A democrat and a radical

Print edition : August 03, 2002
Krishan Kant, 1927-2002.

VICE-PRESIDENT Krishan Kant died on July 27, barely two days after the nation watched him translate into Hindi the speech delivered by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam after he was sworn in President. The 75-year-old freedom fighter had looked cheerful and healthy as he read out the speech.

The government, after a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, declared three days of national mourning for Kant, who would have completed his term as Vice-President on August 20. However, the meetings with the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, who arrived the same evening on a mission to defuse the tensions between India and Pakistan, were held as scheduled. An official dinner to be hosted by External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha was cancelled.

Krishan Kant was rushed to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) after he was found unconscious in bed in the morning. Efforts by a team of doctors failed to revive him, and he was declared dead at 8-45 a.m. A spokesman of the AIIMS said that Kant had suffered a cardiac arrest in his sleep

-B. MATHUR/REUTERS

Among the leaders who visited the hospital were the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, and the newly-elected President, who made the visit setting aside protocol. In his condolence message Kalam said: "In his passing away, the nation has suffered an irreparable loss and has been deprived of a man of great eminence and scholarly persuasion and above all an excellent human being." Describing Krishan Kant as a freedom fighter, an admirable personality and an eminent leader, the President said: "I am deeply shocked and grieved to learn of the sad and untimely demise of Kant". Vajpayee described Krishan Kant as a "lotus in the murky waters of politics" and said that his demise had left the nation in a state of shock. "He first fought for freedom and later for the principles of democracy," Vajpayee said. Last year, on December 13 Kant barely escaped when terrorists attacked the Parliament House. The terrorists had an altercation with the Vice-President's security staff and escorts. This was followed by an exchange of fire in which security personnel and several others lost their lives.

The vice-presidential election is scheduled for August 12. In the intervening period, Najma Heptullah, the Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, will preside over the House of Elders.

Kant, 75, had emerged as a possible consensus candidate for the presidency after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Opposition failed to agree on former Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander or the incumbent President K.R. Narayanan. However, at the last minute, the ruling combine decided to field Abdul Kalam instead, and the Congress(I) and the Samajwadi Party endorsed his candidature.

KRISHAN KANT was born into a family of freedom fighters on February 28, 1927, in Kot Mohammed Khan village in Amritsar. His father, Lala Achint Ram, was a member of the Constituent Assembly and later became a Member of Parliament. Following in the footsteps of his father, Kant participated actively in the Quit India movement of 1942 while he was a student in Lahore. He was arrested along with other members of his family. He did his masters degree in technology from the Banaras Hindu University and worked as a scientist with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Delhi. Post-Independence, Kant became a prominent Congress leader in Punjab, serving as a member of the All India Congress Committee and as secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party. A Gandhian, he led the Bhoodan Movement in Punjab.

Krishan Kant crossed swords with Indira Gandhi, on the issue of his vocal support to Jayaprakash Narayan and his movement against corruption. In 1975, he was expelled from the Congress for organising a national seminar against the imposition of the Emergency. He spent 19 months in jail during the Emergency, and later joined the Janata Party and then the Janata Dal. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1966 to 1977; he was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977. In 1990, he was appointed Governor of Andhra Pradesh, a position that he held along with the additional charge as the Governor of Tamil Nadu, from 1996 to August 21, 1997, when he won the vice-presidential election, defeating another Punjab leader, Surjit Singh Barnala.

Krishan Kant was known for his radical views and was not shy of voicing them, even after he became Vice-President. While participating in meetings and seminars as a member of the executive council of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, he expressed his support for India's nuclear weapons programme. Since the 1970s Kant has been advocating radical electoral reforms and a reshaping of the electoral process. In a letter to the then Congress president, S.D. Sharma, he spoke out against the use of black money in elections.

But the radical in him did not dwarf the finer aspects of his persona. His love for Urdu poetry was something that he had acquired during his upbringing in Lahore. He was a prolific writer, who has contributed to prominent dailies and other periodicals on issues as diverse as international politics, science, policy and culture.

Krishan Kant is survived by his wife, Suman Kant, a prominent social worker, two sons, a daughter and, his 97-year-old mother.

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