It was in early 1957 that Deendayalji asked me to shift base from Rajasthan to Delhi to assist Atalji and the other newly elected Jana Sangh MPs in their parliamentary work. Thereafter, Delhi became the centre of my political activity. My new responsibility gave me an opportunity to learn about the functioning of Parliament and the government, besides enabling me to develop my skills in drafting statements, formulating questions, and preparing points for the party’s political propaganda.
FIRST FORAY INTO ALLIANCE POLITICS—WITH COMMUNISTS
My first entry into alliance politics was in the municipal affairs of Delhi. The city, which was a union territory then, saw the formation of the Delhi Municipal Corporation in 1958. Since the Jana Sangh had a good support base in all of them, the establishment of the corporation provided it with an opportunity to play a dominant role in the municipal governance of the capital city.
So in addition to my work in the party’s parliamentary wing, Deendayalji asked me to look after the Delhi unit of the Jana Sangh as its General Secretary. We were pitted against the Congress, which at that time had a predominant presence in Indian politics. In a house of eighty, we won twenty-five seats, only two less than the Congress. The CPI had eight members, just enough seats in the corporation to tip the balance in favour of either the Congress or the Jana Sangh.
Soon after the elections, the CPI, in order to keep the Jana Sangh out, offered to enter into an alliance with the Congress, provided the latter agreed to make one of its members, Aruna Asaf Ali, a prominent freedom fighter and star of the Quit India movement, the first Mayor of Delhi. The Congress agreed. However, the alliance broke up within a year due to constant internal squabbles.
Thereafter the Jana Sangh and the CPI entered into a written agreement, whereby the offices of Mayor and Deputy Mayor would be shared by the two parties on a rotational basis. In keeping with that, Aruna Asaf Ali would be Mayor for the first year, and Kedarnath Sahni, who later became a prominent leader of the Jana Sangh and the BJP, the Deputy Mayor. For the second year, Sahni was to be the Mayor, and a CPI nominee the Deputy Mayor.
It was for me a useful initiation in the art of political leadership and strategy-making. I can confidently say that this is where I had my initial grounding in alliance politics, something that held me in good stead on many occasions in subsequent years and decades.
LIFE WITH ATALJI AND DEENDAYALJI
The first house I lived in after moving from Rajasthan to Delhi was Atalji’s official residence at 30 Rajendra Prasad Road. He had to share it with a fellow Jana Sangh MP, Premjibhai Ashar from Chiplun in Maharashtra. A distinguishing characteristic of the Jana Sangh was that the entire party functioned like an extended family, with close interpersonal ties. Ashar’s wife used to cook for all of us, and we helped with the household chores. Atalji was also a good cook and, every once in a while, he used to treat us to his delicious preparations.
I stayed with Atalji for over a year. After I started to oversee the party’s organisational work in the city, I shifted to the Jana Sangh’s central office at Ajmeri Gate in Old Delhi. It was quite small, more of a party ‘commune’, where I lived with Deendayalji, Kedarnath Sahni and Jagdish Prasad Mathur, another committed activist who served both the Jana Sangh and the BJP with great devotion all his life, right from 1951 until his demise in 2007. Life here was very simple, but had its own charm. However, destiny was about to deal me with another significant change in my professional life—and, later, also in my personal life. After working as an Organising Secretary of the party in Delhi for over three years, it was now time for me to begin a new chapter in my life as a journalist by joining Organiser, a weekly journal inspired by the RSS ideology. It was also time when there would be a change in my personal life.
THE ORGANISER YEARS
I had lost my mother early in life. My father had brought me up with redoubled love and care, which was enhanced by the attention I received from my grandmother and other close relatives. True, Partition had uprooted our lives but nobody in my family had allowed bitterness or despondency to creep in. Nevertheless, I had a growing concern: after I had chosen to live the life of a pracharak-cum-political activist, first in Rajasthan and later in Delhi, I rarely saw my father, who had settled in Kutch after Partition. After migrating to Kutch in Gujarat, my father worked in the Sindhu Resettlement Corporation at Adipur near Kandla. He was now close to retirement, and I had to take care of him. Additionally, I had to think of Radhi, my elder cousin, who also lived in Adipur. One day I shared my worry of how to fulfil my filial duties with Deendayalji. He was a leader whose heart was always brimming with empathy for fellow party workers. He advised me to take up a job in Organiser. ‘It is our own journal,’ he said to me. ‘And you’ll like the work there because you have always loved writing. The journal also needs a person like you. Besides, it gives you the freedom to continue your political work for the party.’ Thus, in 1960, I joined Organiser as an Assistant Editor.
Founded in 1947, Organiser had a relatively small circulation but its visibility and influence in intellectual and political circles was considerable. Its Editor, K.R. Malkani, was a fine writer who, like me, was a RSS activist in Sindh prior to Partition. We had done our OTC together in Nagpur in 1946. Under Malkani’s able editorship, Organiser began to be read avidly by friends and foes alike of the RSS and the Jana Sangh.
My salary was quite modest—Rs 350 per month. This was because Organiser was not a commercial venture. Besides, for a long time after Independence, salaries, even in mainstream media, were quite low. Unlike now, journalism in the 1960s was not a financially lucrative career. It was chosen, generally, by two categories of people: those who had a strong personal aptitude and a natural flair for writing; or those who were idealistic and ideologically driven, and needed a platform from which to express themselves.
My work in Organiser necessitated a change in my sartorial appearance. Ever since I started working as an RSS pracharak in Rajasthan, I had stopped wearing trousers and shirt and, instead, switched over to the Indian-style dhoti and kurta. However, when I joined Organiser, my colleagues said to me, ‘A dhoti-kurta is the dress of a neta (political leader). It doesn’t suit journalists.’ I have never believed that western attire is a sign of modernity. I have always felt more comfortable, in body and in mind, wearing a dhoti-kurta. At the same time, I was never dogmatic about these matters. I saw some merit in the advice given by my colleagues and started wearing trousers once again. One day in our editorial review meeting, we discussed the common perception that ‘our journal was too dry and only wrote about political issues’. Malkani responded, ‘That’s true. We should also cover other interesting facets of life, such as films. But who will write on films?’ I volunteered and began writing a regular cinema column under the pen name ‘Netra’ (eye).