Review: Beyond The Lines: An Autobiography

Beyond The Lines: An Autobiography

Kuldip Nayar


Rs. 595 pp 420

Kuldip Nayar’s Beyond The Lines is an activist-newsman’s autobiography showcased as an “inside view” of India since 1947. In parts it’s incisive and revealing,in parts purely perfunctory. The veteran journalist admitted as much while wrapping up his eight-page account of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s eight years in office: “I confess that I have dealt with the last decade cursorily because I have very little information which has not appeared in print.”

I feel the book could have been published in two parts, leaving the author more time to research the post-Rajiv Gandhi phase. That would have saved the 420-page work from a timid climax, bad typos and factual errors.

One cannot resist mentioning that Riaz Khokhar wasn’t, as mentioned in the book, Pakistan’s high commissioner to India at the time of the 2008 Mumbai attack by Ajmal Kasab and his fellow marauders. His tenure in New Delhi had ended over a decade earlier.

Likewise, Keki Daruwala, who worked with Nayar in the Indian High Commission in London during VP Singh’s regime, was never director of the Research and Analysis Wing.

Regardless of such shortcomings, the book’s a must read for journalists and amateur historians, offering a ringside view of important moments in the history of post-Independence India. It would take an average newsperson two lives to countenance what the author saw in a career spanning six decades.

Nayar is a doyen among political journalists. It comes across tellingly in his recollection of the early years after independence when he served as information officer of two home ministers, GB Pant and Lal Bahadur Shastri, who succeeded Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister. A highlight of the book is Nayar’s take on the long-held suspicion that Shastri was poisoned to death in Tashkent. He quotes Lalita Shastri having told him that no post-mortem was conducted on her husband’s body (that had turned blue) in Tashkent or in Delhi.

The volume of Nayar’s work gives him the gravitas and moral high to comment on aberrations that have corroded old-school values in the prevailing ‘journalism as commerce’ scenario. The book contains embarrassing disclosures about big names in the newspaper industry though one may argue that Nayar, at times, is overbearingly self-righteous, prescribing for his peers the straight and narrow path he himself hasn’t always taken.

He describes in considerable detail his role in events leading to the installation of VP Singh (1989) and Inder Kumar Gujral (1997) as prime ministers. One leaves it to others to judge whether it was on account of these interventions that Nayar got to serve as India’s envoy to London in 1990 and then as a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha (1997-2003). But stints on the other side of the fence afforded him first-hand access to important players and incidents that generally remain off-limits for ordinary newsmen.

Nayar recalled having asked AB Vajpayee when he visited him in London during LK Advani’s Ram rath yatra, as to what brought him to the United Kingdom while his partymen were headed for Ayodhya? The BJP leader replied: “Jo mandir key bhagat hain woh ayodhya gaye aur jo desh key bhagat hain woh yahan aa gaye” (Devotees of the temple have gone to Ayodhya and lovers of the country have come here).

There is no mention in Nayar’s book of another incident that brought out Vajpayee’s disapproval of Advani’s yatra. During that period, the BJP mascot had turned down a proposal mooted by his party and the RSS that he take over the BJP’s leadership in Parliament in Advani’s absence. Confirming his refusal, he had then told Hindustan Times: “I couldn't have defended in Parliament the policy (yatra) to which I was opposed.” His logic was impeccable. But Vajpayee backed off in the aftermath of the December 6, 1992 demolition. “Let the temple come up there,” Nayar quotes him, suggesting that Vajpayee, the liberal, often buckled under pressure from the RSS.

From Nayar’s account, it would seem that Vajpayee took his advice to publicly admonish Narendra Modi for not following ‘raj dharma’ after the Gujarat riots. Particularly harsh on Sonia Gandhi who he thinks is secular but authoritarian like her mother-in-law, the author compares the National Advisory Council she heads with the Central Citizens’ Committee Nehru set up under Indira Gandhi to mobilise public opinion during the 1962 war with  China. Indira thus got official status — à la Sonia.

While on PV Narasimha Rao, Nayar charges him with conniving in the demolition of Babri. He quotes veteran socialist Madhu Limaye to claim that Rao was praying while Hindu zealots brought down the masjid. The puja ended when an aide whispered to him that the demolition was complete. It’s difficult to check Nayar’s claims as Rao and Limaye aren’t alive. But it’s well known that the then PM sat on his hands through the Ayodhya frenzy.


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