B J Khatal-Patil, who is a 100-year-old luminary, a writer and most importantly a human and a politician of Maharashtra, voluntarily retired from politics post 1985. At the age of 61, he announced that this would be his last election and he won’t be contesting elections henceforth. Thereafter, he never ever knocked the doors of political corridor. After leaving politics, he has been practicing yoga and meditation. Even today, at this age, he walks 12 kilometers a day like any other fitness freak. He often takes trips to the ‘Vipassana Kendra’ in Igatpuri. His life has been based on moralities and principles. In spite of being in politics, he has stayed away from controversies. He is a Congressman, who is known for his trustworthiness and simple living.
Today, Congress party is known for corruption and hardly there is any leader who is known for honesty. Nowadays, the party has lost its sheen but leaders like Dada Khatal set an example of those days’ politics, which can be an inspiration to the new generation. There are still some good leaders in Congress, for example names like Nandan Nilekani, A. K. Antony come immediately to mind, unless you call Dr Manmohan Singh a politician. Chidambaram has been honest as a politician, but the same cannot be said about his law practice. Today’s situation reminded me of the Mahabharata, when the good people like Bhishmacharya, Dronacharya, Kripacharya, Karna, and so many more were on the wrong side of the war. The Congress of Nehru and the Congress of Indira and now Sonia, has vast differences. Dada Khatal’s generation belongs to pre-independence era. Dada Khatal first contested the Maharashtra state assembly elections in 1952 from Sangamner constituency, but he lost the election to the then political heavy weight Late Datta Deshmukh. The state of Maharashtra was formed on May 1, 1960, and since then its politics has been evolving. The INC was stretched without a major contender, and enjoyed tremendous support from the influential state’s sugar co-operatives and thousands of other cooperative organisations involved in the rural agricultural economy of the state such as marketing of dairy and vegetable produce, credit unions etc. Major past political figures of Congress party from Maharashtra, such as Keshavrao Jedhe, Yashwantrao Chavan, Shankarrao Chavan and Vilasrao Deshmukh have been from Maratha/Kunbi group. Sharad Pawar, who has been a towering figure in Maharashtrian and national politics, belongs to this group. Of the 18 Chief Ministers so far, as many as 10 (55 per cent) have been Marathas.
In the next elections held in 1957, Khatal Saheb decided not to contest. His decision was in protest of the Congress stand against Samyukta Maharashtra Movement. He was a strong supporter of Samyukta Maharashtra. He conveyed the Congress leadership that he will not contest the elections himself as a protest but at the same time will not work against the party and will support the candidate fielded by the party. In 1962, he was elected to the Maharashtra legislative assembly and was immediately appointed as a Minister. He served as the minister in the Maharashtra Cabinet for a period of over 16 years. During the period, he served in the Maharashtra state government as Minister of State for Cooperation, Planning, Revenue etc. and then as Minister of Law and Judiciary, Food and Civil Supplies, Irrigation, PWD etc. He served as a Minister under five different Chief Ministers — Yashwantrao Chavan, Marotrao Kannamwar, Vasantrao Naik, Shankarrao Chavan and Barrister A R Antulay.
Dada Khatal was a very well placed minister but he never took any advantages or favours of his position; he remained a father to his children like any other common man, and he never made anything for his children which can give them silver spoon in mouth. He made them understand the value of life and prepared them to fight their own battles till they achieve success on their own efforts. Dada Khatal is one rare politician who remained grounded then and now.
In the general elections of 1980, Congress (I) won a majority in Parliament and came to power under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. The Congress (I) also came to power in Maharashtra and Barrister A R Antulay was appointed as the Chief Minister; under his leadership, Dada was appointed as the Minister for Food and Civil Supplies. He was the senior most member of the cabinet, even senior to the Chief Minister himself and was the second in command to the then CM.
At the age of 91, he took to writing books. His first book ‘Antariche Dhave’ was published in 2011 on his 92nd birthday. Since then, he has written several books which proved to be the best sellers — Antariche Dhave (Marathi), Gulamgiri (Marathi); Dinda Lokshahichi (Marathi); Gandhiji Aste tar.. (Marathi); Lashkari Vilkhyatil Pakistan (Marathi); He has not stopped here; he is still in processes of authoring new book.
Sadly, in 2014, the treasury department of Govt. of Maharashtra declared him dead, after receiving a fake call from an unknown person claiming to be his daughter. This led to a large controversy on how a former Cabinet Minister could be declared dead. Dada Khatal played down the controversy saying such human errors could happen. He appealed to the higher authorities to pardon the people responsible for the wrongdoing. Being a true Gandhian, he always believed in pardoning people.
Khatal is a veteran Congressman. He married the daughter of then Congress leader and MLA K B Deshmukh. The couple has six children. Prabhavati Khatal-Patil was herself a social activist and a freedom fighter. He completed his Bachelor of Arts from Pune University and LLB from the ILS Law College in Pune. He started his career as a lawyer. He grew up to be a lawyer not only in Ahmednagar district but also in Maharashtra. He was an active participant in the struggle for independence of India. He participated in the Non-cooperation Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi.
This month, he will be completing 100 years of his life; on his centenary we wish him best of life ahead.
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