The relationship between Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi is a puzzling one. No one can tell for sure whether the mother-son duo enjoyed a loving bond, or had their daggers drawn!
Lewis M Simons, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post correspondent, was stationed in Delhi at the time of Emergency, tyrannically imposed by Indira Gandhi. Delhi shuddered when Simons claimed that Sanjay Gandhi slapped his Prime Minister mother, Indira Gandhi, six times at a dinner party.
The American journalist, in a candid chat with an online website, reminisced how he got his hands on the scoop, and the reactions of Sonia Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi when he met them long after the Emergency had been lifted.
According to Lewis Simons, the slapping incident took place at a private dinner party much before the Emergency was forced upon India. He said: “As is common practice among journalists, I did not write about it immediately, but saved it for later use. I no longer recall whether I have such information as what may have provoked Sanjay.”
He further added: “I came to know about the incident through an unnamed source, who mentioned the episode during a casual conversation. During the conversation about the relationship between Sanjay and his mother, the source, who was present at the party, brought up the slapping incident. He was visiting my wife and me at our home one evening prior to the Emergency.”
The story spread like wildfire through word of mouth. It was extremely impactful, though no Indian newspaper carried the story due to press censorship.
There was massive resentment in the corridors of power because of the article, and Simons couldn’t possibly be allowed to stay on Indian soil.
He said: I was not “asked” to leave at all. I was ordered to leave – on five hours notice. And, as I’ve already indicated, my expulsion had nothing to do with the story of the slapping, which I had not yet written. It was related to a story I had done in which several Indian Army officers told me of their distaste for the imposition of the Emergency and of Mrs Gandhi’s behaviour leading up to it.”
“I was arrested, without notice, by rifle-armed police and driven to the immigration office. I was told I would be put on the first plane out of Delhi. When I asked him why, he placed his flattened hands over his eyes, then his ears, and finally his mouth.
“Five hours later, I was escorted to the airport by a US Embassy official. An Indian customs or immigration officer (I do not recall which) confiscated a dozen or so of my notebooks. They were returned to me many months later, with every name meticulously underlined in red. Many of those people, I subsequently learned, had been jailed,” reflected Lewis Simons.
He was put on a plane to Bangkok. It was there, in a hotel room, that he wrote the story of the slapping incident.
While in India, Lewis, his wife, and two small children, faced extreme trauma at the hands of the authorities. After Lewis was expelled, his family stayed back, but faced many roadblocks. Telephone lines were cut off, police guards were stationed right outside their home, and refused access to bank accounts.
After the dust had settled, Simons was invited to attend a private dinner party at which Rajiv Gandhi and his wife, Sonia, were guests. Someone at the table revealed that he was the journalist who had written about the slapping incident. Rajiv nodded his head and smiled.
“Well?” I asked him across the table. He nodded his head and smiled again. He said nothing. Sonia looked furious. She, too, said nothing. I never met Sanjay.”
The 76-year-old American journalist lives in New Jersey, United States, with his family.