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Pyre lit, eye on Arjun memoirs

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RASHEED KIDWAI Published 07.03.11, 12:00 AM

Bhopal, March 6: The mortal remains of Arjun Singh were consigned to the flames near Rao Sagar pond in Churhat today, the focus now shifting to the manuscript of his autobiography.

Arjun’s elder son Abhimanyu lit the funeral pyre in the presence of many friends, colleagues and followers of the veteran. Pranab Mukherjee, M.L. Fotedar, Mohsina Kidwai, Kamal Nath, Digvijay Singh, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and governor Rameshwar Thakur were among those present when a huge procession from Arjun’s ancestral village Shivrajpur Sada wound its way to the funeral site.

All eyes are now on Arjun’s autobiography titled A Grain of Sand in the Ocean of Time. The 500-odd page book is being published by Hay House India. Sources said Arjun was in the process of revising the manuscript when he took ill on January 29.

Arjun had planned the autobiography to be released sometime in May this year but now it would be up to his legal heirs to take the final decision.

Congress leaders and Arjun’s associates accord some importance to his account. Throughout his political career spread over five decades, Arjun was considered a politician among politicians. He was Congress vice-president under Rajiv Gandhi and during the height of militancy in Punjab. Arjun also served as governor, stitching the Rajiv-Longowal accord of 1985.

He was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh during the Bhopal gas tragedy that killed over 15,000 people.

Four days before the Babri demolition in December 1992, Arjun was in Lucknow, calling on the then BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh. Arjun, the unofficial No. 2 in the Narasimha Rao cabinet and the self-proclaimed champion of minorities, was supposed to proceed to Ayodhya and report back to Rao about the ground situation.

Instead, Arjun made a hasty retreat to Delhi the same evening and met Rao, apparently to claim that everything was normal and under control.

In subsequent years, despite probing from the media and well-wishers, Arjun had maintained a studied silence, saying he would reveal his version at an “appropriate time”.

Congress leaders have also remained intrigued why Arjun did not resign hours after the mosque was demolished. It is believed that many senior leaders, including party MPs and AICC functionaries, had urged Arjun to quit the ministry and take on the beleaguered Rao.

Arjun avoided giving any categorical reply. But according to IAS officer Sunil Kumar, who had gone to receive him at the airport on December 6, 1992, Arjun had said: “You see, the easiest thing is to become a hero by resigning… and the toughest thing is to stick with him (Rao) and share the blame.”

When the Congress-led UPA rode to power in May 2004 and Sonia Gandhi declined to be Prime Minister, many supporters of Arjun had privately questioned the selection of an “apolitical” Manmohan Singh over the “loyal” Arjun.

Between 2004 and 2009, Arjun found himself increasingly marginalised in the UPA cabinet as well as in the Congress party. He was dropped from an informal “core committee” that used to meet every Friday and, by the time the UPA returned to power in May 2009, he found no place in the new cabinet.

However, the strong sense of loyalty towards the Nehru-Gandhi family did not permit him to go public against Sonia.

In 2009, a biography written by his close associate and journalist Ramsaran Joshi had quoted Arjun’s wife as saying that the veteran leader was “deeply hurt” when Sonia did not consider him for the post of President in 2007.

“What harm would have taken place to Madam (Gandhi) if she had made him the President of India, the person who gave his all to the service of the family?” Saroj had asked.

However, Arjun had told the biographer: “Ab theek hai, jo ho gaya so ho gaya (Now it’s all right. Whatever has happened, has happened).”

Weeks before he took ill, a marginalised Arjun used to keep glancing at his empty appointments diary at his 17 Akbar Road residence. If there were any visitors, they heard Arjun speak of “coalition compulsions”, “the age factor” and “change in political culture, values and ethos” to explain why he was no longer relevant in the Congress.

Family sources said Arjun worked hard on his autobiography, meeting and calling up people who had worked with him.

It remains to be seen if the man who knew so much about the Congress’s palace intrigue, would tell all or portray a “loyalist’ picture of momentous events in the country’s contemporary history.

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