularly known as the ‘Young Turks’.

Chandra Shekhar challenged the old guards and the party saw the internal power struggle and a threat to the party’s unity and the changes in the policy orientation that resulted in the rift between the old guards and the young. The Young Turks guided by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi demanded an epochal change and bring in a new socialist order with a view to benefiting the poor and the downtrodden.

They demanded the nationalisation of all the commercial banks, the abolition of princely privileges, and the purging of the reactionary elements from the party. During the Bangalore session of the AICC, Indira Gandhi presented her own note on the economic policy which was dubbed as the “carbon copy” of Chandrashekhar’s plan. Indira Gandhi was backed by both Kamraj and YB Chavan and this was the first confrontation between the old guards and the young Turks.

The battle lines between Indira Gandhi and the Syndicate were drawn, based on proposed economic policies so that Indira Gandhi could portray her intra-party rivals as anti-progressive, status-quoists, self-serving and servile to certain corporate interests. The die was cast and the Congress Party saw a split. Thus it was Indira Gandhi, who with the help of the Young Turks was instrumental in creating a rift between the old guards and the young.

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A biography of late Chandrashekhar, who himself fulfilled his own ambition to become the Prime Minister later revealed how Indira Gandhi used the Young Turks to press her A biography of late Chandrashekhar, who himself fulfilled his own ambition to become the Prime Minister later revealed how Indira Gandhi used the Young Turks to press her own agenda that led to historic decisions to nationalise the banks and also the abolition of the privy purses. All this went to describe Indira Gandhi as the new champion of bringing in socialistic reforms in the country.

In light of the present political crisis in Rajasthan, which is nothing but a battle between the old and the new guards, Rajasthan’s political history suggests that Rajasthan was the first state where the new young brigade took up the challenge to confront the old guards after the first general election in 1952.

After the integration of the princely states in Rajasthan, Heera Lal Shastri became the first chief minister of Rajasthan after the formation of the state in 1949, but he did not last long and later in 1951 Jai Narayan Vyas, a respected and a tall leader from the Marwar region, was made the chief minister of the interim government in 1951. Mohan Lal Sukhadia, who was from Udaipur and was just 35 years old then, was inducted in the Vyas government as a Cabinet minister along with Tika Ram Paliwal and others.

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Senior journalist and former managing editor of Rajasthan Patrika Vijay Bhandari remembers, “However, in the first-ever general election, Jai Narayan Vyas as the chief minister lost the Vidhan Sabha elections following which Paliwal was made the chief minister. But later, on the insistence of the party’s central leadership, Vyas was made to contest a by-election and he was elected to become a member of the Vidhan Sabha. The Central leadership forced Paliwal to resign as chief minister and make way for Vyas as the chief minister again. Paliwal was 45 and younger to Vyas, who was 53. A younger Paliwal was hurt as he was dethroned by Vyas. So, he refused the offer to become a minister, but after the great intervention of the Central leadership, he agreed to become the deputy chief minister like Sachin Pilot.”

“Vyas kept away Mathura Das Mathur and a prominent Jat leader Kumbha Ram Arya from the Cabinet. Later, Paliwal along with other cabinet colleagues opposed Vyas and Paliwal resigned as the deputy chief minister. Vyas although faced problems and could barely run a government facing opposition from his younger cabinet colleague. It was the first clash that was witnessed between the old guard and the new. The situation got worse and once in Vidhan Sabha, the government barely managed to save itself by a single vote. There was an open revolt against Vyas and he lost control of his Cabinet.”.

Vyas, on the other hand, wanted to treat his adversaries a lesson by inducting some MLAs who were from the opposition into the Congress party. After elections in 1952, 22 members of Ram Rajya Parishad, a political party of the former feudal lords belonging mostly to the Jodhpur region joined the Congress Party on the persuasion of Jai Narayan Vyas. However, Congress workers objected to his decision as most of the Ram Rajya Parishad members were former zamindars and believed this would affect ongoing land reforms in the state.

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This move was clearly to terrify his ministers in the Cabinet. The ministers could read his designs and there was an open revolt against Vyas so much so that he lost the confidence of all his ministers. The Jats also fell apart and Mathura Das Mathur started a campaign against Vyas, who like him also belonged to Jodhpur. An irked Mathur, having been ignored by Vyas and not given a berth in the Cabinet, started a campaign against Vyas.

Amidst the growing resentment against Jai Narayan Vyas, Mohan Lal Sukhadia was among the young firebrand minister, who opposed this induction and his Cabinet colleagues and other senior party functionaries were impressed with Sukhadia’s leadership. And a 38-year-old emerged as a tall leader to oppose Vyas.

The issue came before Congress high command in Delhi and the high command after assessing the situation found that Vyas was in a minority. On July 24, 1954, Congress leaders and ministers went to the residence of the PCC chief Manakya Lal Verma and told him that as the high command wants Vyas to seek vote of confidence, they have decided to put up young Sukhadia as their candidate against Vyas. After initial reluctance, Verma agreed on Sukhadia’s candidature.

Veteran Jai Narayan Vyas was directly pitched against his own revenue minister of his own Cabinet. It was a high drama that was unseen in the political history of the country in which a chief minister was forced to contest against his own minister. The outcome would see Vyas remaining as the chief minister and in case Sukhadia won, he would become the chief minister. Sukhadia defeated Vyas by eight votes (59-51) to become the youngest chief minister of India. He continued on this post for record-making 17 years (13 Nov 1954 – 8 July 1971). His record of longest-serving chief minister in Indian political history remained untouched until West Bengal’s Jyoti Basu surpassed it in 1994.

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Sukhadia after the victory was stunned and in the evening he went to the residence of the chief minister and touched his feet and asked him to forgive him.

Vyas left his official residence and shifted to a hotel owned by his friend and the next day took a tonga and left Jaipur for his hometown Jodhpur. In 1956, he became the President of the Pradesh Congress and later he became a member of the Rajya Sabha. He passed away in 1963.

Vyas left his official residence and shifted to a hotel owned by his friend and the next day took a tonga and left Jaipur for his hometown Jodhpur. In 1956, he became the President of the Pradesh Congress and later he became a member of the Rajya Sabha. He passed away in 1963.

Exactly 66 years later, Sachin at 42 has done the same what Sukhadia did at 38. While Sachin’s rival Ashok Gehlot is 69, Sukhadia’s rival Vyas was 55 then.

Senior journalist Shubhabrata Bhattacharya, who was then the resident editor of the Jaipur edition of The Times of India reminisces “In mid-eighties, as Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president, Ashok Gehlot cited youth power to successfully oust sexagenarian chief minister Harideo Joshi in 1988. Thirty-two years later, sexagenarian CM Ashok Gehlot is striving to thwart charge of the youth brigade led by 42-year-old Sachin Pilot. His long experience as an organisational leader has helped Gehlot withstand the sophomoric assault. Never before a state party president been sacked for alleged anti-party activity. And that shows the Machiavellianism of Ashok Gehlot.”

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Bhattacharya remembered how as a young PCC chief Ashok Gehlot did not see eye-to-eye with CM Harideo Joshi in 1987. Rajasthan had seen four continuous years of drought and Central assistance was of paramount importance for the state. In those days, Punjab politicians, Balram Jakhar and Buta Singh, who could not reach the Lok Sabha from their home turf, which was under insurgency, were accommodated from Jalore and Sikar, respectively.

Sachin’s father, Rajesh Pilot, who was essentially from UP, had chosen Dausa in Rajasthan as his seat. These powerful Central leaders were unhappy with Harideo Joshi. Ashok Gehlot, who also was MP, utilised the angst of the Central ministers to unleash a campaign against Joshi. It was alleged that Central funds for drought relief were unutilised. This created a double whammy for Joshi—his plea for extra funding was questioned by the Centre, which was convinced by the Jakhar-Buta-Pilot-Gehlot complaints. A former CM, Shiv Charan Mathur, who had been removed in January 1985 after a police firing in Bharatpur, emerged as the choice of the dissidents against Joshi.

“In December 1987, Rajiv Gandhi decided to hold a meeting of the Union Cabinet at Sariska Tiger reserve near Alwar in Rajasthan. It was supposed to be an “austere affair”. CM Harideo Joshi took up quarters at the Forest Bungalow nearby. The vehicles of the state officials deputed for the bandobust were parked at clearing behind the forest bungalow. As the prime minister wanted “austerity”, the vehicles were kept away from his sight. Strangely, as Rajiv Gandhi drove his vehicle to reach Sariska (he preferred to drive), a policeman wrongly signalled him and he drove into the parking lot. He lost his cool and gave a piece of mind to Joshi. (In 1982, he had similarly upbraided Andhra Pradesh CM, T Anjiah in Hyderabad airport—the incident which gave rise to NT Rama Rao floating TDP to assert Telugu pride.)” thus remembered Bhattacharya.

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The sacking of Joshi became imminent thereafter. He was replaced by Mathur in January 1988. Joshi was sent as Governor to Assam. After the Lok Sabha defeat in November 1989, Rajiv Gandhi, perhaps realising the fallacy of the earlier move, restored Joshi as CM in Jaipur for the residual term of the Vidhan Sabha.

All these show the role of Gehlot as a young leader to make political space for himself and he went on to become the third time chief Minister of Rajasthan.