Alone in the crowd
Babulal Gaur (June 2, 1930-August 21, 2019)
I remember telling Babulal Gaur that his constituency and my constituency were the same. He responded with a hearty laugh. He was at that time a newly-elected MLA from the Govindpura constituency in Bhopal. I had just joined The Hitavada as its BHEL Correspondent.
My “jurisdiction” included most of his constituency. Those days, I used to write a weekly column entitled “BHEL Round-Up” in which I would discuss an aspect of the huge BHEL township. It could be about the Bengalis of BHEL or the state of schools in the area.
Since BHEL was my beat, I had many occasions to meet Gaur at public functions. Every time, he would recognise me and publicly acknowledge my presence. It could be by mentioning my name in his speech or giving me a chair in the front row.
He was totally unassuming. Whenever I wanted to quote him in my column, all I needed to do was to call him. If he was at home, whatever be the time, he would answer the call. He was an MLA but he had no airs about him. He himself would come to our office to deliver press releases.
He used such occasions to catch up with reporters. The Emergency was in force at that time and political activity was minimal, but he kept himself busy taking up people’s causes. It was obvious to everyone that he would do well in politics.
Gaur created a record in electoral politics by winning the Govindpura constituency as many as 10 times. He was like the late KM Mani who represented Pala in the Kerala Assembly for a similar period.
Unlike Mani whose popularity decreased over time as could be seen from his margin of victory, Gaur’s popularity never waned. If he had been given a ticket in the last Assembly election, he would no doubt have won the seat again.
When he was denied the seat, he insisted that the party ticket be given to his daughter-in-law who won by a big margin. She had earlier completed a full term as the Mayor of Bhopal.
All this showed his popularity as a legislator. It would be an understatement to say that Gaur was very shrewd. One decision he took early in his career played a major role in his success as a politician. He dropped “Yadav” from his name. Instead, he coined a caste-neutral name “Gaur.”
How did he get the new name? As the story goes, his teacher had once said about Babulal that he was very “gaur” (attentive) in the class. By dropping the caste name, he could rise above the caste differences in electoral politics.
I doubt whether he would have succeeded in politics if he had flaunted his Yadav title. Bhopal has a history of its own which is unique in many ways. It was ruled successively by four Begums, who gave to the city gardens and palaces; the Bhopal Municipal Corporation Office and Saifia College function from some of them today.
I had several occasions to meet the last Begum, a very handsome lady, who never ruled the state but received the Privy Purse because her elder sister had migrated to Pakistan. When Bhopal became the capital of Madhya Pradesh, there was a sudden influx of people from all over the country turning Bhopal into a cosmopolitan city.
The setting up of large companies like the BHEL and Union Carbide also brought people from all corners of the country. Gaur knew that as a Yadav, he had lesser appeal to the voters of Govindpura. My association with Gaur ended when I left Bhopal to join The Searchlight at Patna in 1980.
The last time I met him was at the Mahatma Gandhi Medical College Hospital when I returned to Bhopal to report the gas tragedy. He was busy supervising cremations and burials of those killed when poisonous gas from the pesticides factory spread in the city. He also had to arrange relief for those who lost their kith and kin. Yet, he patiently answered all my questions.
In due course, he became minister and, finally, chief minister. The BJP in Madhya Pradesh is notorious for spreading rumours about its leaders and, thereby, finishing them. Kailash Joshi was one such victim. Rumours spread that he was suffering from a disease, as a result of which he needed to sleep most of the time.
How could such a man be the CM? He was duly replaced by VK Saklecha, who was reportedly the source of the rumours against Joshi. When Uma Bharti became Chief Minister, the propaganda against her was even more vicious. As a result, she had to go. The beneficiary was Babulal Gaur.
The same strategy of vilification was used against Gaur. He was portrayed as a womaniser. The husbands of two Muslim women alleged in public that Gaur had stolen the hearts of their spouses.
It became hilarious when the women themselves descended on the hall where their husbands were addressing a press conference to give them a verbal thrashing and to state that “Gaur Sahib” was a father-figure for them. Whether he was a father-figure or a sugar daddy, the husbands never spoke afterwards.
However, the party men who did not like Gaur continued with their pernicious campaign. They even spread rumours about his relationship with a close female relative. Ultimately, they created a situation whereby he had to quit office. The myth spread by the BJP was that he resigned on his own. However, Gaur himself disclosed that he received a call from party chief LK Advani asking him to tender his resignation.
He had no issues of personal prestige when he joined as a minister in the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. He once again proved that he was a master of realpolitik. Gaur was a dyed-in-the-wool RSS worker but it did not prevent him from acknowledging the greatness of Jawaharlal Nehru. As the story goes, he attended an INTUC session where Nehru was present. He wore the RSS cap. When someone objected to his wearing the cap, Nehru intervened with his quip: “The cap suits him”.
Gaur preferred to keep the RSS cap all his life. That did not prevent Muslims from voting for him. He loved Bhopal so much that he wanted to make it the Paris of the East. It did not matter to him that in the process he was called “Babulal, the Bulldozer”!
(The writer is a former editor based in Delhi.)