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Posted at: Sep 29, 2017, 1:16 AM; last updated: Sep 29, 2017, 1:16 AM (IST)OBITUARY : MAKHAN LAL FOTEDAR 1932-2017

Gandhis’ ‘Chanakya’

Gandhis’ ‘Chanakya’
ML Fotedar (L) with Rajiv Gandhi. File

Veteran Congress man Makhan Lal Fotedar’s six-decade-long political career ended this afternoon as he breathed his last at a Gurgaon-based super-specialty hospital. Fotedar was 85 and was in the ICU since June 20 when he was admitted with complaints of weakness and breathlessness.

The first tribute to the deceased leader came from Congress president Sonia Gandhi who called him “one of the guiding lights for the Congress”, adding the “void he leaves will never be filled”. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi described Fotedar as a “pillar of strength”.

Not too long back — in 2015 — Fotedar had ruffled feathers in the Congress by questioning the leadership of Rahul and declaring that he would be largely unacceptable. Not stopping there, Fotedar had even suggested that it was a matter of time before Rahul faced an internal challenge to his authority. Fotedar’s remarks contained in his memoirs — “The Chinar Leaves” — left several red faces in the Congress when Rahul’s ascendancy to the family throne was acknowledged as a given.

Fotedar, however, backed Priyanka Gandhi as the family’s political heir and wrote in his HarperCollins publication of how late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had wanted Priyanka to be the family successor. “People will see my image in her (Priyanka),” Fotedar said quoting Indira.

But for the past few sunset years, the octogenarian had a roaring innings having served as Indira’s political secretary from 1980 to 1984. He began his public life career in 1952 as the polling agent of India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru who was then contesting the General Election from Phulpur.

Fotedar rose to become Indira’s closest aides and was one of the two signatories to her will. He later became political secretary to late PM Rajiv Gandhi for three years before joining his Cabinet and was until his departure a permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee.

After Rajiv’s death and Sonia Gandhi’s reluctance to join politics, Fotedar worked to instal PV Narasimha Rao as PM only to later fall out with him over the Babri Masjid issue. He then engineered a Congress split by backing ND Tiwari and later brought Sonia to Congress helm. The veteran Congress man’s colleagues remember of times when Sonia would often seek the counsel of Fotedar, whom she called “Chanakya”. It is equally widely acknowledged that Fotedar, with Pranab Mukherjee and late Arjun Singh, strategised the secular UPA coalition as a counter to BJP-led NDA. 

Born at Mattan village in Anantnag, Fotedar represented Pahalgam in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly from 1967 to 1977 and was later minister in the Syed Mir Qasim government. Throughout his years of loyalty to Nehru-Gandhi family, he remained the famous last Kashmiri adviser to powerful former prime ministers. Fotedar is survived by three sons and two daughters. — Aditi Tandon

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