C. P. Belliappa's Column


By C.P. Belliappa

It was the last week of December of 1965.  All of us were at home in Gonikoppal during the term break. 

My grandmother had taken a parike (vow) to perform Satyanarayana pooja at the temple in Peggala.  On 31st December we had an early start, since Ganapathi homa preceded the Satyanarayana pooja.  Our grandmother insisted we go empty stomach!  We had to carry all the ingredients for lunch that was to be served to everyone present at the temple after the conclusion of the pooja.

It was an elaborate affair, and by lunchtime we were famished and were impatient for the delicious vegetarian food the Brahmins had prepared.  The aroma of the food was already wafting in the air.  However, we had to wait till the priests finished eating first.  The food was delicious as expected.  By the time we reached home it was late in the afternoon. 

My father, C.M. Poonacha, was a member of the Rajya Sabha at the time.  A ritual that he followed everyday was to listen to the 9 O’ clock news on All India Radio before we all sat down for dinner.  Right from a young age we too got used to this news bulletin.  I remember the three beeps before the newsreader started with the headlines.  I think it was Melville de Mellow who read the news on that day in his typical baritone voice.

“Finance minister T. T. Krishnamachari has resigned from the cabinet.”   My father was astonished.  He increased the volume and gestured to all the children to keep quiet.   “Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri has appointed Sachindra Choudhury as the new finance minister.”   What Melville de Mellow said next dumbfounded all of us.  “C.M. Poonacha has been appointed as the minister of state for revenue and expenditure.”   It was unbelievable.  When the news was readout in detail, we realized what we heard was correct.

My grandmother walked in hearing all of us shouting and congratulating our father.  My father touched his mother’s feet and gave her the spectacular news. 

Minutes later the DC and the SP drove in.  They gave my father the official communication received from the prime minister’s office.  He was to leave for New Delhi the following day.  His transport and air ticket had been arranged.  Prime Minister Shastri himself wanted to talk to my father earlier in the day, but those were the days of the most unreliable truck calls!   

The swearing-in was on 2nd January 1966.  President Radhakrishnan administered the vote of office in the presence of prime minister Shastri, the new finance minister Sachindra Choudhury, home minister Gulzarilal Nanda, and a few other cabinet colleagues. 

Prime Minister Shastri had great faith and confidence in my father.  It was Lal Bahadur Shastri, who as minister for commerce, appointed Poonacha as chairman of State Trading Corporation (1958-1963).

The war with Pakistan had ended in August 1965.  Lal Bahadur Shastri left for Tashkent on 4th of January 1966 for a Russian brokered summit meeting between the Indian prime minister and the president of Pakistan, Gen Ayub Khan.  The Tashkent Declaration was signed on 10th January 1966.  It was on 11th January that India and the world heard of prime minister Shastri’s sudden demise apparently of a cardiac arrest.  My father was devastated.

Indira Gandhi took over as the prime minister.   My father continued in her cabinet but with a different portfolio, namely, minister of state for transport, aviation, and shipping.  Lal Bahadur Shastri was the role model for my father.