Who cooked his own goose?



President Pratibha Patil was always a Indira Gandhi loyalist. But, as far as I know (she was a family friend of a dear aunt’s), contrary to what Rajasthan ex-minister Amin Khan said recently, she never either cooked for Mrs Gandhi or washed dishes in her kitchen.

But Khan was right in believing that ‘patient loyalty’ is always rewarded. Patil was in a high state of depression when Mrs Gandhi was assassinated. She believed her world was over, until Indira’s son, Rajiv, by then having succeeded his mother into the Prime Minister’s office, made her the president of the Maharahstra Pradesh Congress Committee, essentially to keep then Chief Minister Sharad Pawar in check.

But long before being made either MPCC chief or, years later, President of India, Patil expected to be made the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. She had stood by Mrs Gandhi through thick and thin, even during the post-Emergency era when the Congress lost the election and Morarji Desai’s government began to harass the former Prime Minister every which way possible.

Old-time journalists who covered that era have told me that whenever Mrs Gandhi visited Bombay when she was out of power, more often than not, there would be hardly anybody to receive her at the airport. The only two people who were always there were Patil and Najma Heptullah, former Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha (even Patil held that job at one time).

In fact, it was not Patil but Heptullah who cooked for Mrs Gandhi – but not in the former PM’s kitchen; in her own, rather. Heptullah would always be present at the airport or whichever guest house Mrs Gandhi stayed in with a huge tiffin carrier filled to the brim with the best of pakwans that Mrs Gandhi adored. And, I presume, she took the tiffin carrier back home to be washed in her own kitchen by her own dishwashers. Heptullah could well afford both the human and the mechanical kind even in those days.

Mrs Gandhi (and both her son, Rajiv and daughter-in-law, Sonia) rewarded Heptullah with successive Rajya Sabha memberships even though Heputllah could not win a single party election in her own home town – when she stood for one, she got only one vote: her own. I am told Rajiv Gandhi then called Bombay Congress president Murli Deora to protest at that humiliation and asked Deora to make sure that Heptullah was somehow co-opted into the party executive.

I also know for sure that soon after Mrs Gandhi prepared to return to power and chose a new symbol for the Congress – the hand or the panja – after the earlier Congress symbol of ‘cow and calf’ was frozen by the Election Commission, she invited Heptullah to her home for breakfast, served (if not cooked) by Sonia Gandhi. Heptullah, I am told, landed up with her little daughter in tow and as Mrs Gandhi and Heptullah discussed whether the ‘Hand’ would be a good symbol to replace the ‘cow-and-calf’ with, Heptullah’s six-year old piped in with, “Haath se toh aap gai ka doodh bhi nikaal sakte hain (You can even milk the cow with the hand)!”

Mrs Gandhi was both taken aback and highly taken up with the comment – she called Sonia in to exclaim, “Out of the mouth of babes: listen to this little girl! I think we have got the symbol right!”

With that kind of friendship between the Heptullahs and the Gandhis, I do not know what came between them. I had known about that breakfast at the Gandhis’ long before Sonia became the Congress president. Heptullah was present at her first interaction with the media at a dinner thrown in Sonia Gandhi’s honour by Sharad Pawar in 1998 in Nasik. Some of us urged Heptullah for an introduction.

But Heptullah was very wary and hesitant to disturb Sonia as she conversed with some other party guests. When she finally got a word in, she bowed, almost to the double, and said in a very deferent fashion, “Madam, these are some journalists who would like to chat with you.”

I almost missed the first remarks made by Sonia because I was so startled at that deference. In the background of all that had transpired at that breakfast meeting in Mrs Indira Gandhi’s house, I had believed that Heptullah would have developed a cosy relationship with the former PM’s daughter-in-law and referred to her at least as ‘Soniaji’, if not in more familiar terms. But, clearly, there was a distance here and it became more apparent as Heptullah’s term ended and she began to make nasty remarks about her party and its president. (She is now in the BJP representing, suitably enough, Rajashtan in the Rajya Sabha.)

However, that kind of distance did not crop up between Patil and Sonia. Through the years, Patil spoke in affectionate terms about both Rajiv and his widow and I was not surprised when she was resurrected out of thin air and sent to Rajasthan as Governor (obviously Sonia had remembered Patil’s Rajasthani background). I was even less surprised when Sonia held her hand and drew her into her home when Patil went to New Delhi first after being nominated for President. The easy relationship between the two was apparent even through the television cameras.

Ironically, though Patil is being accused of going places because of her loyalty, very few, including Amin Khan, acknowledge that she is probably the only woman in Indian politics who has got there entirely on her own steam. (For more please read my earlier blog in June 2009 titled ‘With a little bit of luck’.) Even Heptullah, who cooked Mrs Gandhi great meals, laid a claim to a relationship with Maulana Azad. Patil was the first member of her family to have entered politics and it is her husband and her son who followed in her footsteps. In fact, both became MLAs (husband Devisinh Shekhawat in 1985, son Rajendra in 2009) riding piggyback on their wife and mother’s achievements, respectively.

But that, I guess, the Congress might have considered a small price to pay, given that she was diddled out of her due soon after Mrs Gandhi returned to power in 1980. Patil had successfully taken on Sharad Pawar when he split the Congress in 1978 and never let him breathe easily through out his term at the head of the Progressive Democratic Front government. Pawar had actually stabbed Maharashtra doyen Vasantdada Patil in the back but it was Pratibhatai who took the job of the leader of the opposition.

Mrs Gandhi subsequently rewarded every leader of the opposition and every PCC chief who had stood by her during and after the Emergency with the office of the chief minister in every state. But Vasantdada proved too much for both Mrs Gandhi and Pratibha Patil. The moment Dada (who, appropriately enough again, ended his career as Rajasthan’s governor) got a whiff of Mrs Gandhi’s intentions with regard to his home state, he manipulated the events in such a manner that the former PM was left with no alternative but to offer the job to a Maratha, rather than a Rajasthani, albeit with firm roots in her adopted state.

My aunt was holidaying with Patil at her official summer residence in Mount Abu when she received the call telling her about her nomination for President of India. I cannot reveal the details of the private conversation that they had (bits of which were related to me by my aunt). But, based on that, I could conclude that Patil’s fears that she would be just another unsung MLA/minister/MP, forgotten by history, and asked to identify herself wherever she went by even her own party workers, would not now come to pass. Her loyalty had paid off.

But, at the end of the day, is loyalty such a bad thing, after all? Don’t we all expect our families/friends/ colleagues/partners et al to be loyal to us? And don’t we go the extra mile to do things for those who have stood by us in our darkest hour of need?

Amin Khan should have found better words to express that sentiment – he would then not have had to cook his own goose!

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  • http://- Rajeev

    Clearly a PAID blog…Way to go..

    Sujata is writing with so much authority as if she knows what went on Indira Gandhi’s Kichen or Najma’s Kitchen.

    How thick these HT journos are?

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    Mohit Sood, Delhi Reply:

    she knows; since she knows how to cook up

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  • shikha

    I felt sorry after reading this column..just couldn’t believe my eyes that this made to HT blog. So along with family cooks, gandhis had the luxury of family journos as well !!

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  • ramesh singh

    haha…kongis stooges…its publicaly known tht pratibha was a cook…for indira n familly…..

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  • Naren

    What is so surprise in cooking Pratibha to Indira ??? Gyani Zeal Sing himself told that he scrubbed and sweeping on the order of Indira. That’s why they are able to get President of India post. These Presidents are India/Sonia gatekeepers or janitors.

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  • BA

    Sujatha – I like reading your articles but not this one. First of all, I still have to see how Patil’s presidency can be seen as empowerment of women? She has been the president of India for quite some time, but can you even pls list her 3 achievements ? Agreed that you are part of social circle but then you should refarin talking about her since that is more like conflict of your journalist duty. When you are conencted to Patil through your aunt, how can we expect you writing bad about her. Very disappointing article. I hope I will be proved wrong but before that I would have to see what Patil is doing for this country and for women of this great country.

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  • Bonam Vijaya Rama Rao

    The post of President commanded lot of respect When eminent scholars and great personalities like Babu Rajendra Prasad,Radhakrishnan,Zakir Hussain were the Occupants.BJP,all said and done,whatever their compelling reasons may be, brought in Kalam.Whatever may be the credentials of Mrs Patil,she was not known to the people of this country or even outside as a distinguished personality or a scholar.I think the political parties should try to project a Person with good reputation as a presidential candidate so that the image of the country will improve at international level,rather than rewarding people with just political loyalty.The remarks of the Rajasthan Minister a have to be taken with a pinch of salt,as if it were to be true we could have some renowned CHEFFs occupying Rashtrapati Bhavan!

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  • Raj

    Can someone please find the names of Sonia Gandhi’s personal driver, servant, gardener etc. Since sometime later you would find them in CM’s or President’s office. This is fact we have now so many examples
    1, RK Dhawan
    2, Giani Zial Singh
    3, Pratibha Patil

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  • Areo

    Frauds, scams and criminal acts galore.

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    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hindustan Times, Hameed Azar. Hameed Azar said: RT @htTweets: HT Blogs | Sujata Anandan: As far as I know, #Pratibha Patil never cooked for Mrs #Indira Gandhi #ht http://bit.ly/hHyU9o [...]

  • Subhash Reddy

    This is not a family affair, Sujatha. This is the Nation we are talking about. If one is so impressed by somebody’s loyalty then one can keep that somebody in one’s home and do all the favors personally.

    When do we understand that the Nation’s Affairs must be on the basis of Merit – whether it is credentials or integrity.

    Perhaps, the writer would be even more impressed about the value of loyalty when she visits with one of the Mafia Families. That is where loyalty is valued the most.

    We are not choosing a Lieutenant for a Mafia Family, lady!. The President of India is not a servant of a family for being chosen on the basis of loyalty. She is the Titular Head of the Nation of India and the person who represents India to the world.

    No wonder our Nation is in such a poor state of affairs when even the respected journalists have such notions.

    Subhash Reddy

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  • singhs

    I loved the ‘diddled out of her dues’. There is such a mellifluous poetry in this!

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  • adithyan

    weighing between Najma and Prathiba patil, claim of Patil is more. As per the concoction presented above, Najma just brought the carrier with pre cooked food. But certainly the performance of household chores like cooking personally, washing the garments and cleaning and sanitising the toilets should have attracted more appreciation to consider patil deserve for he presidency. In fact, Najma has all the qualifications for the post of presidency. Only because the contestant is more loyal than the loyalists, she got it. If you want a posting in world bank, you should be a relative of a loyalist to the congress presidency which is only the merit. If they find a shit worm more loyal to congress than patil, indians will have to accept it. All just bloody roman slaves

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  • khushwant singh gill

    i had heard once the wording of Mr. giani Zail singh president of India that he can do the job of cleaning if Indira gandhi orders him to do so and i think in actual life he was doing this .And later on he was awarded the presidentship of India.Now just yesterday i had seen on TV a police officer cleaning the shoes of Mayawati and keep in mind very soon he will be rewarded in extension of his job or seat of MLA by Mayawati.Everything is possible in the political field of India the Great India ruled by such leaders.

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  • Ravi

    Sujata Anandan is right. It was instead her whole family who used to wash bartans, make Tea for Indira Gandh’s kitchen.

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  • Mohit Sood, Delhi

    the blog is nothing but an attempt to show her loyalty towards congress so that one fine day fortune may fall on this writer’s head also. it is another attempt of sycophancy and an attempt of flattery to win favour from congress. hence the blogger started to cook up her story for known facts just to disregard the fact. But fact remains fact, it is immaterial how much efforts you have made to suppress it, more you try to cover it more it expose.

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  • chinnu_akkure

    Stupid! “cooked for Mrs Gandhi or washed dishes in her kitchen” –is a metaphor. This says oiling does help you get better position. Amin’s very candid.

    But the core problem is there must be a law forbidding persons who held positions of any political party becoming prez or governor.

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  • ram

    Running country on basis of loyalty and NOT merit is costing the country dearly presently and in the long run. It is this culture of corruption and nepotism which our enemy countries are exploiting to the hilt. While these nations are building offensive and defense capabilities UPA Govt and bureaucrats are milking Indian people DRY like there is no tomorrow!

    Hence your praise of Pratibha Patil is shameless and uncalled for. The position of PRESIDENT AND PRIME MINISTER has gone to sycophants and undeserving people whi have DEVALUED INDIA’s REPUTATION in eyes of world and Indian people!

    Ram

    NRI Singapore

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  • Ram

    @Ms. Sujata

    There is nothing wrong with loyalty to nehru family
    But the problem is the post of President is not the personal property of nehru family to be given to their best servant.

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  • Kishan

    Loyalty is not a bad thing as such. But it degenerates very quickly into cronyism. So beware of those who value loyalty above everything else.

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  • Sanjiv

    Oh my god this place is so disgusting….i think i will soon have a heart attack reading HT bogs….

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  • http://- Rajeev

    I just realised, Sujata looks like KAAM-WALI-BAI who is high on drugs.

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    shikha Reply:

    Rajeev,

    I do not agree with Sujatha but I do not agree with Kaam wali bai remarks on her looks. I do not think it is fair.

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    Rajeev Reply:

    Who told you Kaamwali bai look ugly? Stop Stereotyping people for god sake…I said she looks like Kaamwalibai..The Kaamwalibai can be beautiful just like anyone.

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  • subhash saini

    SUJATA,
    LET US SEE WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT PAWAR-GOENKA-BALAWA UNION.

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  • Nirupam

    Maachudani Sujata aur uski maa

    [Reply]

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    official website…

    Who cooked his own goose? : Singly Political…