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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 45, Dated 10 Nov 2012

    ‘Un-success seemed to suit these three’

    • Chakravarti Rajagopalachari • Jayaprakash Narayan • Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

    By Gopalkrishna Gandhi

    Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

    TWO STRONG men and one unusual woman have influenced my ‘approach to life and work’— Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, Jayaprakash Narayan and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. CR by his preparedness to face isolation, JP by his courage to live with frustration and Kamaladevi, bangled from elbow to wrist, by knowing both those conditions and yet carrying on regardless. And all three by the fibre of their intellect, the weave of their conscience and the folds of their personal and public lives.

    None of the three changed their views, gave up any conviction or altered plans to become more acceptable or less inconvenient. They did nothing to court success.

    On the contrary.

    Success, in fact, was alien to their experience of life. And so, it was foreign to their belief systems and remained irrelevant to their working methods.

    For that matter, I wonder what they would have done with success had it come to them. They would have been befuddled by it, like a child 100 years ago might have been by an iPod. Or one on our Sentinel Islands in the Andamans might be, even today, by a frisbee washed up on the shore.

    Un-success seemed almost to suit those three, like morose wordiness suited Hamlet and gloomy colours became the very thing for Tagore’s paintings.

    CR’s public life spanned close to 75 years. About 45 of these were spent in the struggle for Independence, five years were spent in public office — as Union Minister, Governor, Governor General, Chief Minister — and 20 in being a dissenter and opposition leader from the Right. So, for nearly 70 years, CR agitated with his rapier wit and stunning guts, first for swaraj and then for su-raj.

    JP’s political life extended to over half a century, of which two-fifths were spent in the freedom struggle and three-fifths in the struggle for human dignity, human rights and human solutions for the agonies of India, from the Left. He did not hold public office for even a single day, though destiny positioned him just where the revolving door of India’s prime ministership paused for him to enter its swirl. In vain.

    Kamaladevi was politics’ sakhi for over 60 years. For a quarter of a century she was, after Sarojini Naidu (her sister-in-law), the best known woman freedom fighter, respected alike for her championing of gender rights and that of India’s crafts-persons, theatre-persons and artists. That, in a struggle that was overwhelmingly political and singularly prosaic, took some doing. Nehru offered her a place in the first council of ministers, but Kamaladevi’s priorities lay elsewhere. Nehru let her be.

    The struggle for freedom after Tilak had been a sky with a single sun, Mohandas Gandhi. After that sun descended abruptly one winter dusk on Albuquerque Road, New Delhi, night descended. And a bespangled sky came into inky view with a great and effulgent moon at its centre, Nehru.

    CR, JP and Kamaladevi, with a few, very few, of their stature, were lodestars on that new nighttime sky. They belonged to that sky, but borrowed their light directly from the sun that had set, not from its light recumbent on the moon.

    Barring Ambedkar, who was an asterism on his own, the rest were shooting stars of varying brightness, meteors of short or long trajectories, comets with or without tails. Some, just the dust of these.

    So why did these three influence me?

    For me, fresh out of school and college, politics seemed deceitful, with hypocrisy and self-advancement being its signature. And a desire to ‘do something’, ‘get into it’, was as strong as it is among those in that stage of life.

    ‘CR and Kamaladevi never asked me to take to politics. But JP wanted me to join him’

    Of the three — and I knew all three well — CR and Kamaladevi did not ask me to take to politics or even to what may be called ‘public life’. CR encouraged me, as a grandfather may be expected to, to seek larger satisfactions than being a diligent civil servant. Journalism or a career in the law were in his view good in themselves, but a person must ‘experience life’ before writing about it or arguing in a court, and that experience of life, he said, comes through service as an administrator. “You can always give that up and take up other things later.”

    Kamaladevi did not advise. She stayed silent, and advised by her silences and her smiles, and by giving you tangible things to do like helping Indian shepherds straying into Pakistan to return home, or assisting a girl who has had acid thrown on her torso by a rejected man. Life, with Kamaladevi, was about doing the needed thing, now.

    JP, on the other hand, asked me to join him. He was then in Nagaland, working for an alternative, a peaceful, constitutional alternative, with the Reverend Michael Scott, to separation from India. I did not heed his advice, that from my grandfather being stronger as advice-cum-instruction. Had I joined JP, I do not know how my inconsequential future would have been shaped. I would have stayed with him, through his work beyond Nagaland, in Kashmir, with the dacoits of Madhya Pradesh, with the movement against corruption in Gujarat and Bihar and beyond. I can imagine myself among those who raised the slogan: Andhere mein ek prakash — Jayaprakash, Jayaprakash…’

    I followed CR’s, not JP’s advice. When I sent him a picture of myself and my ‘batch’ in the IAS training course, CR wrote: “It was an infinite pleasure to see the happy faces of the young administrators gathered together,” adding, “The pleasure would have been complete if I could bring myself to foresee a happy and successful administration.”

    All three — CR, JP and Kamaladevi — would be unhappy people in today’s India. And their unhappiness would include disappointment in the likes of me. For not having shared their concerns in their defining intensities, and for not learning anything near enough from their courage. Above all, for placing far too much store by the charlatan called success.

    Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the governor of West Bengal (2004-09). A literature graduate from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, he was a member of the IAS. He served as the Secretary of the then President of India, KR Narayanan, and as the High Commissioner to South Africa and Sri Lanka. He is currently the president of the governing body of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, and of the Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai. He is the grandson of Mohandas K Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari

    Photo: M Sakthivel


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    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 45, Dated 10 Nov 2012



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