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Vasant Sathe, the Ajathashatru

N. R. Krishnan | Updated on: Sep 24, 2011

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In the passing away of Vasant Sathe, the country has lost a great parliamentarian and a politician of impeccable integrity. He was perhaps the last remnant of a bygone era of grace and correctness in private and public discourse, never a practitioner of the foul art of denigrating political opponents but ever a gentleman. A sartorially elegant, handsome man, he exuded warmth and friendliness equally towards those he knew and those he did'nt. No wonder, he was fondly referred to as Ajathashatru in political circles.

As an administrator, Sathe distinguished himself as the minister of Information and Broadcasting at the time of the Asian Games in 1982 when, within a short time, his ministry, hit by a strike of technicians, grappled with the situation and put in place all telecasting facilities for the games in contrast with the situation that prevailed more than a quarter century later at the time of the Commonwealth Games. Colour television was introduced in the country in his time and the perfection displayed by Indian technicians in bringing the Asian Games alive in colour won plaudits from everyone.

His stint as Minister of Energy in the middle and late 1980's was noted for the marked expansion in the country's electricity generating capacity and by higher production of coal by the public sector coal companies to feed the power needs. Those were the days when coal linkages to industry were never refused but given liberally. And all this was achieved without an iota of accusation being raised against the departments entrusted with these responsibilities.

Civil servants adored Sathe for his uprightness and the courtesy and kindness he extended to them. He seldom questioned their authority nor interfered with its exercise. They could air their opinions freely before him without fear of being upbraided. Once, when an officer proposed disciplinary action against one of his close relatives, Sathe, setting aside all family connections, backed the hesitant and surprised officer to go ahead with the measure. Such was his sense of fairness and probity in public life.

An endearing quality of Sathe was his sense of humour often displayed on the floor of the Houses of the Parliament. Anecdote has it that in answer to a question on drug policy involving complex technical terminology – the question, doubtless, having been inspired by a pharmaceutical house – Sathe turned to the Presiding Officer of the House and said that everyone could guess who had inspired the question (meaning the corporate house) and who could have drafted the answer for the minister to deliver (meaning civil servants) and hence it would be better if the two parties behind the scenes talked to each other instead of bringing the matter before the august house. The House erupted into uproarious laughter with the questioner joining in without getting offended. Sathe could enjoy a joke at his expense too for after his assumption of office as Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, critics jibed at him that his first move would be to introduce coloured fertilizers.

Well-versed in Sanskrit and Hindu scriptures, Sathe was fond of quoting the Bhagwat Gita. His favourite quote was “ N'asato vidyate bhavo n'bhavo vidyate satah …(“ The unreal can never come into existence, and the real can never cease to be”). He would surely be missed by his legion of friends in politics and the media and the civil servants who had the privilege of serving with him.

(The author is a former Secretary to the Government of India.)

Published on September 24, 2011
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