No hatred

Print edition : February 12, 2010

With Siddhartha Shankar Ray (right) and Maya Ray.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH With Siddhartha Shankar Ray (right) and Maya Ray.

We fought vigorously, never viciously.

Siddhartha Shankar Ray, former Congress Chief Minister of West Bengal.

IF you see a man who has been Chief Minister for 23 years, you can certainly consider that man god-gifted. Jyoti was god-gifted. He was a brilliant and charming person whom one would be fortunate to have as a friend. I am six years younger than Jyoti, and all the educational institutes that he went to, I went to, only six years later first Loreto and then St Xaviers; only in St Xaviers I switched schools. Then we both became barristers.

I have known Jyoti since 1946, that is, more than 60 years ago. To be associated with someone like him, I consider it not only a great honour but also a remarkable experience. Though we were enemies politically, we were really very good friends. We fought politically both inside the House and outside it. We fought vigorously but never viciously; there was no hatred. I remember once, when we were both present in the House, and, trying to calm the situation, I said, Jyoti, why are you saying all this? After all, the end question is, who will go first? Will you go first, or will I? He got the joke. He had an excellent dry sense of humour.

I remember once when he secretly went to meet Indira Gandhi in New Delhi. I was taking him to her and was driving the car. The talk between the two was brief, and the principal question he asked Indira was: What are your plans for East Pakistan?

This was before the Bangladesh war. Indira shot back: What makes you think Ill tell you that? So we walked out and got back into the car. After going round in circles for a long time, we came to the conclusion that we had lost our way. You see, I was new to Delhi, with just four-five months behind me as Minister, and Jyoti knew absolutely nothing about Delhi roads. It was quite late in the night and there was nobody around to ask for directions. Suddenly we chanced upon a police station. I told Jyoti that I would go inside and seek help.

He said, Are you an idiot? If you take help from the police now, tomorrow the whole country will know that you and I were wandering about in the same car at this time of the night, and worse, they will also subsequently come to know that I had met Indira Gandhi. (Smiles.)

I think he would have made a first-class Prime Minister. I remember he called it a historic or was it a Himalayan? blunder. In my opinion, it was higher than a Himalayan blunder. I may be wrong, let posterity be the judge but in my opinion, it was a terrible mistake to stop him from becoming Prime Minister; a terrible mistake. If Jyoti had been Prime Minister, the government would have continued. He was so brilliant that there was no one else who could have taken his place. It would have been a great thing for Bengal as well.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay
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