Congress leader, Emergency era minister V.C. Shukla dead

Gurgaon, June 11 (IANS) Seventeen days after he was grievously wounded in a Maoist strike, Congress leader and former union minister V.C. Shukla Tuesday became the 29th victim of the deadly May 25 attack on a party convoy in Chhattisgarh.

Shukla, 84, who was the main architect of media censorship during the 1975-77 Emergency slapped by then prime minister Indira Gandhi, died around 2.30 p.m. in Medanta Medicity Hospital here.

A former union minister, he was shot in his chest, abdomen and thigh and had lost a lot of blood in the attack on the Congress convoy in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, which claimed 28 lives.

TV grabs had shown Shukla lying slumped in his car seat with his white kurta drenched in blood. He was flown in an air ambulance to Delhi and taken to Medanta Medicity Hospital here, in Delhi's suburb in Haryana.

Shukla was in a critical condition since his arrival at the hospital two weeks ago, Yatin Mehta, chairman of Medanta's Institute of Critical Care, said in a statement.

The Congress leader was operated upon for intestinal and liver injuries and remained critical in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with vital organ support, the statement said.

President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi were among the several leaders who condoled his death, while the news left his supporters in the state grieving. The Chhattisgarh government has announced three-day state mourning.

Dozens of people thronged his residence-cum-farm house Radheshayam Bhawan in Raipur soon after his death was confirmed and his close aides tried to console people who were crying and beating their chests to mourn his death.

Vidya Charan Shukla will be remembered for imposing censorship on the media and putting journalists, including top editors, behind bars during the Emergency.

He was former prime minister Indira Gandhi's hatchet man during her hated Emergency era (1975-77) when he was the information and broadcasting minister.

Shukla, who was close to Indira Gandhi's younger son Sanjay Gandhi, who used to act like an unconstitutional authority during the Emergency, cut power supply to newspaper printing presses, clamped restrictions on free media operations, harassed and imprisoned journalists and personally monitored stories for their stance towards the government.

At the height of his power, Shukla even banned songs of popular singer Kishore Kumar from All India Radio and Doordarshan after the artist refused to perform at a Congress rally in Mumbai.

Elected to the Lok Sabha nine times since 1957, Shukla deserted the Congress for the first time in 1977 when Indira Gandhi was voted out.

Her son and then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi rehabilitated him after her assassination in 1984 but Shukla again quit the party along with V.P. Singh to form the Jan Morcha in 1989.

He was a minister in V.P. Singh's National Front government formed after elections the same year but when it fell, he went over to Samajwadi Janata Party and was again a minister in the Chandrashekhar government.

After Chandrashekhar lost the 1991 elections, Shukla came back to Congress under then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

But he again left the Congress in 2003 upon being denied the chief ministership of Chhattisgarh, when it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, and joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

The following year, just ahead of the 2004 parliamentary polls, he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and contested from Mahamsamund on a party ticket but lost to Congressman and former chief minister Ajit Jogi.

He left the BJP the same year and rejoined the Congress in 2007.

During his career, Shukla also served in the ministries of external affairs, parliamentary affairs, water resources, defence, home, communications, finance, planning and civil supplies.

Born on August 2, 1929, at Raipur, Shukla belonged to a traditional Congress family from Chhattisgarh.

His father, Pandit Ravishankar Shukla was a lawyer, freedom fighter, veteran Congressman and the first chief minister of undivided Madhya Pradesh.

His elder brother, Shyama Charan Shukla, was also the state's chief minister thrice.

Shukla graduated from Morris College, Nagpur, in 1951. The same year he married Sarla. He had three daughters.

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