Social media platforms have been going on an overdrive in portraying noted industrialist, the late Kapil Mohan as the man who introduced the country to the Old Monk rum. In WhatsApp videos, a 21-Shot Salute has been given to him to mark his contribution to the life of tipplers. For several decades, Kapil Mohan was the head of the Mohan Meakin group, but the rum, perhaps, first made it to the market when his elder brother, the late Colonel V.R. Mohan, was the boss in the early 1970s.
The brewery, which was originally known as Dyer Meakin (having been founded by Edward Dyer, father of General Reginald Dyer, better remembered as the butcher of Amritsar), was best known for its whiskies—Solan Number 1 and Black Knight, in addition to the Golden Eagle Beer and Ginger Tonic. The rum came on the scene much later when the company was headed by Indians and the brewery which initially functioned from Kasauli (and Murree in Pakistan) had shifted to nearby Solan.
However, Kapil Mohan’s rise to fame was not because of the alcoholic beverages that his company produced from multiple locations, but on account of his key role in the fall of the Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai in 1979. He had actively abetted in the conspiracy hatched by Raj Narain and Sanjay Gandhi to topple the government, which was losing its equilibrium due to its inherent ideological contradictions.
It was at Kapil Mohan’s 46, Pusa Road residence that Raj Narain and Sanjay Gandhi held more than a dozen meetings over lavishly hosted lunches and high teas, all courtesy Pushpa Mohan, the industrialist’s wife. The Mohan family was extremely close to Indira Gandhi and simultaneously to Ram Manohar Lohia, Raj Narain, Gumnami Baba, Nanaji Deshmukh and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Shortly after Indira Gandhi lost power in 1977, she summoned Kapil Mohan to her house and expressed concern regarding the safety of her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi. Consequently, Sanjay was surreptitiously shifted to Summerhall, the Mohan Meakin guest house in Solan, where he stayed for nearly a month in the company of Kapil’s nephew, and one time right hand man, Anil Bali.
The industrialist was then again summoned by Indira Gandhi to be briefed about the highly egoistic personalities of Morarji Desai, Jagjivan Ram and Charan Singh and told him to work on ways and means of creating a wedge in the government. Raj Narain, who was the Health Minister and a frequent visitor to the Mohan residence, was selected as the man who could execute the near impossible task. Having turned a vegetarian during Emergency, the late socialist leader would often land up to dine on mushrooms and other delectable fare.
It so happened that the Health Minister had to go to Shimla for an official engagement, but was taken aback when the young and attractive Shyama Sharma, a minister, was deputed by Chief Minister Shanta Kumar to receive him. He wanted to hold a rally on the Ridge but was curtly informed that the place was out of bounds and his meeting had been arranged at the nearby Ladies Park. His reasoning that Atal Behari Vajpayee had held a meeting on the Ridge was to no avail. He, subsequently, went to the Raj Bhavan for lunch where he was served unpalatable spicy dishes. Livid at what he perceived to be a calculated insult, he returned to Solan to be greeted by the Mohans over a sumptuous meal. It was at this point that Raj Narain called his close associate Charan Singh and declared, he “will not allow Morara (Morarji Desai) to continue as PM”. Thus, thereby, rekindling Charan Singh’s ambitions.
Several meetings with Sanjay Gandhi followed; Sanjay normally would arrive at Pusa Road accompanied by his school mates Kamal Nath and Akbar Ahmed, who would remain outside while in presence of Kapil Mohan he confabulated with Raj Narain. The issue of dual membership in the Janata Party came up, where Raj Narain demanded that members of the erstwhile Jana Sangh should sever links with the RSS. The boat began to rock and Indira Gandhi goaded Charan Singh to take over as PM, promising him outside support.
Charan Singh finally took over but could not garner sufficient numbers to face Parliament. The Mohans were instrumental in facilitating the Gandhis to pull off a democratic coup. A bitter Raj Narain had an ugly verbal confrontation with Sanjay Gandhi, but it was inconsequential since the Congress had achieved its objective. Indira Gandhi returned to power and over a course of time, Kapil Mohan was conferred with the honorary rank of a brigadier in the Territorial Army after she declined to make him a Padma awardee on the ground that bestowing the honour on a brewery man would send a wrong signal.
Incidentally, Kapil Mohan also played a significant role in softening the RSS towards the Congress, resulting in Balasaheb Deoras extending his organisation’s covert support to the Congress in the 1980 parliamentary polls, “in the interest of the nation”. Later, the industrialist coordinated and arranged the first two meetings between Rajiv Gandhi and Bhaurau Deoras, younger brother of the RSS chief, at his Pusa Road residence. A few years later, the third meeting took place at Anil Bali’s Friend’s Colony house.
The Mohans and the Gandhis fell out in 1989; but Kapil Mohan already was a part of modern history. Between us.