Shekhawat -- a deft politician with friends in all parties

Last Updated: Saturday, May 15, 2010 - 12:48

Jaipur: Respected as a deft politician,
Bhairon Singh Shekhawat enjoyed the enviable reputation of
`Ajatshatru` -- for having friends across the political
spectrum in his over five decades-long political career.

The former Vice President, who died here at the age of
87, was undoubtedly among the top three leaders of the BJP
along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani who brought him
to the centre-stage as Vice President in August 2002 after the
BJP-led NDA gained power at the Centre.

Known as `Bhairon Baba` among his admirers for his
immense political skills, he was thrice Chief Minister of
Rajasthan and led the opposition for several years in the
desert state.

In the course of his long innings, Shekhawat headed the
Jan Sangh in the state and served as national vice-president
of the BJP.

"Age is no bar for me", Shekhawat had said when he was
Vice President and had climbed the Eiffel Tower at the age of
83.

The remark was significant and gave a clear indication
that he would run for the Presidentship of India, the election
for which was due in 2007.

When journalists accompanying him to Paris asked him
whether he now planned to `conquer new heights`, a euphemism
for the Presidential race, Shekhawat had cryptically remarked,
"Age is no bar for me."

The remark showed his confidence even though the odds
were clearly against him. Shekhawat eventually lost the
Presidential race to Pratibha Patil.

The 2007 presidential election became an acrimonious
affair with both sides levelling charges and counter-charges,
seeking to dig up the past of the rival candidates and their
families.

Born on October 23, 1923 in Khachariyawas, a small
village in Sikar district, Shekhawat always credited his
success to destiny and the `magic of democracy`.

His father`s early death forced the school-going
Shekhawat, the eldest among eight siblings, to quit studies
and join the police service to support the family.

After he had risen to the post of assistant sub-inspector
in 1948, Shekhawat decided to quit the police.

Four years later, he successfully contested his first
assembly election from Danta-Ramgarh constituency in Rajasthan
on a Jan Sangh ticket.

Starting as a fiery legislator, Shekhawat gradually
proved himself to be a formidable opposition leader and an
able administrator as Chief Minister.

Shekhawat was the only member of the Rajasthan
assembly to have won in every assembly election since 1952
till he became Vice President in 2002, except in 1972 when he
lost from Gandhi Nagar in Jaipur.

His other major electoral loss was in 1971 when he
contested from Barmer in the Lok Sabha polls.

Shekhawat was later elected to the Rajya Sabha from
neighbouring Madhya Pradesh in 1974.

He enjoyed the distinction of heading three non-Congress
governments in the state during 1977-1980, 1990-1992 and
1993-1998.

In 1980 and 1992, his governments were dismissed by the
Centre before they could complete their tenures. In 1993,
despite a thin majority, the BJP government led by Shekhawat
managed to complete its term.

His tenure as the Chief Minister of the desert state
was marked by pragmatism as his government launched
path-breaking policies.

His brainchild - the Antyodaya scheme to help the poorest
of the poor, brought international accolades for Shekhawat
with the then World Bank chief Robert McNamara describing him
as the Rockfeller of India.

PTI



First Published: Saturday, May 15, 2010 - 12:48

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