India, Russia and China’s different political cultures?

The outbreak of Corona virus in China had brought with it so many questions about how countries run their affairs. In today’s The Hindu (Feb, 17, 2020) there is an elaborate write-up on how the media is tightly controlled in China and how that had led to such scale of tragedy. There are such lessons for all countries in governance issues.

Jung Chang

I have three books before me written by the veteran lady journalist and writer, a former Chinese national, now a British citizen, the world- famous, author, Jung Chang. Her widely read book was on Mao. The other books are on her own family history, the latest on three sisters, one married Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of Chinese Republic in 1912 by overthrowing the last dynasty in China and her younger sister, May -ling is none other than Mrs. Chiang Kai-shek, the nationalist leader who was defeated by Mao’s Communist party. Jung Chang now lives in Britain.

The three books give a lot of information on how China had cordial relations in the pre-independence days with May-ling and Chiang visited Indian 1942,they also came to Santiniketan where they helped to found the famed Cheena Bhavan where I had the good fortune to study Chinese languages under the legendary Prof.Tan Yun-Shan! Where later in 1959 Choun-En-lai also visited and where he came into our Chinese language class room and shook our hands!

Of course very soon the India-China relations deteriorated and finally Nehru died in 1964 and many things changed. Few years ago I visited China, Shanghai city where I took pains to trace the residences where Sun Yat-sen, Mao’s own Shanghai residence and also that of Chou En-lai!

Now, what I want to convey to the Indian readers is that I was always interested in how democracies work after I read British Parliamentary History at Oxford and ever since I returned to India after visiting Soviet Russia my interest only continued.

Today, living though the years of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and later under various leaders as Prime Ministers with Emergency as the last phenomenon in India and now under the BJP government in the two terms I am also keen to reflect on the dimensions, great countries as varied as India, China and also Russia, not to forget the USA and other older democracies like Britain and other Western European countries have evolved as democracies and their successes and failures if any.

In India in particular, there is not much awareness, as I see, of the importance and significance of how we managed to retain democracy in the last 70 years of our freedom. Is Indian democracy at its best and how does our democratic institutions compare with other democratic countries.

It seems that in India of today there is no concern or debates at all about the need to retain any finer principles. The current scenario is one of mixed blessing if at all. The great countries like Russia and China are with big populations and compared to these governments Indian democracy is truly very big with 1.3 billion people. The world recognizes Russia and China as dictatorships, right? While India is recognized as a democracy and the outside world admires the way we run our periodic elections and our rule of law as mandated by the Constitution that is written and also as detailed by Constitution.

For long one party, namely, the Indian National Congress was the ruling party and now, there is a rival party as the BJP. The need and role of the Opposition party is recognized as the critical element in a democratic government, though this requirement is fully met with in many democracies.

In Britain, there is a long tradition of two party systems and the British Parliamentary History is a long and glorious one. But Indian Parliamentary history which is being guided by the conventions of the British House of Commons wherever there are no guidance in our written Constitution.

How far we have been sensitive and committed to democratic values is a matter for debate and this is the crux of the debate here. In China a few years ago, I was astonished by the speed of the economic progress and I used to tell myself often in China: India is still a poor country compared to China!

Such gigantic infrastructure, be it roads, even bullet trains, airports etc simply put me off!
As for the general peoples’ lives I found much liberalism, even much bourgeoisie values and also people freely enjoying themselves in public places!

In India there is unfortunately, suddenly much fear and silence and also suddenly, lately, a sort of spontaneous upsurge in protests!

This sort of phenomenon I was of course not prepared to, honestly. There are so many other distortions in public life as we have been accustomed to in the last 70 years!

Even I feel hesitant to speak out openly and freely. Now, latest I read in a Russian despatch published in The Hindu (Feb 16,2020) I find how Russia recognizes “Kremlin-sanctioned opposition” as opposed to other spontaneous protests, as in the recent case of other anti-government activism. Recently a court in a Russian city seven members of the Left group of youngsters to a cumulative term of 86 years!

There is no independent judiciary in Russia as we guess in China too. Of course there is no free press in Russia as in China. So, we have to read and write more after visiting and travelling across these countries.

Democracies in the USA and why even in Britain and other Western European countries, there are issues in their democracies and their own law and order and crime control laws etc. The prison systems there are also varied.

The point here is that as for our own democratic values and adherence to the finer Constitutional values we seem to go a long way after such decisions like actions of the government in J&K and also as to our own media freedoms and also now the long-prolonging public protests over the new changes in citizenship laws.

In the end we have to realise, as citizens and free people, we have to go a long way before all sections of people realise what is freedom about. There has not been any long tradition of seeking freedom, as it evolved in Britain after Magna Carta.

So, teaching of the role and place of freedom in our political life must start from the schools onwards. The road is of course very long and twisted and uphill, indeed!

There are new books on the Mahatma and they bring out new insights and perspectives!

bkcollageIt is also time to assess the contributions of the great leader with some critical questioning. So that we get from World War-I to Partition and the present times in Indian politics when Hindutva has become a creed for narrow selfishness, be it nationalism or patriotism.

The French President, Macron, told in the face of the US President Trump that nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.

What did he mean? US President says, rather proudly his political goals is:”America First!” So, the US can do whatever it thinks it is only good for the US?

That is  what fanaticism leads to. Many time, it ends up as fascism and even violence. That is a lesson from history. We commemorated the end of the centenary of the first World War-1.

Populism also means the same thing. The world is not producing leaders of vision. But more and more isolationists.

Mahatma Gandhi can give any clue to the current world scenario?

Mahatma Gandhi is such a fascinating figure that he had accumulated so many admirers and as many critics. One more book and that too of about more than 1,000 pages!

Prof.Ramchandra Guha seems to have such a fascination for the great man and he had written  this book too, once more it seems, as he had had many times in the past written of Gandhi. Anyway, I hadn’t read the book yet but glanced through casually. But the reviews,(Open magazine,October,2018)in particular by Zaroor Masani caught my attention more than casually. Masani has such an easy style that has such an easy flow that I read the review in one breath, so to say.
The reviewer in my opinion excelled himself this time by knitting together many small episodes that build the great man and also brings him down in an objective way.

Just now, after many years I was trying to get to grips with the famed writer, scholar, B.R.Nanda’s slim volume, Gandhi and his Critics (OUP,1997) and though the volume is slim the trying was heavy-going and at the end of my several attempts I am at a loss to sort out Gandhi’s many critics  for Gandhi seems, as I see now, after years of my own  living and experiences, where to place the Mahatma now, in the current scenario in the country.

The coming of Narendra Modi and the PM’s own adoption of Gandhi for many of his schemes etc. Also the other side-effects, the Hindutva’s various ideological versions and the demands  on the ground for a Ram Mandir and other practices, you can name and enumerate as you like, from Cow vigilante and mob lynching and other news-making efforts and events. Even the RSS glasnost, as one media comment put is and also the other mind-altering activities of the ruling regime.

The point here is that Gandhi matters still it seems and what we can learn now and how we, in our own individual capacities and also in our collective efforts to make Gandhi relevant and learn more from his life.

After all, our policy is vibrant and our Constitution is strong and I dare say our secular credentials are fine and makes sense in a world that is not going in a progressive manner but have elected many leaders in some countries, the latest being Brazil where we have received not just plain dictators or authoritarians but what are called plain populists and nationalists and not many with a polished tongue but accustomed to using not even civilised language but plain vulgarities!

Here I am concentrating on what Masani gave me to think about. Instead of going into dates and other details, it seems that Gandhi seemed not to have gone with a well-thought path after he returned to India in 1914 once for all and he was 45 years of age. The next 30 odd years we saw the transformation of the man and his political style that defied his contemporaries and also distanced him from what was the best talents available in the country.

Of course Gokhale died soon after, Tilak lived for another six years, Annie Besant lived longer. Others, Motilal Nehru, C.R.Das and Lala Lajpat Rai were there. In 1922, the civil disobedience movement first saw the Chauri Chaura riot and eruption of violence led the Mahatma to call off the ‘strike’. We don’t anymore discuss this. From then on many movements also saw violence accompanying   them.   When Gandhi launched his Non-Cooperation Movement, the trio left and formed the Swarajya Party.

From that time onwards Gandhi was on a very different path, the Salt Satyagraha, why even the 1942 movement led to violence. The 1919 Amritsar Massacre is a critical point and we have not yet fully discussed Amritsar, the trigger and the horrible violence, loss of lives on such a scale..If anyone reads through the Tagore letters, there is one letter Tagore wrote to Gandhi in response to the latter’s explanation of the Massacre.

It is the one letter of Tagore I could not make up my mind as to what Tagore (Gurudev for us, the Santiniketanitres) meant in what he writes. It is my humble submission and I stand to be corrected that Tagore couldn’t give a straightforward approval of what happened at the fateful day in Amritsar!

Anyway, the friendship and much more, the greatness of the two minds were such that they didn’t want to share a common, agreed view. So, my whole reading through Masani’s review is that at each crucial occasion, Salt Satya Graha and in 1942 violence occurred and much blood was shed for a cause that might have been great and even sacred but nevertheless it was not a peaceful political struggle.

And of course, we have to account for the special weapon, fasting Gandhi adopted not infrequently, to secure obedience of his disciples and companions and colleagues.

And there are other aspects of Gandhi’s dealing with his rival colleagues, Jinnah and Ambedkar. With Jinnah, if we look at the events from this distance, Gandhi always had a patronising attitude?  The two instances quoted by Masani certainly to a certain view point. May be Gandhi might not have thought deeply or pondered over the great historical divide between the Indian Muslims and the Hindu?

Or his approach was as was his wont very mystical and instinctive or call it by whatever name, it was not a good understanding of Indian history?

When things went out of control, Gandhi had to cut a sorry figure and he had to adopt silence when the fateful vote was taken with Gandhi present by his colleagues, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel and others. What a tragic end the whole movement was led or the movement led the country!

So, partition came about without anyone giving any forethought.
Certainly, the other figures, Mountbatten and others look very silly figures who played havoc with innocent lives.

Also, one more significant  thought process that emerges from reading Masani’s review is that Gandhi never seems to have given a  damn to the whole exercise of the Constitutional evolution of Indian polity, from the Chelmsford  reforms onwards and  many  other reforms thereafter, post 1939, the Second World War years wasted years, no thought was given by anyone who had the strength of character and  vision, the many missions, the Crips Mission, the Cabinet Mission and the whole war years went on without India seizing  the opportunities. Two more of my own personal readings and visits to China are these: one F.D.Roosevelt’s persuasion(or Diktakt?) to Churchill to grant Independence to India. The other: the visiting Chinese couple, Chiang Kei Shek, more the Mrs.Soong, the most brilliant lady who both advocated freedom for India.

Indians never sought American help for freedom. Nor they utilised the Chinese goodwill for furthering the Indian freedom. Instead, I am sorry to point out that Gandhi’s innocence or ignorance of the gravity of the times and the Gandhi’s pat for Mussolini and Prasad Anyway, in the end there remains certain issues that are critically
linked to Gandhi’s life, the practice of religion, the practice of praise for Hitler!

Fasting, satayagraha as political tools in a world where the democratic forces and practices are practiced today. Yet Gandhi’s life and activities would remain eternal sources of inspiration for generations to come.

How we can impact on our times?

marco-poloIndians must stand up and learn to speak for themselves as free citizens. The many hang-ups, the legacy of the British colonial low-confidence mindset and also the new political bosses who don’t practise any known Constitutionally-mandated norms of public behaviour have sapped the energies of the common man as well as the elite.
Some unorthodox ideas and thoughts.

These are the two questions I often ask myself. If I can put it more grandly, yes, anything more personal and serious, then such questions might sound, in the present context of more immediate times, say, when there is a general election in 2014 or when there is the more contentious, practical questions, say in politics or even partisan context like whether one should enter an electoral context or even forming a political  party or party faction so that you want to intervene in a very emotional and partisan opposition parties’ own agendas of making news  for some immediate demands, one can ask such questions in different and more provocative or more polished language as well.

So, I too am provoked sometimes to ask the same questions, differently framed to reach some conclusions. As I am in a much more anxious mood, anxious for the future of the country faced with a great deal of uncertainty about the outcome of the 2014 general elections I want to take a more balanced  and broader historical context and as these very same questions.

How do we understand the present times in India?
How, we, as individuals or party activists or even as intellectuals understand and interpret the present state of the Indian politics?

I have before me a book by Meghnad Desai “Rediscovery of India”.
This is not a new book but a book that will remain a standard reference, I believe, for a long time. Lord Desai is now a member of the London House of Lords, a great honour and a great recognition. As such his views would be taken into account.

The point I want to make here is that Britain is no longer a Great Britain. The latest Economist magazine has a cover story titled, Great Britain vs. Little England!
Yes, there is so much lamentation lately on the decline of Britain as a big power. It is now a humble small island nation.

Unfortunately, this decline, this smallness of the nation hasn’t yet sunk into the mindset of average Indians. The Brits know this, they realise they no longer count in the scheme of things on the world stage.

The Economist magazine captures their dilemma and their plight so poignantly.
It was the handiwork of the Labour party in 1945 when they decided to give India independence in 1947.Indian Empire, its vast territory was a prized possession of the Brits. How can be forgetting the boast of Winston Churchill about his absolute claims of ownership of the Indian Territory and his scathing language about Gandhi and Nehru and other leaders.

chairmanAnd yet, we, Indians even today seem to be in a worshipful mood when it comes to the British monarchy, Churchill and even some of the imperialist authors like Rudyard Kipling and many others. It is high time we, Indians shed our British worship, slavishness and inferiority complex and our servile mindset when it comes to expressing our own independent views.

I know many eminent Indian scholars and experts, especially those who went to England, to Oxford and Cambridge and got their education and later careers also, having spent long spells of stay and learning to toe the line of the official and academic lines there, we still see there is no independent study or opinion on such early British histories by James Mill and others.

Now, we can see that James Mill who earned his keep by work at the East India Company (so his eminent son, John Stuart Mill also), the senior Mill wrote derogatively about Indians and their character and yet we don’t dare, even now, to criticise Mill’s characterisation and also we don’t express our views on other British imperialist officials be it Lord Curzon or Macaulay.

There had been greater and more open-minded and sympathetic minded persons like Warren Hastings, others who promoted and worked under the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Yes, we have to remain grateful to these great men, great minds like William Jones and others who promoted the Sanskrit College in Benares and those who really appreciated the Oriental scholarship.

It is after a long time only the British started appreciating Indian languages and learning and arts and culture. Otherwise, they remained highly prejudiced and they didn’t see any merit in Indian culture an Indian innate talents.

India must play its role in the world.
Indians must shed the British legacy of learning from thinking and writings.
Indians need to think for themselves.
Indians must re-evaluate the legacy of our own freedom heroes.
It is the young India that will now set goals for the new generation.
So let us learn to live with Indian thinking and Indian writing.
Not Britain anymore a Great Britain. It is now Little England.
May be in another parallel, the US too is not a model for Indian affairs.
India is the world’s large democracy. India must have an independent world view. Our values have to be defined afresh
We have to be equi-distance to the major powers.
We have to promote world peace; we have to work for disarmament and avoidance of civil wars that rage in several parts of the world. (There are now as many as six in world.
Indians must establish Wars and Peace Research Institute as in Norway and Sweden. We must be outward looking. Not as we are today, very inward looking and also timid!

Also before me are two more books.

One is on the Atlantic Slave Trade by James Pope Hennessy (A Study of the Atlantic Slave Trade (1441-18o7).

One whole afternoon I read through the more difficult pages of this enormously eye-opening account of what was to be the biggest black spot in the whole history of Britain. The so many beautiful country homes we see in the vast countryside of Britain, we learn now, are from the wealth earned by this despicable trade that saw England become a very prosperous nation through some four centuries of slave trade. Some of the chapters are so hot and so unreadable with a peace of mind.

This part of the British history   we don’t know. My Oxford tutors didn’t teach me this side. Though after a brief visit to Ireland I came with so much anger and disquiet
that I took upon an otherwise gentle Mr.James Joll, my history tutor when I questioned him about the atrocities caused by the British occupiers of that otherwise beautiful island.
Also now, before me is another book on the same title. Its exact name: How the Irish Saved Civilization. The untold Story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill (Doubleday).

It is about how Ireland retained the history and civilisation of the west after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, that is, at around the 5th century.

Then, of course the Roman Empire survived in the East, at Constantinople, modern day Istanbul. But then, what happened to Britain then in the fifth century A.D.Britain was a jungle that is all!

In fact, we Indians don’t seem to realise that Britain had no history whatever before, say 10th or even the 12th century. Only after the Magna Carta and only after Chaucer, the British had had a history or politics or even literature!

But where was India?
India was a civilisation much before
Britain became one!

India was a civilisation from the Vedic times, from Mohenjo-Daro-Harappa. Of course, Indian history is too old. We had such personalities like Buddha and Ashoka.
We had had such invaders like Alexander the Great and onwards so many came through the Khyber Pass.

But we didn’t have had a history that tells us all, all through these long years.
We have had so many invaders and after the 10th century onwards we had invaders from the outside territory, from Central Asia and even from the Afghan territory, the stories we read in our schools are only about Mohamed Gazani and Gaur and such minor invaders and their going back.

It was only Babur who came and settled down here for good. This was the Mughal Empire.
Then came the visits from the West, from Vasgo Da Gama in 1498. Lord Desai’s Indian discovery starts with this coming of the Vasgo Da Gama and through the sea routes.

It is this new insight, the opening of the sea routes and the succession of the European powers, the Portuguese, the Dutch, then the British and then the French and others.
India became a weak nation, foreign, why even the Mughal period is strewn with poverty and famine and much economic degradation. Though Akbar ushered in a new administrative structure that withstood even the arrival and to the time of their own departure.

Even today, in the post -independent India we see the element of the Mughal administrative terms in use. But the most important part of the story I want to place before the readers is that what we have today as Indian history is largely what is written and interpreted by the British writers, historians, and mostly British administrators.
Thus, we see the impact even now.

There are still old-fashioned British admirers and their heroes are still Winston Churchill and Mountbatten!
How changed the modern world?

We are about to celebrate the centenary of the first world war in 2014.
There are new books on the First World War.

I am keeping in touch with the new books, the reviews of such books in the British journals, The Economist, the financial times and other magazines.

But thanks to some opportunities that came my way in recent times, I travelled in China, Philippines and other South East Asian countries and got to know personally how these countries, from Japan to South Korea and China, Philippines, why even such countries like Malaysia and Thailand, not to mention other nations like Vietnam and others is the new surge of emotions that we can in these peoples, we see the past 100 years histories alone
I had already written about how the Indian people suffered a lot in the two world wars. I like to reiterate for the wider understanding and appreciation of fellow Indians how we are still in the dark as to hat India gained? What Indians lost? In the two world wars?
Anybody had asked these questions?

As I am seeing, the tole of Mahatma Gandhi himself needs some revaluation.
The majority of voters in the 2014 elections are below 30 years and most of them, why all of them may not even know about Rajiv Gandhi. Let alone Mahatma Gandhi!
Yet, we see there is a thriving book industry on Gandhi to this day!
Simply because his personality, nay, his persona makes for good story lines.
So, the market is flooded with books on Gandhiji.

But as I have said the younger generation might not give a damn, yes, that is the right word for such holy cows. Today, there is a strong emergence of sensitivity among the Indian intelligentsia and the urban middle classes, why even the high and mighty too are disillusioned with the country’s affairs.

There is no serious analysis of the issues before the people, the citizens.
So many range of downfalls. In governance, in morals, in observance of standards of conduct by the top leaders. The very legitimacy of the leaders is being questioned.
Before I go on to these issues, let me finish my observations of Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1914, on the eve of the First World War Gandhi was 45 years old.
What was his role in the First World War?

Then, in the Second World War he was 60 years old, right?
What was his roe? What was his understanding of the complexities of the war?
Lord Desai makes some pointed criticisms of the life and work of Gandhi during these years. After the dramatic impact of the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Gandhi’s life and activities were going in a different direction. Even the Quit India movement, Lord Desai, observes was a failure.

It was a wasted effort. Much more seriously, after the 1942, the events moved in a direction that was neither helpful to the Indian people nor the people who, in the South East Asian countries, we also faced with different challenges.

While In China I studied the Chinese history during this period, I was stunned by the discovery that China in 1911 declared a national republic under Sun-Yat-sen. I visited his memorial house, where he lived with Madam Sen, the famous Soong sister. The Soong sisters make for an interesting study and reflection. Chiang-Kei-shek was also a great nationalist. His wife is another Soong sister.

The ladies proved to be very effective companions and they earned their spurs by their sheer strength of personalities alone. Sun and Chiang went to Japan to study and learn after Japan became a nationalist and proud independent nation. The Japanese story is also very inspiring.

The entry of Japan into war in the first and second world wars has to be studied separately for drawing lesions for outsiders. As for China, it is a tragedy that after Sun (he died in 1924); China emerged as the great nationalist leader.

But the emergence of the Chinese Communist party (founded in 1921), the ensuing civil wars led to a great split and finally the Communists emerged as winners and the nationalsts lost. This is a great tragedy.

In India, in 1942 and afterwards, we had a friend, friends in the China couple who advocated freedom for India with Roosevelt. Gandhi and his followers didn’t interact with the people and the power mattered. We never once seemed to have realised that Roosevelt, as he did intervene once, the Cripps mission was owing to Roosevelt pressure and maybe we might have won independence as a united India if only Gandhi, specially Gandhi had been more worldly-wise and took up the negotiations in right earnest.
So, my point here is to say that we now, the later generation might study Gandhi’s role in the light of these wider world.

The time to hero-worship is gone.
Hero-worship must go.

The current scenario in India gives cause for so many deep-seated worries.
Te Congress party under Sonia Gandhi had lost all its traditional values and habits of doing things. There is no national consensus inside the party on any major issue.
Thereby traditional democratic, open-minded approach to election of leaders, be it the Prime Minister or the party president are all give up.

There is an unsaid autocratic rule; Sonia Gandhi is president for the past 15 unbroken years. What is the message?

So too the elevation of Rahul Gandhi to the top power position.
What is the message?

Corruption is all-embracing; almost all the top heavy weights in the party are involved.
Just now, as I write these lines has come the report about the latest first round of elections in the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. There are record number, a big per centage, and 16 or so per centage of Congress candidates have criminal records. So too the BJP.

What is the message?
How long the Indian people can tolerate?
What guarantee the situation might not explode?
I just now read that in the countries of the world, those who have a written Constitution, it is India’s Constitution 140,000 word, the longest.

Constitutions, as the famous observation of Thomas Jefferson noted in 1789, last lasts at the end of 19 years. We don’t know why he said this. India’s Constitution, compared with other British Commonwealth countries, is perhaps the most stable and drafted well by Indians themselves.

Otherwise, we might have had trouble. All the Indian neighbours have had difficult times in retaining their original constitutions. The point here is that we have deviated from the original mandate on several crucial counts.

Parties are not defined in the Indian Constitution. It is time we bring into the Constitution the RTI Act, the funding of parties, the very Constitution of parties and their periodic elections to ensure that by either incompetency(as it present)or by sheer foolhardiness some adventurers take away our precious legacy.

India is a vast land and we have so many regional pulls already visible.
There are any numbers of separatist, ethnic tensions and there is every indication that we might get into trouble unless we set some new standards.
The Constitutional reform body may be reactivated.
The present” Centre might not hold”, to borrow a poetic line of W.B.Yeats.

A memoir of a son of his highly talented and highly committed parents!

Parental failures at the higher levels?
Yes, this book is a painful reminder of this truth?

I like to ask after reading this otherwise deeply moving, deeply touching memoir of a son of his very highly talented and committed parents.

The later half of the book brings out otherwise a very disappointing life of Minoo Masani and his talented wife, Shakuntala Masani, both born in riches and brought up so privileged a life and yet what they encounted in life?

This part of their life grows to prove to be rather very tragic and very heart-breaking.

Masani rose to become the Leader of Opposition in Parliament under Pandit Nehru.

Masani, a well-off Parsi who counted among his friends, no less than JRD Tata. Shakuntala, born to Sir J.P. Srivatsava, the then Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council at the time of Independence. She fell for Masani when he was already twice married.

She was no less talented, she was beautiful and here are extracts from letters from the parents left behind and Zareer quotes the lines, some of the pieces rise to sheer poetic beauties! The one page 222 can be prescribed in every school textbook.

It is a tribute to a husband by a wife who had seen life at the two ends, high and depth.

The one lasting lingering thought, after reading through this remarkably well-written book, Zareer himself is a good writer of English prose; the parents took to their political careers too seriously. India under Nehru might have been a great place (as it really was).But India under Indira Gandhi proved to a great disaster for too many good and great people.

This book proves this thesis.

Both the players, Minoo Masani and Shakuntala paid dearly for taking politics seriously. It is not like our days now. Even now it is already dirty. But under Indira Gandhi it, politics, was cruel and vengeful and Mrs.Gandhi played it to the hilt, so to say.

The end of their lives, they died ripe in age, Minoo at 92, Shakuntala at late Seventies, brings out tears, the book rises to the level of an epic in prose.

One parting word. Zareer must write no more about his British raj themes, he should write on his grandparents from both the sides of the families.

He should take up some grand themes of what Indians gained and lost for their British raj rule.

Zareer has a great duty to perform to the country.
Name of the Book: And All Is Said
Memoir of a Home Divided
By Zareer Masani
Pages 236, Penguin, 2012

This was a painful book to read and digest! Though I was eagerly waiting for this book ever since I read the reviews in popular magazines, when I got it I read it at a stretch for the subjects were all known names and also I have some personal interactions with the other characters who flip through the pages, including Indira Gandhi, her own son, Rajiv and the current famous daughter in law, Sonia Gandhi.

In fact, there is a quotation that had been used by other reviewers for much effect. It is on page 133 where the late Shakuntala Masani, wife of the still more famous Masani, the Minoo Masani of the Swatantra Party founder, the one time Communist or Socialist turned extreme rightwing Swatantra activist talks of Sonia Gandhi-Rajiv marriage.

Shakuntala writes to son:”Yesterday there was reception; we went to Mrs.Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his Italian wife.”I can’t tell you how dim the girl is, a she comes from a working class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her”(page 133).

And much more significant, though this book doesn’t do justice to the man, the father of the writer, Minoo Masani’s greater days and glories when he functioned as the Leader of Opposition in parliament when Nehru was the Prime Minister.

In fact, the book, as I expected doesn’t do much justice to the lives of the two famed names, two very competent an if I can say, great patriots and nationalists, they loved India and in fact they sacrificed their lives and great many opportunities to live a high life for the sake of pursuing what they thought were their great duties to society and the nation and the world.

Minoo Masami was born in wealth and privileges, as a prominent member of the Parsi family of then Mumbai. Likewise, his wife Shakuntala was born as the privileged daughter of the then Sir J.P.Srivatsava, a member of the Viceroy Executive Council, a mill-owner and other wealth and he was almost the opposite of the  other great UP leader, Motilal Nehru. Sir J.P. was all out British toady, if we can say so in this time and age, he was all for the British rule to survive and when Independence came he was still a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council in charge of food portfolio and Mino Masani. As an young MP was crossing swords with his unsuspected future father in law.

Such is the fate life plays with peoples’ destinies.

Now, Minoo Masani was twice married when he met Shakuntala and she fell in love and the marriage was registered in the then Ceylon and it was a happy marriage by all accounts.

Masani moved in high society, he was very close to ,of all persons of the then British Bombay, he was close friend of JRD Tata and the friendship with Jeh, as he was affectionately called, for both Minoo and Shakuntala took some bizarre turns. She, as her son says here, was too sensitive to finer feelings, she was raised in such affluence, good education, Kathak classical dance and an appreciation of the Indian arts and crafts she was easily a centre of attraction for some of the very rich and powerful personalities, if the account of her son is taken at its face value.

Whatever it was, here the book is not about great issues or great personalities. It is a book about the failures of lives of great people, the father with all his political ideological  convictions and commitments to high moral principles, is seen here as a weak-willed man of not so deep a person. May be that is the one critical message of this book, Minoo Masani, I remember his book once, on India was published by OUP, for Indian students, youngsters and it became a classic, right?

Is he the very same man? Is her the very same Socialist ideologue?
Is he the man who joined with Rajaji to launch his Swatantra party and yet he didn’t last long in any of his political pursuits long enough to create and leave and impact?

So too I was saddened to see the wife, Shakuntala with so much personal accomplishments couldn’t sustain a relationship, family life and the family ties of a well-educated Indian household?

Here is what I wanted to say after I read the book.
Here a great failure is portrayed. A portrayal of a breakdown of a family at the top reach of the Indian society.

Shakuntala was moving in the top social circles. She lived in New Delhi as the wife of the Leader of Opposition in Nehru’s times and she must have studied and understood how life whirls around in Delhi.
When Indira Gandhi came along, Minoo Masani turned her critical and one can very well imagine what such a stand would bring forth.
He lost an election and the family, husband and wife fell apart? Yes, it is a cruel irony of sorts.

I read Zareer Masani’s book on Indira Gandhi in the 1970s when I was also living in Delhi and working at the AICC under Atulya Ghosh and Kamaraj.

In fact, I read Zareer Masani’s book at the home of my another Oxford friend, Rudolf De Mello, who was incidentally the President of the Indian Youth Congress and I was writing the campaign pamphlets for the 1967 General Elections at the AICC. So, every day we, myself and Rudolf would meet and discuss politics and many other things.
At that point of time I didn’t know much about Minoo Masani’s political strengths nor about Zareer Masani’s own qualifications.
But now, I see he was doing things in the background of his parents’ politics.

Masani the senior was out of Delhi and Shakuntala was left to live back in Delhi and only at this point she tries to get a “job” and the rest of the book centers around how she met with success and much neglect and the mother-son duo’s correspondence is much about this struggle to earn money to live in Delhi and how much her expectations from Mrs.Gandhi didn’t fructify.

One should imagine Mrs.Gandhi’s own sense of revenge etc. I am sure Mrs.Gandhi wouldn’t have relished Zareer’s book on her, as much as I am now reminded of Do Moreaes (another of my Oxford friend) whose book too on Mrs.Gandhi, she didn’t relish and she almost banned him from then onwards.

Now, in short, I feel sad the marriage of Minoo and Shakuntala broker up and the son, now I find turned a gay and in Indian parental lingo, a wreck?

I have known so many Indian families, all well-educated, well-connected, and wealthy even by ordinary standards. I have known so many of these families. Some of them have been my Oxford day’s friends. But alas! Some of the most gifted of my friends couldn’t live together their families broke up. I feel often distressed.

What is wrong with our Indo-British encounters?
What we gain by our British education?

How that Western education impacts our own Indian women?
Why such gifted men proved to be such disastrous failures?

I want parents of the present day affluence to ponder over some of these questions.

To talk of parental responsibilities seems a bit granny talk, right?
And yet, I like to as: dont the parents have some role in seeing through the lives of their sons and daughters?

I stop with these rather unstructured questions!

This denial of what is reality, what is the tursh?

This is an intellectual journal, you should realise! So, we have to ask hard questions, use words that are new and also critical for our cognition and much intellectual self-doubt and also much searching for new issues and the answers that issues might call for.

Just now I have read a book (“Why We Lie” by Dorothy Rowe, Fourth Estate, 384 pages) review in the FT Weekend, the London big society journal read by the high and the mighty. Yes, why we lie? See the current Indian scene! Bhopal tragedy is everywhere it seems.  But leaders don’t talk; they don’t appear in public, while other junior players talk at cross purposes!

While we must have open governance in a democracy, what we have is total silence and much secrecy! Okey, what is this government which doesn’t speak or even know how to act, respond!

While we must get clarity, what we have is an all enveloping paranoia!

The author of the book is a psychologist of repute, age 80 and she says:”I have reached an age when I no longer need to pretend that I know everything!” Here in India what we get?

While no one knows what to say, yet we see the prime minister and the party leaders pretend they know everything! Yet, they don’t know and don’t speak!

So, we need more psychological approach to the problems we confront as a democracy!

It is about the truths as we believe for what we all tell for our really gross lies! Human intelligence, our sense of morality, honesty and much else sometimes don’t prove to be those virtues but under various stress and compulsions, stress of being selfish (after all we all selfish you know, have you read Richard Dawkin’s “Selfish Genes”?) and also for the reasons of our material existence, money, power and the various illusions of existence etc, we do tell lies and move on, right?

We need some antidote to our various weaknesses, self delusion, double talk, shame, rage and guilt and various mental “illnesses” of which our world seems to be full of them.  Now, I am disturbed by the sheer “absolutism, dogmatism and tribalism” to borrow the phrases from an eminent visiting microbiologist-scientist who used the very same phrases to the Indian science establishment, I want to borrow the phrases to apply to our political establishment as well!

The scientist, Richard Jefferson, says Indians are given to deny they could be wrong when they know they are plain wrong!

Can’t we say the same thing with our current crop of leaders as well?

The Prime Minister, Dr.Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the three supposed powerful politicians remain so deadly silent over the many tragedies the country is talking about, namely, the Bhopal disaster!

They have no reactions, no views and yet they are supposed to lead us!
Now, the Bhopal disaster, the Maoist killings, the latest, the honour killing, two murders the same day in New Delhi!

What are all these developments show and what is our reaction and response? The PM is so incompetent, now can we say?

There are furious criticisms in the media at least by some of the most senior journalists like M.J.Akbar. Akbar uses more stronger and scathing language against the establishment.

Now, suddenly faced with the fury and outrage over the Bhopal gas tragedy, the government has the cheek to reverse overnight the very cunning strategies proposed by P.Chidambaram and now he has the cheek to come out in public and stand for saving the victims!

It was he and one of his colleagues proposed to let off Anderson’s extradition and also let off the Dow Chemicals accepting any liability for the cleaning up and also for paying compensation!

Now, the very same GOM, calls Akbar, the GOM is a clever device to play for the next election, time buying and making people forget the current turmoil!
Now, the Indian tax payers will pay for the cleaning up of the site and also for enhanced payment of compensation!

Yes, the Indian tax payers would pay, they would do so with a more generous heart, provided, and we say the Prime Minister and the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi come before the country and openly apologies for their failures!

They should seek an open pardon of the countrymen for the collective failures of the establishment!

Only then there can be some reconciliation, some healing of the wound. The Indian media utterly failed to live to perform its duty. Only by reading the London Financial Times I could get to know that the dead plant of the Union Carbide, the steel pipe work and cording tanks, the dead poison gas and the dead of the 26-year old day remains still remain fresh in place! There is still a warning board hanging from the control room warning what to do when an alarm bell rings!

So, we have to read foreign newspapers to know what is there in Bhopal, the once lake-side beautiful city now turned into a ghost  fit  to be turned into a historic  memorial like the Nazi gas chamber city, Nazi concentration camps or the Hiroshima atom bomb site memorial, says a victim’s relative!

Even now, the juniors in the government talk and behave as if they have found a solution and a package of relief! They have not.

Now Rs.1, 500 crore for enhanced compensation and another Rs.350 crore for cleaning the site is not the end of the story. It is going to be a long story, a story that was lying in wait to confront the hapless UPA!

The state government under the BJP won’t oblige the Centre. The lean up would take years, it is now estimated it might take 3 years but given the track record of the past it might take more time, may be it might become another Babri Masjid around the neck of the Congress party!

There are other disturbing developments and they give rise to many more moral dilemmas!
The Maoists haven’t disappeared. They are only waiting in wait.

The Maoists need a much more active and competent management.
The other latest khap killings are another challenge for the Indian society.

Where are the women’s groups? What the National Commission for Women is doing?

What the Sonia Gandhi-focused National Advisory Council can do? The NAC should be coming out with some ideas and strategies.

Given the current mood in the national capital and in the states, it is anybody’s guess that the social and government problems can go away so easily or they can be solved by simply sitting quiet and waiting for public memory or public concern might vanish away! Or, other problems crop up to engage public attention.

This is a patently, if we can say so, an unmanly attitude.

Government leadership is all about courage, moral courage and rising up to the occasion. It is time we need a psychological war, warfare!

Push out the cowards from the government. Let democratic process throw up an elected leadership!

That would only bring out the best from the bottom of the pyramid!
Let peoples’ feelings and voices be heard.

Let there be an open season, so to say so that the country would find its equilibrium!