G.S. Bhargava, a distinguished journalist, was the Government of India'sPrincipal Information Officer (PIO) during the Janata Party days (1977-1979). His term actually started in 1978 and lasted till January 1980. He has, since then watched events in India with growing disenchantment which will explain the relevance of the title of this book: Star Crossed India. There is no doubt that leadership in India failed in a many ways and it is this that Bhargava has dutifully recorded, taking pains, however, to point out that his study is ?more perceptional and opinionated than historical?. That is being very modest and a remark totally unnecessary to make.
History is, in the nature of things, perceptional and one should have an opinion on what one perceives. Or what is a journalist for? Bhargava'sperceptions are unexceptional and his opinions, howsoever strongly expressed, are by and large, fair. He does not take sides though he has his heroes?and why shouldn'the??and his villains, too, but his analysis goes beyond narrow-mindedness. That is what makes this outstanding. A future historian couldn'tdo better than to read this book carefully to note the significance and development of events. It may be argued that Bhargava is more harsh on some than on others, but then he has ample reasons for being so. He is, for instance, quite clear that the Congress Party has contributed more to India being star-crossed than any other party and if that isn't true, what is? Sure, he is harsh, especially on Smt Indira Gandhi and her dynastic successors. As he put it, ?to project Antonio Maino aka Sonia Gandhi as Indira Gandhi'salter ego because she replicates Indira'smannerisms is an insult to her memory?.
He is against naming the Gandhis as India'sFirst Family. Nothing, as he puts it ?can be more repugnant to Nehru'sdemocratic spirit and the thrust of our freedom struggle which was inconsistent with concepts like First Family and Royalty.? In Parliamentary democracies there are no First Families. But it would be a mistake to think that Bhargava is only opposed to the Congress or the Nehru-Gandhis. He brings out the weaknesses of every political party, be it the BJP, the NDA, the Socialists of a bygone era and its leaders, the Janata Party (?it did not have an ideology?), the Lok Dal and all the rest of political rotters with unerring accuracy. If he is angry with political parties, he is angrier with individual politicians some of whom he holds in deserving contempt?and they are legion. They include Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekhar, Madhu Limaye (who, in Bernard Shaw'ssarcastic words ?did everything on principle?), N.T. Rama Rao (who was ?totally innocent of governance?), P.V. Narasimha Rao, indeed the entire brood of men and women who aspired to leadership. Narendra Modi is not let off, Bhargava asserting that ?there was evidence of the Gujarat killings having been carried out with a sinister political motive? though he hastens to add that it is not clear ?to what extent Modi was personally a party to the cynical plan?.
Significantly Bhargava notes that ?most of the anti-Muslim violence was in the constituencies of Congress leaders like Vaghela and Solanki and the BJP strongholds were relatively unaffected. Furthermore, Bhargava adds: ?Sensing the peoples? mood, the Congress, too, changed its tune and endorsed the anti-Muslim violence.? What is more, Bhargava points out that ?the most blatant demonstration of the Congress Party'scynicism was the leadership vetoing an agreement by the Punjab Government to spare commandos and trained police personnel for deployment to quell the riots in Gujarat.? As he puts it: ?Those with experience of overcoming terrorism in Punjab would have been a great help. But Sonia Gandhi & Co would not have it because they were afraid peace might return to Gujarat diluting their vote bank.?
Bhargava'scomment is that ?looking back at the Gujarat mayhem and the way political parties including the BJP used it for garnering vote, it was one of the most disgraceful chapters in the country'shistory?, but lest the reader thinks Bhargava'sconclusion is one-sided, he refers to the killings of Sikhs following Indira Gandhi'sassassination, saying: ?The entire (Sikh) community was sought to be implicated in the crime of two or three misguided young men. About 4,000 Sikh men, women and children were killed in cold blood or burnt alive and their belongings looted. Quite a few local Congress party leaders had a hand in the outrage but all of them have gone scot-free. First, the police remained silent spectators while the carnage was going on. Secondly, the judiciary was manipulated to save them from trial and punishment. Rajiv Gandhi called the shots in letting the ruffians have their criminal way. He virtually condoned the brutality?? The point is that nobody is spared (including yours truly) and Bhargava tries to tell the truth as much as is possible. Credit is given where it is due with remarkable detachment.
In fact, what distinguishes this book is the objectivity in telling it as it is. Does anyone, for instance remember that in the early 1950s, the communists denounced family planning as ?fascist?? That in the demand for the formation of Telangana there is no linguistic principle involved, nor would it add to administrative efficiency and ?it will be only a matter of time before the opportunism of the Congress Party in promising to split Andhra Pradesh is exposed??
Reading this book is like re-living the history of India from 1970 onwards in all its foul details, the chicanery of politicians, the various riots under Congress auspices as the one in Moradabad (1974), Ahmedabad (1969), Aligarh (1961) and the pig-headedness of petty politicians, be he a Laloo Prasad Yadav, a Jayalalithaa, a Sardar Harkishan Singh Surjeet, a V.P. Singh, a Charan Singh or Morarji Desai. Bhargava'scontention is that ?India is star-crossed because its leaders undoubtedly great and promising individually, repeatedly failed the people?turning out to be persons with clay feet?.
The book shows that a lot of research has gone into its writing, considering the range of subjects tackled, from foreign policy to military conflicts, from defence strategy to nuclear non-proliferation and the record of 13 Prime Ministers. Nothing is mercifully left out. In other words this book is a gem of study, the like of which one wants scholars to write only that many don'tor are ideologically directed. Bhargava has done it with an unadulterated mind and a distressing heart. The nation owes him a great depth of gratitude for speaking out when none has shown courage to speak out, freely and openly.
(Kalpaz Publications, Delhi-110 052, E-mail: [email protected]