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When Nehru ‘punished’ a bureaucrat for not giving free ride to a journalist

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Very recently, we have been seeing the Congress party celebrating acquittal of Raja in the 2G scam and relief to Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh scam. But the nation is largely unaware of the attitude of the most celebrated Congressman, Jawaharlal Nehru towards national resources. The anecdote that I am about to share comes from an unexpected source; a book about Subramanian Swamy written by his wife Roxna Swamy.

In the first chapter of the book : “Evolving with Dr Swamy” , Roxna Swamy narrates an anecdote from her father (an ICS officer)’s career . The chapter is titled “The Precursor To Swamy : Daddy”.  Mrs Swamy doesn’t write her father’s name in the book , therefore I am forced to use the phrase ‘Roxna Swamy’s father’ .

She recounts her father’s experience with Nehru in early fifties regarding an order to make available a defence plane to an American lady journalist. There had been floods in Bihar at the time of the journalist’s interview of Nehru. After it was done, she lady journalist had expressed her wish to view the floods in Bihar from air.  Our hero Nehru, declared that he would make her wish come true. 


Nehru directed the Defence Ministry to make arrangements. The file came to the junior secretary in the ministry (Roxna Swamy’s father). The man refused to accept this request and returned the file. He got a call from M.O. Mathai, Nehru’s private secretary, who pointed out that the request came from the Prime Minister himself. Here I quote from the book ( page 9 ):

“Nehru has no authority to requisition a defence plane for this purpose”; and when Mathai persisted, my father (using what every seasoned bureaucrat  knows is the ultimate Sudarshan Chakra , to be used only at your peril) told him, “Give it to me in writing.” Mathai went and reported to Nehru

Apparently, her father presented himself before Nehru and received a long lecture on the freedom movement. “You people still think that you are working under the British“, he reportedly said. And then, Nehru went on to ask him to sign the requisitioning papers. Again, Roxna Swamy’s father asked for a written request. Eventually, Nehru did not give the order in writing and her father was transferred to Bombay from Delhi.

Of course this is no scam, but the tendency of the Congress to treat national resources as petty objects that can be used for personal benefit or enhance one’s own image is a very old and deeply rooted attitude. The same attitude has blossomed into a patronage based corrupt polity where embezzlement of public resources is not an exception but a norm. This episode, if accurate, also makes us think about the unholy nexus between journalists and politicians (especially Congressmen).

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