In memoriam: First Dalit CM of Rajasthan Jagannath Prasad Pahadia was a staunch Congress loyalist

Former Rajasthan CM Jagannath Prasad Pahadia, who served as MP for five terms and MLA for four times, besides serving as Governor of Bihar and Haryana, was cremated on Thursday with full state honours

Jagannath Prasad Pahadia (File photo)
Jagannath Prasad Pahadia (File photo)

Prakash Bhandari

The first Dalit Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Jagannath Prasad Pahadia (89), who succumbed to COVID on late Wednesday night, belonged to the Nehruvian era.

The last rites of Pahadia, who served as a Member of the Lok Sabha for five terms and as a member of the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha for four times, besides serving as the Governor of Bihar and Haryana, were performed on Thursday by his son Om Pahadia.

His wife Shanti Pahadia, a former Member of Rajya Sabha, is also critically ill with COVID.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot paid glowing tributes to Pahadia and described him as a veteran leader of the state who served the Cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi.

Rajasthan government has announced state mourning and all the government offices were closed as a mark of respect to Pahadia

Pahadia became the youngest member of Lok Sabha in 1957 when he was elected on a Congress ticket from Sawai Madhopur (SC-reserved) seat in 1957. He was later inducted later as a deputy minister in Pandit Nehru’s cabinet.

Interestingly, it was a chance meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956 which led to Pahadia joining politics. Pahadia, an MA LLB from Rajasthan University, hailed from a very poor family in Bhusawar village in Bharatpur district.

When the tall and thin Pahadia, wearing a kurta-pyjama and a Gandhi cap met Nehru, the latter asked him about the development work and how the country was shaping up after Independence. Pahadia said the country was on a right path, but the Dalits still remained backward and downtrodden.

Nehru asked him to contest the 1957 Lok Sabha election. Pahadia, who had started a legal practice, sought a ticket to contest the Sawai Madhopur seat which was reserved for the Scheduled Caste. He was given the party’s nomination as he was an educated person.

Pahadia at 25 years of age thus became the youngest Member of the Lok Sabha and Pandit Nehru would proudly introduce him as the youngest member of the Lower House.

This is how Pahadia made his entry into politics and became a Union minister, Chief Minister, and served as Governor of Bihar and Haryana.

However, in 1962, the feudal lords in Rajasthan floated the Swatantra Party under the leadership of Gayatri Devi and the Congress received stiff resistance from them. Pahadia lost the 1962 election from Sawai Madhopur to the Swatantra Party’s candidate Kesar Lal.

Later, Sawai Madhopur became a reserved seat for the Scheduled Tribe, and a new constituency called Bayana in Bharatpur district was formed. Pahadia was elected to Lok Sabha from this reserved seat in 1967, 1972 and in 1980.

In 1977, when the Congress went out of power and the Janata Party formed the government at the Centre, Pahadia, who was a deputy minister in Indira Gandhi’s ministry remained loyal to Indira Gandhi. He would regularly go to the AICC office in Delhi and work there the entire day to revive the party.

He came very close to Sanjay Gandhi, who was impressed with his devotion to the party work and loyalty to Indira Gandhi.

In 1980, when the Congress returned to power with a thumping majority, Pahadia was made the Minister of State for Finance. But Sanjay Gandhi, impressed with his unflinching loyalty to the party and Indira Gandhi, decided to give him the command of Rajasthan.

When the Congress fought the Rajasthan Assembly elections in 1980, the Congress candidates were selected by Pahadia.

Since he became a member of Lok Sabha from 1957 till 1980, Pahadia had never dabbled in state politics. Pahadia and Raj Bahadur, who also belonged to Bharatpur district, were active in national politics.

Raj Bahadur was a minister in Pandit Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and later Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet.

In 1980, the Congress came to power with a thumping majority in Rajasthan and Pahadia was made the Chief Minister, a position in which he served for 13 months. He was credited for the massive victory of Congress as the party won 147 out of the 200 seats.

It is noteworthy that Pahadia continued the prohibition policy in the state which was imposed by the Janata Party government between 1977 to 1980. This left the state high and dry with poor finances.

Later, talking about the continuance of prohibition in a meeting with this author, he had said that he was always for prohibition as he had seen with his own eyes how poor families suffered when the breadwinner of the family would spend a large part of his income on liquor. Liquor had ruined a number of families and often, he would hear stories of how drunken poor would beat their wife and children.

Pahadia could not excel as an administrator and could not enjoy the confidence of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy was annoyed with Pahadia because he brought a Union Territory cadre IAS officer, C S Khairwal as his principal secretary. Khairwal was a rank outsider to the state and had no knowledge about it.

Pahadia’s detractors, particularly Shiv Charan Mathur – who was not included in his Cabinet – were annoyed with the Chief Minister and reported Pahadia’s poor handling of the state’s affairs to the party’s leadership in Delhi.

Pahadia had lost a lot of his clout in Delhi following the death of Sanjay Gandhi in an air crash.

Pahadia also paid a heavy price for criticizing noted Hindi poetess Mahadevi Verma. Verma, who belonged to Allahabad and was close to Indira Gandhi, was hurt when Pahadia mocked her as a “Chhayawadi” poetess. Pahadia ridiculed her in a literary function and said that he was never been able to understand her poetry.

It is said that a hurt Mahadevi Verma complained against Pahadia to Indira Gandhi.

The dissension against Pahadia grew and he started getting hints from the party’s leadership in Delhi to quit.

He resigned as Chief Minister after 13 months. After that he was elected to the Vidhan Sabha on four occasions. He lost the Vidhan Sabha election in 2003 after which he never contested any elections.

He did not dabble in state politics and when the offer came to take charge as Governor of Haryana, he accepted the offer.

Pahadia and his wife Shanti Pahadia, spent a quiet life in Jaipur after retiring from public life.

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    Published: 20 May 2021, 9:40 PM