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Politicians, fixers and goons

P. V. Narasimha Rao's tour de force of the political system lacks imagination, says C. V. GOPALAKRISHNAN.

THE addition of four new chapters and an epilogue to this book first published in 1998 as a novel by Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao is presented as biographical fiction. It is inspired by his own long innings as a politician and who rose to become Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, later took over as the Prime Minister and managed to hold on to that coveted position for the full term of five years. Such a book should have been a hot seller, as indeed it was when it was first published two years ago, only to leave readers feeling very foolish. This is because the writing of political fiction requires far greater abilities than just the impeccable English for which Mr. Narasimha Rao is quite well- known as a seasoned parliamentarian.

The rich material which India's political scene offers should have been grist to the fictional mill of brilliant and imaginative Indian writers. The Indian political scene has indeed earlier come in for a scintillating presentation from some of our imaginative writers. Two of them who readily come to one's mind are Ruth Prawar Jhabvala who took a very close look at Delhi's businessmen, bureaucrats and babus in her Nature Of Passion only to be amused by their sense of self-importance. Ms. Nayantara Saghal, talented daughter of Vijalayalakshmi Pandit and a cousin of Indira Gandhi was, however, writing with suppressed anger in her Rich Like Us, a novel on the excesses of Emergency. Mr. Narasimha Rao's The Insider, however, could not take its place anywhere near these two books. Mr. Rao's long and tedious dissertation on the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) would have made a well-drafted foreign policy document while the one on land distribution should have been a paper which he had written on land reforms.

Among other things, Mr. Rao recalls the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu and the Kamaraj Plan. There is a very tiresome recapitulation in the despatch of Russell Brines on the Indo- Pakistan war of 1965, starting with the fighting in the Rann of Kutch and the decimation of Pakistan's Patton tanks running to several pages and a disclosure of General Ayub Khan's intentions to march into Delhi to force India's surrender. Even if the reader persuades himself to forget that he is reading fiction, he would be baffled over such belated recording of history about Indian troops almost on the verge of capturing Lahore, the crossing of the Ichhogil Canal and the Tashkent Agreement being thrown at his head. Indira Gandhi's "Garibi Hatao" is seen to have been as electrifying as the Quit India Movement of 1942.

The liberation of Bangladesh is seen as her finest hour. There is another dreary narration of how she kept chief ministers on tenterhooks with her replacements of some of them. The arid writing about facts which are all well-known to readers of newspapers is spread over pages from which Anand, Aruna and the other characters are thrown out and have to wait indefinitely for their re-entry. Part of the history retold is the split in the Congress(I) in 1969, Mrs. Gandhi's support to V. V. Giri as the Presidential candidate against the party's officially nominated Sanjeeva Reddy and the snapping of her fingers at Morarji Desai with the nationalisation of banks. All these make for very tedious reading in a supposed work of fiction. While fictionalising political corruption and skulduggery, which Mr. Rao has tried to do, the meshing of events calls for a very bold flight of imagination to make a novel gripping but there are no signs of it. The "suitcase" which is making political history in India emerges in the book with the Prime Minister's emissary arriving with it just before the departure of a flight to brighten up the scene by ushering in the political "fixers".

The scenario in Mr.Rao's book is the self-seeking, commercial and political India. He presents the corrupt politician bent on staying in power and the unscrupulous businessman and his hangers-on who are always at his beck and call for making a fast buck. Anand, the idealist and the main character in the novel (as Mr. Rao probably would like to see himself), finds himself in the middle of this cabal. Readers in Hyderabad and Delhi also could readily identify "the plain and dark Aruna" but "with a captivating presence". She and Anand are irresistibly drawn to each other into a passionate extramarital romance and this generates juicy gossip.

Anand's baptism into Mr. Rao's fictional politics begins with the "vote management" with which he becomes quickly familiar. A prelude to this is the no holds barred fight between a chief minister and the minister who unsaddles him with the farce of an "observer" sent from Delhi to arrive at a "consensus" on the choice of the new chief minister. The latter ropes in Anand as a cabinet minister as part of the hypocrisy of holding out visions of socialism to the electorate. Anand desperately clings to his idealism. As the "insider", Mr. Rao, in the guise of Anand, knew very well to his dismay about the hopes and expectations of the people who reposed faith in him and came with requests. He had to turn down requests from the political activist who is irredeemably twisted in his mind because of his being born out of wedlock to a mother who was devastated by thugs having political clout and was burning with fury.

If the reader decides not to take seriously Mr. Rao's claims to having written a novel and looks at his book as just a thinly veiled narration of contemporary political attitudes and events, he could see that he does throw some light on the goings-on in Delhi and the State capital in a badly written fiction. Delhi has kept up its tradition of treating chief ministers as its vassals who could be jettisoned at any time. The cooked up story about Anand in the novel being charged with having removed cartloads of timber, narrated in the book, should throw some light on why the honest Indian shuns politics and leaves the field free for the crooks who rush in where angels fear to tread. Mr. Rao hastens with his account of Anand finally emerging as prime minister.

Had his imagination been as rich as his long innings in politics, Mr. Rao could indeed have given us a fast-paced racing thriller. The skill for scrubbing away the drabness from real events and dressing them up as they should be for a very inviting piece of fiction is wholly lacking in a book making heavy demands on the doggedness of a reader for withstanding an 833-page infliction from a former Prime Minister.

The Insider, P.V. Narasimha Rao, revised paperback edition with four new chapters and an epilogue, Penguin Books India (P) Ltd., II Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi 110 017, Rs. 405.

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