Tales from across the Border
By Dr Asif Javed
“I cannot count how many threats and hate mail I have received in my journalistic career. They have largely emanated from Hindus who believe that I take a pro-Muslim and pro-Pakistan stand,” writes Kuldip Nayar in his memoirs, Beyond the Lines. The Sialkot-born journalist who is in the twilight of his career, has recently written a candid account of his life. That KN had an eventful life is an understatement: he was present when the Pakistan Resolution was passed (1940), at Tashkant (1965) and Simla (1972); he has witnessed momentous events and has interviewed people who have made history. Unarguably, one of the best syndicated columnists in India, he has served as India’s Ambassador in UK and has been a member of Rajya Sabha. So he has seen it all. Here are some excerpts from his autobiography. The comments in brackets are mine.
Modi at Work : The police behaved as if the force had been given instructions ‘not to interfere’. The then President Narayanan wrote a letter to PM Vajpayee and CM Modi to call the army immediately and order it to shoot at sight. He did not even get acknowledgement for his letters. Subsequently, a top police officer said in an affidavit that he was present when Modi had ordered the killing of Muslims. During the riots, the New York Times had got hold of transcripts of conversation between the police control room and officers on the streets. The advice was to allow Muslim houses to burn and to prevent aid from reaching the victims. Elsewhere in Gujrat, it was worse. The police instigated and protected the rioters….It was a case of genocide….The killings and lootings were pre-planned and Modi and his ministers were behind the atrocities.
The Indian Muslims : I recall when I met Rafaqat Ali and his professor wife Mausuma in Delhi, her first remark was: “We can always take shelter at your house when Hindus want to turn us out from our place.” I realized then how insecure Muslims felt after six decades of independence. They still suffer from the same fear.
Behind the scene Talks on Kashmir before Kargil : Kuldip, we were almost there; about 80%, Vajpayee said (to KN in Rajya Sabha). Niaz Naik told me (KN) that they were discussing the Chenab line which meant the entire Valley was to be jointly administered by India and Pakistan. (So, it was true after all; Musharraff’s Kargil adventure may have sealed the fate of Kashmir).
BJP : The BJP was out to polarize the country and convert it from a secular to a Hindu State. To them Pakistan is an enemy country.
The Indian Army : The army in India is a sacred cow. The public, particularly the media, is so circumspect when it comes to discussing the armed forces that even mild criticism is avoided…This craven attitude has allowed the armed forces to get away even with murder….There was a discussion on India-Pakistan relations in National Defense College in Delhi. While the entire panel was vehemently critical of Pakistan, I pointed out certain examples of India having rubbed Pakistan the wrong way. That college never invited me again.
Corruption in politics : I recalled Pranab Mukerjee’s phone call to The Statesman when I was a resident editor, requesting me to have tea at his house. He held no government office then. We three, including his wife, sat on the floor and sipped tea which she had prepared. They had very little furniture and no servant. This reflected the austere living style of an average Bengali who had moved from a state to the nation’s capital……I met the same Mukerjee some years later during the Emergency. His house exuded opulence and the sitting room was cluttered with stylish furniture, plush carpets, and sparkling silver. He was then the commerce minister, a trusted hand of Sanjay Gandhi. (Mukerjee is President of India presently).
Chandra Shekhar’s brief period of 40 days in power was the most corrupt in the history of India. I was sorry to see the sharp decline of an individual who had once been a ‘young Turk’ in the Congress and the president of the Janata Party.
PM Rajiv Gandhi imposed his choice (of Bofors guns) based on kickbacks received rather than merit…He had bent all the rules to order Bofors…A close friend of his told me that Rajiv Gandhi had opened a new account abroad and had deposited the kickbacks there. This benefited his Italian in-laws, parents of Sonia Gandhi. An Italian middleman in Delhi, close to Sonia and Rajiv, was responsible for the clandestine payment.
The Narasimha Rao government was completely discredited by scandals implicating the PM in acceptance of bribes, and the unprecedented ‘hawalacase’. There is sufficient evidence now to prove that Rao personally accepted a suitcase full of currency notes. (So India has Mr 10% too.)
Babri Masjid : Narasimha Rao’s govt. will always be held responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid. The curious thing was that he was conscious of such an eventuality but did virtually nothing to avert it. My information was that Rao had connived at the demolition. He sat at Puja when the kar sevaks began pulling down the mosque and rose only when the last stone had been removed. Madhu Limaye told me that during the puja Rao’s aid whispered in his ears that the Masjid had been demolished; within seconds, the puja was over.
Nepotism : Najalingappa said he was pretty sure that Nehru had his daughter in mind as his successor. In his diary, he wrote on 15 July 1969 that Nehru ‘was always grooming her for the prime ministership obviously and patently’. This was more or less the same thing that Shastri had told me six years earlier.
The Honest Ones : On the day Shastri was asked to leave the government, I went to his bungalow in the evening. It was dark at Shastri’s house, with only the drawing room lit. I found Shastri sitting in the drawing room all by himself, reading a newspaper. I asked him why there was no light outside. He said that from now onwards, he would have to pay the electricity bill for his house himself, and could not afford extravagant lighting…Kamraj rang me up not to discuss Shastri’s death but to find out whether the family had the resources to sustain itself. I told him that as far as I knew they had nothing to fall back upon. He had a legislation passed to provide free accommodation and an allowance to the wife of the deceased PM.
Sachar, then CM of Punjab, approached Nehru with an embarrassing request. Vijay Lakshmi Pandit (Nehru’s sister) had stayed at the Shimla Circuit House, then part of Punjab, and had not paid the bill of Rs 2500. Sachen was told by his governor, Trivedi, to put the expense under some miscellaneous state govt. account. However, Sachen was a stickler for propriety. Nehru said that he could not clear the bill at one go but would pay the Punjab govt. in five installments, each time drawing a check on his personal account.
Maulana Azad : Azad was sounded out for the Bharat Ratna. He declined the award, reportedly telling Nehru that it was altogether improper for those deciding on the awards to pin the medals on themselves.
I saw Azad sitting beneath a tree all on his own, lost deep in thought. Unfortunately, he an important voice before Partition, had ceased to count after independence. Nehru continued to consult him and respect his advice but Patel would often relate how Maulana’s influence had been reduced to nothing…When I met Azad many years later, he held Nehru responsible for Jinnah’s reversal (from Cabinet Mission Plan). In chaste Urdu, Azad said: ‘Woh tala jo kabhi khul nahin sakta tha Nehrune uski chabi Jinnah ke hath mein de di (Nehru gave to Jinnah the key of the lock which could not be opened.)’
Abdul Ghaffar Khan : I took the opportunity to visit the Frontier Gandhi in the one-room tenement in which he lived (in Kabul 1972). He was sitting on a charpai when I bowed to say salaam. The room was bare, a kurta and shalwar hung on a string drawn from one wall to the other. A few earthen vessels with a chulah lay in a corner….Here was an individual who could have occupied any position in India…Ghaffar Khan was bitter about Nehru who, he said, had promised to fight for Pakhtunistan. “Are you people banias who calculate all the time about gain and loss in what you do?” he asked rhetorically….He asked me whether it was true that many Muslims had been killed in Gujrat (communal riots of 1970). “But Gujrat is the land of Gandhi,” he added, looking disillusioned and helpless.
Indira Gandhi : She had come to embody corruption, not only in terms of money but in the development of power…she had no compunction in employing any method to demolish whatever and whosoever she believed stood in her way…I recall her disparaging remark about ‘middle-class living’ when she visited Shastri’s residence to consider whether she could move there after his death…There was no one either in her party or the cabinet to tell her that she was taking the wrong course. (Sounds familiar; no one in PPP protested or resigned on charges of the 1977 election rigging).
Men of Conscience : Justice Sinha debarred Indira Gandhi from occupying any electoral post for six years, holding her guilty of corrupt practices during the (1977) elections…The petition was allowed on two counts: The first was that she had used Yashpal Kapoor, officer on special duty in the PM’s secretariat, to ‘further her election prospects’…The second impropriety was that she had obtained the assistance of govt. officials in UP to build rostrums from which she addressed election rallies. The officials had also arranged for loudspeakers and electricity…When I met Justice Sinha at his residence many months after he had delivered the judgment, he told me how a Congress MP had tried to bribe him and how a colleague on the bench told him that he would be elevated to Supreme Court if he gave the judgment in Indira Gandhi’s favor…Word was sent to Allahabad to ‘fix’ Justice Sinha. All the papers related to his career were screened, his family members harassed, and he was shadowed by the police all the time. (Reminds one of Justice Safdar Shah’s case in 1979.)
I wanted to meet Vinod Malhotra, the Deputy Commissioner (as the returning officer, he had announced Indira Gandhi’s unexpected defeat from her home constituency, at great personal risk). My question was simple: What persuaded him to announce the result? He said that he could judge from the first round of counting that Indira Gandhi was losing. Her agent had got the ballots counted thrice. RK Dhawan rang him thrice asking him not to declare the result…when Indira Gandhi’s defeat was confirmed, he went to consult his wife. He told her that if he were to announce the result, they would have to face Indira Gandhi’s wrath…Malhotra’s wife told him: “Humbartan maanj lange magar baimani nahi karenge. (We shall clean utensils but not indulge in dishonesty.” This gave him the courage to announce the result. (This iconic statement should be displayed in the CSS Academy.)
The Press : The truth was that the press (in 1977 emergency) was already too nice, too refined, and only too willing to ‘accommodate’. The ground was therefore fertile for the imposition of censorship…Khushwant Singh (the renowned author and journalist) had become a Gandhi family sycophant, praised them unabashedly, and justified the Emergency….By contrast, the journalists in Pakistan showed courage in the face of imposition of martial law. They did not mince words in criticizing the military regime; some 120 went to jail, and 13 received lashes. (This is before ‘Lifafa Journalism’ arrived in Pakistan, courtesy of Sharif Brothers.)
Sheikh Abdullah : I went to Srinagar to request Sheikh Abdullah to criticize the emergency. He told me that Indira Gandhi was in such a foul mood that she would arrest him as well. Shamim, a friend who was a Lok Sabha member, received me at the airport. He told me not to be shocked if I found that Sher-e-Kashmir had turned into a giddar-e-Kashmir. (Our own Lion of all seasons, Mustafa Khar may have infected poor Sheikh with his disease.)
PM Morarji Desai : He proved to be the greatest disappointment. He was rigid and arrogant. The long spell in the wilderness had left him bitter, and had fired him with a desire to settle old scores. Kanti Desai, his son was ruthless and wanting in integrity...I complained to PM 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 Kanti the stamp of authority. Morarji refused to do so. (Mr Desai may have taken a leaf from Ayub Khan’s book who once said that his sons also had a right to live in Pakistan.)
Bhutto’s execution : I met Zia when I went to Pakistan…He once hosted a lunch in my honor…Because of my equation with Zia, Yahya Bukhtiyar, my senior in Law College, Lahore, asked me to find out Bhutto’s fate. In fact, this was a suggestion by Bhutto who had read in the press that I was in town to interview Zia. Bhutto had been tried for murder and given death sentence…I inferred (from Zia’s answers during interview) that Zia was determined to hang Bhutto and had already made up his mind…I narrated the entire interview to Bukhtiyar the same day and expressed my fears. Later when I met Bukhtiyar before leaving for India, he told me that Bhutto’s reaction to my interview was entirely different. Bhutto was convinced that he would not be hanged. He believed that his death sentence would be commuted as a result of pressure from outside. “Kuldip got it wrong,” Bhutto said. (Yet another confirmation that Bhutto deceived himself.)
Zia’s plane crash : I was surprised when Zia was killed…I have done my utmost to find out who was responsible…I suspect it was US, and in support of this surmise I can only say that after Zia’s plane was blown up, a Pakistani military officer entered India and flew on to US. Our govt was aware of this. (Ijaz ul Huq has been claiming for years that he knows the responsible person.)
Militancy in Punjab : What greatly helped Punjab to eliminate militancy was Islamabad’s gesture…the civilian govt in Pakistan…provided India with names of militants who had once taken shelter in Pakistan, and this helped in uprooting militancy from Punjab. (Aitzaz Ahsan may still deny it.)
Interview with A.Q. Khan : I thought I would provoke him. Egoist as he was, he might fall for the bait. And he did. I concocted a story and told him that when I was coming to Pakistan, I ran in to Dr. Sethna, father of India’s nuclear bomb, who asked me why I was wasting my time because Pakistan had neither the men nor the material to make such a weapon. Khan was furious and began pounding his hand on the table: “Tell them we have it; we have it.” Mushahid (then editor of daily Muslim, who had arranged the interview) was taken aback and looked distraught…Almost a decade after the story, I met Mushahid at a conference in Dhaka. I asked him if my meeting with Khan was cleared with Zia; he replied in the affirmative...Where things went wrong, he said, was that Khan spoke too much and disclosed more than he was supposed to do. (He is still doing it.)
Election Rigging : Abdul Ghani Lone told me that the state elections (in Kashmir) in 1987 had been rigged. I told him that that the National Conference had no need to rig the elections because CM Farooq Abdullah would in any case have won by a small margin. Lone said that Farooq was afraid of losing elections and rigged them in order to leave nothing to chance. (He should have learnt from ZAB’s folly in 1977.)
The Turncoats : George Fernandes defended the Morarji govt on one day and vehemently criticized it the next. I felt sorry for him because his role as a trade union leader and as a valiant fighter during the Emergency had been exemplary. I did not however know then that a person like him could change colors in 24 hours. (His inspiration may have come from across the border.)
(The writer is a physician in Williamsport, PA and may be reached at email@example.com)