05 January 2007

"Scoop!" by Kuldip Nayar

It was a wrong time to be a teenager.

Socialism, seeded in by lofty intellectuals in pursuit of an utopian dream of equality, was failing to deliver. Yet this failed economic solution was a good political platform to secure a constituency.

Political standards were at their lowest. A son became more important than a country. Democratic traditions were killed. Fundamental rights were suspended and held inferior to State policy. State policy was of course as decided by a small coterie. Opponents were imprisoned. Newspapers were censored. There were a few who were elated because trains ran in time and because there were no strikes. The worst moment was when a sycophant Deb Kant Barua proclaimed: “India is Indira and Indira is India”. The leader was hopeless. The country was without hope.

And then, people spoke. Indira's actions and her coterie were firmly rejected. (She herself was not rejected; she was later able to come back to power).

In that first whiff of freedom, it was fun to rediscover hope in life.

There was an eagerness to understand what went wrong; how did it go wrong and what made everything right. Kuldip Nayar provided the answers in his book “Judgment”.

Kuldip Nayar never disappoints. The young lawyer from Lahore who migrated to India, studied his Masters in Journalism in Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois, returned to be press secretary for G B Pant and later Lal Bahadur Shastri and went on to be editor of Statesman is a well balanced analyst of political events just as they happen.

In “Scoop!” he provides an “inside angle” to events in the subcontinent. Some are thought provoking. Some are a revelation. Some are of no interest beyond the heat of the moment.

Some snippets:

(a) Mountbatten concedes his inept handling of partition caused the death of a million people. However, he claims his net score with his Maker is positive because he saved two and a half million lives in World War II. To imagine this "convoluted thinker" was making policies in ruling a nation is scary!

(b) Radcliffe says that Lahore (with a majority of Hindus/Sikhs at the time of partition) should have come to India and was given to Pakistan because the new nation did not have a big city. Do we hold a plebiscite in Lahore now?

(c) Morarji lost a chance to succeed Nehru because a press interview made him sound ambitious because it reported that “he threw his hat into the ring” and tilted the votes against him in favour of Shastri.

(d) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto concedes that “he started the war with India in 1965” by orchestrating the infiltration!

(e) When Congressman Sardul Singh Kaeshwar wondered whether he should repay a Rs 500 loan that was time barred, Mahatma Gandhi was firm in saying this was not a legal issue and this was a moral issue. Nehru dumped Keshav Dev Malavia because Malavia could not account a political contribution he received for Congress party from a businessman. Moral standards in politics were high. Modern day politicians demand proof of corruption charges in a court of law. That an average adult would have reasons to deduce there was corruption is not sufficient.

(f) Indira Gandhi suspended fundamental rights. Gandhi and Nehru would not have approved. Yet four people did! Justices Ray, Beg, Bhagwati and Chandrachud agreed that suspension of fundamental rights did not imply suspension of rule of law. Ray opined that when there is “public danger” protective law should give way to interests of the state. There was hope however. Justice Khanna dissented. (Khanna was superceded when a junior Beg was appointed Chief Justice. Khanna did not oblige the government by resigning. He stood tall by staying). In my mind, Justice Khanna is a hero.

A good read.


Suze said...

was just about to buy this book. looks interesting!

(but will wait till my next trip home and just er.. borrow it..)

Saraansh said...

It does sound like a good read ...will pick it up this time.