Nehru the First Prime Minister at Lalitha Mahal Palace in 1958 and a Missed Photo…
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Nehru the First Prime Minister at Lalitha Mahal Palace in 1958 and a Missed Photo…

February 16, 2023

By H.K. Shivananda, I.A.S.(Retd)., Ex-Administrator, MCC and Ex-Director,  ATI, Mysuru

Amongst the several Palaces built by Wadiyars in Mysuru City, Lalitha Mahal is the second biggest Palace after Mysore Palace and has a grandeur and beauty of its own. Built in twenties of last century for the exclusive use of Viceroy for his stay at Mysuru as and when he visited, at a cost of Rs. 13 lakh on a total area of 81 acres, it was subsequently used as a Guest House for European Guests of Maharaja visiting Mysuru. Its architecture has a similarity with that of St. Paul’s Cathedral London. It came to the control of State Government in 1973 and was run as a Heritage Hotel by ITDC as part of Ashoka Group from 1974 to 2018. Karnataka Government took it back in 2018 and Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a State Government undertaking, is managing it now.

An International Conference of Agricultural Economists was held for 10 days in Lalitha Mahal Palace between 24th August and 3rd September, 1958. Sixty leading Economists and 70 Nations from all over the world participated in this Conference. This was hosted jointly by Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India and Mysore Government as it was known then and Ford Foundation financed it at a cost of 40,000 US Dollars.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister, came all the way from Delhi to inaugurate the Conference at Lalitha Mahal. Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, the Governor of Mysore, welcomed the delegates. A.P. Jain, Union Minister for Food and Agriculture and B.D. Jatti, Chief Minister of Mysore State, also addressed the gathering.

Delegates had been accommodated in different Guest Houses and leading hotels all over Mysore city. Economics Department of Maharaja’s College was asked to depute dozen students to serve as volunteers in this Conference mainly to assist the delegates in their daily chore, escort them from their place of stay to Lalitha Mahal, venue of the Conference and back, take them around city for sight-seeing, shopping etc.

I had just then passed out of Maharaja’s College in July 1958 with a First Class in M.A. Economics. My batch-mates had gone back to their native places. My father H.K. Rajashekaraiya,  working in the rank of Superintendent of Police, had retired as Principal, Police Training College, Mysore, in 1957 and settled down at Nazarbad in a house opposite to Sowcar Channaiya’s Bungalow (Heritage Mansion now). Hence, I was very much available in Mysore City and my Professor G.T. Hutchappa, who knew this, asked me to join the Volunteers Team as a leader and I happily agreed.

Nehru, who came to inaugurate the Conference, was Prime Minister of the country for more than eleven years at that time and was almost the uncrowned King for masses and was at the zenith of his popularity… As a first Prime Minister of the country, he led the country with great distinction and vision and laid a strong foundation for its future development. He was an idealist in thinking, democrat to the core, secular in outlook and respected opposite leaders as much as his own party men.

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Whatever the present day non-Congress politicians may accuse, people of our generation strongly believe that India was lucky to have a man of that calibre and stature as Prime Minister in first seventeen years after Independence. We are ever grateful to him as we reaped the fruits of his policy.

H.K. Shivananda (fifth from right – back row – only face and tie visible), the then Director of Employment and Training, Karnataka, and as a participant of International Workshop, called on Indira Gandhi in 1975 at the PM’s residence in Delhi along with the delegates.

He may have made mistakes in his policy on Kashmir or Tibet. But his achievements far outweigh the mistakes he committed. If his daughter-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was later dictatorial and anti-democratic, the fault is hers and Nehru cannot be blamed.

We the volunteers were very happy to associate ourselves with this Conference and opportunity to see and mingle with the top leaders from close quarters.

On the night, State Dinner was given to Prime Minister Nehru and delegates in Lalitha Mahal Banquet Hall. I was waiting with few volunteers near Reception Counter chatting loudly. Suddenly, Nehru appeared before us from nowhere and came straight to us. Those days, terrorism being not known, Prime Ministers and VIPs moved more freely without any escort or SPG men surrounding them. We were taken aback by Nehru’s sudden appearance before us and stopped talking.

Nehru with his radiant smile said, “Talk, Talk,  why did you stop?” But we were too overwhelmed with joy to see him so close and did not open our mouth.

Nehru asked me why we are there and he just moved on listening to my explanation for our presence and wished us well. It all happened in a minute or two,  as he moved on with his retinue of dignitaries.

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Professional photographers used to cover such Conferences taking any number of photos, develop them and keep it for sale for those interested. Next day as I was looking casually at such photos spread on a table for sale, I was pleasantly surprised to see my photo speaking to the Prime Minister of the country, a much admired leader and hero of our times, from such close quarters. It was priced at one rupee and I thought of buying. But my volunteer-friend next to me said, why waste one rupee? You can eat masala dosa for four days with that money (Those days masala dosa was priced at 25 paisa).

H.K. Shivananda (extreme right), the then Divisional Commissioner of Belgaum, receiving Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister, in 1988-89 at Belgaum when the PM attended the Silver Jubilee celebrations of Jawaharlal Medical College, Belgaum.

At that moment, I also never realised or visualised the significance of preserving such a photo with me as a life-long treasure.

There is a saying, “Youth is a blunder, Manhood is a struggle and Old age is regret.” By not purchasing that photo, I committed a Himalayan blunder on that day and regret even now.

Though I missed my photo with the first Prime Minister of the first dynasty of the country, as I worked in Administrative Service of the country later, I got an opportunity to have photos with the second and third Prime Ministers (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi) of this dynasty. Now I am biding my time to have a photo with the likely fourth Prime Minister from this dynasty, provided God keeps me alive that long and ever-hesitant Rahul Gandhi accepts to lead the party and become Prime Minister at least for a day for my sake if not for the Party and the country !

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3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Nehru the First Prime Minister at Lalitha Mahal Palace in 1958 and a Missed Photo…”

  1. Ajjampur Vijayakumar says:

    What is the purpose of this article? Many students in the one engineering college in Mysore in late 1950s and early 1950s, on their compulsory North India tour visiting steel plants and dams, also visited Teen Murthi Bhavan where Nehru welcomed them, and took photographs with them. The same goes to his daughter Indira Gandhi when she was the PM.
    It does not need this Shivananda to state that Nehru was a colossus, the architect of modern India and was well respected in the world. Indians at that time did not se him as the leader of the Congress only but as the leader of the country, which cannot be said of Narendra Modi, who is a pygmy compared to him.

  2. Bengaluru Loknath says:

    The purpose of this article is yo focus attention on himself, as desperate @Shivananada feels neglected!
    Wonder whether he visted London and looked carefully at the architecture of the St Paul’sCathedral. Aside from this Palace’s main dom and the two minor domes, and the thin pillars in front, This Palalce’s architecture is no where resembling the St Paul’s Cathdedral which is a Church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren centuries ago. I have seen in the interiors of the St Paul’s Cathedral and this Palalce, and should say categorically the internal architecture s are no similar.
    @Shivananda , it is obvious never visited St Paul’s Cathedral.
    If @Shivananda, as he boasts was so good in economics, why did he not pursue economics as a career? It seems he was happy to settle in district administration ,meeting ministers, taking their orders, arranging hotels for them etc.. etc! In other words running to the beck and call of politicians!
    As for the substance of this article, there is nothing except that he could not meet Nehru, tke photograph with him, but was able to his daughter and grandson!
    In a way, this article resembles the ones produced by @Javeed Nayeem , where the main focus has been themselves- craving for attention1
    It is time, the SOM redesigned its content, removing columnists like @Shivananda and @Javeed Nayeem, and introduce young , particularly female columnists, who will be able to discuss current issues facing the residents of Mysore . Id tf the SOM is desperate that nostalgic articles visiting the memory lane back to certain periods, then they should be edited so that the incidents are highlighted without undue focus on the self of the contributors.

  3. Sreekant Muthy says:

    Aside from the focus on self and politics, it was a memorable visit to the annals of Mysore history. It was also patriotic, as Nehru was upset and taught a lesson to the organizers to sing the national anthem loud rather than playing on a harmonium.

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