Visionary educationist
Reviewed by Raghuvendra Tanwar

Understanding Politics and Society: 1910-1997
By Hardwari Lal. Edited by Prem Chowdhary. Manak Publications. Pages 423. Rs 700.

Understanding Politics and Society: 1910-1997HARDWARI LAL was a man whose presence could never be ignored; he lived an eventful life rarely sparing the chance of calling a spade a spade, taking on Chief Ministers and Judges alike. Defiance was virtually in his genes. In the foreword to this interesting compilation of some of Hardwari Lalís essays contributed mainly to leading newspapers, Khushwant Singh notes: "Hardwari Lal was a true son of the soil an icon of defiance ... all said and done he was a Jat, violence and litigation were in his blood." Litigation, yes; but violence, no ó he was a man of words and never of violent actions.

A few days after the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, the St. Stephenís College Assembly met as usual in the morning. Hardwari Lal shocked everyone by shouting "Inqulab Zindabad". The Indian students who followed the slogan were severely warned, including Khushwant Singh, but no one dared warn Hardwari Lal, such was his reputation.

The sleepy village of his birth, Chhara, was not too far from Delhi in the context of distance, but the journey to the countryís leading institution was obviously a long and difficult one.

Hardwari Lal was a prolific writer. Besides a list of books, he contributed extensively to leading newspapers, mainly The Tribune. Gandhiji had once called The Tribune the most influential newspaper of India. It must have been a difficult task for Prem Chowdhary, Hardwari Lalís daughter, to select articles and fit them into title frames. But being a meticulous researcher and gifted historian, combining high levels of sophistication and retaining at the same time roots in the ground, she has done an excellent job.

The chapters are very readably introduced by the editor. The chapters include a biographical sketch by Prem Chowdhary that brings out Hardwari Lalís difficult early days, the social norms and the promiscuous nature of rural life in the region. Hardwari Lal comes out as a hard working young boy committed to seeking good education, all the hurdles notwithstanding. Some years ago, another young Jat had walked a similar road from the neighbouring village of Sampla, near Rohtak, to grow into the legendary Chhotu Ram.

In an article titled All About Small States, Hardwari Lal comes out rather interestingly against the idea that small states are better administered. On the contrary, he says, "Haryana proves that small-sized administrative units cannot have objective administration. Sick of personalised administration the elderly folks in the state are nostalgic for the objective administration of the British days". Obviously, the article was a reflection on some of his contemporary Chief Ministers.

The articles on state politics and politicians makes interesting reading ó mincing no words, sparing none. Although he did pay price for what he said and wrote. Commenting on a Chief Minister, he writes: "Tit for tat, blow for blow, having completed the favourite pass time of Haryana politics`85. The family came first, relations and co-villagers came next."

Hardwari Lal was essentially a man wedded to higher education. He was a visionary in many ways. He laid the solid foundation of Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra. During 1958-60, he picked up the best people to start new departments laying the master plan for a campus considered today as one of Indiaís best. The essays contain interesting incidents on Haryana and its universities in particular highlighting core issues of concern: "True to Haryana style, the Chief Minister recently inaugurated the stateís fourth university named after his Guru. It was fun to see the Chief Minister bringing the appointment letter of the Pro-VC in his pocket and presenting it to the appointee on the stage".

Commenting on a Vice-Chancellorís conference organised at Hisar in 1997, he notes: "The ministerís speech was the biggest joke. He condemned the politicisation of universities, though the government of which he happens to be a minister has been at pains for the past one decade to politicise the universities."

Hardwari Lal comes out concerned by the manner in which the legislatures in India were getting new members: "uneducated rustics, past or fresh criminals, tricksters." He stands in favour of exposing judicial corruption noting that public interest was the final test. "The judiciary cannot exact peopleís confidence," he notes, "by using its striking arm (contempt proceedings) a machinery with teeth must be set up to discipline errant judges". The wide range of issues covered makes the book very interesting and relevant for every one.