Rajmohan is a full decade older than I. He is also that much taller. Someone just over six feet, dwarfs someone just under six feet. You have to look up to him when hearing him speak, or when speaking to him. And he must bend his head, just so, to help the process.
He is, has always been, at some height.
There has never been a time when I have not known him to be meant for a purpose higher than his surroundings offer, bigger than the opportunities that have come his way.
Our maternal grandfather, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari regarded him as a natural born leader. He narrated, at a public meeting in Bombay, once, as to how the Mahatma complained to him that in naming their grandson Rajmohan, he, Rajaji, had placed his own part-name, Raj, ahead of Gandhiji’s, Mohan. ‘No, Bapu, it is not quite like that’, Rajaji quickly rationalized. ‘His name is, and will be yours – Mohan ; Raj will be merely an adjective’.
And so Mohan he has been in the family.
‘Raj’, in terms of office or power, has always eluded him.
He is himself to blame, of course.
Our father was editor of The Hindustan Times when a first and fatal heart attack carried him away in 1957. Mohan, then twenty-two, had just then finished an internship with The Scotsman in Edinburgh and moved towards Frank Buchman’s Moral Re-Armament movement. Ghanshyamdas Birla asked him to join The Hindustan Times’ senior editorial staff, with the clear prospect of taking, at not too distant a date, his father’s position in the paper. But no, fixing the world’s mildewed moral plumbing was priority. For the next decade Mohan travelled the world giving MRA a stature it would never have dreamed of getting without his intellectual rigour, his shining veracity and his inspiring commitment.
In the general elections of 1967, many persons urged Mohan to stand for the Lok Sabha. The Swatantra Party was then a force to be reckoned with, though not as strong as it had been, in 1962. Rajaji was excited at the prospect of Mohan contesting and offered his party’s backing even if he chose to stand as an independent from Saurashtra. It is my belief that had Mohan not opted out of that election, he would have won that election handsomely and been in the Lok Sabha during the critical Indira Gandhi years, offering a leadership alternative of enormous appeal.
The written and spoken word were then, and remain, his forte. Starting in the mid-Sixties, from Bombay, with the late Russi M.Lala, a brave weekly called ‘Himmat’ Mohan engaged with Indian affairs very intimately. The weekly was read widely, admired hugely, for its outspokenness, its high-quality writing, its appeal to individual and collective consciences. The Emergency frowned on him, on Himmat. ‘Picked up’, with our third brother, the philosopher, Ramchandra Gandhi, on October 2, 1975, from a prayer gathering at Rajghat, by the police, the two could have been ‘in’ for many months. But I think Prime Minister Indira Gandhi must have been advised that two Gandhi-Rajaji grandsons in her jail would bring her the world press’ growl. They were both released within hours.
In a sense that Emergency episode brought Rajmohan to the heart of mainstream Indian politics as a liberal democrat, with a passion for Hindu-Muslim amity, probity in public life and civil liberties. Unsurprisingly, Vishwanath Pratap Singh sought Mohan out, in the post-Bofors phase to contest against Rajiv Gandhi from Amethi, in 1989. The future Prime Minister motored to Teen Murti House where Mohan was working in the archives, to urge him to do so. After some reflection, Mohan agreed to do so and by so doing gave the country its most defining election, that year. The incumbent Prime Minister was not to be defeated easily but the panic created by Mohan’s entry in the field led, I believe, without any sanction from Rajiv himself, to a brazen and shameful rigging on poll-day. Mohan lost, not all that badly, but the national outrage created by the Amethi rigging led to several elections in the subsequent rounds elsewhere in the country going against the Congress.
Mohan was brought to the Rajya Sabha by a grateful V P Singh and was slated to be inducted in his cabinet during a re-shuffle when the V P Singh government fell.
The loss to politics by Mohan’s political absence has been the gain of history-writing. From his uncompromisingly fair pen have emerged the life-stories of Gandhi, Rajaji, Patel, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Each one of those books has been hailed as about the best, if not the last word on the subject.
If the reader of this tribute by a younger brother has not read Mohan’s description of the Mahatma’s assassination in ‘The Good Boatman’, he or she is urged to do so. A more moving and epiphanic account is not to be found anywhere. Paradoxical as this might seem, the Mahatma comes alive in that description.
His little book on eight Muslim leaders of the sub-continent has done more to increasing India’s understanding of its Islamic legacy than any other book has. His work ‘Revenge and Reconciliation’ on the sub-continent’s conflicts must go down as a moving argument for civilisational redemptions coming from mutual respect.
His latest book on the history of the Punjab from the time of Aurangzeb to Mountbatten will be a reference work for all time. The response to the work in Pakistan has been incredible.
Mohan is, as always, taller than the circumstances that surround him. That enables him to cast a look that is much longer than and goes well beyond short-term horizons. His standing from the East Delhi seat for the Lok Sabha in the elections that are to take place in the coming days is consistent with his life-long passion to imbue India’s public life with ethical standards, valuational norms and civilisational redeeming of a kind the world will respect.
He is today an elder statesman.
If he loses, political philistinism will win.
If he wins, political grossness will be put in its place.