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An Encounter with Mrs. Indira Gandhi
12 Nov 2011


  It was the last week of November, 1976. The then Union Education Minister, Dr. Karan Singh got orgainsed an Art Exhibition of  eminent artist Sobha Singh's paintings at the Fine Arts Gallery on Rafi Marg New Delhi to mark the platinum  birthday of this celebrated artist.   The exhibition was organized in collaboration with  the chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademy, Mr Ram Niwas Mirdha, who was also Union Minister of State for Irrigation at that time. Being a close relative, I accompanied the artist. Invitation cards alongwith a catalogue of the exhibits and brochure about the life, personality and work of the artist were delivered at the Secretariats of the President and the Prime Minister . The then President Mr Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed was out of Delhi in those days.

 

     All of sudden on the evening of November 29 (the 75th birthday of the artist) Mrs Indira Gandhi accompanied by her younger son, Mr Sanjay Gandhi  arrived at the Exhibition venue. Those were the days of  infamous Emergency, but she was not accompanied by any Commando or policemen  in uniform,  of course some security personnel in plainclothes had arrived there a few minutes before her arrival.

 

. Though the artist was himself present there, he directed me to attend to Mrs Gandhi and show her all exhibits with explaination of the theme of all the 39 paintings on the display. Mrs Gandhi took keen interest in al the paintings, but skipped when came across her own  portrait, which was also on the display.

 

            A controversy about Kohinoor diamond was on in  the media in those days. While several Sikh orgainsations including SGPC had been prx impressing upon the Government of India to take back this diamond to display in the   Toshakhana or  Central Sikh Museum at Golden Temple  . Amritsar on the plea that it belonged to the  Sikhs since it was in the “Toshakhana” of Mahraja Ranjit Singh. On the other hand, the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mr. Z.A. Bhutto also laid claim of his country on the diamond on the plea that a vast tract of the Maharaja’a kingdom including his capital at Lahore and birth place at Gujjranwala, fall in that country. A life size painting of Maharaja Daleep Singh, the youngest son of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh and last Sikh ruler of Punjab, was also on display. When I told Mrs Gandhi that Kohinorr Diamond passed on to  Queen Victoria through Maharaja Daleep Singh, she quipped, "Bhutto Sahib hira maang rahe hain, zeh to Bharat ka hai " (Mr Bhutto has been laying claim on this diamond, it belonged to India).

 

            After seeing the exhibition for about an hour, Mrs. Gandhi made her complimentary remarks to the  legendary  artist, said “Namaskar” with folded hands, and left the Hall all of sudden. She came and left the venue of exhibition like a volcano. That was her style of functioning.
                                                                                            
                                                        by  Harbir Singh Bhanwer
                                         # 194-C, BRS Ngar, Ludhiana, M. 9876295829

                                               Email: hsbhanwer@rediffmail.com