Bob Dylan fan's rocky road to success

July 7, 2000

A generation after the internal emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in an attempt to crush militant students, it seems that the step from political oppression to political stardom is a small one.

During the emergency, university campuses across the country found themselves in the grip of terror as thousands of students were rounded up; student unions were banned; and dissent was met with jackboots.

Policemen, who were apparently not able to distinguish between "subversives" and pop fans, picked up one student for displaying Bob Dylan posters, after mistaking them for Ho Chi Minh posters.

At least four of the victims of the oppression are now ministers in prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's cabinet. Besides Arun Jaitley, who was then leader of the Delhi University student union and who spent 19 months in jail as a result, there are three one-time "grassroots revolutionaries" from Bihar - Ram Vilas Paswan, Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar.

Laloo Prasad Yadav, leader of the ruling party in Bihar and the state's de facto chief minister, was also a close associate of Gandhi's principal political tormentor, the octogenarian Jayaprakash Narayan.

The student who ended up in jail because of his Bob Dylan posters is now India's ambassador to Uzbekistan. Two leading lights of the left at the then radical Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, are prominent members of the Communist Party of India-Marxist. Rajat Sharma, another emergency "survivor", is a television star.

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