Observer or admirer?

The Nobel Laureate, V.S. Naipaul, with his wife, Nadira, at an interactive session with Bharatiya Janata Party leaders at the party's headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday . — Photo: V.Sudershan  

NEW DELHI, FEB. 26. The Bharatiya Janata Party got some unexpected help today — eminent writer, Vidia S. Naipaul, came visiting the central party office here this evening. He sat, along with his wife, Nadira, on a platform with a huge electronic hoarding showing the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, addressing a public meeting and the party's lotus symbol in full bloom in the centre.

Cameras clicked, television crews also got their pictures, and from the BJP's point of view, the political point was well made. And after the "photo op" the press was asked to leave the hall where the private event — an interaction between Sir Vidia, his wife, Lady Naipaul, and the cultural cell of the BJP took place. But after the meeting was over, a very obliging Sir Vidia answered a number of questions addressed to him by reporters.

Did he justify the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya? "Yes, I did justify it... I have done it many times."

What did he think of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, an issue raised by the BJP? "I think it is worth considering. The Americans have their view," he said.

Was the BJP trying to appropriate him? "I don't mind it," Sir Vidia said and smiled benignly. But his wife intervened aggressively to point out that they were here at the BJP office as "observers" and "at the invitation of the BJP." And then she added: "If the Congress had invited us, we would have gone there too. If the liberals had done their homework, they could have appropriated him. My husband writes about India, he is concerned about India."

All along, Lady Naipaul showed impatience with the reporters and wanted to whisk her husband away. At one point, she asked her husband not to answer the queries. And when reporters asked Sir Vidia whether he was endorsing the BJP's point of view on various issues such as Ayodhya and the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi and the "India Shining" campaign, her answer contradicted her husband's. "We are not endorsing anything," she said. Asked whether she had changed her views on the Gujarat riots, she chose not to respond, but said: "What is wrong? Why all this media attention here?"

Later, some members of the BJP's cultural cell and other party leaders who attended the event said that Mr. Naipaul did not make any statement, but was mostly listening to what the BJP members had to say. The subjects raised included Ayodhya and the re-writing of history.

Mr. Naipaul apparently said that in Spain, where Muslims had brought down churches, the Spaniards had rebuilt the churches. His other comment was that he liked "passion, which leads to creativity" and he would like to encourage passion. The other "insight" from Mr. Naipaul on the history question was that it was "the victors who wrote history, not the vanquished."

The BJP leader, J.P. Mathur, later said that at the start of the meeting, he had said that the BJP was a modern party, which believed in cultural nationalism. Its Hindutva ideology was "comprehensive" and was a "way of life" that could be adopted even by those who pray at mosques and churches. "Naipaul just nodded, he did not say anything," Mr. Mathur said.

Among the BJP "intellectuals" and "writers" present at the meeting were Manohar Puri, who worked in the media public relations department of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Shyam Khosla, a retired journalist who earlier worked with The Indian Express, eminent lawyer, L.M. Singhvi, former editor of the party magazine BJP Today, Praful Goradia, BJP's cultural cell convenor, D.P. Sinha, some writers of NCERT textbooks and a host of others. Danseuse Sonal Mansingh was invited, and she did come. But she was about the only true representative of India's culture.