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Statesman Gentleman par excellence: Satyendra Narain Sinha

 

 

“‘Chhote Saheb,, as he was popularly called, was an important political leader of Bihar, a distinguished Parliamentarian, and someone who had the interests of his state and people uppermost in his mind.During his long public life of over six decades, S. N. Sinha Ji made significant contributions in streamlining the education system of Bihar.”-Vice- President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari

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For the perennially plugged in and online generation of twitter friendly, tech savvy youths.,who have been brought up in an era post economic reforms of 1991 that witnessed unprecedented sea changes in economical, social, political, and cultural matrix of the society, “Chhote Saheb”, as late Satyendra Narayan Sinha was affectionately called by the people of Bihar will be a fascinating public figure to explore albeit a difficult model to follow!

He was a statesman who stood tall among his contemporaries and became one of the most respected and powerful leaders from Bihar on national stage during 1960’s and remained an influential factor at the electoral hustings and political scene of Bihar till 2000s. (Even when an entirely new generation of leadership had emerged on the national scene from Bihar,most of whom were his erstwhile protege)

No matter whether he held any political office or not, his massive popularity and admiration among the masses remained undiminished throughout his impeccable career of over six decades. He was loved dearly by the masses cutting across social spectrum and once had an unique political acumen to determine the electoral prospects of a candidate in assembly elections by just sitting in his magnificent drawing room in Patna.

Born on 12th July 1917 to legendary Bihar Vibhuti Anugrah babu( Mahatama Gandhi’s close associate during historic Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 and later Bihar’s first Deputy Chief Minister cum Finance Minister, S N Sinha did grew up in the political shadow of his illustrious father and an equally illustrious colleague of his father Late Bihar Kesari Shri Krishna Singh (Bihar’s first Chief Minister) but he emerged as a leader in his own right. He spent his student years under the tutelage of Lal Bahadur Shastri at Allahabad and was drawn into the freedom movement during the historic Quit India movement of 1942 when he abandoned a promising career in law to join the rough and tumble political stage of a Country dictated by foreign rule.He belonged to that new generation of Satyagrahis and young nationalists who had abandoned lucrative career profiles and comforts and took a deep plunge into the decisive battle of Quit India Movement of 1942.During the draconian suppression of the movement by the British,S. N. Sinha went underground like his illustrious contemporary peers and continued his relentless fight for the freedom of the motherland.

After India got Independence in 1947,he was entrusted with the responsibility of organizing the first ever official flag hoisting function of Independent India in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan where he rose to the  occasion and the grand function secured a place into the historybooks. He was elected to the Provisonal parliament of India from Bihar in 1950 and entered the first Lok sabha after the first general elections in 1952. He remained a member of the house of the people for seven record terms. He was part of the “Young Turk” brigade alias “Ginger Brigade” of the Indian National Congress party during the time of Nehru.When the first union ministry was to be constituted after the general elections of 1952, despite being among the probables,Chhote Saheb willfully chose to serve the organisation to safeguard his right to fair criticism and genuine assessment of the policies of central government (An unprecedented act of self  abnegation which became a hallmark of his personality later)

It was in 1961 when he emerged as the “King maker” in Bihar politics and helped Pandit Binodananda Jha Jha become the Chief Minister of Bihar after the death of Sri babu. When CM Jha resigned inder the “Kamaraj Plan” that sent people in office for organisational work, his support ensured thatShri K B Sahay occupied the CM’s chair. The official number ‘two’ and the ‘de facto ‘Chief Minister of Bihar’ from 1960-1967, holding portfolios of Education, LSG, and Agriculture, he streamlined the entire educational structure of Bihar and spearheaded the process of establishing an exemplary education policy.

He established new universities including the largest university of state till date i.e. Magadh University, Ranchi University, Sanskrit University of Darbhanga and also restored autonomous status to Patna University. The then Prime Minister Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru not only appreciated his work in Bihar but also asked other states to follow Bihar’s educational model.

A year before the general elections, after Prime Minister Shastri’s death in 1966, the newly appointed Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi wanted  Satyendra Babu to become the next Chief Minister of Bihar and sent then Union External Affairs Minister Dinesh Singh to convey the proposal but he refused since he did not want to be ‘selected’ to unseat K B Sahay whom he had himself supported but wanted to be elected by the people of state.

He never hankered after political offices or power even if it was well within his reach though this political sacrifice had serious implications later. He also played a pivotal role in formation of Bihar ministeries headed by chief ministers Bhola Paswan Shastri, Harihar Singh, BP Mandal, and Satish Prasad Singh.

When the Congress split in 1969, he stayed with the old guard of then Deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai while he could have thrown his considerable political weight behind Mrs Indira Gandhi and secured a berth in the Central Ministry (like some of the leaders with little or no mass base did). Even in Congress, he always encouraged the younger generation of politicians, his active political support brought then young leaders like Dr Jagannath Mishra (who later became Bihar CM thrice) and Sadanand Singh (later Speaker of the Assembly) into the Assembly and they were elected MLA’s for the first time.

His most valuable contribution to the political scenario of Bihar was during the turbulent period of Emergency (1975-77) when he became the charismatic President of Bihar State Janata party and chairman of the election committee. Satyendra Babu was a leading light of Jaya Prakash Narayan’s ‘complete revolution’ movement during the Emergency from Bihar and was  a pivotal pillar of strength for the movement.The grand movement achieved massive electoral success in Bihar also and Janata party won all 54 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar under his presidency.

He worked together with premier leaders of Janata Party like Morarji Desai, Chandra Shekhar Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Madhu Limaye, Ram Krishna Hedge, Inder Kumar Gujral, Raj Narain, George Fernandes, and Karpuri Thakur.

As the tallest leader of the Janta coalition in Bihar, Chairman of state election committee and member of national executive of Janata party, his political encouragement to the youths led to the emergence of then young leaders of Janata party like Nitish Kumar, Raghuvansh Prasad, Vashisth Narayan Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan, Subodh Kant Sahay,Abdul Bari Siddique,Lalu Prasad Yadav,Hukumdev Narayan Yadav and Sushil Kumar Modi. Each one of them rose on to become big political personalities from Bihar holding union portfolios to chief ministership.

 

He chose to stick with the Janata party even though the Bihar Chief Ministership was immorally denied to him through rustic political machinations and his fellow colleague Karpuri Thakur headed the first Janata party ministry in Bihar after the 1977 elections. However, later he supported his protegeRam Sundar das (Then a first timer MLA) who was elected the new Chief Minister defeating Thakur. Despite the publicly acknowledged close association of Chhote Saheb with Morarji Desai since Congress (O) days in 1960s,he was given the rank of a Union Cabinet Minister but not directly inducted into council of ministers as some lesser known class  based leaders from Bihar who were envious of his meteoric rise on the national political scene during 1974-77  did not want to see him as a potential prime ministerial candidate which he could have become by virtue of being the senior most member of both parliament and ruling party at the center. Prime Minister Charan Singh, in a bid to garner  support in Lok Sabha  openly offered Satyendra Narain Sinha to become the Home Minister of India with a Deputy Prime Minister status and specially came to Patna to convey the proposal but true to himself,Chhote Saheb didnot parted with principle for power!

Sensing the falling graph of Congress despite a revival in 1980 general elections, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi Sent Jaggannath Mishra to persuade S.N.Sinha to join Congress with a place in Union Cabinet but he did not yielded as he did not wanted to be seen  doing politics of power instead of a highly principled politics in which ideals mattered.Perhaps, this repeated denial of berths in Union council of ministers and offers of Chief Ministership for coming to Indira Gandhi’s fold were his greatest mistakes yet biggest  hallmarks of his glittering career.He earned the reputation of being one of the nation’s most influential regional players of the time with a reputation that was synonymous with being a strict disciplinarian and tough taskmaster

It was in 1984 that he rejoined Congress following differences with former PM Chandra Shekhar Singh. The then PM Indira came to Patna specially to induct him into the party but before she could have properly rehabilitated him, she died a week later.

He enjoyed the rank and status of an union cabinet minister as the President of United nations’s International committee of parliamentarians and contributed immensely during his decade long tenure from 1977-1988.

It was in 1989 when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi,facing revolt from former union finance minister V P Singh thought of countering him with Satyendra babu and asked him to take over as Bihar Chief Minister.

Little did he know that the new political leadership of Bihar had different values and will not allow him to continue for long.

As the Chief Minister of Bihar he conceived the Patna Planetarium project and formulation of state’s new industrial policy for the southern region (now Jharkhand). However, the subsequent governments failed to take it further. The Panchayati Raj system of governance was introduced all over the state in the same year. Perhaps one of his biggest contributions was the proposed 5000 crore ‘Bihar package’ aimed at kick-starting phenomenal infrastructure growth in the state. Unfortunately, it later went into oblivion afterwards during the 15 years Old ‘Lalu-Rabri’ Raj regime. He resigned after the Congress debacle in the parliamentary election,though those responsible for it struck to their chairs in party like honeybees.

In 1996 upon the personal insistence of then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, he fought his last Lok Sabha election and was unable to win for the first time in his half a century long political career and resigned from active politics.

In 2000, Prime Minister A B Vajpayee asked him to take over as the Governor of Uttar Pradesh but he declined (As he always had!).

 

An era came to an end when he died on September 4, 2006 at the age of 89. Leaders cutting across political spectrum from throughout the country came to attend his last rites. Nitish Kumar-led Cabinet announced a public mourning of three days and a public holiday.It seemed as if all the roads in the capital city of Patna were only leading to his landmark residence ‘Sopan’ at Boring Road. Chief Minister Nitish ,who was among Satyendra babu’s close followers during the Janta party days announced to take befitting commemorative measures for his erstwhile mentor,some of it has already been implemented by the Bihar government.

Bihar’s Chhote Saheb is no more! But somewhere he continues to exist in the minds of those countless people who have had the privilege to interact with the great leader during his prime. Today while the democratic institutions in India have been taken over by unprecedented magnitude of corruption, favouritism, nepotism, and oppurtunism, we really wonder if a leader like Satyendra Babu would have been relevant today. Politics has become more of a profession today where the impetus is to make personal fortune.

 

While we celebrate Champaran Satyagraha centenary with great pomp and show it is equally important to observe the Centenary of Satyendra Narayan Sinha beginnning July 12th,2017 befittingly, he was among the builders of  modern Bihar,Icon of JP’s Sampoorna Kranti and both the people of  state and its political starts of today owe a lot to him and his unimpeachable principled career of 66 years.

As Late SN Sinha said “People are not as aware about their duties as much they are concerned for their rights.”