B S Raghavan

How another CM kept to time

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on January 01, 2013

Statutory warning: Reading this may leave you with a smirk on your face!

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa, was recently reported to have walked out of the National Development Council, taking exception to the time limit of 10 minutes imposed for speeches This brought back to me the memory of how another CM dealt with a similar situation.

During the Emergency of 1975-77, I was Chief Secretary, Tripura, and my Chief Minister, Sukhmoy Sen Gupta, was one of the most fascinating political personalities I have come across in India or abroad. In that period, there were a number of conferences of chief ministers and since my Chief Minister had kept all important portfolios to himself, he was a fixture in every such conference.

He spoke nary a word at the conferences themselves; he professed the utmost contempt for them and was convinced that no good ever came out of them. There he would sit, sandwiched between Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, stroking his beard, now and again flashing the broadest of grins at other chief ministers and emitting prolonged peals of laughter in response to whatever remarks, however tragic, they might make. The fact was he was ill at ease with English, he did not know any Hindi either and, therefore, he greeted every remark directed at him in either language with a beaming face. But he emerged as the celebrated hero of the conference of chief ministers on land reforms.

It happened this way. He was determined to keep mum at this meeting as well, but I worked on him, if I remember aright, for five hours in the run up to the conference, spurring him to say something, as the subject was important and some real good work had been done in Tripura which should not go unnoticed. Most reluctantly he agreed. Although elaborate briefs had been given to him (all of which were untouched and unread), I took the additional precaution of scribbling hurriedly in pencil on the margin of the circulated agenda of 16 items just one or two words to serve as triggers for his comments.


One Chief Minister, who passionately believed that brevity was the soul of nitwit, took a whole afternoon giving an exhaustive and exhausting exposition on the symbiotic relationship between land and man right from the time the primordial deluge receded and land appeared on this planet. Another four or five million years were to pass before man himself appeared and thus the luminary had a field day, describing how early man had to stomp on swamps and was swallowed up by quicksand. Well, my Chief Minister’s turn came with remorseless inevitability and the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, with a beatific smile beckoned to him to speak and, as he squirmed nearer the mike, said, “Please be brief; we are running short of time”. I looked at the clock — it showed 56 minutes past 6 p.m.

There was a palpable, expectant hush in the hall: For, the Tripura Chief Minister who never spoke was going to speak. There was also deep anxiety: How long would he take? Suppose he was to expound how early Aryans fanned themselves out from Tripura rather than from somewhere near Kazhakastan (which sounded more like the original abode of Dravidian people!)


“Madam”, my Chief Minister’s voice reverberated round the hall, “Item 1-Done; 2-not applicable to Tripura; 3-done; 4 being done; 5-done; 6-done; 7-inapplicable (‘Inexplicable?’ the Prime Minister interjected, but my Chief Minister ruthlessly went on); 8-done; 9-being done; 10-done (this many heard as 'undone';…16 done!”. My Chief Minister leaned back, looked right and left, rocking with laughter.

The clock showed precisely 58 minutes past 6. There was tumultuous clapping, the Prime Minister wished everybody were as brief, many Chief Ministers rushed towards my Chief Minister and shook him vigorously by the hand for a performance the like of which none of them — seasoned veterans — had seen before.

Another conference at which the bachelor Chief Minister, without once opening his mouth, still managed to bring home to the participants the best solution to the problem they were grappling with was the one convened by Karan Singh on population control. My Chief Minister was the best exponent of the method, namely, brahmacharya. He merely silently pointed to himself as if to say: My life is my message!

Published on January 01, 2013

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