Today is the 92nd birthday of legendary Indian singer Kishore Kumar. Kishore Kumar, whose original name was Abhas Kumar Ganguly, is one of India’s most celebrated artists. Fondly called “Kishore Da”, Kishore Kumar was a playback singer, music director, lyricist, film director, producer, screenwriter, and even an actor.
Kishore Kumar is also fondly remembered for standing against the tyranny unleashed by Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi during the emergency in 1975. Many had succumbed to the pressure of the Indira Gandhi government, however, only a few stood against the regime, and Kishore Kumar was one of them.
As a result, Kishore Kumar had to face the brunt of Indira Gandhi’s contempt as he was banned from India’s state-owned broadcasters Akashvani and Doordarshan. In those times, Akashvani and Doordarshan were the only broadcast options available for artists and a ban by them could deal a heavy blow to an artist.
Kishore Kumar refused to follow Indira Gandhi government’s order
As per a report by the Times of India, a few days after Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, the then Information and Broadcasting minister VC Shukla, a close aide of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, wanted Bollywood to promote the 20-point program on All India Radio and Doordarshan.
The I&B Minister made calls to top filmmakers to see how they can “co-operate” to spread the pro-government propaganda. However, Kishore Kumar, a known critic of the Indira Gandhi regime, did not entertain Congress leader Shukla’s calls. Next, CB Jain, the then I&B joint secretary, phoned Kishore Kumar a few days later and informed him that the government wanted to meet him at the singer’s residence.
Strangely, Kishore Kumar refused to meet Indira Gandhi’s aides, saying he had heart trouble and was advised by his doctor not to meet anyone. According to the report of the Shah Commission, the committee set up by Morarji Desai-led Janata Party government to probe Emergency excesses, Kishore Kumar informed Jain he did not want to sing for radio or TV “in any case”.
Banned from singing on AIR/DD and his songs were removed
This offended Jain, who informed his boss I&B secretary SMH Burney that the singer’s refusal to meet him was “grossly discourteous”. Angered by Kishore Kumar’s actions, the Information and Broadcasting ministry barred Kishore Kumar songs from being telecast on AIR and Doordarshan, listed films he was acting in for “further action”, and froze the sales of his gramophone records.
The muzzling of Kishore Kumar and other senior artists by the Congress government worked. Finally, on July 14, 1976, Kishore Kumar wrote a letter to the ministry saying he was willing to co-operate. As Kishore Kumar gave in to the Congress party’s demands, the I&B ministry noted that they might lift the ban, subject to the degree of co-operation that the singer extended.
The Shah panel later revealed that the I&B secretary’s subsequent noting that the action had a “tangible effect on film producers” as the action against Kishore Kumar was meant not only to the singer alone but also a way to coerce others into submission.
Interestingly, a few years later, VC Shukla admitted his mistake before the Shah panel and said he took full responsibility for the “regrettable episode” and said, “no officer should be blamed”. However, the retired SC chief justice JC Shah termed the event as “shocking” that “a person should be treated in this manner for not falling in line.”
The Shah Commission had referred to the Indira Gandhi government’s action as “a clear case of vindictiveness… against a film artiste of renown.”