Remembering the ‘mango’ Indians
Nov 18 2012
They were a different breed of people and even though they never proclaimed it, they were the true patriots of India. They were the mango people we can be proud of.
Rajendra Prasad, independent India’s first president was the only one to complete two consecutive terms in office. A Gandhian freedom fighter, on retiring, he did not stake claim to fancy real estate to get a retirement home built for himself at the expense of the Indian exchequer, which he was entitled to.
Nabhakrushna Chaudhuri, an eminent Gandhian freedom fighter from Orissa was the first chief minister of Orrissa. One day, after meritoriously serving Orrissa, he relinquished office after handing in his resignation. Nabha babu walked out of the secretariat in Cuttack, refusing to use the CM’s official car, walked to the state transport terminus and boarded a bus for his village. Where he lived working amongst the poor destitute, living in voluntary poverty.
Jai Prakash Narayan, the man who could have been the prime minister of India and the man who broke the monopoly of the Congress on ruling India, could have cashed in his influence over India to provide himself a life of luxury and power. But when he died, he left behind nothing. He had not amassed any assets nor had he accumulated fat bank balances. What he left behind was a legacy of honesty, integrity and simplicity.
Madhu Dandavate was a parliamentarian of long standing, a veteran Socialist, railway minister, finance minister, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. Powerful positions. His constituents gifted him a second-hand fiat car that was his only worldly possession. When he died, according to his wish, even his body was donated for medical studies.
Gulzarilal Nanda, although history remembers him as India’s interim prime minister twice, constitutionally, we do not have a position of an interim prime minister, so legally Gulzarilal Nanda was our prime minister for brief periods on two occasions. Both the times, in a crises. The first time after Pandit Nehru passed away in office, Gulzarilal Nanda was sworn in as prime minister of India. On election of Lal Bahadur Shastri as the prime minister of India by the Congress MPs, Nanda handed in his resignation and that makes him the second prime minister of India. When Lal Bahadur Shastri suddenly died in Tashkent Gulzarilal Nanda again stepped into the breach and took the responsibility of the prime minister on an interim basis, till the MPs elected their leader. This Gulazarilal Nanda was the 2nd and 4th prime minister of independent India. On his retirement from politics, Nanda accepted no benefits from the State. When his financial condition was critical, he reluctantly accepted Rs 500 per month as allowance, which he was entitled to, as a freedom fighter. At one time, he faced eviction from the one room accommodation he had rented. This two time prime minister of India was prepared to live on a pavement, but refused to seek any favours from the nation.
Abdul Kalam Azad, the first education minister of India, was president of the Indian National Congress during the crucial period of the freedom talks. His was the only voice against partition, along with Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. The man who founded the IITs and the UGC, took no advantage of his clout or seniority in the government and lived a humble existence.
Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, hailing from the princely family of Kapurthala and a blue blooded princess, dedicated her life to the freedom movement and was the first woman cabinet minister of the government of India. She was also the first Indian woman chief of the WHO and was instrumental in establishing AIIMS. A princess, who preferred humility and simplicity.
C Rajagopalachari was the first Indian governor general, a cabinet minister in Nehru’s cabinet and chief minister of Madras. I remember when I was a child, he came to visit our home in Santa Cruz, Mumbai. On the appointed day, he drove up from the railway station in a taxi, carrying his own small bag and bedding, not accompanied by any retinue, any entourage of a person who had held some of the most powerful offices in the land. Rajaji was even referred to as the ‘Mango of Selam’.
There were many more, they came from a different age. Those who call themselves aam aadmi or common man may delude themselves, but they aren’t even pale shadows of the true mango people.
(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)