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Charan Singh – The much misunderstood giant

November 15, 2012 English Version Charan Singh, popularly known in North India as “Choudhary Saheb”, was in my opinion one of the most honest politicians in India. He was also one of the most well read, and of scholarly bent of mind, contrary to popular impressions. Yet he was type-cased by the media as an opportunistic village rustic, someone who had no national vision.

I first met Charan Singh in Lucknow in 1974 when I was contesting the Rajya Sabha seat. We were not in the same party then; to get me defeated he had set up industrialist K.K.Birla as an independent candidate. Birla went about openly buying MLAs who were expected to vote for me. So the situation was precarious. But Charan Singh decided to cast the second preference votes of his party for me, thus ensuring my victory. I did not know Charan Singh much then since I barely been in politics for two years. I too had formed an impression that he was a village rustic, and not worth talking seriously. Little did I realise that in his last days twelve years later I would become one of his closest confidants and his admirer.

Charan Singh met me in the UP Vidhan Sabha premises when he came to cast his vote. He was an MLA then, and leader of 105 MLAs of the Bharatya Lok Dal (BLD). The BLD in 1977 merged with Janatha Party, and donated the farmer with plough symbol to the new party. This is the symbol of Janatha Party even today.

When Charan Singh saw me in the UP Vidhan Sabha, he spoke to me in fluent English. He said: “Young man, despite you abusing me in the UP Assembly election campaign (held in 1973), I have forgiven you and voted for you. I am impressed with your educational qualifications and intelligence, so I voted for you. When you are elected, come and see me”. I thanked Charan Singh for voting for me, but I was dazed by his simplicity and English diction. But after defeating K.K.Birla and becoming MP, I went straight to Delhi. I corresponded with Charan Singh, but since he mostly stayed in Lucknow, and I in Delhi, we could not meet till 1977.

In Feb 1977, after Elections to Lok Sabha had been declared, I returned from USA to contest elections. Both Charan Singh and I were in the same party the Janatha Party. So I went to see him. At that time, he was staying in a small flat in Vithal bhai Patel House. When I met him, he was in the midst of a huge crowd relaxing in sunshine on that cold February day. As soon as he saw me, joy came over his face. I had thought he might rebuke me for not seeing him earlier, but Charan Singh did not. He simply shouted to his followers to gather. Soon about 500 people, mostly farmers from Haryana and UP, gathered. “Choudhary Saheb” caught me by the hand,

He got up to receive me.” The crowd cheered. Very few people have courage in our country.Subramanian Swamy. with a deep sense of expecting gratitude for favours done and return favours. Charan Singh smiled and said: “Bahadur aadmi (braveman). I took leave of Charan Singh. Then Charan Singh put his hand on my shoulder. Look at me. he wanted Morarji to show deference to him. and first time Central Minister. Charan Singh was the spinal cord of the party. Charan Singh said: “We are a nation of cowards. Therefore. Hence if he is to be grateful to anyone on this earth. and asked: “why did not Morarji make you a Minister?” I replied “He says that he cannot make me a Cabinet Minister because I am not old enough. Nothing to worry. for all his education.took me to the gathering and introduced me in a lavish way. and put the palm of land on my forearm. But unlike many other politicians power had not affected him. “Will Morarji be grateful to me. that he had asked no one to support him. If Morarji was the brain of the Janata. He was as simple and warm as before. and promised to see him soon. And yet he praised me like this in public. But we have survived because there are always some Indians with extra-ordinary courage. we have one more example — Dr. more in the Gandhiji-Sardar Patel line than in Nehru‟s. It is good to wait. were honest. Charan Singh. I could sense trouble brewing here. So they all nodded enthusiastically. After all the greetings were exchanged. Otherwise. because of his 112 MPs in the Janata tally of 320 MPs his support to Morarji over Jagjivan Ram decided the contest in favour of Morarji Desai. and did not care who thought what about him. and already a two term MP. He said: “This is Dr. This developing clash was a pity because ideologically Morarji and Charan Singh were on the same side. and I will not accept a Minister of state”. I am 77 years old. my friend.Swamy. You are 37. and asked.” he comforted me. I said to myself that here is political leader whose follower I am not. and strong believers in prohibition. . it is to the whole Janata Party and not to anyone particular leader. Do you know him?” The crowd had come to know of me during the Emergency by reading newspapers and listening to my BBC broadcasts. I went to his residence in Akbar Road. Now after the Emergency struggle. But Morarji had already told me that God had made him PM. I next saw Charan Singh after he had become Home Minister. We needed both Janatha to be strong. was essentially a simple patriarch. Morarji was a evolved sadhu. that I made him Prime Minister?” Charan Singh was right that he helped make Morarji PM. Rana Pratap and Subash Bose are examples. destiny made him. I was very much touched. and barely know him. Morarji and Charan Singh were for simple living.

The split came in 1979. and Charan Singh became PM with Indira Gandhi‟s help. and who saw it as a plot by Morarji to regain control of the party before the General Elections to the Lok Sabha in 1984 end. Despite my remaining with Morarji in Janatha. This enraged Chandrasekhar and Hegde (who were later to full apart). and met him often. Vajpayee ditched Charan Singh at the last minute. He made critical remarks about Chandrasekhar (whom he had never liked). Vajpayee had became quite drunk in that party. which I gladly gave. for example. Morarji then called Vajpayee in my presence. Like a typical trouble maker. Breaking all the rules of the party Constitution. Vajpayee began poisoning Charan Singh‟s mind. when the Japanese Foreign Minister gave a dinner party in the Japanese Embassy in New Delhi. but books which are worth reading in economics and history. Morarji asked me to contest against Chandrasekhar for Janata Party President in the Party polls. feeling insecure with Morarji for asking him to give up alcoholic drinks. In 1984. It was Charan Singh‟s respect for my scholarship and education and not politics which drew him to me. It was he who first put the idea of becoming PM in Charan Singh‟s mind. and vice versa.Since both men were strict disciplinarians other less strict and more corrupt Janatha leaders saw personal advantage in dividing the two. To keep Morarji in check. But naturally he felt humiliated. Vajpayee could carry tales to Morarji about Charan Singh. he ditched Morarji. so he asked me for confirmation. I kept my good relations with Charan Singh. detailing how the farmers had been exploited. He had recently written a book on the Indian Economy. and was horrified to see our Foreign Minister drunk. Charan Singh also knowing fully well that I had cast my lot with Morarji never let that affect his warmth towards me. was from Charan Singh. really goes to Vajpayee and not to Charan Singh as is popularly thought.” he said. A year later. and then took me by surprise by inviting me to join his party. I had given him a note on how he could improve his thesis in the second edition . In our meetings therefore during this period we rarely discussed politics. I had been also invited to that dinner. and gave him big firing. “I want someone like you to be with me with whom I can discuss. The first phone call I got after the expulsion. Chandrasekhar got me expelled from the Janata Party. and left the Janata to form the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and become its President. and decided to stay in the Janata Party. Vajpayee had no answer except to giggle like a school girl caught stealing. Morarji came to know of this through the Intelligence Bureau. I stayed in Janata with Morarji. The „credit‟ thus of laying the foundation for the break up of Janata Party and the fall of its government. On one occasion. Atal Behari Vajpayee was.

I was also only 44 then. he asked me. And because of communist influence in our Universities. I also argued that the urban English media is not to be taken seriously. I agreed with him that while he wrote on difficult economics subjects. thinking that a young Rajiv Gandhi of 40 years old. seated on the floor in Gandhian style. I felt that while politicians felt jealous of his solid electoral base he instead would have been happy if he was recognized as a scholar. Nehru‟s works dealt with easy essays in history. And of . It occurred to me that Charan Singh. He was delighted. I remember one day in 1982. When I was with him. young by Indian political standards. he telephoned me to come and see him. it will never be prescribed for students. I decided to take a holiday from politics.” I promised to do something someday. Harvard formally wrote to Charan Singh asking him to send 350 copies of the book for purchase. In the 1984 Elections. is there a ritual you know by which I can become a Brahmin?” “Why Choudhary Saheb?” I asked “What value is it to be a Brahmin today?” “See what this correspondent has written “he said showing a newspaper report which described Charan Singh as an “Illiterate”. so I could wait.Gandhi‟s assassination. all of us in the opposition including Chandrasekhar. essentially craved to be intellectually recognized. So I used my professor status to prescribe his book in the economic courses in the university. Why?” Unless I become a Brahmin. It also hurt him and made him sad. and yet he is called „Panditji‟ and I am denounced as an illiterate.of the book. But throughout my association with Charan Singh. his eyes moist: “Swamy. No one reads them here. despite having become PM. with a huge majority will remain in power for 15 years at least like his mother and grandfather. In an emotional burst he said “I have only one true friend that is Swamy”. I thought something important had happened. upon learning that I had lost the elections. So. He hated the media hype casting him as a village Jat rustic. When Charan Singh received the letter (his wife later told me) tears came down his eyes. Jawaharlal Nehru‟s books are of less scholarly value than mine. Vajpayee and myself lost the elections. I remembered Charan Singh‟s wish to have international recognition for his book. When I resumed my teaching in June 1985 at Harvard. Then Charan Singh said to me “Unless you are a Brahmin. and ignoring his writing as a thinker. my writings will not be recognized”. invited me to return to teach economics. Harvard University. your intellectual ability will never be allowed to be recognized. but almost childlike asked me: ” Why cannot my books be recognized abroad. after Mrs. except Charan Singh.

the stroke he had suffered had also affected his brain. Clearly. and went straight to the hospital.P. he died a few days later. He was a person a great courage. it is entirely because of the . Obviously. he opened his eyes. son of Charan Singh He said that his father had been admitted for treatment in Baltimore Hospital. That is why tears rolled down his cheeks on seeing. I went to see him at his Tughlak Road residence. USA could not cure him. the simple joy of having his books prescribed at Harvard had made an indelible impression on him. Had he been given a full term as PM. he asked the people to vote against his own party candidate because he drank alcoholic drinks. and he cried. It had nothing to do with his not being a Brahmin. and is barely conscious. Today he does not recognize unless someone has touched his heart and memory in some big way. But as soon as I entered the room. Charan Singh was still alive. I received a telephone call from Mr.Singh. but he is not regarded as an intellectual. I returned from Harvard after nearly two years. UP. He did not stay long and soon left the party to join V. Despite being in semi-conscious state.Charan Singh and Ajit Singh. but they were all unconnected with anything relevant. he would have revolutionized Indian agriculture. Charan Singh was the most misunderstood political leader of India. As a tribute to Charan Singh. he recognized me and tears rolled down his cheeks. His wife Gayathri and Ajit warned me that he may not open his eyes or even recognize me after this long absence. one day while I was at Harvard. I was joined by Mrs. He opposed Jawaharlal Nehru in the famous Nagpur AICC when Nehru wanted to collectivize agriculture like in the communist countries. regarded as a top intellectual. I took the next plane from Boston to Baltimore. his body shook. then an Engineer in USA. and rigging of General Elections. but in a semi-conscious state. the city-based people never respected him. For others. Charan Singh told me that Charan Singh had never forgotten that I prescribed his books at Harvard. I said goodbye to him. I brought Ajit Singh from the wilderness of politics to make him the Janatha Party President.course he should have been in my opinion. After some months. Ajit explained that this was his only way of saying “hello” and this emotion was reserved for a very few. Vajpayee is a Brahmin. his memory has failed him. During the 1980′s. For instance he kept asking me to be aware of another Emergency coming. when Charan Singh saw me. Charan Singh had spoken a lot about his son Ajit Singh. His grip over UP rural masses was so strong that once on an election campaign in Farrukabad. Charan Singh spoke a few words to me. and asked them to vote for an obscure Independent candidate! If Ajit Singh is winning his election today. Ajit Singh. But because he did not have any outward westernization and was dressed very simply. He had suffered a stroke. Mrs. Charan Singh was flown back to India.

have for Charan Singh. .love people of U.P. Those who knew him loved him. Those who didn‟t made fun of him for superficial considerations.