By – M.K. Dharma Raja ; 14 November, each year takes me into a flashback to 1963. It was Nehruji’s birthday, I was there at Teen Murti as AIR’s Correspondent. The Prime Minister was going around the lawn where hundreds from all walks of life were streaming in to greet him. His aide N. K. Seshan spotted me and beckoned me near the Prime Minister saying, “There is no security bar for you”. Nehruji asked me to go round with him. And he began dropping the dryfruit packets he received into my coat pockets. That was Jawaharlal Nehru!
Hardly did I imagine that the Prime Minister who had miles to go and promises to keep would pass into history within a few months. Millions of Indians sobbed bitterly and thousands elsewhere suffered it in grief on May 27, 1964 learning that Jawaharlal Nehru had passed into history. We , members of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting cricket team were on an outing on the lofty heights of Simla when the stunning news came through in the AIR afternoon bulletin. Sitting beside me on a hilly ledge overlooking the Mall was R. Shungloo, former Holkar Cricketer and a long time friend, based in Delhi then posted as DSP in Simla. The news found me inconsolable for some time. “ You are a newsman viewing events objectively,” Shungloo said, trying to bring me round.
The shocking news opened for me floodgates of memory with Nehru memorabilia totally filling the mind. For the past four year I had been watching the Prime Minister day after day in Parliament, reporting his statement and engagements or seeing him sitting pensively on the Treasury Benches and in fact registering his charismatic presence in either house. The entire vistas of memory of his inspiring deeds and call to his compatriots in the course of the freedom struggle, his historic words on August 15, 1947 at the stroke of the midnight hour when India awoke to “life and freedom”, his crusading role as apostle of the liberation of Asian and African nations – all these and much more made one feel bereaved.
Such recollections acquired a sharper poignancy with Shungloo’s narration of scores of anecdotes that underscored the transparent humane instincts of the man who had endeared himself to the teeming millions. One of these was about the origin of the now ubiquitous protective umbrella structure over the traffic constable at the crowded road intersections. This was how it happened. The Prime Minister was driving down at India Gate when he saw a traffic cop collapsing under the summer sun. On reaching his Teen Murti residence he at once telephoned the police top brass berating them for denying protection to the constables on traffic duty. The umbrella structure came up almost the next day. Such was Nehru’s impatience with inequity of any kind.
A true democrat both in precept and practice, Jawaharlal Nehru never thought of meddling with the media, not even with those under government control. When approached by the Head of All India Radio, News Division for guidance on matters of foreign policy, he said, “my statements and speeches on foreign policy should be your guidance”. There was not the slightest hint of ministerial interference so long as Nehruji was at the helm. “Panditji” as he was fondly called, only once rang up the newsroom of the All India Radio throughout his tenure. It was at the height of the Goa Satyagraha. The first chunk of the 2100 hours news had just carried the item that an Indian diplomat there, had been manhandled by the Goan Police. “The Prime Minister wants to speak to Editor-in-Charge,” said an aide from Teen Murti House. “How did you get the item about our envoy?” Nehruji asked. As the Editor, T.A. Ramiah was trying to locate the news agency copy, the voice from the other end said reassuringly, “don’t worry, I know you people are very busy at this hour. You may inform me later”. After some time the news room was told that the Prime Minister had gone out for dinner leaving word that he would like to go through the news bulletin. It fell to the lot of yours faithfully to take the bulletin to the PM’s residence where there was absolutely no hassle of security in gaining entrance. The practice of sending the news bulletin for the PM’s perusal continued for the next two days.
The Late Justice K.S. Hegde once related an account of a traumatic interaction he had with Nehru. This interaction, he pointed out, brought out that genuine democrat’s concern for individual freedom. The streak of temper sometimes seen in him was just a superficial veneer that gave way to his impulsive democratic instincts in no time. Kowdoor Sadananda Hegde, a Congress Party member of the Rajya Sabha in the 1950’s had tabled a short notice question on the proliferation of the espionage network in the country. He had been issued a party whip not to press his question through the supplementries during the lunch recess that day. Hegde was summoned by the Prime Minister who desired to ascertain the source of information about the spy network. It was hardly surprising that Hegde, declined to divulge the source of information given to him in confidence. “Is that all? You may go,” the Prime Minister snapped back. Hardly had Hegde taken a few steps when he was called back. “I liked your stance of Independence. Would you like to go to the United Nations session as a Member of our Delegation?”, asked Nehru. Sadananda Hegde made a mark as a member of the Indian delegation, and was subsequently appointed Judge of the High Court and later elevated to Supreme Court Bench. He often reminisced about Nehru’s passion for the justice.
Jawaharlal Nehru was indeed the ‘Patron saint of Indian Sports’. The Asian Games got off to a start with his support and the inaugural was staged in Delhi. “Play the game in the spirit of the game,” was his slogan. Lovers of cricket recall with gratitude his encouraging presence at the Feroze Shah Kotla, Delhi during the tests. He also led the Prime Minister eleven against the Vice-President’s team captained by Dr. Radhakrishnan.
A gesture, I relish is the pat I had on the cheek from Nehruji while being introduced to him. The occasion was the prize distribution ceremony by the Prime Minister following the Match of the Press Vs. the Parliamentarians. “Sir, he is… who wrecked our team by claiming six wickets” chipped in M.R. Krishna (formerly Deputy Defence Minister). The Prime Minister then firmly clasped my hand for a few moments while the rest were waiting to be introduced to him. The illustrious Leary Constantine, hailed as electric heels for his quicksilver movement on the field told Jawaharlal Nehru, “you are the Prime Minister I like most”. Constantine who was then a Minister in Trinidad and Tobago related the incident in the course of a chat with cricketers at the Froze Shah Kotla.
Jawaharlal was no doubt a visionary, an idealist and his love for India and the people were his foremost passion.