Three months into the Emergency. The rains all but gone. Ram Mohan gets a call from Lucknow. The CM wanted to have a natter over tea with the members of the Commission during his forthcoming visit. Ram Mohan, on his own initiative, began meeting fellow members to discuss things to be raised with the CM, things for the sake of the greater efficiency of the Commission.

On learning that the CM’s office was being selective about whom to invite to tea, he cried in righteous anger, “What are these people playing at?” He was at the house of the member who hadn’t got a call from Lucknow but was the one he was most friendly with. They both had a political background and were once close to Baran Singh. Mr Indrajit, too, had an aversion to making money through dishonest means. While Ram Mohan made great play of his hatred for bribery, Mr Indrajit wasn’t so strident. He would rather have others talk about his uprightness. But Kanti believed that her husband’s warmth towards Mr Indrajit stemmed from something else. That he fancied Mr Indrajit’s wife, his second wife, over twenty-five years his junior.

Members invited to tea with Saansad-ji happened to be only those appointed by him. Whether the omission of Mr Indrajit and two others was intentional was hard to say, but it gave Ram Mohan the opportunity for some grandstanding, some drama, to help him take on the role of their leader, to achieve pre-eminence at the Commission. It would also furnish him with something to brandish, in the face of attempts to paint him as Saansad-ji’s loyalist, to wreck his chances of currying favour with Indira-ji. That Saansad-ji had got on the wrong side of the PM was preying on Ram Mohan’s mind. He wasn’t eying any political office but something like his present position, though more notable: the Union Public Service Commission in Delhi that selected officers for all-India civil services.

Ram Mohan decried the selective invitation to tea with the CM as “a brazen attempt to undermine the integrity of the Commission”. To help his colleagues see the light, Ram Mohan hinted at Saansad-ji’s precarious political future and got them – except the chairman and Munni Prasad, both Saansad-ji’s appointees – to sign the letter that explained why the members had to decline the invitation. Saansad-ji called off the meeting but not before the letter, leaked to the press, was splashed across the front pages of all three local dailies.

Chaturvedi-ji and Sinha Sahab applauded Ram Mohan. Nothing could be more emphatic to scotch the perception of his being Saansad-ji’s adherent. The only person taking a dim view of Ram Mohan’s stance was Tandon-ji. Saansad-ji couldn’t have been behind such a horrid idea! Ram Mohan should have told him about it before adopting the posture he did, seizing the high moral ground. Ram Mohan, Chaturvedi-ji and Sinha Sahab laughed up their sleeves at Tandon-ji. “He has little understanding of realpolitik.”

A few days later, one of Saansad-ji’s ministers telephoned the Commission Bungalow to regret that Ram Mohan didn’t bother to inform the CM of the bungle perpetrated without his knowledge. Some bureaucrats in the CM’s secretariat might be in league with certain personages in Delhi.

“Saansad-ji’s on the slippery slope, no two ways about that!” said Ram Mohan to Nishant, after that call. Yet he couldn’t help feeling a twinge of remorse. If not for Saansad-ji, the man subjected to such a slight at his hands, he would be leading a limited life in Kanpur, teaching Hindi literature at DAV College. On Tandon-ji’s advice, he went to see Saansad-ji’s wife, who mostly stayed in Allahabad, nurturing her husband’s constituency as well as serving as the elected president of a local body. She was courteous, though vexed. She heard him out. He expressed his regret at allowing himself to be taken for a ride by some of his crafty colleagues. She said, “He was hurt and wondered if you were looking to distance yourself from him. You should meet Saansad-ji.”

That wasn’t to be. In a sudden development, Saansad-ji made a dash to Delhi and sought an audience with the PM. That she couldn’t spare a few minutes for him was lost on no one. She couldn’t be more explicit. Saansad-ji had no desire to sweet-talk her into changing her mind but wanted to present his side of the story. Finally, he resigned. When he came to Allahabad to spend some time with his family before looking at whatever political options he had left, Ram Mohan met him and apologised for being so naive as to go along with his fellow members’ decision. “Had I known it would be passed on to the press, I’d have backed out.” That he sought to apologise even after Indira Gandhi had cast Saansad-ji aside, signalling his political wilderness, was enough to restore the latter’s trust in Ram Mohan.

The man succeeding Saansad-ji as CM was none other than Shukla-ji, who had known that whenever there was a vacancy, he would be in the reckoning. Still, given the fact that among the probable, there were two men more illustrious than him, he couldn’t be sure of being the pick, his Uncle’s influence in Delhi notwithstanding. Yet he swung it. Not for nothing had he been sucking up to Indira-ji’s heir apparent, Sanjay Gandhi, whose only source of power was his mother but for all practical purposes, he was more powerful than her.

He held that to make Indians get their act together warranted a decisive leadership. With sceptics, he had little patience. That he had his mother’s blessings to his bossing everybody was learnt the hard way by a cabinet minister, who had the gall to decline to take orders from him, resulting in his being divested of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, a job that required someone with no qualms about the gagging of the press. Saansad-ji had run afoul of the young man too. Despite all her distrust of Saansad-ji’s style of functioning, Indira-ji might have given him some more time and more time to herself to know for sure he was up to something she wouldn’t endorse. Sanjay would have none of it, none of his mother’s propensity for being troubled by occasional doubt.

Yet to be thirty, he was a man in a hurry and would let nothing get in his way of getting things done. Political propriety was a luxury the country could ill-afford, sticklers for which would rattle his cage. Anyone reluctant to fall in with his ideas was a liability. Sanjay wanted to jolt his countrymen out of their lethargy, their indifference to problems impeding their own cause, problems threatening to sink India’s prospects of ever getting out of the mire, problems he had singled out for being tackled head-on: problems of overpopulation, indiscipline, squalor and so forth. He demanded that people associated with his mother’s regime get down to business like never before.

Ram Mohan’s image of the youth leader, till then, was that of a spoilt brat, a rogue, part of whose idea of fun had once been to steal cars in Delhi, his and of the son of Muhammad Yunus, a close henchman of his mother. While studying in London, Sanjay Gandhi was picked up several times for flouting traffic rules. Tandon-ji told Ram Mohan that for a person of his background, Sanjay was hardly educated. A car enthusiast, he had joined an iconic automaker in England as a trainee but didn’t finish the programme and returned with the dream of setting up a car manufacturing company in India. He wanted to produce a purely Indian vehicle, small and low-priced. To help him in the venture, his mother’s administration had gone out on a limb, winking at all rules and objections. He was given land almost for free by the bootlicker CM of a neighbouring state.

Excerpted with permission from The Politician Redux: Odyssey of Chance, Devesh Verma, Penguin India.