Pictures of the old and ageing father of Chhattisgarh chief minister Nand Kumar Baghel getting arrested and sent to jail by his son Bhupesh Baghel may appear bizarre, but there is a history to it. Baghel had often talked in private about having differences with his father and what transpired was never beyond the realm of possibilities.
In Indian politics, the optics of the hum-saath-saath-hain family are part of the sanskari political photo op. So it’s a huge political risk to air family differences. But Baghel isn’t the first, not in India. The Scindia family, the Arjun Singh family and the Shukla dynasty have all been there before.
Firaun ke ghar mein Musa is a popular proverb in Muslim households that implies a son can be extremely destructive and damaging to a father.
Firaun or Pharaoh was the term used for the ancient rulers of the Copts (native Egyptians). It foretold that an Israelite would bring about Firaun’s death. In order to save himself, Firaun ordered that all Israelite children be killed every year. As luck would have it, Musa or Moses was raised as a son by Pharaoh’s wife (Aasia) who grew up to destroy the mighty Pharaoh.
In the context of Chhattisgarh, the bitterness in the house of Baghels is not of Pharaoh-Moses’ measure. Yet, it has a past.
Early differences between Bhupesh Baghel and Nand Kumar
Credible sources told me that in early 1993, a young Bhupesh was contesting as a Congress nominee from Patan in the undivided Madhya Pradesh when Nand Kumar, a socialist in Ram Manohar Lohia mould and ideology, considered Bhupesh to be sacrilegious. Many recall how an angry and vindictive Nand Kumar had gone public, declaring that he had voted against his son. In fact, much before he became an MLA, Bhupesh’s move to drop out of BSc had upset Nand Kumar greatly. Bhupesh had reportedly told his father that he would one day become chief minister of a state – a dream he fulfilled on 12 December 2018.
Father and son tussles are not uncommon in politics. When Ravishankar Shukla called the shots, sons Shyama and Vidya had also become restless about entering the family profession. Being the probity-conscious chief minister, Shukla senior would not entertain the idea even when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pleaded Vidya’s case. It was only after Ravishankar Shukla’s death that the Shukla brothers were drafted into politics.
Arjun Singh’s father too had caused some discomfort to his son. In his memoir, A Grain of Sand in the Hourglass of Time (Hay House, 2012), Singh admitted having to bear the agony that his father Rao Shiv Bahadur Singh, a minister of the erstwhile state of Vindhya Pradesh, had been arrested in Delhi for taking a bribe of a paltry sum of Rs 25,000 from a Bombay-based Gujarati businessman for a license to exploit the Panna Diamond Mines. His father’s disgrace, Arjun insists, had moved him “to enter public life and redeem the honour of the family”. At one point, the son is said to have turned emotional to state that he did not get a chance to choose his father, implying he should not be judged by his father’s alleged deeds. Arjun believed that his father was innocent and was entrapped by his rivals.
In my recently published book, The House of Scindias (Roli Books, 2021), I have cited many instances and anecdotes about how Vijaya Raje Scindia (Rajmata) and her son Madhavrao had a deficit of trust in most of their political lives. Madhavrao felt Rajmata was “reckless” in funding the Bharatiya Jana Sangh from erstwhile Gwalior royal family coffers. In a book excerpt carried in ThePrint, I had written that the rift between Rajmata and Madhavrao dated back to before the June 1975 declaration of the Emergency. “Madhavrao deeply resented Angre’s influence on his mother and felt strongly that the Scindias’ wealth was being spent ‘recklessly’ on politics. He had differences with his mother over money and her funding of the Jana Sangh, the political arm of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the earlier avatar of the BJP. Close friends of Madhavrao have claimed that the young maharaja was shocked to see money and jewellery disappearing from Jai Vilas Palace. ‘There were supposedly wells full of gold, silver and precious metals. Madhavrao was stunned to see these “wells” depleted.’”
Feud among Gandhis
Feuds among the Gandhis — Maneka versus Indira, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi — are well-documented. Indira Gandhi’s two ‘bahus’ came face-to-face when Maneka was appointed the Union culture minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and ordered a probe into alleged financial irregularities in the family trusts of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts headed by Sonia Gandhi. Maneka tried hard to evict her from the IGNCA with a sense of purpose and missionary zeal.
Even happily married couples have been on the opposing sides of the political spectrum. I was on a television panel discussion when a clueless anchor kept needling Swaraj Kaushal, asking the Haryana Vikas Party leader to defend then Prime Minister Vajpayee. At one point, Sushma Swaraj’s husband lost his cool, saying he was not as close to the BJP as the anchor was imagining. The HVP, led by veteran Bansi Lal was opposed to BJP-NDA.
J B Kripalani was a towering freedom fighter, socialist and educationalist. He left the Congress after 1947 and became a harsh critic of Nehru and Indira Gandhi, while wife Sucheta Kriplani continued as the Congress chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for over four years between 1963-67. The sharp political divide did not affect the Gandhian couple one bit.
Nand Kumar had once called for an end to the burning of effigies of Ravana in his book Brahman Kumar Rawan ko Mat Marro. Now, we are witness to a new-old Ramayana of father-son disagreement being enacted between Bhupesh Baghel and his defiant father.
Rasheed Kidwai is an ORF visiting fellow, author and journalist. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)