Wearing simplicity on the sleeve
Last updated: 12 September, 2009
R Mohan Babu 23:21 IST
Karnataka’s former Chief Minister S Nijalingappa was a man of simple living and high thinking.
When most ministers take their own sweet time, sometimes months together, to vacate their official residences and continue to enjoy the benefits even after demiting office, Nijalingappa was a class apart. The veteran Congressman politely declined the offer of free government accommodation in Bangalore after his wife passed away in 1989 and moved to his own house in Chitradurga. He had built the house in 1932 from his earnings as a practising lawyer.
Once, Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed her desire to meet the nonagenarian leader. When security staff visited his house for the customary checks before her visit, they were firmly told by SN: “I have just half a dozen cups and saucers. The delegation should not exceed that number. I can’t afford more.” Sonia Gandhi honoured the pre-condition.
SN’s diary reveals that he refused a salary of Rs 10,000 a month in 1959 (a whopping sum at the time) and allowances as chairman of Indian Oil Corporation. He preferred a token salary of just one rupee! He told then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that there would be no match between principle and practice, while talking of socialism, if he accepted a huge salary when poverty and destitution stalked the country.
The man, who dared to lock horns with all-powerful Indira Gandhi leading to the historical Congress split in 1969, did not own a car and would hitch a ride to Bangalore with friends. He never depended on his sons-in-law (one of whom retired as chief secretary).
When he suffered a fracture prior to his death in August 2000, he insisted on getting admitted to the government-owned Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital in Bangalore. He politely declined the offer of free treatment in a private super-specialty hospital, made by the then chief minister.
Veteran trade union leader and former Defence minister George Fernandes is also known for his simple ways. Unlike most politicians owning swanky cars and SUVs, he will hop on to an Ambassador.
A few more politicians from the state, who are remembered for their simple style of living, include former minister H G Govinde Gowda, V S Krishna Iyer and T R Shamanna. Krishna Iyer and Shamanna, who represented the prestigious Bangalore South parliamentary constituency, are known for their easy accessibility and simplicty. Krishna Iyer lives in his old house, renovated when he was an MP some two decades ago. He travels in a Maruti-800 car driven by his relative, who also doubles up as his PA. Shamanna wore simplicity on his sleeve and mostly moved around in a three-wheeler.
Govinde Gowda, who hails from coffee rich Chikmagalur and owns ancestral property, never flaunted it. He refused to contest elections saying he could not afford to the expenditure.