This blast from the past Rahul Gandhi was not expecting when he spoke in Lok Sabha earlier today, shooting one dart after another at Union minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj, taking her on over #LalitGate. The Congress vice president is used to names like Ottavio Quattrocchi and Warren Anderson being bandied about, but the liberal sprinkling of Adil Shahryar's mention might have added more salt to the wound than anticipated.
Given that Shahryar's is a name that many, particularly the younger, born in the 80s or later, Indians have not even heard of, what makes him so enticingly caustic and embarrassing for the Congress scion? And, why would a decidedly pushed-to-the-corner Swaraj resort to this forgotten name to drive home the well taken point that the Gandhi family, arch dynasts, could still teach the BJP a lesson or two in barefaced nepotism.
Adil Shahryar was the son of Muhammed Yunus, close associate of Jawarharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, particularly one among the Emergency apologists. Shahryar was close to Sanjay Gandhi and though he was notorious for getting into the wrong side of law, pursuing a lavish lifestyle that was often morally problematic for an austerity-preaching Congress, he was an integral part of the innermost coterie of the Gandhis. Soon after the Emergency was lifted, Shahryar left India to pursue business interests in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was there he got into trouble and was convicted by a US court for fraud, arson, firebomb and other violations. He was subsequently sentenced to 35 years of rigorous imprisonment, which many in India, especially his friends, thought grossly disproportional.
Sanjay Gandhi's clique
Adil Shahryar's association with Sanjay Gandhi had its inception in their childhood. Journalistic anecdotes attribute Sanjay's meeting with his future wife Maneka at Adil's father, Muhammed Yunus' official residence, 12 Willingdon Crescent (now rechristened Mother Teresa Crescent) in posh Lutyens' Delhi. It was here that the duo got married, and according to Rasheed Kidwai, Adil had even got the bungalow painted from his own pay packet for the wedding ceremony.
|Report in the New York Times dated August 15, 1985 announcing Adil Shahryar's release.
When he was convicted by a US court and sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment in 1982, Adil Shahryar's family and friends were shocked. When Rajiv Gandhi came to power, riding the sympathy wave following Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984, a desperate Yunus coaxed the young prime minister to do something about it. When Shahryar's sentence was eventually commuted and he was freed by the Ronald Reagan administration in August 1985, same day that Rajiv travelled to Washington, the associations were far too obvious to be missed. However, there was no official admission by Rajiv Gandhi, only a statement that he believed Shahryar was "wrongly imprisoned".
The timing of Shahryar's release, however, coincided with one of the blackest episode of India's post-independence history. Methyl isocyanate leakage in Bhopal on the night of December 3, 1984, had killed 3,000 overnight and severely wounded, blinded at least 20,000 others, while inducing genetic birth defects in tens of thousands more. However, Warren Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide, which owned the chemical factory, was flown out of India on a priority basis, and, in US soil, he lived and roamed without batting an eyelid until his death in September last year. Though not exactly spoken about officially, hushed whispers in Delhi often tagged the two episodes together, saying Anderson's freedom was the price the Gandhis paid to get back Shahryar, a childhood friend.