New Delhi | 27th Jun 2015
Rajiv Gandhi soon after his election to the Lok Sabha in 1981, is seen with Anil Bali (on his left).
ate Congress president Rajiv Gandhi and top Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders, Balasaheb Deoras and Bhaura Deoras, had a secret understanding, which was reflected in certain decisions taken during his tenure as Prime Minister in the late 1980s. According to RSS ideologue K.N. Govindacharya, Rajiv had inherited the “soft Hindutva legacy” of Indira Gandhi’s second innings as PM. Sources in the Congress confirmed that Rajiv had met Bhaurau Deoras, younger brother of the RSS Sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras, at least half a dozen times at different locations including the 46, Pusa Road residence of family friend and industrialist Kapil Mohan, where the first such meeting had taken place soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Subsequently, the two had met at Rajiv’s close friend Arun Singh’s house on Race Course Road, at the PM residence and twice at the Friends Colony residence of Anil Bali, then with the Mohan Meakin group, a person who had unrestricted access to both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi at one stage. The last meeting between the two leaders had taken place at 10, Janpath in Decemberbhr 1990, a few months before Rajiv was assassinated and while Chandra Shekhar was the Prime Minister with the support of the Congress.
Subhash Arya, mayor of South Delhi Municipal Corporation, who had escorted Bhaura Deoras to Kapil Mohan’s house at Pusa Road, confirmed that others who were present there included late RSS leader Hansraj Gupta, besides Kapil Mohan and Bali, who had accompanied Rajiv Gandhi. He, however, declined to divulge details of what transpired, saying, “I will have to seek permission to talk on the subject”. However, Arya did say that the clearance of Ramanand Sagar’s epic serial Ramayan shown on Doordarshan would not have been possible without the then Prime Minister’s direct intervention. He said that Rajiv had also helped the RSS to get some of its money released from nationalised banks, which had blocked the transactions.
A top Congress source, on the condition of anonymity, said that Rajiv enjoyed an excellent rapport with Bhaurau, who would occasionally advise him on matters of national importance. For instance, the decision to get the locks opened at the disputed site in Ayodhya was taken by the Prime Minister in consultation with the RSS leadership in the aftermath of the Shah Bano controversy.
Rajiv was extremely nervous about the repercussions that would follow and therefore had met Bhaurau. In addition to discussing the Ayodhya matter, the RSS leader impressed upon the Prime Minister to give relief to some tribals in Orissa near the Indian space programme’s site. Rajiv had agreed and had instructed Arun Singh on the matter. Singh had separately met Deoras thereafter at his house. Interestingly, before the meeting at Arun Singh’s house, a close associate of Rajiv Gandhi had sent gallons of cow milk and dry fruits for the consumption of the RSS leaders, who were to go along with Bhaurau Deoras.
Another Congress leader, while confirming the bonhomie between Bhaura and the then Prime Minister, stated that the shilanyas at the disputed site was also done at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi, following the meeting with the RSS functionary. It was not merely a coincidence that Rajiv kicked off the Congress campaign in the 1989 elections from Ayodhya, perhaps hoping to reap political benefits from the shilanyas. He even spoke about bringing in Ram Rajya under Congress rule. Sources also stated that Bhaurau had advised Rajiv that he should go in for a Dalit President to succeed Giani Zail Singh. However, the Prime Minister, succumbing to pressure from within his own party, opted for R. Venkataraman, a decision he regretted later. Venkataraman had refused to administer him oath of office in 1990 and had made it explicitly clear that he would swear in a Congress PM only if a certain person other than Rajiv was the party’s choice.
Anil Bali (second from right) is seen with A.B. Vajpayee (left), Bhaurau Deoras (centre) and Kapil Mohan (right), at 46 Pusa Road, which was Mohan’s residence at the time.
According to sources, after assessing the political situation that existed in the late 1980s, Bhaurau had told Rajiv that he would be better off if he went in for elections in May of 1989, instead of November-December, since the Opposition that was regrouping against him would not be able to organise itself in such a short span of time. L.K. Advani, in his book, My Country, My Life has also talked about difficulty in forging an Opposition alliance against the Congress in 1989. He has indicated that due to Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s arrogant attitude and his refusal to form an alliance with the BJP, there were some initial problems, until the two parties reached a seat adjustment agreement subsequently. Advani had stated that he recalled Veer Savarkar’s words at one point while describing V.P. Singh’s hesitation. “If they come, with them. If they don’t come, without them. If they oppose, in spite of them.”
Sources said that Rajiv seemed inclined at one stage to have the polls in May but some of his aides assured him that he would win hands down whenever the elections were held as the Panchayati Raj initiatives and other measures would reap political dividends.
According to sources, two things that had led to a good understanding between Rajiv and the RSS were firstly their aversion for the Communists, and secondly, their opposition for conversions to Christianity. During their last meeting at 10, Janpath, Bhaurau had reiterated his earlier advice that Rajiv had made a mistake in supporting Chandra Shekhar for Prime Ministership. The meeting that took place in late evening saw Rajiv trying to persuade the RSS leader not to back the Chandra Shekhar-Mulayam Singh Yadav formula for solving the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute. His fear was that if the formula, which the RSS was inclined to support, went through, the regional parties would get strengthened at the cost of the national parties.
Sources said that Bhaurau rejected Rajiv’s observations at the very outset and was convinced that the formula was in everyone’s interest. During the marathon meeting that ensued, Rajiv picked up an apple and slicing it into four parts offered the fruit to the RSS leader. The meeting ended with no assurance from Bhaurau. Sources said that Rajiv instructed Anil Bali to escort the RSS leader to the RSS headquarters in Jhandewalan. There was total silence throughout the ten-minute journey at midnight. However, on reaching Jhandewalan, Bhaurau got out and walked a few steps, before turning back. He told Bali that he was absolutely moved by Rajiv’s gesture of cutting an apple for him. He added that he should listen to the 8 o’clock morning news the following day. The news broadcast had RSS bodies rejecting the Chandra Shekhar-Mulayam proposal.
Sources said that Rajiv, during his Prime Ministership, had also instructed his Director, Intelligence Bureau (DIB), M.K. Narayanan to visit the RSS headquarters for a meeting with their top functionaries to understand their perspective. Narayanan had, at one such meeting, met the two Deoras brothers, Rajju Bhaiyya and K. Sudershan (who went on to become RSS chiefs subsequently) as well as Atal Behari Vajpayee. All those present were privy to the interactions between Bhaurau and Rajiv Gandhi.
Even in April 2007, Pradip Kumar Maitra, Nagpur correspondent of the Hindustan Times had filed a report about the secret pact between Rajiv and the RSS, based on disclosures made by Banwari Lal Purohit, former Congress MP from the region, who had facilitated some of the meetings between Congress ministers and the RSS leadership ahead of the shilanayas in Ayodhya.
Anil Bali (extreme right) is seen with Atal Behari Vajpayee (third from right), Bhaurau Deoras (second from left), and other leaders in Mohan Nagar. Subhash Arya (extreme left), now mayor of South Delhi Corporation, is also seen.
A close associate of Rajiv Gandhi, while admitting that these meetings had taken place, hurried to add that “there was nothing wrong as Rajivji would meet people from every background to understand their points of view. He never at any stage deviated from the principle of secularism so deeply enshrined in the Congress ideology.”
Anil Bali, when contacted said that he was fortunate to have had excellent relations with both “Indiraji and Rajiv Gandhi”. He declined to elaborate on the meetings as he “was privileged to have such an access to two former Prime Ministers and therefore would not like to talk about subjects and information” he “was privy to due to proximity to them”.
Makhan Lal Fotedar, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi’s political adviser, dismissed the information as “concoction” and said “no such meetings ever took place”. He refused to elaborate on the matter.
Subhash Arya admitted that he had been very close to Bhaura Deoras and was in possession of some photographs of him with Rajiv Gandhi. He could not share them unless he was given permission. He said that when Bhaurau passed away on 12 May 1992 at Dr Jain’s Nursing Home in New Delhi’s South Extension, he was the one who had informed the RSS leadership at Jhandewalan about his demise.
However, sources said that the Congress president Sonia Gandhi was aware of the meetings even if she has never referred to these during a public discourse. Some of her associates had attempted to brush under the carpet the information about Rajiv and Indira Gandhi’s soft Hindutva line while attempting to record the history of the Congress.
These sources said that the RSS had developed a soft corner for Indira Gandhi after the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war and the creation of Bangladesh. During the Emergency, many RSS leaders were jailed. However, Indira Gandhi released some of the top functionaries, following the intervention on their behalf by a close family friend. Throughout her years in opposition, Indira Gandhi never targeted the RSS. Her main thrust was to single out Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram. In the late 1970s, it was becoming evident that Jagjivan Ram could replace Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was most concerned as she realised that Babuji being a Dalit would be difficult to dislodge. The RSS also had an identical view and so had some others in the Janata Party, including Raj Narain, who eventually backed Charan Singh for the top job and played a role in bringing out the sensational Suresh Ram scandal with the help of Kapil Mohan and two main supporters — K.C.Tyagi (now MP) and Om Pal Singh.
Sources said that Indira Gandhi had improved her relations with the RSS, which silently and secretly supported her party in the 1979-80 elections for the stability of the country. In the aftermath of the Meenakshipuram conversions of Hindus to Christians, the RSS and the then Prime Minister were on the same page. The RSS had organised the Ekatmata Yatra with Moropat Pingle as the in-charge. It was the Ekatmata Yatra model which was used by the BJP when Advani took out his first rathyatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in 1990, according to Govindacharya. Indira Gandhi had also met the then RSS chief, Balasaheb Deoras, and it was on his advice that she agreed to re-establish her relations with Dr Karan Singh, who was also instrumental in the founding of the Virat Hindu Samaj, whose other associates included Ashok Singhal and the late Giriraj Kishore.
Sources said that the RSS chief was very impressed with the book, Eternal India, written by Indira Gandhi, with photos by Jean Louis Nou, whose advance copy was presented to him in late 1979. He conveyed his compliments to her as well.
Govindacharya said that the RSS functionaries would subsequently meet Rajiv Gandhi and also the late P.V. Narasimha Rao, who had close connections with some in the organisation as he had been educated in Nagpur. Rao’s personal secretary Khandekar “was a swayamsevak”, he confirmed.
The revelations seen in the light of frontal attacks by the Congress leadership on the RSS during public meetings could prove very embarrassing for the party, given that it was the legacy of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi which had brought it back to power in 2004. Equally disconcerting would be the exact reversal of policies by the high command that has only enforced the perception that the Congress had tilted extensively towards the minorities and its leadership continued to be obsessed by the minority syndrome, perhaps an indication of changing times.