Just as he was gearing up to play the most crucial innings of his life, Dave suddenly decided to ‘get off the track’, leaving behind for those he inspired and touched, bewilderment and silence of the Narmada

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called him a friend and described him as a ‘Karma Yogi’ immersed in nishkama karma, manifesting a profound simplicity and selflessness in public life, the Union Cabinet resolution condoling his sudden death described him as a ‘true nationalist’, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, describing his untimely death as a personal loss, listed the qualities that he radiated, ‘clear sighted, farsighted, sensitive, humble with the ability of great prescience’, RSS Sah-Sarkaryavah, Suresh Soni saw his life not only as a successful (saphal) one, but more importantly as a ‘meaningful one (sarthak)’, while RSS Sarkaryavah, Bhaiyyaji Joshi referred to his qualities of mind and heart, his deep analytical skills, his repeated efforts to address fundamental questions on our life, living and its balance with nature, Bhaiyyaji Joshi saw his work of interpreting Shivaji’s political thought and action into a contemporary dimension as one of the most seminal efforts that require repeated examination and emulation.

His humility, deft capacity to coalesce and converge and his ability to combine a softness and firmness of approach is what made him stand apart. Yet that humility, that unassuming exterior, that disarming smile, that quality of melting into silence and anonymity when required to, had the capacity to also withstand pressure and to transmute into intransigence when national interest demanded it — during the climate negotiations, for example, the Americans repeatedly referred to him as a ‘tough negotiator’. It was a deep and intense spiritual dimension that allowed him to combine in him both these apparently contradictory traits.

And yet Anil Madhav Dave, who silently and suddenly passed away in the early hours of May18, leaving many of his admirers and colleagues shocked and numb, combined in himself all of these and much more. His life of action continued till the end, on the eve of his passing Dave, his Cabinet colleagues recall, was in series of meetings, discussing the new energy policy, meeting with experts, and finally ending the day with a long meeting with the Prime Minister himself. Perhaps that is how Dave would have himself liked to go, in saddle, striving, struggling, exerting to bring about a change, a transformation — much like his heroes Shivaji Maharaj — as he would unfailingly address him — and Peshwa Baji Rao, the other iconic figure in India’s history whose life and exploits Dave would often refer to. His style of narration, the piercing look in his eyes when he spoke of these immortals, had the power of easily recreating and re-manifesting the powers of that epoch.

In a short and yet action packed life of 60 years, Dave had straddled many dimensions and had done and achieved much more than many. In his short life span and in its intense and ceaseless action he resembled, in a sense, his icon Shivaji Maharaj, in fact so immersed was Dave in Shivaji and his philosophy of governance, that one saw him spend hours pouring over books, documents and then contemplating over his finds, introspecting, trying discern and elicit from these a contemporary roadmap.

‘There exists a certain image of any leader’, he wrote in the prologue to his magnum opus, Shivaji and Suraj, ‘in the realm of spiritualism, religion, politics, society or industry, which is born of that individual’s thoughts, attitude, behaviour and decisions, as well as society’s opinion and assessment of that leader. More often than not, the image of a good and effective leader is one born of struggle, shaped by adversities, and one who learns a new lesson from every error of judgement, achievement and opportunity. With the passage of time, it is this image that is honed into a well known entity.’

Born of struggle and shaped by adversities is perhaps how one can describe Dave’s own life, and like many leaders before him, leaders who have left behind their signatures on the canvas of Indian nationalism, Dave’s shaping, nurturing and sustaining pillars in life was his association and his immersion in the RSS. It was his immersion in the philosophy and way of life imparted by the Sangh that nurtured and engendered in him a unique quality — that of a silent and behind the scene worker — this association evolved in him the quality of, as he once referred to it, ‘getting off the track.” Dave had this unflappable knack of ‘getting off the track’, once the work was over, once the battle was won or the mission accomplished, little caring whether credit or accolades were showered on him. These, he would often say, is always due to the designated leader, not really to the general who lends his shoulder to the chariot of struggle. This breed is best described in Dave’s own words, “such leaders never rush to filch credit for any success; rather, they were only too willing to stand alongside their compatriots, or even step back and selflessly acknowledge the role their companions had played, as well as honour and reward them.”

His deep and umbilical involvement with the cause of environment is well-known, his wide and active interest and involvement earned him recognition worldwide, it fascinated all those who came in touch with him, for the Bavarian environmental establishment, for example, Dave continues to remain a symbol, his direct address to foreign audiences always struck a deep chord, his exhortation to them to connect to rivers and to engage in a dialogue with rivers and feel the response always elicited a huge response, a connect among western and eastern audiences and experts. They had never heard anything like this before, and yet his words reminded them of a civilisational dimension that had been lost and that needed to be recovered. Martin Grambow, well-known water philosopher and expert from Bavaria, was deeply moved when Dave handed him over a copper coin that he had devised for the cleaning of rivers, “I often hold the coin in my palm and think of him”, Grambow told me during his last visit, “his words have opened up for me the deeper spiritual vistas of the environment and of water and I am devising projects along those lines.”

He had a deep and bouncing zeal of life and a keen interest in its many dimensions. He regularly attended the international terrorism conference in Tel Aviv for example, and during the climate negotiations in Marrakech had brought back along with him the traditional environment friendly earthen ovens in which he experimented trying to prepare Indian food and regaling us all!

Dave’s boldness of conviction and capacity to strategise electoral victories was also seen in the political field when he repeatedly handed over to the BJP victories in Madhya Pradesh, few will perhaps also recall today, that it was Dave, long before many, who had stood before a packed audience in the heart of Delhi and had compared Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Shivaji and had unequivocally articulated the need for accepting him as the one leader capable of lifting India out of the morass it was then being pushed into. This was done at a time when many had dismissed this out of hand, were scared of articulating it or were simply avoiding it due to expediency.

Just as he was gearing up to play the most crucial innings of his life and was settling into his new saddle, Dave suddenly decided to ‘get off the track’, leaving behind for those he inspired and touched, incomprehension, bewilderment and the silence and sacredness of the river Narmada, he so dearly loved…

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