On the Morning of 23rd June 1980, Sanjay Gandhi, well known for his love for flying, crashed a Pitts S2 aircraft near Delhi’s Safdarjung airport and died instantly of severe head injuries. He left a young widow, Maneka and a three-month-old son, Varun, behind, apart from his mother who was prime minister.
In his Book, “India Since Independence : Making Sense of Indian Politics”, V. Ananth Krishna wrote :
“In fact, the ill fated Pitts S2, aircraft that Sanjay was flying and crashed on June 23 1980, belonged to Brahmachari. The yoga teacher claimed to have received it - along with expensive cars and lots of money - from his disciples abroad as a gift and was thus allowed to import it without paying any customs duties or other taxes.”
A day after Sanjay’s death, Dhirendra Brahmachari told Associated Press (AP): “Sanjay was a very good pilot, but I told him not to try and display too much artistry.”
Later, the entire nation watched as the yogi took the lead in orchestrating the arrangements for Sanjay’s funeral walking Rajiv Gandhi through the rituals. In a subsequent interview, he spoke highly of Sanjay, defended the Emergency and regretted that Indira Gandhi didn’t show the toughness of which her son had proved capable.
After her son’s tragic death, Indira Gandhi’s dependence on Dhirnedra Brahmachari grew even more - he became her closest confidant, privy to private household matters. Pupul Jayakar wrote that when Indira Gandhi was asked about his position in her household, the then Prime Minister returned a cryptic response: “There must be a reason for him,” refusing to elaborate any further.
Meghnad Desai in “Rediscovery of India”, also wrote that her religiosity was more clearly expressed after Sanjay’s death. She visited temples across India and spent time with priests; public functions took on a religious aura, with lamps being lit, guests being garlanded with marigolds and Sanskrit invocations. She also took to wearing a rudraksha necklace, rumored to be fashioned out of the rare “ekmukhi” or single-facet berries. And Brahmachari’s Importance in her life and politics grew by leap and bounds.
Khushwant Singh recalled how a week after Sanjay’s death, Indira Gandhi suggested to his widow, Maneka, that she work as her secretary. “A few days later, Dhirendra Brahmachari came to her room to inform her that Mrs. Gandhi was too embarrassed to tell her so, but Sonia had put her foot down on the proposal, and had threatened to return to Italy with her family unless Mrs. Gandhi Withdrew the offer to Maneka.” Again, after a domestic altercation, when she decided to evict Maneka from the prime ministerial residence, she wanted Dhirendra Brahmachari present. After a showdown with Maneka and her sister, “The fight went out of Mrs Gandhi; She began to cry hysterically and had to be escorted out of the room by Dhirendra Brahmachari “, wrote Khushwant Singh.
Meanwhile, the foreign media were fascinated by the exotic yogi. In 1981, Michael Kaufman wrote in “The New York Times” :
“Dhirendra Brahmachari, a tall and well built yoga instructor and businessman was often seen with Mrs. Gandhi and Sanjay. He describes himself as a teacher of yoga to the Nehru family and, like many retainers, his fortunes have paralleled those of the Prime Minister. Before she was voted out in 1977, he actively supported Sanjay’s controversial slum clearance and birth control drives. He built an expensive ashram and traveled in imported automobile and airplanes. After her fall, he was charged with influence-peddling.”
Khushwant Singh, writing in the “Afternoon Dispatch & Courier” recalled that Brahmachari had a large bungalow with an extensive garden “where he kept a flock of black cows, whose milk he claimed had medicinal properties.” Located just a few kilometers from the PM’s residence on Safdarjung Road, his opulent Vishwayatan Yogashram and Central Research Institute for Yoga hosted politicians, Cabinet ministers, diplomats, bureaucrats and businessmen.
M.O.Mathai, Jawaharlal Nehru’s private secretary (who wrote a highly salacious and probably imaginary account of his relationship with Indira), described Dhirendra Brahmachari as, “very dangerous and powerful… I can write a book with sordid details on his nefarious activities.” It was evident that after Sanjay Gandhi’s death, when Indira Gandhi found herself in distress and alone, there was no one to keep the wily yoga teacher in check.
[ Excerpted with permission from “Gurus : Stories of India's Leading Babas” by Bhavdeep Kang,
Westland Books, June 2016. Views expressed are writer’s personal ]