Leave This Small Quarter, Please!

The story of Gulzarilal Nanda, the two-time prime minister of India, is, in fact, a tale of a penurious but principled politician who stayed true to his political commitments till his last breath and never indulged in self-seeking malpractices at the expense of national interest.

January 2023

Once upon a time but not long ago, a 90-year-old man, who lived in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, had no money and was as poor as a church mouse in his sunset moments. To make things worse for the poor wretch, he had not even been able to pay the house rent for the last five months. One day, his landlord came to collect the rent in a huff and angrily threw the old man as well as all his precious possessions out of the house.

What were his valuable belongings? A wooden charpoy, a plastic bucket, and some old utensils. Thrown out of his abode as an outcast in the middle of the night, the old man was now sitting alone in dreadful squalor on the sidewalk. Feeling sorry for his pitiful condition, some local residents asked the homeowner to allow the old codger to stay back in the house since he had no children or heir and assured him that he would pay his entire rent in the next two months by taking a loan from somewhere.

By a quirk of fate, a newspaper reporter who was passing by from the incident site felt great pity for the scrawny and helpless man. He took pictures of him and filed a news story about a crippled old man who was mercilessly kicked out of his rented house at dead of night and how the local people intervened in the middle to help him out. While reading the story, the editor of the newspaper was shocked the moment he saw the pictures of the old man lying on the sidewalk.

The editor asked the reporter if he personally knew that old man. The reporter started laughing and asked, what is so unusual about this old man that anyone should pay attention to him as even his immediate neighbours don’t know him. “He eats one meal a day, washes the dishes, and even cleans the house by himself, but who would be interested in knowing such details that too about a person of no repute or stature?” the reporter replied unequivocally.

However, the reporter’s mouth fell open in surprise when the editor informed him that the 90-year-old man was Gulzarilal Nanda, the former two-time prime minister of India. The next morning, the newspaper came with breaking news about the vicissitudes of fortune that had left the two-time prime minister of one of the world’s largest democracies in the lurch, reeling at the mercy of time but with all his dignity, upright principles, and self-esteem.

Upon publication of this news, the chief minister and the then Indian prime minister also came to know that Gulzarilal was living his last days in abject poverty. A few hours after the news was published, the chief minister of the state, the chief secretary, and several ministers visited Gulzarilal Nanda in person and jointly asked, ‘For God’s sake, leave this small quarter, please!’ While doing so, the lot of ministers collectively asked him to shift to a government house and that he would also be entitled to a monthly living allowance too.

However, Gulzarilal strongly refused the offer and said that he had no right to any kind of government facility and he will keep staying here in this small quarter. Meanwhile, a few of his relatives finally persuaded Gulzarilal to accept the monthly stipend of Rs. 500. At long last, the former prime minister expressed his willingness to receive this money after much difficulty. Now with this small amount of money, the former two-time prime minister of India was able to pay his house rent without anybody’s help.

Interestingly, the owner of the house felt apologetic when came to know that his tenant had been the prime minister of the whole country. The old man replied that there was no need to do so and that he was a simple tenant and nothing else. As long as Gulzarilal was alive, he lived in the same small quarter and lived on a monthly allowance of 500 rupees till his last breath.

A man of amazing character, Gulzarilal Nanda was born in Sialkot in July 1898 and died in Ahmedabad in India in January 1998. He became India’s Prime Minister in 1964 after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru and held this high position even after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966. Gulzarilal Nanda studied Economics at the FC College Lahore and taught Economics at the universities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad. He was elected as a member of the Lok Sabha several times and as a principled politician, he served his country in the positions of a union minister, foreign minister, and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India. A firm believer in simplicity, Gulzarilal’s philosophy was based on leading a simple, happy life with very little money and without any pomp and circumstance. Thus, the example set by Gulzarilal of living in simplicity requires a very strong character.

At the time of his death at the age of 99, he had no assets, no bank balance, and no home and property, other than just a treasure of honour and respect that even the richest people do not have. It is also a fact that there is a high level of corruption in politics in a country like India but despite this, we often find exemplary political figures in the country like Gulzarilal who stay true to their political commitments and never indulge in self-seeking malpractices at the expense of national interest.

Is it possible to find a practical example of this level of simplicity and uprightness here in Pakistan? Your guess is as good as mine.