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The politics — all in the Gandhi family

Whatever reservations I have to dynastic succession and ruling families in different states, I keep to myself, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2010 23:02 IST

Whatever reservations I have to dynastic succession and ruling families in different states, I keep to myself. The common people accept both as a party of Indian tradition so we have the Abdullahs, Badals, Chauthalas, Yadavs, Pawars, Reddys, Naidus and Karunanidhis, generation after generation, ruling states. We also have the Nehru-Gandhis in power in the centre: the combination of names makes them invulnerable.

Our choices are limited to one faction or the other. Or members of another ruling family. At the moment I am concerned with the option available in the centre.

Sonia Gandhi and Maneka are regarded as “outsiders” — Sonia because she was born Italian Catholic, Maneka because she was Sikh. Sonia has thoroughly Indianised herself and ignores the ill-mannered barbs about her alien origin. She feels the pulse of people under her deft fingers. She has wisely entrusted the administration of the country to a trustworthy, able and honest man, Manmohan Singh. In turn, he has chosen a Cabinet of Ministers who know their jobs and inspire confidence. The country is doing reasonably well: it could have done better.

The reason why it continues to remain in power is that the Congress Party, which it represents, trounced the opposition parties in the last General Election. The Congress Party is guided by Sonia’s son, Rahul who is the new star risen on the horizon.

Maneka Gandhi chose to become a pawn in the hands of the Advani-led BJP: he made her a minister to keep one faction of the Nehru-Gandhi family on his side. She in turn nurtured her son, Varun, in politics. Both mother and son are Members of Parliament. As the BJP's fortunes went into deep decline, so did their importance. Varun added to the misfortunes of the party by making a rabidly anti-Muslim speech and forfeited the little support they had given to the BJP. Both mother and son have marginalised themselves by their own follies.

Rahul Gandhi’s star is in the ascendant. And for good reason. He measures his words before uttering them and never makes personal attacks on other politicians. He is bold and invades bastions that leaders like Mayawati regarded as their fiefdoms.

And most recently he stormed into the citadel of the anti-national, separatist Shiv Sena by meeting people in the streets of Mumbai. He is the first Indian politician to call the bluff of bullies like Bal Thackeray, his son Udhav and nephew, Raj. He has left all the three fuming, and won national acclaim for his daring patriotic move. Long may
he live.

Obscene Best-Seller

When it was first published in Bengali in 1967, it was banned for obscenity. When the ban was lifted, it became a best seller in Bengali. Its author Budhadva Bose (1908-74) was editor of Kavita, author of many collections of poetry and fiction. The very year his novel was banned, the Sahitya Akademi gave him an award for his verse-play Tapasvi-o-Tarangani. He was honoured with a Padma Bhushan in 1972 and a posthumous Rabindra Puruskar in 1974. Clinton B. Seeleey, professor of Bengali literature at the University of Chicago, has now translated his so-called obscene novel into English. It Rained All Night (Penguin) is a highly readable novella. Far from being obscene, it is an honest portrayal of man-woman relationship before, within and without marriage.

The characters in the novel are bhadralok educated middle-class with wide interests. Like most Bengalis they enjoy meeting at addas for gup-shup over relays of cups of tea. Most addas are for males-only meetings without any female participation. However, in It Rained All Night, they take place in the home of Noyangshu Mukherji, a college lecturer turned box-wallah. He is modern in his outlook and insists that his pretty wife Maloti be present at his addas. The highlights of these gatherings are recitations from Gurudev Rabindra Nath’s poems and Rabindra Sangeet. Maloti finds them somewhat boring and her husband an indifferent lover. They have a daughter but not much else in common. On the other hand there is Jayanto, a handsome journalist who is more down to earth and attracted to Maloti. He occasionally drops in when her husband is in his office — just for a chat.

Then come the rains. IT pours non-stop all day and all night. Roads turn into canals. Lanes are waist-deep. The pace of life slows down to a halt. On top of that, there are power cuts and the city is plunged into darkness. So what can Kolkatan bhadralok do when they can’t go out, can’t read or watch TV except go to bed? One such night, Noyangshu Mukherji is held up in office and unable to get home. Jayanto finds himself with Maloti and cannot get back to his flat. Suddenly the lights go off. The two sit for a while in candle-light. They get into the same bed for the night. Maloti finds it far more invigorating than the occasional routine sex with her husband.

The Reason Why
Rahul complained to his mother: “Mama, I can’t marry anyone cause of you.”
Sonia Gandhi: “Why beta? What have I done?”
Rahul Gandhi: “Wherever I go people shout: “Sonia ko bahumat do.”
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)
The views expressed are personal