On the 45th anniversary of the first non-Congress government, Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad describes the political intrigue, deals and treacheries of March 1977 that saw Morarji Desai become prime minister, outwitting Jagjivan Ram, Charan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, each of whom had more MPs supporting them
Morarji Desai with HY Sharada Prasad and others
In an earlier article titled “Why Did Indira Gandhi Call for Elections in January 1977?”, I had examined the possible reasons why prime minister Indira Gandhi suddenly announced elections on 18 January 1977. The popular notion is that she called for elections because intelligence agencies told her that she would win easily, since the opposition leaders had been in jail and were not united.
But that is not the full picture. In the last week of November 1976, after she returned from the Congress party session in Guwahati, she told her principal secretary Professor Prithvi Nath Dhar and my father HY Sharada Prasad, who was her information advisor: “I am going to end the Emergency and call for elections. I know that I will lose, but this is something which is absolutely necessary for me to do”.
In mid-December 1976, PN Dhar, who had been strongly against the Emergency from the outset, went to her with the Intelligence Bureau report which forecasted that she would win 340 seats, and remarked: “Surely you are not going to believe this, are you?”
She replied: “Of course not. The IB will tell me what they think I want to hear. But I know that I will lose”.
A few weeks earlier, PN Dhar had given her a detailed report of how the excesses of Sanjay Gandhi and his cabal were causing anger among the populace.
Her close advisor and former principal secretary, Parameshwar Narayan Haksar, who had been vociferously opposed to the Emergency from the very beginning and had been pressing her to hold elections, too told my father in the second week of January 1977, a few days before she made her announcement on All India Radio, that she was very well aware that she would lose the elections.
Even then, Indira Gandhi was taken by surprise by how quickly disparate opposition groups came together.
By 23 January 1977, various parties ranging from the left to the extreme right agreed to dissolve their existing party structures and merge themselves into the new Janata party, with Morarji Desai as its chairman and Charan Singh as vice chairman.
– The various Socialist groups of George Fernandes and Raj Narain, and other socialist leaders such as Madhu Limaye, Madhu Dandavate, Surendra Mohan, and Babu Bindheshwari Prasad Mandal.
– The Young Turks of her own Congress whom she had jailed – Chandra Shekhar, Krishna Kant, Mohan Dharia, Ram Dhan, Chandrajit Yadav, and Lakshmi Kanthamma.
– The Bharatiya Lok Dal, led by Chaudhary Charan Singh, Biju Patnaik, Hiralalbhai Mulljibhai Patel, Chaudhary Devi Lal, Karpoori Thakur, and Ram Naresh Yadav.
– The Organisation Congress (O) of Morarji Desai, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Chandra Bhanu Gupta, and Asoka Mehta.
– The Bharatiya Jan Sangh, led by Nanaji Deshmukh, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
– The Swatantra party of right wing capitalists and zamindars, led by Piloo Mody.
The general secretaries included Lal Krishna Advani, Madhu Limaye, Surendra Mohan, Rama Krishna Hegde, Nanaji Deshmukh, and Ram Dhan.
A 27-member coordination committee was established that included Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Chandra Bhanu Gupta, Asoka Mehta, HM Patel, and Karpoori Thakur.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM, Akali Dal, and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) said they would not merge themselves into the new Janata party, but would be part of the anti-Indira alliance.
Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan, who by then had begun to have misgivings about his tying up with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh RSS, took a pledge from the Jan Sangh members that they would not campaign on communal issues. The newly formed Janata party campaigned on the election symbols allotted to the Bharatiya Lok Dal.
MY FATHER WAS always puzzled as to how someone as wily as Indira Gandhi made the elementary blunder of jailing the various opposition leaders together, in Tihar, Ambala, and Rohtak jails. This allowed them to interact with each other daily, and unite against her.
Lal Krishna Advani of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh was jailed together with the socialist Madhu Dandavate, and both of them for some time with Biju Patnaik of the Bharatiya Lok Dal and Piloo Mody of the Swatantra party.
Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of the RSS was imprisoned together with Asoka Mehta, who had joined the Congress (O) after being expelled from the Praja Socialist Party.
Charan Singh of the Bharatiya Lok Dal was jailed together with Prakash Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal in Tihar, and they bonded over playing cards.
However, Charan Singh cut a deal with Indira Gandhi, and was released in March 1976, together with his followers.
Indira Gandhi had long regarded Nanaji Deshmukh of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as the most formidable of her opponents; his vision for India was diametrically opposite hers, and she referred to him as ‘Chanakya of Our Time’. Most of those arrested on the night of 25-26 June 1975 were his followers.
As described by this author in that article titled, “Was Emergency Inevitable?”, it was Jaya Prakash Narayan’s tying up with Nanaji Deshmukh in 1974 which made her first think that a crackdown was necessary.
She was even more antagonistic to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) than she was to the parent RSS. With her personal knowledge of European politics, she was well aware that revolutions were begun by students, and that the Fascist and Nazi movements were spearheaded by youth stormtroopers.
Arun Jaitley of the ABVP made a stirring speech the day after the Emergency was declared. He made his getaway on a two-wheeler scooter, but crashed into a police barrier at Timarpur.
On the night of 25-26 June 1975, Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan was arrested from the residence of my maternal uncle KS Radhakrishna, head of the Gandhi Peace Foundation. My cousin KR Chandrahas went into an adjoining building and telephoned several of JPs associates and RSS leaders. Tipped off by Chandrahas, Nanaji Deshmukh and Madan Lal Khurana, who were at the RSS headquarters at Jhandewalan, managed to escape minutes before the police arrived.
The Punjab police were on the trail of a Bharatiya Jan Sangh leader of Punjab, Krishna Lal Sharma, and followed him to a house in Delhi’s Safdarjung Development Area. They saw a prosperous looking middle-aged man, dressed in a natty western suit, alighting from a car and entering the building. They swooped in to capture KL Sharma. His visitor had the identity documents of an NRI businessman but a police officer recognised his voice and pronunciation as that of Nanaji Deshmukh. This Punjab police officer informed Indira Gandhi’s office of his capture of Deshmukh with a verse in classical Persian: we spread our nets to catch shrimp, but a crocodile swam by himself into our nets.
The police rushed down to trace the car from which Deshmukh had alighted. After dropping off Nanaji, Subramanian Swamy went to find a parking spot. Seeing the police, Swamy managed to drive away in a high-speed chase.
Amazingly, Arun Jaitley and Nanaji Deshmukh were imprisoned together in the very same cell in Tihar Jail, next to Charan Singh and Prakash Singh Badal, and the socialist Surendra Mohan on the other side, and a few cells away from KS Radhakrishna.
Both Jaitley and Nanaji were outstanding organisers and had the ability to make friends across political parties. They were instrumental in uniting disparate political parties to oppose Indira and Sanjay Gandhi.
While hearing the habeas corpus plea of KS Radhakrishna, argued by retired justice VM Tarkunde, Justice Sesha Iyengar Rangarajan of Delhi High Court ordered that all political prisoners be allowed weekly visits from their families, and also given regular medical check-ups.
These weekly medical check-ups were conducted by Ram Nath Goenka’s physician, Dr JK Jain of the RSS, who also brought them the latest political news. This greatly increased the acceptability of the RSS among socialist and secular politicians.
Ever since he led the violent nationwide strike by railwaymen in May 1974, Indira Gandhi thought that George Fernandes would assassinate her, most probably in a bomb explosion in Varanasi. Her idee fixe got cemented when her money bags man, Lalit Narayan Mishra, was killed in a bomb explosion in a railway station in January 1975. She kept remarking to her aides that Fernandes would soon kill her while she was on one of her frequent train journeys.
Morarji Desai was universally disliked because of his overweening ambition, his superiority complex, his know-it-all attitude, his obstinacy, and his puritanical moralistic sermonising. This is why the Syndicate had worked to ensure Morarji’s defeat after the deaths of both Jawaharlal Nehru in May 1964 and Lal Bahadur Shastri in January 1966; the Syndicate’s motto was: ‘Anyone but Morarji’
On the night of 25-26 June 1975, Chandra Shekhar was arrested from Rivoli theatre in Connaught Place, where he was watching a late-night movie together with BP Koirala of Nepal. Even though he was a prominent Congress MP, who had helped Indira Gandhi to defeat Morarji Desai and the Syndicate in 1969, Chandra Shekhar had publicly called on her to resign after the Allahabad High Court verdict. He had hosted a dinner in honour of JP, his political mentor, a few days earlier.
The sympathetic police officer took Chandra Shekhar to a nearby phone booth, and told him: “I am delaying recording your time of arrest by half an hour in the case diary. During these thirty minutes, phone whomever you can, warning them to escape”.
Chandra Shekhar was jailed, first in Chandigarh, and then in Patiala, in solitary confinement.
Chandra Shekhar’s conversations were overheard by a telephone operator, and she phoned George Fernandes, who was holidaying with his wife Leila Kabir and infant son in Gopalpur on Sea in Odisha. Fernandes had earned the gratitude of female telephone operators across the country by fighting to improve their working conditions.
Clad in just his lungi, Fernandes managed to escape seconds before the police arrived to arrest him. Masquerading as a fisherman, he travelled to Gujarat and Tamil Nadu and Kerala, organising resistance to the Emergency.
The Palace Guards had issued verbal orders that he was to be killed as soon as he was captured.
Even while on the run, Fernandes kept up his keen interest in Kannada culture and literature, keeping in touch with my father’s intellectual mentor, the polymath Kota Shivarama Karanth, who was vehemently opposed to the Emergency, as well as my father’s close friend, the eminent novelist UR Anantha Murthy.
UR Anantha Murthy and the noted actress Snehalatha Reddy planned to bomb the Vidhana Sowdha legislature building in Bengaluru.
In order to capture George Fernandes, his brothers Lawrence and Michael, as well as his close associate Snehalatha Reddy were jailed in Bengaluru, and tortured brutally. But they refused to divulge his whereabouts. The talented actress Snehalatha Reddy died as a result of her brutal imprisonment.
George Fernandes grew a beard, and disguised himself as a Sikh, taking the alias Khushwant Singh. In Delhi, he first stayed with CGK Reddy, who had been a hero of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, was a member of parliament, and was business manager of the Hindu newspaper. Then Fernandes moved to the residence of a Kannadiga defence officer Captain Huilgol and his daughter Dr Girija Huilgol.
From there George Fernandes shifted to the Jor Bagh residence of a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, R Chandrachudan, who was then a senior manager with the Hindu newspaper.
My parents used to visit Chandrachudan, whom they had known since the 1940s when he was the host and aide to Mahatma Gandhi, two to three times a month. During his long stint with Associated Press and Reuters in the 1930s and 1940s, Chandrachudan was instrumental in publicising Gandhiji to the western world on a daily basis. I do not know if my parents realised that his Sardarji guest Khushwant Singh was indeed George Fernandes.
A senior officer of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, KG Ramakrishna, who was our neighbour and close family friend – he was a close associate of Ram Manohar Lohia and had joined Nehru’s government from the Indian Express together with my father – drove Fernandes around Delhi.
Some mining businessmen in Baroda, from whom Fernandes was trying to procure dynamite, were being investigated by the tax authorities. In return for immunity for tax evasion, they provided information about Fernandes’ whereabouts.
Just as the Delhi police were about to capture him, Fernandes jumped on a flight to Kolkata on 10 March 1976.
Assisted by the journalist and writer Vijay Narain, Fernandes brought out a cyclostyled newsletter from Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Vijay Narain had disguised himself as a Muslim weaver of Varanasi, and he used to distribute this newsletter.
An informer in Fernandes’ taxi drivers’ union in Mumbai revealed that Fernandes had been in contact with Father Rudolph of St Paul’s Cathedral.
A senior police officer became suspicious of why a bearded Sikh and a Muslim weaver were staying on the premises of St Paul’s Cathedral, working as odd jobs men. He had the Muslim weaver tailed.
Pretending to be a parishioner, this senior police officer patiently built up a friendship with the bearded Khushwant Singh. He casually engaged him in conversation, and after a while, broke into colloquial Marathi.
An unthinking Khushwant Singh spontaneously replied in colloquial Marathi, and the officer said: “We got you, George”.
The Palace Guards had issued verbal orders that Fernandes should be killed as soon as he was captured.
But this police officer insisted on getting written orders on file signed by Indira Gandhi herself that George Fernandes was to be killed.
On that date, 10 June 1976, Indira Gandhi was on a visit to the Soviet Union. She was accompanied by Rajiv and Sonia, as well as Sanjay and Maneka.
Normally, this police officer’s encrypted “For Your Eyes Only” cable to Indira Gandhi would have been decrypted by RK Dhawan. However, on that date Sanjay and Maneka were visiting a Soviet space facility a few hours away, and RK Dhawan had accompanied them.
Therefore, this top-secret cable was decrypted by NK Seshan, who had been the trusted aide of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi since 1944; Nehru affectionately referred to Seshan as the son he never had.
At that instant, Indira Gandhi and my father were addressing a press conference, where reporters from numerous countries were present.
An aghast NK Seshan slipped a note in Tamil to my father, who was sitting next to Indira Gandhi.
Under the guise of getting a friendly journalist to ask a question, my father scribbled a note in Telugu to Gunupati Keshava Reddy of the Hindu newspaper. NK Seshan too wrote out a note in Malayalam to VK Madhavan Kutty of the Mathrubhumi.
These two veteran political editors immediately realised what needed to be done. Although they could not use this scoop themselves, they quietly tipped off the BBC correspondent, and also got a prominent foreign journalist to stand up and ask: “Madam prime minister, what do you have to say about the appeal by various international statesmen to spare George Fernandes?”
This was the first that she was hearing about the capture of Fernandes. But always in control of herself and thinking quickly on her feet, she furnished details of the numerous acts of violence planned by him, and of the foreign sources funding him, and emphatically declared that he would have to stand trial for terrorism.
Within hours Willy Brandt, Bruno Kreisky, Olof Palme, and Michael Foot, at the urging of CGK Reddy, publicly appealed to her to spare Fernandes.
Astonishingly, Fernandes, who was immediately flown by a special plane to Delhi, was lodged in the same ward in Tihar Jail as other top political leaders. And his fellow accused in the Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy were jailed together with him.
Prior to being sent to Tihar, George Fernandes was brutally tortured in Red Fort for a night. Vijay Narain was tortured in Kolkata before he was sent to Delhi, where he was jailed together with Fernandes in Tihar.
The hatred between Jagjivan Ram and Morarji Desai dated back to the early 1960s, when, after the demise of Govind Ballabh Pant in March 1961, they had been involved in a bitter power struggle to be declared as the number two to Jawaharlal Nehru
JP and Morarji had strongly disapproved of Fernandes’ espousal of violence for years. But with his heroic image and his natural charisma, Fernandes got numerous leaders across the political spectrum to join together with him while in Tihar.
Fernandes had frequently declared that non-violent struggle against Indira Gandhi would not succeed, and he viewed JP’s and Nanaji’s and Morarji’s opposition to the use of violence as naive and futile.
While in Tihar, Fernandes harshly criticised JP and my maternal uncle KS Radhakrishna for continuing to try to seek a peaceful rapprochement with Indira Gandhi. Nevertheless, JP agreed to give George Fernandes the ticket from Muzaffarpur.
Even as he tried hard to unite the various opposition leaders, Fernandes harshly accused Biju Patnaik, HM Patel, and Asoka Mehta of trying to reach a secret deal with Om Mehta and Sanjay Gandhi. Biju Patnaik’s huge business empire was suffering, and his wife was trying to persuade him to drop his opposition to Indira Gandhi and concentrate on running his numerous business enterprises.
Photographs of George Fernandes being led in chains and handcuffs to stand trial in Tis Hazari courts captured the imagination of the nation. The 23 year old duo of Sushma Sharma and Swaraj Kaushal (under guidance from retired justice VM Tarkunde and Acharya JB Kripalani) defended him; they got married during the trial.
Fernandes was released only after the Janata government came to power; he went directly from Tihar jail to Rashtrapati Bhavan to be sworn in as a cabinet minister. Sushma Swaraj led his campaign from Muzaffarpur while he remained in prison.
The police officers in Tihar jail sent complete details to Indira Gandhi of how Nanaji Deshmukh, George Fernandes, Arun Jaitley, etc were meeting other imprisoned leaders and urging them to unite to overthrow her. But I do not know if she took any action in response.
It is indeed puzzling that when she had clamped Morarji Desai (in a guest house in Sohna), Chandra Shekhar (first in Chandigarh and then in Patiala), Raj Narain, KR Malkani of the RSS, and Jyotirmoy Bosu of the CPI(M) in solitary confinement, she did not take the elementary precaution of isolating Deshmukh, Fernandes, Jaitley and others. This is even after the police officers in Tihar, Rohtak and Ambala jails had provided complete details of their conversations and negotiations.
According to my father, the Janata alliance would never have been formed if they had been jailed separately. Lal Krishna Advani wrote in his prison diary: “As a result of this the cordiality, closeness and mutual trust generated during this last one year among parties and persons committed to democracy could not have been ordinarily created even in one decade.”
One of George Fernandes’ co-accused in the Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy, Dr GG Parikh, a physician, freedom fighter, and stalwart of the Praja Socialist Party, stated: “I always felt that she did not have the genes, nor the mental makeup, to be a dictator”. Dr Parikh had first been jailed in Yerawada together with RSS workers. Then he was transferred to Tihar, where he was jailed together with Fernandes and other co-accused in the dynamite conspiracy. PN Dhar too described her as a ‘half-hearted dictator’.
On the other hand, many prominent Opposition leaders were not arrested at all, especially those from the Congress (O) who had opposed her in 1969. K Kamaraj, S Nijalingappa, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, SK Patil, Atulya Ghosh, and Shanti Bhushan were left alone. Socialists such as SM Joshi and NG Goray were not arrested either. According to Dr GG Parikh, this was because she wanted to keep a channel open for discussions.
Astonishingly CGK Reddy was not arrested either. He travelled abroad frequently, meeting socialist statesmen such as Michael Foot, Harold Wilson, Willy Brandt, Bruno Kreisky, and Olof Palme, and addressing meetings castigating the Emergency. Nor were the Huilgol father and daughter arrested.
Several opposition politicians took their not being arrested as a blow to their ego, that they were not important enough to be considered a threat to Indira Gandhi – let alone not being jailed, they were not even placed under surveillance. Acharya JB Kripalani went to extraordinary lengths to get himself arrested. At Rajghat on 2nd October, he threw an emotional tantrum, insisting that he be arrested. Much to his discomfiture, he was released quickly.
Even though it does not square with her statements that she would lose the elections, it could be possible that Indira Gandhi was over confident that the various parties would not be able to unite.
In March 1976, Charan Singh and several of his supporters came to a deal with her, and were released from jail. She knew that she could play on Charan Singh’s ambitions and hatreds to sow dissension in their ranks.
By September 1976, even those RSS activists who had been staunchly opposing the Emergency till then were ready to throw in the towel. The families of the forty thousand RSS members who had been jailed were in dire straits financially, and over eighty RSS members had died in custody
Dr GG Parikh wrote in his memoirs about how the RSS cadres in Yerawada jail “wrote letters of apology to Indira Gandhi, pledging that they would not indulge in political activities
In November 1976, over thirty leaders of the RSS, led by Madhavrao Muley, Dattopant Thengadi, and Moropant Pingle, wrote to Indira Gandhi, promising that if all RSS workers were first released from prison, then the RSS would support the Emergency. Their ‘Document of Surrender’, to take effect from January 1977, was processed by my father.
On 16 December 1976, two key members of Sanjay Gandhi’s cabal, Om Mehta, the minister of state for home, and Mohammed Yunus, an old Nehru family loyalist, invited some non-Hindutva secular opposition leaders – Biju Patnaik, Asoka Mehta, HM Patel, NG Goray, Samar Guha, Piloo Mody, and Krishna Kant – for talks.
These secular opposition leaders mooted that if some of the more stringent provisions of the Emergency were first relaxed, then they would be willing to work together with Indira Gandhi on certain policies in the national interest, and not oppose her in other spheres.
The DMK Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, whose government in Tamil Nadu had been dismissed by Indira Gandhi, too agreed that they would not oppose her.
Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was not invited for these talks, found out about them, and he visited Om Mehta. It was strongly rumoured that Vajpayee had offered to sever his connections with the RSS, and reveal the whereabouts of Subramanian Swamy, Madhavrao Muley, and other RSS activists who were still underground.
On his return from his meeting with Om Mehta, Vajpayee ordered the cadres of the ABVP to apologise unconditionally to Indira Gandhi. The ABVP students indignantly refused to obey Vajpayee, saying that they would rather be in jail.
Indira Gandhi reckoned that she could play on Charan Singh’s ego and ambitions to divide her opponents. He detested many other opposition leaders much more than he hated Indira Gandhi.
On 08 January 1977, he mooted to her that if she treated him as the principal opposition leader, and sidelined others, then he would cooperate with her in certain areas, and not oppose her in other spheres.
Finding her non-committal, he pointedly reminded her that he had protected her from Raj Narain and thereby lost his chief ministership in 1968.
In 1967, Charan Singh was heading the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal coalition government in Uttar Pradesh. The fragile SVD coalition had constituents from both the extreme right and the extreme left – Swatantra, Jan Sangh, various socialist groups, and the Communist Party of India CPI.
The Samyukta Socialist Party, headed by Raj Narain, wielded power far greater than its strength of 45 members, in this SVD coalition.
Indira Gandhi was due to visit Varanasi in January 1968 for the Indian Science Congress. Charan Singh received information that Raj Narain and other legislators of his Samyukta Socialist Party planned to attack her.
Charan Singh immediately arrested Raj Narain and other members of his own ruling coalition.
The irate Samyukta Socialist Party legislators withdrew support from Charan Singh, and Indira Gandhi imposed President’s Rule in February 1968 for one year. Then the Congress engineered defections away from Charan Singh’s SVD, and Chandra Bhanu Gupta formed a Congress government in February 1969.
SANJAY GANDHI HAD long disliked the ambitious Babu Jagjivan Ram, who had wanted to become prime minister after Nehru. While drawing up the lists of Congress party candidates, Sanjay drastically cut down on the tickets allocated to supporters of Jagjivan Ram.
Indira Gandhi had long been wary of the wily Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna’s grassroots popularity. During an election campaign in Uttar Pradesh in 1973, the front runners for chief minister were Krishna Chandra Pant and Bahuguna. She told my father: “Carefully observe both of them. Pant will hover around me, trying to impress me. But Bahuguna will be out campaigning together with the party workers”.
Indeed Bahuguna declined a lunch invitation from the prime minister to instead have lunch with the rank and file Congress party workers. Indira Gandhi then remarked to my father: “Bahuguna can become the chief minister even if I oppose him. The party workers owe their loyalty to him, not to me or to the Congress ideology”.
After leading the Congress party to a massive victory in March 1974 ( 215 out of 425 seats ) and driving a wedge between the Bharatiya Kranti Dal and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, Bahuguna moved quickly to undermine the prime minister’s power base in Uttar Pradesh. He pointedly told her: “In order to move ahead, Sanjay has to walk on his own feet, not ride on your shoulders or mine”.
Indira Gandhi retaliated by sending Yashpal Kapoor to foment dissension among Bahuguna’s cabinet ministers. Sycophants had convinced her that Bahuguna would make a bid for the prime ministership himself ( Russi Karanjia’s Blitz projected him as a future PM ); Sanjay’s succession would not be smooth as long as Bahuguna was in power in UP.
She did not take Bahuguna into confidence about any of the Emergency measures; he learnt about it well after her radio broadcast.
Sanjay Gandhi was suspicious of the ambitious and shrewd Bahuguna, and had him replaced as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh by a pliant Narayan Dutt Tiwari on 29 November 1975.
My father then quipped to the cartoonist Abu Abraham of the Indian Express: “Bahuguna had to go because he was interfering in the internal affairs of UP”, and Abraham drew a hard hitting cartoon which managed to pass the censors.
Indira Gandhi ought to have realised that Jagjivan Ram and Bahuguna would retaliate for being cut to size by Sanjay.
But she had no clue at all when on 02 February 1977, Jagjivan Ram, Bahuguna, and Nandini Satpathy defected from her Congress party, and set up their own party called CFD Congress for Democracy. Even the intelligence agencies were in the dark.
She then told my father: “It is all over now. I am sure to lose the elections.” But she added mysteriously: “It will be a relief if I lose, an absolute relief.”
Before announcing his resignation to the media, Jagjivan Ram had telephoned Jaya Prakash Narayan. JP then issued a statement to the press: “I congratulate Jagjivan Babu on his resignation from the central cabinet and the Congress party. I am sure the Janata Party will welcome him with open arms. I would also congratulate Bahuguna and Nandini Satpathy who too are reported to have resigned from the Congress. This is a historic moment and I think the coming elections will change the course of history and give a new lease of life to democracy and our democratic institutions and strengthen the power of the people”.
The intelligence agencies came to know about their defection only when Jagjivan Ram, Bahuguna, and Satpathy began to address a press conference, where they read out JP’s statement. Bahuguna derisively referred to the Emergency as “One and a Half Person Rule”.
Indira Gandhi was at that moment chairing a meeting of her Congress party. Noting that Jagjivan Ram had not arrived even half an hour after the meeting began, she asked RK Dhawan to locate him. Dhawan returned after a while and whispered to her that at that very moment, Jagjivan Ram, Bahuguna, and Satpathy were addressing a press conference. Always in total control of herself, she calmly announced: “Jagjivan Ram is no longer in the Congress”. Most of those present surmised that she had expelled him.
But Indira Gandhi’s response to Jagjivan Ram was quite lame, uncharacteristic of her hard hitting style: “I fail to understand why you have resigned when elections have been announced, most of the restrictions under the Emergency have been relaxed, press censorship has been withdrawn, and political prisoners released…It is strange that you should have remained silent all these months and made baseless charges now…Even at the AICC meeting in Guwahati, you fully supported our policies and never expressed any reservation or doubt, whether directly or indirectly…”
But even then, Indira Gandhi did not lose her sense of humour. The day Jagjivan Ram and Bahuguna defected was also the day when the Indian cricket team won a test match against Tony Greig’s visiting MCC team, having already lost the test series. She joked to my father: “As usual, the Indian press has no news sense. The correct priority of the headlines should be – India wins Test, Jagjivan Ram defects”.
Indira Gandhi had a grudging admiration for the wily Bahuguna’s uncanny ability to predict changing political trends months in advance, and always place himself on the winning side. Bahuguna’s instincts and intuition were the stuff of legend. During the freedom movement, he had been an underground resistor, and the British had placed a huge price on his head. Whenever danger was imminent, Bahuguna’s nose would start itching. On at least twenty occasions, Bahuguna managed to escape seconds before the police closed in on him.
She told my father: “Now that Bahuguna has abandoned me, I will be wiped out in Uttar Pradesh.”
All the Congress party workers in UP did indeed immediately desert Indira Gandhi to join Bahuguna in the Congress for Democracy. He had built a solid support base among Muslims and Brahmins, and these two groups, across the Hindi belt, went entirely with him in the elections.
To further refute the popular notion that she called for elections because she was confident of winning easily, she confided in her friend US Senator Charles Percy on 13-14 February 1977 that she would lose badly and that she was very worried about what would happen to her son Sanjay.
She also confided in another friend, the prominent US editor Norman Cousins, that one of the many reasons why she was compelled to declare the Emergency was because what subsequently happened to Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman on 15 August 1975 would have first happened to her, adding that sometimes she felt that it might have been better if she had met the same fate as Mujib.
Elections to the Lok Sabha were held from 16 to 20 March 1977. The hastily cobbled together Janata Party obtained 298 seats, and together with its allies, won 345 seats.
The ruling Congress party and its allies (Communist Party of India 23 seats, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam 19 seats) obtained 189 seats.
One of the last acts of the defeated Indira Gandhi government, as it submitted its resignation to acting president Basappa Danappa Jatti, was to end the Emergency. Home Minister Kasu Brahmananda Reddy went over to Jatti with the cabinet resolution ending the Emergency.
Jatti detained Brahmananda Reddy until the notification was printed in the government gazette, which happened at 4 am. The acting president wanted to ensure that Sanjay Gandhi did not try any last-minute tricks, and so he held the outgoing home minister as a hostage.
The rifts and contradictions in the hastily cobbled together Janata coalition became apparent even before it took office. The defeated Indira Gandhi dubbed the Janata coalition as a khichdi, and she told numerous international economists that the economic policies described in the Janata’s election manifesto were nonsensical.
Morarji Desai, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Chaudhary Charan Singh, and Chandra Shekhar all claimed that they should become prime minister.
Although the erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh faction had obtained 102 MPs out of 345 in the Janata coalition, it did not stake a claim for the prime ministership. The RSS preferred a low key wait and watch strategy, knowing that it was not yet acceptable to large parts of the nation, and that many of the other partners of the Janata coalition were suspicious of them.
91 of these 102 Jan Sangh MPs belonged to Vajpayee’s faction, even though he had worked out a deal with Indira Gandhi in September 1975 that he would not oppose the Emergency in exchange for being released on parole.
The erstwhile Bharatiya Lok Dal of Charan Singh and Swatantra won well over a hundred seats; the Congress (O) faction won 20 seats; the Akali Dal won all the nine seats in Punjab; and the Marxists won 22 seats.
Getting wind of the moves by the Sarvodaya Quartet against Jagjivan Ram, Charan Singh called on Kripalani, and claimed that the Janata coalition’s election strategy was entirely his brainchild (because Morarji and Chandra Shekhar were in solitary confinement right up till elections were announced and Jagjivan Ram was in Indira’s cabinet), and therefore he should be nominated as the prime minister
Even though his Congress for Democracy (Indira Gandhi derisively dubbed the CFD as Congress for Defectors) had won only 28 seats, Jagjivan Ram asked for the support of the 102 MPs belonging to the erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh, as well as the 35 MPs belonging to the Socialist bloc, emphasising that he had the support of Harijans and Dalits across the nation. He also tried to induce defections from Harijan / Dalit MPs from the Congress as well as from other parties.
Ramnath Goenka, the owner of the Indian Express, who was close to the RSS and especially Nanaji Deshmukh, as well as to JP, threw the weight of his media empire behind Jagjivan Ram.
Vajpayee and Jagjivan Ram quickly worked out a deal. In return for Vajpayee’s support, Jagjivan Ram would make him the deputy prime minister.
With a long-term vision, Vajpayee hoped to access Jagjivan’s electoral support base of Harijans / Dalits and Bahuguna’s support among Muslims, and thereby emerge as a powerful undisputed prime ministerial candidate with nationwide acceptability in the next elections.
The Jat leader Chaudhary Charan Singh, head of the Bharatiya Lok Dal faction, with his strong support base among farmers of north India, too could count on over a hundred MPs supporting him, especially those who disliked Jagjivan Ram. The erstwhile Swatantra party members supported him.
Charan Singh claimed that the clean sweep by the Janata in the northern states was entirely due to his efforts.
My maternal uncle, KS Radhakrishna, who was head of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, and the closest advisor of JP for decades, together with his fellow Sarvodaya associates of Mahatma Gandhi – Narayanbhai Desai, Siddharaj Dhaddha, and Govind Rao Deshpande – thought that either Jagjivan Ram or Charan Singh as prime minister would be disastrous for the nation.
Jagjivan Ram was widely perceived to be corrupt ( Morarji Desai as finance minister announced that Jagjivan Ram had not paid income taxes for ten years; Ram’s lame response was that he was so busy that he forgot ), and there were numerous questions over Charan Singh’s acceptability, especially outside the Hindi belt.
Piloo Mody had quipped: “For Charan Singh, India stretches from Baghpat to Jhansi”, and Radhakrishna thought the southern states, which had voted overwhelmingly for Indira Gandhi, would be driven to secessionist rebellion if Charan Singh became prime minister.
Jagjivan Ram too was not acceptable to large sections of the southern populace.
Moreover, Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram had detested each other for decades, and if either was made prime minister, the other would immediately try to pull him down.
Charan Singh obnoxiously proclaimed that his Jat followers would never accept a Chamar (cobbler) as prime minister.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians determined that the best person to be prime minister was Morarji Desai.
Not only was Morarji an outstanding administrator, having been deputy prime minister and finance minister, he had the strongest moral claim, because it was his fast unto death which forced Indira Gandhi to dismiss her own Congress government (which was led by Chimanbhai Patel) in Gujarat in February 1974. ( See “Was Emergency Inevitable?”)
Further, Morarji had been in solitary confinement throughout the Emergency, firmly resisting all offers from Indira Gandhi of a rapprochement, unlike Vajpayee and Charan Singh.
The problem was that Morarji Desai was universally disliked because of his overweening ambition, his superiority complex, his know-it-all attitude, his obstinacy, and his puritanical moralistic sermonising.
This is why the Syndicate had worked to ensure Morarji’s defeat after the deaths of both Jawaharlal Nehru in May 1964 and Lal Bahadur Shastri in January 1966; the Syndicate’s motto was: ‘Anyone But Morarji’.
Another hurdle was that the Congress (O) faction had won only twenty seats. Because of Morarji’s obnoxious arrogant personality, it was not sure if even these twenty would support him.
Morarji had considered himself as the rightful successor to Jawaharlal Nehru, and he greatly resented Nehru’s desire to have JP succeed him as prime minister. Morarji was also jealous of the moral authority and saintly aura of JP, his junior by six years.
My father HY Sharada Prasad had written then: “Morarji Desai is like a peace-time general who thinks the top job should be his by virtue of seniority and duty diligently performed, rather than by any daring feats on the battlefield”. According to my father, it was Morarji’s utter predictability which enabled the Syndicate to easily outwit him in May 1964 and January 1966, and Indira Gandhi’s guerrilla warfare to demolish him in 1969.
The hatred between Jagjivan Ram and Morarji Desai dated back to the early 1960s, when, after the demise of Govind Ballabh Pant in March 1961, they had been involved in a bitter power struggle to be declared as the number two to Jawaharlal Nehru.
Jagjivan Ram had even asked Indira Gandhi for her support. Even though she was no longer involved in day to day Congress party affairs after stepping down as party president, Indira Gandhi utilised Jagjivan Ram to cut Morarji’s influence. Ever since then Indira Gandhi was wary of the ambitious Jagjivan Ram. Morarji retaliated by maintaining a dossier on Jagjivan Ram’s financial misdemeanours. But both Jagjivan Ram and Morarji were eased out by Nehru under the Kamaraj Plan in October 1963.
Most importantly, there had been personality clashes between Morarji and JP for decades. Morarji was six years older than JP – Morarji was born in 1896 and JP in 1902. ( Charan Singh was also born in 1902 and Jagjivan Ram in 1908. )
The strictly disciplined, methodical, decisive Morarji thought that JP was a destructive anarchist, who vacillated all the time. Indira Gandhi too had dubbed JP as ‘Woolly-Headed Theoretician of Chaos’.
However, from February 1974 onwards, Morarji and JP set aside their personal dislikes for the higher cause of defeating first Chimanbhai Patel, and then Indira Gandhi.
The southern states, especially Tamil Nadu, had reservations about Morarji, because of his past policies when a cabinet minister. But given Morarji’s sense of fair play, and insistence on good governance, Radhakrishna felt that the southern misgivings about Morarji could be overcome; most of them originated in Kamaraj’s dislike for Morarji.
Another major drawback of Morarji was his controversial businessman son, Kanti Desai. But Jagjivan Ram’s son, Suresh Ram, too was notorious, and Charan Singh’s wife was involved in controversial real estate deals.
The Sarvodaya Gandhian Quartet also determined that Nanaji Deshmukh of the RSS should be made the Deputy Prime Minister.
KS Radhakrishna had known Deshmukh from 1953 when Nanaji had participated in the Bhoodan movement of Acharya Vinobha Bhave, alongside JP; Radhakrishna was Vinobha’s and JPs principal aide in the Wardha Ashram.
Deshmukh had a high moral stature due to his decades of selfless social work. He also had a modern technocratic outlook, being a graduate from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science at Pilani. Most importantly, the conciliatory and unifying Nanaji would be ideal to offset the drawbacks of the arrogant, aloof, rigid Morarji.
Chandra Shekhar, who was very close to JP ( JP considered Chandra Shekhar to be his political heir ), too disliked Morarji. In 1969 the strong support of Chandra Shekhar and his Young Turks had enabled Indira Gandhi to demolish Morarji Desai and the Syndicate.
Jagjivan Ram shrewdly played upon Chandra Shekhar’s aversion to Morarji, and convinced him that supporting a Dalit would be in line with the progressive image which the socialists wanted to project.
After persuading Chandra Shekhar to withdraw from the contest, and support him instead, Jagjivan Ram also convinced George Fernandes and Madhu Limaye and NG Goray to support him too.
According to the eminent lawyer Shanti Bhushan, Treasurer of the Congress (O): “The Socialists had transformed their ideological opposition to Morarji Desai into support for Jagjivan Ram”.
Confident that they had the support of at least 165 MPs out of 345, Jagjivan Ram and HN Bahuguna and George Fernandes pressed for an open election.
Jagjivan Ram told the media on 22 March 1977 that he was ‘ready to assume the responsibilities which the nation had entrusted him with’, and that ‘he would strive with all his energies to serve the people and fulfil the trust they had reposed in him’.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians persuaded Jagjivan Ram and Bahuguna that an open election would be divisive for the newly formed Janata coalition.
They reminded the two that the Congress party election of January 1966, in which Indira Gandhi had defeated Morarji by 355 votes to 169, had actually set into motion the fissures which culminated in the Congress party splitting in 1969.
KS Radhakrishna, Narayanbhai Desai, Siddharaj Dhaddha, and Govind Rao Deshpande impressed upon JP to endorse Morarji. A magnanimous JP readily rose above his personal dislike of Morarji, because he too felt that Morarji had the highest moral claim.
The hurdle was that JP had publicly praised Jagjivan Ram for several years as an able administrator, turning a blind eye to his alleged corruption.
In fact, JPs approbation of Jagjivan Ram’s administrative acumen was one of the main reasons why Indira Gandhi began to distrust JP, and why she did not step down after the Allahabad High Court verdict which had declared her election invalid.
She had dictated her resignation to RK Dhawan who typed it out. But before she could sign it, Jagjivan Ram began canvassing that he should succeed her. Sanjay Gandhi, who knew that the JP and Jagjivan Ram duo would never permit her to reassume the prime ministership, vetoed her resignation.
According to PN Dhar, if Jagjivan Ram had not pressed so aggressively then, and had permitted her to install Dev Kant Barooah as a temporary figurehead prime minister, then she would not have declared the Emergency.
Because JP had not praised Morarji Desai or Charan Singh in public, the Janata party MPs took it for granted that JP’s preferred choice was Jagjivan Ram.
Time was running out because the new government had to be in place by 24 March 1977. So, on the evening of 23 March, KS Radhakrishna carried out a fait accompli by announcing to the press that Acharya JB Kripalani and JP would announce the name of the prime minister and the composition of the cabinet at noon the next day.
Each of the 345 newly elected MPs would give a note to Kripalani and JP indicating whom they supported for the prime ministership, as well as for the other cabinet portfolios. There would be no open election, and the final decision would be solely that of JP and Kripalani.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians worked throughout the night to ensure a unanimous consensus in favour of Morarji Desai. They had excellent credibility because of their high moral stature as Gandhiji’s associates, and that they would not benefit at all no matter whom they made the prime minister. All the Janata MPs were well aware that both JP and Kripalani would act exactly according to their recommendations.
The Sarvodaya Quartet met the MPs in small groups and informed them that JP now favoured Morarji. They emphasised that Jagjivan Ram had held a comfortable cabinet post all through the Emergency, while the rest of them had been jailed in harsh conditions. The alleged corruption of Jagjivan Ram was heavily underlined, as well as the fact that it was he who had sponsored the Emergency legislation in parliament.
Shanti Bhushan, who was the lawyer for Raj Narain in his election petition against Indira Gandhi, and also the Treasurer of the Congress (O), too was strongly opposed to Jagjivan Ram. After the Janata coalition was formed, Shanti Bhushan was made its treasurer. He went to JP and strongly argued against JP’s perceived support for Jagjivan Ram, emphasising that the new government could not be perceived to be corrupt.
Getting wind of the moves by the Sarvodaya Quartet against Jagjivan Ram, Charan Singh called on Kripalani, and claimed that the Janata coalition’s election strategy was entirely his brainchild (because Morarji and Chandra Shekhar were in solitary confinement right up till elections were announced and Jagjivan Ram was in Indira’s cabinet), and therefore he should be nominated as the prime minister.
Kripalani was horrified by Charan Singh’s crude attempts to influence him. Meanwhile, Morarji refrained from trying to garner support for himself, retreating early to his residence and refusing to meet anyone.
Morarji had learnt his lesson in May 1964, when he had canvassed vigorously to succeed Nehru within hours of the latter’s demise. Kuldip Nayar’s report in the United News of India that it was ‘sacrilegious on the part of Morarji to attempt to capture the premiership even before Nehru’s ashes were cold’ had filled the Congress cadres with revulsion, and they chose the humble Shastri instead.
Kripalani reprimanded Charan Singh sharply, saying that it was like a player trying to unduly influence an umpire. A rattled Charan Singh remarked that if Jagjivan Ram was made prime minister, then he and his hundred plus supporters would immediately leave the Janata coalition.
Several MPs taunted Charan Singh that he had tendered a cringing apology to Indira Gandhi in order to be among the first to be released from jail, in March 1976, and reminded him of the offer he had made to Indira Gandhi on 08 January 1977.
The ninety-year-old Kripalani had disliked Morarji for decades, but he too came to the opinion that Morarji was the most deserving of all the candidates, and with the highest moral claim, for having firmly resisted all overtures from Indira Gandhi, in stark contrast to Jagjivan Ram, Charan Singh, and Vajpayee.
Because of the taunts, Charan Singh developed chest pains, and had to be admitted to Willingdon hospital; an old urinary tract infection also flared up causing high fever. While he was in hospital, the Sarvodaya Quartet emphasised to all the MPs that Charan Singh had been released from prison as early as March 1976, after tendering an abject apology to Indira Gandhi. The controversial real estate deals of Charan Singh’s wife and sons in law were prominently highlighted.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians first tried to persuade JP’s political heir Chandra Shekhar to drop his recent switch of allegiance to Jagjivan Ram, and to instead support Morarji. But Chandra Shekhar, who disliked Morarji, flatly refused to do so.
The Sarvodaya Quartet then met Lal Krishna Advani of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. Advani told them that the Jan Sangh group was supporting Jagjivan Ram only because they were under the impression that he was the choice of JP, and also because he had the support of Harijans across the country.
The Quartet informed LK Advani that the large-hearted JP had switched his support to Morarji, rising above their mutual antipathy. The four of them then offered three senior cabinet positions to the Jan Sangh faction, plus the deputy prime ministership for Nanaji Deshmukh of the RSS.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians then met Nanaji, who too told them that the RSS was supporting Jagjivan Ram only because they were under the impression that he was the choice of JP, and had the backing of Dalits all across the nation.
The four of them informed Nanaji that JP had magnanimously risen above his dislike of Morarji to endorse him as the best choice. They offered Nanaji the deputy prime ministership, plus three senior cabinet positions to the Jan Sangh faction.
Simultaneously, Shanti Bhushan too tried to persuade all the Jan Sangh MPs to drop their support for Jagjivan Ram, arguing that he had moved the Emergency resolution in parliament.
Seeing that Vajpayee in his lust for power was willing to abandon Jagjivan Ram, and even his senior long-term colleague Nanaji Deshmukh, the Sarvodaya Quartet then threatened Vajpayee that if he did not ensure that his 91/102 MPs supported Morarji, then they would publicly reveal his ignominious role during the Emergency
The Sarvodaya Quartet then met Biju Patnaik, who told them outright that if Jagjivan Ram was made the prime minister, then both he and Charan Singh would immediately walk out of the Janata coalition. About a hundred MPs would go with them.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians then met Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. He had reached a deal with Jagjivan Ram that in exchange for the support of Vajpayee’s 91/102 MPs, Jagjivan Ram would make Vajpayee his deputy prime minister.
Vajpayee emphasised that with his 91/102 MPs, he had a stronger claim for the prime ministership than Jagjivan Ram (28 seats) and Morarji Desai (20 seats), commanding numbers equal to Charan Singh, who too had about a hundred.
Vajpayee, who knew how much the puritanical Morarji Desai detested him because of his libertine lifestyle, indicated that only if he first received an ironclad commitment from Morarji that he would be made deputy prime minister would he then extend his support to Morarji.
Seeing that Vajpayee in his lust for power was willing to abandon Jagjivan Ram, and even his senior long-term colleague Nanaji Deshmukh, the Sarvodaya Quartet then threatened Vajpayee that if he did not ensure that his 91/102 MPs supported Morarji, then they would publicly reveal his ignominious role during the Emergency.
Vajpayee, who had been in and out of hospital during the Emergency with numerous surgeries, had given an undertaking to Indira Gandhi as early as September 1975 that he would not oppose her. She then released him on parole.
It was whispered that Vajpayee had offered to sever his links with the RSS if that would keep him out of jail, and that he was willing to reveal the whereabouts of RSS and Jan Sangh activists who were still underground, such as Subramanian Swamy and Madhavrao Muley.
In December 1976, Om Mehta, the minister of state for home and the right-hand man of Sanjay Gandhi, reached out to non-Sangh Parivar opposition leaders such as Biju Patnaik, HM Patel, and Asoka Mehta, to find ways that non-Hindutva opposition parties could work together with the Indira Gandhi government. Om Mehta was responsible for several of the excesses of the Emergency.
Vajpayee, who was not invited for these meetings, found out about them. On his own initiative, he visited Om Mehta. On his return Vajpayee ordered the student activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP is the student wing of the RSS) to tender an unconditional apology to Indira Gandhi for perpetrating violence and disorder. The ABVP student leaders angrily replied to Vajpayee that they would never ever apologise to Indira Gandhi, and would prefer to remain in jail.
However, even after threatening Vajpayee that they would expose him, the Sarvodaya Quartet could not be certain that his 91/102 MPs would endorse Morarji.
Getting wind of the moves against him, Jagjivan Ram tried to meet JP. But with JP’s authorisation, Radhakrishna replied that such a meeting could take place only after the leadership issue was decided. This would be like a player trying to influence an umpire.
Jagjivan Ram claimed that it was his Tyaagapatra (resignation) which was instrumental in the defeat of Indira Gandhi. Even the gentle Laxmi Chand Jain was riled enough to retort: “Yours was only a Patra, there was no Tyaaga by you”.
On the morning of 24 March 1977, the newly elected Janata MPs assembled to convey their choices to JP and Acharya JB Kripalani.
JP abruptly sprung a shock by suddenly asking the 38-year-old Subramanian Swamy to sit between him and the ninety-year-old Kripalani while they ascertained the views of each MP.
It was Swamy who in 1974 had brought JP and the RSS together, much to the horror of JP’s closest advisors.
The stunned Sarvodaya Quartet were unsure whether JP would not again abandon his principles, as he had done in 1974 under the influence of Swamy and Ramnath Goenka.
As described in “Was Emergency Inevitable?”, all through the summer of 1974, Indira Gandhi and JP attempted to negotiate a compromise. Indira Gandhi’s negotiators were PN Dhar and my father. Both of them had known JP closely over a decade before they joined Indira Gandhi’s government.
JP’s negotiators were KS Radhakrishna, Sugata DasGupta, who was head of JP’s Gandhian Institute of Studies at Varanasi, Retired Justice VM Tarkunde, and Achyut Patwardhan, who was a cofounder with JP of the Congress Socialist Party in 1931.
Under Indira Gandhi’s instructions, PN Dhar and my father agreed to all of JP’s demands, except the dissolution of the Bihar assembly, and they entreated him to sort out his differences with her at the elections which were due before March 1976.
Just as these secret negotiations were on the verge of success, Saeed Naqvi published their complete details in the Statesman newspaper, and Sanjay Gandhi sabotaged them immediately.
Without consulting his own negotiating team, under the suggestions of Ram Nath Goenka, JP suddenly asked Subramanian Swamy, who was then a Bharatiya Jan Sangh Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh, to ascertain from Nanaji Deshmukh if the RSS was willing to provide him the cadre strength which he needed for his protracted war against Indira Gandhi.
In 1953, Nanaji Deshmukh had spent a couple of months in the Bhoodan movement, working along with JP and Acharya Vinobha Bhave; KS Radhakrishna was their aide.
In 1972, JP was recuperating from a heart attack at Radhakrishna’s ashram near Bengaluru. There Swamy brainwashed the ailing JP that he should return to active politics (JP had retired from party politics in 1954 after declining Jawaharlal Nehru’s offer to be his deputy prime minister and eventual successor) to lead the opposition to Indira Gandhi.
Swamy convened a meeting at the Allahabad residence of Murali Manohar Joshi, to which he invited JP, Nanaji, KN Govindacharya, and Kailashpati Mishra. It was decided there that the Bihar student leaders – Laloo Prasad Yadav, Sushil Kumar Modi, Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, etc – would cede the leadership of their agitation to JP and Nanaji.
JP declared that if anything happened to him, then Nanaji would take over the leadership of his Sampoorna Kranti Andolan. Nanaji, in turn, declared that if anything happened to him, then Sunder Singh Bhandari of the RSS would take over as the leader of the Andolan.
A furious Indira Gandhi then vowed that she would no longer negotiate with JP. She had inherited Nehru’s deep suspicion of the RSS, which was totally antithetical to her ideals of India as a secular nation.
JP’s own team of KS Radhakrishna, Sugata Das Gupta, Achyut Patwardhan, and Retired Justice VM Tarkunde, as well as his political heir Chandra Shekhar, were kept totally in the dark about JP’s abruptly reaching out to the RSS and ABVP.
They were aghast at his suddenly abandoning the principles of a lifetime, since JP had been second only to Nehru in vociferously condemning Hindutva and the RSS, right from 1942.
PN Dhar and my father, as well as JP’s own above mentioned advisors, reminded JP of his past statements castigating the RSS: “…Although almost every religious community has its own brand of communalism, Hindu communalism is more pernicious than the others, because Hindu communalism can easily masquerade as Indian nationalism and denounce all opposition to it as being anti-national…”
He had also said, “Some like the RSS might do it openly by identifying the Indian nation with Hindu Rashtra, others might do it more subtly…But in every case, such identification is pregnant with national disintegration, because members of other communities can never accept the position of second-class citizens…Such a situation, therefore, has in it the seeds of perpetual conflict and ultimate disruption.”
This as well: “Those who attempt to equate India with Hindus and Indian history with Hindu history are only detracting from the greatness of India and the glory of Indian history and civilisation. Such persons, paradoxical though this may seem, are in reality the enemies of Hinduism itself and the Hindus. Not only do they degrade the noble religion and destroy its catholicity and spirit of tolerance and harmony, but they also weaken and sunder the fabric of the nation, of which Hindus form such a vast majority…”
The final straw for Indira Gandhi was when JP addressed RSS workers declaring: “If the RSS is Fascist, then so am I”. One of her principal aims in declaring the Emergency was to destroy the RSS and the ABVP.
My father HY Sharada Prasad reproached JP in sorrow: “If Prabhavati Deviji were alive, she would never have allowed you to ally with the RSS, let alone grow so far apart from your closest friend’s daughter”.
JPs recently deceased wife Prabhavati Devi was the daughter of a prominent Congress leader, lawyer, and a guide of Mahatma Gandhi, Braj Kishore Prasad. She had grown up in Mahatma Gandhi’s ashrams, was the closest friend of Indira Gandhi’s mother, and had nursed Motilal Nehru in his dying days. It was she who had converted the Marxist JP to Sarvodaya and Gandhian thoughts.
AFTER A HURRIED CONSULTATION with JP, Nanaji Deshmukh and Shanti Bhushan went to meet Vajpayee, and ordered him to drop his support for Jagjivan Ram. Vajpayee realised that his hopes of becoming deputy prime minister were dashed, and burst into tears.
The three of them, together with several of Vajpayee’s followers, then called on Jagjivan Ram, and informed him that the Jan Sangh was reneging on its pledge to support him.
According to Shanti Bhushan, “When Jagjivan Ram realised how matters stood, he flew into a temper and shouted at the Jan Sanghis. Vajpayee wept and put his head on Jagjivan Ram’s lap, seeking forgiveness, but Jagjivan Ram would not be pacified. All his life he had felt that high caste leaders were not prepared to have a prime minister who came from the scheduled castes. He had seen the prime minister’s office within his grasp, and he felt, perhaps rightly, that those who had promised him their support were abandoning him at the crucial moment”.
AT THE SAME TIME as Nanaji Deshmukh and Shanti Bhushan were setting off to meet first Vajpayee and then Jagjivan Ram, the flabbergasted Sarvodaya Gandhian Quartet were wondering what JP might suddenly do under the maverick Swamy’s baleful influence.
In spite of their threatening to reveal in public that Vajpayee was willing to jettison the RSS during the Emergency to stay out of jail, there was still no certainty that Vajpayee would actually switch his support from Jagjivan Ram to Morarji at the moment of reckoning.
Reeling from the sudden shock of JP asking Swamy to sit between him and Kripalani, the stunned Sarvodaya Gandhian Quartet in desperation decided to turn to the wily manipulators Chandra Bhanu Gupta and Raj Narain.
But first, they had to work on CB Gupta.
Gupta, who had been chief minister of Uttar Pradesh four times in the 1960s, had strongly supported Morarji in January 1966 when the latter had contested against Indira for the prime ministership. Gupta stood by Morarji when the latter had been sacked by Indira in 1969; they had been fellow victims of the Kamaraj Plan in October 1963.
But this time, even though he was a leader of the Congress (O) faction, CB Gupta was canvassing for Jagjivan Ram. Gupta’s main objective was to prevent his nemesis Charan Singh from coming to power. Gupta thought that Morarji had no chance, since the Congress (O) had only about twenty MPs. The Sarvodaya quartet informed Gupta of the efforts they were making for Morarji.
Nanaji told me that being JPs political heir, and not having powerful enemies (even though Indira Gandhi had jailed Chandra Shekhar, they remained on good terms personally), Chandra Shekhar had initially been a strong contender, but that Vajpayee had sabotaged Chandra Shekhar’s candidature at the very outset
The four Gandhians dispatched CB Gupta and Raj Narain to work on Charan Singh, who had been admitted to Willingdon Hospital with chest pains and urinary tract infection.
Charan Singh, Chandra Bhanu Gupta, and Raj Narain, as well as Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, had convoluted relationships, marked by opportunistic alliances of convenience, exploitation, and treacherous backstabbing.
In November-December 1960, CB Gupta, who was a minister in Sampoornanand’s cabinet, used Charan Singh and Kamalapati Tripathi as his hatchet men to overthrow Dr Sampoornanand and become chief minister (in 1959 Dr Sampoornanand had ousted Charan Singh from his cabinet for criticising Jawaharlal Nehru).
Even though CB Gupta made him a senior cabinet minister, Charan Singh subsequently felt that Gupta had not rewarded him sufficiently.
In March-April 1967, Charan Singh, instigated by Nanaji Deshmukh and Ram Manohar Lohia, overthrew CB Gupta to head a non-Congress coalition.
Even though the secular minded Charan Singh had personally hated the RSS, in his lust for power, he asked the Jan Sangh for their support. Leaving the Congress after a four-decade-long association, he obtained support from both the extreme right and the extreme left – Swatantra, Jan Sangh, various socialist groups, and the Communist Party of India CPI, to form the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal coalition. Lohia, who detested the Congress, got the various socialist groups to support Charan Singh to overthrow the Congress. Nanaji Deshmukh got the Jan Sangh to support Charan Singh. In spite of Deshmukh being instrumental in deposing Chandra Bhanu Gupta three times during the 1960s, the two remained on good terms personally.
The Samyukta Socialist Party, headed by Raj Narain, wielded power far greater than its strength of 45 members, in this SVD coalition.
Indira Gandhi was due to visit Varanasi in January 1968 for the Indian Science Congress. Charan Singh received information that Raj Narain and other legislators of his Samyukta Socialist Party planned to attack her.
Even though he disliked Nehru and her intensely, Charan Singh immediately arrested Raj Narain and other members of his own ruling coalition.
The irate Samyukta Socialist Party legislators withdrew support from Charan Singh, and Indira Gandhi imposed President’s Rule in February 1968 for one year.
In the political chaos, CB Gupta managed to engineer defections away from Charan Singh’s broad coalition, and he formed a Congress government in February 1969.
Charan Singh felt that Indira Gandhi was not sufficiently grateful to him, that he had lost power for trying to protect her; but that her party had ousted him instead. Right from the 1950s, Charan Singh had been inimical to the Nehru family. He considered himself to be a better writer than Jawaharlal Nehru, and was miffed that his numerous books had not received the accolades which Nehru’s books did.
When the Congress party split in 1969, UP chief minister CB Gupta sided with the Congress (O) faction, while Kamalapati Tripathi headed the Indira faction.
In January-February 1970, Charan Singh once again reached out to both Raj Narain’s Samyukta Socialist Party as well as the Jan Sangh. With their support, he out maneuvered both CB Gupta and Kamalapati Tripathi, and became chief minister once more.
But by October 1970, Indira Gandhi engineered defections from Charan Singh’s coalition, and her Congress faction came to power. The shots were called by her remotely from Delhi ( Tribhuvana Narayana Singh and Kamalapati Tripathi were her puppet chief ministers ), and she quickly castrated any politician who became too popular, including from her own supporters.
In March 1974, HN Bahuguna led the Indira Congress to a huge electoral victory, handing defeat to both Charan Singh and CB Gupta. Both of them realised that they were unlikely to attain power again as long as Bahuguna headed the Congress in UP.
Bahuguna’s power base of Muslims and Brahmins outnumbered Charan Singh’s base of Jats and some Yadavs, and CB Gupta’s base of banias.
Even though he had almost single handedly led her party to a massive victory, Indira Gandhi was wary of the wily and ambitious Bahuguna’s immense grass roots popularity. Everyone dubbed Bahuguna ‘the Natwarlal of Indian politics’. He got numerous stories planted in the media, including in Russi Karanjia’s Blitz, speaking of him as a future prime minister.
On 29 November 1975, Sanjay Gandhi, who knew that his ascent to power would not be smooth as long as Bahuguna was chief minister of UP, got rid of him, replacing him by a pliant Narayan Dutt Tiwari.
Since 1960, Raj Narain had frequently accused CB Gupta of corruption, and obnoxiously referred to him in public as Chootiya Behenchod Gupta. However, CB Gupta later secretly utilised Raj Narain as his hatchet man.
Because most politicians were under the impression that they were bitter enemies, since they were constantly abusing each other in public, CB Gupta cut the throats of his opponents without them even realising it, using the services of Raj Narain.
CB Gupta secretly funded Raj Narain in his campaigns against Indira Gandhi, even as Vajpayee was pressuring Raj Narain to withdraw his election suit against her.
In March 1976, Charan Singh, who had been arrested on 25 June 1975, cut a deal with Indira Gandhi, and was released from Tihar jail. He detested other opposition leaders even more than he hated Indira Gandhi. On 8 January 1977, he mooted to her that if she recognised him as the principal opposition leader and sidelined others, then he would cooperate with her on certain policy issues, and not oppose her on other matters. Finding her non-committal, he pointedly reminded her of how he had protected her in January 1968, and thereby lost his chief ministership for her sake.
WHILE CB GUPTA WAITED in an ante room, Raj Narain went inside and told Charan Singh that he had been outnumbered by his enemy Jagjivan Ram, because the Jan Sangh had, in the end, stuck to its original decision of supporting Jagjivan. ( Charan Singh had no means of verifying whether or not this was true ).
As instructed by Gupta, Raj Narain added that the deputy prime minister would be his nemesis, HN Bahuguna.
This was not true. It was a trick. There was no way that both the prime minister and the deputy prime minister could come from the same small party, the 28 member CFD.
But in his highly fevered condition, Charan Singh, who detested Bahuguna even more than he hated Jagjivan Ram, fell for this false cunning ruse.
As instructed by Gupta from the ante room, Raj Narain told Charan Singh that since he himself did not have the numbers, the only way he could block his enemies Jagjivan Ram and Bahuguna from being sworn in that very evening by BD Jatti was by withdrawing from the contest and transferring his support to Morarji.
CB Gupta and Raj Narain drafted a letter purporting to be from Charan Singh, and forced him to sign it. This letter addressed to JP said that Charan Singh would prefer to go back to being jailed by Indira Gandhi rather than work under Jagjivan Ram, and that he was therefore withdrawing from the contest and transferring his support to Morarji.
CB Gupta and Raj Narain included several sentences praising Morarji, emphasising that Morarji was the most senior among all of them, and castigating Jagjivan Ram for being a cabinet minister during the Emergency and moving the Emergency resolution in parliament (in July 1979 when Charan Singh rebelled against Morarji with the help of Sanjay Gandhi, this letter was pulled out to show that Charan Singh was a backstabbing turncoat).
CB Gupta and Raj Narain rushed back and interrupted the MPs filing past JP and Kripalani. They dramatically read out the letter which they had forced the ailing Charan Singh to sign, transferring his support to Morarji.
Simultaneously, Shanti Bhushan’s ultimatums to Vajpayee and Jagjivan Ram were also successful.
Subramanian Swamy recounted in a Tamil magazine: “I was there with JP when Vajpayee came running – panting for breath – and expressed his support to Morarji. JP turned towards me and winked his gleaming eyes and smiled. Poor Jagjivan Ram was not aware of these developments.”
Without waiting for all the MPs to complete conveying their preferences to JP and Acharya Kripalani, Chandra Bhanu Gupta rushed outdoors and announced to the huge press corps waiting outside that JP and Kripalani had decided on Morarji Desai, with Jagjivan Ram and Charan Singh to hold the heavyweight portfolios of defence and home.
Jagjivan Ram, HN Bahuguna, George Fernandes, and Ram Dhan threw a furious tantrum at being tricked, telling the assembled press persons that this was a murder of democracy, worse than anything that Indira Gandhi had ever done.
Jagjivan Ram screamed to the journalists, “Iss Kambakkht Mulk Mein Ek Chamaar Kabhi Sardaar Nahin Ban Saktaa.”
JP, after consulting with Chandra Shekhar, mollified Jagjivan Ram and HN Bahuguna. JP persuaded them that in the interest of the nation, they should join Morarji’s cabinet, telling the assembled press persons: “Jagjivan Ram is not just an exceptional leader but a political and social force without whom it is not possible to build a new India…The country needs Jagjivan Ram’s cooperation”.
With the intention of curbing Morarji’s power, JP announced that his political heir Chandra Shekhar would be the president of the Janata Party.
Indira Gandhi had jailed Chandra Shekhar in solitary confinement throughout the Emergency, in spite of his being a Congress MP and the leader of the Young Turks faction in her Congress party. Chandra Shekhar’s strong support to her in 1969 had been crucial in her being able to defeat Morarji Desai and the Syndicate.
Chandra Shekhar had wisely told Indira Gandhi after JP and Nanaji had been seriously injured in a brutal lathi charge by the Patna police on 4 November 1974: “Since JP and Nanaji are not interested in power, you cannot hope to defeat them using the instruments of power”.
CB Gupta, Nanaji, and George Fernandes endorsed Chandra Shekhar, who disliked Morarji, as the Janata party’s president.
My conjecture is that the major reason why JP chose Chandra Shekhar was to curb the power of the RSS over the Janata government. I think that JP had by now realised that he had been inextricably entangled in the tentacles of the RSS. Chandra Shekhar was a staunch socialist who detested the RSS intensely.
At the moment of his greatest triumph, Nanaji Deshmukh declined the offer to become the deputy prime minister and industry minister.
Nanaji felt that his closeness with JRD Tata, Nusli Wadia, the Mohan Meakin liquor group, and other business leaders, from whom he had raised significant political funds, could lead to conflicts of interest (the Mohan Meakin liquor group had funded politicians across the political spectrum – from Sanjay Gandhi, to his mother’s nemesis Raj Narain to Nanaji and Vajpayee. From 1970 onwards, the Mohan Meakin family had tried to bring Nanaji and Indira Gandhi together, but she was suspicious of the RSS).
Nanaji was more interested in strengthening the diverse Janata coalition and preferred to be its general secretary.
The industry portfolio went to George Fernandes, even though Morarji – and JP – strongly disapproved of Fernandes’ espousal of violence to overthrow Indira Gandhi.
Subramanian Swamy was supremely confident that he would be made finance minister, with his closeness to both JP and Morarji, and his Harvard doctorate in economics, where he worked with Nobel laureates.
But Swamy’s bitter enemy in the Jan Sangh, Vajpayee, who became foreign minister, saw to it that he did not get any post.
Instead, Morarji picked HM Patel of the Lok Dal faction, to be his finance minister. HM Patel, who had earlier been in the Swatantra party, was a retired ICS officer who had been home secretary and defence secretary, and had studied economics at Oxford.
The prominent Socialist leader Madhu Limaye was not included in the Janata government, but he remained one of the general secretaries of the coalition. Another socialist leader Surendra Mohan declined to become a minister; he was appointed spokesperson – he was a prominent columnist with several journals.
Morarji Desai, who was a stickler for correct procedures, said that since Indira Gandhi was still the prime minister, they should inform her about the decisions which were taken.
KS Radhakrishna and Laxmi Chand Jain suggested that they invite her to the Gandhi Peace Foundation for tea.
JP, who knew how intensely most of the newly elected Janata MPs detested her, thought that this could lead to awkward situations.
In fact, a few days later, soon after the Janata government had been sworn in, Acharya JB Kripalani would tell the media: “In any other country Mrs Gandhi would have been hanged or put into prison without any trial for the atrocities committed by her government. There is no question of showing her any mercy or forgiveness”. Nanaji Deshmukh, too told the press, in his official capacity as general secretary of the Janata coalition, “Mrs Gandhi should be tried by a special court for her anti-people and anti-national acts and for subverting the Constitution”.
JP picked up the phone and spoke to her affectionately. She responded warmly, and offered to immediately drive down to Gandhi Peace Foundation so that she could personally congratulate each one of the newly elected Janata MPs.
Apprehending violence against her by some of the newly elected Janata MPs, JP told her: “Beti, you are my niece, and you have to do as I tell you. I am right now getting into my car to come over to meet you”.
JP, who had been executor of Motilal Nehru’s estate, knew the precarious state of her finances. He asked her: “Beti, now that you no longer have even your MPs salary, how will you meet your expenses.”
She replied that the royalties of her father’s books would see her through, if she lived frugally.
JP, having been a custodian of Jawaharlal Nehru’s records, replied that his royalties would barely cover her grocery expenses, adding: “You don’t even have a roof over your head. The house you are building on the Mehrauli plot which Feroze bought is far from complete”.
Without Indira’s knowledge, NK Seshan pushed Nehru’s foreign publishers to increase their royalties, as well as commission her for a couple of books, with an advance. Mohammed Yunus gave her his bungalow at 12 Willingdon Crescent, and Morarji okayed this.
Ram Nath Goenka too had a one-on-one meeting with her before she demitted office. It had long been rumoured that she was well aware that Goenka, who had been close to her late husband Feroze Gandhi, possessed sensitive information about her, as well as copies of her secret intelligence files on her colleagues.
According to her family retainer Mohammed Yunus, Goenka mooted that if she enabled Jagjivan Ram to become prime minister soon, then he would not blackmail her. In response, she indicated all the information she possessed about Goenka’s numerous misdemeanours.
Less than twenty four hours after he was nowhere in the race, with fewer than twenty MPs backing him, Morarji Desai was sworn in as prime minister by acting president BD Jatti on 24 March 1977.
The peacetime general, as my father had dubbed him, finally succeeded in his fourth attempt in thirteen years.
Morarji visited Charan Singh in Willingdon Hospital and told him and Biju Patnaik that they could not expect any favours in return for their support which had made him the prime minister.
The list of ministers was sent to Jatti early on 26 March 1977. Morarji did not include many names which Charan Singh was keen on.
According to Shanti Bhushan who became law minister: “Charan Singh had probably thought that he would be very influential in deciding the entire cabinet because he had made way for Morarji Desai to be prime minister.”
Jagjivan Ram, Bahuguna, Fernandes, and Raj Narain boycotted the swearing in ceremony on 27 March 1977, throwing more tantrums. They were sworn in later after extracting further concessions from JP.
The four Sarvodaya Gandhians proposed a rotation of power for the next five years, going in order of age – that after twenty months, Morarji would step down in favour of Charan Singh, who was six years younger. After a further twenty months, Charan Singh would abdicate in favour of Jagjivan Ram, who was six years younger.
Morarji did not explicitly agree to this power sharing formula, and KS Radhakrishna had his doubts whether Morarji would actually step down after his twenty months at the top were over.
Morarji told his confidantes that he expected Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram to die soon, since they were in poor health. Although they were six and twelve years younger than him, he was much fitter than them.
Charan Singh too told his confidantes that he endorsed Morarji from his hospital bed because he expected the 81-year-old Morarji to die at any moment, giving him a long tenure at the top.
This got reported back to Morarji, who during his premiership, had the intelligence agencies give him regular reports on the health of both Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram.
Shanti Bhushan, who became the Law Minister, stated that a government where each of the top three leaders hoped for the death of the other two, could not expect to last long.
The senior RSS member who was to take over from my father (the RSS intended to have him as their spy in Morarji’s prime ministerial office) was so excited, that just seconds before he took the oath of secrecy and signed the official register, he had a massive heart attack. As his staff members rushed to lift him up, Morarji turned to my father, and in his matter-of-fact business-like manner, said: ” I don’t think he will survive. I have known you for so many decades. You continue with me till I find someone suitable “.
Morarji rehabilitated NK Seshan for his heroically stymieing many of Sanjay Gandhi’s excesses from within Indira Gandhi’s residence. Seshan had loyally served Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi since 1944; Nehru affectionately referred to Seshan as the son he never had. Sanjay greatly harassed the man who had dangled him on his knee, having NK Seshan thrown out of his government accommodation. Morarji gave NK Seshan a posting in the embassy in Washington DC, on a promotion. Summoned by the Shah Commission, Seshan loyally refused to provide any information which could damage Indira Gandhi.
NK Seshan, MS Menon, and my father took Morarji Desai to a room in South Block and told him: “All the contents of this room are the personal family papers of Indira Gandhi and her father. There are no government documents here. She was keeping them here only because she did not have enough space in her residence”.
Without hesitation, Morarji Desai immediately ordered all the cupboards to be loaded onto trucks and delivered to Mohammed Yunus, personally supervising the loading.
Charan Singh reached out to the Jan Sangh faction, and they worked out a deal that they would not harm each other, and that they would work together to curb the powers of both Chandra Shekhar and Morarji.
Ironically, in July 1979, Charan Singh raised the excuse of the Jan Sangh faction not having severed its links with the RSS to overthrow Morarji.
George Fernandes, Raj Narain, Charan Singh, Nanaji Deshmukh, and JB Kripalani wanted to take harsh revenge against Indira Gandhi, but JP and Morarji and Chandra Shekhar were firm that she should not be harassed in any manner.
Morarji insisted that her electoral defeat was sufficient punishment. JP cautioned the Janata leaders: “You all should realise that Indu’s political career is far from over”.
Shanti Bhushan wrote in his memoirs ‘Courting Destiny’ that Charan Singh had told him: “Indira needs to be stripped and flogged at public crossroads”.
Charan Singh’s clumsy arrest of Indira Gandhi, against the advice of the law minister, after his declaration: “The public thinks we are a bunch of impotent old men”, was exploited by her to paint herself as a martyr, and generated much public sympathy for her.
The Mohan Meakin liquor group, who had long funded Sanjay Gandhi, as well as Raj Narain, Nanaji, and Vajpayee, helped protect Sanjay from the vengeance of Janata hard liners.
Morarji had the intelligence agencies conduct round the clock surveillance on his foreign minister Vajpayee as he suspected the latter was passing on cabinet secrets to Sanjay and Indira Gandhi.
The Prohibitionist Morarji tried to shut down the Mohan Meakin liquor group, but they ousted him from the premiership instead. In 1979, they brought Sanjay Gandhi and his mother’s nemesis Raj Narain together over a series of lavish meals. Playing on Charan Singh’s ambition to become prime minister, Raj Narain got Charan Singh to raise the matter of the erstwhile Jan Sangh members continuing to maintain their links with the RSS.
Under Morarji Desai, the Janata government managed to limp on for two years. Under either Jagjivan Ram or Charan Singh, it would not have lasted even two months.
One of the big IFs of history is if a unifying conciliatory figure such as Nanaji or Chandra Shekhar or Vajpayee had become the premier. They had the ability to make friends across political parties, and build alliances by making concessions.
Some weeks after the fall of the second Vajpayee government in 1999, Nanaji Deshmukh told me that the Janata party was doomed from the outset because of the mutual hatreds that Morarji, Charan Singh, and Jagjivan Ram had for each other.
Therefore, Nanaji had made his famous proposal that nobody over the age of sixty should be a minister, as a way of getting rid of all of them simultaneously. Since Nanaji had just turned sixty himself, this excluded himself too.
Nanaji said Chandra Shekhar would have been a good choice for prime minister in March 1977.
Nanaji told me that being JPs political heir, and not having powerful enemies (even though Indira Gandhi had jailed Chandra Shekhar, they remained on good terms personally), Chandra Shekhar had initially been a strong contender, but that Vajpayee had sabotaged Chandra Shekhar’s candidature at the very outset. Therefore, Chandra Shekhar had thrown his weight behind Jagjivan Ram, after he had consulted Madhu Limaye.
But before I could get Nanaji could elaborate, some other visitors came, and our meeting had to be abandoned. I was not able to meet Nanaji again.
Radhakrishna told me that what went against Chandra Shekhar in 1977 was his lack of administrative experience; in spite of his long years as a parliamentarian, he had never been a minister even at the state level. In contrast, Morarji was the most competent and experienced administrator since independence, with an excellent track record as deputy prime minister and finance minister.
Radhakrishna added that his first priority was to prevent Charan Singh and his second was to prevent Jagjivan Ram from becoming prime minister, because they would immediately try to pull each other down. Charan Singh’s narrow-minded parochialism would have fomented secessionist rebellion in the southern states, which had voted overwhelmingly for Indira Gandhi.
After JP had led them to power, most of the Janata party leaders ignored him. Hardly any of them met JP during his painful illness. Only Chandra Shekhar and Indira Gandhi regularly visited JP during his tragic last months. Morarji flatly refused to call on JP. Jagjivan Ram never forgave JP for making Morarji the premier, using four letter words for JP. But Indira Gandhi and JP again grew close during his dying days.
The RSS had succeeded in exploiting JP to enter the national mainstream.
I had earlier spoken about Indira Gandhi’s grudging admiration for HN Bahuguna’s uncanny ability to foresee political trends months in advance, and to switch parties, always ending up on the winning side.
In July 1979, Bahuguna joined together with his bitter enemy for decades, Charan Singh, to overthrow Morarji, and he was rewarded with the plum Finance portfolio.
After Sanjay Gandhi pulled the rug from under Charan Singh in August 1979, Bahuguna rejoined Sanjay and Indira Gandhi in October 1979, and he successfully won Uttar Pradesh for her Congress in the January 1980 elections.
Recalling Bahuguna’s derisively dubbing the Emergency as ‘One and a Half Person Rule’, my father HY Sharada Prasad quipped then: “Bahuguna’s Theorem – The fastest road to power is a complete circle”.
However, Sanjay Gandhi again harassed Bahuguna greatly, and he left the Congress party in May 1980, and his political career went rapidly downhill after that.
Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad