In my long career as a journalist I have met nearly two dozen chief ministers in various states of the country. But there was no one like Bhairon Singh Shekawat, the former chief minister of Rajasthan.
My first meeting with Shekhawat, who later on became the vice president of India, will remain etched in my memory forever.
It was early 90s. I had landed in Jaipur in connection with a story about the BJP-ruled states in the country. I sought an appointment with the chief minister. I was asked to come at 8.30 to his official residence for the interview and also join him for breakfast.
On the appointed day and time I was outside the CM House in Jaipur’s Civil Lines locality. I was a little apprehensive as my taxi entered its gates.
In my experience, security personnel did not like a vehicle with commercial number plate. But the couple of lazy-looking policemen simply waved the car as I told them that I had an appointment with the CM.
This was the first surprise. I was based at Bhopal, where, as India Today correspondent, I had to deal with Sunderal Patwa as CM. He was a tough nut, not easily accessible even to his own partymen.
Often my requests for appointments materialized long after the concerned story had appeared in the print. Meeting a chief minister was such a hassle — going through elaborate security and a maze of maddening bureaucracy.
As I entered the gates, I found an office complex on the right side. I went looking for a staff member to inform Shekhawat that I had arrived. But it was quite early, I guess and most office rooms were locked.
I spotted a couple of employees in a room and told them about the appointment. They simply asked me to proceed towards the sprawling bungalow.
This was the second surprise. Till now I had not been frisked, I had not been asked for identity papers of any sort, I was not even questioned about whether I really had an appointment with the CM.
As I stood on the deserted veranda of the bungalow, I thought someone would soon take me to Shekhawat. But there was not a soul in sight.
After waiting for a couple of minutes I knocked at the doors of the first room and entered. It turned out to be the drawing room, but totally deserted. I returned to the veranda.
Soon I spotted a busy-looking domestic and he turned out to be well-informed, like most domestics. He directed me towards one of the rooms.
I thought I had been directed towards a visitor’s room where the CM would meet me. But the third, and final surprise of the day, awaited me as I opened its half-ajar doors.
Shekhawat was inside, trying to tie his dhoti, dressed only in his vest, an old-fashioned dress sewn with deep pockets, the kind of thing my father used to wear.
It was obvious that Shekhawat had just emerged from his bath and was in the process of getting dressed. Astounded, I turned back to exit the room. But the CM asked me to come in.
There was already another person in the room, a neta from one of the districts, who had come to brief him about an incident. Shekhawat kept listening to him even while tying his dhoti.
Even as he was dressing up, Shekhawat started talking to me as if he had known me all his life. Within a couple of minutes he developed an ever-lasting rapport.
I had meetings with CMs in strangest of places. I once met Haryana’s Bansi Lal sprawled on his bed with a servant massaging his feet. Laloo Yadav, of course, meets everyone in his cattle-shed. But this took the cake.
Shekhawat was easily one of the most accessible chief ministers in this country. That helped him keep his ears close to the ground. Once when I was sitting with him, the intelligence chief rang up to brief him about an incident.
After listening to him patiently, Shekhawat gave him more information about the incident! It turned out that he was better-informed than the intelligence department!
Congress leader Motilal Vora is also one of the most accessible politicians in the country. He had long innings as a union minister, chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and Governor of UP.
He is a thorough gentleman and very humble. This incident took place soon after he had taken over as the CM of MP in the mid-80s.
Taking advantage of his humble nature, many visitors used to enter his office without waiting for their turn. Hence, sometimes his chamber would resemble a doctor’s clinic at a government hospital. I was once sitting in such a crowded room, waiting for my turn, when in barged a leader.
The visitor was not only in a hurry, he also wanted to discuss something which was, apparently, confidential. So he started whispering in Vora’s ears. Vora got up from his chair, beckoned the leader to follow and opened a door leading to another room.
It turned out to be a washroom. The two leaders had their confidential conversation there.
First Print 16 December 2018