By Arvindar Singh
(Chandra Shekhar and the Six Months that Saved India; Roderick Matthews; Harper Collins Publishers; 2020; Pp 319.)
Chandra Shekhar was a man of many hues; the quintessential socialist, the young turk who was Mrs Gandhi`s lieutenant in the fight against the syndicate, President of the ruling party (Janata Party) which formed the first non-Congress government, the man who undertook a Padyatra from Kanyakumari to Delhi, and finally Prime Minister, albeit only for seven months, a good part of which he was a lame duck incumbent.
This book by Roderick Matthews, a noted historian, basically deals with the run up to Chandra Shekhar becoming Prime Minister and the period of his Prime Ministership (1990-91). The period of his Presidentship of the Janata Party during the Morarji Desai Ministry and the Padyatra he undertook in 1983 covering 4,260 kilometres “for reviving the rapport between the people and the political class” would also make a very interesting biographical read and it would have been appropriate if these phases of his political journey had been given a detailed section in a book of this nature. Be that as it may, Matthews work brings out some very interesting facets of Chandra Shekhar`s days at the helm. Following the fall of the VP Singh led government on the Ayodhya issue and the Rath Yatra of LK Advani, Chandra Shekhar with a rump of 64 Members of Janata Dal rebels formed a government with the outside support of the Congress (I).
While covering his short lived administration, the author makes an attention-grabbing observation in the chapter “The Temple Deal that Never Was”. Chandra Shekhar was very close, according to facts emerging, to solving the Ayodhya dispute and getting the Muslim Body (Babri Masjid Action Committee) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to agree on a solution whereby the Muslims would give up the claim on the mosque on the condition that no other religious structure which existed at the time of independence would be disturbed. Sharad Pawar and Bhairon Singh Shekawat, Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Rajasthan, were involved. Had the deal gone through, the tragic events of 6 December 1992 could probably have been avoided. But the Congress withdrew support and the government fell.
Chandra Shekhar`s handling of the economy, which was in grave crisis, as well his decision to resign rather than bow to pressure on the issue of two Haryana Constables supposedly spying on Rajiv Gandhi`s residence, is fairly well covered in the book and the author rightly gives him kudos for these events during those tumultuous days.
Some personal stories like taking a poor villager in a taxi in the dead of night for admission to AIIMS in Delhi are indeed touching and show that Chandra Shekhar never lost touch with his roots. This kind of sentiment is virtually non-existent among politicos nowadays.
On the whole, this book is an apposite account of the man who brought a refreshing change through his utter frankness to the world of politics.