Enthusiastic Janata Party MPs took an oath of honesty, transparency, and integrity at Rajghat. Some party supporters were also invited; I was not. At the swearing-in ceremony itself, the race for the prime-ministership began and it appeared that Jagjivan Ram had a majority. JP, who was ultimately asked to nominate the individual, selected Morarji Desai. He explained to me that he could not have nominated Jagjivan Ram because he had in parliament sponsored the resolution supporting the imposition of Emergency.
JP emphasised unity in the party so that they could collectively implement the promises that had been made. “I hoped the Janata experiment, bringing regional parties together to fight the elections on one symbol would work.” However, I saw the same party crumbling before my eyes. The ambition and arrogance of the leaders occupying senior positions undid the Janata.
I was particularly unhappy to see the same Jana Sangh men in key positions, bringing with them the same prejudice and parochialism. I would see the RSS men in Advani’s room whenever I met him. For the Jana Sangh, the Janata Party was a means, not an end in itself. It succeeded in its goal of diluting, though not washing off, its communal credentials by advancing the argument that it was an intrinsic part of the Janata Party which advocated secularism.
The functioning of the Janata Party was not very different from that of the Congress. Instead of Sanjay Gandhi, the government now had to reckon with Kanti Desai, Morarji’s son, who was equally ruthless and wanting in integrity, but happily not wielding the authority that Sanjay did. However, I felt so concerned that I complained to Morarji that his son was fixing deals or contracts for huge sums of money. I requested him to at least eject him from the PM’s residence which gave him the stamp of authority. Morarji refused to do so, on the plea that he had once lost his daughter who had committed suicide after he had admonished her. In fact, I found Morarji as impossible as I had found him many years earlier when he was in the wilderness: self- righteous, obstinate, and hugely arrogant.
I felt it was my duty to write against the non-performance of the Janata government. When it dismissed the nine Congress-ruled state governments, I wrote that such an action might be constitutionally correct but was morally wrong. I reminded the party of the expectations the people had placed upon them.
Morarji rang me to warn that my writings were actionable and that he could put me behind bars.
I told him that Indira Gandhi had done that and he too was at liberty to follow suit. He calmed down and said that if my purpose was not to destroy the government, I should not be writing in the way I had. I said in reply: “Morarjibhai, the government will fall because of its own misdeeds, not because of my writings.”
On the other hand, I found myself suddenly becoming popular in Indira Gandhi’s circles. Sharda Prasad, Indira Gandhi’s press adviser, met me once during my regular walk in the Lodi gardens and shook my hand firmly and remarked: “Greater strength to your pen.”
The down and out Kamal Nath met me and sought my help to enable him and Sanjay Gandhi go abroad. The latter’s passport had been impounded. I told him that they would never allow Sanjay Gandhi to travel abroad. As far as he was concerned, I told him that if I knew the system, the Delhi and Bombay airports must have been told not to permit him (Kamal Nath) to go abroad but he could try Madras. Two years later when he met me, he told that my tip had worked and he was able to leave the country via Madras.
The pressure to punish Indira Gandhi for her misdeeds was so relentless and most cabinet members were so insistent for some action that the party demanded her arrest. Morarji was an exception. He wrote on the file that no government action was called for because she had been punished by the people by defeating her at the polls. Charan Singh was, however, adamant as was the socialist block in the party. Members belonging to Jana Sangh were hawkish.
RNG [Rama Nath Goenka] felt defeated within the Janata Party because he had wanted Jagjivan Ram to become prime minister. With all his behind-the-scene activities he was keen to retain the number one position the Indian Express had held during the Emergency. He asked me to do whatever I could to sustain the increase in circulation. He was willing to hire more hands. I told him that during the Emergency the newspaper had come to represent a sentiment which was selling. That ended with the withdrawal of the Emergency. I was proved to be right. We lost all the additional circulation we had gained.
It was during these days that RNG thought it was the best time to implement his dream of publishing an edition of the Indian Express from every state capital. I went to Chandigarh to bring out the Punjab and Haryana edition, but retained my position in Delhi. I would spend three days at Chandigarh and four in Delhi.
I hired many journalists but two of the recruits, Shekhar Gupta and Madhu Kishwar, became celebrities.
Shekhar Gupta called me his “guru” but showed no respect when he later stopped my fortnightly column. By then he had become the all-in-all in the Express, circumstances having helped him to occupy the position of editor-in-chief.
What shocked me was that RNG removed VK Narasimhan, who as editor-in-chief had kept the defiant stance of the Indian Express intact, a couple of days after Indira Gandhi lost power. His name was removed from the print line and substituted by Mulgaokar’s, without Narasimhan’s knowledge. He resigned to register his protest. The entire senior editorial staff signed a petition against Goenka’s action. I was approached to sign it.
I told them that I would do so but after speaking to Goenka who was in the guest-house. I asked if the news about Narasimhan’s removal was correct. He said he had to restore Mulgaokar to his position to correct the wrong done to him. “Was it necessary to do so in the manner you have,” I asked. He said that he should have reverted Narasimhan to his original position at the Financial Express and seemed regretful.
When I told him about the revolt in the office he said they should not forget what he had gone through during the Emergency. I could see repentance on his face. He wanted me to go to Narasimhan’s house and bring him back. I went there and found him sitting on the floor having a cup of coffee his wife had prepared. I requested him to rejoin as editor of the Financial Express and assured him that RNG was apologetic.
For Narasimhan the question of joining the Express group again did not arise. He asked me how long had I known RNG. Before I could reply, he said: “Kuldip, I have known him for 30 years. Goenka has not changed. He is as selfish as ever.” How courageous and noble a man was Narasimhan, I thought. He had no job to go to and yet took a stand whenever there was an attack on his dignity. I had close relations with the Deccan Herald family and got him posted as editor- in-chief of the newspaper.
While I was in Delhi over the weekend, BD Goenka went to Chandigarh on 6 August 1977 and inaugurated the edition published from there without informing me. That was how the Goenkas functioned. They did things at the spur of the moment and showed that like whimsical owners they could do anything at any time. The Express at Chandigarh did not give much of competition to the well-established Tribune but managed to jolt it.
When Indira Gandhi was unceremoniously defeated, people felt that they had won freedom all over again, saying openly that the Janata Party’s victory had given them a second Independence (doosri azadi). They would rebuild the country and bring about the change that JP had promised. Unfortunately, the Janata leaders did not rise to public expectations. Most of them were the same old faces, tarnished with misdeeds; old wine in a new bottle. The defeat of Mrs Gandhi had given people hope of a new lease of life, independence from whimsical personal and sterile rule. Now disappointment and disillusionment began being writ large.
I went to Patna to meet JP. He too was feeling let down with the way the government was functioning. I asked him to intervene because people had voted in his name and he should not fail them. To my surprise, he told me that “nobody listens to me”.
These words had a familiar ring. Mahatma Gandhi too had expressed helplessness when Nehru and Patel had accepted Partition without consulting him. My plea to JP was that he should go back to the people to apprise them of his inability to bring about the change he had promised because the government paid no heed to his advice or principles. He said he could not travel because of his ill health. What he said was true. He was on dialysis as a result of a kidney malfunction.
On my return to Delhi, I told Morarji about JP’s sense of disillusionment. Rather than speaking of remedial measures to improve the Janata government’s performance, Morarji said: “What does he think of himself. Is he Gandhi? I did not even go to meet Gandhi.” Morarji’s obduracy did not surprise me. He was known for his rigidity. He was a rightist at a time when a poor country like India needed someone who was at least left of centre. Only socialists like Madhu Limaye, Janata Party’s general secretary, could share JP’s grief, not many others.
In fact, the Janata government had made its indifferent attitude to JP amply clear from the outset when he returned from the US after medical treatment. The Air India plane stopped at Delhi on its onward journey to Bombay. The government had deputed Information Minister Purshottam Kaushik to receive JP at the airport on the government’s behalf. JP had at least expected, as he told me, Babu Jagjivan Ram, who was known to him because both came from the same state, Bihar, to have come to receive him. Jagjivan Ram was however miffed with him because although he had claimed the support of the majority of Janata members, JP had preferred Morarji to him.
RNG, who wielded a lot of influence in the Janata government, began settling scores with individuals he did not like. One among them was Dhirubhai Ambani. He provided Arun Shourie, who had, like a paratrooper, landed as executive editor of the Indian Express, with material relating to Ambani. Arun Shourie, who had come into the Indian Express through Nanaji Deshmukh, an RSS stalwart, used the material to make “disclosures” against Ambani. So strong was the impact of repeated campaigns by the Express that the shares of Ambani’s Reliance company came tumbling down. Goenka and Ambani subsequently mended fences.
I met Dhirubhai for the first time when I was waiting for someone at the Taj Hotel on Mansingh Road, New Delhi. He came up to me and asked if I was Kuldip Nayar. When I replied in the affirmative, he said that he was Dhirubhai. I was flabbergasted and inquired, “the Dhirubhai?” He told me that he had been reading my articles from his college days. In reply I said: “See where you are and where I am.” The following day he sent me a box of chocolates.
Excerpted with permission from Beyond The Lines: An Autobiography, Kuldip Nayar, Roli Books.
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