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In a major announcement just a day before the centenary of the birth of former Bihar Chief Minister and socialist leader Karpoori Thakur, it was declared that the late leader would be posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor. This decision, taken by the Modi government, not only honors Late Karpoori Thakur’s remarkable and visionary contribution but also grants well-deserved recognition to one of the forgotten heroes who dedicated their lives to the upliftment of marginalised communities and championing social justice.
Karpoori Thakur, a people’s leader and social justice champion, holds a distinctive place in the political history of Bihar and of India as a whole. While his name may not resonate widely outside that state, Thakur is well remembered in political circles and among keen observers of Bihar politics, particularly those who recall the tumultuous times during the emergency when non-Congress parties were specifically targeted. He made a significant contribution to the political era spanning the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s and played a pivotal role in shaping an alternative to the Congress party.
Despite his political stature, Thakur’s personal life reflected utmost simplicity and humility. It is noteworthy that he did not acquire any wealth for himself or his family. A popular anecdote from his early political career illustrates his frugality when, as an MLA in 1952, he lacked a coat to go on a delegation’s visit to Europe. Even during his tenure as Chief Minister of Bihar, Thakur did not hesitate to use a cycle-rickshaw for his transportation, emphasizing his grounded approach to public service.
One of Thakur’s most significant contributions was the introduction of the reservation as per his own social equation, providing equitable representation for backward classes in government services. In the late 1970s, he implemented a significant reservation system for backward classes in Bihar. This move set the stage for the much talked about Mandal Commission in the 1990s, significantly impacting the national polity.
Thakur furthered his dedication to social justice by abolishing English as a compulsory subject at the matriculation level, identifying it as a barrier for underprivileged students. He also established numerous schools and colleges, particularly in backward areas, and made primary and middle school education free, substantially reducing dropout rates. Remarkably, he refused to use his position for personal gain and continued to lead a spartan and humble life.
When Karpoori Thakur passed away, many political leaders who paid visits were shocked to discover his dilapidated home in the village where he continued to live without luxuries or even creature comforts. Despite being a two-time Bihar Chief Minister, Thakur shunned involvement in corrupt activities and wealth accumulation, setting himself apart from many of his political contemporaries.
The decision of the Modi government to award the Late Karpoori Thakur the “Bharat Ratna” is a commendable long-awaited recognition for this grassroots leader from Bihar. It underscores the Central government’s acknowledgment of the often-overlooked contributions of honest leaders who dedicated their lives to social welfare.
An aspect of Thakur’s political action that needs to be highlighted is his work to craft, enforce, and carry policies and schemes that promoted social justice and inclusive governance. Following his example, leaders must conceive targeted initiatives aimed at the upliftment of marginalised and backward communities, in tune with the commendable strides India is currently making in this direction. Thakur’s life and endeavours serve as a beacon, underscoring the significance of leaders who champion the well-being of the underprivileged.
By championing transparency, accountability, and ethical governance, leaders cultivate trust among the populace and instill a heightened sense of social responsibility. In an era where political figures often face scrutiny over corruption, Thakur’s legacy serves as a compelling illustration of the virtues of genuineness and truthfulness.
While the timing of this belated recognition may raise questions about the current power play in Bihar, it does not diminish the credit due to Karpoori Thakur. His commitment to social welfare, devoid of any corrupt practices, deserves applause and must be cherished. Congratulations are owed to his family and to the people of Bihar, and a special acknowledgement is due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making this respectful gesture towards the legendary Karpoori Thakur!