JUST A week ago, Anil Madhav Dave was entrusted to take a decision that could have turned out to be the defining moment of his stint in the Environment Ministry. The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the top regulatory body on the use of genetically modified (GM) organisms, had recommended the commercial cultivation of a transgenic variety of mustard, and Dave, as the final authority, was supposed to endorse or reject that recommendation.
The decision was unlikely to come in a hurry. But Dave had started to grapple with it. On Wednesday morning, he held discussions with a group of activists opposed to introduction of GM crops. In the evening, he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and it is highly likely that their consultations centred around GM crops.
Unfortunately, Dave died on Thursday, before he could take the biggest decision of his ministerial tenure. He suffered a cardiac arrest at around 9 am and was rushed to AIIMS. Forty-five minutes later, he was declared dead. He would have completed 61 years in July.
Dave had been facing health problems for the last few months. He had suffered a bout of pneumonia in January and never fully recovered after that. He could not attend office regularly and had to skip many public events. But in the last few weeks, his health seemed to be improving. He had begun travelling as well. He attended an event in Indore last week, and was scheduled to travel to Coimbatore on Thursday.
“Absolutely shocked by the sudden demise of my friend and a very respected colleague, Environment Minister Anil Madhav Daveji… I was with Anil Madhav Daveji till late last evening, discussing key policy issues. This demise is a personal loss,” tweeted Modi.
In the evening, Modi also posted a copy of Dave’s will. Dave, a bachelor, had listed four points in his will. He wanted to be cremated, “if possible”, at the site of a river festival on the banks of the Narmada, in Bandrabhan near Ramnagar town of Madhya Pradesh. He said his cremation should involve only Vedic rituals. He didn’t want any memorial, competitions or awards to be named after him. Instead, he wanted people to plant trees and work towards water conservation in his memory.
“This document is a manifestation of simplicity and selflessness in public life. It is an illustration of Nishkama Karma Yoga,” tweeted Modi.
A Gujarati settled in Madhya Pradesh, Dave surprised many when he was picked to be the Environment Minister in the last Cabinet reshuffle in July 2016. Though known for his association with environmental campaigns and his participation in parliamentary debates on these issues, he maintained a low profile and was never seen as a contender for a ministerial post. During his 10-month stint in the ministry, he kept Paryavaran Bhawan like he kept himself — low profile and out of any controversy.
A Rajya Sabha MP since 2009, Dave made his name as a social worker running a campaign for the conservation of Narmada river. He built a small ashram on the banks of the Narmada, and travelled the entire course of the river in a raft in 19 days. Dave, an amateur pilot, even flew a Cessna aircraft along the banks to complete a full parikrama (circumambulation) in air.
A student leader in his youth, Dave entered active politics only in the early years of the previous decade. Considered to be one of the main architects of BJP’s win in Madhya Pradesh in 2003, he became close to Uma Bharti when she took over as the state’s chief minister.
While he was genial and soft-spoken, Dave held very strong views, which he expressed freely at events in schools and colleges where was routinely invited as a guest speaker before he became a minister. He espoused the causes of vegetarianism, organic and natural farming, healthy rivers and was opposed to big dams. He held a definitive world view and had his own idea about how India should rise again. A great admirer of Swami Vivekanand, Shivaji and Chandrashekhar Azad, he used to invoke them repeatedly in his speeches and writings.
One of his eight books is titled Sambhal Ke Rahna Ghar Me Chhupe Hue Gaddaro Se (Beware of the traitors hiding within). He wrote a book on his travels on the Narmada river and another on climate change after attending the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009 as part of an MPs’ delegation.
A vegetarian, Dave followed a very regulated and austere life. He was a firm believer in yoga and used to practice yoga in the morning as well as evening, even when he was in office.
Dave’s body was flown to Bhopal on Thursday and kept at the BJP headquarters there. The cremation is set to take place on Friday.
— With inputs from Milind Ghatwai in Bhopal