Home India Politics Old comrades, diehard socialists pay last homage to Chandra Shekhar

Old comrades, diehard socialists pay last homage to Chandra Shekhar


New Delhi : There was no mass mourning or emotional hysteria. The mood was sombre and the crowds rather thin.

Mourners trickled in, in ones or twos, old dyed-in-the-wool socialists, crusty old comrades and even some diplomats who knew him from his days as prime minister in 1990-91.

Inside the room where the body of Chandra Shekhar – who died Sunday at the age of 80 after a long battle with cancer – lay in a glass coffin wrapped in the tricolour, the mood was one of low key grief. Women and immediate family members sat in a corner while a small tape recorder played hymns, almost inaudibly.

Outside sat all the old Chandra Shekhar loyalists, mostly his admirers from the days of the 'emergency' (1975-76) and when he presided over the Janata Party. Many of his friends and admirers like former finance ministers Yashwant Sinha and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Sharad Yadav returned once more on Monday to pay their last tributes to a man who many called "Guru".

"We want to have a last glimpse of the man we all loved," said Yadav.

Among others who came was Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, another old-time socialist, who recalled attending perhaps the last public function with the former prime minister.

"It was Oct 11 and Chandra Shekhar was very keen to hold a public function in his hometown Ballia like previous years to commemorate the memory of Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan. Despite failing health, he went to Ballia to address this meeting. I was also present and that was also perhaps the last public meeting he addressed."

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice president Murli Manohar Joshi recalled his past association with Chandra Shekhar at Allahabad University where the former was a professor.

"Politically and ideologically he was a socialist and I belonged to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. But we were good friends and shared many things in common. He never cared for power or pelf. When time came he became the prime minister of the country but did not wait for a minute to resign and move out."

Bombay industrialist Kamal Morarka, a committed disciple of Chandra Shekhar and who was a minister in his cabinet, looked bereft.

There were others, likely and unlikely faces — the Iranian ambassador, former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey, BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and S.S. Ahluwalia and Akali Dal leader S.S. Dhindsa.

From the Congress party, Makhan Lal Fotedar, a former aide to prime minister Indira Gandhi with whom Chandra Shekhar fell out after being once very close to her, was there. Sharad Pawar came in with former Lok Sabha speaker Manohar Joshi.

Strangely, hardly anyone from the Samajwadi Party (SP) or the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) was seen — when Chandra Shekhar became prime minister in November 1990 displacing V.P. Singh, his two most prominent and vocal lieutenants were SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala.