Remembering PM Chandrashekhar on his 97th birth Anniversary

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Prof Jasim Mohammad on PM Chandrashekhar Jayanti
Prof Jasim Mohammad on PM Chandrashekhar Jayanti
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Remembering PM Chandrashekhar on his 97th birth Anniversary

The Life and Times of ‘Young Turks’ Chandrashekhar

Remembering Chandrashekhar From the Fields of Ballia to the Halls of Power

By Prof. Jasim Mohammad

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on ‘X’, “These days, even if a small leader does a 10-12 km Padyatra, it is covered on TV. But, why did we not honour the historic Padyatra of Chandrashekhar Ji,”.

Chandrashekhar was a towering figure in Indian politics, known for his socialist ideals, dedication to social justice, and astute political acumen. Born on 17 April, 1927, in Ibrahimpatti, a small village in Uttar Pradesh, Shekhar emerged as one of the most influential leaders in Indian history. His early years were spent in a Rajput farming family, where he developed a deep connection with the agrarian lifestyle. Despite his rural upbringing, Chandra Shekhar pursued higher education with vigor. He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at Satish Chandra P.G. College and later attended Allahabad University, where he obtained a master’s degree in political science in 1950. His time at university was marked by active involvement in student politics, influenced by socialist leader Dr. Ram Manohar.

PM Modi with Ex PM Chandrasekhar
PM Modi with Ex PM Chandrasekhar

His personal life was anchored by his marriage to Duja Devi. The couple had two sons, Pankaj Shekhar Singh and Neeraj Shekhar (Member of Parliament). In honor of his wife, the Duja Devi Degree College was established in 1999 in Ballia district, Uttar Pradesh.

Shekhar’s political journey began during his student days when he became involved in the socialist movement, inspired by the teachings of leaders like Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia. His early activism laid the foundation for a lifelong commitment to championing the cause of the marginalized and oppressed. In 1962, Chandrashekhar entered mainstream politics by winning a seat in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament. Over the years, he became known for his principled stands on various issues, often challenged the established political order and advocated for progressive reforms. As an independent voice, he swiftly became a prominent figure in the Indian Parliament, championed socialist values and social justice throughout his tenure from 1962 to 1977.  His tenure in the Lok Sabha, which began in 1977, marked a new chapter in his political journey. As a member of the lower house of Parliament, he emerged as a vocal critic of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian regime and her declaration of emergency in 1975. Alongside other like-minded leaders, Shekhar formed part of the ‘ginger group’ within the Congress party, advocated for egalitarian policies and democratic reforms. During the tumultuous period of the emergency, Chandra Shekhar’s courage and conviction were put to the test as he, along with other ‘young Turks’, faced arrest and imprisonment for their opposition to the government’s authoritarian measures. His incarceration during the Emergency was a defining moment, after which he ascended to the presidency of the Janata Party. Initially he was lodged in Rohtak jail and then shifted to Chandigarh jail. He was later shifted to Patiala jail. During his incarceration, he penned his popular Jail Diary. On his arrest and imprisonment, he wrote: “This gave me peace of mind. It was not possible for me to agree with all that was happening around me. How could one claim that the country’s future rested on one single individual? So much of sycophancy and such slavishness are beyond me.” While incarcerated, Chandra Shekhar engaged in extensive reading across various subjects including literature, politics, religion, and development. Upon his release, he was shifted to New Delhi on December 30, 1976, where he remained under house arrest. Following this, in 1977, Chandrashekhar joined Janata Party and assumed the role of its President. He concurrently secured a seat in the 6th Lok Sabha. He maintained his position as Party President and was re-elected multiple times. In 1988, he resigned from the presidency of the Janata Party, paved the way for Ajit Singh, amidst a controversial merger with Lok Dal (A). This period was rife with internal party conflicts, with notable figures like George Fernandes and Biju Patnaik opposing the merger, while others like Subramanian Swamy and Yashwant Sinha supported it.

In 1983, he went on a nationwide Padyatra from Kanyakumari to New Delhi and travelled over 4,260 kilometers over six months. This journey spanned approximately 4260 kilometers and took place from January 6, 1983, to June 25, 1983. The sole purpose of the Padyatra was to know the country better, which he claimed gave jitters to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Chandra Shekhar, often hailed as a “Young Turk” for his dynamism and reformist zeal, established the Bharat Yatra Centres and the Bharat Yatra Trust in Bhondsi village, Gurgaon, with a vision to catalyze rural development. The “Bharat Yatra Kendra” and “Bhondsi Ashram,” set up on a sprawling 600-acre panchayat land, became hubs for social and political discourse, attracted personalities like Chandraswami and the international arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. Additionally, Chandra Shekhar established approximately 15 Bharat Yatra centers across various regions of India, including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana. Explaining the importance of Bharat Yatra Centres, Chandrashekhar said:— “We have just made a beginning and this beginning may not be very romantic. It does not catch the eye of the media. But it surely catches the eye of the people in the villages. This is an endeavour which requires lot of patience and endurance. No immediate result can be seen. But in the long run this is the only way to get the willing co-operation of our people and try to create a powerful movement for a new social order”.

On the momentous Bharat Yatra, Chandra Shekhar observed: “For nearly six months till we reached Delhi on 25 June 1983, it was a continuous procession. It was the spontaneous response of the people which made the Yatra a unique success. For the first time, people realized that there were some who were ready to come to their houses to understand their problems. When we started, it was doubtful whether people would react positively to Bharat Yatra or would take it as a political drama. But all through the Yatra, the villagers who were illiterate, who were ignorant, who were helpless, lined up in large numbers to receive the volunteers who were walking. In almost all the villages, even the poor people managed to offer the best welcome that they could afford. There might have been difficulty of language, but the language of the heart, which was more powerful, helped to communicate the feelings. We ourselves understood that the people are willing to cooperate if we go to them. In this respect, it was Mahatma Gandhi who put his finger on the pulse of the people. It was an adventure in self, it was an adventure of self-education”.

Throughout his extensive Bharat Yatra, Chandra Shekhar directly confronted the harsh realities of rural India, which deeply affected him, particularly the dire situation faced by rural children. Expressing his concern, Chandra Shekhar said: “Children everywhere in India are suffering due to malnutrition. They do not get education. They do not even get a chance of survival. Every child that is born has the right to survive. We must give him clean drinking water, necessary nutrition to develop a healthy physique. And in today’s modern world he should get the elementary education and primary health services. On these scores there cannot be any compromise. Out-moded traditions and out-dated ideas in religion and caste have been used to discriminate against the people. For centuries together, the Scheduled Caste, the Scheduled Tribe and Backward Class people have been feeling neglected. Violence is a strain on the fabric of democratic society. For this discrimination to go, we must change the whole social structure in order to serve their urges and aspirations. In spite of the attempts to bring our women-fold out of the purdah system, they are not getting their rightful place in the society. They still feel insecure. Our Constitution promised to eradicate illiteracy within 15 years after it came into force. But even today more than 60 per cent of our people are illiterate”.

Chandrashekhar’s political journey reached its zenith when he was appointed as the eighth Prime Minister of India on November 10, 1990. Leading a minority government, he faced numerous challenges, including economic instability, political fragmentation, and regional tensions. Despite these challenges, Shekhar demonstrated remarkable resilience and determination to steer the country towards progress and prosperity. During his brief tenure as Prime Minister, Shekhar initiated several bold initiatives, including economic reforms aimed at liberalizing India’s economy and attracting foreign investment. He also focused on strengthening India’s foreign relations, particularly with neighbouring countries, to promote regional stability and cooperation. However, Shekhar’s government was short-lived, as it faced internal dissent and political maneuvering from rival factions. In March 1991, the Congress party, which had extended support to his government, withdrew its backing, leading to the collapse of his administration. Despite the setback, Chandrashekhar continued to remain active in politics, advocated for social justice and the rights of the marginalized. His contributions to Indian politics are remembered for their integrity, vision, and commitment to democratic values. He was a staunch believer in the power of grassroots movements and the importance of empowering ordinary citizens to shape the destiny of the nation.

The stalwart of Indian politics passed away on July 8, 2007, at the age of 80, leaving behind a nation he had profoundly influenced. This great man will always be remembered as a towering figure whose vision and ideals continue to shape India’s destiny.

Though he has passed away, the indelible memories of Chandrashekhar persist. His death marked the loss of a remarkable patriot, socialist, and dynamic leader who prioritized the unity of the nation despite leading a modest life.

(Author is Professor in Comparative Literature and Chairman Centre for Narendra Modi Studies, New Delhi. Email : [email protected])–

Prof. Jasim Mohammad
Prof. Jasim Mohammad

Dr. Jasim Mohammad

Professor, Arunachal University of Studies (AUS), Namsai.
Chairman, Centre for Narendra Modi Studies (CNMS) Trust, New Delhi.      Visit :  www.namostudies.com Email: [email protected]

Email: profjasimmd@gmail.com, 099970 63595

About Post Author

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Antara Tripathy M.Sc., B.Ed. by qualification and bring 15 years of media reporting experience.. Coverred many illustarted events like, G20, ICC,MCCI,British High Commission, Bangladesh etc. She took over from the founder Editor of IBG NEWS Suman Munshi (15/Mar/2012- 09/Aug/2018 and October 2020 to 13 June 2023).
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