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|May 9, 2001||
This must be one of the stupidest biographies I have ever read. Also, possibly the most clueless. That could be the reason why Katherine Frank decided to garnish it with so much of hearsay, malicious gossip and lies. Lascivious lies. Lies that would tempt readers to go out and buy this silly, pretentious book. Which explains, I guess, its huge sales.
Let me confess, at the outset, I am no great admirer of Indira Gandhi. I knew her but I did not exactly like her too much. In some ways, however, I found her gutsy and daring. But like all insecure politicians all over the world, she was not exactly a nice person. Nor was she particularly clever.
She went by her instincts, and these instincts were often wrong. Wrong for India. Wrong for her. The Emergency was her biggest blunder and she paid very dearly for it. The history books will remember her, not for the brave things she did but for the foolish mistakes she made. And the Emergency was just one of them. The other was Operation Bluestar. I could name more. But in India, unlike where Katherine Frank comes from, we do not speak badly of the dead. So I will let it pass.
But even the worst political leader does not deserve a biography like this.
It stinks. It stinks because of two reasons. One: It is a rotten read, stuffed with factual inaccuracies, jejune throwaway comments, and malicious gossip masquerading as magical insight into people and politics. Two: It is the kind of book that gives journalism a bad name. I know Frank is no serious journalist. But in trying to write what ostensibly looks like a political biography she is actually passing off dirty, snide rumours as history. Which is not a nice thing to do because future chroniclers will repeat her stories and give them further currency.
Frank lacks the sensitivity to understand Indira Gandhi's political compulsions. So, instead, she looks for demons elsewhere. In her troubled childhood. In her relationship with her husband Feroze Gandhi, who Frank claims had countless sordid affairs on the side, including one with her own ailing, pleurisy-stricken mother Kamala. In her ties with her father Jawaharlal who had his own relationships on the sly and was about to marry fat, old Padmaja Naidu but finally decided against it, fearing an adverse impact on his daughter's psyche. In her own affairs with a strange gaggle of men, from the ugly, boastful M O Mathai to the sinister Dhirendra Brahmachari to the vertically challenged Dinesh Singh.
Frank also looks for demons in Indira Gandhi's uneasy relationship with her two sons and particularly in the smorgasbord of emotions she felt for Sanjay, who Frank paints in the blackest of colours. And, finally, after Sanjay's death, in her resentment towards Maneka who, Frank suggests, was too fiercely ambitious for Mrs Gandhi to tolerate.
To support these claims, Frank presents no facts, no evidence. All she does is footnote in some gossip she shared with complete nobodies like Rupika Chawla, a Sonia crony, who has since denied ever having said any of the things attributed to her, and a by now almost senile BK Nehru whose only claim to fame was his surname which may have allowed him occasional access to the Gandhi home. The rest of her claims are based on hearsay and, in some cases, even double hearsay where one source quotes another without assuming the burden of proof.
If this and a snide comment attributed to Rajiv who, as even Frank concedes, did not exactly get on with his brother, is all that she has in her possession to claim that Sanjay was a gambolling playboy, horribly corrupt and a cold blooded murderer to boot, I fear she could be in deep trouble. After all, his widow is still around and, in fact, is a prominent minister in the Vajpayee Government and her son Feroze Varun is all set for a political career. Both are unlikely to sit back and take this shit.
The book is not easily available in Mumbai because, I am told, the Congress party here wants to get it banned. The distributors have, therefore, chosen to keep it away from the wellknown bookstores. The smaller ones, however, can get you copies if you want.
But the funny thing is that if you read the book carefully and in between the lines, you will notice something very curious. The only two people about whom Frank has anything nice to say are Rajiv and Sonia. It is obvious that she saw them as the only decent people in the Gandhi household. Particularly Sonia who, Frank claims, spent all her time cooking for her mother-in-law and looking after her every personal and political need. Even Sanjay's son, she says, was brought up by Sonia because Maneka had no time for him.
Gossip is fine in the whispers column of a tabloid. But when someone is foolish enough to publish it in cold print, as part of a political biography, she runs the risk of being asked to provide the evidence. Much of what Frank writes can never be proved because it is simply not true.
Every Mughal court has its dark intrigues, its sordid power struggles, its disinformation machine working overtime. It is the task of chroniclers to separate the fact from the fiction, the truth from the trash. In this case, we have a biographer who was so busy trying to write a bestseller that she did not make the slightest effort to track down the truth. Instead, she succumbed to the temptation of taking sides in an ugly family battle she never quite understood. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong side and listened to the wrong people. If she gets into trouble now, she will only have herself to blame.
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