Politics is defined as the pursuit of power. But how is the pursuit of power of one individual a public good for society as a whole? Pratapsingh says: “A politician should not seek power for himself. For example, when I came back to Goa, I was US-educated and had been looking forward to working in a corporate job. I was 26 years old. Then my younger brother died. My father was shattered by the loss, and I gave my father my word that I would stay in Goa and develop Sattari and Goa. When Bhausaheb DB Bandodkar offered me a ticket to contest elections, I decided to pursue politics but my aim was to develop Sattari and Goa.”

Power in itself is not important. It is how you use power that is important. The best use of power is for development. Power should not be used to forcibly demand respect, or declare “I am this and I am that.” It’s not the “me” factor that matters in politics, the “we factor” does. It should be “we” instead of “me”. Sadly today, many in public life believe power is everything. But power is nothing if you’re not going to sit for the benefit of the people around you. Power is for the people. For Pratapsingh, the politician holds power in trust of the people.

Pratapsingh has never pursued the politics of the “me” factor and is the most self-effacing of leaders. When the Goa Assembly conferred on him the title of “Legislator of the Millennium” in 2001, MLA after MLA stood to lavish praise on him and appreciate his work for Goa. Acutely embarrassed by all the paeans, in his speech of thanks, Pratapsingh, then Speaker of the Assembly, said: “How much of these praises I deserve shall be judged by the generations who agree with me, and the generations are full of expectations. I thank all of you. It is very embarrassing to sit here and hear praises. I was put in an odd situation. I would rather have faced a no-confidence motion than to get these praises. I don’t know whether I should put this motion to the vote of the House. I take it that it’s adopted.” Amidst laughter and table thumping, the motion was adopted.

A politician who dislikes being praised may seem like an oxymoron in today’s times. But that’s exactly the kind of politician Pratapsingh is. He dislikes flattery. “Pratapsingh Rane was one exceptional public figure, an unusual politician who never promoted himself,” says former IAS officer Shailaja Chandra. Pratapsingh’s view on power echoes Gandhi’s beliefs on ends and means. For Gandhi, unless the means to achieve power are just and honest, the goal (of power) can never be used to deliver just or honest governance. Gandhi believed once the ends are achieved, the means shape the nature of the victory. Without the benchmark of moral and ethical means, the ends often degenerate into an anything-goes power lust.

To understand the pitfalls of power is the duty of every public servant. Speaking for myself, Pratapsingh would always tell me never to be carried away by official positions but to keep myself grounded at all times. He would say: be careful, or else you will get hurt. I understood only in 1998 when he lost office what these words meant and how certain people who called themselves our “friends” disappeared. He was extremely good at assessing people and was always wary of those who saluted the rising sun. When it came to his dealings with people, he lived by the motto “be cautious”. He had two invisible compartments, one for his true friends and one for those who were his “friends” because he was powerful.

He would make it a point never to inaugurate projects on his own birthdays, as so many politicians are wont to do, nor would he take personal credit for projects being paid for by the government and therefore the taxpayer. He did not believe in yoking a government achievement to his own persona. Instead, on his birthday, he would remain at home to meet all those who came to wish him and be at the disposal of people. People came first, not building a VIP cult around himself.

This strict separation of state affairs and personal life stemmed from his conviction that power was held in trust for the people to bring improvements in the people’s daily lives. It’s the people, big or small, who matter, and it was his duty to make each person who he came into contact with feel special. “Everyone wants to feel wanted, to be seen and heard and to feel as if they matter,” he says. “As their chosen representative, it is my duty to make them feel that way, to remember all their names and take an interest in their lives.” I imbibed this spirit. By way of a small example, when visiting constituencies or weddings, I make it a point to wear the saris that have been gifted to me by those to whose homes I visit. I treasure those saris not just for their looks, but for the thought contained in them.

Power in itself is irrelevant for us both, and until this day, Pratapsingh, himself low-key and understated, cares two hoots for big names or self-styled VIPs tooting their own horns or making a big show simply because of the chairs they sit on. He has always believed that respect is commanded, not demanded, and respect must be given freely. Throwing one’s weight around is no good. It is the work you do and the real welfare you deliver that matter above all. When anyone who has ever worked for us, or anyone from the constituency, comes to visit us, they always sit down for a meal with us at our family table. People tell us, “You are such simple, down-to-earth people and you give us so much love and affection.” That’s because we have been brought up never to look down on anyone else and to respect the dignity of labour. I can say that we both love people and greatly enjoy meeting new people. Today, many remark on a luminous quality that Pratapsingh seems to carry, a sort of inner glow that draws people towards him. It has nothing to do with official positions since he does not hold any. That glow comes from his constant care of people and from enjoying people. It comes from nurturing relationships.

If power is an instrument to be used in the service of development, what about ideology? Don’t political parties believe power is to be used to spread and propagate their own ideology to win hearts as well as minds of the public? Pratapsingh believes the following:

“Political parties decide on their own ideology. They decide whether they want to propagate socialism, communism or capitalism. But in governance, we cannot be prisoners of an ideology, theory or any ism. A government ideally should not impose socialism, communism or even capitalism because any form of imposition is wrong. You can’t use the state apparatus to push a certain ideological point of view. In a democracy, you cannot go about dictating to the people, you can’t do this and you can’t do that.” There should be as much freedom for citizens as possible a free, liberal society and free enterprise.

Excerpted with permission from Maker of Modern Goa: The Untold Story of Pratapsingh Rane, Vijayadevi Rane, Rupa Publications.