Vidya Charan Shukla: Politician best known for his role in Indira Gandhi's crackdown


Vidya Charan Shukla, who died after being shot in an ambush by Maoist rebels, was a lifelong Indian politician who repeatedly changed parties to suit his fortunes. While he was steadfastly loyal to prime minister Indira Gandhi, his primary allegiance was to himself.

The upper-class son of the chief minister of a large central Indian state, Shukla served as minister in portfolios that ranged from defence to housing and even external affairs, and for a number of different parties. But the role for which he is most remembered is as chief censor and government propagandist during the dark 21 months of the State of Emergency imposed by Gandhi when she seized control of the levers of the state in the mid-1970s.

Shukla had been given the job of Minister of Information and Broadcasting after the previous incumbent, Inder Kumar Gujral, who would later serve briefly as prime minister, failed to ensure that a Gandhi rally held in the summer of 1975 was covered by the media. Five days later the Emergency was declared and India fell backwards.

As Gandhi's choice in this crucial ministry and as part of a small coterie that surrounded around her impetuous son Sanjay, Shukla was a flamboyant and enthusiastic spearhead of the crackdown on dissent and free speech. He used his influence to muzzle the press as well as elements within the artistic community that opposed the draconian moves. He did so by various means – cutting off the power supply to printing presses he disapproved of, refusing to allow the printing of blank editorial spaces in newspapers as a mark of protest and harassing those who spoke out.

He blocked the popular Bengali actor and singer Kishore Kumar from appearing on the state-owned All India Radio and the Doordarshan television channel because he refused to perform at a Congress Party rally in Mumbai. Along with Sanjay Gandhi he was also linked to the decision to burn the prints of a Hindi-language film, Kissa Kursi Ka [Tale of the Throne] which was deemed to be mocking the prime minister's son.

Shukla did not always have things entirely his way. In the aftermath of his death an account on the Kafila blog recalled a classical music concert in Delhi at the height of the Emergency when the minister was the guest of honour. The minister was delayed by more than 90 minutes and both the audience, and the performer, the celebrated vocalist, Bhimsen Joshi, were obliged to wait.

When Shukla finally arrived and took his seat, Joshi took the opportunity to perform his own one-line protest about what was happening to the country, singing: "Why live in a place bereft of mercy and faith?" The audience leapt to its feet, electrified, and began cheering. Shukla sat motionless, slowly realising why people were applauding. Joshi neatly carried on with his performance.

Shukla was born in Raipur in what is now the state of Chhattisgarh, the son of Ravishankar Shukla, an independence activist, Congress party leader and the first chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. He was educated at Morris College in Nagpur.

After a brief flirtation running a business that organised big-game safaris he entered politics and in 1957 won the Mahasamund constituency for the Congress, becoming one of India's youngest MPs. He was re-elected nine times. His brother, Shyama, was a powerful regional politician and for many years they ran parts of Chhattisgarh as if it were a fiefdom.

When Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister in 1966 Shukla was called to join her cabinet. Yet while he began his career with the Congress, Shukla was happy to hop from party to party when it suited him. In 1977, when Congress lost the election, he left the party, only to be brought back in 1984 by Rajiv Gandhi. But four years later he left again, joining the Jan Morcha party government of VP Singh. A year later, he joined the even shorter-lived government of Chandra Shekhar and then the administration of PV Narasimha Rao which followed.

Shukla later joined another minor party before switching to the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party until 2007, when at the age of 78 he returned to the Congress Party.

Reports suggest that Shukla remained ambitious to the end. He was out campaigning with the Congress party when the Maoist gunmen struck because he was hoping to secure again the Mahasamund constituency in the election due next year. In all 27 people were killed in the attack, with many others injured. Shukla received a number of bullet wounds and was operated on at a hospital in Jagdalpur before being flown by air ambulance to Delhi, where he was taken to the Medanta Medicity Hospital in Gurgaon. Initially he showed a slight improvement but he took a turn for the worse and died two weeks later.

Andrew Buncombe

Vidya Charan Shukla, politician: born Raipur, India 2 August 1929; married Sarla (three daughters); died Gurgaon, India 11 June 2013.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice