Penning down an article on the most interesting and controversial figure of Assam politics post-independence – Devakanta Barua and his fascination for history. The research has taught me much – again reminding me that not everything is black and white, sometimes there are shades of gray.
DKB, as Nehru addressed him, is a hugely misunderstood figure. His positive attributes and the contributions that he made in the capacity of a politician and journalist are now for forgotten. His detractors call him ‘the eternal clown’ and is chiefly remembered today for his saying “Indira is India”, when he was the President of Indian National Congress. Also occasionally for his poetry compilation, entitled ‘সাগৰ দেখিছা?” (Have you seen the Sea?). He was one of the first politicians who vehemently argued in favour of setting up UGC, sent the lesser privileged students abroad for higher studies, set up multipurpose schools, procured lands for educational institutions and was a well-known authority on Islamic history.
A voracious reader, his personal library is said to have housed 50,000 books. Impressed by his knowledge on international affairs, history and customs of other countries, Pt. Nehru made him Deputy Chief Whip of the Congress party along with Lal Bahadur Shastri, immediately after he got elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952 at the age of 35. Thereafter, he was often sent as a leader of delegations to countries such as U.S.S.R. and the Middle East. He also accompanied V.K. Krishna Menon as a member of the UN delegation in 1957. Once called ‘the fastest brain in Asia’ by renowned American journalist, James Michener (Voice of Asia), DKB’s negotiations with the Shah of Iran for the procurement of oil is legendary.
Trivia : Hundreds came to meet him daily for seeking tickets when he was the President of INC. He devised a strategy to keep them away from meeting him directly. Whenever someone came to see him, he started a conversation regarding Islamic history, etymology of places, travel history of famous artifacts, different varieties of roses etc. One day, seemingly bored of DKB’s long lecture, a politician said to him that he had forgotten about an appointment with another leader and that he was already late. DKB said to him, “You have entered politics very recently. Learn to bore like politicians.” The aforesaid person never came to see DKB again (!)