Young Turk and polymathhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/young-turk-and-polymath/

Young Turk and polymath

Mohan Dharia represented the middle-class activist sensitive to concerns outside his class.

Mohan Dharia represented the middle-class activist sensitive to concerns outside his class.

The late Mohan Dharia was a polymath — freedom fighter,politician,trade union organiser,Padma Vibhushan,lawyer,and,finally,environmentalist,with his Pune-based NGO Vanarai. His name was synonymous with the so-called Young Turks of the Congress party. The phrase originates from a set of politicians in Turkey in the pre-World War I phase who fought for a more liberal approach within the Ottoman framework.

In India,these so-called Young Turks within the Congress party were led by former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar,and eventually became part of the Congress when the Praja Socialist Party under Asoka Mehta merged with it in 1964,citing rightwing parties like the Jana Sangh and the Swatantra Party as emerging threats which,in their view,were best opposed by strengthening the Congress.

Dharia’s journey,from a student at Fergusson College training to be a doctor who changed tack to study law after getting involved in the 1942 Quit India Movement to founding an environmental NGO,Vanarai,50 years later,represents an important aspect of Indian politics: the middle-class politician/ activist with concerns outside his immediate class. He was a leader who gave up his professional pursuits to be part of the national movement,then municipal politics and later mainstream politics,and finally activism,where he continued to engage with politics,but from outside the fold of the political party.

Advertising

Dharia served as an MP in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha,from 1964-79,a significant phase in independent India. He was passionately involved in developing villages,rural economies and the cooperative movement,and also served as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission during Chandra Shekhar’s short premiership. Before that,Dharia was a minister of state for planning,works,housing and urban development under Indira Gandhi from 1971-75. He authored a report in the mid-1970s that discussed ways to provide producers with remunerative pricing,regulating prices and “stabilising” them,which never quite found favour with the higher-ups in the party. His recommendations were accepted only by the Janata Party,in whose government too he served as a minister,after his exit from the Indira Gandhi government during the Emergency.

After breaking away from Indira Gandhi in 1975-77,during which time he was jailed for 17 months,Dharia once again found himself in the good books of the Congress,winning the 26th Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration two years ago. Analysts speculate that the reason for this return to the fold was part of a Congress strategy to subtly counter Anna Hazare’s influence,which was then at its peak. Both Hazare and Sharia worked in the NGO sector in Maharashtra,though Dharia’s ideal village and the route to self-reliance,while limiting distress migration to cities,is embodied by Gawadewadi village in Pune district,as opposed to Hazare’s Ralegan Siddhi. While Hazare and Dharia were together when the Adarsh Gaon Yojana,a programme to develop 300 villages,was launched by Maharashtra in 1991,they soon parted ways,with Hazare ruing the “corruption” of public officials and not willing to synergise efforts with elected officers of the state administration. Dharia continued to work with his Vanarai,building on ideas of joint-forest management,wasteland development and using new but appropriate technologies to push for improved conditions in villages.

Dharia was most recently in the news for his charitable references to the BJP’s former president,Nitin Gadkari,whose book Vikas Ke Path he released alongside party veteran L.K. Advani. Even before that,he continued to intervene in national politics. He threatened to go on a fast insisting on loan waivers for farmers and low interest rates for farmers in Maharashtra on Nehru’s birth anniversary on November 14,2006. His threat attracted the attention of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,who personally appealed to him to not go on a fast but to wait and see what the UPA had in store for farmers.

Seema Chishti