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June 12, 2000
Rajesh Pilot: Baidpura mourns the death of a legend
Josy Joseph in Baidpura
Driving along the Grand Trunk Road from Delhi towards Aligarh, about three kilometre from Ghaziabad, to the right hand side, there is a board announcing the Baidpura government hospital. On the newly tarred village road that cuts across the fields, a few metres after the railway crossing is Baidpura, a village of a few thousand residents, mostly Gujjars, lush green fields and a lot of buffaloes.
Monday morning, the village was unusually silent. It was mourning the death of Goddu, the village lad who went to the local primary school, migrated to Delhi at the age of 10 with his elder brother, sold milk, studied under street lights, and became a hero - Baidpura's first fighter pilot.
Having taken part in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, in which he bombed enemy positions, he was already part of the village folklore when one day, in late 1979, Squadron Leader Rajeshwar Prasad decided to resign form the Indian Air Force and join the Congress under Indira Gandhi.
In 1980, after winning the Lok Sabha election from Bharatpur in Rajasthan, he began his second innings in life with a new name - Rajesh Pilot.
From a hero, Pilot was slowly becoming a legend, taking mythical proportions. Baidpura could not contain its pride when its most famous son strode the corridors of power in Delhi with a political sophistication unheard of in his village. A Gujjar was making his presence felt in the whirlpool of Brahmin-dominated politics and becoming a terror to the established political cronies.
Pilot challenged the policies and leadership of two Congress presidents, openly championed inner party democracy, and went to the mine-fields of the north-east and Kashmir to broker peace for people cheated by their own leaders.
However, despite all this, he would often visit his village, to seek the blessings of elders, to grab a bite of his favourite makke ke roti dipped in sarso ka saag, to celebrate festivals, to pray to Baba Bhure Singh, the village holy-man, and to spend some time in the fields, recollecting a childhood devoid of luxuries.
"He used to come here very often and, each time, made it a point to meet us elders and seek our blessings," recollects Chaudhary Sohan Singh, a 76-year-old villager whose bad health did not allow him to travel to Delhi to bid Goddu a final farewell.
He never came to the village as a visitor, he was one of them. "One day, I told him to get my children some jobs. He told me to first educate them," recollects Meghraj Singh, 50. His children are in college now.
With tears in his eyes, Sohan Singh says, "We were proud of him. He was not like other politicians. He did not buy land, build a big house for himself and promote his relatives."
A few yards away is Pilot's home. The house where Pilot, his elder brother and three sisters were born and spent their initial years. The crumbling house was built years back by his father, Havildar Jai Dayal Singh, and no further additions have been made. Pilot's nephews tend the 50 bighas of land that the family owns.
The last time anyone in Pilot's family dealt in land was when his elder brother, who is no more, sold a portion of the land to meet the expenses for Pilot's education, decades back.
"He helped several of our youth get jobs in the Central India Security Force and the Assam Police, besides in companies like DCM, Escorts etc. He would never discriminate, about caste or anything else," says Ajav Singh, 30.
The first road to the village came at his initiative almost two decades back. The link road between the GT Road and Greater Noida that runs through the Gujjar belt, including Baidpura, is called 'Pilot Road'. "He gave a portion of his land for a building which houses the Syndicate Bank and the telephone exchange," points out a villager. Three Industrial Training Institutes, one college, and a hospital have come up in the area on his initiative. "This is not just the best hospital around, but is among India's best," says a proud villager, of the government hospital that boasts of about five doctors.
The villagers fondly recall Pilot's marriage to Rama, who is presently a member of the Rajasthan assembly. Rama belongs to Sakhalpura near Loni on the outskirts of Delhi. "We all, including Goddu, walked about five kilometres and caught a bus to go to the bride's house," says an old villager.
The villagers recount numerous stories of their favourite son. Once, when he was a member of the Narasimha Rao government, he brought a foreign dignitary to the village and treated him to a lunch of sarsong ka saag and makke ki roti.
Most of the villagers began to leave for Delhi on Sunday night itself, immediately after getting news of the accident. "At his bungalow in New Delhi, he has built huts for all of us to sit and relax. Whenever we went there, he would treat us to tea and listen to our problems. But, he was not a leader just for us, he was India's leader," says Sohan Singh.
He recollects how Pilot convinced Mahendra Singh Tikait to call off his agitation at the Boat Club in New Delhi, which had brought the government to its knees. "He was the only one who volunteered to go to the north-east, Kashmir and every troubled area. He escaped death narrowly in Kashmir, came out alive after the 1971 war...but died a tragic death," a village elder say.
As the reality of his death sinks in, there is anger. Some allege the accident was a direct fallout of his scaled-down security.
The old, frail Sohan Singh gave an idea of just how much Baidpura loved its favourite son when he said: "It is not just we who are sad. Please look around, even our buffaloes and fields are unusually silent today."
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