Reverence and hero worship for Jawaharlal Nehru was normal not only with the older generation but with our generation as well. My father, Bhim Sen Sachar was a Congress leader. In 1937 he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Nehru campaigned for him. Even though I was just 14, I got ample opportunity to see him closely at meetings and functions.
In May 1949, the Socialist Party under Ram Manohar Lohia’s leadership held a demonstration in front of the Nepal embassy in New Delhi to protest against the Rana government in the Himalayan kingdom. We were arrested for violating Section 144 CRPC and remained in jail for a month and a half. It was during that imprisonment that Nehru and Indira sent a basket of mangoes to Lohia. Sardar Patel wrote to Nehru expressing his annoyance over sending mangoes to a person who had violated the law. Nehru in his quiet way told him that politics and personal relationships should not be mixed up.
In 1952, the Congress returned to power with a clear majority in the Punjab Assembly elections. Nehru and Azad appointed my father as the leader of the Congress party and he again became the Chief Minister of Punjab, which then comprised the present-day Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
Political morality was very high amongst the leaders of the 1950s. For instance, when the Governor of Punjab invited Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit as a guest for a vacation in Shimla (then the capital of Punjab) in 1954, she was put up in the government guest house and a bill of Rs 2,064 was sent to the Governor because she was his guest. The Governor however, didn’t pay the bill and the chief engineer brought this to the notice of my father. On his next visit to Delhi in May 1955, my father brought the matter to Nehru’s notice. Nehru immediately wrote a cheque of Rs 1,000 and said, “I am giving this now. I am going to Europe and once I come back I will pay the remaining amount.” Later, the Governor was so ashamed that he paid the balance from his discretionary fund.
In 1955, when I was the chairperson of the Socialist Party (Punjab) and the general secretary of the Punjab High Court Bar Association, the Punjab High Court was shifting from Shimla to Chandigarh. It was to be inaugurated by Nehru and he had come to Chandigarh the evening before. My father, who was then the Chief Minister of Punjab, invited Nehru for breakfast at our residence. Our party was convinced (rightly or wrongly, time alone will tell) that Nehru, who had shown the vision of socialism to us, had not kept that pace and was following wrong policies. So I told my father that I would not be at the breakfast table to receive Nehru, though my wife would be there. So I went to my office before Nehru arrived. I admired Nehru, so could not think of being rude to him by not joining him for breakfast. Now I laugh at my presumptuousness. But such were the peculiarities of a radical youth.
Nehru had done some inner thinking told Maulana Azad, “We should do something for Sachar.” He appointed my father as the Governor of Orissa in 1956 and wrote to the Chief Minister saying, “Your governor is a very good administrator and you will find him so.”
Father thereafter left active politics and engaged himself in the Khadi movement. But his spirit of freedom was still strong, when he wrote to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency reminding her of what Nehru said about freedom of press. On 23 July 1975 he wrote, “To my mind, the freedom of the press is not just a slogan from the larger point of view but it is an essential attribute of the democratic process. I have no doubt that even if the government dislikes the liberties taken by the press and considers them dangerous, it is wrong to interfere with the freedom of the press. By imposing restriction you do not change anything; you merely suppress the public manifestation of certain things, thereby causing the idea and thought underlying them to spread further. Therefore, I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated press. We must respond to the call. Accordingly we propose, with effect from August 9, 1975 and regardless of consequences to ourselves, to advocate openly the right of public speech and public association and freedom of the press, for discussing the merits and demerits of the government arming itself with extraordinary powers.”
Father was arrested soon, and released because his habeas corpus petition was accepted by High Court.