| IK Gujral |
Patna, Nov. 30: I.K. Gujral and Lalu Prasad worked as “saviour” to each other during the turbulent 1990s although they were quite different in their demeanour, disposition, upbringing and traits.
The former Prime Minister’s death today came as a shock to Lalu. The RJD chief, who embarked on the second phase of his Parivartan Yatra against the Nitish Kumar regime, failed to hold back his emotion. “Besides the huge loss to the nation, Gujral sahib’s death is a personal loss to us. He was the gem of the old-generation leaders. A Left-oriented statesman, thinker and philosopher, Gujral’s contribution to the nation building was second to none,” Lalu said.
It was Lalu who invited Gujral to contest the Patna Lok Sabha seat in 1991 after the Janata Dal think tank sensed that he would find it hard to sail through on the Jalandhar seat he had won in 1989. Backed by Lalu, then all-powerful Bihar chief minister, Gujral contested against Yashwant Sinha, then a candidate of the Samajvadi Janata Party formed by Chandra Shekhar.
Old-timers still recall how Lalu used his skill with rusticity to whip up the passion of the Yadavs in Gujral’s favour. “Gujral sahib gujjar hain aur gujjar ka matlab hota hai Punjabi Yadav. Yeh hamare khoon hain (Gujral sahib is a gujjar and gujjar means Punjabi Yadav. He is in our blood relationship),” Lalu famously announced, introducing Gujral in several areas of Patna during campaigns.
Incidentally, the election on Patna seat during the ballot paper days witnessed a widespread violence, prompting Yashwant and others to demand countermanding the poll.
The Election Commission headed by T.N. Seshan, eventually, countermanded it goading the wily Lalu to dub it as a “Seshan versus Nation” battle. However, Lalu stood with Gujral even after polling was countermanded: “Chinta mat kijiye Gujral sahib, hum aap ko Rajya Sabha mein bhejengein (Don’t worry Gujral Sahib. I will send you to the Rajya Sabha).” Lalu kept his words and Gujral got elected to the Rajya Sabha as a Janata Dal nominee in 1992.
Gujral was believed to have returned the “favour” after he became the Prime Minister when Lalu was embroiled in the Rs 1,000-crore fodder scam case. The CBI sought the permission from the governor to prosecute Lalu. Insiders believe that Gujral virtually bailed out Lalu by ensuring “smooth transfer” of power from him to his wife, Rabri Devi.
In what was also described as a “very controversial” decision and “out of way favour” to Lalu, Joginder Singh, the CBI director, who had cleared chargesheets against Lalu, was removed when Gujral was the Prime Minister.