It was the 1960s and Thawar Chand Gehlot was still in his teens. The era had witnessed a big textile mill workers’ movement in a small industrial town of Nagda in Madhya Pradesh. Besides industrial workers’ unrest, social discrimination against the Scheduled Castes and backward classes was also high.
All these compelled Gehlot, who was then a student leader and a swayamsevak in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to join its affiliated organisation Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) to voice his concern.
Gehlot – now 71 – who belongs to Balai community of Scheduled Castes in the state and had never dreamt that one day he would become a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the Rajya Sabha, plunged into the movement with gusto. Even during the Emergency from 1975 to 1977, his voice demanding the rights for mill workers and downtrodden section couldn’t be curbed. As a result, he had to face the brunt of the government and was jailed several times.
SN Dubey, a septuagenarian from Nagda recalls, “Thawar Chandji used to actively participate in mill workers’ issues and fought for social injustice against the Dalits. Even during the Emergency, he had been vocal in raising workers’ issues and was jailed several times.”
His consistent struggle towards securing social justice for the deprived and marginalised section got noticed in the higher echelons of the BJP and he has been rewarded by Narendra Modi government as a cabinet minister for the second term, besides the position that had fallen vacant in the Upper House, after former finance minister and one of the most articulate leaders in the BJP, Arun Jaitley took a back seat due to serious health issues.
“In the 1960s, my elder brother joined BMS to fight for the cause of textile mill workers. It used to be a big labour movement those days and he had to face imprisonment too. Today, through the Balai Samaj organisation comprising a temple and a dharmashala, he’s trying to eradicate social evils. Even after 70 years of Independence, discrimination exists in our villages,” says Gehlot’s younger brother, Poonam, who is also the executive president of the Balai Samaj at Nagda.
But for Gehlot, who has donned many hats over the years, success didn’t come easy.
Born in Rupeta village in Nagda tehsil of Ujjain district on 18 May, 1948, and a graduate from Vikram University, Ujjain, Gehlot’s years of struggle against social discrimination made him one of the most noticeable representatives of the Scheduled Castes.
After becoming Union Minister of Social Justice for the first time in 2014, Gehlot at a seminar on Bhim Rao Ambedkar in a college at Nagda had reportedly said: “We (Dalits) toil day and night to dig wells and ponds, but when it comes to fetching water from these wells and ponds, we are not allowed on the pretext that the water would get polluted. Similarly, we make the idols of gods and goddesses for the temples, but doors of these temples are shut for us. Who’ll correct these social discriminations? All these need to change.”
In Madhya Pradesh, he became the general secretary and vice president of Janata Party from 1977 to 1980 and was president of state BJP in 1986-87. Thereafter, he was elected thrice as MLA between 1980 and 1993 and became a minister in the BJP government led by then chief minister Sunder Lal Patwa.
In 1996, he got elected as Lok Sabha member from Shajapur and represented the constituency four times till 2009. He represented various parliamentary and consultative committees at the Centre – from agriculture and SC & ST committees to women empowerment and external affairs.
Considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gehlot, despite being in important positions both in the state and at the Centre, always maintained a low key.
“Thawar Chandji has always been a non-controversial person and strictly follows the party line as a loyalist. His training as a swayamsevak in the Sangh over the years has made him grounded and he’s well aware of issues at the grassroots. Besides serving various positions and responsibilities, he was also a central observer for the BJP in Gujarat. Immediately after becoming Union minister, he scripted several schemes for the welfare of the deprived sections of the society as well as for the physically-challenged people,” says BJP spokesperson Govind Malu, who originally hails from Madhya Pradesh and closely worked with Gehlot.
Beyond politics, Gehlot penned his ideas and opinions on issues related to the Dalits and oppressed section of the society and about the social ills in Vidhayani – a quarterly journal published by Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly.
Despite losing the Lok Sabha poll in 2009 to Congress candidate Sajjan Singh Verma – a minister in Madhya Pradesh government at present, Gehlot continued with his indomitable spirit and was got elected as Rajya Sabha member from the state in 2012 and re-elected in 2018.
Gehlot has a lot of time on his hands as his Rajya Sabha term will end in 2024. Till then he has his ministry and his organisation called Balai Samaj through which this credible Dalit face of the BJP is determined to serve the exploited classes.
Updated Date: Jun 18, 2019 11:37:33 IST