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Modi used to 'run errands' during Emergency, his role was that much: Top JP associate

Prakash N Shah
By Rajiv Shah
In a sharp exposure, well-known Gujarati critic, journalist and activist Prakash N Shah, who had been among the main contact persons of Jay Prakash Narayan (JP) in Gujarat, has recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “merely running errands” during the Emergency (1975-77) period, adding the PM’s stature has been “sought to be unnecessarily inflated”, though adding, he is not saying this to “belittle him.”
In a 160-page interview in Gujarati published in a book form “in lieu of an autobiography”, Shah, 79, who was twice sent to jail during the Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency, answering a question whether he had met a “character called Narendra Modi” during those days, says, “I was released on parole for four or five days, as my father, who was going to the US, wanted I should spend some time with him. I met Modi for the first time when he came to see him.” At that time they lived in Maninagar, Ahmedabad.
President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Shah’s rather longish interview by Gujarati writer and blogger Urvish Kothari has been published by Sarthak Prakashan because, to quote Shah, “Kothari appeared sure, I wouldn’t be writing an autobiography, hence the best option to him was to do an autobiographical interview.” Arrested on March 13 or 14, 1976, outside the political spectrum, Shah claims, he was among the “couple of persons or three who served the longest jail period during the Emergency.”
Asserting all that Modi did at that time to was to “run around to do small little things as part of some necessary duty”, Shah says, “His role was that much only… This was all that was”, though adding, “Perhaps I would have been doing exactly the same thing in his place had I been 10 years younger. But surely, his role was not what he had tried to claim on website, which he tried to blow out of proportion, though later he made some efforts to water it down.”
Shah, who was twice jailed, says, after Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency, and he was freed on January 21 or 22, 1977, “There were occasions when I met Modi.” Though asserting that he did not find any reason to carry any impressions about Modi then, he adds, “Later on, during discussions with friends, I was made to understand that he was an extraordinarily ambitious person, and to achieve his ambition, he would go to any extent.”
Admitting that at that he at that time he had not see Modi in that light, Shah says, Modi would keep in touch with him after the Emergency was lifted, and would regularly send him greetings. “Most of his greetings would come from Kamalam, Chandigarh. At one point, I wrote back, asking him to put me on the official mailing list of BJP, as that would help me in my critical writings. I had written this in a lighter tone, but thereafter, he stopped sending me greetings.”
Subsequently, Shah says, he met Modi as Gujarat chief minister, when the Vishwa Gujarati Samaj was to felicitate veteran Gandhian Chunibhai Vaidya. “Krishnakant Vakharia had organized the function, which perhaps was not to the liking of the Gujarat government, nor to major newspapers. Vakharia was adamant that I should speak.”
Shah recalls, “Modi had just become Gujarat chief minister. He spotted me, addressing me as ‘Prakash’. Earlier, whenever we met, he would call me ‘Prakashbhai’. As he did not address me with a ‘bhai’ suffix, I had to decide how to address him. So I merely asked him: ‘How are you?’ And thereafter, in his speech, Modi gave details of how he spent his life very close to the village of Chunibhai Vaidya, and all that… Indeed, the first impression of Modi as chief minister wasn’t a good one.”
Continues the veteran activist, “What I do know, however, is he would read what I wrote. I came to know from someone who told me, Modi was trying to find out what I meant by social engineering in my write-up on BJP’s political strategy. I was also told that he once he opined, nobody from Sardayists could be found, except Prakash. But there was no direct contact… Once I heard had had pointed fingers at me when I was on a Star TV debate saying he would ‘expose this Prakash and company’.”

RSS days

Born in 1940 in Mansa, a North Gujarat town, Shah says, during his early days, he would be taken to RSS shakhas by his school teacher Harishchandra Patel, who was later to become Gujarat state assembly speaker. When in college, he would often interact with Lakshman Inamdar, who years later became a major Gujarat and then all-India RSS functionary.
“Called Vakilsaheb, he once asked me what I was reading these days. I told him, ‘Hindu Way of Life’ by Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. Vakilsaheb told me, the book contains everything, but not Hindu Rashtra. This was the time it struck me, it was a sematic ultimatum”, notes Shah.
Giving details interaction with RSS leaders and cadres, especially in jail, including Chimanbhai Shukla, whom one of his friends would call ‘Fuhrer’, Shah recalls how on August 15, 1976, when they had gathered to celebrate Independence day, some RSS cadres were in a real dilemma whether to pay respects to the national flag at all, and if yes, then then how, by placing the right hand on the chest in the RSS style, and what if Shukla saw them.

As writer

BA in “economics entire” and MA in “politics entire”, to quote him, Shah gives details of how he started doing formal writing, which led him to become a top journalist-activist. “Even though I stopped going in RSS shakhas, I had my contacts. Hence, when RSS mouthpiece RSS ‘Sadhna’ began, I was taken to its makeshift office in Salapas Road by Ramanbhai Shah as one of the possible writers. In my youth, there I used to write a column called Vividha. It was a tightrope walk. I used to write in the name of Apurva.”
Pointing out that he continued writing for “Sadhna” till 1963-64, after which he kept writing in several dailies and periodicals, but mainly “Nireekshak”, which began in 1968, Shah gives interesting details of his association with “Loksatta-Jansatta”, a Gujarati daily of the Indian Express group daily, with which he was associated with 12 long years, and later as resident editor of the Times of india (Gujarati) for three months.
During an interaction, Indian Express owner Ram Nath Goenka (Shah calls him RNG) told Shah, “What to do? Above all others is Parameshwar (Almighty), but in the office, editor is above me.” In sharp contrast, he recalls the Times of India (Gujarati) days, when after being appointed as resident editor in October, he resigned in December after the management suddenly decided to insert a consultant editor without his consent.
After Shah resigned, he was told that Dileep Padgaonkar, who was editor-in-chief, regretted that “had I met him he would have convinced me.” Recalling, in this context, an incident where Padgaonkar is said to have claimed to be the most powerful person, next to the Prime Minister, Shah says, “My answer was simple… Dilip Padkaonkar believes he is No 2 in the country. But in the ‘Times of India’ he is No 9.”
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The book "Prakash N Shah" can be bought online HERE

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