When Mr. Gandhi was prime minister and travelling by planes, there was a long queue of journalists wanting to travel with him, go abroad, and bring back VCRs. Now that he is travelling in train, second-class, naturally the number of journalists wanting to travel with him has decreased.
This is understandable, but I did not know how bad the situation was till one of the general-secretaries of the Congress came to me and asked me to join Mr. Gandhi on a trip to UP and Bihar.
The general-secretary was very fair. "I know, you will say that when Mr. Gandhiwas travelling between in his special Boeings, we were inviting M.J. Akbar, Prabhu Chawla, Sadia Dahlvi and Sime Garewal, but now when he is travelling by second-class train, we are inviting you. That is not true, your name was on our list and you were to be called when he stopped being prime minister."
"That is very kind of you, but unfortunately, right at his moment I don't have any time. Perhaps, next time when Mr. Gandhi goes somewhere, I will accompany him," I said.
"Everybody is saying that, but we must have some people to accompany him now. We have booked two second-class compartments and they will be empty if nobody goes," the general-secretary said.
"Come, come. There must still be journalists in India who do not mind travelling by second-class train. After all, if Mr. Gandhi can rough it out, why can't they."
"It is very difficult to find them," the general-secretary said. "We have offered journalists who accompany Mr. Gandhi nominations to the Rajya Sabha, but nobody seems to be interested. We will make you Rajya Sabha member."
"No, no, I am not qualified for the Rajya Sabha, make Mr. Arun Shourie a member," I said.
"We would give you a ticket to a Lok Sabha by-election. You would like that, being a member of the Lok Sabha," the general-secretary said.
"I would love to, buyt on a Congress-I ticket. You know how difficult it is to get elected on a Congress-I ticket," I said. "In any case, you don't have to offer me inducements to accompany Mr. Gandhi. I would be happy to go, except that I don't have the time."
"If Mr. Gandhi becomes a prime minister again, which he will, not only will be take you on every air trip he makes to foreign countries, but he will also take you on his annual family holidays in January."
"You are making it diffcult for me to refuse," I said. "Very well, I will come, but on one condition."
"Any condition, you like, you just mention it," the general-secretary said.
"In the train, I must be given a seat facing the engine. Otherwise, I get sick," I said.