Bhopal: In 2003, when the BJP decided to embark upon the formidable task of dislodging ten-year-old Digvijaya Singh government of the state, Uma Bharati became the face of the party, while Anil Dave led the campaign from behind the scene. It was he who came up with the title of ‘Shriman Bandhadhar’ for Digvijay Singh and it was he who decided to make ‘bijli-pani-sadak’ as party’s main poll plank. Both were an instant hit and the party romped home with a never-before majority in the elections held at the fag end of 2003. His election management was so meticulous and so well-coordinated that even his detractors could not help praising him. After the party formed its government in the state, Uma Bharati appointed Dave as her political adviser with a ministerial rank.
Anil Madhav Dave, 61, who passed away in his sleep at his New Delhi residence on Thursday morning, was no run-of-the-mill politician.
He was a rare combination of a political strategist par excellence, a brilliant thinker, prolific writer, an exceptional organiser and a passionate environmentalist. He had great reverence and love for rivers, ponds and lakes in general and for the Narmada River in particular. Building from scratch, he had launched a massive movement for the preservation of the Narmada and had got a hut built on the banks of Narmada at Bandrabhan, a small hamlet about 14 km from Hoshangabad, where he proposed to live in the evening of his life. Alas, that was not to be, though, as per his will, he will be cremated at Bandrabhan.
Dave also had a strange obsession with the Maratha ruler Shivaji. He had named the hut on the Narmada bank ‘Shivneri’ – the fortress (now) in Pune district in which the Chhatrapati was born. And when he took over command of the election management of BJP in 2003 assembly elections, he named the war room at the state party headquarters as “Javli” – a state which the Maratha warrior conquered in 1656 paving the way for the expansion of the Martha kingdom towards the South. Dave was fulltime RSS pracharak, deeply immersed in the ideology of the saffron organisation, but he was no bigot. He was open to discussions and debates with those upholding other ideologies. He was suave and sophisticated, with an excellent command of both Hindi and English.
Life-long engagement with Narmada
In 2005, the then chief minister Babulal Gaur constituted ‘Jan Abhiyam Parishad’ and appointed Dave as its vice president. Dave soon made the Parishad a happening institution. In the same year began his association with the campaign to preserve the Narmada River, which lasted till his last breath. When he organised the first meeting to devise a strategy for the preservation of Narmada at Narmada Bhavan – the headquarters of the NVDA at Bhopal – barely 15-20 people were present. But given his organisational capabilities, it did not take Dave long to convert the campaign into a people’s movement. Much before Shivraj Singh Chouhan proposed plantation of crores of saplings to build a green corridor for the River, Dave had come out with the idea of covering the river with a ‘green chunri’.
He worked incessantly for the preservation of the Narmada, made “Nadi Mahotsava’ at Bandrabhan an annual feature and performed Narmada Parikrama thrice – by air, water and road. He gave away a major part of his MP Local Area Development Fund (He was elected to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 2009 and was into his third term in the Lower House when he passed) for building facilities like changing rooms for women on the ghats of the River. He had got toilets built in 1880 schools in the Hoshangabad district.
But despite his intellectual predilections, he was no stranger to realpolitik. In fact, he was exceptionally good at forging electoral strategies and can well be described as the architect of the BJP’s massive victories in the 2003, 2009 and 2013 assembly polls in the state. But he preferred to remain behind the curtains. Come 2008 elections and Chouhan drove to Dave’s residence, aptly named ‘Nadi Ghar’ to request him to take over the reins of the party electoral effort. Dave obliged and the party again ended up with an impressive tally. In 2013, he was bit reluctant to take up the responsibility but had to bow before Chouhan’s insistence. And once again, he did not fail his party.
Bold decisions were his forte
In 2008, just before the elections, Dave proposed that a ‘Karyakarta Mahakumbh’ of the BJP workers be organised at Jamboree Maidan in Bhopal. Spread over acres, the Jamboree Maidan is big enough to make even a crowd of 10-15 thousand look very small. Till then, no political party had dared to hold any event at the venue. However, Dave went ahead and the function was a massive success. He was also the moving sprit behind many intellectual events in the state including the Hindi Sammelan at Bhopal and the Vaicharik Mahakumbh at Ujjain. The BJP will miss him and so will environmentalists and the legions of his friends and admirers.