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Indian politics, from close quarters

books Updated: Apr 01, 2011 23:33 IST
Pankaj Vohra
Pankaj Vohra
Hindustan Times
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Matters of Discretion: An Autobiography
IK Gujral
Hay House
Rs 795 n pp 519

There has been no book on contemporary politics and history that has been as anecdotal and informative as the autobiography of India’s former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. A lucid account of the incidents that the author witnessed as an activist and during his long career in politics, the book has not sparked off any needless controversy solely because Gujral has been candid and forthright in expressing himself.

Gujral, who was once a confidant of Indira Gandhi, saw things from exceptionally close quarters. What distinguishes his work from the autobiographies of several other politicians is that he has allowed things to come out in the public domain as he saw them. His transparency is tangible. The book, which reads like a journal, is not only about politics but also his life, of his journey from Jhelum to the office of the Indian prime minister. Quaint nuggets of information bring the account alive: few would know that Jhelum had a Greek name — Hydaspes — coined by Alexander’s army.

Gujral recounts his student days, and tells us how his mother and late Krishan Kant’s (former vice-president) mother were close friends and how the proximity between the two families stood the test of time. The sequence of events from Jawaharlal Nehru’s death till Lal Bahadur Shastri’s assuming office as prime minister is extremely readable. His keen sense of observation and insight comes to the fore while describing Indira Gandhi’s elevation as the prime minister and her style of functioning. Her multi-faceted personality baffled Gujral, but he did pick up several crucial lessons in politics by observing her.

His recollection of his last meeting with Nehru a few weeks before the latter passed away is touching. The date was May 6, 1964. As Gujral was entering the Rajya Sabha lobby, he felt a gentle tug on his cuff. “Panditji wanted my help and I supported him and carefully took him to his seat. My hands can still feel the sensation of that very intimate touch.”

The book has many visually arresting photographs, augmenting the story of Gujral’s political and personal voyage. On the whole, the publication is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in India’s contemporary politics and history.