When Photojournalists Boycotted PM Indira

Photographs/ Unknown (top photo), Dennis Andrews (bottom photo)

Photographs/ Unknown (top photo), Dennis Andrews (bottom photo)

This story was originally published on July 2014.

Photography has always played a key role in building a politician’s personality, and Indira Gandhi was a leader who understood this brilliantly. But that is why it’s strange to see an instance when she was boycotted by the same people who had such a vital role in creating her image. In 1981–’82, PM Indira was on a visit to Mumbai. For some reason, the photographers were stopped from clicking pictures at every event that she attended during that visit. The fraternity was understandably upset. Why invite them to all these functions if they are going to be told that pictures aren’t allowed?

To assert their self respect, they decided to protest, an act that was initiated by photojournalist Mukesh Parpiani. So, when Indira walked into the National Centre for the Performing Arts in the evening, the photographers stood in a line, with their cameras pointing down. We spoke to Parpiani on his memories from the incident, and he says that it was a rare but momentous event, considering that such confrontations rarely happen with the PM of the country. Indira only stared back at them, but she soon realised what had happened and seemed to acquire a sense of respect towards the photographers.

Seen in the top photo (from left to right) are Dilip Chakravarty (Bombay magazine), Zaby Fernandes (The Indian Express), Jethva (a freelancer for regional Gujarati publications), Hoshi Jal (who had actually started as a reporter for The Daily at that time), F Robinson (The Sunday Observer), Mandar Kakde (Sakaal), P M Shirodkar (The Times of India), Mukesh Parpiani (The Daily), Feroze Mistry (The Daily) and Dennis Andrews (Free Press Journal). Andrews captured the second photograph, that showed Indira acknowledging the protest. The picture was carried in every publication the next day, which made the PMO realise that they had committed a major PR faux pas.

These images are also a statement of their time. The photojournalistic community was small, but intimate. Politicians were way more accessible and conscious about the photos that were published in the media. Because of the direct access that photographers had, these personalities were humanised, as opposed to the mugshots and political rally outtakes that we end up seeing nowadays.

Tags: better photography, may, photojournalism, 2014, Indira Gandhi, Politics, Boycott