Rahul Gandhi is like a reluctant bride, one step in and one step out of politics. Chidambaram is the most obnoxious, rude and oppressive leader, besides being a public relations disaster. Narendra Modi is obstinate and so full of himself. And finally, Mulayam Singh stands a fair chance of becoming the next Prime Minister!
That was Vinod Mehta for you, addressing the gallery “off-the-record”, and at his expansive best in a free-wheeling conversation at the Hyderabad Literary Festival. This renowned journalist and former editor and founder of Outlook magazine had the audience in raptures with his unrestrained commentary on Indian politics and media.
He was at the festival to promote the reissue of his 1978 work on Sanjay Gandhi titled ‘The Sanjay Story: From Anand Bhavan to Amethi’.
While the book is being reissued at a time when a whole generation finds no connect with the Emergency and its aftermath, Mr. Mehta claimed that the profiling of Sanjay Gandhi would help in demystifying the idea of a “strong leader” who can cut across bureaucracy and procedures—a direct reference to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi with prime ministerial ambitions.
He had no praise for Rahul Gandhi, who was elevated to the Vice-President of the Congress Party. Mr. Mehta was debunking him as a “reluctant sort of leader who showed little enthusiasm for politics and would get out of it given half a chance”. Sonia, of course, did not have it in her for governance!
Still, given a choice between the Congress with the Gandhis and without them, he would pick the former, as the Gandhis would uphold the secular, pluralist idea of the country and would have an incontrovertible sway over the party’s cadre.
Speaking on the sidelines of the festival, Mr. Mehta said that Sanjay Gandhi represented a kind of politics where the means were not as important as the end. The slum clearance drive by Sanjay Gandhi too was initially received well by the country’s middle-class the way it is now rallying behind Mr. Modi.
However, the manner the poor people were thrown out overnight and their houses bulldozed soon had its effect.
Recalling the Emergency excesses and curtailment of press freedom, Mr. Mehta said rumour and gossip were rife as there was no streamlined delivery of news.
While journalism continues to be a dangerous business even now, having an open press enables external forces such as the media, civil society and human rights organisations to keep a check on the absolute power of the State.
Mr. Mehta’s book details Sanjay Gandhi’s personality traits as acquired from childhood and their disastrous impact on the country’s politics and governance in the later period.