It would be an understatement to call the BJP’s Bhuwan Chandra Khanduri a tyrant. His children relate how he used to make them gulp raw eggs and milk every morning. Someone had led him into believing that this was a sure-fire way to gain height. He would also deny them omelettes. On the occasional days when he didn’t treat his home as a military barrack, they were allowed fried eggs, sunny side up. Another must on the menu at home was bitter gourd, which the children were fed in different forms: cooked, uncooked, steamed or its juice. It was only when ‘Dr Uncle Chandnani’ (adept in acupressure) counselled him to let the children be that Khanduri relented.
These are just a few of the ‘torture tales’ in the Khanduri household. The kids hated mid-week and weekends. When Khanduri used to serve in the army, his time off would fall on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. The children were not allowed afternoon naps as a rule. While they sneaked into bed on other days of the week, Wednesdays played a spoiler. On Saturdays, they were worse off since “dreadful Daddy” expected them to wash utensils. But not before he had ensured that not a morsel was left on their plates. Even his sister-in-law, Sunita, relates how he once forced her to finish the onions and chillies on her plate.
There was a strict regimen for electricity too. If Khanduri ever walked into an empty room to find the lights on, hell would break loose. It is, therefore, not without reason that his family prefers him as a politician rather than an army-man. “He is more tolerant and we breathe easy,” they say.
Khanduri, though, finds politics “very solo” unlike the camaraderie in the army. His initial days in the army were unhappy though. In fact, it started with a protest, within minutes of reporting in as a gentleman cadet. His family had smeared vermilion on his forehead and tied the sacred thread on his wrist. “Wipe your forehead,” growled his senior. Before his protest could be heard, he was swung out of the room by a colleague who explained the ‘do as you are told’ diktat of the forces. Till he himself reached a senior position, Khanduri did away with the sacred thread. But as a politician, he is never seen without it. “I think it is a reaction to it being taboo in the army,” he says.
Academics not being Khanduri’s strong point, his career options were limited. Joining the army seemed both respectable and viable. The ‘breaking-in’ period was tough. “They ask you to crawl, lift boxes or order you to run with heavy rag sacks until you drop dead.” Yet it was not Khanduri who left the army. “Rather the army left me. I retired as a Major General,” says Khanduri, who is ‘unofficially’ 73 years old. Fearing that his son may fail in school, Khanduri’s father, Jai Ballabh, had made sure the records showed his son to be a year younger than he actually was.