Dhirubhai - The Man - Socialist Days

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Socialist Days

Soon after Junagarh's merger with India, a student agitation was launched in the district town for upgradation of the Mahabat Khan High School. Dhirubhai was once again the forefront of the agitation. The students demand was eventually conceded. Dhirubhai's organizing skills in this agitation brought him to the notice of local political leaders. Politics was the passion of the age and though he was only 16 years at this time, Dhirubhai too felt drawn towards active politics.

He was a voracious reader of local newspapers which in those days, as today, were filled, with speeches of political leaders of various shades of opinion. After independence every one wanted to play his part in building a new India. Everyone had his own idea of what the future India should be like. Everyone had a dream and a vision of his own. Politics was the instrument by which those dreams could be realised. Every day political parties came out with new plans and new agendas for the nation. Dhirubhai keenly studied them all.

Dhirubhai had as a boy admired Subhash Chandra Bose but he was no longer on the political scene. Of all the leaders on the national scene then, he felt most attracted to Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Nehru was tall and noble and was able to stir the hearts and minds of the young with his visions of a great India of future. He talked of big things, big projects, big dams and big industries, talk that appealed to Dhirubhai much. But Nehru also appeared to him rather wooly in his thinking and wavering in his decisions.

Compared to him, Sardar Patel looked resolute, forceful and decisive, firm of word and swift of action. He had a stern countenance that Dhirubhai found close to his heart. He liked the way the Sardar wielded authority, the way his every glance and gesture exuded power of the state. There was, however, emerging a new generation of leaders from within the Congress. They were the socialists who split from the Congress in 1949 when Dhirubhai was in his final year in the school. The young of the day were drawn towards the socialists and so was Dhirubhai..

Just then municipal elections were announced in Junagarh. Dhirubhai decided to campaign for the Socialists, though he refused to join the party formally. He threw himself into the election campaign wholeheartedly. His elder brother and his father were strongly opposed to his getting so deeply involved in party politics, especially as he had failed in his matriculation examination in the previous year. Dhirubhai assured them that he would pass the examination even while working for his favourite candidates.

When the election results were announced, the candidates for whom he had campaigned won and those he had sworn to see defeated lost theirs. Dhirubhai was pleased and was invited to join the Socialist Party but he had other things in mind. "Though I found the life of politics immensely attractive, I felt deep in my heart that I belonged to somewhere else…business, perhaps, though things were not yet so clear to me," he said in his later years.