Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Nov. 28, 2012

Is Shashi Tharoor still play acting?

Dr. Vijaya Rajiva

On January 2012 Shashi Tharoor launched into a lengthy speech (more than 45 minutes) at the IIM Calcutta. It was titled 'Who is an Indian ? The Politics of Diversity'. This was vintage Tharoor. He summoned up his best acting talent (it is reported that as a student at St. Stephen's College,New Delhi, he had acted as Anthony in the Shakespearean play Anthony and Cleopatra). This would also explain his curious accent. He declaimed (as Anthony would have in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar or in the play Anthony and Cleopatra ), the Nehruvian speech of midnight August, 1947 that talked about the tryst with destiny.

By now Indians are no doubt tired of theatrics, especially since Jawaharlal had sold the country down the drain on the Kashmir question and the Chinese debacle of 1962 and further would have planted a dagger in the heart of India if Sardar Patel had not acted swiftly in Hyderabad. No matter, Tharoor droned on and hailed Indian secularism and so on. He was in full flight as he quoted figures that showed the diversity of India. This went on for more than half an hour as he spun out jokes and stories (he described himself as a 'novelist' and rightly so, it would seem !) and kept the audience entertained. He even got carried away to tell the grisly story of his friend who described someone who had been electrocuted in prison as a Chairman of the electric chair or some such infantile story. The audience respectfully laughed !

It was when he came to the word 'Hindu' that he began to stumble. First off, he said that the word was a foreign importation, without actually mentioning that it was the Persians who changed Sindhu to Hindu. He seemed uncomfortable and ill at ease with the word. He did not and could not remember (most likely because he did not know) that Sindhu occurs in the Rig Veda, that most Hindu of all Hindu scriptures. Sapta Sindhu (seven rivers) is what every Hindu knows from the get go.

Why did Tharoor stumble on this one ? Ignorance, or the desire to get away from that word 'Hindu' ? Or to downplay it? He mentioned in passing the words Hindu Rashtra as if it were a dirty phrase, once again displaying his ignorance of the Rig Veda. There must surely be many Stephanites who know their Rig Veda ! Not Tharoor it seems. Aham rashtrii sangamani vasunam said the goddess Sarasvati (I am the rashtii that moves people towards their welfare) in the Rig Veda. But it seems that Tharoor could not or did not know that the word 'rashtram' also has a respectable Vedic lineage.

He was quick to point out that while North India suffered from the point of the sword (Islam) in the south it was a different story. He mentions the lone incident of the Arab traders who came to the Kerala coast but not the murder and mayhem by the Bahmani sultans who wreaked havoc on Vijayanagar or the ravages of Tippu Sultan in his very home state of Kerala. That Vijayanagar (after treachery) was destroyed with savagery for almost a year and the ruler Rama Raya was beheaded and had his head fixed on a pole (the similar fate of Prithviraj) was not at all mentioned by Tharoor!! One could say in defence of Tharoor that he was well intentioned and was not keen on raising contentious issues, but if so, why did he invoke the Babri Masjid and the death of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002? And interestingly enough he omitted mentioning the horrific roasting to death at Godhra of pilgrims returning from Ayodhya, old men, women and children at Godhra, that was the root cause that led to the riots in Gujarat ! Or the current murders and killings of Hindus in his home state of Kerala? He mentions that his wife and he visited the sufi saint's tomb and although her family's home had been burned down in Kashmir that she did not entertain any ill will towards Muslims. That is indeed big of her !

He omits to mention the massacre of Kashmir Hindus in the same time period (she was the lucky one who escaped !) and the current terror in which Hindus live in Kashmir. Or the thousands of Kashmiri Hindus who live in tents and miserable circumstances after they were driven out at the point of the sword from Kashmir. He omits to mention the terror which Hindus in West Bengal are subjected to. The list is endless and is about contemporary incidents not medieval history.

Why this selective memory ? Why this amnesia ?

The answer is that Shashi Tharoor is still play acting. He is still the teenage Stephanite . All the world is a stage (literally!). He is in his imagination the Anthony of the Indian scene. Perhaps in more ways than one ! There is a lack of gravitas in his new found role as potential come back as a new kid on the block for the Congress. And worshipping at the altar of the worst government that free India has had to date, he needs must disown his Hindu heritage and strike a few blows against it while he can. While he denies the status of 'majority' to Hindus he has no compunctions in conferring the title of 'minority' to other communities. Witness his recent visits and talks at the National Commission of Minorities. His hero at independence had acted in a similar way! (Editor's Note: By definition Tharoor must know there is no "minority" if the "majority" is not identified !!)
Nor is he concerned with the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act which hands over on a silver plate to minorities the looting of Hindu temples by the 'secular' government.

Witness his contrasting his ill informed view of Hindu Rashtra with his so called recipe for diversity, another word for the bashing of the Hindu majority. He cannot accept the fact that Bharat is a Hindu country. His stage managers from New Delhi are obviously calling the shots and he is willing to play courtier. While their indifference bordering on hostility is understandable and this includes his stage managers in Kerala, it is more difficult to explain his barely concealed hostility towards Hinduism to which he pays lip service.

Is he dissembling, play acting in the larger interests of his handlers ? The answer is both yes and no. No, because of his built in immaturity from the old St. Stephen days makes him a ready accomplice in the marginalisation of Hindus and yes because he knows it has gotten him thus far with a fair amount of success and hopes his luck will hold.

At the Calccutta speech he had said : it is enough if you have Rama in your heart.

The Hindus of India can be sure of one thing: when Lord Rama goes out to battle the asuric forces our Anthony will be nowhere around to help !

(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).

Monday, November 26, 2012


Radha Rajan,
Editor, and Author "Eclipse of the Hindu Nation:Gandhi and his freedom struggle"
H12/3, Pari Street, Kalakshetra Colony, Besant Nagar,
Chennai - 600 090
Shri Anshul Mishra,
District Collector,
Collectorate Office, Madurai 625 001

Respected Mr. Collector,

In a country where 83% of the people are Hindus and where the nation-state India is also an ancient timeless civilization, it is but natural that the national ethos should derive from the culture and religion of its majority populace. This is how it is around the world, without exception, especially in all Christian and Muslim nation-states.
The Vana BhadraKaliamman Temple is located inside the Madurai General Hospital and if the homam is performed inside the temple the Collector, no mater how exalted he thinks he is, has no voice in the matter. I would urge you to tackle dengue and other diseases, garbage disposal, hospital cleanliness, and issues which fall within your jurisdiction.
This country's secular polity has allowed the Church to run amok in hospital services and educational institutions. Every christian hospital and school and college has not only the Cross inside every ward and classroom, they also have chapels where Chrsitian services are held during the day.
The adherents of Christianity and Islam, no matter where they are placed - from the humblest of postions in government service to the most exalted offices in the country will actively serve the cause of their religion and co-religionists. Hindus alone serve secularism, constitutionalism and infamous idiot Hindu tolerance.
The pernicious judicial observation that government offices must not carry religious symbols was made by Justice Ibrahim Khalifullah now elevated to the exalted position of Judge Supreme Court. And do you know Sir that in the Madfras High Court, every Friday all Muslim judges rise at 12.30 PM - one hour before lunch - to offer namaz? So how secular is the judiciary and hiow double-faced Jusitce Ibrahim Khalifulla's observation?
Newspaper reports also carried the news that the incumbent CoP Chennai had instructed police offices not to perform Ayudhapooja. Islam and Christianity have been allowed to gain ascendancy which reflects in these anti-Hindu pronouncements becasuse you Sir, an IAS officer and I hope a Hindu, insulted the religious sensibilities of the majority populace of this country and thus served secularism.
In stark contrast, your colleague, the obnoxious Umashankar IAS formerly Chairman Co-optex, removed the pictures of all Hindu gods from Co-Optex offices but Umashankar IAS is  himself is a professed evangelist who has gone on record saying tsunami happened because people are worshipping false gods.  
If you say homams cannot be perfomed in hospitals then make sure we dont have padris and nuns using distress in hospitals as hunting ground for harvesting Hindu souls for Jesus and also make sure Umashankar IAS does not bare his Christian fangs when he continues to remain a serving IAS officer.
I believe you Sir have threatened to order an enquiry into the 'mindless event'. You have described the performance of homams inside the temple as a mindless event. What is mindless Sir is your tasteless observation. And as long as the TN government does not order enquiry into Umashankar IAS for being a christian evangelist you, as government servant have no moral or any other authority to question homams inside temples.
A temple is not sarkari 'baap ka maal'.
Yours sincerely, 

Radha Rajan

27th November, 2012. 


September 20, 2012 | Filed under: Featured,General,Latest | Posted by: Ashwin Kumar

Our sources indicate that the UPA Government has the numbers to push ahead with its so called reforms despite Mamata withdrawing her support to the Center. How did the UPA pull off this incredible feat  feat of survival?  The Unreal Times presents exclusive footage of seminal political developments as they unfolded in the corridors of power:

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Courtesy: http://bharatkalyan97

When Vajpayee rocked Ramlila Maidan

By Tavleen Singh on November 25, 2012
Veteran journalist and Niti Central columnist Tavleen Singh’s latest book, Durbar, has just been published by Hachette. For those interested in the individuals and events that shaped India’s politics from the 1970s to the closing years of the last century, Durbar is a must read. Tavleen Singh’s style makes it a gripping read, a veritable page-turner. Durbar also shows how politics is influenced by factors that have little or nothing to do with vacuous opeds written by pompous commentators!
Mrs Indira Gandhi’s sudden announcement of fresh elections took everyone by surprise. The country had settled into an Emergency groove. The rage over compulsory sterilisations and forcible ‘resettlement’ that had caused more than seven lakh citizens of Delhi to be moved had waned…
Why then had Mrs Gandhi decided that elections were necessary? The consensus in Delhi’s newsrooms was that she was deeply hurt that the Western media had taken to calling her a dictator. Mrs Gandhi rarely gave interviews to Indian journalists and treated the Indian Press with disdain but was sensitive to what the Western media said about her.
It became clear that Mrs Gandhi wanted to restore her image as a democratic leader and this could only happen if the coming elections were seen to be fair. Within days of the elections being announced most of the opposition leaders who were still in jail were released. They were no longer worth keeping in jail since nobody, not even the opposition leaders themselves, thought in January 1977 that Mrs Gandhi had the slightest chance of losing this election. Every report, even from her own intelligence agencies, indicated that she might lose a few seats but that there was no chance of a total defeat.
When the first posters appeared on Delhi’s walls announcing that a rally was to be held at the Ram Lila Maidan that would be addressed by the major Opposition leaders all of us thought it was a joke. How could they possibly hope to fill the city’s largest public park when the organisational capacities of their disparate political parties had not been tested in months? There were still six weeks to go before the election but the Opposition leaders had come out of jail demoralised and defeated. Some were recovering from the ordeal of long months of solitary confinement. Others from ailments caused by age and prison life…
In the Statesman reporters’ room the feeling was that even if the posters were genuine the rally would be a flop because people would be too scared to attend it. The Emergency was still in effect and the atmosphere of fear that the past eighteen months had created had not dissipated.
On the day of the rally even the elements seemed to be on Mrs Gandhi’s side. A thick pall of clouds hung over the city and by late afternoon it started to rain. In the reporters’ room we sat huddled gloomily around heaters debating whether there was any chance of the opposition parties being able to hold a successful political rally with so much going against them. Those of us who felt we needed to do our bit to help the Opposition parties rang everyone we knew and urged them to go to the Ram Lila grounds to show our solidarity…
On the short drive from the Statesman office to Ram Lila Maidan the only thing that brought some cheer was that the thin drizzle stopped and a weak sun appeared in the sky. Neither my colleagues nor I thought that this would encourage more people to come to the Opposition rally. So when we saw large crowds of people walking towards the Ram Lila grounds we were taken aback. Someone said that it could be because there were committed Jana Sangh supporters in Delhi who would have been mobilised.
When we got to the grounds we noticed that people were streaming in from all sides and, beyond Turkman Gate, people were even sitting on rooftops. But not even this prepared us for what we saw when we got inside. There were more people than I had ever seen at a political rally. The crowd stretched all the way to the end of the Ram Lila grounds and beyond. But, unlike at public meetings in normal times, when there is always a carnival atmosphere, there was a seriousness about this rally. People talked to each other softly and sat under umbrellas or in flimsy raincoats in orderly lines on black plastic sheets that covered the wet ground. They looked like they had been waiting a long time…
It was past 9 pm and the night had got colder although the rain had stopped. I said to a colleague from theHindustan Times that I thought people might start to leave unless somebody said something more inspirational. “Don’t worry,” he replied with a smile, “nobody will leave until Atalji speaks. Everyone here has come just to hear him.” He pointed to a small man with steel-grey hair, the last speaker that evening.
“Because he is the best orator in India. Have you never heard him speak?”
“No. I’ve only been in journalism since he went to jail.”
“Well, you’re in for a treat. And to hear him for the first time today will really be something.”
It was well past 9.30 pm when Atalji’s turn finally came and as he rose to speak the huge crowd stood up and started to clap. Softly, hesitantly at first, then more excitedly, they shouted, “Indira Gandhi murdabad! Atal Bihari zindabad!” He acknowledged the slogans with hands joined in a namaste and a faint smile. Then, raising both arms to silence the crowd and closing his eyes in the manner of a practiced actor, he said, “Baad muddat ke mile hain deewane.” (It has been an age since we whom they call mad have had the courage to meet.) He paused. The crowd went wild.
When the applause died he closed his eyes again and allowed himself another long pause before saying, “Kehne sunne ko bahut hain afsane.” (There are tales to tell and tales to hear.) The cheering was more prolonged, and when it stopped he paused again with his eyes closed before delivering the last line of a verse that he told me later he had composed on the spur of the moment. “Khuli hawa mein zara saans to le lein, kab tak rahegi aazadi kaun jaane?” (But first let us breathe deeply of the free air for we know not how long our freedom will last.)
The crowd was now hysterical. The clapping and shouting went on for many minutes. Atalji smiled with one hand resting on the podium, the other raised above his head and perfectly still. When he thought the applause had gone on long enough he raised both arms in the air and silence fell over the vast gathering. Yellow bulbs on long, drooping wires provided some light in the front but most of the ground was in darkness. Despite the night being so chilly, and a thin drizzle starting again, nobody left. They listened to Atalji in complete silence.
Eloquently, in simple Hindi, Atalji told them why they must not vote for Indira Gandhi. I no longer have a copy of the speech he made that night, and he spoke extempore, but I paraphrase here what I remember of it.
Freedom, he began, democratic rights, the fundamental right to disagree with those who rule us, these things mean nothing until they are taken away. In the past two years they were not just taken away but those who dared to protest were punished… The India that her citizens loved no longer existed, he said, it became a vast prison camp, a prison camp in which human beings were no longer treated as human. They were treated with such contempt that they could be forced against their will to do things that should never be done against a human being’s free will.
The Opposition leaders (he said “we”) knew that something needed to be done about India’s expanding population; they did not oppose family planning, but they did not believe that human beings could be bundled into trucks like animals, sterilised against their will and sent back. The clapping this remark evoked went on and on and on and it would be only on election day that I would understand why.
Long after Atalji finished speaking and the Opposition leaders got back into their white Ambassadors and drove off the crowds stayed as if they had collectively decided that they needed to do more than applaud a stirring speech. So when party workers appeared carrying soggy sheets in which they collected donations everyone gave something.
On that cold January night as I watched rickshaw-wallas and those who lived on a pittance from manual labour on Delhi’s streets donate what they could I got my first inkling that there was a chance Indira Gandhi could lose the election.
(Durbar by Tavleen Singh is published by Hachette India. Rs 599.)


जो हिंदू  हित की बात करेगा।। 
वही देश पर राज करेगा।।
जो हिंदू हित की बात करेगा।।
वही देश पर राज करेगा।।

Saturday, November 24, 2012


gen had been blooded in politics

21 November 2012 Facets covered in the book: money mongering, Quttrrocchi, behaviour...

Sonia: The Material Girl

Life inside the charmed circle of the Gandhis

Excerpted from Durbar by Tavleen Singh, with permission from Hachette India
Glimpses of a life before politics (Photo: CORBIS)

Rajiv is introduced to Sonia Maino's family at Delhi airport in 1968 (AP Photo)

Glimpses of a life before politics

Had he (Rajiv) married an Indian girl of her (Sonia's) background, she would have been held in contempt by the aspiring grandees who were Rajiv's closest friends

In Mrs. G's shadow (Left to Right) Rajiv, Sonia and Sanjay Gandhi with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi before any of the next 
generation had been bloodied in politics.

First among equals? Ottavio Quattrocchi, a fixture in the Gandhi's social set

An early taste of how the other half of India lives

Rajeev and Sonia in Amethi

During the Emergency, my social life seemed to become an endless series of dinner parties. The city had not extended as much as it has today. If we travelled to the still unfinished colonies of Shanti Niketan and Vasant Vihar, it was considered a long way. Vicky Bharat Ram lived in Shanti Niketan and I found myself invited to his house quite a lot. At his dinner parties there were nearly always the same people. One of them was Romi Chopra, who remains a devotee of the Gandhi family to this day. I remember him from those evenings as a shy, effeminate man. Someone who knew him from his Cambridge days once told me that he had wanted to become a ballet dancer but had ended up working for an advertising company in Delhi. When Rajiv and Sonia were not present he would talk to me about politics, but his political views were limited to the unashamed, unstinting, unquestioning worship of Mrs Gandhi. In his eyes she could do no wrong and the Nehru-Gandhi family had a divine right to rule India forever and ever.

Vicky I remember as being full of bluster and social conversation. He was a lot richer than the rest of us, so at his dinner parties he would serve French wine and fine Scotch whisky at a time when Mrs Gandhi’s socialist economic policies made these things almost impossible to acquire. He was married at the time to a beautiful Mexican woman who hardly ever came to Delhi. This did not deter Vicky from giving wonderful parties in his house filled with antique Indian sculpture and exquisite paintings. His family was famous for their contribution to Delhi’s culture and some of the finest private concerts I have attended were in Vicky’s father’s house.

Another couple who were regular guests at these dinner parties were Satish Sharma and his foreigner wife, Sterre. She was blonde and spent most of the evenings chatting to Sonia. Satish Sharma was a surly, silent man who did not seem to have much to say. He came from a middle-class background and had not been at either school or university with Rajiv and his other friends. Satish worked for Indian Airlines and it was through flying together that Rajiv and he had become friends. He gave no indication that he was even slightly interested in politics or current affairs. If someone had predicted that he would one day become an MP from Indira Gandhi’s constituency, Rae Bareli, and a cabinet minister, it would have been taken as a joke.

The other close friends who were present at these gatherings when they were in town were Nina and Arun Singh, and Suman and Manju Dubey. Of them Nina was the most likeable because of her friendly, open nature. Arun, or Roon, as everyone called him, was impossible to talk to because of his forbidding reserve. I knew of Suman from journalistic circles, in which he was respected for having got himself a very well-paid job with a newspaper in Singapore or Hong Kong. Indian journalism in those days consisted of a handful of English newspapers, with a small circulation and big influence, and a handful of Hindi newspapers that had a larger circulation but little influence, and any journalist who could get a job in a foreign newspaper was hugely admired. Suman was fidgety and nervous and seemed permanently distracted, while his wife, Manju, was a legendary beauty but had about her a cold, supercilious air. Another couple I remember as being part of Rajiv and Sonia’s inner circle were Nimal and Thud. I never found out his real name because everyone called him Thud, short for his surname, Thadani. It was only after Rajiv became prime minister and Thud became well known as one of his close friends that I discovered that his first name was Mohan. His wife was a plump, blowsy former airline stewardess who looked as if she may once have been pretty.

Then there were the foreign friends with whom Sonia seemed most comfortable and relaxed. Ottavio and Maria Quattrocchi were the ones who were nearly always invited where Rajiv and Sonia went. Not much was known about them, except that Ottavio worked for an Italian company and lived in Friends Colony. Sonia’s parents stayed with them when they came to Delhi. The other foreign friends came and went. There were Teresa and Brewster, whose surname I no longer remember, who lived in Marbella and had been introduced to Rajiv and Sonia by Mohammed Yunus, one of the Gandhi family’s closest friends. Yunus was a tall, talkative Pathan who, during the Emergency, became one of Mrs Gandhi’s most vociferous spokesmen. Teresa was very glamorous and always dressed in the latest clothes by Yves Saint Laurent or whoever was the designer of the season, and Brewster was a tall, bald ex-model. They disappeared soon after the Emergency ended, when it was discovered that they were involved in smuggling antiques out of India. There were other foreigners who came and went but were too itinerant to be important.

Drifting in and out of this inner circle of friends would be the occasional prince from Rajasthan or Punjab, a business tycoon or two from Bombay and other friends of Rajiv from Doon School. It was a closed circle of people who lived an upper middle class Indian existence. Nobody spoke Hindi well but that did not matter. What mattered was if you spoke the sort of English you may have learned in a public school in Dehra Dun. If some newly rich businessman drifted by, speaking English with difficulty, he was instantly treated as an object of fun.

Sonia did not speak English well but because she was a foreigner and it did not matter. We were deeply impressed by all things foreign not just because we had been ruled by White men for so long but because secretly we believed that Western culture and civilization was superior to ours. It may sound like a funny thing to say, but Sonia’s foreignness made it easier for her to be accepted in Rajiv’s circle of friends. Had he married an Indian woman of her background, she would have been permanently held in contempt by the broken-down aristocrats and aspiring grandees who were Rajiv’s closest friends.

It is an indication of how deracinated our little set was, how removed from even popular Indian culture, that we did not notice that a few weeks after the Emergency was declared, a film called Sholay was released and made history as the biggest hit ever from the Bombay film industry. Rajiv’s childhood friend, Amitabh Bachchan, was one of the stars of the film and would go on to play a political role when Rajiv became prime minister.


Without exchanging more than a few words with Sonia during the Emergency, I noticed that none of the Indian women in what was considered her inner circle of friends were ever informal with her, except Nina, Arun Singh’s wife, and she was not in Delhi much. The other ladies seemed to be in awe of Sonia and their simpering attempts to make conversation always seemed, at least to me, to be stilted and false. Sonia guarded her privacy fiercely and this gave her a reserve that was forbidding. I remember just one instance of trying to engage her in conversation at this time at one of Vicky’s dinner parties. I asked her if she had ever missed Italy after coming to live in India and her answer was, ‘No. Not at all. Sometimes maybe some food… some kinds of bread.’ She made it so clear that she was not interested in the conversation going any further that I scuttled off and found someone easier to talk to. I personally found Sonia as foreign as any foreigner I had ever met. In those days she never wore Indian clothes, and was always in skirts or frocks, which added to the impression that she was different from the rest of us.

One thing I gathered from overhearing a conversation she had with the ladies who surrounded her was that she seemed terrified of India in a deep, deep way. It was summer and there must have been a new outbreak of malaria that the ladies were talking about. I heard Sonia say that when her children were babies she was so worried about them being bitten by mosquitoes that she would put anti-mosquito coils under their cradles. She only stopped when the family doctor told her that they were more in danger from the smoke of the repellent than from mosquitoes. None of the ladies found the story funny. None of them had the courage to tell her that when you grow up in India, you learn to live with mosquitoes just as you learn to live with undrinkable water in your taps, filthy streets, flies and an unreliable supply of electricity.

Another memory I have of Rajiv and Sonia in the Emergency days was when a group of us went to Tabela after a dinner party. Romi Chopra was in the group and Sonia’s brother-in-law Waltair Vinci, who worked for Fiat in Italy. We were too early for Tabela to be open, so as we sat on loungers by the Oberoi pool and I heard Sonia’s brother-in-law chatting to her in Italian with an informality that was refreshing. I think he asked her to come and dance with him and she said, ‘Doppo’ which someone translated for me as ‘later’. There was no dancing, though, and neither Rajiv nor Sonia ever drank anything stronger than juice while the rest of us drank what we could get from the bootlegger.

It was from the group of friends that surrounded them that I got to know more about Rajiv and Sonia. These friends loved talking about their friendship with Rajiv and Sonia and competed with each other to show how close they were. I learned from them that Sonia hated politics and politicians and was very loyal to her friends, and that Rajiv was a ‘very good person’. When I asked for an example of his goodness, I was told, more than once, that Rajiv saw a beggar in rags on a cold night and immediately stopped his car and gave him his own coat.


It was just after Mrs Gandhi’s defeat, while a jubilant Janata Party government was taking over in Delhi under Morarji Desai, that I met Akbar Ahmed. He was better known by his nickname Dumpy though I have always called him Akbar. He was introduced to me at a dinner party in Oberoi Hotel as ‘Sanjay Gandhi’s best friend’. I took an instant liking to Akbar because of his ability to laugh at the most serious things and because he admitted without hesitation that he did not know how he had wound up in politics. At our first meeting he told me he had been studying chartered accountancy in London throughout the Emergency and had returned just before the elections were announced. He ended up helping Sanjay Gandhi with his campaign to win his first Lok Sabha election from Amethi at the behest of a senior politician in the Congress Party. ‘Weren’t you friends in Doon School? Shouldn’t you be helping him?’ He was in Lucknow, he said, not doing very much and with Amethi so close by he just drove down and offered his help.

When I got to know Akbar better I discovered that his best quality was his ability to give unstinting loyalty and friendship. After the defeat in 1977, when many of the sycophants around the Gandhi family vanished quietly into the Delhi night, Akbar felt it was his duty to be as much of a friend to them in every possible way. Even if he had no work with Sanjay he went and saw him nearly every day. He told me that after they moved to 12 Willingdon Crescent, the house Mrs Gandhi was allotted after her defeat, the family lived in considerably reduced circumstances. Mrs Gandhi was not known to have made any money for herself when she was prime minister and the party funds vanished with as much speed as the sycophants.

From Akbar I learned that after the defeat Mrs Gandhi was so shaken that she had seriously considered retiring to a cottage in the hills to write her memoirs. She thought this would be a good way to escape any political retribution that the Janata government may have been contemplating. According to Akbar, it was because Sanjay Gandhi insisted that they stay to fight another day that Mrs Gandhi did not leave Delhi. Sanjay became her pillar of support and consolidated what remained of the Congress Party. Mrs Gandhi seemed lost and defeated. I remember running into her at obscure diplomatic parties and once even at some non-event in Sapru House. Her presence was often an embarrassment at these events because it meant that the host or hostess would have to be in permanent attendance. Ordinary socialites were too overwhelmed to chat to her and diplomats and bureaucrats too intimidated. The occasional journalist would go up and ask a question or two but she did not like journalists and made this clear by responding to most questions in curt monosyllables.

It was Akbar who first told me that there were serious domestic tensions in Mrs Gandhi’s household. Since 12 Willingdon Crescent was not very far from my parents’ home, he would drop by, often full of stories and gossip. One evening when he settled down with his glass of Scotch whisky on my veranda, he told me that Rajiv and Sonia blamed Sanjay for everything that had gone wrong and that they never tried to hide their feelings about this. Tensions ran so high that the smallest trigger could set Sonia off, Akbar said. There was a particular story about a fight over dog biscuits that I remember well.

This is how Akbar told the story. ‘Yaar, can you imagine anyone getting upset because some dog biscuits got eaten by the wrong dog? What happened was that Maneka saw these biscuits in the fridge and fed them to her dogs and Sonia had a screaming fit. Then Rajiv started screaming too and it was all very unpleasant. Apparently they were imported dog biscuits or something. But, they were just dog biscuits, yaar.’


The first time I met Rajiv after he became a politician was at a dinner party in one of the usual drawing rooms. I cannot remember where it was or who else was there, but it was a small enough gathering for Rajiv and Sonia to be able to talk freely about what they had seen in Amethi. He looked both elated and a little confused, and she seemed quite overwhelmed. I report the following conversation from memory. My recollection remains vivid enough for me to be able to recount it almost verbatim.

‘The real shock is the poverty,’ Rajiv said. ‘I know I should have realized that we are a poor country and that means there would be poverty. And it’s not that I haven’t seen it in the faces of beggars and street children in Delhi. But in the villages it really is something else… beyond anything I had imagined.’

Sonia was appalled by the filth she had seen in the villages. It made her unusually eloquent. ‘In one hut we saw a small baby crawling around right next to this large pile of cow dung. He was playing with it and putting it in his mouth. It was awful and I wanted to tell his mother to stop him from doing this, but I thought she would mind so I said nothing.’

‘It’s better not to interfere in local customs,’ said one of the ladies, sipping delicately at her Campari-soda.

‘We heard from a health worker in one village that the main reason why newborn babies die from tetanus is because midwives put cow dung on their belly buttons to dry up the cord. Can you imagine?’

‘Well, that is the practice…’ someone said.

‘They have nothing,’ Rajiv continued. ‘The women have never seen the inside of a hospital. The men depend on what they can earn from the land, and that isn’t much. I can’t believe that they live without something so basic as clean water.’

‘Indians believe in karma,’ one of the men said, ‘and that makes them believe it is their fate to be poor, that they must have done something bad in their last life to suffer in this one.’


In the first few months after Rajiv became prime minister, Sonia spent most of her time decorating the new house on Race Course Road. Mrs Gandhi’s old home opposite the Gymkhana Club was now hallowed ground. So many people came to see where she had been killed and where she had lived that it became necessary to turn her home into a memorial. A walkway of crystal was created where she took her last steps and her room was preserved as she left it on the last day of her life. Two large bungalows were found on the other side of Gymkhana Club, on Race Course Road, for the new prime minister to live in. They were large government bungalows with gardens on all four sides, but because politicians liked living in Gandhian austerity, the houses and gardens had fallen into a state of decay. Sonia spent the first few months of 1985 making improvements to her new home and after that amused herself in the long hours that Rajiv was away by learning to restore old paintings in the National Museum.

Sonia seemed to play no political role, but where social matters were concerned she played an increasingly important one.

She began a process of weeding out from Rajiv’s inner circle people whom she considered unsuitable or those she took a sudden dislike to. Among the first to go was Nina. As far as I knew Sonia had continued to see Nina for long lunches nearly every day, so it came as a shock when I first heard there was trouble between them. Arun and Nina were so close to Rajiv and Sonia that they were given a house on Race Course Road next door to the prime minister’s new residence. A small gate in the dividing wall made it possible for them to go to each other’s houses without needing to go out of the main gates. The first rumour I heard, not long after the meeting at Mapu’s with Nina and Sonia, was that Sonia had locked the gate on her side of the wall.

Nobody knew why this had happened and none of their close friends talked about the closing of the gate. I did not know Nina well enough then to ask her straight out, and Mapu was too discreet to open his mouth about anything connected with his family. But in Delhi’s drawing rooms gossip had it that Nina had been dropped because she was too outspoken and Arun too moralistic about anything to do with collecting money for political purposes. He had always made it clear, people said, that he would help Rajiv with his politics as long as he was never expected to handle party funds.

Arun continued to work for Rajiv’s government till the Bofors scandal broke but he and Nina were no longer included in the intimate social circle that surrounded Rajiv and Sonia. In this circle were Amitabh Bachchan, now a Member of Parlia- ment from Allahabad, his wife Jaya, his brother Ajitabh and Ajitabh’s wife, Ramola, Satish Sharma and his wife, Sterre. The closest to Rajiv and Sonia were Ottavio and Maria Quattrocchi. When Mrs Gandhi was alive she discouraged her daughter-in-law from inviting foreigners to the house, so the Quattrocchis were kept at some distance from the prime minister’s residence. But after Rajiv became prime minister, the Quattrocchis had privileged access to the new house on Race Course Road. There were stories, spread by the prime minister’s security guards, that when one of them had tried to use a metal detector on Mrs Quattrocchi during a routine security check, she had kicked him and thrown a tantrum.

From the old inner circle, Romi, Vicky, Nimal and Thud, and sundry others remained. But the cosy lunches and dinners of yore came to a swift end once Rajiv became prime minister. If the Gandhis entertained at all it was for official events. I heard of dinners for visiting celebrities that were carefully choreographed by Sonia to give them an elegance social events by the Government of India lacked. Meals started to come course by course instead of all jumbled together and from those who attended these dinners came tales of a European touch to the food.

By Rajiv’s second year in power, stories about Sonia’s shopping sprees began to circulate in Delhi’s drawing rooms. The most dangerous gossips in Delhi are traditionally the sellers of shawls and carpets who wander from house to house with their wares. So it was from a Kashmiri shawl-seller that I first heard that the prime minister’s wife was buying shahtoosh shawls in large quantities. It was not an environmental crime then to wear shahtoosh but to buy a shahtoosh shawl was the equivalent of buying expensive fur. Only very rich Indians could afford to. Then, from diplomatic sources in distant Moscow, where the prime minister and his wife made their first foreign visit, came the story of Sonia buying an expensive sable coat. In Mrs Gandhi’s time, this kind of personal expenditure would either not have happened or would have happened so discreetly that nobody ever found out. Sonia’s sable coat travelled back on the prime minister’s flight, and people saw it and talked about it. According to the story I heard, Sonia’s taste in fur coats was so refined that she was not satisfied with Soviet tailoring and had the coat sent to Rome to be redesigned by Italian fashion house Fendi. These were the stories that are never possible to confirm, but gossip rarely needs confirmation to be believed.

Other small sartorial signs of a gradual move away from ‘socialism’ soon became evident. Rajiv started to wear an expensive, gold Rolex watch and carry a Mont Blanc pen in the pocket of his humble khadi kurta. This elegant new touch was imitated instantly by other young members of the Congress party. The style was not just imitated but embellished. Suddenly it became fashionable to add a pair of Gucci loafers to clothes made of Gandhian khadi. India had been through so many decades of enforced socialist behaviour that in the eighties there were not many Indians who would have recognized international designer labels. Certainly, there were no journalists in Delhi who had any acquaintance with them but what they did start to notice soon was that Rajiv’s friends were all doing very well for themselves. Rumours of crony capitalism, an expression we only half understood then, started to spread. Contracts to export rice to the Soviet Union were said to have been handed to some of their friends and all sorts of other deals to others.

To those of us who still saw Rajiv and Sonia’s friends in the drawing rooms of Delhi, it was instantly obvious that they suddenly had a lot of money. No longer did they travel economy when they went abroad and no longer did they stay with friends in London and New York. They stayed in expensive hotels and this was so new and wondrous an experience for them that they liked slipping names like Claridges and the Meurice into accounts of their travels. I remember on a trip to Washington being astounded to discover that one of Rajiv’s poorest friends spent a month occupying two suites in Watergate hotel. Friends of Rajiv who had lived on salaries that barely enabled them to afford a small Indian car now drove around in foreign cars and in their drawing rooms suddenly appeared expensive works of art and antiques. Nobody asked too many questions because Rajiv was still very popular but rumours of ‘deals’ started to filter into newspaper offices.


Years later, when Sonia Gandhi became the most powerful political leader in India, she tried to distance herself from the Quattrocchis by pretending that she barely knew them. But in the year that the Bofors scandal shattered Rajiv’s image of being Mr Clean, everyone from Delhi’s drawing rooms to its corridors of power knew that the Quattrocchis were as close to the Gandhis as it was possible to be. They went on holidays together and Quattrocchi liked to flaunt his closeness to the prime minister. At dinner parties he was often heard boasting about his influence with Rajiv’s government and those to whom he boasted did not hesitate to spread the word around because the Quattrocchis were not popular in Delhi’s social circles. They were not a pleasant couple. Ottavio was loud and full of bluster, and Maria had a coarse, bossy manner. If they were invited everywhere it was only because of their obvious closeness to Rajiv and Sonia.

I remember a dinner party in the house of an American diplomat at which an uncle of mine, who lived in the US, took me aside and asked me if I knew someone called Ottavio Quattro- cchi. When I asked why, he said, ‘He just came up to me and said he was so close to the Gandhi family, that he could arrange for me to get government contracts.’ My uncle was with a big Am- erican construction company. Was I surprised by what he told me? Not at all, because I had heard such stories many times before. Was I surprised the Quattrocchis were using their proximity to the Gandhis to peddle influence? Not at all. What did surprise me was the manner in which Rajiv handled the Bofors scandal. Since there was no evidence then, or even at the end of endless inquiry commissions, that linked the bribes to him or his family why did he behave like a thief caught in the act?