March 22, 2008
A requiem for Madan Lal Didi
P.H. Vaishnav, IAS, Fmr. Principal Secy. Punjab Govt.
Comrade Didi is no longer in our midst.To describe him as a trade union leader or as a Communist leader does not adequately convey the measure of his stature. He was rather shy of publicity. His life however is worth a recall for he belonged to a different breed of leaders of which today we are so short.
Philosophy converged in practice although they differed on the question of the use of violence. But there were numerous similarities. It is those similarities that shaped the attitudes of the leaders born in that era no matter what party they belonged to.
An outstanding characteristic of leaders of those days was that they joined a movement or an organization to contribute and not to make attaining power. Selfless It was the general upsurge against the British imperial rule that threw up a splendid leadership all over the country. The revolutionary tradition and the Gandhian devotion to a cause was their sole objective and therefore gains for themselves either by using their positions for making money or for they treated work as its own reward.
From that followed several virtues, which alas we miss in our leaders today. A simple lifestyle bordering on austerity came to them naturally and expensive life styles and luxuries of life held no appeal for them. They were therefore able to make do with very few things and could never be corrupted by allurement. It never crossed their minds that if they had taken to a profession, they would have been above wants, provided for their children and secured adequate income for their old age. The thought for the morrow never worried them. Nor did they allow themselves to be afflicted with an urge for amassing property. This again bred a rare courage and integrity among them besides giving absolute focus on the tasks they were engaged in. Another side of the same coin was that they did not use their offices for the advancement of the careers of their children. In these days of hereditary democracy the only exception to the rule are the leaders of the left who do not try to push their children into influential positions. In fact the children of whole timers suffered neglect. That was the extent of their commitment to their ideals.
There was another side to their functioning that only those who have come in contact with them would know. It was the labour they put in to study a problem and their efforts to do a task in the best possible manner. They were given to reading and writing and reflecting-virtues, which again cannot be presumed in the present day politicians.
When I was in the Punjab Government service, I had occasion to deal with the question of regularizing the services of work charged employees whose services were terminable with the completion of the work for which they were hired. They thus faced an uncertain future and enjoyed no benefits associated with permanent employment.
Madan Lal Didi was leading the movement for making the work charged labour permanent. It was in that connection that during the negotiations with government which I was conducting as Chief Secretary I have had occasion to interact with him. He was a man of few words but he spoke with full knowledge of his subject and intervened during discussions when strictly necessary. This gave strength to his words that comes from a mastery of facts and rules. If the work charged personnel earned a policy commitment from government on making them permanent — the credit goes to Madan Lal Didi.
Today when our public life has ceased to be value based and good people have deserted the political process in favour of the security and prestige of government service or the rewards of professional careers, thereby making way for drop outs and adventurers in politics, people like Didi stand out as men of a different breed. They are to our great ill luck men and women of a vanishing tribe. His wife, Sheila Didi, a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn and a junior of the famous British lawyer D.N Pritt, worked shoulder to shoulder with her husband for the cause of the trade union movement. My heart goes out to her. People like Sheilaji or the Dang couple are alas a vanishing tribe but all political parties meaning well by our country will have to face the question of finding recruits with idealism, integrity, commitment and ability into their fold.
With these words I join the many who mourn this great loss.
P.H. Vaishnav, IAS