When Nehru visited Hisar, and NDA : The Tribune India

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When Nehru visited Hisar, and NDA

When Nehru visited Hisar, and NDA

Tribune file photo



Lt Gen Raj Kadyan (Retd)

During our trip to the United Kingdom to meet our son last year, we also visited the grandson’s school at Harrow. While showing us around, he pointed to the room where Jawaharlal Nehru had stayed as a student. It stirred some memories.

In 1951, the Prime Minister visited Hisar. My brother, commanding the military police unit, piloted the VIP cavalcade to various meeting venues. At the end, after the departing convoy was on the main road, he halted on the side and saluted as the PM’s car passed. Within yards, the car screeched to a halt and reversed. Pandit Nehru came out, shook hands with my brother and said, “Thank you, young man, for all your help.” My brother remembered that humane gesture all his life.

Prime Minister Nehru was instrumental in selecting Khadakvasla (Pune) as the new site for the National Defence Academy and reviewed the first passing-out parade there in June 1955. He visited NDA again on May 14, 1961. The visit concluded with lunch in the cadets’ mess. As per protocol, a visiting dignitary was seated between the Commandant and the Academy Cadet Captain (ACC). I was the ACC.

During the period, our only access to the world was through newspapers. Given our tight schedule, we only read the sports page. As a result, our horizon was limited.

Since the PM would have had a discussion with the Commandant during pre-lunch hours, it was expected that he would spend more time interacting with me. The prospect was intimidating. No one had tutored me on what I should say or discuss. Such freedom was part of our grooming.

After receiving him in the foyer, I guided the PM to his seat on the centre table on a raised platform. Frail and slightly stooped, he had a handsome peach red complexion. He must have realised the nervous apprehension of a teenager sitting to his right. The hallmark of a great person lies in his descending to the level of the other in conversation. This the PM did, starting with asking where I hailed from.

When I mentioned my village in Rohtak district, he enquired whether we had electricity, roads, running water, etc. I told him of the stone-soled road with once-a-day bus service to the town and that we drew drinking water from the well. More than half the houses were mud structures. There was no electricity and I studied in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. Maybe it was to put me at ease, he evinced keen interest in whatever I told him. On electricity, he said we would be getting it soon; and we did, the very next year.

He asked me about our life in the Academy. Here I was on firm ground.

Emboldened by his easy manner, I ventured into asking, “Sir, why is India a poor country?” He smiled, giving no indication of my naiveté. Then he gave a detailed explanation of how we started at near zero at Independence. I suddenly felt the person sitting beside me was not only the PM of the world’s largest democracy with a strong global presence, but was also a patient teacher, a gentle elder.

“Sir, won’t the Bhakra Nangal Dam improve our irrigation?” I was in Class 8 when the dam was inaugurated in 1954.

“Yes, of course it will,” he replied, predicting that Punjab would soon be India’s food basket. He went on to elaborate the country’s efforts at industrialisation and scientific progress. In fact, starting a world-class defence academy itself was a great achievement, he mentioned.

When lunch finished, I guided him to the table where the visitors’ book was kept. While getting down the approximately 12-inch step, he placed his hand on my shoulder for support. I was suddenly emotional and saw a father figure in him.

We were in North Kashmir when on May 27, 1964 — 60 years ago — news broadcaster Melville de Mellow announced the death of PM Nehru. ‘What’ and not ‘who’ after Nehru was the common concern of most Indians.

#England #Hisar


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