Monday, November 29, 1999

Shekhawat, a vice president and political stalwart liked by all

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New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) A farmer, a policeman and finally India's vice president. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who died Saturday at the age of 86, was an amiable leader who rose from the grassroots, had friends in all political parties and will be remembered as one of the longest serving politicians of the country.Along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, Shekhawat played a seminal role in building the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and later the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).Elected as legislator to the Rajasthan assembly in 1952, Shekhawat served as chief minister three times - from 1977 to 1980, 1990 to 1992, and 1993 to 1998.'My recollection of him starts from the first election in 1952 when eight of our candidates won. Bhairon Singh-ji proved his ability and competence every time,' Advani recalled.Born Oct 23, 1923 in Khachriyawas village in Rajathan's Sikar district, Shekhawat fought the odds in his early years to rise in life.After completing high school, he could not pursue higher studies due to the untimely death of his father. He then worked as a farmer and later joined the police force too.Popularly called 'Rajasthan Ka Ek hi Singh' (The only Singh of Rajasthan), he was one of the most charismatic leaders of the state. Reading, interacting with people and extensively touring the state and other parts of the country were some of his pastimes.'He used to love to meet people, talk to them and listen to their problems on a regular basis...It was his routine', said Arun Chaturvedi, president of BJP's Rajasthan unit.'Rajasthan will miss a leader of his stature,' he added.A trusted representative of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Shekhawat did not hesitate to take a stand that was in the interest of the country but against his own community's interests. When a majority of his party legislators opposed the call to vote in favour of the Zamindari Abolition Bill, brought by the then Congress government in the 1950s Shekhawat obeyed the party's decision and voted in favour of the bill, which was against his community's interest.He condemned the practice of Sati at a time when many politicians in the state hesitated to come out strongly against the social evil.As chief minister, he worked for the interests of minorities as well. The Rajasthan State Urdu Academy and the state Waqf Authority were set up during his tenure.Shekhawat was a member of the Rajasthan assembly from 1952 to 1972 and then from 1977 to 2002. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1974 to 1977.As presiding officer of the Rajya Sabha from 2002 to 2007, he conducted the house with dignity and charm. He rarely raised his voice and often used his sense of humour to prevent logjam in the house.Shekhawat's appeal cut across the political spectrum and his margin of victory in the 2002 vice-presidential polls was more than the strength of his party.Vice President Hamid Ansari said Shekhawat had a 'glorious record of service to the country and the people. He earned the respect and admiration of the people for his dedication, sense of public service, and innate simplicity'.Congress leader and Minority Affairs Minister Khurshid praised him as 'a leader of high eminence'.Always willing to take up a political challenge, Shekhawat created a flutter in the BJP in the run up to the last general elections by indicating his desire to contest the Lok Sabha elections. However, he later backed Advani's bid for prime ministership.Though Shekhawat had numerical disadvantage in the presidential election in 2007, his presence in the fray kept the contest alive. He lost the election to Pratibha Patil.

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