The experiences bestowed by Kanchi-Mahaswami — Part 19 :The volcano that exploded in darker times

(A humble translation of the original article by Sri S.Gurumurthy , as it had appeared in Thuglak Tamil Magazine) —

Kanchi Sankaracharya
“Author” S.Gurumurthy

I have mentioned before, how my senior & IE auditor, Gowrikanthan, had made me to participate in the movement against Emergency and how it led me into IE group that changed made my life completely. In mid-1976, I got in touch with IE group. Goenka was waging a battle (through media) against Indira, who split the original congress in 1969. She had ordered IT & CBI raid on IE. She blocked all the potential bank loans, foisted many criminal cases and forced IE to enter the space of bankruptcy. All these happened before the imposition of emergency. Despite so many hardships, Goenka was continuously waging the battle against Indira. I got a golden opportunity to help him, after I came into contact with IE group. From that I gained some solid experiences that I cannot/will not forget in my life.

Indira’s plan to hijack Indian Express

After the imposition of state of emergency on our Nation, one of her first plans was to own/hijack Express in any possible manner. In the fag end of Jul 1975, D.K.Barooah, the president of Congress party called S.P.Jain (Father-in-law of Goenka’s son, B.D.Goenka) and threatened him that the govt has planned to arrest father-son duo, since they are opposing the govt, all the time. He was the first one to shamelessly chant a slogan during emergency — “Indira is India, India is Indira”. Then, Mumbai congress president, Rajni Patel (Indira’s cash box) was an influential one. Through him, S.P. Jain had requested India not to arrest them. This was followed by another request by K.K.Birla (Birla group and a close confidante of Sanjay Gandhi) had reached out to I & B minister, V.C.Shukla, who was part of the notorious “Gang of Four” that had absolute power (Sanjay was the head of the group & the other two members are Pranab Mukherjee, Om Mehta).

This is the essence of Birla-Shukla’s talk: Express group was managing 6 media companies — English, Marathi, Guajarati, Telugu, Kannada & Tamil. They should appoint 6 congress nominees as Directors in manage those companies. Birla should replace Goenka as the chairman and Goenka should be robbed off authority in the management of policy making, editors and press people. To prop up the weakened express group, Goenka “the Chanakya) had decided to accept the advisories of K.K.Birla and then recover from that, later. Then he appointed the following as the directors of Express group — Business magnates who were closer to Congress party — Birla, G.D.Kothari (Chennai) & P.R.Ramakrishnan (Coimbatore) , TN Governor K.K.Shah’s son — Vinay Shah, Congress leader A.K.Anthony & MP ex-CM Kamalnath. Indira had assumed that she won the battle. But…

Authoritarian Indira vs Crafty Goenka

To fulfil Indira’s wishes, K.K. Birla had sought the dismissal of the media person, Kuldip Nayyar. Goenka did not agree for it and quoted the rules related appointment/dismissal of press people. Then suggested that, “Let us dismiss Express editor, Mulgaonkar, who was not bound by these rules”. Goenka agreed and recommended V.K.Narasimhan as his replacement, which was agreed by Birla. Neither Indira nor Birla nor others were aware of Narasimhan’s capabilities. He was a freedom fighter and do not subjugate himself to anyone. After he had assumed the editorship, he hood-winked the censor board and published true stories.

In mid-Dec 1975, Attorney general, Niren De, was arguing in SC, “During the state of emergency, all fundamental rights are suspended. Even, if someone is shot dead wrongly, the courts cannot intervene”. Except Justice H.R.Kanna, the rest of the bench had accepted it shamelessly. The reason behind this wild argument was Indira’s enactment of constitutional amendments that would perpetuate one party rule forever. The then President, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, without hesitation, signed & approved all the amendment, laws etc. Express published a cartoon by Abu Abhraham, that was depicting the president taking bath with a bare upper body, signing the papers and saying that, if there are any more urgent laws, you have to wait. This unimaginable cartoon was published in those trying time and garnered world attention, that defamed Indira.

Ajit Bhattarcharjee, was another daredevil in the express group. Sanjay had ordered Birla to transfer Ajit, elsewhere. Where, Birla asked. Sanjay was yelling, “Send him to Gangtok and banish him from our land”. This was communicated to Goenka and he did that, smiling inwardly. Gangtok is the capital of Sikkim and part of our country. Sanjay was thinking like Hongkong, Gangtok is also outside of our country. The newspaper was managed by the crafty Goenka under the stewardship of Birla. V.K.Narasimhan was functioning in a bolder manner, when compared to the previous editor. Birla could not do anything. Goenka was continuously check-mating Indira.

My first meeting with Goenka

In such situation, Goenka had a heart attack in Mar 1976 and was admitted in a hospital in Kolkatta in an unconscious state. Later, he was sharing the strange experience that he had In the ICU. Continuously, he was hearing Lord Vittala’s name and woke up with a great desire to visit Pandarpur. He pushed away the doctors, nurses and ran down to fetch a taxi. Luckily, his relatives came and stopped him from going away. His favourite doctor from Chennai, R.S.Rajagopalan came to Kolkatta and transferred him to Chennai, under his supervision. He treated him and told him to take rest for one month, after discharging him. But, the “Vittala” chant was continuing in his ears. Despite doctor’s advice, he went to Pandarpur by car and had the darsan. He was such an obstinate person.

Then, I was told by IE manager, R.Ramakrishnan that Goenka wants to meet me. I went and meet him. Before that, I had written a detailed explanation on how Express group should face the cases filed against them and it came to his attention. He asked me in Tamil, “You look like a college student. When did you finish CA and what are you doing?”. I told him that I am working for his intimate friend, Auditor Gowrikanthan. Then, he had asked me, “why don’t you IE group?”. Then, I replied that I am working on an important client’s case and moreover, I am tied down by emergency related struggle. Moreover, I continue to function incognito. Ok, let me talk to Gowrikanthan and revert. He mentioned that he needs a bolder person like me and told me to think on how to dismiss the congress nominees from the board. Immediately, I replied that it would be apt if we do that in the general body meeting in September. Then, I could understand that he was getting ready for battle against the govt. All these things happened in a span of 2 weeks.

Goenka exploded like a volcano

Despite the nomination of 6 directors, they could not function in the manner Indira had wanted. Her advisors had mentioned this was due to the laws and Goenka had the power to dismiss them. Let us change those laws and nullify Goenka. Indira gave her order to V.C. Shukla. Both Birla & Goenka were invited to Shukla’s office on 19th Jul, 1976. He forced Goenka to change the laws in his company and make them permanent directors, forever. Goenka questioned him, “What will happen, if I don’t agree to it”? Both Shukla & Birla were shaken. During the period of emergency, no one had the guts to ask like this. Shukla raised his voice that they do not have any other option, other than arresting him & his son.

Shukla’s father, (Late) Ravishankar Shukla was Goenka’s friend. After hearing from Shukla, he exploded. When he gets into such mood, no one could control him or his words. He would hurl choicest abuses in Hindi. He opened the door, abused Shukla and shouted at the top of his voice (ensured that Shukla’s office members were listening it), “if you were truly born to my friend Ravishankar and have the guts, arrest me” and walked out, even without waiting for the elevator. Shukla & Birla were stunned. Shukla was fulminated & Birla was shaken because of his failed efforts to bring peace.

What happened, after? Did authoritarian Indira arrest Goenka under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security act)? How did the crafty Goenka escaped from that? In the state of emergency, we will see the climax of Indira vs Goenka’s battle, in the next week.