H.Y. Sharada Prasad: A man synonymous with Indira Gandhi

By S. Nihal Singh, IANS,

One of the most difficult jobs in the world is to be the interface between the media and the powerful. Several attempt it and come to grief. But a master practitioner of this demanding role was H.Y. Sharada Prasad, who died in New Delhi on Tuesday.

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A man who was synonymous with Indira Gandhi over scores of years, he chose to stay in the shadows as a matter of policy. Yet like a magician who knew when he was needed, he would spring to life to throw morsels of news to oil the wheel of national politics or to serve broader interests.

Having closely observed Sharada for many years, I was always impressed by his ability to interpret Indira Gandhi’s thoughts – he was her main speech writer – and the long hours of hard work he put in to smooth the prime minister’s often turbulent journey.

The secret of his success lay in employing the solid grounding he had in the field of journalism to anticipate events and the insatiable demands of media. His forte was his cool head in a crisis.

I recall Sharada’s comforting presence in the almost comical midnight letter warfare fought between Indira Gandhi and N. Nijalingappa in the days leading up to the first split in the Congress party. There was Sharada in the outhouse of the prime minister’s residence trying to console us reporters fretting over newspaper deadlines. The object of the exercise was, of course, to beat the other side by having the last word before the newspapers’ last deadline ran out.

It is to the great credit of Sharada that while lesser men and women try to cash in on their association with the famous and the powerful, he turned down tempting offers and refused to write about the many challenges Indira faced in her eventful life. The farthest he was willing to go was to recount some of his experiences on the periphery of power in a regular column for The Asian Age. His collection of articles was brought out in book form.

Sharada had turned frail by then and carried a stick the last time I met him. I found it difficult to reconcile myself with the bent figure against the picture of a lean sprightly man ever mindful of his boss’s wishes and the requirements of a voracious media snapping at his heels. It speaks volumes for him that he retained the friendship of the media while keeping his secrets. Mercifully, he was spared the phenomenon of the 24-hour news channels that have become the staple in the country’s landscape today.

Only once did I see Sharada give in to the temptation of being important by virtue of his proximity to power. He did not see me, but I observed the familiar figure of Sharada walking from one end of the lobby of Taj Mansingh Hotel to the other with his nose literally up in the air.

(S. Nihal Singh is a former editor of The Statesman and Khaleej Times. He can be contacted at [email protected] )