It is with great anguish and grief that the All-India Council of Lok Raj Sangathan announces the passing away of one of its most loved and respected activists of the organisation, Shri T S Sankaran, on December 15, 2012 at the age of 86 in Chennai. He was formerly Additional Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Govt of India, First Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Tamil Nadu and Labour Commissioner, Govt of Tamil Nadu. He was the first President of Lok Raj Sangathan and at the time of his passing away he was its honorary Chairperson.
The AIC salutes the memory of this man of the people, and one of the great inspirers who founded the Committee for People’s Empowerment, the precursor of Lok Raj Sangathan, in 1993. He was also instrumental in the transition of CPE into the Lok Raj Sangathan in 1999, and then led it from the front as the first President of our organisation. The AIC extends its deep-felt condolences to his dear wife and family members, for whom this has been an irreparable loss as for our organisation.
Born on January 4, 1926 in an enlightened family in Taruvai on the banks of the Tamiraparani river in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, Shri Sankaran had an unbounded love for his native place, for his native language and culture, while at the same time remaining deeply committed and interested in the progress of all regions and peoples of India. Just as the river he loved, he was pure at heart, effervescent, unswerving and relentless in the pursuit of his life’s ambition of an India which would ensure prosperity and security for one and all. No wonder he was the darling of the village and the region, being the first IAS officer from the village.
He had none of the hang-ups or airs that one would tend to associate with a high-ranking bureaucrat. He was humble, compassionate, thirsting for knowledge, deeply committed to the cause of the people. That is why people from all regions, religions, organisations and political affiliation flocked to his house to seek his counsel and support for their cause. And they were never disappointed. As long as their cause was just, whether it be women fighting for equal rights, workers demanding social security, farmers, fishermen, teachers, factory workers, shop keepers – the list is endless – he gave them his unstinted support and advice. His sharp memory and wit is legendary and contributed to his immense popularity across wide sections of people.
The best tribute to the memory of this departed luminary is to recall his deeds and words, which always matched.
. At the founding of the CPE, in the wake of the demolition of Babri Masjid, and the massive criminalisation in the Indian political sphere, he declared in his own inimitable style that the “Committee for People’s Empowerment believes that the existing political process excludes the majority of people in numerous ways. The power to make decisions that affect everyone’s fate is in the hands of a privileged and self-perpetuating elite. Committee for People’s Empowerment believes that our people can and must take control of their destiny. Only this will change the course of developments and enable our country to take its rightful place as one of the great and enlightened countries of the world. Whatever changes are needed in the political system to empower the people must be taken, and it is up to all of us to ensure this”.
Shri Sankaran was a great political thinker and contributed decisively to the debate on human rights and the democratic renewal of India. At the All India Conference on Rights organised by Lok Raj Sangathan in 2002, in his brief but penetrative opening remarks, he pointed out that Lok Raj Sangathan was engaged in the work for the thoroughgoing democratic renewal of India. Referring to the decision of the Lok Raj Sangathan to organise an All India Conference on the Indian peoples experience with the working of the Constitution, he pointed out that the All India Conference on Rights was a major initiative in this direction. The issue of rights and the issue of having enabling mechanisms for the exercise of these rights are at the heart of any Constitution. It is not a matter of academic discussion but at the heart of the ongoing struggle in India and the world scale. He called upon the participants to vigorously contribute to the development of a unified vision of rights-both rights of individuals and rights of collectives.
After the founding of the Lok Raj Sangathan in 1999, he was elected as its first all-India President and continued to be the President till the 3rd Convention in 2005, after which he became its Honorary Chairperson.
Building Lok Raj Sangathan as the powerful voice of the politically marginalised was a central aim in his activities in the later years of his life. He particularly rejoiced at the fact that women and youth came forward in large numbers to join the cause of LRS. Addressing the 5th Convention of LRS in 2009, he made an emphatic statement that received a roaring applause. “It is heartening to see so many young people at the convention. Yesterday’s discussion reminded me of a quote from the poet Subramania Bharati. ‘She speaks in 18 languages but has a single thought’! Yesterday’s deliberations were a reflection of a single thought. Demographically we are a little India here. The future of India rests with us. This thought makes me proud while addressing this gathering. Hearing the report and interventions made me realize how united we are. The unity amongst us binds us around the thought that we need to take this great country forward. Every place must have an organization of the LRS, the authority in power should know that people are taking charge. It is with this thought that we should go from this Convention, destiny must be in our hands and the day is not far when destiny will be in our hands!”
His bold argument that India needs thorough-going political reforms is finding increasing support from political practitioners today. In a thought-provoking article on electoral reforms he argued, “The currently held view that parliamentary democratic system is the best, requires close scrutiny. The party system of governance ultimately reduces itself to governance by a handful of persons who constitute the Cabinet, with the Prime Minister or Chief Minister at its head; these venerable worthies are usually the leaders of the political parties or of a coalition of political parties which claims majority support in the legislature. The experience of this form of governance over the last fifty years has compelled LRS to examine the issue in its entirety and it is of the view that, if peoples are the ultimate repository of all power, then political parties cannot and should not wield or exercise power. Their role should be confined to educating the people on the political process and advocating whatever be their political belief(s); their task is essentially to prepare the people of this country to govern themselves. Flowing from the above, LRS believes that people can and will exercise real power only, if the people of a constituency have the right to select candidates who can stand for election and for the recall of the winning candidate if his/her performance in the legislature and outside is contrary to or inadequate to carry out the promises on the basis of which he/she had been elected. Lastly, it is only the people of the country who can decide on the sort of laws that the country needs and therefore should have the right, through their elected representatives to initiate legislation”.
In an incisive letter to Shri Indrajit Gupta, under whose leadership a committee on electoral reforms was set up in 1998, Shri Sankaran wrote “The panacea that the western world advocates for the eradication of the ills of under development consists of the dual remedies of market-oriented economy and multi-party democracy. We claim to be a democratic republic – sovereign, secular and socialist – and surely we do not have any dearth of political parties. As long as political parties exist in our country only to conquer the seats of state power and for this purpose no sacrifice of principles seems to be unaffordable – and as long as our system of governance vests the entire executive power in the hands of the prime minister (and when he chooses, in the hands of his cabinet), there can be no hope for this system of governance to be democratic in its true sense”.
His passion for the cause of the working conditions and rights of workers was no less engaging. He was a member of the Working Group on Social Security set up by the Planning Commission, Government of India. He along with Justice Krishna Iyer, pioneered the legislation on construction workers which gives them greater recognition and social security, and which has become the model for future legislation on other sections of workers outside the pale of labour laws. At the 4th Annual Convention of the Mazdoor Ekta Committee in 1993, where he spoke as the Chief Guest, he foresaw the havoc that the economic reforms programme of the Congress government would wreak on the life of workers in the coming years.
Shri Sankaran’s passing away has left a big void in the work of our organisation. His wisdom, maturity, stature and compassion have been a great source of inspiration for all of us. The All-India Council of Lok raj Sangathan resolves that the most fitting way to fill this void is to carry forward the unfinished task of the empowerment of people of India, for which he dedicated his life, with renewed unity and vigour.
It is with this solemn resolve that we salute the memory of this departed leader and visionary.