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The Rediff Special/Satish Gujral

'Inder realised that such disregard for others is manifested by people who suddenly breathe the intoxicating draughts of absolute power'

Satish Gujral The renowned painter on his brother Inder and his road to the prime ministership via his association with the Nehru dynasty.

Inder's journey to the prime ministership could be said to have begun when he became close to Indira Gandhi after the death of her father. This was partly due to the fact that when other ambitious politicians began to desert her and switch their loyalties to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Inder stood by her. She sensed he was a man she could trust. When her father's body was being bathed prior to its cremation, she asked Inder to stand guard and prevent intruders from entering the room.

Shastriji had included Indira Gandhi in his cabinet as minister of information and broadcasting. She felt claustrophobic under the tension of working for a prime minister who wanted to keep his eye constantly on her lest she became too popular. At one time she seriously contemplated resigning and taking to art. On one of her visits to our house she consulted me about the aspects of painting as a vocation.

The fact that she did not quit the cabinet was due to the persuasion of three friends in whom she confided: Dinesh Singh, Inder and Romesh Thapar. How long she could have remained part of the Shastri regime is difficult to gauge. Then came the news of Shastri's sudden death at Tashkent in the early hours of 11 January 1966.

Immediately after the shocking news was broadcast, Indira Gandhi rang up Inder, Romesh Thapar and Dinesh Singh and invited them over for breakfast next morning. Before the three went to her home, they spoke to each other on the phone and agreed that they should persuade her to contest the succession.

With Indira Gandhi The night before the swearing-in she asked Inder, Dinesh and Uma Shankar Dikshit, an old family friend, to help her draw up a list of potential cabinet ministers. She had to accommodate most of Shastri's appointees. Regional and religious considerations had to be taken into account. Confabulations went on till midnight. Members of the conclave were asked to return early in the morning to accompany Indira Gandhi to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Next morning, as expected, Inder arrived at Indira Gandhi's residence. He was in for a rude shock. An aide handed him the typed list of the proposed Cabinet. It had all the names that Inder had helped to screen the previous night, with one single exception: Inder Kumar Gujral. His eyes went up and down the list looking for his name. It had been there the night before, it was not there in the morning.

While Inder was still scanning the list in utter disbelief, Mrs Gandhi emerged in the hallway. She was dressed in her best and was all smiles. Dinesh Singh and Dikshit were with her. She noticed Inder going over the list. For a fleeting moment they looked into each other's eyes -- a moment that was to remain frozen in Inder's memory for years to come. There was a chilling ruthlessness in her gaze. Such callous contempt for friends who had stood by her and had provided constant support through thick and thin was something he could not understand. She did not bother to explain. Inder realised that such disregard for others is manifested by people who suddenly breathe the intoxicating draughts of absolute power; they feel they owe no explanations to anyone.

With his family Mrs Gandhi may have had good reason to cut her minister and friends down to size if she felt they were overstepping the limits she had set for them. But she went beyond that. In public she belittled people she had herself befriended. She was forever suspecting her old allies of conspiring against her. After she had successfully humiliated Dinesh, she regarded everyone who went to meet him as her enemy.

Since Inder continued seeing Dinesh after the latter had incurred her displeasure, she convinced herself that Inder was part of Dinesh's conspiracy to topple her. She gave Inder a clear indication of her growing suspicions when she reshuffled her Cabinet. She threw Dinesh out and took the important portfolio of information and broadcasting away from Inder, giving him the less glamorous housing ministry instead. This was followed by her insistence that Inder should ensure that Dinesh was evicted from the ministerial bungalow allotted to him. Inder's delay in complying with her wishes only confirmed her suspicions about his loyalty.

'Not one to be easily provoked, Inder calmly told Sanjay to control his abusive tongue'

Excerpted from A brush with life, by Satish Gujral, Viking, Rs 695, with the publisher's permission.

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