TODAY -

Indira Gandhi - An ephemeral encounter

S Balakrishnan *



One minute, 35 years ago - It could be the briefest ever public function of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. I would not believe it myself but for the still photographs of 30th July 1983 that are as fading as my memory is.

Ms. Gandhi, as the then Prime Minister, was on an official visit to Sikkim, probably her first to Sikkim as India’s young State. It was during her earlier tenure that the ‘merger’ of the Kingdom of Sikkim was officially sealed on 16 May 1975.

The Namgyal dynasty’s 333-year-long monarchy ended and ‘Denzong’ became ‘Sikkim’, Indian Union’s 22nd State. It was in 1642 that Phuntsog Namgyal was formally consecrated as Chogyal (Dharma Raja), though Sikkim had been ruled since 13th century by the Namgyal kings, the first in the line being Khye-Bumsa.

Dot at 7.30 AM on that misty morning she was at the function spot of Zero Point on Ridge Park Road, Gangtok. She was to rename Nathula Road as Jawaharlal Nehru Marg. Briskly alighting from the grey military jeep, she pressed the button to unveil the signage, boarded the jeep and was gone! Lo, hardly a minute!

In between, for a nano second she posed again for the official photographer who was a bit late arriving at the site. She had realized the might of the pen and the Press during Emergency. It was a simple, short & smart function, carried out in military precision.

Dressed simply in a light blue sari with black / dark blue border and a matching blouse, she looked smart with a streak of silvery hair. Coincidentally, she, as the daughter, was the first passenger to proceed on JN Marg, renamed after her father, to visit Nathula, the Indo-Tibet border post.

‘Nathu’ in Tibetan means ‘hearing/listening ear’ and ‘la’ is ‘mountain pass’. Nathula was then fully under army’s control; no border trade, no tourism, a strict and big ‘NO, NO’ for civilians. From this Zero Point, one can’t cross after the 5th mile. It was Shangri-La on the other side!

Officially aware of her itinerary, like a paparazzo, I stationed myself at a vantage point well ahead of the scheduled time; with my Yashica Electro 35 still camera I clicked just two snaps of this briefest function of the VVIP. Had it been a digital camera, I could have kept on clicking or even videoed the event.

As the convoy sped, I again clicked her from as close a range as 3 ft. from my lucky position. Unimaginable in these days of security cordon! The flamboyant Sikkim Governor, Homi J.H. Taleyarkhan, was present along with BRO Chief, but not the firebrand Chief Minister, Mr. Nar Bahadur Bhandari.

His relation with Congress (I) had by then soured, particularly with the Governor, who was allegedly acting as the ‘hand’ of Congress I; he was also a publicitymonger. This led to the formation of Sikkim Sangram Parishad that saw NB Bhandari rule the state for the next ten years.

A few days after her trip, the task of transcripting her press conference fell on me. The job was done at All India Radio, Gangtok. While the questions were fired in a mixture of English, Hindi & Nepali, she replied in English and Hindi in her usual style - wriggling out of sensitive questions, joking, matter-of-fact answers, counter questions, and all that.

31 October 1984 - a year and a quarter later, as the rumours of her assassination trickled in, BBC radio confirmed it. My close encounter and repeated listening of her voice that boomed through the headphone had made me helplessly succumb to her charisma. Hence the news was very disturbing. The official JN Marg, however, continues to be popularly and practically called as Nathula Road by the citizens!

One minute, 35 years ago - an ephemeral encounter, but an ever lasting impression!


* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on December 31, 2018.



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