'A chapter' with Indira

From the Boses to the Nehru-Gandhis, this is the season of mouldy manuscripts that apparently hold salacious secrets.

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 22.09.15

New Delhi, Sept. 21: From the Boses to the Nehru-Gandhis, this is the season of mouldy manuscripts that apparently hold salacious secrets.

T.V. Rajeswar, the former Intelligence Bureau director who had also served as Bengal governor, has disclosed that he had received "a chapter" from "Mathai's book" and had handed it over to Indira Gandhi in 1981.

"Mathai's book" is a reference to one of the most speculated about "chapters" (literally) in independent India. Mathai was M.O. Mathai, Jawaharlal Nehru's private secretary who wrote Reminiscences of the Nehru Age that recounted his years with India's first Prime Minister.

The book, published in 1978, left tongues wagging in the country - not because of what it revealed but because of what it purportedly concealed.

One chapter (29) apparently did not make it to the book. A note by the publisher, Narendra Kumar, on Page 153 had said: "This chapter on an intensely personal experience of the author's, written without inhibition in the D.H. Lawrence style, has been withdrawn by the author at the last moment." Narendra Kumar eventually said the sentence was a "teaser" and there was no such chapter.

It has been suspected that such a chapter did exist. Katherine Frank, Indira's biographer, had written about a missing chapter in which Mathai had recounted a "12-year affair with Indira Gandhi". The chapter was titled "SHE", according to Frank, and it was killed before publication by Mathai himself.

Now, 34 years after handing over the chapter to Indira, Rajeswar has not confirmed whether it indeed was "SHE". But his disclosure, first made to journalist Karan Thapar of India Today television which broadcast the interview tonight, suggests that he gave to Indira something that was not available in the public domain.

Contacted by The Telegraph tonight, Rajeswar, 89, said: "I did not read the chapter that was handed to me by then Tamil Nadu chief minister M.G. Ramachandran (popularly known as MGR), so I can't confirm what it contained. But it was a chapter from Mathai's book - that much I do know."

Mathai died in 1981 - the year Rajeswar said MGR gave him the chapter. At the time of the death, Mathai, a Malayali, was living in Chennai, which may explain why MGR, the Tamil Nadu chief minister, became the recipient of the chapter. Rajeswar was IB director then.

On the India Today television interview with Thapar, Rajeswar said MGR gave him the chapter and he had taken it without comment and handed it to Indira.

The then Prime Minister received the chapter without comment, according to a statement from the channel.

More disclosures in the future may solve the mystery of what happened to the chapter Indira purportedly took from Rajeswar. If the chapter contained unflattering content, the chances of it having been destroyed is high.

Or, if it somehow survived and is eventually discovered, it is possible that the government of the day may lock it up citing content inimical to friendly nations.

In the interview, Rajeswar said he had in 1975 tried to access Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha's landmark judgment before it was delivered. Sinha, in the judgment, declared Indira's election in the Lok Sabha elections that year invalid - a ruling that is seen as the trigger that drove Indira to declare the Emergency.

Rajeswar said he had contacted a local IB officer in Allahabad, J.N. Roy, to try and obtain details of the judgment before Sinha delivered it.

In the 1977 elections, held after the Emergency was lifted, it was clear a week before the results were declared that Indira's Congress would lose. The day the results were announced, then home secretary S.L. Khurana tried to contact the returning officer in Rae Bareli to order a recount, Rajeswar claimed. Indira lost in Rae Bareli to Raj Narain.

During the Emergency, Indira was aware of the excesses carried out by her son Sanjay Gandhi, Rajeswar said. "We handed her quarterly or half-yearly intelligence reports with all details," Rajeswar told Thapar. "She definitely knew."

Forcible sterilisations and demolition of slums near Delhi's Turkman Gate came to symbolise the extremes during the Emergency. The Emergency was the brainchild of former Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Rajeswar said.

The RSS had supported the Emergency and the then Sangh chief, Balasaheb Deoras, had tried to establish contact with Indira, said Rajeswar. "Not only they (the RSS) were supportive of this, they wanted to establish contact apart from Mrs Gandhi, with Sanjay Gandhi also," he said.

When Indira returned to power in 1980, Rajeswar said, she had prayers conducted at 1, Safdarjung Road - the Prime Minister's residence at the time - for three days, especially in a room to be occupied by Sanjay and his wife Maneka, now a minister in the current government.