Call for National Duty

Year 1977 I was practising as a lawyer in my office in Bhavanti street in Mangaluru. I was engrossed in a case file when the phone rang. The caller identified himself as Personal Secretary of Mrs.Indira Gandhi and informed that Madam wanted to speak to me. I asked for name of 'Madam'. He replied, "Indira Gandhi". Before I could realise what was happening, I heard Indiraji's voice on the other end. "Congress party has decided to field you in the Lok Sabha elections, Be prepared and all the best,'' she said. "Thank You Madam" was all I remember saying at that moment.

Next day newspapers carried the news of my candidature. The Indian Express put a BOLD HEADLINE…. "WHO IS THIS POOJARY?"

DILEMMA I had given my consent to Indiraji without having fully thought over this unexpected proposition. I had not made up my mind and sought opinions. My father had expired by then and my family members were strongly opposed joining politics. Next day, I went to the Mangaluru Sessions Court. By now, the news had spread like wild fire. I reached out to my colleagues and seniors. To add to my predicament, half of them said that I should grab this lifetime opportunity with both hands as very few get such a chance. Others cautioned me citing the murky nature of politics. "Why are you venturing in to politics? It is not for people like you. You are a popular lawyer with a bright future and have achieved success at such a young age. Don't spoil it'', Ramanath Kini, one of the leading Advocates, said. Advocate Mahabala Bhandari, who was an ex MLA of Kasargod, also echoed similar views. "Your personality is not made for politics. Politics is very murky". Both had told the truth. But Narasappa Salian a staunch and devoted congressman, was very forceful. He always wore a Gandhi cap and even named his hotel as ''Nehru Lunch Home". "Come what may, you should not let go of this opportunity. This is the first time a candidate from our community has got a ticket that too for representing backward sections of the society. We are with you. You go ahead", he said with strong conviction.

BACKDROP A few months prior, a convention of Billawa community was organized at Mulky which was attended by chief minister Devaraj Urs. Billawa community Leaders including Dr. Damodar Mulky and Somappa Suvarna urged Mr.Urs to provide adequate political representation to Billawas who comprise of the majority of the population in Dakshina Kannada district. They also sought Lok Sabha ticket for the community. It appears that while finalizing the list of candidates for the LokSabha, CM Devraj Urs keeping in mind the request made by elders of the community and recommended my name to the Congress' central committee. Indira Gandhi scrutinized the recommendations and finalised my candidature resulting in a direct telephonic call to me.

After taking suggestions from all colleagues, elders and well wishers, I thought a lot on the subject of entering politics. Finally, I reconciled the thought process realizing that I had already given my consent to Indiraji and that my name has been already announced in Delhi. Thus, it would be inappropriate to step back at this juncture. I decided to contest the elections keeping faith in almighty to guide me in the right direction.

Despite the imposition of emergency, Indira Gandhi had a lot of goodwill in Southern India. The southern states did not indulge in excesses as was witnessed in some northern states. Devaraj Urs in Karnataka and J Vengal Rao in Andhra Pradesh did not allow the situation to go out of hand during emergency. In Karnataka, situation was favourable to the Congress due the effect of land reforms implemented by Devraj Urs government whereby lakhs of landless labourers who toiled in the farms became owners of farm lands.

Elections started. Those days election expenses used to be very small compared to the election spends happening now. I did not have money to spend. Expenses were borne by the party and payments were made by Devraj Urs. I did not touch or spend any money. Those days enthusiastic supporters would willingly and voluntarily put up banners, flags etc from their own money. My supporters spent from their own pockets and canvassed for me. Election was not a commercial activity then and there were no restrictions from the Election Commission on campaigning hours. We would campaign day and night with campaigns regularly ending at 3 or 4 a.m. in the morning only to begin again at 7 or 8 a.m. in the morning.

Polling held and counting completed. For the first time in the history, Congress lost power. Indira Gandhi too was defeated. However, in my maiden election, I won with a margin of 66,000 plus votes.

A boy from poor family who could barely have two square meals a day one who did not have basic clothes to wear, had climbed up the stairs of Loksabha. Within four years, I became the Minister of state for Finance. The poverty that I faced in childhood, gave me lessons for the future. This helped me to offer solace to the poor and wipe off their tears to the extent possible.

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