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From Nehru’s stenographer to Indira’s man Friday, the life and times of R.K. Dhawan

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The senior Congress leader who passed away Monday was known to be Indira Gandhi’s closest confidant during and after the Emergency.

New Delhi: There was a time when R.K. Dhawan’s words carried the aura and authority of prime minister Indira Gandhi herself. The senior Congress leader, who passed away Monday at the age of 81, was her closest confidant and adviser, and finds regular mention in books about her era.

One such book is India: The Crucial Years by T.V. Rajeswar, former chief of the Intelligence Bureau and another close confidant, which provides many examples of how important Dhawan really was in the Indira years.

Also read: R.K. Dhawan stood by Sonia Gandhi when no one else did.


Rise to prominence

Dhawan started his career as a stenographer in Jawaharlal Nehru’s office and grew to become the closest confidant of Indira Gandhi, who was not occupying any office then. He also served two terms in the Rajya Sabha.

After Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha declared her election null and void and barred her from public office for six years (which led to the declaration of the Emergency), pro-Indira protests became a routine affair in Delhi. Rajeswar writes “R.K. Dhawan, Mrs Gandhi’s close confidant and personal secretary, played an important role in organising these demonstrations.”

Rajeswar writes that Dhawan functioned as the PM’s ‘gatekeeper’ in the Emergency era, often conveying instructions to various ministers and chief ministers.


In the months leading up to the general elections of January 1980, Rajeswar passed the information about political developments to Indira Gandhi through Dhawan.

After Indira returned to power in 1980, civil servant Jagmohan, a trusted aide of Sanjay Gandhi, was given the task of preparing the list of officers who could be appointed to crucial administrative positions. Rajeswar recalls: “I would often see him (Jagmohan) in R.K. Dhawan’s room, perusing documents and listing out names.”

He further writes how Dhawan called him on 7 February, 1980, and conveyed to him the news of his appointment as director of the Intelligence Bureau.

On one occasion when, in 1980, Indira Gandhi presented medals to some officers of the CBI, Dhawan told her she had presented the medals to the very same people who had harassed them when she had lost power after the Emergency.

Rajeswar writes: “An inquiry was ordered, and the possibility of cancelling the medal was explored.”

After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Dhawan fell out of favour with her son and successor Rajiv Gandhi, and was shunted out. The Thakkar Commission, instituted to investigate her murder, pointed fingers towards Dhawan’s involvement. It was only at the end of Rajiv’s term that Dhawan and he made peace.

Also read: Surprise: Nehru library also has the best collection of RSS’s Hedgewar, Savarkar papers.


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