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Guarding Deep Cong Secrets, Motilal Vohra & Ahmed Patel Until Last Month Were Signing Cheques at Party HQ

Senior Congress leader Motilal Vora died on December 21 at a hospital in Delhi following post-COVID-19 complications. (Photo: PTI)

Senior Congress leader Motilal Vora died on December 21 at a hospital in Delhi following post-COVID-19 complications. (Photo: PTI)

Motilal Vora's epitaph at the age of 93 may read as a life well lived, but in reality, the timing of his end has left the Congress much poorer.

Motilal Vora was in the league of a select band of Congress leaders who would not share a secret with spouse, children or anyone else. For him, loyalty towards the Nehru-Gandhi family was absolute and non-negotiable.

In Vora, AICC’s interim chief Sonia Gandhi has lost a faithful who, like Ahmed Patel, knew the most fiercely guarded secrets of the grand old party – how money comes and goes, and he knew the identity of every faceless donor the Congress had.

His epitaph at the age of 93 may read as a life well lived, but in reality, the timing of his end, has left the Congress much poorer as Vora, who served as AICC treasurer for nearly 18 years, could have passed on some sensitive information, contacts and resources to Patel’s successor Pawan Bansal.

Until last month, Patel and Vora had the joint authority to sign bank cheques at 24, Akbar Road. In fact, one of the last full telephonic conversations Patel is said to have had before he slipped into a coma was to Vora and most of the discussion reportedly revolved around the money matters.

Vora’s rise from a bus attendant to a union minister, chief minister, governor and important AICC functionary has been one of the most extraordinary and inspirational stories of our times. Young Vora was not highly educated but he spent countless hours hailing passengers from Durg to rather inaccessible Bastar areas for Farishta travels.

A senior journalist in Navbharat newspaper tapped him to orally reproduce crime and other stories that were taking place in some far-flung areas of undivided Madhya Pradesh [now Chhattisgarh]. It is not clear when Motilal Vora’s first byline appeared but in a few years’ time, Vora not only established himself as a seasoned journalist but also as a man who could run a travel business successfully.

Vora remained a run of the mill kind of politician until 1977 when he defied a Janata Party wave that had swept across the country to retain his Durg assembly seat. His big moment came in 1985, when Vora was heading MPCC and Arjun Singh had just been sworn in as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. After the swearing in, Arjun Singh came to Delhi to get Rajiv Gandhi’s seal of approval for his cabinet when the then prime minister asked him to become governor of Punjab.

There are many stories relating to the successor issue which saw a dark horse in Vora beating Madhavrao Scindia, Shukla brothers, PC Sethi and others. According to those hostile to Vora then, when Rajiv asked Arjun about the successor, the chief minister had tried to involve Vora in the discussion who was standing at a distance from Rajiv-Arjun. Somehow it later dawned upon Arjun that his call saying, ‘who raha’ was misconstrued as ‘Vora.’

Another account says Rajiv wanted Madhavrao Scindia to replace Arjun. When Scindia and Vora left together in a chartered plane, the titular maharaja of Gwalior began asking about life and Bhopal and the work schedule of a chief minister. By the time the aircraft landed at Bhopal, Scindia rushed a PCO to call up Rajiv asking him to consider Vora for the post in exchange of a union minister and hectic social life in Delhi.

Whatever be the reason, Vora, till Scindia was alive, remained grateful to him. Throughout his chief ministerial tenure, there was constant talk of Madhav-Moti’ Jodi. In fact, Vora had a knack of striking friends and operating in small groups. During the UPA years [2004-2014], he had teamed up with Patel and Janardhan Dwivedi to run the AICC secretariat. The trio was informally nicknamed as ‘Brahma Vishnu Mahesh’ of the party. Vora’s influence in the induction of some ministers of state in Dr Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers has been a well-documented fact of that era.

Vora had a great sense of humour and wit. One day a big tree fell inside 24, Akbar Road. This was a time Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister and Congress fortunes were dwindling. Someone began equating the tree with Congress saying its roots were decaying. Vora ignored pessimists, loudly pointing at the vacant space the tree had left, ‘dekho kitni khali jagah nikal aayi.’

At night, Vora was often seen taking rounds of 24, Akbar Road. He would say it was a routine, post meal stroll but a closer look revealed something more. Vora would politely ask bystanders, party workers to leave office premises. Minutes later, invariably, some vehicle would arrive, carrying ‘goods’ that required safe, urgent and discreet parking.

When Sitaram Kesri had demitted office of AICC treasurer, Vora had discovered a false ceiling. He was unusually wary of inspecting it. When asked, Vora had said nonchalantly, “Do you expect him to leave anything unattended?”

Vora was courteous to a fault. Every visitor would get a hot cup of tea. At times, this practice made his appointment schedule haywire. Vora then had an AICC canteen boy stationed at his office with a thermos, cups, saucers etc whose duty was to rush with tea each time a visitor assumed a seat.

The appointment would be over by the time tea was gulped. Strange as it may sound, Vora would meet everyone outside his door. Once, sometime in the 1990s, a crackpot made his way describing himself as Priyanka’s husband. Vora waited for him to finish tea and did Namaste instead of summoning the security guard.

Unlike Jyoti Basu who retired when occupying the office of the chief minister, Indian politicians are not known to say goodbye to public life. Motilal Vora was not an exception.

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first published:December 21, 2020, 19:06 IST