Among the first to be locked up was Kuldip Nayar. He is clear that he never believed that any Indian government would arrest one of the seniormost editors of The Indian Express. He says he was told by a friend, Nikhil Chakravartty, editor of the Left-leaning journal, Mainstream to be careful. ‘He told me if you have any papers in your house, be careful because you are going to be raided,’ Nayar remembers, ‘and he knew the other side (Mrs Gandhi’s regime) very well, so I listened to him.’
The next day, when the police arrived at Nayar’s house, he was ready for them. ‘You can search for anything,’ he told them. Oh no, they said, this is not a raid. Here are the warrants. We are here to arrest you.
Nayar’s arrest terrified the journalistic community. If India’s most famous editor could be summarily arrested, then nobody was safe. Nayar recalls how his wife was ostracised. Nobody would even talk to her and relatives ignored her calls. Such was the atmosphere of fear.
Even Mrs Gandhi’s own ministers were shocked by how quickly things had changed. Information and Broadcasting Minister Inder Kumar Gujral had been one of Mrs Gandhi’s closest friends, but even he was dressed down by Sanjay. Many years after the event, I finally persuaded him to sit down and tell me what had really happened.
This is an excerpt from an interview I did with IK Gujral:
There are many versions of the story of you and Sanjay Gandhi and you ceasing to be Information and Broadcasting Minister. What actually happened? Let’s finally hear the true story from you.
IK Gujral: You see, well...Sanjay is gone.
But history is history. You must tell the truth.
IK Gujral: It sounds very uncharitable of me. You see one thing became very clear. As soon as we came out of the cabinet meeting, the transfer of power had taken place.
From Indira to Sanjay?
IK Gujral: From mother to the son. And he wanted me... as the cabinet meeting ended, he said, “I want to see the news bulletins.”
You were I & B Minister.
IK Gujral: Radio. So I told him, “That cannot be done.” News bulletins are made public only after broadcast. Prior to that even I’d never see them. Because that would be interference. And since I said no rather loudly, Mrs Gandhi heard it. And she came in. She didn’t know what to say but she thought I was right. So she said, “No. No. We will deal with it later.”
But my mind was made up. By chance, I had good luck, in retrospect. A telephone call came to me from the Prime Minister’s House that I should come that day. I went at about 10.30-11. And the Prime Minister had left for office by then. And as I was coming out, Sanjay came over and he was in a very brisk mood...because one of the channels on All India Radio had not carried Mrs Gandhi’s speech, which was normal practice. But he was rather brisk... but I told him. I had to tell him.
What did he say to you?
IK Gujral: You know, I hesitate because...again he is gone.
No, no. But we have heard so many versions. Let’s hear the truth.
IK Gujral: He said, “Dekhiye, aisa nahin chalega” (Look, this can’t go on).
Aisa nahin chalega? (This can’t go on?)
IK Gujral: I said, look here, jab tak main hoon, aisa hee chalega (As long as I am here, this is how things will be). And you will learn how to be polite.
You said that?
IK Gujral: And you will learn how to behave with the seniors. And I owe no responsibility to you. I’m your mother’s minister, not yours. And I walked out.
IK Gujral: That was over. That evening it was over. So the next morning I got the notification. I was ready to leave and relieved too. Because I told my wife that after what happened with Sanjay, now I won’t have to resign. It will follow. It did follow. Anyhow. I regret it because that was the end of a chapter in my life.
~ ~ ~
IK Gujral and Indira Gandhi, old friends for decades, never reconciled.
Excerpted with permission from Mandate: Will of the People, Vir Sanghvi, Westland.