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My meetings with Prime Minister Desai when he was out of power

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Subhash Mathur is a resident of Jaipur after superannuation from Indian Revenue Service in 2007. Presently, Subhash is engaged in social and charitable work in rural areas. Subhash is also Editor of http://www.inourdays.org/, an online portal for preserving work related memories.

I had the privilege of driving Morarji Desai, India's future Prime Minister, when I was a young college student in Jaipur.

Humiliated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's decision to take away his Finance Ministry portfolio without consulting him, and disagreeing strongly with her decision to nationalise the fourteen biggest banks in India, he resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister on 16 July, 1969.

My father, Shri Khem Chand, had retired from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in April 1969. In his retirement, he was looking for ways to keep himself busy. (He passed in 2004).

A civil servant before he turned politician, Morarji Desai kept up a regular postal correspondence with my father. I, and my siblings, typed Daddy's letters on a portable, manual typewriter that we had bought from a foreign scholar who had come to Jaipur.

We do not have the letters my father wrote to Morarji, as he was commonly called. However, we have two letters written by Morarji to my father in 1970.

Morarji April 1970 letter

Morarji Desai's letter dated 24 April 1970 to Shri Khem Chand, my father.

My father replied to this letter, as indicated by Morarji's letter below.

Morarji May 1970 front

Front of Morarji Desai's postcard letter dated 2 May 1970 to Shri Khem Chand, my father.

The sentence at the top of the left-hand side is a continuation of the letter on the back side below.

Morarji May 1970 back

Back of Morarji Desai's postcard letter dated 2 May 1970 to Shri Khem Chand, my father.

In the months following his resignation, Morarji Desai decided to visit Jaipur and agreed to meet my father during the visit. My father designated my oldest brother, called Titi, and me to receive Morarji Desai on his arrival at the Jaipur railway station.

Our family car at the time was a Hillman Minx, a British middle-sized family car. Luxurious compared to similar modern Indian cars, its seating comfort was superior.

If and when the Hillman moved (that's too long a story to be included here), it provided a very cool driving experience!

Daddy bought the car in Bikaner but it was registered in Ajmer, where he was posted as Collector from September 1957 to July 1958. In those days, license plate numbers of cars consisted of three parts. The first part was two letter that indicated the state where the vehicle was registered; in our case, "RJ" for Rajasthan. The next part consisted of one letter that identified the district. Since Ajmer was the last district to join Rajasthan, it was designated "Z". The third and last part consisted of a 4-digit number unique to each plate - but some cars were exempt from the 4-digit rule.

The Commissioner, the highest ranking office in the area, of Ajmer Division was allotted licence plate RJZ 1 for his car. Daddy, who was number two as Collector Ajmer, got RJZ 2.

The number plate did not change later, even after we moved out of Ajmer to Jaipur.

The single digit number "2" signified that the car was a VIP vehicle. No traffic cop ever stopped the car; in fact the car was in fact given priority clearance

In 1961, we moved into a house called Jwala Bhavan in C-Scheme, Jaipur. The Hillman used to be parked in the garage, whose entry was from the side street. The garage was so placed that it was a piece of cake parking the car bonnet first but getting the car out needed a new skill set. There was no room for error of even one inch. The path had to be ramrod straight. This skill set always came in handy in later years.

While the car was parked, it was a bit boxed in with difficulty in opening the doors fully but in those days no one ever complained.

I started driving the Hillman during my school days, which ended in 1964, but got my driving license in 1966. My brothers and I learnt how to drive the car from Sadiq mian (a term of respect), Daddy's driver. As my brother Subodh often remembers, when Sadiq mian was teaching driving, he used to say, "भैय्या जी, जल्दी का काम शैतान का |", meaning "Speed is the work of the devil." He believed in getting to the destination safe and sound - no rushing to get there! Much later, Subodh related this story to his son, Abhijai, when he was learning to drive.

When Morarji Desai arrived at Jaipur, Titi and I drove to the railway station in the Hillman to receive him. To everyone's surprise his hosts, the Kamanis, failed to turn up. (Perhaps we should not have been surprised. In those days, since Morarji Desai was out of favour with Indira Gandhi and the Congress party, he was practically an outcaste.)

So with Morarji Desai gracing the back seat of Hillman, I drove to the Kamani palatial house in C-Scheme near Statue Circle.

After I finished college, I joined the civil service in the Customs and Central Excise Department under the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance. The day after my joining day, 4 November 1971, Daddy surprised me by meeting me at my training Institute in Hauz Khas, New Delhi. After meeting my Director and other senior officials, he persuaded me to go with him and Lal dada, one of our relatives, to Morarji Desai's house.

We met Morarji Desai, who was still out of power at that time, for about 10 minutes. He mentioned to me that he was unhappy with the dilution of the Gold Control measures introduced by him in 1962, in the wake of the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. (Later, the administration of gold control policy came to Customs and Central Excise Department and remained so until revoked in 1990 by then Finance Minister Madhu Dandvate.)

Morarji became India's Prime Minister in 1977. We do not have any letter that he many have written to my father then or later.

© Subhash Mathur 2016

Editor's note; For an account of Morarji's visit to an Indian Navy's ship when he was Prime Minister, see Morarji's Visit to INS Shakti.