Madhavsinh Solanki, The CM Whose MLA Tally Even Modi Couldn’t Beat

Under his leadership that Congress won Gujarat in 1980 and again in 1985, chalking up a record tally of 149 seats.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Four-time chief minister of Gujarat, Madhavsinh Solanki died on 9 January.
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Madhavsinh Solanki, the four-time chief minister of Gujarat, who died on Saturday, 9 January at the age of 93, had gone back to practicing law during the Janata regime in the 70s when Indira Gandhi sent word to him that he had been appointed president of the Congress party’s Gujarat unit and directed that he embark on a tour of the state as quickly as possible.

When Solanki expressed his inability to do so because he did not have any transport, the Congress headquarters in Delhi was asked to arrange a car for his travels.

This Fiat car proved instrumental in sowing the seeds of veteran Gujarat leader's famous and well-known social coalition of marginalised classes, which helped the party win two successive assembly polls in the 80s.

For it was in this car that Solanki travelled across Gujarat in the late 70s to connect with the people, listen to their voices, get a first-hand account of their grievances and learn about the social and political landscape of the state.

And it was during these extensive tours that Solanki devised the political strategy of bringing together the Kshatriyas, ‘Harijans’, Adivasis and Muslims to expand and strengthen the Congress support base in Gujarat. He subsequently presented this KHAM theory to senior leaders D K Barooah, Pranab Mukherjee and V C Shukla who gave Solanki the go-ahead for its implementation.

The Rollercoaster Ride of Madhavsinh Solanki in Gujarat

This set the stage for a rollercoaster ride for Solanki, personally, as also for the Congress. The Gujarat leader’s strategy to mobilise the marginalised classes undoubtedly paid rich electoral dividends. But it also invited a violent backlash from the upper castes, especially the powerful and entitled Patel community, which was furious at being denied what its members believed was their rightful place in the power structure of the state.

Solanki was acknowledged as the uncrowned king of Gujarat when the KHAM formula yielded positive results. For it was under his leadership that Congress won the state in 1980 and again five years later, chalking up a record tally of 149 seats in the 182-member assembly. This record remains unbroken till day, as even Narendra Modi was unable to surpass it when he was chief minister.

Describing him as an all-rounder, senior Gujarat Congress leader Raju Parmar said Solanki was, of course, politically astute but he was also a visionary and displayed a flair for governance. He set Gujarat on the path of industrial development, introduced welfare programmes like the mid-day meal scheme and free education for girls, improved road connectivity and agricultural growth. It was Solanki who laid the foundation of a strong and vibrant Gujarat.

A Man of the Masses

Erudite and well-read – he would often quote Lincoln and Churchill in his speeches – Solanki was also a man of the masses. Even after he took over as chief minister, he did not stop travelling to remote areas where he sat on charpoys and listened to the grievances and demands of villagers in what were referred to as khatla parishads.

The term social justice was popularised and propounded by Solanki well before Hindi heartland leaders Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayum Singh Yadav discovered it. It was Solanki who made a pitch for a 27 per cent reservation for backward classes in a bid to expand the Congress party’s support base.

But what was once considered smart politics also brought disaster as they led to violent anti-quota protests in Gujarat by angry upper castes, which soon acquired a communal colour. Once held up as a model chief minister, Solanki gradually became a target of all-round anger and disillusionment when he failed to tamp down on this conflagration.

In the process, he alienated all sections - the upper castes were already furious with him but the backwards classes too turned against him for using them as a political tool, while the Muslims and Harijans felt let down because they believed the Solanki government afforded little protection to them in the face of brutal assaults.

The Controversies

Even after he stepped down as chief minister, controversies continued to dog Solanki. He found himself in the eye of a storm when he was external affairs minister in the Narasimha Rao government and went to Davos in 1992 for the World Economic Conference where he handed over a letter to the Swiss foreign minister Rene Felber seeking a closure of the probe into Bofors bribery scam involving Rajiv Gandhi.

Solanki’s political career dealt a fresh blow, for he was forced to resign as union minister following the brouhaha over this incident. Though he was under constant pressure to reveal the identity of the person who asked him to hand over this letter, Solanki never spilled the beans.

He maintained a dignified silence through the years, virtually retreating from active politics. He preferred, instead, to play the role of a neutral spectator and was happy to spend his time in the company of books, in his well-stocked library at his Gandhinagar home.

When a senior journalist called on him over a month ago, Solanki pointed to the large collection of books on a nearby shelf, saying, “I will have no regrets on leaving this world once I have read all these books.”

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