The Rediff Special
'He sails too close to the wind'
Inder Kumar Gujral through the eyes of Kuldip Nayar, Pupul Jaykar and Raj Thapar
The initial plan was only to curb the press and 'shut up'
some leaders and important men in the Opposition. This would ensure
'discipline', everyone would fall in line. The newspapers
would not be able to print what was distasteful to the government
and the Opposition would not say what was 'undesirable.'
Gagging the press was important. As both Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay
had often said at the family breakfast table, it was the newspapers
which were to blame for lionising their opponents and creating
'an atmosphere of distrust' against the government.
But they were both paper tigers and could be made to behave.
Sanjay had never been happy with the press from the day he tried
to establish his factory, Maruti Limited. Newspapers had published
too much on it and him -- too much which he had not liked, even
though he had sponsored editors's trips to the plant.
He put most of the blame on Information Minister Inder Kumar Gujral.
Gujral, he said, was friendly to journalists but could never get
them to write anything in favour of the government. In this he
was unfair. It was Gujral who had built up the personality cult
round Mrs Gandhi since 1969 when the fourteen banks were nationalized
and he had used the government-owned radio and television and publications
to strengthen her position. He had even influenced newspapers,
particularly the smaller and weaker ones by giving them advertisements -- as
the country's largest single advertiser, the government had much
to give in patronage. After the Allahabad high court judgment,
however, Gujral did not appear to the equally enthusiastic.
Inder Gujral, a suave, soft-spoken politician, was minister of
state for information and broadcasting. He was woken up at 2 am
on the morning of 26 June by the Cabinet secretary, who informed
him that a Cabinet meeting had been called for 6 am at 1, Akbar
Road, Indira Gandhi's personal office.
He found K C Pant, then
the energy minister, and Swaran Singh, the defence minister, walking
on the lawns. They were unaware of what was happening and felt
that the emergency meeting had been called to announce Indira's
decision to resign as prime minister. The news of Jayaprakash
Narayan's address to the huge rally on Ram Lila grounds the previous
evening and his call to the army and the police, to disobey orders,
had reached them.
They were greatly concerned over these developments
and with the decision of the Opposition to gherao the
prime minister's house and paralyse her functioning as head
of the government. Most of the ministers present were still unaware
of the arrests of Jayaprakash Narayan, Morarji Desai and six hundred
other Opposition leaders all over the country. The news of the
declaration of a state of Emergency had also not reached them.
Indira Gandhi was a little late in entering the Cabinet room.
She was accompanied by Om Mehta. They sat down, she turned to
her Cabinet colleagues and said: 'Gentlemen, Emergency has been
declared and Jayaprakash Narayan and Morarjibhai and other leaders
have been arrested.'
The statement, in its brevity, stunned the
members of the Cabinet. The secret had been very well kept. R
N Kao, the chief of the organisation responsible for internal
security, the Research and Analysis Wing, was unaware of
the gravity and the all-pervasive nature of the action she contemplated.
For a time they were unable to comprehend the dimensions of the
new laws and their effect on the country. The only minister to
ask questions was Swaran Singh. He enquired why the Emergency
was necessary, when an external emergency already existed. Indira
informed him that the earlier state of Emergency did not deal
with the national situation.
The silence in the room was oppressive.
They were living a nightmare. Midnight arrests, total censorship,
proclamation of draconian ordinances denying fundamental rights
could not happen, not in India, was the thought in the minds of
most of the ministers who had gathered around the Cabinet table.
Freedom and democracy were sacred words. They could not be so
savagely wiped out; not in India.
But the unbelievable had taken place. I K Gujral was astonished
that although censorship had been discussed no ordinance had been
issued. This was done later in the day by the Political Affairs
Committee of the Cabinet.
As Gujral came out of the Cabinet
room he found Sanjay standing in the outer room. His entire demeanour
was 'as if he had taken over.' He asked Nurul Hasan, the education
minister, who was with Gujral, for lists of the lecturers with
RSS sympathies in the universities.
Sanjay then turned to Gujral
and said: 'I want to see the news bulletins before they are broadcast.'
Gujral replied that this was not possible. The bulletins were
secret and it could not be done. Indira Gandhi was nearby and
heard him. 'What is the matter?' she asked. Gujral explained that
till the news bulletins were broadcast they were secret documents.
She understood, but suggested that a man might be specially posted
to bring the bulletins to the house of the prime minister. Gujral
returned home, determined to resign.
He was soon called back to the prime minister's residence. Sanjay
was there. The prime minister had left for her office. Sanjay
was rude, and said the prime minister's morning broadcast had
not been on all the wave lengths. Gujral lost his temper.
He told Sanjay 'If you want to talk to me, you will learn to be
courteous. You are younger than my son and I owe you no explanation.'
He went home more determined than ever to submit his resignation,
but he was pre-empted by Indira Gandhi who called him and transferred
him to another ministry. V C Shukla took over the ministry of information and broadcasting.
We thought of our relationship
with Indira Gandhi as a heavily guarded secret, ours
alone, not to be divulged even obliquely. Increasingly, bit by
bit, this meant a restriction of our social life, self-imposed,
self-sustained. So it would be Clovis and Karan Singh, and Inder
Gujral who was her only political agent, that we really knew.
Secrecy, of course, is its own worst enemy because in some way
I think truth is indivisible, and when you hide even a bit of
it, you hide the whole. Because we began to live in this world
of our own, convinced that our outward behavior betrayed none
of the fires of involvement within, willy nilly we began to miss
out of Indira's background for she had been in public life for
many years and was known to a wide assortment of people.
Gujral was later to tell us much which might have saved us from our follies,
but at that time nothing ever escaped his lips. His association
with her was his political base and he was a politician enough never
to flicker in his loyalty -- she was his pole star.
But in Inder Gujral's case, it had been more difficult. He had
scanned the newspapers in the morning and was not able to sight
his name in the list. In a state of extreme dejection, he appeared
at our office, his eyes looking like a spaniel's. 'How can I show
my face to anyone?' he said. We didn't quite understand, not being
in the political temper as it were.
And then he all but wept,
for he had no other constituency but her, no other mass base and
denying him a seat meant virtually discarding his importance with
just a whiff of forgetfulness. And this after all the running
around he was doing for her. With what face, except a tearful
one, would he be able to face the political workers?
felt enraged, a rage fanned by someone else who dropped in at
the office and told him that when C Subramaniam was asked why
Inder had been left out, he said, 'He sails too close to the wind.'
Romesh rushed off to Indira demanding her explanation and telling
her that everyone was saying 'Inder suffered because he sailed
too close to the wind.' There was an announcement next morning
that I K Gujral had been appointed minister of state for parliamentary
affairs and communication.
The mass media was outraged or rather raped by her megalomania
and Inder was constantly shouted at by Sanjay, by Dhawan. Yes,
this was her real mafia, Dhawan the typist, Yashpal Kapur, now
political manager, Kishen Chand, the lieutenant governor and his ambitious
aide, Navin Chawla, Behl of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation who was suddenly injected
into her secretariat to do the dirty work, Khurana hastily brought
in as home mecretary and Nirmal Mukherji, the previous incumbent,
unceremoniously removed within half an hour, with strangely, all
Punjabis, the rootless kind, forming a non-political mafia under
the demon Sanjay.
We burned away without electricity that first morning except for
one hour in which Hindustan Times and Motherland
both rushed to print a few sheets which were confiscated by the
police. I felt I couldn't breathe and when we drove to Inder's,
the streets were swarming with border security personnel. It was
a scary new world certainly and suddenly -- and there would be no
going back to the past, whatever it was.
Inder was bearing the
brunt of Sanjay's newly acquired power. When he went to the house,
Sanjay looked at him contemptuously. 'This won't do. It's not
good enough.' The first time this was said, Inder swallowed it
with some silent choking but on the second occasion, he answered
with, 'Remember, my commitment to the Congress and to your mother
is longer than the years of your life.' Within twelve hours he
had to change places with V C Shukla.
Once Inder Gujral came to the house, walked up to our telephone
and began to dismantle it. I shouted at him to leave it alone,
it hardly ever worked anyway, but he was insistent. 'They are
all bugged,' he said.
Kind courtesy: The Judgement, by Kuldip Nayar; Indira Gandhiby Pupul Jayakar; and All These Yearsby Raj Thapar
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