Rediff Navigator News


Capital Buzz

The Rediff Poll

Crystal Ball

Click Here

The Rediff Special


Commentary/Janardan Thakur

If Gujral was always soft-spoken, he could be firm as steel

I K Gujral 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, he said.

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.

Indira Gandhi 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 elite.

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.

Sanjay Gandhi 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 Planning Ministry."

Tell us what you think of this column

Janardan Thakur

Home | News | Business | Cricket | Movies | Chat
Travel | Life/Style | Freedom | Infotech

Copyright 1997 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved