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Why Indira Gandhi joined Lal Bahadur Shastri's cabinet

By Sreekumar

Indira Gandhi
Bangalore, Aug 23: Barely weeks after the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru in May 1964, Indira Gandhi joined the government of his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri mainly because she wanted to prevent her aunt Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit from becoming a central minister.

Janak Raj Jai, a former aide of Indira Gandhi, claims to have overheard the prime minister telling her that at least one person from the Nehru clan should be in his cabinet.

In a book Strokes on Law and Democracy in India, Jai has mentioned Indira Gandhi's disappointment over Shastri broaching the aforementioned subject at the New Delhi railway station while the duo was returning from Allahabad after immersing her father's ashes in the Ganga.

Indira Gandhi told Shastri that he should have been more considerate in view of her grief. "She virtually rebuked him... Shastri must have felt very embarrassed because she said all this in my presence. After having snubbed Shastri, Gandhi walked swiftly leaving behind Shastri," Jai says.

Subsequent developments were even more interesting. Shastri "spoke to himself: if Indira Gandhi does not join my ministry, I shall have to ask Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit to join my cabinet."

According to Jai, he apprised Indira Gandhi of Shastri's reasoning since "in all fairness I thought that Indira Gandhi was the right person to join the cabinet."

This prompted Indira Gandhi's rethink. She ordered Jai to fix an appointment with the PM. Soon Shastri was informed that Indira Gandhi would be "too glad to join his cabinet." However, the latter sought "a lighter portfolio" given her administrative inexperience.

Shastri acceded to the request and gave the information and broadcasting portfolio to Indira Gandhi. She became the prime minister 20 months later when Shastri passed away at Tashkent.

Some of India's presidents too feature in Jai's book that was released by Universal Law Publishing Co just today.

He has written about how Indira Gandhi surreptitiously made sure that Zakir Hussain and not S Radhakrishnan occupied the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 1967. "This is how Gandhi betrayed Radhakrishnan, her patron saint who trained her as prime minister of India," Jai says.

Most people know that Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan started out, not as an actor but as an employee of Shaw and Wallace. Jai explains why Bachchan started working for the shipping firm.

With a view to getting a job, Bachchan whose parents were close to Indira Gandhi met the PM. She asked Jai to write to the West Bengal governor Padmaja Naidu "requesting her to fix Amitabh in some suitable place. This is how Amitabh got his first job in Calcutta."

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