Emergency episode: Dasu’s anecdote

(Dasu Keshav Rao)

This is a less-known episode from Indira Gandhi’s Emergency that had held the nation hostage for 19 long months of fear and anxiety.

Babu Jagjivan Ram, then Union Minister of Agriculture, was in Hyderabad to chair the meeting of the Governing Council of the National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) and later to brief the press.

I was then with The Indian Express. To be an Expressman during the Emergency was something, kind of a status symbol, it being the only newspaper to stand up to the dictatorship. I joined The Hindu days after emergency was lifted in January 1977.

We reporters were ferried to the NIRD campus at Rajendranagar. The Minister turned up more than an hour late, leaving us fuming and fretting. We even considered a boycott, but found it impractical since it meant ‘walking back 15 km. to our offices’. We decided not to ask questions, but maintain stoic silence. Jagjivan came at last, but chose not to explain why he kept us waiting. Noticing the grim faces, he asked us what the matter was.

Pratap Kishore of Deccan Chronicle: Sir the Government claims that emergency has brought about discipline and punctuality in the country, so vital for progress and development. Where is punctuality when a responsible Minister makes the press wait indefinitely?

Shaking with anger, the Minister shot back: You think I have nothing to do. As a minister I have hundred things to attend. How can I brief you until the meeting is over? He left abruptly in a huff.

The story has just begun. The same evening Chief Minister J. Vengal Rao received a call from Jagjivan Ram’s office wanting to know who had confronted him at the NIRD briefing. ‘Take care of him’ was the unspoken message.

Vengal Rao spoke to Chronicle’s managing editor, K.R. Pattabhiram, and in a friendly tone asked him to advise Pratap Kishore to be cautions.

The Union Minister, waiting for the feedback, was assured that the ‘matter’ had been satisfactorily settled. This was only for his consumption. No action was in fact taken.

Any other person in Vengal Rao’s place would have probably put a courageous journalist behind the bars, considering the unrestrained powers he held at the time.

It is another story that the same person chose to break with Indira Gandhi and join the historic struggle against the authoritarian Government and became Deputy Prime Minister.