Forever locked in with the prime minister’s high-level committee for the social, economic and educational backwardness of Muslims, for several young journalists and researchers “Sachar” is the name of a report. Justice (retired) Rajinder Sachar, till his last days, did what only idealistic youngsters are accused of doing: Standing up for what he believed in, enthusiastically building fellowship between all sorts of odd eggs and exuding oodles of energy to make it work.
Justice Rajinder Sachar, who will forever be remembered as a wiry, frail and immaculately turned out gentleman, carried none of the airs he could have had around him. The son of privilege, of a two-time Chief Minister of Punjab, Sachar sported a “Socialist Party of India” letter-head till his last days.
A law student in Lahore, a practising advocate in Simla, a judge in Delhi, and then a fighter at large, Sachar was clear about his basic principles. From there, it was about scouting for the right vehicle to do what he had to do and say what he felt he must.
In his role as a judge in Delhi, happy to ask questions of the government — the Indira-led Congress party — which was keen to muzzle speech, Sachar was one of those who spoke clearly when the going got tough. Sachar had specific questions for the Rajiv-led Congress after the anti-Sikh riots as he wanted to ensure that Sikh families could register FIRs. Yet, when the Congress-led UPA asked him to head a committee with a sensitive mandate, he saw the value in it and went on to a difficult job, meticulously enabling his team to ask the right questions.
Rajinder Sachar’s principles stood firm and were his guiding light till his last days. His socialist calling did not get singed by the heat of the communal fires that uprooted him from his home and hearth. Personal experiences often make people bitter, but it was not so with Sachar. Till his last days, he battled hard to ensure that India would never revisit 1947. In his demeanour, optimism and tireless efforts at somehow making a difference, there is almost nobody he met whose life he did not touch.
Refusing the Padma Vibhushan, Sachar did not shift gear like several in the socialist stream did — to find a justification to leave or change shape. He had first joined the Socialist Party in 1948 and stayed steadfast to his objective till his last days. Each concern and obsession of his was true to his fundamentals, whether it meant canvassing for the Socialist Party candidate in Delhi’s Okhla or marching with students, protestors and others enraged at the violation of their rights.
His last article, ‘India needs Draupadi, not Savitri’ appeared on April 1 in the weekly ‘Janata’, at a time when illness had made work difficult. Journalists would recall earlier, if he could, he would on every subject of any import fearlessly dictate his lines and send it out to all those who may wish to carry it. No forum was too small for him.
The most memorable thing about Sachar was his sense of balance — at odds with all the turbulence that he had seen. After the Sachar Report in 2006 had caused the usual hungama in the news cycle and hit the point about has-the-Indian state-failed-its-Muslims question, Sachar refused to comment. He called this reporter to explain calmly why he would not. “Listen, if I, who has said so much about the state of the Muslims, don’t make it about what needs to be done, rather than say that nothing has been done, where would everybody turn to, for faith in being able to get things done? You should not pose this question to me, you see”, he had gently explained.
That one explanation conveyed so much about Sachar’s personal sensibilities and constructive outlook towards problems. That one reply spoke of how he agitated for change, while always fully endorsing the progressive and inclusive idea of India, as espoused by the founding fathers in the Constitution.
Tireless Sachar was an admirer of JP, having devoted important years of his life to the PUCL, and a fan of Lohia. He took governments head-on, but he also understood the essence of democracy and the need to bring some relief and order to lives harangued by want and deprivation.
Not just the heat of an uproar for him, for the heck of it. When Sachar marched, he marched for something, with quiet determination and absence of cynicism, which most of the embittered could only be envious of. Not all heroes wear capes, they say. Sachar was one of them. RIP Justice Sachar.