TT Epaper
The Telegraph
Graphiti
 
IN TODAY'S PAPER
WEEKLY FEATURES
CITIES AND REGIONS
ARCHIVES
Since 1st March, 1999
 
THE TELEGRAPH
 
 
CIMA Gallary

In Varanasi, 24x7 Dada vs rest

Varanasi, Feb. 12: The very suggestion that Shyam Deo Roy Chaudhary should “retire” and that if he did not, people would send him into “forced superannuation” with “lasting goodwill” as pension was rebuffed even by the youths.

The idea emanated from a supporter of the Samajwadi Party candidate, Ishtakbal Qureishi, who like others, hopes to come up trumps against the city’s “durable Dada” Varanasi’s moniker for one of its favourite politicians. The polls will be held on Wednesday.

At 70, Chaudhary is contesting the seventh time from Varanasi (South), a seat he has always won, regardless of whether the graph of his party, the BJP, rises or plummets.

No jeeps or cars or bikes for him: he campaigns on foot, calls on his voters personally and addresses the odd nukkad sabha (street-corner meetings), sans the stock heartland appurtenance of flunkeys and fair-weather followers.

Even his sons Swa Prakash and Pranab Prakash, who own a hotel, have made themselves scarce, lest the hint of an association provokes the charge of nepotism against their father.

Chaudhary is an oddity in the BJP and Uttar Pradesh politics because he has negotiated both on his terms.

“His fundamentals are simple,” says Swa. “He is available 24/7. We have people knocking at our door past midnight. Once when I told someone that my father would be available the next morning, before I knew, baba was on his feet. He chided me, saying only if somebody had an emergency, would they disturb him and that I had no business turning the person away. Baba does not have national or state-level ambitions. His obsession is local,” the son said.

So much so that when there was a BJP government in Lucknow, he fasted to demand better sewer and potable water facilities for his constituency. When he was a minister in the Ram Prakash Gupta cabinet, he fasted for eight days, this time to demand the withdrawal of load-shedding in Varanasi. “He picketed the electricity board office,” recalled friend and political aide Tulsi Subrahmanyam Joshi.

Born into a land-owning family of Jessore now in Bangladesh bad days forced them to relocate to Varanasi. Chaudhary first apprenticed in a shop making spectacles and then set up his own photography outlet. He got associated with the RSS and later its political front, the Jan Sangh. After doing the drill as a ward councillor, he became an MLA for the first time in 1985.

“He does not wear the communal taint because every community votes him for his work,” said Joshi.

That might be a bit of an overstatement because delimitation has deprived Chaudhary of a Bengali-majority segment and appended a Muslim-dominated one. Here, every Muslim spoken to said he or she would vote the Congress’s Daya Shankar Mishra because of his “positive image”.

Indeed, Chaudhary is having to work overtime, managing his Hindu votes, especially those of the Brahmins, some of whom considered Mishra as an option. “But in the end, Dada will pull through because Varanasi likes low-key persons, not show-offs,” said Rajneesh Shukla, a professor of comparative philosophy at the local Sampurnanand University.

In an ambience whose discourse is dominated by corruption allegations against the Centre and the Mayawati government, the city’s elite have embraced “Dada” as an asset. “Every leader should be like him. He uses a two-wheeler only in extreme circumstances. At his age, he prefers to foot it out. As long as he is alive, we will not allow Dada to retire,” said lawyer Suresh Chaubey.

Chaudhary continues living in a decrepit two-storied house he moved into in 1950. It is crying out for renovation but the family said the patriarch wouldn’t hear of it. When his wife passed away a couple of years ago, L.K. Advani had come over to condole Chaudhary. Advani stared at the peeling walls and the leaking roofs and wondered how after all these years, the house was exactly the way it was when he had first visited it. “But we are happy,” Swa told him.

Chaudhary has turned down offers of security cover from successive governments. “The people are his security cordon. He does not want anything to come between him and them,” said Prakash Yadav, another of his aides.