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A Pracharak From The North-East

Sudesh K Verma  |  BSCAL 

Minister of state for telecommunication K Purkayastha is the quintessential BJP man, who has always been dedicated to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh agenda, both as a rural school teacher and as a politician.

Now that Purkayastha is a minister and in a position to mould the nation from the corridors of powers, the RSS hopes that Purkay-

astha will shine as an exemplar of a new political morality with total dedication to nation-building.

Purkayastha still lives in rented rooms in Silchar and owns no property. His only son, he points out, works as a casual announcer with Doordarshan, Silchar. My friends ask me as to why I dont speak to a minister for a good job for my son. My reply has always been that when I cannot provide jobs to the sons of other people, then how can I request any minister for a job for my son.

The first issue he intends to take up with his immediate superior, former home minister Buta Singh, is the need to root out corruption from the much-maligned telecommunications department, says he, referring to the days when communications minister Sukh Ram was in charge.

Purkayastha wants to introduce greater transparency and strengthen the public grievances cell in the department. The common man must be given succour at the earliest, says he.

However, Purkayastha will focus on the problems in the postal department. The ministers outlook has been shaped by the postal delays that are so rampant in the remote North-East, from where he hails. He concern with the problems of the area, particularly insurgency, is obvious and he reverts to them repeatedly.

He says his first responsibility is to his constituency. During his first stint as Lok Sabha member during 1991-96, Purkayastha kept a low profile, and limited himself to speaking only on Assam-related issues. When he was inducted in the council of ministers, many party leaders thought that he might be asked to head a special ministry for the North-East.

Purkayastha may be new to government but is an old hand at managing people. He was a Sangh pracharak for five years from 1956-60. Soon after leaving his ancestral home in East Pakistan at the age of 16, he dedicated himself to grassroots politics. And this, he says, is his greatest advantage in government: I know the common mans problems as I have been associated with them at the lowest level.

When he crossed the border from East Pakistan, he settled at a remote Udarband village in Cachar district, where his uncle had a small thatched house. His uncle worked at one of the tea gardens in Assam. In Sylhet (East Pakistan), he had been relatively well-off, with an ancestral house, paddy lands and cows.

As his uncle had little money, he refused to fund Purkayasthas college education. And so he educated himself with a government stipend of Rs 20, supplemented with Rs 12 every month from an RSS affiliate, the Vastuhara Sahayta Samiti.

He joined the RSS in 1951, aged 20, and became the organisations secretary for the Cachar district in 1953. He chose to become a school teacher so that he would have enough time for RSS activities.

His marriage to a village girl in 1968 gave him a pillar of support through every crisis till her death in 1986. Purkayasthas only regret is that his wife, who he says was instrumental in his success, did not live to see him installed as a Union minister.

His marriage heralded his tryst with competitive politics. He contested the Silchar assembly seat twice - in 1978 and 1985 - on a Jan Sangh ticket, but lost both times. He tasted his first electoral victory in 1991 when he won the Silchar Lok Sabha seat.

He repeated the feat in 1998 and this time it was a special win, for he defeated veteran Congress leader Santosh Mohan Deb. Even those who voted for Pulkayastha had doubted that he could defeat the then seemingly invincible Deb.

When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was set up on April 6, 1980, Purkayastha was among those who joined up at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground in the capital. Immediately after, the then BJP President Atal Behari Vajpaye appointed him as the convenor of the BJPs Assam unit.

First Published: Fri, April 03 1998. 00:00 IST