Motilal Vora (1927-2020): A tall leader seeped in Gandhian values  

Motilal Vora Ji’s life is a lesson to contemporary politicians who grasp at religious symbols to enforce acceptability amongst the masses, writes former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid

Motilal Vora with Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Photo by Man Mohan Sharma)
Motilal Vora with Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Photo by Man Mohan Sharma)

Salman Khurshid

The affection and respect for Shri Motilal was certainly special; they encapsulated the familial bonds of attachment and affection inherited by our generation of Congress supporters from the generations long gone. Remarkably, Voraji provided an easy connect with past generations even as he felt himself a part of succeeding generations. In no gathering, as most participants became younger by the day, was Vora ji too old or too awesome to be out of place. If anything, his presence led to a peculiar comfort and confidence, a bit like having Father Christmas at a gathering of the youth.

For many years Vora ji and Ahmed Patel (Ahmed Bhai to all of us) worked together to respond to every concern of the party rank and file. They were both seen keeping the leadership discreet company, seldom making speeches, just communicating by their presence. Is it just a coincidence that they will be together again, up in heaven? But the two tireless workaholics, I suspect, will have little to do there. I had the good fortune to see Vora ji from close as the Chief Minister of MP, the Governor of my State Uttar Pradesh and as the treasurer of the AICC. Just as high office for him was simply an opportunity to help any needy who got to him for help, the rough patches in public life, as when he was put under pressure for National Herald, he took it in his stride without fear or frustration.

I hope officials who were forced to prosecute Vora ji will reflect on the tragedy of the good and the noble being harassed for scoring petty political points. But thanks to those people, we were left with a living example of fortitude, loyalty and fearless devotion to duty.

Interestingly Vora ji came to politics through journalism, which with legal practice was once the preferred route to enlightened public life. The profession provided the important connect with public opinion as indeed the sensitivity for public causes and exposure to the disadvantaged groups and individuals. The number of the disadvantaged and the poor Vora ji helped as Governor of UP and in recent years as the Treasurer of the party will perhaps remain known only to the anonymous beneficiaries, for that was the nature of goodness Vora ji’s generation exuded. Having evolved in the decades where service was the theme and brand building a scarce art, Vora ji was, if you please, a quiet brand of goodness.

In describing him as a quintessential Congressman one cannot but underscore the natural secular character of Vora ji’s life. Deep inside, he was a religious person in the best sense of the word but he never felt the need to wear his faith upon his sleeves.

In the UP Raj Bhawan, he had Gandhji’s bhajans played over strategically placed speakers in the garden as he walked each morning with guests and personally fed the cows before settling down to breakfast of parathas and jalebis. I cannot imagine that the Lucknow Raj Bhawan would have before or since welcomed a Gandhian as modest and unassuming as Rajyapal Motilal Vora.

In the footsteps of Gandhi, he neither flaunted religion to underscore a separate identity nor was he self-conscious about giving space to other religions. The life of communal harmony and integrity that was natural to Vora ji stands out as a message to contemporary politicians who grasp at religious symbols to enforce acceptability amongst the masses.

It is a reminder too that rejecting religion is not a pre-requisite for secularism, be it for the majority or the minority. Every day of his life lived well was an affirmation of the idea of India that Vora ji’s generation imbibed from the freedom fighters and committed themselves to carry the flame forward.

And he did it so wonderfully well; but now as he leaves it in our hands, there is understandable concern about how secure it will be in our hands. There is a sense that an era is gone even as harsh winds are blowing. Despite the challenges and the periodic bumps, the past has been glorious and that is the legacy Vora ji and his contemporaries leave behind for us as a reassurance in uncertain times.

It matters not that the incumbent establishment works overtime to decry and destroy the narrative of glory. But of course, the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of India will continue in the knowledge that the best is no longer amongst us. But what better tribute can there be than to overcome political adversity and ideological onslaughts of the forces that have taken upon themselves to rip apart the India we lovingly built.

Vora ji, you will not be there to hold us firm, to utter the words of encouragement, to show us the way in the darkness, offer a cup of tea and inimitable, comforting conversation, but we promise you not to let the flame of freedom and dreams that you left for us to be extinguished or even dimmed by adverse winds that blow.

But at every step, as we balance not to slip or look for a resting place to catch our breath, someone will say ‘if Vora ji were here, it would all be arranged’.

A pillar of strength in many ways, Vora ji, you will be missed but surely arrangements in Heaven will be fine.

(The author is a former External Affairs Minister and a senior Congress leader)

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