Madhavsinh Solanki was a thinking politician. In his early years, he was an associate of a group of Royist intellectuals — followers of M N Roy — led by a civil rights lawyer Chandra Kant Daru. The group included Prakash Desai, a psychiatrist, Rajni Kothari, Dhirubhai Sheth and Ashis Nandy. I knew them and got to meet him. He had a flat and I would jog by, greeting him kem cho every morning, sometimes stopping for a half cup of masala chai.
He then became Chief Minister of Gujarat. I remember an occasion on which Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came to the area in Ahmedabad, where my institute was located. She talked of her Stockholm speech, probably moved by the jungle we had planted in Thaltej. I said our city was facing terrible problems in its closed textile mill areas. The CM had to intervene, but the PM told her staff to get a brief from me and said would do “what she can”.
I was then leading a team which had prepared a planning model for Gujarat. Sukhomoy Chakravarty invited me to head the powerful PPD in the Planning Commission. Madhavsinhbhai would ask Gujarat officials to run their brief by me, as also his draft speeches in the NDC and the stand he would take in the Planning Commission.
I then returned to my academic job in Ahmedabad. Madhavsinhbhai asked me to head the new Narmada Planning Group which he was setting up. He was totally committed to get the project approved and securing World Bank assistance. I refused saying that I had not left Delhi to do a government job in Gandhinagar. But Madhavsinhbhai asked me to at least meet the World Bank team. I asked them to have a meal with me to which I invited my friends, the economist Vijay Vyas who was then Director IIMA, the architect Balkrishna Doshi, one of the founders of the School of Planning which was to become the CEPT University, and the social anthropologist Vimal Shah who had retired from the Tribal Research Unit at Gandhiji’s Gujarat Vidyapith and set up his own Institute of Area Planning.
The team reported to Madhavsinhbhai on the progress and he told me, “now you can’t let Gujarat down”. I told him I will take a salary of one rupee but want complete freedom knowing the way the state bureaucracy worked.
Madhavsinhbhai also roped in Keshubhai Patel, the then leader of the Opposition. It was a different Gujarat then, in which some issues were above politics. He backed the planners of Sardar Sarovar and would get the then finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, to take briefings from me before the Aid India Consortium meetings.
T N Seshan, then environment secretary, opposed the project. I was back in Delhi as Member Planning Commission and he insisted I brief PM Rajiv Gandhi. I met the PM and showed him computer sheets of monitoring groundwater 10 days ago. The PM was convinced and became a supporter of the SSP.
The PM was a great supporter of agro-climatic planning and we set up a unit for the purpose in my institute in Ahmedabad. The practical Madhavsinhbhai wanted to know what exactly these “projects” were. In Parliament, he said that the projects are still being prepared while answering a question on the Manual on Agro-climatic Planning we had prepared. The PM had to intervene and was angry at me for not briefing my minister properly. I kept quiet.
Madhavsinhbhai would get briefs from me on agriculture and rural development and was very happy that I was chairman of IRMA, an institution that would strengthen his beloved Charotar region. He kept in touch with me on rural matters. We need more such thinking politicians.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 13, 2021, under the title “The Quality of Leadership”. The writer, a former Union Minister, is an economist
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