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June 12, 2000
'Pilot never tired of talking about his earlier days'
Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Former minister of state for internal security in the Narasimha Rao government Rajesh Pilot was media savvy, adept in the art of media management. There was rarely an occasion when he denied an interview to any correspondent or reporter.
Besides giving his opinion on political developments, he never tired of telling stories of his life. Invariably, journalists ended up as his audience. A favourite one was about how he entered politics.
"Several people now claim that they had introduced me to Mrs Indira Gandhi. But I met her directly. My first meeting was a sort of touch and go. I went to her directly and told her that I was a pilot in the Indian Air Force and I had done my country proud in the 1971 war. I told her that I wanted to join politics and if she allowed me, I would join the Congress party. I told her that I had done my bit for my family by ensuring financial security. But she was not convinced. She wanted to know what would I do if, after quitting my job, I did not fit into politics. I told her that I am willing to take that risk. She said, if this was the case, it was okay with her. And the next thing I knew, I was the party candidate from Bharatpur in Rajasthan," Pilot would tell his captive audience an endless number of times.
The other favourite was about life in the Air Force. "In 1971, I was posted in the North East. I was selected to accompany my wing commander on a raiding mission. My call sign was 'good wife'. While flying over enemy territory, I heard a crackling sound over my ear phone, 'This is good wife. Lower your aircraft and drop bombs'. I had almost started obeying the command when my commander came on the line and said, 'This is the real 'good wife'. Follow the instruction'. I was still in two minds when my commander told me in chaste Punjabi, Saleya, sut de te bhaj ja' (bugger, drop the bombs and run). I immediately knew which instruction to follow, and which not to," he would tell.
The story of his being a doodhwala is too well known in political and journalistic circles. But it is also one of the most ridiculed ones. 'Sometimes, he becomes a doodhwala and sometimes, a newspaper hawker etc', his colleagues in the Congress would say.
His sense of humour once offended Ghulam Rasul Kar, then president of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress. Pilot had taken Kar with him to address a public meeting in Meerut. Kar made a long speech. When Pilot came on the dais, he started on a lighter vein by saying that since Kar could not speak in J&K, he let him speak in Meerut. Kar packed his bags and left Pilot's house, where he normally put up whenever he was in town.
Pilot helped all journalists who did not have a telephone connections when he became minister for communications. He sanctioned phone connections for journalists in bulk. But when he came to know that a journalist was misusing his trust to make money, he immediately turned him out and told his staff not to entertain him in future.
Every year in the last week of December, he would hold a Kisan Lunch at his residence where his entire family would play host to journalists and bureaucrats. The menu would include Saag, makki ki roti, bajre ki roti, gur and chach.
His interaction with the media was always lively and would be well reported. He knew what he said made good copy. Of course, there were times when he would simply shut his ears to questions from correspondents. "You come and have tea with me, but do not ask questions. This is not the right time to talk," he would say politely.
It was during Holi that he really let his hair down. He would greet everyone with a warm hug and mithai.
That is what Rajesh Pilot was for the newspersons. He loved the scribes and, in turn, the scribes loved him.
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