Written by Abhishek Narang
The number of obituaries and condolence messages from across the political spectrum only show that Ramvilas Paswan was undoubtedly the flag bearer of the country’s social justice movement. While pursuing his politics of social justice, he deepened the roots of Indian democracy by giving a voice to the dispossessed and the downtrodden. I had the privilege of working with him as his OSD since September 2019.
I first met at his official residence in June 2019. I was a little nervous but his humility immediately put me at ease.
I would soon be acquainted with his warmth. The simplicity of his character could be felt from far — one would find him having lunch with his PS and OSD on a routine basis. The food came from his home kitchen – Paswan loved food and his hospitality touched everyone, irrespective of their social status. From the simplest of home-cooked food to the non-vegetarian rolls of Khan Chacha, he loved it all. At times, he would cook himself. He was a thoughtful and truly committed public servant who loved helping people and cared for the people he worked with.
During one of the FCI meetings in Imphal where he was a state guest, I asked him whether he would like to stay at Raj Bhavan or Hotel. Till today, his words reverberate in my ears,”Arre, hum toh footpath se uthe huye aadmi hain, kahin bhi ruk jaengay.”(I am a man who has risen from dwellings on footpath, I can stay anywhere).
I learned that he had a special way about him that made him forge a lasting bond with everyone he met. He was a workaholic and always endeavoured for perfection. His commitment to work was so intense that often one would find him working till 3 am to fine-tune answers and meticulously preparing drafts to the starred questions asked in Parliament. He had a thorough disdain for red-tapism and bureaucratic delays. He has a characteristic witticism: “Where there is a will, there is a railway and where there is no will there is a survey”. With will, one could even build the railways, but where there was no will the time got whittled away in futile exercises such as surveys, that was his message.
He gave a free hand to his officials in policy implementation and never interfered in their day to day functioning. I met him last on September 17 to get his signatures on an important file. He wasn’t keeping well but was still concerned about the working of the department.
He always believed in the dissemination of information to the public through all possible channels, not ignoring Twitter which he felt was the language of the people today in this digitised world.
g. He had a master folder with key facts and figures which used to be updated on regular basis. In every decision, he thought about the last man in the queue.
He brilliantly managed the demands of his official and personal life. His attachment with his family and the happiness he felt in the company of his grandkids was immense. He never missed an opportunity to be with the people he represented, with responsibility and pride. He treated the people of his constituency and Bihar as his extended family, was responsive to their needs and requirements and tried to be a part of their happiness and sorrows.
To keep his brain sharp and agile he never missed playing chess during whatever little free time he got, especially during flights.
When Prime Minister Narendra announced a lockdown from March 24 to stop the spread of the coronavirus, labourers, daily wagers and the poor faced the brunt. All means of employment, businesses and industries were shut down. PM Modi immediately announced free food and ration for the next three months for 81 crore poor people.
The FCI had the responsibility to make ration available to all corners of the country during the lockdown. The implementation was taken on a war footing. Despite not keeping good health, the Minister worked days and nights. He had personally designed the roadmap of providing free ration for May and June to migrant labourers. It was diligently implemented under his supervision. Further, assessing the magnitude of the pandemic, he played a crucial role in increasing the free supply of ration for another five months. In the process, his health deteriorated, but he never let this come in the way of discharging his duty– his steadfast resolve was that no poor should go to sleep hungry.
He had the highest regard for PM Modi. He was perhaps the only leader to have worked with six PMs. But he believed that PM Modi is unsurpassed in his energy, dedication towards work, untiring zeal to take the nation to the highest level of development. PM. Modi reciprocated with respect for him.
Paswan’s love for the Hindi language was unparalleled. He felt that Hindi had not got the status and respect it deserved. He believed that the true development of the country was not possible until the administration and courts do not get the freedom to work in Hindi and other regional languages and reduced their dependence on English. He was pained to observe that except four High Courts, all other High Courts, and the Supreme Court, did not allow proceedings in Hindi or the regional languages. Since all work is being done in English, how will a person, not understanding English, will be sure that he has got justice. Paswan would often recite excerpts from a poem by his idol, Ram Manohar Lohia, “Angrez yahaan se chale gaye, angrezi ko bhi jaana hoga. Angrezi mein kaam na hoga, phir se desh ghulam na hoga. Rashtrapati ka beta ho ya, chaprasi ka ho santaan, Birla yaa gharib ka beta, sabki shiksha ek samaan” (The British left, English will also have to leave. Neither will work be done in English nor will the country be enslaved again. Be it the son of the President or a peon, the son of Birla or of the poor, everyone’s education will be equal).
In the past year, the more I tried to understand him, I got introduced to a new facet of his personality. The innocent smile behind his serious face sufficed to bring anyone under his influence easily. I never heard him addressing any of his subordinates or staff with disregard. I was surprised that some people in his staff were there for last over 20 years. Anyone who felt aggrieved could go straight to him and express their grievances. And he had a solution for every problem.
The Minister had a penchant for communicating directly with the public through his Twitter account. He had a special attachment with the media. Any journalist who came in touch with him became a part of his family. He had no personal agenda in this, this was just his nature – friendly and respectful. The journalists covering his Ministry were personally contacted by the Minister and their well-being was always his concern. Even when he was in the hospital, he stayed in touch with the journalists and enquired about their well-being. All the journalists held him in high esteem. Rather than hiding flaws of his ministry, Paswan was always ready to acknowledge them before the media and take corrective action. This is why the media respected him immensely
Ramvilas Paswan was born in a poor Dalit family, from where he rose to limelight through the dint of hard-work and joined politics with strong determination to do good to society. He dedicated 51 years of politics to the lives of poor, exploited, less privileged and needy. The doors of the Ministry were always open for them. Public from all over the country, not just Bihar, came to the minister to address their grievances. The Minister was always there to lend them a patient hearing He had deputed two officials to facilitate medical treatment of people at AIIMS. The minister hesitated to speak directly with the doctors.
He was meant to live a life of challenge and growth, courage and decency, kindness and compassion, love and strength, service and joy. He lived every moment of his life – like a true “Karmayogi”.
Paswan left an everlasting impression in Indian politics and, on people who were worked with him especially me. His remarkable ability to remain calm and composed even during high levels of challenge is a life lesson for me.
The writer, an IRS official, was OSD to Ramvilas Paswan
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