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A guru who would threat Union ministers to get their portfolios changed

Author Bhavdeep Kang
That the was extremely close to and a frequent companion after her father’s death is beyond doubt. As is the fact that he parleyed this relationship into favors from various ministers before and after she became Prime Minister.

Veteran lawyer and author Janak Raj Jai, who worked in the Prime Minister’s office in the 1950s and Sixties, said that Indira’s equation with Dhirendra Brahachari went back to the late 1950s. “In 1957, I joined the Prime Minister’s Office. In effect, I was working for both father and daughter. Indira was close to Brahmachari. He exploited his close relationship with her in all respects. He had access to her room and could come in at any time. He was running a yoga ashram and used to get a grant from the government’s Education Ministry. And no Cabinet Minister had the guts to question him. “

recalled that in 1963, Dhirendra Brahmachari had asked the then Minister of Education, Dr K.L. Shrimali, to renew the grant to his yoga center in Delhi. Shrimali in turn requested him to submit the center’s audited accounts for the previous year’s grant. The yoga guru replied that he had never had to do so in past (much later, in 1980, he would be pulled up by a Delhi Court for failing to submit his balance sheets). 

Indira Gandhi promptly took up the matter with her father. “Pappu,” she said, “Dr. Shrimali has stopped Swamiji’s grant”. She kept pestering him and finally, Prime Minister Nehru spoke to Shrimali. The Education Minister clarified that he had not stopped the grant, but the rules demanded an audit report for the previous year. Once these were submitted, he would clear the grant. Nehru conveyed this to his daughter, but she was not satisfied.” Jai remembers Nehru being irritated by Indira’s lobbying for the yoga teacher. “Should I throw him (Shrimali) out of the window? Why can’t this man (Brahmachari) submit an audit report?”

Dr. K.L.Shrimali resigned in august 1963, ostensibly as part of the Kamaraj Plan, but Jai felt that he was deliberately dropped. The next Minister of Education was a much respected and erudite man, Justice M. C. Chagla, who was assiduously cultivated by Indira. She insisted that he stay at PM’s residence while his home was being readied. Justice Chagla, Who Prime Minister Nehru held in high regard, was very pleased with Indira’s hospitality. One day, she summoned the Education secretary and asked him to bring Dhirendra’s file for Chagla to sign. He obliged.

Janak Raj Jai recalled yet another instance of Indira intervening on Brahmachari’s behalf when she wrote to the then Housing Minister, Meher Chand Khanna, to help the yogi retain his government accommodation. The minister duly wrote back, pointing out rather brusquely that as she had no official status in the government, she could perhaps request her father to write or call him directly, in which case he would have no option but to oblige the Swami. This she would not do.

And then, there appeared to be a falling out. According to jai, Indira sent him a slip saying, “Ask Swamiji to pack up and go. I am fed up”. He informed his colleagues in the PM’s Office, Yashpal Kapur ad R.K. Dhawan. Kapur was very close to the Swami and often enjoyed his hospitality in the evening, you understand…” said Jai. “Kapur told me not to tell the swami. I think he tried to help him. He procured a house for him in south Delhi”.

The falling out If there was one, was short-lived. Dhirendra Brahmachari was once again seen in the PM’s house; rather, his influence became stronger after Nehru’s death in May 1964. During Lal Bahadur Shastri’s tenure as prime minister, he was sanctioned land at Mantalai in Jammu and Kashmir for an ashram. And very soon, a large multi- storeyed structure with a swimming pool, an artificial cave for meditation and grounds teeming with deer, horses and cows came up on the plot.

In the early 70’s, wrote the late doyenne of culture, Pupul Jayankar: 

“Brahmachari visited the (prime minister’s house) without being overtly visible. This changed during the Emergency... He had reportedly started to use her name to pressure businessmen and officials… A sizeable plot of land was made available to him by the Himachal Pradesh government to set up a yoga centre. Another luxury yoga centre was presided over by him in Delhi.”

He not only managed to acquire a well-appointed, sprawling home in Delhi’s Friends Colony and tooled home in a Toyota, a sizeable plot of land in Ashoka Road as handed over virtually gratis for his Vishwayatan Yogashram and Central Research Institute for Yoga (Now the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga). He would also establish ashrams in Mumbai, Akola, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Faizabad and Katra. Pupul Jayakar describes the ease with which he would saunter into 1, Safdarjung Road and once even got into an argument with Indira over an appointment in the Education Ministry, which prompted her to flare up at him. Unfazed, he was back a few days later.
By now, it was obvious that Dhirendra Brahmachari’s proximity to the Prime Minister bred a certain arrogance and an exercise of extra-constitutional power. In “Profiles of Indian Prime Ministers”, the author, Manisha, related an anecdote illustrating the yogi’s clout. Apparently, the former Prime Minister I.K.Gujral, then the minister of state for Works and Housing, was noncommittal about a request put up by Brahmachari for granting extra land for his yoga ashram. Dhirendra paid him a visit in his office, but Gujral refused to oblige him, prompting an open threat. “Either you give me the land or you will be out of the ministry tomorrow.” “It is difficult. There are rules,” said Gujral in response. The swami was as good as his word. I.K.Gujral’s portfolio was changed forthwith.
[ Excerpted with permission from “Gurus : Stories of India's Leading Babas” by Bhavdeep Kang,
Westland Books, June 2016. Views expressed are writer’s personal ]
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