Former Governor, Union Minister and erstwhile Delhi Chief Minister, Madan Lal Khurana was deeply committed towards the welfare of the common masses, and his unflinching belief in political correctness often landed him in trouble with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s central leadership. He was even silently sabotaged in his bid to get a second term in office by top guns in the BJP. His contrarian streak was visible when he emerged as the champion of Keshubhai Patel in 2001 and sought that he should remain Chief Minister of Gujarat. It was only after Khurana was relieved of the responsibilities as the BJP general secretary in-charge of the state by then president, Jana Krishnamurthy (acting on the instructions of A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani) that Narendra Modi was asked to take over the hot seat in a damage control exercise on 7 October 2001, with a fuming Patel consigned to the sidelines.
Khurana, who passed away last week, did not harbour any personal grudge against Modi, but when he was approached by top party leaders with the request to back Modi being made the Chief Minister, Khurana asked them on what basis he could justify his elevation to the top post when he (Modi) had never been an elected representative. He conveyed to the growing number of backers of Narendra Modi that there was “no vacancy” in Gujarat and that Patel was “firmly in control” of the situation, contrary to media speculation.
Modi, who was the mascot during the Kanyakumari to Srinagar Ekta Yatra led by Dr Murli Manohar Joshi and had subsequently accompanied L.K. Advani on his Yatra, remained the strongest contender. L.K. Advani mounted pressure on Jana Krishnamurthy and made him assign Khurana some other responsibilities instead of being in-charge of Gujarat. His supporters were able to convince Atal Bihari Vajpayee through a close family member, and were happy that Advani wanted to replace Patel as the Chief Minister with Modi.
Khurana was extremely distraught with the development and shared his discontentment with a select few journalists with whom he shared a good rapport. But when Khurana’s eldest son Vimal passed away, Modi telephoned his wife Vandana to convey his heartfelt condolences.
In his six-decade-long public career, Khurana had many run-ins with powerful people. Soon after he was elected as Delhi Chief Minister in 1993, Mukesh Ambani visited his official residence at 33, Sham Nath Marg in Civil Lines. The Reliance Group was proposing to set up a power plant at Bawana in North Delhi and he was hopeful that he would get the requisite permission. Khurana told a few journalists with whom he was close that he was taken aback when some of his guests enquired about his son and offered to make him a partner in some business venture. Vimal, who had been introduced to the country’s richest industrialist, informed him that he was content with whatever he was doing. After Mukesh Ambani left, Khurana marked the file for comments to former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), T.N. Chaturvedi, who had joined the BJP. After going through it, Chaturvedi marked some red lines which Khurana agreed to while rejecting the proposal.
For this rebuff, backers of the Ambanis never forgave Khurana and were said to have influenced both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, to retract their decision of appointing Khurana as the Chief Minister again on 9 October 1998. Of course, this is only conjecture, and there may have been other reasons for Khurana’s failure to land the job a second time. The late Union Minister, Pramod Mahajan convinced Vajpayee and Advani that to prevent Khurana and his bête noire Sahib Singh Verma from quarrelling, it would be prudent to appoint Sushma Swaraj as a non-controversial Chief Minister. This way, the shrewd and perceptive Mahajan managed to ease out Swaraj from the Telecom Ministry she was then heading, while simultaneously blocking Khurana’s return as CM.
Khurana felt totally betrayed by Vajpayee and Advani, but continued to serve the party. In 2003, the BJP agreed to project Khurana once more as its Chief Ministerial nominee to challenge Sheila Dikshit. However, the Delhi strongman never had his say and tickets were distributed arbitrarily to set up hurdles for him. For instance, no Brahmin was given a ticket in any of the 21 Assembly segments that constituted the Outer Delhi Parliamentary Lok Sabha seat, upsetting the caste balance. In such ways, his election was deliberately sabotaged. The talk within party circles, at that time, was that Advani himself wanted Sheila Dikshit to continue and thus stalled Khurana’s chances. Admirers of the former “Louha Purush” of the BJP however contest such claims.
However, the theory that Advani was the roadblock to Khurana gained credence when the Delhi veteran was poised to take over as the Leader of Opposition. At that point of time, his clout was so much that the bureaucracy recognised his authority, and had he been given the opportunity, CM Sheila Dikshit would have found it hard to function. In a snap decision, Advani, in January 2004, sent a reluctant Khurana as the Governor of Rajasthan. Loyalist Jagdish Mukhi continued as the Leader of Opposition in the Delhi Assembly.
Khurana was most uncomfortable in Jaipur and always yearned to be back in the capital. He often used to confide in friends that Governorship was not meant for him. He would lament that he had been virtually put “in a cage made of gold”. When the BJP lost power at the Centre, Khurana was keen to return to Delhi’s political humdrum. His well wishers attempted to pacify him, but he was adamant to come back.
During this period, according to Khurana as related to a few close friends, Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Sonia Gandhi, and Lalu Prasad Yadav got in touch with him. They assured him that once he gave up the Governorship, he would be given a Rajya Sabha berth by Lalu Prasad Yadav. Khurana, who often displayed child-like naivety, fell for the trap and put in his papers. He returned to Delhi but Yadav and Patel stopped taking his calls. He was let down once again, but this time by opposition leaders.
Khurana’s commitment to human values came to the forefront when as Union Minister for Tourism and Parliamentary Affairs in the Vajpayee government he openly condemned the attack on Christian missionaries in Odisha. On 23 January 1999, Graham Stuart Staines, an Australian missionary was burnt to death along with his two young sons, Philip and Timothy, while they were sleeping in their station wagon in the Kendujhar district. A Bajrang Dal activist, Dara Singh was accused of leading the murderous assault. Khurana immediately described the incident as “inhuman” and resigned from the government to protest against violence against Christians. Vajpayee publicly apologised for the horrific happening, which singed his secular image, but was prevailed upon by Advani and other top leaders to accept Khurana’s resignation. Without doubt, Khurana was shattered by Vajpayee’s response, but quietly receded into the background.
Khurana’s life was a saga of struggle and betrayal by many whom he trusted. He, however, held on to rock solid values which remained with him till the very end. As a student leader in the Allahabad University, he presented a letter to Murli Manohar Joshi, a faculty member, inviting him to a function. Joshi castigated him for writing the letter in English. When Khurana protested that there were only English typewriters in the students’ union office, Joshi retorted that he could have at least signed his name in Hindi. After that day, Khurana always signed his name in Hindi.
Although he was reared on the Sangh ideology, Khurana had great admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru. He would often recall that the first Prime Minister had accorded him and his fellow-students, exceptional courtesy when they went to Teen Murti House to invite him for a function in Allahabad. Nehru declined to attend citing his prior commitments, but escorted the young guests till the main door. The students told him that he need not see them off, but an insistent Nehru explained that it was a part of our culture to bid farewell to guests till the front door. Khurana never forgot that lesson.
Khurana’s commitment to his party was so colossal that even after he relinquished office as Chief Minister, he continued to work for the organisation. In a byelection in the East Delhi Lok Sabha constituency, Khurana took it upon himself to ensure that his protégé and party nominee, Lal Bihari Tewari should win the contest. He used the good offices of his close friend, Ramvir Singh Bidhuri, who at the time was with the Bahujan Samaj Party, to convince Kanshi Ram to support the BJP nominee. It was due to his persuasion that for the first and last time, Kanshi Ram campaigned for a BJP candidate.
Khurana will always be remembered for his selfless politics and for upholding human values above narrow petty gains. A rare sight in politics.