Till the other day nobody bothered about Mr. Chandra Shekhar. When he visited Bombay, some industrialist friend would send his car and driver to pick him up at the airport, drive him to the Ritz, where he would stay quietly, the proceed to Pune or return to Delhi.
But yesterday it was all changed. A convoy of some 30 government cars met him at the airport, drove him around the town, stens blowing, roads closed, traffic halted, took him to his various appointments, then drove him back to the airport, where a special plabe walted to return him to Delhi.
I waited for him at Varsha, Mr. Pawar's residence. The lawns (where Mr. Babasaheb Bhosale once wanted to have a swimming-pool) were floodlit, dotted with microphones, filled with 200 reporters. The same reporters who till the other day were sayng: "Who wants to attend Chandra Shekhar's press conference! What does he have to say, anyway!"
Mr. Shekhar arrived. He did not look any different, except that the permanent scowl had been replaced by a permanent smile, and he was wearing a brand new chocolate-brown coatee. Photographers flashed away, reporters stood on their toes to peer over the heads of the photographers.
I thought he answered the questions rahter well, considering that he would be on the defensice after having done what he has in the last few days.
All through the press conference I could not help feeling that he was being led up the garden path by Mr. Devi Lal, by the Congress-I, by his own ambition, which had finally got the better of a simple if rather stubborn man.
All that he had done during the day indicated his inherent simplicity. When others would have gone to Rajghat to lay a wreath at Gandhiji's memorial, he had flown to Bombay to acknowledge Morarji Desai as his senior prime minister. And when others in his position would have found time to meet Mr. Dhirubhai Ambani, he had gone to see Seth Ramnath Goenka.
Also, when others would have treated Mr. Sharad Pawar with a little formality, he has going out of his way to express his gratitude to him.
There was one more gesture, before he drove off into the night in his 30-car convoy that I remember. Something had fallen on his new chocolate-brown coatee, or, perhaps, somebody had wiped his mithai fingers on it. Because repeatedly he kept turning around, trying to look over his shoulder and try to remove whatever he imagined had fallen on his coatee and soiled it. At that moment, I felt very sympathetic to him.