Motilal Vora was a quintessential Congressman, who held a distinction of sorts for being longest AICC treasurer [18 years] and uninterruptedly holding on to a party or government post since 1980.
But high offices such chief minister, Union minister, governor, PCC chief, AICC treasurer and Madhya Pradesh Congress chief, state minister had not brought in an iota of arrogance in Vora. He would always pick the phone himself even during the land-line era, escort and see off guests as a matter of routine.
When a rather overwhelmed Vijay Bahugana had sat at his feet, moments after becoming chief minister of Uttarakhand, Vora told him firmly, “Bahugana ji ab aap mukhya mantri hain. Neeche baithna achcha nahi lagta hai (Bahuguna ji, you are now chief minister. It is not fitting for you to sit on the floor).”
Vora would often chasten those leaving tea in a cup. “It costs money. Aath rupaye ki chai aati hai (a cup of tea costs eight rupees),” he would say smilingly but driving home a point that nothing should be wasted.
During the UPA years, many felt they owed ministerial offices to him. When Charan Das Mahant became minister of state in July 2011, he could be seen prostrating before Vora. The AICC treasurer nudged him gently saying, “Thank God, thank Sonia ji. I am inconsequential.”
Vora was not inconsequential. The Congress folklore has it that once then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had approached Dasari Narayana Rao, minister of state for coal, gently suggesting someone, perhaps personally known to him, for having perfect credentials for allocation of a coal block. The prime minister was told to route it through Vora.
Throughout 2004-2014, in North and South Blocks, as well as numerous Bhawans located in the Central Vista, telephone calls and oral messages from Vora and Ahmed Patel were weightier than cabinet rank ministers and the PMO.
At 15, Gurudwara Rakabgunj Marg that worked as the Congress’s War Room, Vora had a room for himself. In the mini-conference room, a chair was earmarked for him. Even when P Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee, AK Antony and Sushil Kumar Shinde were attending a meeting, the chair meant for ‘babuji’ was not to be occupied. Invariably, after every meeting, Vora and Ahmed Patel would stay back for a ‘review’. The two leaders enjoyed excellent rapport and seldom disagreed even in private conversation.
Vora had almost become the President of India in 2007 when Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati had pitched for him. Mayawati, then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and supporting the UPA from outside, had reasons to back a Brahmin. She viewed Vora as a man who had saved her life when out-of-control Samajwadi Party workers had reportedly launched a murderous assault on Mayawati in 1995 at a Lucknow guest house.
Vora was the Uttar Pradesh governor and moved swiftly to throw a protective ring around her. The reason for SP cadre’s outrage was BSP’s decision to pull out of a coalition government with Mulayam Singh Yadav. Vora had swiftly recommended the President’s Rule in UP.
Mayawati was not alone among the non-Congress party leaders who had held Vora in high esteem. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking in the Rajya Sabha showered lavish praise on Vora for his “superlative” work in his Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, a scheme where MPs take lead in adopting and developing villages.
On another occasion, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu had urged the Congress MPs in the house to “learn” parliamentary decorum and propriety from Vora. A couple of years ago, a photograph of Union minister Smriti Irani chatting happily with Vora had gone viral on social media. Apparently, Irani was recommending an orthopaedic doctor for the veteran Congress leader. From Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Rajnath Singh and late Arun Jaitley, Vora’s ‘friends’ in the BJP were countless.
A Right to Information query in August 2014 [three months after Modi had taken over as the prime minister] had revealed that Vora was occupying nine government accommodations in Luytens Delhi. As a Rajya Sabha member and AICC treasurer, Vora was allotted 33, Lodhi Estate but six more bungalows and two government flats were given to him where the Congress leaders from Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh were staying as his “guests”.
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had tremendous respect for Vora. In October this year, Vora was Covid-19 positive when rumours relating to the nonagenarian leader had started doing the rounds. The Gandhis got so upset that a Congress MP who had tweeted a condolence message “in memory of Voraji” was spoken to by personal aides of the Gandhis prompting the beleaguered MP to apologise and delete his tweet.