Former Rajasthan MLA Gurusharan Chhabra, who had been on a hunger strike demanding statewide prohibition on liquor and tobacco as well as strengthening of the state Lokayukta, died early Tuesday at Sawai Man Singh Hospital here following complications from the fast. He was 68.
Chhabra began the hunger strike on October 2 at Gandhi Circle in Jaipur to press for his demands. Earlier, on July 23, he had written a letter to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje requesting her to follow up on her promises made to him by September 30, saying he would be “forced” to resort to hunger strike again.
Chhabra had then sat on protest and was picked up the police and kept in hospital. On October 10, he was released from hospital but again sat on hunger strike, only to be picked up by the police on October 17. Since then, Chhabra was kept in SMS Hospital, where his condition worsened a couple of days ago. His body was taken for donation, according to his wishes. “Along with freedom fighter Gokulbhai Bhatt, Chhabra had championed prohibition, which led to Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of Janata Party implementing a liquor ban in the state in 1980, which came into effect on April 1, 1980, under President’s Rule,” said Sawai Singh, Chhabra’s associate who had known him since the 1970s. Chhabra was a Janata Party MLA from 1977 to 1980. “Chhabra was a core member of Bhatt’s — known as Gandhi of Rajasthan — team of about eight leaders,” Singh added. However, the ban was overturned by Congress CM Jagannath Pahadia in August 1981.
During the Ashok Gehlot government, Chhabra sat on fast twice. “During the Congress regime, he was on fast first for 15 days and then for 25 days. Both times I met him and acceded to his demands in writing. If the incumbent government had done the same, then his life could have been saved,” Gehlot said. He said he met Chhabra and unsuccessfully requested him to end his protest. Rajasthan Health Minister Rajendra Rathore and Social Justice Minister Arun Chaturvedi also visited Chhabra in hospital.
His death triggered a bitter blame game between the Cong-ress and BJP. An embarrassed BJP issued a clarification through its state president Ashok Parnami, who blamed the Congress. Parnami claimed the BJP had accepted 90 per cent of Chhabra’s demands. Sawai Singh, however, termed the BJP’s claims false.