A memorable evening with Vidya Charan Shukla

In this January 3, 1977 photo, V.C. Shukla, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting inaugurates the sixth International Film Festival of India in New Delhi. The Justice Shah Commission of Inquiry which went into the Emergency execesses, had mentioned Shukla's name in its report. Photo: The Hindu Archives / TheHindu.com
In this January 3, 1977 photo, V.C. Shukla, Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting inaugurates the sixth International Film Festival of India in New Delhi. The Justice Shah Commission of Inquiry which went into the Emergency execesses, had mentioned Shukla’s name in its report. Photo: The Hindu Archives

By SOHAIL HASHMI: Though the East and the West have great differences in issues cultural, in one matter they are like twin brothers. Both insist we should not speak ill of the dead. This does not apply to Changez Khan, Hitler and Mussolini. Some would add a few more to the list, but there are chances of violent disagreements on some of those names.

There have been honourable deviations from this haloed creed and if my memory serves me right,  at least one of them has been attributed to The Bard, who made Mark Antony declare at the funeral of Caesar, “Friends Romans and Countrymen, we have gathered here to bury Caesar and not to praise him,” or words to that effect.

These were some of the confused musings that floated to the top of the mind when I heard the news of V.C. Shukla’s passing away. Does the fact that he is dead or the dastardly fashion in which death stalked him and ultimately consumed him, give him an escape from his deeds?

It is a commentary on our justice delivery system that V.C. Shukla, one of those who belonged to the coterie that ran the Emergency establishment for Mrs Gandhi, did not spend a long time behind bars for his acts of commission as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. Some of his achievements as Minister of Information included snapping power supply to newspapers critical of the Emergency, introducing Draconian censorship, banning magazines and newspapers, and sealing printing presses that dared to publish anything critical of the infamous Mrs G or her Emergency regime.

Many of us had been in and out of jail and had cases against us. Many friends, all of them students, were still in jail and more were being picked up, rusticated, suspended or denied scholarships. Those were the days when you did not crack a joke about the goings on, without looking around to ensure that you will not be reported. It is in this claustrophobic atmosphere that some of us went to attend a music concert at Mandi House, I think it was the Kamani Auditorium. I forget the occasion, it was perhaps one of the annual music festivals or an anniversary of a cultural organisation. These details are necessary to record because this turned out to be a historic event.

It was the beginning of the Festival. The inaugural concert was to be by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. V.C.Shukla was the Chief Guest. We were praying for his absence and it seemed that our prayers were being heard. It was almost 7 pm and there was still no sign of V.C. Shukla, though the concert was to start at 6.30 pm.

File photo of former V.C. Shukla with the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi in March 2004. Shukla had a brief stint with the BJP. Photo: PTI, via TheHindu.com
File photo of former V.C. Shukla with the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi in March 2004. Shukla had a brief stint with the BJP. Photo: PTI, via TheHindu.com

People who go to classical music concerts normally speak in whispers and subdued tones. They might shout and jump about in a rock concert but a concert of classical music seems to have a civilising impact on the audience. The auditorium was uncharacteristically silent despite the presence of many of Delhi’s movers and shakers who are not regulars at Classical Music concerts. I think the presence of so many cops and plainclothesmen contributed to the restraint being exhibited by the usually euphoric and boisterous glitterati of Delhi. Many of them were there, perhaps, in the hope of a chance to say hello to the Minister.

Announcements about the imminent arrival of V.C.Shukla ji  had been made several times and yet there was no sign of him. The wait was becoming oppressive and signs of certain restiveness were gradually being felt, it was now past 7.30 pm. Finally the organisers made the announcement that everyone was waiting for. They said that the Honourable Minister had sent word that he was stuck in an important meeting and that he was likely to be delayed further, he had also requested the organisers to not delay the proceedings any further to start the festival and he will join the moment he is free from his meeting. The news of Mr.V.C. Shukla’s continued absence was received by enthusiastic and prolonged applause.

It was decided that the programme would start but the formal lighting of the Lamp will be performed when the minister arrives. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and his accompanists were invited on to the stage. Bhimsen ji set the Tanpuras, leaned towards the artists who were to accompany him on the Harmonium and the Tabla, the exchanged a few words. All was now set. Bhimsen Ji cleared his throat and was getting ready to start his Aalaap in his resonating voice that used to fill up an auditorium like few voices that I have heard.

Suddenly there was an unseemly commotion at the main gate. Some people rushed towards the gate, some towards the stage and some just waved their arms about needlessly. V.C. Shukla had arrived. The whole thing was disrupted; there were now audible groans and sighs of resignation from different corners of the auditorium.

Another announcement was made this time to the effect that the Honourable Minister had arrived. Didn’t we know! And that he would now light the lamp and felicitate the artist of the evening, the legendary Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. The lamp was lit first by the minister then by Bhimsen Ji, then by the organiser and then by some important hangers on. The Minister fortunately, perhaps realising the inappropriateness of the act, did not make a long speech. He apologised for his delayed arrival and said that the audience had come to listen to Pandit ji, and so had he, and sat down.

Now finally after an eternal wait, close to 8 pm, Bhimsen Joshi had the stage to himself. Without uttering a single word he tuned his Tanpura once again, leaned towards his accompanists, there were some confabulation and the audience realised that Pandit Ji had changed his mood. He was going to sing something different. A short Aalaap was followed by:

Jis nagri mein daya dharam naahin, us nagri mein rehna kya

(Why live in a place bereft of mercy and faith?)

The most stinging one-line condemnation of the Emergency that one could make. The entire audience was electrified, we were all on our feet. The thunderous applause drowned Bhimsenji’s voice but he continued repeating the line undisturbed, till the clamour subsided and he could proceed with his performance.

Pt. Bhimsen Joshi (1922-2011
Pt. Bhimsen Joshi (1922-2011

V.C. Shukla sat there in the front row, stunned, stupefied, looking first to the right and then to the left, until realisation dawned and he made the connection between the words and the audience reaction. V.C. Shukla suddenly seemed to shrink within himself. The seat that he seemed to fill a moment ago began to appear rather empty.

This was the man that everyone in the media and in the creative community feared, he had replaced Inder Kumar Gujral as information minister overnight, because Doordarshan under I.K. Gujral had not given live coverage to an Indira Gandhi rally. He had banned Kishore Kumar’s songs on All India Radio because Kishore-da had refused to sing at an Indira Gandhi rally. And here he was, looking lost and insecure. Just one line Bhimsen ji had been able to pull out from his large repertoire was enough to show V.C. Shukla the mirror.

Every time someone says V.C. Shukla, this is the scene that comes to my mind. I hope the name will begin to have the same association for you as well.

47 thoughts on “A memorable evening with Vidya Charan Shukla”

  1. And they say that death is a great leveler. He sided with the oppressors during the emergency. I do not know what reward he clamored. But for the generations post emergency, he died as a nobody. What a waste of life.
    I think, a bit of Shukla died on the day of the concert – may be more brutally than the Maoist bullets !


    1. There is no one else between Panditji and his god. It takes more than a mere sycophant mortal like VCS to reprimand Panditji…


  2. Vidya Charan Shukla’s obituary must include the following. He and his family of politicians stood as mentors of liquor mafia and Hawala mafia which sponsored the killing of great trade unionist, Shankar Guha Neogi.


      A proper obit of VCS would include and should include not only this but much more for he was a man who rough shod over everyone who stood in his way, except for those who stood above him. I was not writing an Obit,I was just recording an event that left a lasting impression on me and on all those who were present there on that evening.

      If that showed up VCS for what he was that was purely incidental.


  3. His selfish ambitiousness was truly awesome..
    Good article in today’s Hindu:

    ‘The reason for this fatal trip emerged much later: Shukla was hoping to get the party ticket for the Mahasamund Lok Sabha Constituency — from where he in fact entered the Lok Sabha, way back in 1957.

    ‘To most people, the name V.C. Shukla would bring memories of one of the darkest chapters in Indian political history: the Emergency of 1975 which curtailed the fundamental rights of citizens and vested unbridled authority and power in the political masters. .

    ‘Shukla was part of the Sanjay Gandhi coterie..

    ‘Shukla was a party hopper, managing always to be on the winning side. He stayed with the Congress for as long as the Emergency lasted and deserted it in 1977. Rajiv Gandhi rehabilitated him in 1984 but he went with V.P. Singh when, in 1988, the latter revolted and formed the Jan Morcha.

    ‘But the yearning to find new opportunities persisted. V.P. Singh recorded in his book, Manzil se zyada safar (Journey beyond destination), that when the Janata Dal was on the verge of a split, Shukla advised him to let go of the dissidents, among them Mulayam Singh Yadav, Chimanbhai Patel and Ram Niwas Mirdha. Shukla apparently told the Prime Minister that the dissidents would soon find that they had no future with Chandra Shekhar. And yet Shukla himself became part of the Chandra Shekhar Government formed in the aftermath of the split, in November 1990.

    ‘The regime ended in ignominy for its members but Shukla managed to defect yet again, and was sworn in as Minister for Parliamentary Affairs in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government.. But the Congress refused to make him MP Chief Minister, and so he made another switch, this time joining the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party.

    ‘By this time lady luck had turned her back on him. Ahead of the 2004 general election, Shukla joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP lost the election and he himself lost from Mahasamund to the Congress’s Ajit Jogi. In 2007, at age 78, he returned to the Congress..’


  4. If that concert comes to your mind when you hear his name, this is what comes to my mind : An Italian friend of mine lived in C Block in Defence Colony in the 70s. It was the usual two and a half storied house on a 400 yard plot with rooms above apartments given out to women of not so great repute, as my friend used to say. One night, just after the Emergency, he came home, opened the ground floor door, and found hiding behind the door, hoping to slink out, a certain ex Minister of I&B. Guess who it was and where he was coming from ?


  5. VC Shukla the unabashed sycophant of late Mrs G. became infamous during the Emergency period for hounding students & student unions critical of the Emergency which saw the trampling of democratic rights of the people & abolishing of all freedoms, most importantly freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution – he became evil personified for the students of JNU, New Delhi & whenever the JNU bus (on way to Sapru House) passed his residence, all occupants of the bus would shout in one chorus denouncing VC Shukla & his sycophancy !


  6. This is such a vivid recollection of the mood of the times that I feel like I am there, though at the relevant moments I was in a far away part of the country, where the Emergency actually won the Cong(I) a sweeping victory in the 1977 elections.


  7. I was just 11 yrs during emergency.. but i still remember VC Shukla’s highhandedness regarding destroying the prints ofAmritLal nahata’s hindi movie ‘Kissa Kursi ka’
    and a very infamous line of his when he chased actress Vidya Sinha.. “Main bhi Vidya, tu bhi Vidya”….
    He was killed mercilessly.. You reap what you sow…..


    1. No doubt he was a lech and an a$$ kisser who created havoc amongst the cine artists especially the budding ones!


    1. I would have written more than something about the infamous Mrs G, had I access to media that would carry what I had to say but there was no Kafila then


  8. Editorially, there sure are several photos of V C Shukla with Indira Gandhi. Why this one with A B Vajpayee?


    1. Those fighting big media have their resource problems, new media does not have access to archives that are not free to use and are not available on line. VCS spent time in different political parties, including the party of ABV, we could access that photograph easily. That is all there is to it, there is no other agenda behind posting this photograph.


      1. In fact this image of VC Shukla with ABV is more telling. In my mother tongue he would be captioned Thali ka Baigan.


  9. Dear Mr. Hashmi, Thanks for the article. I am Bhimsen Joshi’s granddaughter and was pleasantly surprised to read this post. I would like to know if you have or know of anyone who would have photographs/ recordings of this event?


    1. Dear Yashoda

      What an honour, unfortunately, I can not recall the names of any of those who were with me on that occasion, a couple who I had thought would have been there, say they were not, but since there is a specific reason now to search for them, i’ll try harder and keep you posted about any news,

      my email is


      send me yours and i’ll let you know if i come up with any thing.


  10. Sohail, reminds me a bit of Iqbal Bano’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ during the Zia years– and the crowd’s wild applause and slogans.


  11. Dear Sohail,
    A lovely piece from the trove of art’s lore. Issues abound even today, but regrettably there are no artists of this stature who couldn’t care a damn for political patronage. Put together more thoughts of how the arts have lived up to the power of being the popular conscience.
    I think all of us need to drink deep of such memories.
    Arshiya Sethi


  12. What a great memory you have Sohail! The man did not die immediately after he was short. Perhaps, he lived to recollect his (mis)deeds and might have remembered the statement often made: Man reaps what he sows!

    Bhimsenji’s grand daughter reading this piece of recollection of a musical evening must really be happy that her grand father was a man of courage at a time, when many of his colleagues were doing every thing to please the women and one (wo)man in power called Mrs. G.

    I now recollect my release from Tihar Jail just one day before the emergency was declared. I understood the meaning of freedom for the first time in life. I and a few colleagues from SYS in Delhi University were arrested for protesting near India Gate against the hanging of two naxalite activists, Kista Gowda and Bhoomaiyya in Andhra Pradesh. Thereafter, the two years of emergency that I have lived through in my life leaves me feeling very nostalgic. I had managed to remain out of prison through the emergency and had the occasion to paste posters printed in IIT showing Mrs. G behind prison during the first anniversary of emergency in mohallas around and upto Moti Bagh.

    Great events to remember including the demise of an infamous man called VCS in whose death he is remembered for all the misdeeds rather in a manner that not many of his ilk are normally remembered!


    1. @ Harirammurthi G
      I remember the poster very clearly, and the story of how it came to be. as told to me by our common friend Jasbir, was that the Mrs.G poster was bought in bulk from a Sadar Bazar wholesale seller of glossy posters of politicians and film stars. The jail bars and the slogan “The Last Place for the Dictator” were printed over at a small screen printer’s, the screen print shop owner was very scared and understandably.

      Jasbir was apprehended while pasting these posters either in Connaught Place or Delhi University and was tortured for many days by the cops, in one of their torture chambers in New Delhi. They wanted the names of the conspirators behind the posters. and would not believe him when he told him that there was no conspiracy just him operating on his own.

      Those were terrible days and they were extremely educative days as well. Many of us were studying in colleges or university and there were others who were just getting out of schools. I think it was our first real confrontation with the might of the state and probably the very first realisation of how ruthless the state can be when it exposes its claws and reveals it fangs.

      Subsequently we have seen the state in these colours in selected parts of the country in the name of special forces acts and TADA and such other draconian and anti democratic legislation but the emergency was certainly the most vicious attack on democratic institutions mounted at an all India level in the name of defending democratic institutions.


      1. Sohail Hasmi
        I salute you Hasmi Sir .We are living in a democratic country because of the people like you.Without you and many other thousands indians who braved the decronian law of Mrs Gandhi, India would have been a failed country under merciless dictators today.


  13. Dear Yashoda

    here is some corroborative evidence

    an old friend Dr.Madan Gopal Singh has written in to provide some interesting details and insights

    he remembers very clearly that a very young Mehmood Dholpuri accompanied Pandit Ji on the harmonium while Ustad Fayyaz khan accompanied him on the Tabla.

    Madan says that he was in the basement green room of Kamani Auditorium with some other music enthusiasts for a while and Pandit ji was rehearsing Nadiya Kinaare Mora gaon a bandish in Raga Pilu and the composition that he eventually sang which too is set in Raag Pilu was a last minute change, and was certainly a response to the disruption by V.C.Shukla, Madan also feels that this is a short bandish and Pandit Ji would have sung a bada khayal in the beginning of the concert and he sang the smaller Bandish because his concert was disrupted.

    The piece that I remember as ” Jis Nagri mein ” is, Madan informs me, a traditional Kirana Gharana bandish more popular as ‘Soch Samajh Naadaan” and has been sung by the Kirana stalwarts like Abdul Kareem Khan and Roshanara Begum,

    When i asked him if there is a recording of the concert, he said that he is not sure if there is one, the text version of Kabir’s

    “Dekh Samajh Man Meet Piyarva
    Aashiq Hokar Sona Kya Re”

    has been transformed in the Kirana tradition into
    “Soch Samajh Naadaan
    Aashiq Hokar Sona Kya Re”.


    1. Not quite so loaded with connotation, but the song referred to here reminded me of ibn-e-insha’s “insha ji uTho, ab kooch karo, is shahar me ji ka lagaana kya? vahashi ko sukoon se kya matlab, jogi ka nagar me Thikaana kya?”
      Great story! Thanks.


  14. Dear Sohail,
    Many thanks for this very thought provoking piece of information and shows yet again how great was our Real Bharat Ratna Bhimsenji but nevertheless the sycophancy still continues and the Bhimsenji Tribe is fast dwindling,but never say die,Hope is still in the air and you have kept it alive.Thanks Buddy!


  15. Musicains, littérateurs, artists etc. should not attend the functions inaugurated by politicians, who are “Sahitya-sangita-kala-vihinah sakshat pashuh puccha-vishana-hinah”. However, Panditji did the right thing by singing ” Jis nagri mein daya dharam naahin, us nagri mein rehna kya” in VC Shukla’s presence.


  16. पुरानी बहुत सी यादें ताजा हो गयीं। इमरजेन्सी में, मेरे पिता दो साल तक जेल में थे। मुझे वह समय अच्छी तरह से याद है। उन मुश्किल घड़ी के बारे में लिखने के लिये धन्यवाद।


  17. What a great story. If you really think about atrocities of emergencies he certainly played important role and belonged to jail but unfortunately India


  18. Thank you very much for recounting this story, Sohail. We tend to forget the past, and forgive the atrocities until it is visited upon us again. I was in school at the time, but I remember all the atrocities of teh Emergency because my father who was an advocate used to tell me the legal aspects, and also through the pages of the Indian Express. Would very much like to read other anecdotes from the past. Thanks again, and more power to your pen.


  19. its great to read all these.here the art is connected to so many phases of life and artist is a real fighter for freedom of expression.thanks. v m girija


  20. Dear Mr Hashmi,
    A couple of facts for your kind info :
    a) VC Shukla and his father were responsible for the inclusion on the hindi language and regional languages as national languages. Had it not been so your darling bhim singh ji would just be a person singing in a non cultural event.
    B) VC Shukla came up with the idea of doordarshan so every indian, poor or rich could have some access to TV.
    C) Prior to entering politics the monster that you portray owned india’s largest hunting company, and realised how terrible game hunting was later. He gave up the company, lost a great deal of income and did many things for animal welfare including getting tigers on the endangered animal list.

    There are many many more good things he did. Im sure youre one of those people who have never regretted doing anything which seemed right at the time and later regretted, he was human

    P.s. while the iron fist may seem cold and harsh its not all bad. Mao Zedong, killed masecrated and bought chinese civilians to knees, but today they worship his grave as a shrine for he gave china greatness.

    And indians too voted IG as the second best pm in the history of india. Yet again india has forgiven her sins, accepted her legacy and its sitting in the PM house

    So do the world a favour. Stop seeking your 15 mins in random online mags of encounters with ppl who will be remembered and grow up to be half the men they were


    1. Ah so there are still some sycophants of these perpetrators of emergency around!
      The people of India had shown the door to the congress for what the likes of PCS and VCS and other drum beaters of Sanjay and his cohorts had inflicted on India in the name of threat of internal instability.

      The congress came back because of the failure of the opposition and not because it had performed a miracle.

      And pray what has the contribution (if any) of the Shuklas’ of MP, formerly CP and Berar to Hindi becoming a national language got to do with the music concert where Bhjimsen Joshi Sang the traditional Kirana Gharana Bandish.

      The original text was written by Sant Kabir (1440–1518). Kabir wrote in Awadhi and a mixture of other languages that were to eventually give borth to both Urdu and “Rashtra Bhasha Hindi”

      The Text version of Sant Kabir’s

      “Dekh Samajh Man Meet Piyarva – Aashiq Hokar Sona Kya Re”

      was transformed in the Kirana tradition into

      “Soch Samajh Naadaan – Aashiq Hokar Sona Kya Re”

      ( see above for my response to a comment from Yashoda -Bhimsenji’s grand daughter).

      This Bandish was sung by Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan (1872–1937) and Roshanara Begum (1917 – 1982 ) before Bhimsen Ji (1922-2011) sang it on that fateful evening during the dark days of the emergency and showed VCS (1929 – 2013) the difference between greatness and basking in reflected glory.

      Please note that Sant Kabir who wrote the text was born in the 15th century, the modified Bandish was sung by Khan Saheb Abdul Karim Khan, certainly much before before VCS became a reality on the surface of this earth, in fact khan Saheb was all of 57 when VCS was born and therefore neither VCS and dare I say, nor any of his brothers and his venerable father had anything to do with the creative journey of the artists of the Kirana Gharana,

      so kindly tell us how were the Shuklas of Madhya Pradesh,, formerly CP and Berar, instrumental in facilitating Bjhimsen ji’s learning of this or any other Text. In fact what contribution did VCS made to any one else’s education for that matter. The only worthwhile thing that any one can learn from VCS is not to repeat his mistakes,

      also tell us how does his turning to animal protection from animal slaughter qualify him to become a law unto himself. Volumes can be written on his contribution to emasculating the media of this country and I am sure more volumes would emerge when the tales of what he did to the artists and stafferes of AIR and DD are catalogued

      if you wish to suck up to those who trampled on democracy it is entirely your prerogative but you would do well to keep your own council instead of inflicting it on others.

      oh and just by the way

      Brave-heart what is your REAL NAME or are you too scared to reveal your true colours ?


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