The Telegraph
| Sunday, February 7, 2016 |

7days

'They looked at me very closely. I almost peed in my pants'

He was a 32-year-old trader from a small town. And he found himself at the centre of a fight between two powerful groups around the ruling family. An extract from media baron Subhash Chandra’s memoirs 

  • Breach of trust: File pictures of Rajiv and Indira Gandhi; (below) Dhirendra Brahmachari

Dhirendra Brahmachari seemed to be focused on money and was always open to new opportunities... I used to meet him twice or thrice a week just to keep the relationship going. He was usually surrounded by five to six young women. I was not surprised because he had a magnetic personality. Women found him very attractive. He would wear a dhoti all through the year, even in the cold winters.

While he helped me with the rice deal, it would also lead to his downfall. He fell in the esteem of the Gandhi family because of his role in the rice trade with the USSR. Apart from me, barely two or three people knew the real reason for Brahmachari's fall from grace with the Gandhis.

It happened thus: The contract for 1983 was to be decided in December 1982. Now Brahmachari sent instructions that all the future export of rice would be done by his own newly formed company. He also told [Vijay] Dhar about this. I was told that I would not get the contract any longer. This was despite the fact that he had taken an advance of Rs 2 crores from me towards profits for next year's contract. I said that it was fine if I did not get the contract, but that the advance be returned to me. He refused to give it back. He thought I had earned more than I deserved and hence did not feel the need to return my money.

I had no choice but to keep quiet. But one day Vijay Dhar called me for a meeting, and asked, "What has happened between you and Brahmachari ji?"...

Those days there were two groups close to the Gandhi family. As normally happens with any power centre, satellite power centres emerge around the main players. There was a group known as "the Kashmiri group", which included M.L. Fotedar, Arun Nehru and Vijay Dhar. The other group included R.K. Dhawan, Dhirendra Brahmachari and some others. Both groups were rivals and wanted to corner power. I told Dhar about Swamiji's decision to export rice through his own company. And also that he had decided not to return my advance for the year's export order. "How much money have you paid him so far?" Dhar asked. I sincerely revealed the number to Dhar as he was the key link between Rajiv and me.

Dhar asked me to wait in his office and went to Rajiv's room next door. Rajiv ji came back with him and began to ask me a lot of questions. I had to reply to all of them. Somewhere at the back of my mind I knew that I was getting into a bigger mess. And that too for the loss of a few crores' advance. Rajivji was very surprised to hear what I had to say. It appeared to me that Swamiji had given them a wrong picture about our profit sharing deal.

But now I was worried, "I don't want to get into a fight, sir." I told Rajiv ji. "You are powerful people and in such a conflict between big personalities, a person of my stature will get crushed as if I never existed. If you can help me get my money back I would be grateful. But if you can't, that too is fine. I will assume that this was not in my destiny."

Rajiv ji took my plea seriously. He assured me about my future. "But you have to come and say everything to someone I have in mind," he said.

I guessed that it had to be Mrs Gandhi. Who else could it be? The prospect of facing Indira Gandhi terrified me even more. "Please don't involve me in this," I pleaded. I had never really met Indira Gandhi on a one-on-one basis. I had just seen her at their house when she was out of power. She wouldn't even recognise me, I thought. I kept quiet and the meeting ended.

A few days later I was asked to reach Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's residence at Safdarjung Road at 9pm. Before leaving home, I told my family that I might not return at all that night. That's how terrified I was. I had no idea what would happen next. I asked Jawahar to book me on a London flight the same night. I told him that I might have to leave India that night if there was trouble.

I was a thirty-two-year-old trader from a small town. And I was at the centre of a fight between two powerful groups around the ruling family of the country. I wasn't close enough to any group to receive protection. I said to myself, "these elephants are fighting and you will be crushed in their tussle".

On the appointed day, I reached the Prime Minister's residence by 9pm and was asked to wait. Indira Gandhi was supposed to fly to Europe later that evening. I waited for half an hour, then another hour passed. Two hours passed. The wait was even more terrifying. It was a December night and fairly cold. Finally, I was summoned inside the room around 11.15pm.

Sitting in the room were Indira Gandhi, Rajiv and Dhirendra Brahmachari. This was 1982. Rajiv was not in the government but was general secretary of the ruling Congress party.

There was silence for a few seconds. They looked at me very closely. I almost peed in my pants.

Mrs Gandhi looked at me closely and spoke first. "I thought you were an older person. But you are very young," she broke the ice.

"How much money have you paid Swamiji?"

"About Rs 2 crore advance for this year," I said.

"No, no. I want to know how much have you paid in total," she persisted.

I told her the figure.

Swamiji's eyes were blazing. He was looking at me with deep hatred and anger. I could see him from the corner of my eye. I felt like a mouse surrounded by hungry cats.

I was asked two or three questions and then I was allowed to leave the room. As I was leaving, Rajiv ji asked me to wait in the other room.

He came out after an hour and said, "Congratulations, now go and relax." That's all.

I left right away, relieved but confused. It was 1am or so. I had spent about four hours in absolute terror. I reached my Punjabi Bagh home by 1.30am and hit the bottle. I was too nervous to sleep.

From that day onwards, Swamiji's downfall began. I think the Gandhi family did not trust him completely after that.

We made huge profits of many crores on this trade, which I conducted from 1981 to 1984. This came to an end around 1984 when I was told that there was a lot of pressure from various quarters on Rajiv Gandhi to recommend some other person for such contracts. People felt I had benefited enough and that others should also get a chance to earn...

Vijay Dhar called me and said that there was too much pressure to give this contract to a Delhi-based businessman close to the Congress party. I told Dhar, "Bhai Sahib, it is fine by me, I have made enough money." I thanked him profusely...

Families such as those of the Delhi businessman and Amitabh Bachchan were close to the Gandhis. Compared to them, I barely knew them. I think they were good to me because of my small but insignificant help when they were out of power. The Gandhi family had an important trait. They never forgot people who helped them, especially when they were not in power. They remembered the small help I had extended during their difficult days.

Excerpted from The Z Factor: My Journey as the Wrong Man at the Right Time by Subhash Chandra with Pranjal Sharma;
Published by HarperCollins Publishers India; Price: Rs 699