Morarji Desai – My True Friend, — Dr Subramanian Swamy
Posted on February 28, 2015 by SwamyChronicle
I was first introduced to Morarji Desai in 1975 when senior leaders were finding it difficult to bring him and Jayaprakash Narayan on the same wave length of thinking and pushed me in the front to dare to talk to both. As I have already described in my earlier article, if it were not for my audacity in bringing JP and Morarji together, the June 25th 1975 historic Ramlila Ground meeting in Delhi (which Mrs. Gandhi used as an excuse to declare Emergency),would never have taken place. The Emergency was originally scheduled for June 22nd when JP was to address the rally, but his Patna-Delhi Indian Airlines flight got cancelled, and so Mrs.Gandhi postponed the decision. She wanted to use JP’s speech as an excuse. It is a wonder to me that had I not succeeded to bringing the two together on June 25th, and the meeting thus cancelled, would the declaration of Emergency been further postponed, or even Mrs.Gandhi changed her mind about the idea itself with a little more time to think about it?
My Next meeting with Morarji Desai was a stormy one. It was a meeting demanded by Morarji to give me a lecture. It was also meeting that became a turning point because after that Morarji and I became very close.
The General Elections to Lok Sabha were declared on January 18, 1977 when I was abroad, having escaped again after a dramatic appearance on the floor of Parliament despite an MISA arrest warrant and the highest reward on my head for my capture. This was my second escape abroad during the Emergency.
Morarji had been released from prison, and in his first press conference, a pro-Congress news reporter taunted him with the question about Mrs.Gandhi’s allegation that opposition leaders had run away abroad rather than go to jail. The news reporter mentioned my name in this connection.
Morarji angrily reacted to the question by remarking that it did not matter because I was not a “front rank” leader. I did not mind that remark because I was then only 37 years old, and only been four years in politics. But I had resented Morarji’s failure to rebut the idea that I had “run away”. Actually I was abroad on JP’s direction to awaken the world to the Emergency’s atrocities, and Morarji had known that. It would have been easy to stay in jail. Because I had evaded arrest under MISA, Mrs.Gandhi put 18 false cases against me, declared me a “proclaimed offender”, and confiscated my property, household goods and car. My two daughters Gitanjali aged 5 and Suhasini aged 2 had to suffer trauma of not knowing where their father was, not to mention the harassment suffered by my wife in going to court for my cases, and who was always against my leaving academics (that too Harvard) for politics.
When I returned to India on February 5th, 1977 to contest Lok Sabha, I was red hot with anger. My other political colleagues sensed that I would retaliate, so advised me restraint till elections were over. But in my first press conference after return, the same press reporter taunted me with Morarji’s remark. I found it difficult to contain myself, and yet the cause of winning the elections loomed in my mind. So, I replied: “Morarjibhai is right. I cannot be front rank leader because I am not 80 years old. This was front page box item news. Everybody found it humorous and had a good laugh. But not Morarji. He was even more angry. So he sent word to me to see him in the Jantar Mantar Party office. I refused saying I don’t recognize him as my leader.
Morarji then surprised me by asking me to come to his Bombay residence for tea. I relented, and went to see him. Morarji’s took me to meet him in the privacy of his bedroom. The conversation went like this:
Morarji : “Why have you called attention of the press to my age?”
Swamy : “Because you called attention to my age”
Morarji : “But you are not a front rank leader today”
Swamy : “I have publicly agreed with you on this. So what is your objection?”
Morarji : “Do you realize that your remark on my age is helping Mrs.Gandhi’s propaganda?”
Swamy : “Do you realize that your silence on Mrs.Gandhi allegation that I ran away abroad had hurt my reputation and the feelings of my family?”
Morarji : “Why did you not go to jail? I don’t believe in evading arrest”
Swamy : “Who cares about what you believe. JP asked me to go abroad and organize. Abroad I agitated against your detention. This was a mistake, I agree”
Morarji : “JP asked you? No one told me so”
Swamy : “As a leader you should have found out”
Morarji : “Yes, that was my mistake. But still you should not have remarked about my age”
: “I did not realize Mrs.Gandhi would exploit it. It is my mistake for which I am sorry”
Morarji was immediately moved by my saying sorry. “Young man”, he said “You are blunt and truthful. I admire your courage, even if I do not approve of this underground activity. Let us be friends”.
From that day on wards, even if Morarji did nothing much for me politically, he was always on my side helping me where he could and I remained his friend till his last breath. When his Cabinet was formed, it was widely thought that I would be made a Cabinet Minister for my role in the Emergency, but Atal Behari Vajpayee, who had played a disgraceful role of writing an apology letter to Mrs.Gandhi during the Emergency – to come out on parole out of jail, – controlled 91 Jan Sangh MPs. Vajpayee was given to tremendous jealousy, and it is the root cause of the mess BJP is in today. He found my “Emergency Hero” status unbearable especially since he wanted to hide his own surrender shame. He therefore prevailed upon Morarji to offer me only a Minister of State with independent charge. Morarji also thought that at the age of 37, a Cabinet Ministership was too early.
When I turned down the junior Ministership, Morarji was truly impressed. He called me to have dinner with him to express his appreciation. At the dinner, he expressed his approval of my simple habits (no drinking, no smoking), my courage, and my education. At one stage, he said to me “You should have come into contact with me years earlier”. From that day onwards till his death, I was one of the few who could see Morarji at any time or any place that I wanted especially at his lunch (10 AM) or dinner time (6.30 PM). Throughout his Prime Ministership, I was regularly the last visitor to see him (8.30 PM). Very often, Morarji would invite me to come with him on trips within the country on the special Air Force Plane. Morarji had clearly taken a liking for me and my boldness.
Morarji helped me to break the ice with China. Vajpayee as Foreign Minister blocked my visit for one year, but in 1978, Morarji saw that I went first to China. He accepted my view about China, and rejected Vajpayee’s, who was keen to keep the Soviet Union pleased. Even on Israel, Morarji accepted my view and invited Moshe Dayan to visit India.
Because of the factionalism in the Janata Party, during his tenure as PM, he could not make me a Cabinet Minister. Delhi was always abuzz with the rumour that he was about to induct me as Foreign Minister because he was fed up with Vajpayee’s drinking habits whenever he went abroad or his indiscretion with women. But the 91 MPs of the Jan Sangh group was Vajpayee’s strength, so Morarji kept postponing the date. Then there was the Raj Narain nuisance. However in June 1979, Raj Narain was expelled from the Janatha Party, and everything was under control– or so it seemed. It was then I was confidently told by insiders that Morarji would bring me into the Cabinet in the September 1979 re-shuffle. That re-shuffle never came because Morarji quit office in July 1979. But the greatness of Morarji was exhibited in those trying moments when he was betrayed by colleague after colleague, each trying to become Prime Minister. Some got a bad name for it such as Charan Singh, but the real culprits were Vajpayee and Ramakrishna Hegde who pushed Morarji into a confrontation with Charan Singh, and then let Morarji down.
Provoked by what he mistakenly took as Morarji induced insults, Charan Singh broke the party, and the Janatha Party lost majority. Then Vajpayee and Hegde produced a list of 279 MPs of which 23 MPs signatures were forged. The President Mr.Sanjiva Reddy was alerted to it by the IB, and he made it public. Morarji gallantly took the blame and quit public life. It should have been Vajpayee and Hegde who should have quit, but they left Morarji holding the bag and owning responsibility! Such was their character.
Later at his residence at night I asked Morarji why he took the blame when he was blameless and paid such a heavy price. He said simply: “After all, I am the leader. I must sink with the ship”. Such was his greatness.
Morarji never recovered from the 1979 debacle. But till his death, he tried to help me to the extent he could. He backed me for becoming the President of the Janatha Party to replace Chandrasekhar as early a 1981. He tried again in 1984, but Chandrasekhar and Hegde combined to get me expelled from the party rather than pose to challenge. Later Hegde got ambitious and tried to push Chandrasekhar. It was ironic that Chandrasekhar sought my help. Since of the two, Chandrasekhar was a better person, I launched a campaign against Hegde on telephone tapping and land scandals for which Hegde was responsible. He had to resign from the Karnataka Chief Ministership and has been marginalized in politics ever since.
For Morarji, the most hurtful part of his life was when cheap allegation was hurled on him by an American author, of being a CIA agent. There could not have been a greater patriot than Morarji, but he was slandered like Sita was in Ramayana. It was the only time I saw Morarji’s eyes moist. But he told me: “It is the law of Karma. I must have wronged somebody in my past life”.
I advised him to ignore the charge since every newspaper editorial in the country came to his defense. No politician however came explicitly to his defence. Some attacked him. In Lok Sabha, I stoutly defended him which pleased him immensely. But his other friends were not satisfied. They wanted him to sue the author in US courts. Morarji chose to ignore my advice, and he suffered even more going to US in cold winters to pursue the case and raise money for legal fees. It was a futile exercise, and a waste of time and money. Morarji was deeply hurt by outcome and regretted his decision to fight a defamation case in a US court. He seemed to lose all desire for public life.
But Morarji was getting old too. He was nearing 90. Soon he simply retired completely and never left Bombay. But he would keep inquiring about me. During my struggle against the Jayalalitha government, and the violence let loose against me, Morarji would chuckle and say, “Foolish woman. Does she not know your exploits in the Emergency?” But he kept telling me to be careful about my life and limb. I know he was concerned from his heart.
When Morarji died, he saved my life. Strange as it may seem, I was driving in last week of April 1995 to Pondicherry to address a public meeting. At Tindivanam, a huge crowd was waiting for me to with petrol bombs and acid filled eggs. They were planning to stop my car and set it on fire, thereby roasting me to death. The crowd was AIADMK sponsored, and they were particularly angry at my getting sanction to prosecute their leader, Ms.Jayalalitha. They wanted to prove their loyalty to her.
I had no idea that this mob was waiting for me, since as usual the Tamilnadu Police had disappeared from Tindivanam. As my car was speeding towards Tindivanam, in a small town about 10 Kms away, a few people blocked my car to give me the news that Morarji Desai had passed away.
I immediately told Chandralekha who was travelling with me, that I must return and catch a flight to Bombay. My party people accompanying me and Chandralekha thought that since a huge crowd would be waiting in Pondicherry to hear my speech, I should fulfil that commitment first. I could pass a condolence resolution in that meeting, they suggested. But my emotional attachment to Morarji was deep. Therefore I insisted on cancelling the programme and returning right away.
When I reached Chennai three hours later there was an urgent call from Dr.Chenna Reddy, from Pondicherry. There was real concern in his voice. I thought he was calling about Morarji, but he asked me: “Are you alright?” I said yes but asked him why. He replied “Thank God! There was an AIADMK mob ready to murder you, burn you alive. Thank God you did not go to Tindivanam”. Dr.Channa Reddy later wrote a letter to the Prime Minister Mr.Narasimha Rao about it.
But I said: “Thank God, and thank your Morarji bhai. Even in your last breath you thought of helping me”.
I flew to Ahmedabad via Bombay, and meditated by the side of Morarji’s body. I am rarely moved to tears. But on that day, tears rolled down my cheeks when I saw Morarji’s body I placed a wreath on his body and said “Good bye, my Friend. I shall never forget you”.
Morarji was a great inspiration for four reasons:
First, he came from an ordinary school teacher’s family, and while remaining completely honest, simple, fearless and truthful, he rose by sheer hard work to become the Prime Minister of India. Those who say that we have to be corrupt to rise in politics should learn from Morarji’s example.
Second, Morarji was a man of guts and conviction. Even JP came out of jail during the Emergency on parole (though justifiably), but Morarji despite 20 months of solitary confinement did not budge. He even refused to talk with Mrs.Gandhi’s emissaries about compromise.
Third, Morarji was noble and humane. After he became PM, Mrs.Gandhi went to see him and request an allotment of a government bungalow. Despite protest from many Janata Party leaders, he treated her with respect and allotted her a spacious bungalow. “After all, she was our Prime Minister for 11 years” he told me one day.
Fourth, Morarji had a complete philosophy of life. It was he (and course the divine grace of Parmacharya Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswathi) who educated me on how not to be disheartened by failure. He would say “Plans are good only for 10 percent of your success. Events control 90 percent of the failure. You can plan, but God only controls events”. Morarji’s commentary on Bhagwat Gita is still one of the best that I have read of any commentators.
Like Patel and Subash Bose, Morarji’s stature will grow with time.