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Democracy’s David Dhartipakar loses his final battle
- The Gwalior man who fought against prime ministers and presidents is no more

Bhopal, Jan. 1: Mohan Lal Dhartipakar lost all election fights in his eventful political career spread over four decades. Now he has lost the last fight.

He contested municipal, Assembly, parliamentary and presidential polls with equal zeal, blowing his own hard-earned money, without success, but when the 65-year-old died in Gwalior, his home town, last night, he died without a regret.

Dhartipakar, which translates into someone who has his ear to the ground, was seen as a clown in the political arena. But no one can claim his distinction.

You name a prime minister or a president he hasn’t contested against!

Five prime ministers had to face this indefatigable contestant: Indira Gandhi, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao and even the current one, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and Zail Singh were his rivals in the presidential polls.

It’s another matter that Dhartipakar could never catch up with them and only scored a record number of deposit forfeitures.

In 1991, he travelled to Nandyal in Andhra Pradesh to take on Narasimha Rao and fought against Vajpayee eight years later. None of these national leaders took much notice of him in life and probably are not even aware that he is dead.

But Dhartipakar was serious about democracy, democratic values and accountability in public life. Holder of a first-class LLM degree, he saw no place for consensus in a democratic system.

“People must have a choice. Otherwise there is no point holding elections,” he had said in an interview clarifying that he was not a publicity-crazy person.

He sought to convey the notion that he was driven by an urge to make people aware of the values of democracy. “The idea of contesting at all levels of democracy was to make everyone realise that democracy was meant for one and all and we should all feel part of it,” he had said in the interview.

Whenever he contested elections, Dhartipakar would wear a wooden crown, garland himself and go about ringing a bell.

“The bell was symbolic of alerting the masses,” said Jai Shanker, an old associate of Dhartipakar now residing in Bhopal.

Often he would arrive at Vajpayee’s public meetings in Lucknow and Gwalior sporting a dhoti-kurta just as the now-Prime Minister. “Atalji used to acknowledge his presence. He knew him well as both hailed from Gwalior and Dhartipakar’s family was sympathetic to the Hindu Maha Sabha,” recalled Jai Shanker.

Dhartipakar was a cloth merchant by profession and an able one at that. Evidence of his business success — not as famous as his political adventures —is strewn all over: in the houses and shops he has left to his wife and four children.

But then Dhartipakar was a frugal man, even when chasing his obsession. While contesting elections, he did not spend a lot of money. He would sell his campaign material, like handbills and pamphlets, for a token amount of 25 paise. The objective was to make everyone participate in the democratic process.

His passing away has not registered on the political radar. His opponents were welcoming — and at least one musing on — the New Year when his end came.

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