Madhavsinh Solanki: ‘Unmatched leader, will be remembered for his role in shaping modern Gujarat’

Madhavsinh Solanki, longest-serving chief minister of Gujarat, breathed his last on Saturday in Gandhinagar at the age of 93, bringing an end to a glorious era for a party that could not come back to power in the state since the nineties.

The grand old man of Gujarat Congress and its longest serving chief minister in the state, who went on to become the Union external affairs minister, Madhavsinh Solanki breathed his last Saturday in Gandhinagar at the age of 93, bringing an end to a glorious era for a party that could not come back to power in the state since the nineties.

Sources close to the family said Solanki died in his sleep at his residence.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani declared on-day state mourning Saturday and cancelled all his official events, including a public meeting in Mahisagar district. The last rites of the departed leader will be held with full state honours, the CM said.

Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said the Council of Ministers, presided over by Rupani, observed two-minute silence and passed a condolence resolution as a mark of respect. “He (Solanki) has been credited with contributions in the field of education and journalism. The mid-day meal scheme that has been replicated throughout the country was started during his tenure, as was the reservation for the socially and economically backward sections,” Patel said.

On Saturday, President Ram Nath Kovind also paid tributes to Solanki. In a condolence letter to the veteran Congress leader’s son Bharatsinh Solanki, the president said, “Madhavsinh Solanki was not only a political stalwart in his own right but also an exceptional administrator. In his demise the nation has lost an unmatched leader. He will be long remembered for his role in shaping modern Gujarat for its inimitable warmth, charm and love for literature.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to Twitter to express his grief. “Madhavsinh Solanki was a formidable leader, playing a key role in Gujarat politics for decades. He will be remembered for his rich service to society… Beyond politics, Madhavsinh Solanki enjoyed reading and was passionate about culture. Whenever I would meet him or speak to him, we would discuss books and he would tell me about a new book he recently read. I will always cherish the interactions we had,” the PM tweeted.

Sonia Gandhi, the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, in a condolence letter to Bharatsinh said, “Gujarat has lost a towering leader, who symbolised a golden era in the state. Madhavsinh Solanki played a key role in Gujarat’s progress and development, and during his long tenure as Chief Minister, one of his many achievements was to foster social harmony and unite the different communities of Gujarat. His gift for bringing people together, for establishing a rapport with people from all walks of life, was also evident during his distinguished career as a Union Minister at the Centre and as a parliamentarian. Madhavsinhji was a loyal and dedicated member of the Congress party, whom we greatly valued for his wisdom and experience.”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also condoled the death of the veteran leader. “He will be remembered for his contribution in strengthening the Congress ideology and promoting social justice,” he said.

A former journalist with Gujarat Samachar, a leading Gujarati daily, Solanki gave up the job to launch his political career in the 1950s at the behest of his father-in-law late Ishwarsinh Chavda, who was a Congress legislator in the Bombay state assembly until 1955 and would go on to represent the constituency of Anand four times in the Lok Sabha. Originally from Amod town of Bharuch in central Gujarat, Solanki came to fight all his elections from Anand, where he first represented Bhadran constituency and later Borsad.

Later, Borsad would be represented by his son Bharatsinh, who also went on to become a Union minister. Incumbent Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee chairperson Amit Chavda is the grandson of Ishwarsinh.

Solanki is known for having introduced reservations for socially and economically backward sections in Gujarat based on the recommendations of the Bakshi Commission, the mid-day meals in government and municipal corporation-run schools and subsidised education for women. “The reservation formula and the mid-day meal schemes went on to be replicated nationally,” senior Congress leader and former education minister Hasmukh Patel said.

Best known for forging the Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim (KHAM) coalition in Gujarat politics, Solanki led the party to landslide victories in 1980, when the party won 141 of the 182 seats, and in 1985 when it won 149 seats, a record that is yet to be broken. The ‘KHAM theory’ reorganised communities other than the upper castes and became a winning formula for the Congress.

After launching his political career as a legislator in the Bombay state assembly in 1957, Solanki went on to become a member of the Gujarat legislative assembly from 1960-68. He became the chief minister of Gujarat for the first time in 1976, and then in 1980, 1985 and 1990, a turbulent period in Gujarat that was not only marked by a split in the Congress nationally but also saw the anti-reservation riots in the state after the reservation was announced for OBCs in 1981 following which he was forced to resign. He returned to power in 1985 with the Congress getting an even larger mandate.

He was also a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1988 to 1994, and again from 1994 to 2000 during which he held the portfolios of minister of planning (1988-89) and external affairs (1991) in the Narsimha Rao government. His stint as foreign minister ended abruptly when he had to step down over a controversial note that he had handed over to his Swiss counterpart Rene Felber allegedly seeking assistance in the investigation in the Bofors case, for which he faced a CBI probe.

As per the CBI report, Solanki had sought an appointment with Felber during a visit to Davos in Switzerland between January and February, 1992, for the Annual World Economic Conference to discuss the Bofors case. According to senior Congress leader Hasmukh Patel, “He (Solanki) never spoke to anybody about that interaction.”

Considered a confidant of Indulal Yagnik, the leader of the MahaGujarat movement that led to the separation of Gujarat from the state of Bombay on linguistic lines, Solanki also transcribed the former’s autobiography. Ahmedabad-based political analyst Achyut Yagnik, recalling the account, said, “Indulal would speak and Madhavsinhbhai would write and that’s how the autobiography was written”.

According to Yagnik, Solanki was “Gujarat’s most well-read chief minister”. Solanki owned a huge library of books of all genres housed the basement of his Gandhinagar bungalow.

Solanki made his last public appearance three years ago at a meeting with Congress leaders on his birthday on July 30. Last year, a frail Solanki was seen on video thanking friends and well-wishers on his birthday, and requesting them to avoid meeting on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Solanki is survived by three sons and two daughters.

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