Chandrashekhar who passed away today at the age of 80 was a second generation leader of the socialist stream of Indian politics, following the first generation that consisted of Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayprakash Narayan. After leaving the Socialist Party (which he had joined after leaving Praja Socialist Party), he became one of the leading critics from within of Mrs Gandhi’s policies culminating in his leaving the Congress Party in the backdrop of the Emergency. In the early seventies, he along with Mohan Dharia and a few others were termed as the young Turks, their exit from the Congress, and the latter’s own turn to the Center- Right after its return to power in 1980 did leave a space for the Left (consisting of both the socialist and communist Left) but was instead increasingly occupied by a new generation of politicians- represented by Mulayam and Laloo Yadav, who carried forward above all, Ram Manohar Lohia’s legacy that insisted on caste as a crucial determinant of social and political contradiction in the country.
The only second generation socialist who still carried any weight in national politics was George Fernandes. Chandrashekhar, despite his becoming the Prime Minister for a few months, had already become irrelevant in the aftermath of VP Singh’s Mandal politics. At least the kind of politics that people like Chandrashekhar espoused had become irrelevant.It is notable to see how the second gen socialist leaders have fared in the last two decades- George Fernandes has become practically a wheeler dealer for the Hindutva BJP, Mohan Dharia pretty much a quiet voice despite his becoming the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission for sometime following in the footsteps of fellow socialists R.K. Hegde and Madhu Dandavate and Chandrashekhar became a lonely, even if personally ambitious person championing vague, and unequivocally, lost causes.
Socialist politics, dominated now by such ‘bleeding heart socialists’ like Amar Singh and caste centered politicians like Mulayam, Laloo and BJP’s friends like Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes, has now come to practically a dead end. Acharya Narendra Dev is now a forgotten man altogether. Human Rights and civil liberties organizations that grew in the days of the Emergency are the only reminders of JP. Lohia’s ghost continues to haunt in the form of caste politics (not necessarily bad, but I don’t suppose even Lohia would have conceived of caste politics as an end in itself.)
This once dynamic, if not creative, stream in Indian politics is rapidly diminishing, a part of which now accompanies its adherents as they embark on their last journeys, as Chandrashekhar does today.