LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh -- It was a perfect winter day with sunlight flooding the Congress Party office in Nehru Bhawan at Mall Avenue.
A nervous energy pervaded the place. Will they, won't they? Speculation is rife on the fate of the SP – Congress alliance. If the partnership did not materialize, not many give Congress a chance to cobble up the numbers for a worthwhile election result.
Just before sunset, the azaan or call to prayer from a nearby mosque interrupted a story, a rather unusual one, narrated by Ramnath to this reporter.
Ramnath, who described himself as a sadhu and a farmer from Bishnupura in Bihar, as well as the father of five daughters, said that he was the man responsible for giving the Congress Party its hand symbol after the Grand Old Party split in 1977.
Ramnath said that he had visited then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, taking along a flag which he claims to have made in his village with an imprint of his hand. "Indira Gandhi had just lost an election. I was listening to it on the radio. I told my family that I'm going to meet Indira Gandhi. I came to her house. Her house was no.1 Safdarjung. The police presence had gone down, you know, bodyguards go down after you lose," he said.
On reaching Indira Gandhi's residence in Delhi, Ramnath claims that he met and told her that she should adopt the hand symbol if she wanted to win the next election. "I used to call her mai, like I called my own mother. I got inside and told her take the hand symbol if she wanted to win. She agreed," he said.
I got inside and told her take the hand symbol if she wanted to win. She agreed.
The present right hand symbol, in use since 1978, had been preceded by the image of a cow with a calf (1971-77), the earlier symbol being two bullocks with a plough (1952-77). It was the Congress splits in 1969 and 1977 that had led to new symbols for the Indira led-factions.
The journey of the symbol flags developments in the Congress party during the Indira era. The first transition, consequent to an internal power struggle, saw Indira trumping the old order to take control of the party, while the second change came after the post-Emergency electoral debacle in 1977.
Rasheed Kidwai's 24 Akbar Road narrates:
"... Indira was out in Vijayawada Andhra Pradesh, with P.V. Narasimha Rao when Buta [Singh] was asked by the Election Commission to pick an election symbol; the choices were an elephant, a bicycle and an open palm. Buta ... booked a trunk call to seek Indira's approval. Buta's Hindi pronunciation ... Indira kept hearing haathi (elephant), instead of haath (hand)... an exasperated Indira handed the telephone over to Rao...He shouted, 'Buta Singhji, panja kahiye, panja.' (Yes, yes, the open palm symbol will be appropriate).'"
There are other close versions of the above account, including one narrated by Congress member R.K. Rajarathnam, according to which, "... A.R. Antulay and Buta Singh called me on the phone, kindly convey the message to Madam. Tomorrow by 10 am, if we don't give the choice, there won't be any symbol at all. I said Madam, hand will be easily recognisable. She just saw me like this. She immediately said, select hand, that's all."
To Spread The Joy
There are all sorts of people who come to a political office in the weeks ahead of the election: supporters and detractors, ticket seekers and leaders, old timers and youth workers. They all have a reason, but the farmer from Bihar said that he had come to Lucknow to offer his blessings to those who would run as candidates for the Congress Party. "I don't want a ticket. All I want is for the truth to be known. And the truth is that this is my hand," he said.
When a party worker came to him to get his palm read, Ramnath said that he was busy in conversation and asked him to return a bit later. Then, Ramnath told this reporter that he considered himself to be the tallest leader of the Congress Party, senior to president Sonia Gandhi and senior to her son and the party Vice President Rahul.
"There are three maharathis, Ramnath, Sonia and Rahul," he said.
When pressed for a reason why he had traveled all the way from, Bishnupura, Bihar to the Congress Party office in Lucknow, Ramnath said, "Look around you. The joy is missing. I have come to give my blessings."
There are three maharathis, Ramnath, Sonia and Rahul.
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