If Gujral was always soft-spoken, he could be firm as steel
The mind and personality of Inder Kumar Gujral were best revealed
during the traumatic days before the Emergency. The Rising Son
of India, Sanjay Gandhi, had organised a Boat Club rally in support
of his mother, and he thought it was a great success, a big event.
When he returned home, he was told the Doordarshan had not bothered
to telecast the rally live.
Sanjay lost his temper and telephoned
Gujral when was then the minister of state for information and
broadcasting. Why hadn't the rally been telecast live, he had
demanded roughly. Gujral told him coolly that he would look into
it. He had not even said sorry!
Sanjay's complaints against Gujral were piling up. The RSS daily,
Motherland, had been attacking him day after day, and Sanjay
had wanted the paper to be closed down 'without delay'. He told
Gujral, but he pointed out that there was no provision under which
they could do this. At best newspapers could be sued for libel,
Even before Gujral came to the I&B ministry, he
had a brush or two with some of the leading lights of Indira Gandhi's court.
In the early seventies, Indira Gandhi had made Gujral her minister
of state for works and housing. One morning, Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari
walked into his office with an urgent request. In those days the
Brahmachari's 'requests' were generally considered the prime minister's
'orders'. "There is a file pending with you about my request
for additional properly for my yogashram," Dhirendra
Brahmachari told Gujral.
If Gujral was always soft-spoken, he could be firm as steel. He
said he was sorry, but he could not do anything. Dhirendra became
aggressive. "Either you give me the land or I'll see you
are out of the ministry by tomorrow." Gujral stood his ground.
"It is difficult, there are rules," he said. The very
next day, Gujral was taken off the ministry and sent back to the
I&B ministry where he had been earlier.
A gentleman to his finger tips, Gujral was one of the first
victims of the Emergency caucus. He had started as a Communist
student worker in Lahore, become a member of the CPI, but after
Partition he had moved first to Jalandhar and then to New Delhi
where he became a building contractor.
His painter brother, Satish,
was part of Indira Gandhi's arty circle and Gujral who had joined
the Congress had come close to her. He formed part of the 'back-benchers'
club in the Rajya Sabha along with Dinesh Singh, Nandini Satpathy,
Asoka Mehta and Chandra Shekhar. Also in the charmed circle, which
came to be known as the 'kitchen cabinet' was Romesh Thapar, the
eminent left-wing journalist who belonged to Delhi's cultured
As Mrs Gandhi's I&B minister during the Congress split
of 1969, Gujral had played a vital role in building up the media
campaign in her favour. 'It was an image-building exercise
patterned on the ruthless, soul-conditioning efficiency of western
methods,' wrote a political commentator.
But the times had changed. Sanjay Gandhi was convinced that Gujral
was too soft and ineffective to hammer sense into the irreverent
press. Gujral had not considered it necessary to pay court to
the Sanjay as most other ministers were doing. The angry young
man had often described Gujral as a 'mere drawing room conversationalist.'
He was constantly pushing his mother to have an I&B
minister with teeth.
Mohammed Yunus, one of the leading
courtiers of the time, and several other hangers-on had also started
creating an atmosphere against Gujral. 'He is not using the
media for you,' they often told Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
They told her he was appearing too often on television himself
and was building his own image.
On the second day of the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi's secretary
telephoned Gujral asking him to come to the prime minister's house
at 10 am. Gujral got delayed at a meeting and reached Indira Gandhi's
home about half an hour late.
Sanjay Gandhi strode into the drawing, looking at his watch angrily.
"This won't do," he said.
"What do you mean?" Gujral asked.
"I had asked you to come at 10. Ye sab nahi chalega."
"Zaroor chalega," Gujral said firmly. He had
found it hard to take the growing arrogance and insolence of the
boy whom he had seen grow up. "Look, you are like my son,"
he said. "I have for long been a political associate of your
mother. Your father was a friend of mine." Sanjay Gandhi
got up and stalked out of the room.
Some time later, Om Mehta, the mindless servant of the court who
had become the de facto home minister, telephoned Gujral and told
him to send all the AIR bulletins and political scripts to Sanjay
Gandhi before they went on the air. Gujral said that apart from
the impropriety of doing this, it was physically impossible. Often
there was not enough time to do this.
"But these are the
orders," Mehta said. "If you have any objection in sending
them to Sanjayji, send them to me." Many times the scripts
that were sent to the prime minister's home never came back.
The Big Censor sat over them.
Meanwhile, all sorts of suspicions were being planted in Indira Gandhi's
mind. She was told that Gujral was hobnobbing with Dinesh Singh
(who had fallen out of grace much earlier), that he was visiting
Jagjivan Ram too frequently, especially during the tumultuous
days when her survival as prime minister seemed doubtful.
The anti-Gujral lobby got a big handle against him the day the
Supreme Court stayed the operation of the Allahabad high court
judgment against Indira Gandhi.
While AIR's English news bulletin
led by saying that the Supreme Court had upheld
the continuance of Indira Gandhi as prime minister, the Hindi
bulletin had highlighted the riders to the stay order.
Mohammed Yunus rang up Gujral and complained that the BBC had
carried 'blasphemous' news on India. Then came the call from R
K Dhawan. ''The prime minister wants to see you at once.'' Before
going to the prime minister's home, he checked up and found
that it was not the BBC but a Pakistani news broadcast which had
made the offensive remarks. He rang up the prime minister, explaining
to her that nobody could do anything about Pakistani broadcasts, and
she seemed to calm down a bit
When Gujral reached the prime minister's home, the first encounter
was again with Sanjay Gandhi. "You don't seem to know how
to control your ministry," Sanjay said mockingly. "Can't
you tell them how to put out the news even?"
"Look, I am equally concerned, but I don't have to give an
explanation to you," Gujral said. He brushed the young man
aside and went to see the prime minister.
She was irritated. She raised the complaint about the BBC broadcast.
Gujral said he had double checked and found nothing objectionable,
but she said, "No, no, you leave it. Now we have gone into
an Emergency. This is not a normal situation. We want someone who
can deal with the media with a stern hand. Vidya (V C Shukla)
would be the right man in the new situation.''
Gujral said calmly, "You are the Prime..." He was cut
short. "You hand over charge tomorrow." She picked
up one of the telephones, which was one of her ways of indicating
that the audience was over.
Gujral told his wife that night that they would be going away
for a month's holiday. But the next morning, he got a call from
the prime minister. "I have decided you should go to the
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