Appreciation After Demise

Two Deaths

Raman Swamy

One of Shakespeare's best-known quotes is from his play Julius Caesar : "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is often interred with their bones". Indian politics has the knack of sometimes proving even the greatest of thinkers and writers wrong.

Two deaths have taken place in recent weeks—J Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu and E Ahamad, Member of Parliament from Kerala. In both cases the circumstances surrounding their passing away has been mired in controversy but more importantly they have both gained greater appreciation of their life's work only after demise.

In Jayalalithaa's case, contrary to Mark Antony's assertion, whatever mistakes she may have made during her long career as matinee idol and political icon have been forgotten forever. Whatever negative attributes she might have had are no longer mentioned even by her adversaries.

Instead, she has left behind the glorious image of a charismatic and revolutionary leader who not only had a genuine empathy with the poor and the downtrodden, but also was a catalyst for industrial development and modern technology.

In other words, the good that Jayalalithaa did, lives after her and the less savory memories of her politics and personal life have been extinguished and interred with her mortal remains in the memorial at Marina Beach.

In the case of Edappakath Ahamad, too, Shakespeare's wise words are evidently off the mark. In a remarkable way he has earned greater fame after his untimely death than he ever enjoyed during his career in public life.

His achievements and successes as a MLA, MP and Union Minister are only now becoming known to the country at large, whereas very few outside his home State knew anything at all about him during his lifetime. Except perhaps that he was president of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML).

In a way it is not surprising that E Ahamed was not a household name. People live in a media-driven age of celebrities in which those who do not actively seek name and fame are regarded as non-entities.

But it is still a bit puzzling in E Ahamad's case, given his political career graph. Even a cursory glance at the posts he held and the elections he won over the past 50 years makes impressive reading—Five terms as MLA in 1967, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1987. Five years as Kerala's Industry Minister. Founder chairman of Kerala State Rural Development Board. Chairman of Kerala State Small Scale Industries Development Corporation.

Then came his rise to national politics. Elected to the Lok Sabha no less than six times—in 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2009. In the UPA-1 government he was the Minister of State for External Affairs.

Then in UPA-2, he was Minister of State for Railways for three years. In 2011 he was again made junior foreign minister. For a couple of years he was entrusted with the additional charge of Human Resource Development.

If that is not an impressive list of elections won and important portfolios held, then nothing is, especially for the son of a small trader of Kannur town in Kerala, born in pre-Independence India and educated in a government college in remote Thalassery.

As a central minister and parliamentarian, Ahamad quietly made his mark and stood out both for his serious demeanour and his distinctive hairstyle with a thick down-the-middle parting.

He was a workaholic who took his committee memberships seriously, taking pains to study files in depth—in his time he served on several parliamentary panels including Tourism and Civil Aviation, Public Undertakings, Science and Technology, Environment and Forests. He was Chairman of the Assurance Committee and was co-chairman of the India-Qatar High Level Monitoring Mechanism.

In fact he developed a niche role for himself in relations with Middle Eastern countries. He was hand-picked by Indira Gandhi to be India's emissary to the Gulf Coordination Countries (GCC) in 2004. Later he represented India in the United Nations on ten different occasions between 1991 and 2014. He was sent to Mecca five times as part of India's Haj Goodwill Delegation.

All these details of his curricular vitae prove the point—that during his lifetime E Ahamad was little known to the majority of his own countrymen despite his distinguished service.

It is only after he suddenly collapsed during the President's Address to parliament on January 31, was rushed to hospital and breathed his last sometime during the evening or night that his name has become more widely known.
The controversy over the precise time of his death and suspicions that the announcement was delayed under political pressure for reasons allegedly linked to the presentation of the Union Budget the next morning, the unexplained failure to adjourn the proceedings of the House as a mark of respect to his memory as per convention, the subsequent demand for an inquiry into the sequence of events—all these unfortunate developments have ensured that E Ahamad has not died unwept, unhonoured and unsung.

In the immortal words of William Hazlitt "Fame is the recompense not of the living, but of the dead. The temple of fame stands upon the grave. The flame that burns upon its altars is kindled from the ashes of great men and women. Fame itself is immortal. But it is not begot till the breath of genius is extinguished".

Vol. 49, No.36, Mar 12 - 18, 2017