In the wake of the recent fervour surrounding the pran-pratishtha in Ayodhya, the Union government announced the prestigious Bharat Ratna for Karpoori Thakur, former chief minister of Bihar and a towering figure in the political history of socialism.
With this decision, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effectively integrated Mandal within the realm of Kamandal.
Thakur was twice the chief minister of Bihar, between 1970-71, and then from 1977-79. He passed away in 1988 at the age of 64.
Politics shapes our future, and there are individuals who, in turn, shape politics. Karpoori Thakur was undoubtedly one of them.
Personal narratives about him have been passed down through generations in my family, highlighting Thakur's unique position in politics. Describing such personalities is a challenging task, but I believe his life can be encapsulated in three words: saadgi (simplicity), samta (equality), and sushasan (good governance).
Anecdotes are powerful in conveying a person's story, and I will share a few from Karpoori Thakur's life. Many analyses of political leaders focus solely on the political aspect, but to comprehend a leader holistically, glimpses into their personal life are essential.
A true socialist, Karpoori Thakur, unlike others, never accumulated wealth for himself and his family. After his demise, people were surprised to find a modest estate, in stark contrast to the opulence associated with contemporary political leaders.
During his active political days, party leaders gathered over 50,000 bricks to construct a house for him, but Thakur selflessly donated them to a nearby school for construction.
While one might debate the efficacy of socialist principles, admiration is due to those who embody their ideals beyond mere theory.
On another occasion, when his father fell ill, Karpoori ji visited him. But even in ill-health, his father's primary concern was about who would serve their jajmaan if he remained bedridden. In the village setup, the yajmaan/jajmaan system involved professionals being associated with families, with each family meeting the material needs of the professionals in exchange for their services.
Despite being an established leader, Karpoori Thakur took up his father's profession of haircutting and beard trimming, demonstrating his respect for every occupation.
Politically, Thakur was a pioneer, implementing the recommendations of the Mungeri Lal Commission report to provide reservations for backward castes and extending it to economically backward sections of the general population. For him, poverty transcended caste boundaries. This resonates with Prime Minister Modi's contemporary stance on the same issue.
Thakur also advocated for education in the mother tongue, rejecting the artificial barrier of the English language — a decision aligned with the essence of the New Education Policy. Over four decades of public service inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Jay Prakash Narayan, he set an example for others to follow.
Even after his death, Bihar's politics continues to revolve around the empowerment of backward castes.
Despite the current scenario where many Bihar leaders merely pay lip service to his ideals, failing on the pillars of saadgi, samta, and sushasan, the political landscape in Bihar is undergoing significant changes.
Karpoori Thakur symbolises the struggle of the 36 per cent Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) population in Bihar, a group that lacks substantial leadership. While Other Backward Classes (OBCs) have found leaders in Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar, the EBC voters, often swing voters, hold the key to the upcoming Lok Sabha and subsequent Vidhan Sabha elections in Bihar.
Beyond politics, it is crucial to recognise what Karpoori Thakur represents — a testament to the dynamism of our democracy, where an individual from a humble background, like a nai (barber) from Samastipur, Bihar, can ascend to the highest office in the state.
This speaks volumes about Bihar's politics, challenging negative connotations, and highlights the decentralisation of power to various backward castes that preceded national-level changes.
While debates on Karpoori Thakur's ideas may persist, the necessity of the three pillars — saadgi, samta, and sushasan — in our politics remains indisputable.
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