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Vinod Mehta: Rahul Gandhi probably hates politics more than Sonia does

Last updated on: March 13, 2013 12:29 IST

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"It is not inconceivable to me that a strong leader can come to power with the consent of the people, with democratic sanction, go berserk with that democratic sanction and bypass some of our Constitutional guarantees," Vinod Mehta, one of India's most respected editors, tells Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

Ask Vinod Mehta, one of India's finest magazine editors and the author of The Sanjay Story, what he would like to do next, and he promptly answers, "Write Sonia Gandhi's biography."

He is equally clear, he tells Rediff.com's Saisuresh Sivaswamy, that this will never happen as long as the Congress is in power.

"You must understand here that I am not talking of scandals nor am I looking at some people giving me some great Bofors revelations," he says.

"I am just talking of people opening up about the human side of her personality -- what kind of food she likes, what she reads, who she hates, who double-crossed her, how she double-crossed the person who double-crossed her, all these kinds of things you wouldn't otherwise get to know about her."

Part I of a fascinating interview: Is Narendra Modi another Sanjay Gandhi?

Part 2: Sanjay Gandhi was the king of India; his mother was No 2'

Land has been acquired in Haryana again for a member of the family (Priyanka Gandhi's husband, Robert Vadra)... Doesn't it bring back a sense of deja vu?

It's funny you should say that because many of Mr Robert Vadra's land acquisitions are in Haryana (Land was controversially procured in Haryana for Sanjay Gandhi's Maruti project).

Bansi Lal was the chief minister at that time; this time, you have Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

The land deals were done then to set up a factory; this time, the land deals are done for real estate reasons. And he (Vadra) is the son-in-law, not the son.

There are parallels in the way Robert Vadra has been able to bypass certain norms and rules. I think -- we are not sure yet -- perhaps a few illegal things were also done.

The same thing happened to the power of X when Sanjay Gandhi was there.

Of course, there's a parallel. And it's very funny that it should be happening in the same state.

In his time Sanjay Gandhi was castigated for being the dynastic face in the Congress.

Today, dynasty is there in every party, every state.

Now you have the Hooda dynasty, the Vijayaraje Scindia dynasty, the Mulayam Singh Yadav dynasty and the Karunanidhi dynasty.

People have seen how one dynasty (the Gandhis) has prospered so this has continued wherever you have one man parties -- Mulayam Singh, Karunanidhi...

The only parties which don't seem to have a dynasty are run by single women -- Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee.

It must be said, though, that some of the offspring are reasonable people. There's no question, however, that the power comes from the dynasty.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi, who has recently been anointed vice-president of the Congress party, seen with his mother, Sonia.
Photographs: Savita Kirloskar/Reuters
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'Sanjay hated people who had a Leftist bent of mind'

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I am sure there was plenty of material that you did not use in the book.

Yes, but I can't talk about it.

You mean, you knew it to be true but you still couldn't use it?

No, I couldn't talk about it because it was so bizarre.

People mentioned it, and it generally concerned the personal lives of people so I couldn't mention it.

Nevertheless, you have mentioned a lot of things in the book, like Sanjay's alleged homosexuality...

I mentioned that in passing.

I put up the homosexuality bit first and then knocked it down myself because it was a public school kind of thing.

Did that cause you any trouble with the establishment?

No, no, no.

After the Emergency, when the other books came out, my book didn't do as well as, say, Kuldip Nayar's book or Janardan Thakur's book or Uma Vasudev's book simply because it was seen as balanced.

I was accused of giving the other side too much of an opportunity to state their case -- (of doing) not a whitewash job, but close to a whitewash job.

You can't imagine the anger at that time.

People said what if she is Indira Gandhi? Who is this boy (Sanjay Gandhi)?

After the Emergency, people realised how respected people like P N Haksar had been treated.

Sanjay hated people who had a Leftist bent of mind, he hated Communists and he hated Socialists.

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Image: Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi with their mother, Indira, and grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru.
Photographs: India Abroad Archives
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'Sanjay hated Muslims because they lived in squalid conditions'

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Did Sanjay Gandhi hate Muslims?

I don't think he hated Muslims per se, but he hated them because they lived in squalid conditions, in slums.

One of the things he asked people all the time was, 'Why are these Muslims against me? I am doing this for their benefit. After all, if they have seven, eight children, what kind of family life will they have? So, by vasectomy, I am ensuring they have only two children.'

'They live in such squalid slums,' he would say. 'They should be grateful that I am demolishing those slums and giving them a better life across the Yamuna.'

The truth was that there was no better life across the Yamuna.

What was being offered exactly was exactly the same conditions they were already living in.

He just didn't understand the psychology of people -- they may be living in a slum, but politicians require a great amount of persuasion, consent and acceptance before uprooting them.

If you are going to move people, you have to do it with their consent. If they say no, they say no.

The Muslims put up a fight.

The people whose slums were being demolished formed protest groups, etc, but he managed to get his way.

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Image: Indira Gandhi at the memorial for her deceased son, Sanjay.
Photographs: India Abroad Archives
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'It will be much more difficult to impose an Emergency now'

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What lesson does one draw from Sanjay Gandhi's life and times and politics?

People ask me if an Emergency can happen again.

Of course, it can.

But one of the things that will make it more difficult to impose an Emergency is that, during Mrs Gandhi's time, there was single party rule.

So, one night, she sat with her kitchen cabinet and they drafted out the Emergency, put up an ordinance and gave it to the President.

Now, if you have a coalition government and you have 24 parties in that government, it makes it so much more difficult because the resolution has to be passed by the Cabinet.

You have to convince your allies.

The second thing, and I hope I am right here, is that the institutions of democracy are much stronger now than they were then.

I am talking about the Supreme Court, civil society, the media -- all these institutions are much more vigilant and much stronger so they can take on this kind of thing.

But it is not inconceivable to me that a strong leader can come to power with the consent of the people, with democratic sanction, go berserk with that democratic sanction and bypass some of our Constitutional guarantees.

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Image: Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, accompanied by Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri, carry the ashes of their grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Photographs: India Abroad Archives
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'I would love to write Sonia Gandhi's biography'

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Is there anyone among today's politicians whose biography you'd like to write?

I would love to write a biography of Sonia Gandhi, but it can't happen as long as she is in power.

Even if she doesn't agree to speak to me, I can write a biography if I can get access to the people around her.

I know, of course, that they will speak to me, but will they openly share some of the things that happened?

You must remember that, during Sanjay's time, I was not able to speak to Sanjay Gandhi, but all his lieutenants opened out to me.

I don't think that will happen in the case of Sonia Gandhi.

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Image: Indira Gandhi with Rajiv, Sonia, Priyanka, Rahul and Varun visit Sanjay Gandhi's samadhi.
Photographs: India Abroad Archives
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'How did Sonia enter politics?'

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Do you think they are scared?

Yeah! But if she loses the next election, the chances writing Sonia Gandhi's biography become a bit brighter.

If it becomes clear that she is not only out of power but not likely to get back into power, then some lips may open.

You must understand here that I am not talking of scandals, nor am I looking at some people giving me some great Bofors revelations.

I am just talking of people opening up about the human side of her personality -- what kind of food she likes, what she reads, who she hates, who double-crossed her, how she double-crossed the person who double-crossed her, all these kinds of things you wouldn't otherwise get to know about her.

I can't remember the number of publishers who have asked me whether I will write a Sonia Gandhi biography because they believe I am close to her.

This may not be true, but I have to admit I am not unsympathetic towards Sonia Gandhi.

The only biographies of Sonia Gandhi which have been published till now are hagiographies.

I don't blame the people who wrote them because the only things her lieutenants or aides will tell you only glowing things about her.

But in her long career -- from the time she was a housewife to the time she became a leader -- there must be so many fascinating tales.

One is told of how she fought tooth and nail to stop Rajiv Gandhi from entering politics. In her book, she said she fought like a tiger. Then how did she herself enter politics?

I must confess that when people asked me if Sonia Gandhi would take the plunge into politics -- this was when P V Narasimha Rao was in power -- I would say 'Never!'

I have given so many stupid interviews saying Sonia will never enter politics because I had read her book and I knew that she hated politics with a passion.

How wrong I was!

Today, her son is in politics.

Yes, her son is in politics and he probably hates politics more than her!


Image: Indira Gandhi with her sons Rajiv and Sanjay, daughters-in-law Sonia and Maneka and grandchildren, Priyanka and Rahul.
Photographs: India Abroad Archives
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