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The Rediff Special/Satish Gujral
'Not one to be easily provoked, Inder calmly told Sanjay to control his abusive tongue'
In the early hours of the morning of 26 June 1975, Mrs Gandhi sent for Inder to accompany her to a Cabinet meeting. She informed her ministers that she had declared a state of national emergency and had ordered the arrests of all Opposition leaders the previous night. As a supplementary she told Inder that she had imposed strict censorship on the media. This only added to Inder's bewilderment, as no ordinance to this effect had been issued. That fateful day had much more in store for him.
As he left the Cabinet room he was confronted by Sanjay Gandhi. The young man ordered Inder to forward all news bulletins to him for clearance, prior to their being broadcast. Inder politely replied that these bulletins were classified material till they were cleared for broadcasting, and hence not meant to be shown to any unauthorised person. Sanjay Gandhi immediately understood that Inder did not intend to acknowledge his authority. Before Sanjay could explode into one of his notorious rages, Indira Gandhi appeared, and fortunately intervened.
After agreeing that Inder was correct, she ordered him to send all bulletins to the prime minister's residence before they went on the air. It was evident that she had abdicated authority and had consciously decided not to counter her son's arrogance.
When he returned home, Inder looked distraught and asked me if he should resign.
Like most of my friends I had no sympathy with Jayaprakash Narayan's call for a 'total revolution'. As such, my reaction to the Emergency was not as hostile as Inder's. I advised him to wait and observe the situation before taking a decision. He was not wholly convinced by my argument but accepted my reasoning that the government had to take drastic measures to stem the lawlessness created by the insurgency Jayaprakash had successfully fomented.
Early the next morning Mrs Gandhi telephoned Inder. She was disturbed because a broadcast had not given full details of her speech in defence of the imposition of Emergency. She wanted to hear the complete recording of this broadcast. Procuring the recording took some time, and by the time Inder reached her residence, Mrs Gandhi had left for her office.
Sanjay Gandhi confronted Inder. He was in an ugly mood and almost shouted at him for deliberately allowing the 'fragmentation' of Mrs Gandhi's speech. It so happened that the version of the speech that had been reported to Mrs Gandhi was broadcast not by All India Radio but by Radio Pakistan. But Sanjay's tone left no room for doubt that it was the prime minister's son and not the prime minister who was calling the shots.
Not one to be easily provoked, Inder calmly told Sanjay to control his abusive tongue. 'You are younger than my son, you ought to learn how to speak to your elders. And of course I am under no obligation to answer to you.' He turned his back on Sanjay, got into his car and drove away without handing over the AIR recording.
This time when Inder returned home he seemed quite determined to resign. Before he could go any further Mrs Gandhi again sent for him. Contrary to what we expected, it was not to apologise for Sanjay's behaviour. We were not even sure whether she had been told of the altercation that had taken place between Inder and her son.
Inder had never seen her more courteous and charming. It was the first time that she thanked him for all he had done for her and her government. She said she was fully aware of his reservations about the Emergency and the censorship imposed on the press, and felt that it might be best if he were to be moved to a ministry which had nothing to do with the media. She almost pleaded with him to accept her proposition. She had never before spoken to Inder in this abject manner. It was difficult to gauge whether her humble tone was due to a growing fear of the devastating repercussions of Emergency rule, or a sense of guilt for arbitrarily removing a man who had stood by her.
The night after Mrs Gandhi lost her election was a night to remember. Inder made it a point to be in New Delhi to watch the results as they came in. He had asked the information officer manning the teleprinter at the central newsroom to keep him informed minute by minute. The moment the news of Mrs Gandhi's losing her own seat come over the ticker, the officer on duty was so overcome with fear that he simply switched off the machine.
The next morning we went to call on Mrs Gandhi. We found her curled up in an armchair, shrunken and crumpled and looking utterly desolate and defeated. As we sat down, she began to speak. 'I fear,' she said in almost a whisper, 'there will be a lot of witch-hunting.' A woman who had ruled a massive, chaotic nation with an iron hand for more than a decade, one who had withstood the bullying of global superpowers as easily as the pressure exerted upon her by her own partymen, seemed to have lost the will to fight. She looked pathetic and forlorn.
The only gesture of consolation Inder could make was to hold her hand. He patted it once, twice. She kept staring into space. While leaving her house we saw Sanjay walking up and down the driveway. For a fleeting moment his eye met Inder. Neither of them showed any inclination to talk to the other.
In the car on our way back Inder told me of the letter Mrs Gandhi had written to him about a fortnight before declaring elections. I saw the letter afterwards; it was in her own handwriting. Each sentence betrayed the mood of despair that had overtaken her. She talked of the growing hostility to her regime, of her workers being beaten up, of one of her ministers having lost his mental equilibrium. What moved Inder was not so much the contents of the letter as the fact that she had thought of writing to him and no one else.
Excerpted from A brush with life, by Satish Gujral, Viking, Rs 695, with the publisher's permission.
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