Friendship Day 2022: Political pals, from Gandhiji-Nehru to Modi-Shah

REPLUG: For Friendship Day 2022, The Federal looks at some of the most legendary friendships that have survived the hurly-burly of politics

Narendra-Modi-Amit-Shah-Election-Commission - The Federal
The powerful Modi-Shah friendship: The two leaders have been together for the past 30-35 years through thick and thin. Modi trusts him implicitly and Shah obeys his boss dutifully.

“This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent enemies, there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests.”

This is commonly applied to the turbulent, cut-throat world of politics. In India, it is no different as the boundaries between friends and enemies remain blurred. In the current milieu in the country, where rancour and rifts among politicians reign high, and ahead of Friendship Day, The Federal looks at some of the most celebrated friendships that have survived and thrived in the rough and tumble of politics.

Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru: Unlikely friends

The Father of the Nation and India’s first Prime Minister, who had significantly shaped and steered the country’s freedom movement, shared a unique and unlikely friendship. Unlikely, because Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were very different people – one encouraged Marxist ideas and modern science and technology, while the other was tied to his spinning wheel, advocating trysts with truth and stressing the importance of listening to one’s inner voice.


Gandhiji and Nehru were two very different people but they shared a close bond

But, there was a deep bond between them which survived the trials and tribulations that their friendship faced. Popular perception, mostly fostered by the current dispensation, is that Nehru was patronised and pampered by Gandhiji, and that the former used the latter to gain power in a newly Independent India. Yet, in reality, their relationship was very complex, nuanced and the two influenced each other in a big way.

At first, when Nehru met Gandhiji in December 1916, he was “simply bowled” over by him. But, during the course of the freedom struggle, as the two leaders harboured widely differing views on many topics, they were, at one time, also considered to be rivals. A thought that Gandhiji squashed in 1936, pointing out that they were rivals in their love for each other in the pursuit of a common goal.

At a political level, the two leaders shaped each other’s ideas through dialogue, debate and working together. While Nehru was impatient in 1927, wanting Congress to emphatically declare in favour of complete independence, instead of a mere ‘Swaraj’ or self-rule, Gandhiji reprimanded him. This triggered a war of words between the two, with the friendship between them almost collapsing.

After Gandhiji admonished Nehru that he was moving “too fast”, the latter hit back, “You chastise us like an angry school master, but a school master who will not guide us or give us lessons but will only point out from time to time the error of our ways.”

Also read: July 6: It’s a ‘special day’ for Father of Nation Gandhiji, and Dalai Lama

And, Nehru emphasised the differences between them, at that time, by saying, “I have often felt how different my ideas were from yours… You have stated somewhere that India has nothing to learn from the West and that she has reached a pinnacle of wisdom in the past. I entirely disagree with this viewpoint and I neither think that the so called Ram Raj was very good in the past, nor do I want it back.”

To which, Gandhiji replied in a letter, “The differences between you and me appear to me to be so vast and radical that there seems to be no meeting ground between us. I can’t conceal from you my grief that I should lose a comrade so valiant, so faithful, so able and so honest as you have always been; but in serving a cause, comradeships have got to be sacrificed.”

However, Nehru backtracked and made peace with Gandhiji, calling himself a “truant and errant child”. Thus, they squabbled but it was Gandhi who insisted on Nehru being made the president of the Congress at its Lahore session in 1929 despite opposition from other members and later recommended him to the top post in the country.

Interestingly, India’s most famous freedom fighters had a balancing effect on each other. While Gandhiji was a restraining influence on Nehru, the latter guided Gandhiji on constitutional matters. Gandhiji slowly came around to not promoting a blinkered isolationism for India to a more profound universalism egged on by Nehru. While Nehru who looked down on religion as “blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation and the preservation of vested interests,” gradually came to acknowledge that religion is a moral force “which supplied a deep inner craving of human beings … which has brought peace and comfort to innumerable tortured souls.”

This kind of transformation was possible because the two understood each other very well. Nobody else in politics understood Nehru better than Gandhiji did and vice-versa. When Gandhiji died, Nehru, besides stating that his government had failed to protect the greatest treasure they had possessed, said in Parliament, “it is a shame to me as a Hindu that a Hindu should have done this deed and done it to the greatest Indian of the day and the greatest Hindu of the age.”

Also read: Modi-BJP’s ambitious plans may encounter a stumbling block in South

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah: Birds of a Feather

The Modi-Shah combine has over the years has assumed a halo of its own. It is one of the most robust and successful political partnerships in India today. Their dosti (friendship) dates back to their days in Gujarat much before Modi became the CM of the state.

Modi and Amit Shah
Amit Shah and Narendra Modi’s dosti dates back to their days in Gujarat much before the latter became the CM of the state.

Shah’s relationship with Modi goes back to the 1980s, when Modi was a minor RSS pracharak working full-time for the organisation. The current Union Home Minister was then an ordinary RSS swayamsevak. “People have no idea what it means to be in the RSS,” Shah had said. “You don’t join it like you join a company.” He and his friends “would play and participate in the neighbourhood shakhas as boys”. “It was home for us,” Shah later recalled.

According to former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, who had helped build the BJP in the western state, Modi and Shah were “birds of the same feather.”

“They flocked together,” said Vaghela, according to a news report. He had been introduced to Shah by Modi a long time ago. Vaghela said that they have the same secretive, ambitious streak. “He was Modi’s eyes and ears and perhaps the man who plotted most of his moves,” he said in a media interview.

It was Shah who told his friend Narendra bhai in an election rally in the 1990s (like a promise) to get ready to become Prime Minister of India. When Modi was appointed as the PM of India, Shah became the president of the BJP. From being rank outsiders in the capital, today, both wield tremendous power with Shah having become the de factor number two in Lutyens Delhi. Shah is reportedly an extra-constitutional authority, coordinating both political and policy matters.

The two leaders have been together for past 30-35 years through thick and thin. Modi trusts him implicitly and Shah obeys his boss dutifully. From the Godhra train burning incident and communal conflagration in its aftermath; alleged fake encounters of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Tulsi Prajapati, Ishrat Jahan to even reportedly spying on a young woman architect, Shah as home minister of Gujarat, stood by Modi like a rock.

He was even exiled from Gujarat for two years by the Supreme Court, which felt that Shah might influence the witnesses. Yet, he went on to build a strong team and ensured Modi’s ascendance to power in Delhi. He again worked hard behind the scenes for five years, fought against all odds and ensured a second term for Modi. The PM too is paying him back now by bestowing all the powers at his command to his home minister.

Also read: BJP will come to power in Bengal, Andhra, TN, will rule 30-40 years: Amit Shah

According to media reports, Modi loathes anybody touching his feet. But Shah is an exception. Be it in public place or in private, every time Shah meets Modi, he bows down before him and touches his feet. That is another shade to their relationship.

Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia: Comrades in arms

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal with his trusted lieutenant, Manish Sisodia: They go a long way back

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia go back a long way. They met when Sisodia was a  journalist and Kejriwal, an Indian Revenue Service officer, was running the non-profit Parivartan in the early 2000s. They used to help people write perfect applications standing outside Delhi Vidyut Board to avoid paying a bribe.

The duo started working together though it was only after seven years that Sisodia decided to quit his job and plunged into full-time activism. In 2006, the duo founded the Public Cause Research Foundation.

Together, they joined activist Anna Hazare in 2011 to fight for an anti-corruption body.  A year later, they formed the Aam Aadmi Party and soon came to power in Delhi.

Kejriwal doesn’t have a great record when it comes to  his friends in politics. Anna Hazare, Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Kumar Vishwas, etc., who were his trusted members at one time, have dumped him for various reasons. But, the one man who has stood with Kejriwal through thick and thin has been Sisodia.

Though  some critics call Sisodia the de factor CM of Delhi, he is indeed the one who helps Kejriwal to implement government policies or to do the occasional ‘dharna stunts’.  Sisodia is the one who defends Kejriwal against attacks by the Opposition as well. Last year, in a tweet on the occasion of Kejriwal’s birthday, Sisodia called Kejriwal his leader, a friend and a brother. He said that Delhi’s CM had redefined politics and changed the lives of many through his governance.

“Your actions have encouraged others to dream bigger, just as they inspired me two decades ago,” said Kejriwal’s comrade-in-arms.

Also read: Manish Sisodia will soon be arrested in fake case: Kejriwal

Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar: Frenemies for life

Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar
Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar were both inspired by the ideologies of socialist icon Ram Manohar Lohia.

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and Janata Dal (United)’s Nitish Kumar are the country’s most famous frenemies.

They were both inspired by the ideologies of socialist icon Ram Manohar Lohia and their political careers flagged off in the 1970s during the Jayaprakash Narayan movement. As young student leaders, they were jailed together when they protested against the Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency. There are several interesting anecdotes of their stint in jail.

Both were a part of the Janata Dal, a socialist political party which had stalwarts like George Fernandes. All was well between the two till 1997, when Lalu parted ways and formed his own Rashtriya Janata Dal. Nitish could not take Lalu’s attitude towards governance anymore.

Nitish formed an alliance with the BJP  and became the  Uion minister for railways a year later. Their friendship converted into rivalry that lasted almost two decades. But in 2015, a good 20 years later, the two realised there was only one way they could end the Modi wave in Bihar – if they joined hands.

RJD joined hands with JD(U) to form a government in Bihar, a move which took everyone by surprise. But two years later, Nitish broke the alliance and partnered with BJP, after  allegations of corruption against Lalu’s son who was a part of the state cabinet had surfaced. Lalu and both his sons have always criticised Nitish and his politics, but ‘chacha’ Nitish attended Tej Pratap’s wedding and blessed him.

Jayalalithaa and Sasikala: Together through ups and downs

A thorny rose of friendship: Jayalalithaa and Sasikala

The relationship between former Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa and Sasikala, her close confidante of 33 years, had its major ups and downs. But, it was a bond on the face of it that endured till the former’s death.

Sasikala Natarajan, who entered the former film heroine turned chief minister’s life at a time when Jayalalithaa was lonely, managed to slowly gain her confidence and became her  soul mate, sister, political advisor, confidante, housekeeper and friend. Their friendship may seem allegedly motivated by greed for power and money on Sasikala’s part but it is a fact that she came to manage all of Jayalalithaa’s political and personal work.

Jayalalithaa came to rely on her to the extent she tried to expel her from the party. But, somehow, Sasikala would worm her way back to the Tamil Nadu’s supremo’s side. Sasikala benefited from this friendship as she started out as AIADMK’s videographer and later became the second in command of the party. Jayalalithaa went on to even adopt Sasikala’s nephew Sudhakaran and threw a lavish wedding for him.

For a lonely actress, whose star was fading in Tamil cinema, Sasikala became her anchor. But Sasikala remained her shadow, not allowing anyone to get near Amma and this happened even during Jayalalithaa’s 75-day hospitalisation before her death.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani: Founders of BJP

Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani started their political career in the 1950s as members of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which later came to be called the Bharatiya Janata Party. Both actively participated in the anti-Emergency movement in the 1970s, where they protested against the Indira Gandhi-headed Congress.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee with LK Advani
In a different league altogether: Atal Bihari Vajpayee with LK Advani

For the fact that the BJP is such a formidable political party in the world, the credit should go to Vajpayee and Advani, who played a pivotal role in its formation. During Vajpayee’s prime ministership between 1999-2004, Advani served both as the home minister and deputy PM.

Once, Advani wrote in his blog that the two shared a special bond of friendship and in their younger days, the two would go to Connaught Place in their scooter to have golgappas. The two also had a mutual interest in films and books.

Advani wrote that if anyone went to approach Vajpayee with a problem either of the government or the party when he was PM, his invariable answer would be to ask if they had spoken to Advaniji and, if not, to speak to him. He did that almost every time, Advani shared in his blog.

To let Vajpayee become Prime Minister, Advani had to bury his own political ambitions. But this never created any obvious friction in their friendship.