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Last of the Gandhians

Gulzarilal Nanda, twice interim prime minister, had to wait for his hundredth year to get the honour due him.

Nanda, who celebrated his 100th birthday on July 4, became acting prime minister twice -- in 1964 and 1966 -- following the deaths of Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri respectively.

What sets him apart from almost all the other freedom fighters who held high offices in independent India is his complete insulation from desires material.

He had no source of income and would not accept funds from his children or from any well-wisher. A friend, Sheel Bhadra Yajee, forced him to sign an application for the freedom fighter's pension of Rs 500 per month.

Nanda was ousted from the ashram and Gaushala that he had nurtured in Kaithal in Haryana by people he had trusted. A recipient of the Padma Vibhushan and a founder of the Bharat Sevak Samaj, the former prime minister, who was also a Union minister for almost twenty years, now owns no property.

He turned down offers by successive prime ministers and the Delhi administration of a house he could live in and work peacefully. He had lived in a rented house in New Delhi's Defence Colony from which he was evicted since he could not pay its rent and moved to Ahmedabad where he lives with his daughter Pushpaben Naik.

Born in undivided Punjab, the staunch trade unionist did his post graduation in economics and passed his LLB in 1921.

Overwhelmed by patriotism, Nanda joined the non-co-operation movement under the stewardship of Mahatma Gandhi.

Later when the Khilafat movement collapsed and Gandhi withdrew the non-co-operation movement, Nanda became a professor of economics at the National College, Bombay. Moved by the plight of industrial workers he took active part in trade union activities and was elected secretary of the national trade textile association in 1922.

The civil disobedience movement launched by Gandhi in 1930 had fired the imagination of the people. Nanda once again was in the thick of political activism and was imprisoned in 1932. During the Quit India movement, he was jailed for two years.

By then he had become a well-known public figure. He served as chairman of the standing committee of the Ahmedabad municipality from 1940 to 1942.

In 1946, following the installation of provincial governments in the states, he was appointed parliamentary secretary and also chairman of the Bombay Housing Board. In 1950, he was called to Delhi and made the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

In 1951, he was inducted into the Union Cabinet as minister for planning. He was also included in the economic programme committee of the All-India Congress Committee.

Nanda was elected to the first Lok Sabha the next year and was inducted into the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. For the next 11 years, he looked after planning, labour, employment, irrigation and power.

Known to be non-partisan, he was acceptable to a large section of the Congress party workers. Due to this, he was called upon to handle organisational problems on many occasions. He was instrumental in initiating the Congress Forum for Socialist Action within the party to popularise socialist ideas.

In 1960 Nehru recalled him to the Planning Commission as its deputy chairman, a post he held till 1963. Following Nehru's death on May 27, 1964, he served as acting prime minister for a fortnight before Shastri took over. Thereafter he became the home minister.

He again took over as acting prime minister after Shastri's death in Tashkent on January 11, 1966. He joined Indira Gandhi's Cabinet when she took over on January 24.

Gulzarilal Nanda retired from active politics in the early 1970s. A principled politician, he found himself ''out of tune'' with the changed circumstances.

The girl who hoisted the flag of freedom

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