I was quite young when I left for the United States to pursue my further studies. As a child, I knew my father was devoted to serving Maharashtra and its people although my nascent mind never really knew why. A post-independence social reformer, he belonged to the golden generation of Maharashtra politics who embodied the saying, ‘history is not the burden of any one man or woman alone, but some are called to meet a special share of its challenges.’ Little did I know that my return would change my world in the least expected way, I would never see my father again. Maharashtra’s fight for formation was borne by leaders with unparalleled passion, leaders who put one’s country and state before anything else. A duty that my father discharged with dignity, determination and distinction. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be born to Rajarambabu Patil, Dada as we fondly called him. As we celebrate his 100th birth anniversary on the 1st of August this year, I sit to reminisce my memories of him, as a visionary, a social reformer and as someone deeply revered by all. His was truly a life dedicated to Maharashtra and its people.
Born in 1920, in the village of Kasegaon, Rajarambapu was drawn to the Indian Independence Movement from a very early age. My grandfather, Anant Dada and his brothers, especially my grand-uncle, Dnyanubuva were passionate about the political movement in the country. They were ardent followers of Gandhi and this was impressioned on my father from the very beginning. He became an active member of the ‘Seva Dal’ while he was studying law in Kolhapur. Those were the days that shaped the ideas he stood for the rest of his life. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, he promoted Khadi as a tool to become atma-nirbhar, and also persuaded people to boycott foreign goods. His early encounter with the freedom movement ran parallel to his quest for education.
As a committed student he had faced considerable difficulties to pursue his education due to lack of opportunities in the Walwa taluka. Pursuit of education took him to places like Poona, Baroda, Kolhapur, and he eventually became the first lawyer of Kasegaon. To ensure that the future generations did not face similar difficulties, he founded the ‘Kasegaon Education Society’ in 1945. The society subsequently has opened scores of educational institutions at all levels in the taluka. As a teacher himself, he understood the innumerable reasons why education growth was slow at that time. My father’s devotion to making education modern and accessible to all was one of the strongest pillars in his life as a social reformer. He had close connections with Sane Guruji, the National Teacher of India, whom he held in utmost reverence.
Guruji had once remarked, “Rajaram will certainly be one of the greatest leaders of Maharashtra”! In 1952, Rajarambapu was made the President of the Sangli District Board, and he extended his efforts for societal developments in all agendas. As a devout follower of Gandhi, he strived for temple entry of Harijans and fought against untouchability which was so fundamental in the early years of our independence. His work in Sangli was holistic, encompassing housing, health, roads, education, transportation and all along a dedicated development of society on progressive and scientific lines. He became Walwa’s MLA for the first time in 1962 and carried on championing his constituency and district for the next 22 years. To facilitate the all-round development of Walwa and Sangli, he quickly realised the importance of the co-operative sector. Against all opposition, he stood firm on his ground and established the Walwa Cooperative Sugar Factory in just 14 months. The entire network of organisations we find today in Walwa-Islampur is a product of his striving. He had already created a mark for himself in the politics of Sangli district through his social works and administrative skills, soon he was called to serve the State of Maharashtra as a Minister.
As a Minister in Maharashtra Government for 12 consecutive years, Rajarambapu presided over various historical decisions. While India recently adopted the ‘One Nation One Tax Policy’ with much elation, when Rajarambapu took over as the Revenue Minister, Maharashtra had 3 different tax rules for 3 different regions. On his initiative, Maharashtra adopted a uniform tax system across the state. Very often in looking at the grand contributions of our leaders, we tend to miss out on not-so-grand but transforming initiatives.
He headed several ministries including Business, Industry, Electricity, etc. As the Minister of Rural Development in 1978, he brought considerable changes by setting up an account book for each farmer which became instrumental in giving them more agency. Farmers’ Co-operative Spinning Mills in Walva Taluka was formed to solve the employment problem. His work always focused on the improvement of the livelihood of the common people. Throughout his career, no matter what portfolio he was given, my father kept working for his first love, the education sector, and kept on interacting with students till his last years.
My father’s humility and sincerity were admired by people from all walks of life. As a little boy I remember he used to take the S.T Bus to work in the early 1970s when he was not a Minister. It is impossible to imagine a similar action today! A few days before he left us, Rajarambapu gave a speech in Borgaon village, declaring that for the rest of his life he would ensure that not a single inch of Walwa-Islampur taluka is deprived of water. I have taken it upon myself to fulfill his promise, the success of which is all credit to him for he infused in me and his fellow karyakartas the required conviction.
In an era where the relationship between a leader and his karyakartas is very transactional, an ad-hoc association, I have seen my father develop an organic bond with his karyakartas. His natural ability to create a lifelong relationship based on trust, mutual respect and responsibility separated him from many of his peers. Perhaps it was this quality that helped him in all his personal and political struggles. Today, when some of the foundational ideas of the Indian Republic have taken a backseat, politics is increasingly powercentric and defections become rampant, my father’s values remind me of why we chose this life of public service. It reassures me as I grow older. His 1,100 kilometers long padyatra along with Shri.
Chandrashekhar, starting from Kagal in Kolhapur to Bijasana in Dhule was one of his many padyatras but it heavily inspires me to fulfill my duty towards the people of Maharashtra and the need to stay connected to them in the most intimate way possible.
I was merely 21 when Dada left us. One of my biggest regrets is that I could never work alongside him. In my own political life, I could not seek his advice nor share my passion to his contentment. Although I never got a chance to work with him, he left me with a strong sense of moral principles to abide by, a direction to march towards and a world view that went beyond my surroundings. Remembering Rajarambapu, the man, my father with so many aspects of greatness, in a few words is tough. Yes, getting identified as his son is still the most essential part of my identity, which I carry with immense pride.
Writer is Jayant Patil Water resource Minister, State Of Maharashtra
President, Nationalist Congress Party, Maharashtra