Karan Singh's career

Published : Feb 10, 2012 00:00 IST

As this book shows, three topics reflect Karan Singh's outlook and highlight his career: the Emergency, Kashmir and Hindutva.

Perhaps it was right to dissemble your love. But - why did you kick me downstairs?

KARAN SINGH alone can explain, in the spirit of J.P. Kemble's words, why, for all his profuse, extravagant expression of love, loyalty and respect for Indira Gandhi, he turned against her in 1977 when she lost power, testified against her, ardently opposed her return to power, but when she did regain power in 1980, he sought to regain her trust with yet renewed ardour. There is a huge gap between his letter to her of October 29, 1975 (on page 286), and the one of March 17, 1980, on the very next page. The editor claims that despite the meticulous care with which Karan Singh preserves his papers, the letters exchanged between them during the years 1976-79 are also not traceable a great loss to history.

Alam writes: Beneath his pronounced religious image Dr Karan Singh has a broad secular heart and plural [ sic] mind, a truly, unique phenomenon. Indira Gandhi had a different opinion. On one occasion (February 27, 1983), she ticked him off: Your statement refers to Hindu villages' being attacked. All have suffered and all are entitled to the same sympathy. Disgusted with his repeated pleas for a ban on cow slaughter, for Hindu holidays and the like, she wrote (January 23, 1984): I am rather worried about your stress on what seems to be a rather narrow view of Hinduism.

He tirelessly sent her copies of his articles and press reports of his speeches besides gifts of cherries, books, and so on. On one occasion, he stumbled badly. He sent her a crossword dictionary. Her reply was polite and withering. I finish most of the days crosswords before or during breakfast, so there is no time for reference. Also, the clues are usually not straightforward and need some sleight of mind rather than synonyms. However, the dictionary is a useful acquisition albeit one which she did not need as he had imagined.

Three topics reflect his outlook and highlight his career the Emergency, Kashmir and Hindutva. The Allahabad High Court unseated Indira Gandhi in the Lok Sabha on June 12, 1975. The very next day, Karan Singh wrote to her with this slick advice: Clearly, the nation needs your leadership for many more years. Yet, it is also essential, in the wake of the Allahabad judgment, to ensure that your image in the general public is not eroded and the psychological initiative regained. The first task is to tide over the period between now and the Supreme Court verdict. In this context it seems to me that the best course would be as follows.

A plan for Indira Gandhi

When the President returns from Srinagar on the 16th morning (or earlier) you call on him and give him a letter offering, in view of the judgment, to step down from office until the Supreme Court verdict. This is announced on the two o'clock news. The matter then receives the President's close consideration. In my view the decision should be quite clear. Keeping all factors in view, including the overwhelming support you have in Parliament (which can if necessary be reiterated at a formal meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party), he informs you the same evening that he does not accept the resignation. Late that night you go on the air with a special broadcast to the people of India. This gets us over the first phase and, to an extent, takes the edge off the opposition offensive in the mind of the general public. The next stage is the Supreme Court. Was it ethical? Was the public so stupid as not to see through this ruse?

On June 28, he sent her a long note suggesting far-reaching constitutional changes before she had mooted any: adoption of a new and improved version of our Constitution, stressing out not only the rights of citizens but also their duties and responsibilities. This, with the opposition leaders behind bars, public meetings banned and the press under censorship. He rightly complained of a press report falsely alleging that he had instigated a massacre of Muslims in 1947, but he asked how it was allowed to be published by the Censor as if even the draconian laws covered such individual cases.

In 1977, Indira Gandhi lost power. The loyalist deposed against her before the Shah Commission and served as Minister in the defectors' regime of Charan Singh from July 30, 1979, to January 13, 1980. Here are just two details. Besides oral evidence, he gave a written statement against her to the Shah Commission on July 7, 1978. On January 20, 1979, he said that the Janata Party government has a one-point programme to enable her to return to power. Indira Gandhi returned to power, and Karan Singh returned to letter writing. He dared not ask her for a job as he did on March 1, 1965, to Lal Bahadur Shastri. He asked to be made High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. I have been there several times (for details see this writer's article Kashmir: Blunders of the past, Frontline December 29, 2006, and Kashmir: Bridge, not a battleground, January 12, 2007).

Hindutva tilt

The Meenakshipuram conversions in 1981 came in handy. Karan Singh floated the Virat Hindu Sammelan and held rallies. Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) men were its leading figures: Hans Raj Gupta and O.P. Tyagi (vice-presidents), V.H. Dalmia (treasurer) and Ashok Singhal (general-secretary). Indira Gandhi thought that he was identified with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP]. He denied that on October 17, 1982. But on March 15, 1983, he participated in the Vishal Hindu Dharma Sammelan in Amritsar sponsored by the VHP. He warned the Prime Minister that the anti-Hindu extremism in the Punjab is daily growing more strident and aggressive. On July 7, 1984, Karan Singh delivered the keynote address at the Tenth World Hindu Conference in New York, organised by the VHP of America. It called inter alia for an akhand Bharat.

Kashmir thesis

In Kashmir his antipathy towards Sheikh Abdullah continued unabated. He was alarmed at reports of the Plebiscite Front's participation in the panchayat elections in 1969 and in the general elections in 1971. The very decision by the Election Commission to allot the Front an election symbol will give it a certain legitimacy. For a whole decade, New Delhi has been urging the separatists to contest the elections.

On September 2, 1981, he wrote to the Prime Minister complaining of speeches by the Sheikh and his son Farooq and sent her a copy of a letter he had received from a Congressman and editor, Ghulam Nabi Shaida.

A peculiar political development is taking place in Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah has paved the way for his own kith and kin to become the future masters of ignorant Kashmiris. The methods on the occasion of the recent Taj Poshi' of Farooq Abdullah were more autocratic than those witnessed by people in the anachronic and now extinct feudal system. It seemed that a new sultan with his courtiers around him was emerging in this part of the country. In 1996, Karan Singh's son Ajatshatru Singh became a Minister in Farooq Abdullah's government.

Nationally, the Hindu cause claimed Karan Singh's loyalty. In Jammu and Kashmir, it was Jammu. He wrote on December 10, 1966: I enclose a copy of a confidential letter that I have written to Mr Justice Kapoor, Chairman of the Delimitation Commission, with regard to the delimitation of our Lok Sabha constituencies, as also a copy of the Commission's tentative proposals. I feel that it would politically be most unwise to carve out certain Muslim-majority areas from Jammu and attach them to the Valley for purpose of the election.

On July 10, 1967, he wrote: You will recall that for some time I have been feeling that the present political structure of the State does not fulfil the genuine and democratic aspirations of the peoples of its three regions Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. One of the approaches could be to proceed with a linguistic reorganisation of the State as has been done elsewhere in India.

An elaborate note of the same date spelt out the details. If Jammu continues to feel that its legitimate rights cannot be ensured within the framework of the present State, the demand for a complete break away from Kashmir is certain to grow.

He demanded for Jammu a genuine sharing of political power, [and] a fair share of services broadly commensurate with their population within the State. Beneath a faade of its unity, he proposed: The State legislative Assembly shall for certain purposes be divided into two Provisional Legislatures of Kashmir and Jammu comprising MLAs, including Ministers, belonging to the Province except the State Chief Minister. The Chief Minister may attend the meetings of the Provisional Legislature but shall not vote. The Provisional Legislatures shall exercise powers and functions detailed in Schedule I and legislation passed by them shall go directly to the Governor for assent.

Besides the State Council of Ministers, there shall be an Executive Council for each Province under a Deputy Chief Minister to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of those functions which are delegated to the Provincial Legislatures vide Schedule I. The Provincial Executive Council shall be collectively responsible to the respective Provincial Legislature.

Fierce ambition

To think that a man with such a pronounced disruptive approach fuelled by fierce ambition should aspire to be the nation's Rashtrapati. Karan Singh threw his frayed cap into the ring in 2007; reportedly, he proposes to repeat the throw in 2012.

For all his exertions what has he contributed to the nation? A life in public office and public gaze Governor, Minister, Ambassador (briefly) and member and/or chairman of institutions galore, all rewards from the Delhi Darbar. Since the Darbar could not give him a seat in the Cabinet, it gave him toys to play with seats on public institutions to the detriment of the public interest.

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