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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Dharia could have become PM had he rejoined Cong,recall close aides

Desai said Dharia let go an opportunity to come back to the Congress fold despite being invited by none other than Rajiv Gandhi.

Written by MANOJ MORE | Pune | Published: October 15, 2013 4:19:48 am

Just three days before he was admitted to Poona Hospital,an ailing Mohan Dharia had attended the office of Vanarai,an umbrella organisation he founded after quitting politics. It comprises NGOs committed to the green cause.

On October 3,he attended a function to mark the Senior Citizens’ Day where he fervently called for setting up a commission to look into the problems of the elderly.

“Till he breathed his last,my uncle was either relentlessly pursuing the cause of environment or fighting for public causes that had become very close to his heart after he bid goodbye to politics in 1980

once and for all,” says nephew Dr Nikhil Mehta.

But,says his close aide and Congress leader Satish Desai,had Dharia not left politics after being defeated from the Baramati seat in the Lok Sabha elections,he could well have become the prime minister of the country.

Desai said Dharia let go an opportunity to come back to the Congress fold despite being invited by none other than Rajiv Gandhi. “This happened after the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984. I had accompanied Dharia for the funeral in New Delhi. After Arun Nehru spotted Dharia at the funeral,he whispered something into cousin Rajiv’s ears. Then we went close to where Rajiv Gandhi stood. Arun Nehru then requested Dharia to extend support to Rajiv Gandhi and threw ample hints that the latter should rejoin Congress,” said Desai.

However,Dharia did not show any interest as he had already taken a plunge into the field of environment protection. “Though Dharia did not openly regret his not rejoining the Congress,he did feel that he had lost an opportunity to become the prime minister when Narasimha Rao was appointed to the post. In our private conversation,he had told me that had he accepted Nehru’s offer,he would well have been the first choice for the PM’s post,” Desai said.

Years later though,Dharia was honoured by the Gandhi family with the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award. He was also selected as the winner of the 26th Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration for 2010. The award was presented by the committee chaired by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on October 31,the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi with whom Dharia had political differences that led to his first quitting her cabinet and then being expelled from the party.

Dharia was part of the “Young Turks”,along with Chandra Shekhar who later became the Prime Minister,and Krishna Kant,who became the Vice-President of the country. “It was because they openly opposed Indira’s policies that they came to be known as Young Turks,” said a Congress leader.

Close associates recall that Dharia’s quitting the Indira Gandhi cabinet just before the Emergency had created ripples in the political field. He was the only minister to quit in protest against her policies. And when Emergency was imposed,Dharia was jailed for 17 months. “Dharia was not afraid of taking a stand. Whether it was in politics or later as environmentalist,he stood for what he thought was right. Because of his tough posturing on environment-related issues,the state and Central governments have been forced to implement greens norms rigorously,” said NCP chief Sharad Pawar at the funeral.

Dharia fell out with Indira after he tried to persuade her to hold a dialogue with Jayaprakash Narayan. “However,Indira refused citing JP’s ‘provocative speeches’ that had led to an unstable atmosphere in the country. Dharia insisted that things would cool down if Indira invited JP for a dialogue. But it was not acceptable to the former PM,which lead to Dharia’s resignation,” recalled Desai.

Dharia submitted his resignation in Parliament and reserved his right to speak. “He gave a fiery speech in Parliament,which later came to be known as ‘fumes and fire’,” said Desai. “My uncle believed in the philosophy of resolving disputes through dialogues. He was always cool and did not get easily provoked,” said Mehta.

Dharia,who was a corporator with the Pune Municipal Corporation from 1957 to 1960,was first elected to the Lok Sabha from Pune in 1971 on Congress ticket and then in 1977 on Lok Dal ticket. He twice became a minister,first in the Indira Gandhi cabinet and then in the Morarji Desai cabinet. Both in 1971 and in 1977,Dharia had won with a margin of over 1 lakh votes.

“I think this should be attributed to the fact that he had the knack to carry along everyone with him. There was no trace of arrogance in him,” said former Pune deputy mayor Deepak Mankar. A socialist leader all his life,Dharia was fondly addressed as ‘Anna’ by his close associates.

The moment Dharia shifted his Parliamentary constituency from Pune to Baramati,Dharia lost. “It was an error on his part to shift the constituency. I think it was Sharad Pawar who had convinced him to contest from Baramati,which finally led to Dharia’s exit from the political terrain,” said Desai.

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