“I got so much in life. There was immense interest to work and I have the interest to work even today.” This was what Motilal Vora told Rajya Sabha in his farewell address in March. The grand old man of the Congress party, Vora was that quintessential old school politician who remained fiercely loyal to the Nehru-Gandhi family and party ideology, but also maintained friendships transcending party lines during his over five-decade-long political career, with his down-to-earth attitude, friendly nature, and wit.
On Monday, Vora passed away of post-Covid complications, a day after celebrating his 93rd birthday.
In his long career, Vora had been twice Chief Minister of undivided Madhya Pradesh in the 1980s, the Governor of politically turbulent Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s when he swore in two governments in two-and-a half years, and an MP since 1998 till his retirement from the Upper House earlier this year. His uncanny instinct for political survival ensured Vora always found himself in a position of power, including as AICC treasurer for 18 years till Ahmed Patel took over from him in 2018. With Patel having passed away just recently after being stricken with Covid-19, it is the second veteran hand the Congress has lost in a short time.
Vora began his political career as an activist of Ram Manohar Lohia’s Samyukta Socialist Party, and his electoral career as a municipal councillor from Raipur in the late 1960s. He became an MLA for the first time in 1972, and by 1985 was Madhya Pradesh CM. When he was named the governor of a troubled Punjab in a surprise decision by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Arjun Singh handpicked Vora as his successor, to ensure rivals like Madhavrao Scindia didn’t get the prize chair.
While Singh was believed to be pulling the strings of his government, Vora impressed with his quality of winning friends and not rubbing anyone the wrong way. A senior leader remembers how Arjun Singh tried to keep Vora in line. “Digvijaya Singh, who was then the PCC president, would send a delegation to Vora every other day with impossible demands. But Vora was not hassled and used to agree to all… He was smart and gave no opportunity for a confrontation.”
In February 1998, Vora was removed when Arjun Singh made his way back, but got a position in Delhi as Cabinet minister — he would describe it as “a shift from lake to ocean”. In under a year, Vora was brought back as Madhya Pradesh CM again after Singh resigned following some strictures by the Jabalpur High Court.
In 1993, the P V Narasimha Rao government appointed Vora the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, just months after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and he found himself at the heart of major political tumult, churned up by the Samajwadi Party and BSP. His decision to dissolve the House in 1995 was criticised by both Mulayam Singh Yadav, who hoped to come to power after the Mayawati government was reduced to a minority, as well as the BSP leader.
Vora moved back to active politics and won the 1998 Lok Sabha elections from Rajnandgaon. In 2000, he was appointed AICC treasurer, and held the post till 2018.
Since 2002, Vora had also been the Chairperson and Managing Director of Associated Journals Ltd, and was a director at Young Indian. Along with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, Vora was an accused in the National Herald case pending before a Delhi court.
While his health had deteriorated with age, Vora remained active — much more than many of his party colleagues. He would be found at his 24, Akbar Road, office almost every day. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra recalled that he used to attend every meeting, even at the age of 92, and expressed his opinion freely.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in paying their tributes to Vora.
“He was humility personified, and belonged to a generation of leaders who carried their politics with unflinching conviction,” President Kovind tweeted. Naidu, who is also the Rajya Sabha chairman, said Vora was an ideal MP. “His work against malnutrition in children, especially in Chhattisgarh, has now started giving good results,” he said. Modi talked about Vora’s “vast administrative and organisational experience”.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi said, “Shri Motilal Vora’s demise has left a huge void that would be difficult to fill.” Rahul called him “a true Congressman and a wonderful human being”.
“He was quite active in Parliament, raising issues… Zero Hour notices, special mentions,” said CPI general secretary D Raja. “He was a symbol of how a political person should be — as a worker and a leader,” remembered Janardhan Dwivedi, one of his closest colleagues in the Congress.
Vora is survived by six children, with one of his sons an MLA from Durg, Chhattisgarh.
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