Our columnist remembers the former union minister who passed away today from injuries from the Maoist attack in Sukma
Dinesh Akula | June 11, 2013
I have known Vidya Charan Shukla since 1994, when I joined as a trainee reporter with an English News paper in Raipur in my first year of graduation. Since then I have spent many sit-ins, each going on for hours, with him where he spoke about his memories of being a politician who became a Member of Parliament in 1957, in the second Lok Sabha, from Mahasamund constituency.
Apart from the May 25, 2013 Naxal attack on him and his admission to Medanta hospital in Gurugaon – I have had never seen him sick or hospitalized in all these years.
His palatial house on the outskirts of Raipur – at Labahandi — was always packed with his followers even when he was out of 10 Janpath’s favours. He stood for friendship at all times, supporting Sharad Pawar against Sonia Gandhi which pushed him out of the Congress Party.
Very few people know that he was very particular about his waist size and he never crossed 32 inches. Early morning yoga and swimming followed by a jar full of juice was his daily routine.
But he was very addicted to samosas. His style of eating samosas was completely different which surprised me also as I lived a major part in Kolkata and samosas were common there. He used to dip samosas in the tea and enjoyed the taste. “Try sometime- you will lavish it. Let your taste buds have a different feeling,” he told me several times.
A big lover of music, Shukla, popularly known as Vidya Bhaiya among his supporters till he died today at 84 years of age, had one regret — that he could not shield Kishore Kumar from the unofficial ban on his songs on AIR from May 4, 1976 till the end of the Emergency.
During emergency (1975-77), Sanjay Gandhi asked Kishore da to sing for an INC rally in Mumbai, but he refused. As a result, the ban was imposed.
Shukla categorically denied his role in the ban. "It was a decision by AIR. Neither had Sanjay asked me, nor had I passed the orders," he asserted during an interaction. “I never met Kishore Kumar but I still listen to his songs,” he added.
During emergency – another man who hated Vidya to the core was none other than the famous cartoonist R K Laxman. When Laxman came to Raipur in 2004 he told me that it was Shukla who was rude and arrogant and very powerful lieutenant of Sanjay Gandhi during 1975-77 emergency days.
“Shukla used to threaten me with imprisonment if I continued to draw cartoons at will during that period,” Laxman remembered and added that Shukla used to call him all the way from Bombay to Delhi with the cartoons. He used to make him wait for an hour before calling him in.
Shukla denied threatening him. “I was just ensuring that no negative publicity is done,” he said on Laxman’s allegations.
He was an ardent wild life lover. After graduation from Morris College in Nagpur, armed with BA degree, he started a company with the name Allwyn Cooper Private Ltd which managed big game safari and photo expeditions of wildlife in Central Indian forests.
His other business was mining.
One day his father Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla the first chief minister of united Madhya Pradesh called up his two children Vidya and Shyama and spoke about politics. When Shyama the elder brother showed interest in state politics Vidya agreed to move to national platform.
While he was the I&B minister – he ensured that a small town like Raipur gets Doordarshan Kendra. It was the 5th DD Kendra in the country.
A lifetime president of the Indian Olympic Association, Shukla was a polite statesman. The only time I saw him angry was in November 2000 at his house. He had planned well and set in motion all the wheels of the political game to become the first chief minister of the newly-formed Chhattisgarh state. He had support of many MLAs but Digvijay Singh’s move proved against Shukla who made Ajit Jogi the leader of CLP and eventually the chief minister of Chhattisgarh.
Shukla was fuming with anger and when Digvijay Singh along with Ghulam Nabi Azad and Prabha Rao went to pacify him at Labhandi residence Vidya supporters attacked Singh and tore his shirt. The incident rattled Singh and Shukla had to apologise later.
Vidya’s dislike for Ajit Jogi remained till the end. “An outsider got the cake,” was his words.
He had no sons’ only three daughters. He tried to politically train his nephew Amitesh Shukla who would take the family politics ahead. Things didn’t work well between them.
He was very particular about his privacy. He ensured that a five-star hotel coming right opposite his house in Raipur didn't get permission above four storeys as it would give a clear view of his swimming pool if they constructed the fifth floor.
In 2002 August 16, he cut short his United States trip to attend my wedding in Raipur. When the news broke of his death at Medanta. I was looking at the Sarwoski peacock he gave me as wedding gift. Three bullets pumped into him my Maoists during an attack in Jiram valley in Chhattisgarh earlier this month proved fatal. The man who thought he would give a last performance politically in uprooting BJP government in Chhattisgarh had to sleep forever.
His last words to me three months back – I want to write an autobiography, from my days with Sanjay Gandhi to present-day Congress politics. With him, however, is lost treasure of stories from the second Lok Sabha till now. He was among the few veteran politicians who made a mark and died with dignity. Sleep well sir.
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