When a Hindi poet turned down the Chief Minister Chair

Makhan  Lal Chaturvedi was a great Hindi poet. During the British Raj, he used the pen name “Ek Bhartiya Atma” (An Indian Soul) to write his poetry. “Pushp Ki Abhilasha” (A Flower’s Desire) is his most famous poem.

Every schoolboy from the Hindi belt knows the poem by heart. “Chaah nahi, mai  surbala ke gahno me goontha  jaaun!” A flower doesn’t want to be woven in a damsel’s jewelry. It wants to be thrown on the road , used by brave martyrs who offer their heads to the motherland! The poem still gives me goosebumps.

Chaturvedi was also a die-hard Congressman. A freedom fighter who was often put behind bars.  He always wore a Gandhi cap, made from khadi. His wrinkled face gave him grandpa looks. It was 1950s.  The Congress, after a landslide victory, was all set to form its Govt in Madhya Pradesh after the first assembly polls. The party authorized the high command (read Pandit Nehru) to nominate the CM.

Sitting at the Teen Murti Bhawan, Panditji scratched his bald head and Makhan Lal Chaturvedi’s name popped up in his mind. Chaturvedi was a veteran Gandhian, revered in the party for his integrity and simplicity. He was a renowned poet to boot. Nehru rang Chaturvedi up and asked him to take over as the first Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. It was a singular honour. Any lesser mortal would have jumped in joy.

But Makhan Lal lost his cool: “Do you want to demote me, Panditji?” he said angrily “I am a national level poet. Known all over the country. And you are demoting me to a state level leader!”. Nehru was speechless.  He hang up the phone and then asked Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla to become the Chief Minister.

Shukla of course jumped at the offer and was duly sworn in as the CM in Bhopal. Chaturvedi, a frail and old Gandhian, lived at his simple abode writing poetry, having turned down the CM crown offered by no less a leader than Nehru himself!

Nowadays, I find netas shedding blood to become mukhiyas and sarpanches! Panchayat polls witness murder and mayhem. And a “sadak chhap gunda” Dhongi Adityanath becomes the Chief Minister of UP to “serve” people.

Men of character like Makhan Lal Chaturvedi are nowhere seen. What a fall , my countrymen!

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