I must say that the President’s book, The Dramatic Decade, is an extremely well-written yawn.
No, I didn’t get my spelling wrong: it’s a yawn, in addition to being a yarn. Let me explain. For sure, the book makes for compulsive reading. Fairly fast paced, it sketches the broad canvas of the 1970s, an important phase of post independent India. But it’s a yawn because it does not really offer any great insight into that period. It doesn’t capture in a heart-stopping way the liberation of Bangladesh, or the declaration of Emergency or the fall of the Congress, the three landmark events of that period.
But it must be said that for those who hated Mrs. Gandhi for her Emergency and who lauded the Shah Commission, there are inputs to suggest that the Commission may not have been exactly fair. The turmoil in the Congress in the aftermath of the 1977 defeat and how the Congressmen sought to marginalise Mrs. Gandhi is something many of us didn’t know. It’s fascinating that those who were close to her, fell apart with her and finally came back to her. Proving that in politics you need a really thick skin to survive.
Pranabda talks about how as an eight year old he lied to policemen: “Cows? We ate them!” About how his dad had once told him, “It’s when you stand by a person in his or her hour of crisis that you reveal your own humanity.” Little wonder, the man who would later be President stood by his mentor through thick and thin.
His relationship with Sidhartha Shankar Ray comes out as a love-hate relationship. He is angry with Ray for having deserted Mrs. G but almost throughout calls him Sidharthababu, a term of endearment. There is a stinging reference to the Golak Nath case and how Mukherjee perceived that as a bombshell of a judgment. He talks of how it was okay for Mrs. G to continue in the aftermath of the Allahabad High Court judgment, something that does not convincingly come through. He is wild with the opposition for demanding her resignation without waiting for the Supreme Court judgment. While he has all the respect for JP, he appears upset with the latter’s call to students “to walk out of classrooms and walk into jails.” He is fine with the Emergency as it brought in necessary discipline; he concedes that some of its excesses did affect the interest of the people.
When Mrs. G called for elections in 1977, Pranab felt that it was prompted by her concern that the continuance of the Emergency would harm Indian democracy. He says, the 1980 dissolution of legislative assemblies was a tit-for-tat for the 1977 dissolution and points out that there is merit both in 1977 and 1980. What also comes out in the book is the internecine internal squabbling in the Janata party. He names L K Advani as someone who had launched all out offenced against Mrs. Gandhi with both the government and the media.
Very surprisingly for a man of his substance he says that only politicians must hold the office of the president and vice president.
It’s a good book to read, but one will soon forget what one read.