Enduring citadel of power

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 05 Jul 2018 09:26:01



Vijay Phanshikar,

He had just made history -- in the United Nations. For the first time, those coveted portals had heard a great speech in Hindi. And Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Minister of External Affairs, had come to Nagpur soon after that great moment. At a crowded press conference held in the first-floor conference room in Ravi Bhavan Circuit House, sitting at the huge oblong table, Mr. Vajpayee had shared with the media the highlights of India’s foreign policy and diplomatic considerations.

That was sometime in 1978, when the Janata Party led by Mr. Morarji Desai ruled the country for a shortened term. Mr. Vajpayee was a leading light of the Government that also saw Pakistan giving Mr. Desai Nishaan-e-Pakistan, its highest civilian honour. That was, thus, a glorious period for India’s foreign relations. That was not so because Pakistan honoured Mr. Morarji Desai, but because India could put across to the global community its ideals and ideology of a stress-free world successfully.

For countless decades, Ravi Bhavan, named after the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla who dominated Central India’s public affairs for decades, has been witnessing many such moments that shaped history in this or that manner. India’s central leaders, Chief Ministers of not just of Maharashtra but also of other States, ministers, law-makers, scientists, sportspersons, artists, top bureaucrats, social thinkers and front-line non-governmental workers have graced the place, lending it in the process a special significance. In official parlance, Ravi Bhavan is an official circuit house to be used by government office-bearers and officials in transit, on the circuit of duty. But in social parlance, the metaphor Ravi Bhavan has expanded over time -- beyond anybody’s ability to imagine how and how much.

When Punjab was leading the Country’s Green Revolution -- with a tremendous harvest of golden wheat and was being treated as an example to be emulated by other States, Chief Minister Giani Zail Singh had come to Nagpur -- to fulfill some political and some social obligations. Again, at the first-floor conference room, he also addressed the media in great detail. He spoke in good Hindi in his typical Punjabi accent, but communicated successfully what his State had achieved. “It is not just the water from Bhakra Nangal that made the difference”, he said. And then he went on elaborating how the people of Punjab -- farmers and others -- were proving to be a driven lot, primed to create national surplus that others could use; the Ravi Bhavan premises acted as mute witnesses to yet another glorious tale of stuff of history.

The Government of Maharashtra also has always recognised the larger-than-life importance of Ravi Bhavan, and has made special efforts to keep the premises well organised all the time. The premises, thus, are all the time ready to receive guests -- with an assured place in the Sun.
Of course, the Ravi Bhavan premises are sprawling over several acres, encompassing in their compounds dozens of cottages that often housed ministers and leaders during the
legislature session at Nagpur, and also beyond. Though technically it is described as a separate enclosure, the Devgiri, meant to be the official residence of Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister, also is a component of the Ravi Bhavan estate. On the eastern side of Ravi Bhavan is the massive estate housing various offices including that of the Divisional Commissioner, the Zilla Parishad, the District Collectorate, the Nyay Mandir, and several other organisations. To the north of Ravi Bhavan is the iconic building of the High Court. To the south are the Nag Bhavan premises that house ministers during their stay in the city for the period of legislature session. To the west of the Ravi Bhavan premises are some Central offices with common compound wall.

These may seem to be only physical details, so to say. In actual terms, they define a terrific symbolism of the infrastructure of political and administrative power in Nagpur, the second capital of Maharashtra. True, the whole of Civil Lines is nothing but a mini-capital, but in that geography, Ravi Bhavan occupies a special place.

Over the past five decades, as a journalist, I have seen many great political moments take shape. Reporting those, from those young days to now, I have gained tremendous insights into public affairs, into how the big people, too, have feet of clay, of how they keep their word and how they break promises. On many occasions, I could learn how many honourable characters kept the moral flag high even in dirty politics. On many occasions, I have also reported how patent immorality overtook human conscience to cheat not just foes but also close friends. Each of those moments had a rewarding dimension. For, as I realised how politics is not a game for the common people, Ravi Bhavan also showed how men and women of high integrity gave something glorious to cherish.

Over time, Ravi Bhavan’s physical details have changed in sync with its persona. But the basic character of the place has remained unaltered. For, even in the rapidly changing canons of political morality, we could still find some people whose standards of integrity remained unchanged. Now also, as the Government comes here for a short stay annually, I visit Ravi Bhavan just to understand the nuanced nature of politics that sometimes makes me feel good, but also gives me a sense of utter disgust on other occasions.

No matter these political intricacies, for me Ravi Bhavan premises have acted as school where to learn how political games are played with real or perceived public good in mind.

Late one night, as some serious political developments were threatening to take place, as a young Reporter, I stood outside a cottage, waiting for a political leader to emerge. I was all alone, all eager to meet the man whose action in a few more hours were to affect the political process in a big way. He did emerge, looked at the waiting Reporter, and said in a voice heavy with fatigue and emotion, “Vijay, we are looking at a dark era to dawn soon”.  In just a few more days, Mrs. Indira Gandhi slapped Emergency on the country!