Sunday, June 21, 2015

Breakfast With Chandra Shekharji

By Manuwant Choudhary

I have covered all kinds of stories as TV Reporter but one story I cannot forget is when I got this news that body guards of a former Indian Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar had shot dead a student in a train at Allahabad.

Chandra Shekhar was on his way to Balia, his constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

We drove all night to enter UP and as the mist was only clearing we arrived at the guest house where the former Prime Minister was staying.

SPG men in their dark suits stood all around the guest house.

I wondered if they would shoot again at an intruding press.

Chandra Shekhar himself was notorious for his temper and he would shut up even a Laloo Prasad on the floor of parliament.

So it was challenging to even send him my visiting card at that early hour.

But surprisingly I was called in within a second.

Chandra Shekhar was still in bed under a quilt I remember and its only when he spotted the cameraman behind me that he got out of bed and took a seat on a sofa.

I recall asking my questions point blank.

And surprisingly I got an equal point by point reply...with Chandra Shekhar not only accepting that the incident took place but he gave vivid details of how the SPG had to resort to to fire.

And he had no emotions.

Just like his politics.

I wondered how is it so possible to be so honest about your own ruthlessness?

But that was Chandra Shekhar...he became India's 9th Prime Minister after toppling the V.P. Singh government with support from Rajiv Gandhi.

Even while we spoke I was clear my story would be hard-hitting.

The interview over I was happy to leave when Chandra Shekharji asked me...

"Aap kahan naashta kijiyega..." (Where will you have breakfast?)

I explained that I would eat at one of the road side dhabas in UP whose utensils were so new that you could spot them from a distance.

He replied, "Nahin, nahin, aap naashta humare saath lenge..."(No, will have breakfast with me..)

But then it would be sometime for breakfast so he called his men...and asked them to show me around in Balia.,,,,

"Inhein jara aap Shaheed Smarak dikhayenge..jab tak main snan karta hoon...(Kindly take him to the Martyrs Memorial till I get ready...)

And off we were...a carcade of white ambassador cars...not knowing where....

Balia is a backwater...perhaps nothing happens in these parts even though Mangal Pandey...the sepoy who mutinied against the British was from the region.

And suddenly we enter an area which was like paradise...dahlia's and landscaped gardens all around...a river even....

It was unbelievable.

In fact, this was what we call chaur or low-lying area (which is generally water-logged and good for paddy.)

On my return, I did have my breakfast with Chandra Shekharji.

Over Puri & Sabzee he explained how as a Member of Parliament he could do every little for Balia so this was his gift to Balia and to the martyrs who won India her freedom.

He told me how he has earmarked land to be given to different research organisations in the country, from seeds to forests..from computers to fertilizers....and they would all work from here and offer India a better future.

"Because I have been India's Prime Minister it is possible for me to call up Vajpayeeji and get work done..."

All this was so unexpected from a politician I did not care about that I finally asked him who actually accomplished his vision and he replied, "Charles Correa from Bambai..."

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