Reverence and hero worship for Jawaharlal Nehru was normal not only with the older generation but with our generation as well. My father, Bhim Sen Sachar was a Congressman in 1937 he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Nehru campaigned for my father in that election. Even though I was just 14, I got ample opportunity to have a close view of him at meetings and functions.
In May 1949, the Socialist Party under Ram Manohar Lohia’s leadership held a demonstration in front of the Nepal embassy in New Delhi to protest against the Rana government in the Himalayan kingdom. We were arrested (about 50 of us including Lohia) for violating Section 144 CRPC and remained in jail for a month and a half. It was during that imprisonment that Nehru and Indira sent a basket of mangoes to Lohia. Sardar Patel wrote to Nehru expressing his annoyance for sending mangoes to a person in jail who had violated the law. Nehru in his quiet way told him that politics and personal relationships are two separate things and should not be mixed up.
In 1952, the Congress returned to power with a clear majority in the Punjab Assembly elections. Nehru and Azad appointed my father as the leader of the Congress party and he again became the Chief Minister of Punjab, which then comprised of present-day Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Political morality was very high amongst the leaders of 1950s. For instance, when the governor of Punjab invited Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit as a guest for a vacation in Simla (then capital of Punjab) in 1954, she was put up in the government guest house and a bill of Rs. 2064 was sent to the governor because she was his guest. The governor however, didn’t pay the bill and the chief engineer brought this to the notice of my father. On his next visit to Delhi in May 1955, my father brought that matter to Nehru’s notice. Imagine a cm is discussing a small amount of money with his leader. But father was very strict on his principles. And Nehru’s response was equally commendable. He opened his drawer and wrote a cheque of 1000 and said: “I am giving this now. I am going to Europe and once I come back I will pay the remaining amount.” Later on, the governor was so ashamed that he paid the balance from his discretionary fund.
I myself had a personal experience in 1955 when I was the chairperson of the Socialist Party (Punjab) and the general secretary of the Punjab High Court Bar Association. In 1955, the Punjab High Court was shifting from Simla to Chandigarh. It was to be inaugurated by Nehru and he had come to Chandigarh the evening before. My father, who was then the Chief Minister of Punjab, invited Nehru for an informal breakfast at our residence. I was staying with my father though my office was in another sector. It was a rare occasion for a young man like me, who admired Nehru a lot. But, I had grown up by then. Our party was convinced (rightly or wrongly, time alone will tell) that Nehru, who had shown the vision of socialism to us, had not kept that pace following wrong policies. Our differences with his policies were deep. I was a small fry in part of that milieu. So I told my father that I will not be at the breakfast table to receive Nehru, though my wife will be there along with my mother to play the hostess. My father and I had a beautiful understanding and respected each other’s view. He realised my reluctance but mentioned that I was being childish.
I went to my office before Nehru arrived. I continued to admire Nehru and I could not think of being at home and be rude by not joining him for breakfast. Of course, we received Nehru with all the dignity and deference due to him when he came to the high court inauguration.
Now I laugh at my presumptuousness — a chit of boy, whom Nehru will not even notice beating his chest by not attending and denying himself a rare close breakfast meeting with one of the greatest of leaders of India and who had been a hero of our family. But then I take it as the peculiarities of a radical youth, the devil I may I care attitude and the almost fatalistic belief in the rightness of the cause of one’s own party. But then I believe that is the real difference between youth and old age – one may laugh now, but one does not demean conduct because at that time it represented what I like to feel was a youthful, genuine and unshakeable faith in socialism – which fortunately, I have still not lost.
Nehru was indeed doing some inner thinking and so expressed it to Maulana Azad thus: “we should do something for Sachar”. He soon appointed father as the governor of Orissa in 1956 and wrote to the Chief Minister saying “Your governor is a very good administrator and you will find him so.”
Father thereafter left active politics and engaged himself in the Khadi movement. But his spirit of freedom was still strong as ever when he wrote to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency reminding her of what Nehru had said about total freedom of the press.
July 23, 1975
“To my mind, the freedom of the press is not just a slogan from the larger point of view but it is an essential attribute of the democratic process. I have no doubt that even if the Government dislikes the liberties taken by the Press and considers them dangerous it is wrong to interfere with the freedom of the Press. By imposing restriction you do not change anything; you merely suppress the public manifestation of certain things, thereby causing the idea and thought underlying them to spread further. Therefore, I would rather have a completely free Press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated Press.”
We must respond to the call. Accordingly we propose, with effect from August 9, 1975 and regardless of consequences to ourselves, to advocate openly the right of public speech and public association and freedom of the Press, for discussing the merits and demerits of the Government arming itself with extraordinary powers.
Bhim Sen Sachar & Ors.
Father was arrested soon, and released because his Habeas Corpus petition was accepted by High Court.