Ram Vilas Paswan worked towards the future in a business-like way

Yoginder K. Alagh writes: Paswan took policy and planning seriously. He took the details of the annual plan, the evaluations and appraisals of current plans and details of future plans seriously.

Gujarat has a substantial SC/ST community. Ram Vilas Paswan knew this and worked on it. During his tenure in the United Front Government under Deve Gowda and the late Inder Kumar Gujral, a significant development for Ahmedabad and Gujarat was the commissioning of a broad-gauge railway line from Ahmedabad to Delhi — there was a metre gauge line on the route. It was a historic occasion. According to the Railways traditions, I was to flag the inauguration. Paswan knew the political importance of the event. He called up and said he wanted us to travel together.

At Ahmedabad airport he had arranged a cohort of supporters. They shouted slogans eulogising him and me. I had seen such occasions earlier. A group of smart ABVP boys had come to the CEPT campus on one occasion and wouldn’t let me speak. You can only be quietly led at such times. But on this occasion, I led.

Much later, when I was no longer a minister, Paswan called me when I was chairing a committee to develop a Recruitment and Life Time Training System for the higher civil services. I said I would come down to see him. He said no, this is important to me, Alagh Saheb, an SC DM is more important than SC MPs and MLAs. I told him, “I don’t agree. We train them to follow the Constitution and not just the orders of the political leaders then. If they get wrong orders, they are required to say so on file and if the orders are repeated, then implement them, for the political leadership’s decision is final”. He said, “Alagh saheb, yeh sab mein janta hoon. Per hum jante hain ki SC ADM ya SP dande kum marega aur SP bhi thoda dheela hoga. Hum ko anubhav hain.” (I know all this. But I also know that an SC DM or DP will be less harsh on us).

Opinion | Ram Vilas Paswan used his political capital to speak for the most vulnerable

Paswan took policy and planning seriously. He took the details of the annual plan, the evaluations and appraisals of current plans and details of future plans seriously. Land for housing in villages and facilities for education for those who got opportunities on account of reservations were serious issues to him. Schooling facilities for the Dalit child, particularly the girl child, was a game changer since they were a fifth of the cohort. The primary health centre was similarly important — these were real issues to him, not just policy statements.

The Discovery of India describes our country as a palimpsest. It lives and operates at different levels and layers. Are you a part of the elite, when you crash through invisible barriers through sheer merit? I used to see and experience that in JNU. It would make you sick in the stomach to see thinly-veiled prejudice parading as “efficiency”. There are women and men, who not only break the barrier, but with experience are not conscious of it and are not looking over their shoulder. They are truly the future. Paswan was one of those leaders divining the future as he went along effortlessly. But if he was asked about the future, Paswan would, I guess, pity the questioner in a “normal” kind of way. He was much too busy building the future in a business-like way. Not that the present was not important to him.

He would arrange for a good meal for anybody who came from Hajipur. I didn’t know what they served. Probably channa bhaturas, something even more sumptuous since Madam Paswan is an excellent hostess. I, of course, would want litti and satu, my favourites when I go to Patna. But Paswan had his feet on the ground and head in the stars.

This was the leader we lost.

Editorial | Ram Vilas Paswan, product of Lohiaite politics and JP Movement, was a Dalit leader at ease with coalition politics

This article first appeared in the print edition on October 16, 2020 under the title ‘Feet on ground, head in stars’. The writer is a former Union minister.

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