OPINION: Remembering Nehru’s magnanimity

Justice Katju narrates an incident about college students meeting India's first PM

nehru rep Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru | Via Twitter

A friend of mine told me a story when I was a lawyer in Allahabad. This friend, who was a few years older than me, is now no more.

In the late 1950s, a convocation was held in the Allahabad University. In this function, some university students, including my friend, put a garland of shoes on the neck of the UP governor (in protest against some issue). Consequently, these students were expelled from the university.

They decided to go to Delhi and request prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to get their expulsion revoked, thinking that since Allahabad was Nehru’s parliamentary constituency, he would get their expulsion revoked.

They took the night train to Delhi, travelling without tickets. When the travelling ticket examiner (TTE) came and asked for their tickets, they shouted Hum prime minister ke constituency ke hain; Bhaag jao! (We are from the prime minister’s constituency; get lost), and the poor TTE fled.

On reaching Delhi, they went straight to the prime minister's residence at Teen Murti. When they wanted to enter the house, they were stopped by the security personnel, who naturally asked whether they had an appointment. They said Hum prime minister ke constituency ke hain. Hamein appointment wapointment ki zaroorat naheen hai ( We are from the prime minister’s constituency. We don’t need any appointment).

When the security personnel would still not allow them entry, the students threatened to commit suicide at the gate of the prime minister's house, and created a ruckus.

This news reached Nehru, who ordered that they be allowed entry. The students then trooped into the prime minister's house, and were ushered into a big hall, where there were a lot of dry fruits, such as kishmish, badaam, akhrot and cashew nuts. They ate some and pocketed a lot for future use.

After a few minutes, Nehru came into the hall, in shorts and a vest, and shouted Jao padho, padho (Go and study). The students replied Kahaan padhein sahib? Hamein expel kar diya gaya hai (Where should we study, sir? We have been expelled). Nehru again shouted Padho, padho and left the hall.

The students were bewildered, and they left the house wondering what the prime minister meant.

They then caught the night train to return to Allahabad (again travelling without tickets and eating the dry fruits they had pocketed at the prime minister's residence).

In the morning, when the train reached Fatehpur, the station before Allahabad, one of them got off the train and bought a newspaper at the platform. There, it was published that their expulsion had been revoked by the university vice-chancellor.

Probably, Nehru, the magnanimous man that he was, had told a secretary to telephone the vice-chancellor and request him to forgive the students and readmit them. After all, boys will be boys (particularly Allahabad boys!).

Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK