Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Beauty & brains

Her charm and oratory excelled that of today’s women politicians. Tarkeshwari Sinha was a freedom fighter, a firebrand student leader and a member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s council of ministers. A four-time MP representing the Barh constituency of Bihar, she was the only woman politician other than Indira Gandhi who was considered newsworthy in her time.
Tarkeshwari was also the only woman politician from Bihar who was much ahead of her time. Well-read and articulate, she had charisma. She remembered thousands of Urdu couplets and these were delivered with extraordinary finesse and ease. In an era when film actresses were not introduced into politics, Sinha epitomised beauty and brains and charmed Parliament for 19 years.
Poet-lyricist-director Gulzar, once discussing his film Aandhi, said the movie was supposed to be based on the life of Indira Gandhi, but that was only partially true. It was the first film on the modern Indian politician and, according to Gulzar, Indira Gandhi and, to a lesser extent, Tarkeshwari Sinha fitted the picture.
I had seen her from a close distance at a public meeting during the turbulent years of 1969-71 Congress divide, when she was touring India and came to Ludhiana. Accompanied by S. Nijligappa and Rajya Sabha MP Mahedra Kaur (mother of Captain Amarinder Singh), she addressed a sizable crowd at the famous Daresi Grounds. After the Congress split, Sinha sided with the Syndicate. It is an irony of fate that such a vibrant and progressive politician like her chose the company of old and obscurantist cronies like K. Kamraj and Morarji Desai and gradually faded into oblivion. Perhaps she chose this path because of Indira Gandhi’s deep-rooted dislike for her.
Katherine Frank, in her book Indira, had written that once upon a time Feroze Gandhi openly flaunted his affair with Sinha. She passed away recently at a ripe old age unsung and literally unreported. With her death, a link to the Nehruvian era and pre-Independence India has been snapped.

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