Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bofors and Quattrocchi:

This one appeared in the New Indian Express (April 30, 2009)

Ottavio Quattrocchi, according to the CBI, is innocent. The Bofors scandal, according to the Congress party’s Crown Prince Rahul Gandhi, was a ``complete lie’’ that the opposition used for 20 years. Well. The truth, even according to official documents and the records in the CBI’s possession, conveys another story. Even if it be that the Interpol will not detain Quattrocchi hereafter and the Italian may land in New Delhi once again, it is worth telling the Bofors story once again. The truth, after all, has to be told.

The Bofors story begins sometimes in 1984. The Indian Army began looking for a field gun to neutralize the fleet of F-16 fighters that Pakistan had acquired from the US. A committee under the then Defence Secretary, S.K.Bhatnagar shortlisted Bofors (from Sweden) and Sofma (from France) for the purpose. The army then followed the necessary procedures and elected Bofors the winner. The Swedish gun would ‘shoot-and-scoot’ (it could be moved after it had fired) while the French gun, Sofma, would not do that.

Negotiations began on December 13, 1985 and concluded on March 23, 1986; the Rajiv Gandhi government took just 24 hours to endorse that recommendation and the contract to supply 400 of the 155 mm Howitzer guns was finalised. Nobody cared to wonder over the efficiency with which the Government worked to clinch the deal in such pace. The fact is that the deal would have remained in limbo for several months if it was not clinched before March 31, 1986. The rules are that the budgetary allocations would lapse if they are not spent before the end of the fiscal year.

But then, on April 16, 1987, a Swedish National Radio broadcast revealed that Bofors had paid bribes to secure the contract. On April 20, 1987, Rajiv Gandhi declared in Parliament that the Bofors deal did not involve any middlemen and that there was no kickback paid. The opposition parties protested and Rajiv Gandhi agreed to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to look into the allegations. The opposition parties refused to join the committee. After extensive travel to army bases, evaluating the Bofors gun (on which the MPs hardly had an expertise) and a visit to Sweden to meet with the Bofors officials, the JPC gave a clean chit to the Government, the gun manufacturer and the gun itself in its report, presented before Parliament on April 26, 1988.

The truth, however, was brought out by the media even while the JPC was carrying out the cover-up job. And one such explosive revelation came from the diary maintained by Martin Ardbo, President of Bofors at the time of the deal.

Facsimile prints of Martin Ardbo’s entries in his diary were now in the public domain. Although Ardbo used codes, they were not all complicated. One such noting was about a meeting with a ``Gandhi trustee lawyer’’ to finalise details of the cover-up and that he no longer cared about ‘the consequences for N’ (obviously a reference to Arun Nehru, now out of the Congress party) but ‘Q’s involvement could be a problem because of closeness to R’’. Ardbo’s diary was picked up by the Swedish police, presented as evidence in the courts, to prosecute the Bofors executive. The prosecution was on in connection with illegal export of arms to Iran and was launched in April 1988.

If R was Rajiv, then Q had to be somebody who was close to him. It was clear then, that Q was Ottavio Quatrocchi, the Delhi representative of Snamprogetti, the Italian multinational, whose friendship with Rajiv had been a subject of controversy even otherwise. It was possible to establish the Quattrocchi connection to the Bofors story even for the JPC. The committee knew that Bofors had its agents in India and that money was paid by the company to them as part of the Howitzer deal. The JPC was told by Bofors that the company had terminated the agreements with Pitco and Svenska (belonging to Win Chaddha) after the government asked it to sack its agents. As for the payments made to these agents, who were not to be involved according to the terms of the contract, Bofors explained them as winding-up charges for terminating the contract.

There was a third agent called AE Services after Bofors had terminated the arrangements with Pitco and Svenska. And Bofors had told the JPC that it was an oversight. The company’s officers had forgotten that there was no scope for agents in the contract and for obvious reasons the JPC swallowed the story despite coming to know about the specific terms with AE Services: It was entitled for a commission only if the contract was signed before March 31, 1986. It so happened that the deal was pushed through just before the deadline expired.

While Pitco belonged to the Hindujas and Svenska to Win Chadha, AE Services remained a mystery. The gun manufacturer explained that it was a British firm headquartered in Guildford, Surrey, owned and promoted by a Major Bob Wilson. The JPC bought that too. It was discovered, later, that AE Services had no office. The address was of a post-box in a solicitor’s firm. The total capital of the company was £100 divided into a hundred shares of one pound each. Major Wilson owned one share. The rest were owned by a shadowy Leichtenstein corporation.

However, on July 23, 1993, the Swiss Cantonal Court revealed that AE Services was a shell company operated by Colbar Investments, incorporated in the Panama Islands and that it was controlled by Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife Maria Quottrocchi. In other words, of the Rs. 64 Crores paid into the three coded accounts by Bofors, 73 lakh US Dollars (Rs. 18.7 Crores) went into Quattrocchi’s account in the Nordfinanz Bank in Zurich. The deposit was made on September 3, 1986. The `Q’ in Ardbo’s diary was none other than Ottavio Quattrocchi. Bofors engaged him to help them swing the gun deal and clinch it before March 31, 1986 and he was paid 73 lakh US Dollars for the service he rendered. Most of the funds were transferred to the Union Bank of Switzerland, Geneva into the account of Colbar Invesment and moved out of that account too (within a couple of months) to yet another bank in the British Channel Islands.

The CBI’s chargesheet, implicating Quattrocchi (along with others) filed on October 22, 1999, spoke about an amount of SEK 540,63,966 (approximately US dollars 73 lakh) having been paid by M/s Bofors to M/s A.E. Services Limited, UK. It also said that investigation into the account showed that 97 per cent of this amount was transferred to the account of Colbar Investment Limited, Panama, controlled by Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Union Bank of Switzerland, Geneva. The chargesheet also said that Ottavio Quottrocchi had been transferring the said funds from one account to another account and from one jurisdiction to another to avoid detection.

The Red Corner Notice by the Interpol was obtained on all these grounds by the CBI. And the CBI now says that Quattrocchi is innocent.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The crisis in Lanka is humanitarian ...

It is now a matter of time before the Sri Lankan army captures the few square kilometers of land that is still under the LTTE. And it is also likely that Mahinda Rajapakse emerges into a national hero in the Island nation. It is certain that the Tamil speaking people who are left behind in Colombo and in other towns where the Sinhalese constituted the majority are humiliated and made to live as second class citizens if they want to continue living there.

It is almost certain that Prabhakaran and his close associates evade capture by the Sri Lankan army. And it is also certain that a large number of Tamil speaking people who are still caught in the No Fire Zone are massacred. And no one will know for sure as to whether the death, of so many of them, was caused by the Sinhala army or the LTTE. The fact is that the media is consciously kept out of the battle zone in this war against the LTTE by the Sri Lankan army. All that the Lankan Government has allowed, until now, are reports by journalists who are prepared to gulp down anything and everything dished out by the army spokesman.

Unlike in the recent past when the marauding army allowed embedded journalists to visit the battle zone and beam visuals that merely chronicle the victory of the marauder (as it happened in the US invasion of Iraq), the present round of anti-LTTE operations by the Lanka armed forces that began sometimes in September 2008, has taken place without anyone from the media, not even the embedded journalist, being allowed anywhere near the battle zone.

Leave alone journalists, the fact is that the Sri Lankan Government has refused permission even to relief workers and para-medics from the international organisations to reach out to the people in the area that were under the LTTE for almost a couple of decades now. The army, we now know, managed to march into the LTTE controlled areas and push the Tigers into a small enclave now only because it had used all the armour at its disposal and had the support of the bomber crafts of the Lankan Airforce. In other words, the victory was possible only because the army was not restrained by the Rajapakse dispensation against use of lethal bombs and heavy artillery during the onslaught.

And that certainly means that the Lankan government did not care to ensure the safety of the civilians. Only the hardcore loyalist of Rajapakse or a die hard Sinhala chauvinist will believe that the Lankan army had abided by the conventions that guide the conduct of a battle and the core principle of all such conventions that the civilians are not attacked.

The LTTE too, having realised the futility of trying to hold out against the heavily armed forces of the Sri Lankan state and the fact that the army was assisted (by way of military hardware and even men) by the Governments of China, Pakistan and India, simply retreated. And while doing so, the LTTE also took the Tamil speaking civilians with them. This was how that such a huge number of unarmed Tamil speaking people ended up in Pudukudiyiruppu. Anyone who knows the LTTE well will agree that these people were reduced by Prabhakaran and his soldiers into a human shield.

The important point is that there were at least one lakh and fifty thousand people living in difficult conditions and acting as the human shield for the LTTE. The Lankan authorities were keen on insisting that there were only 70,000 people. That way they Rajapakse Government could have got away with the massacre of at least half the civilian population that was trapped in the war zone. And those who managed to escape from there were to be taken and held in camps that the army had set up; there was no guarantee that those who ended up in such camps were not going to be bumped off on grounds that they were LTTE fugitives.

This indeed explains the grave and intense humanitarian crisis that the hapless Tamil speaking people holed up in the No Fire Zone are faced with. And it is also important to note here that the Tamils who are now in the middle of this crisis and would end up in the relief camps (if they survive and are not executed by the army in the camps) are those who were forced out of their homes and their land in the past six months. Their homes and their land will son turn into abodes for the Sinhalese. The Rajapakse Government cannot be stopped from colonizing the Tamil towns with Sinhalese people once the LTTE is vanquished. There is no possibility of a resistance to that at least for a few years from now. It is stupid to expect such persons as Duglas Devananda and Karuna (who had deserted the Tigers at different points of time) will be in a position to resist after having become part of the Sinhalese political establishment for some times now.

In other words, the final onslaught in this round of battle against the LTTE could mean that the Tamils in the Island nation will be reduced to sitting ducks for anyone n the Sinhalese establishment to shoot at. All this, however, is not to say that all resistance will die. The issue in Sri Lanka, after all, is one of a struggle for democratic and civil rights for the Tamils and against the discrimination that the Tamil speaking people had been suffering for several decades and more particularly from the time the Sinhala Only Act was passed in 1956. The rise of the armed groups and the resort to violence by the Tamil youth was in fact a fallout of the inability of the TULF leaders to convince the youth of the strength of a non-violent struggle against the Sinhalese regime.

The last straw, in that course, was the pogrom carried out by the Sinhalese mobs against the Tamils in Colombo, Jaffna and elsewhere and the fact that all that was allowed to take place with the collusion of the state. The massacre of Tamil youth in the jails and the streets in Colombo in 1983 was also a decisive moment when the leadership of the struggle for equal rights by the Tamil speaking people slipped out of the hands of the TULF and was vested in the hands of such groups as the LTTE, PLOTE, TELO and the EPRLF. That the LTTE went about eliminating the leaders of all other groups to emerge into what it is today is a story that is all too familiar.

As for the Indian Government, its role has been dubious in the earlier stages as much as it is now. The Government of India conducted training camps to these groups including the LTTE and also ended up fighting the LTTE when the IPKF was sent there. And as of now, the LTTE stands banned in India and Prabhakaran a proclaimed absconder. And in the past couple of years, when the Lankan Government began lining up military and strategic aid from China and Pakistan, the Government of India agreed to bend over its back to please the regime in Colombo. Just to make sure that its own strategic interests are not given up, India agreed to aid Lanka’s war against the LTTE with military hardware, signal equipment and also providing training to the Lankan soldiers. It is a fact that Lankan soldiers had flown into India, in hordes, for training.

And that is where one finds the visits by our own Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and all the posturing by the Congress leaders, particularly those from Tamil Nadu, a bit too absurd. India, in fact, has not done anything to end the suffereings of the Tamil speaking people in the past few months and allowed the Lankan army to do all that it has done since September 2008 with impunity. It is sad, to say the least, that India has not cared to speak up for the cause of the Tamil speaking people even to the extent as such countries like England and the US has done.

Well. It is not that the LTTE is without blot. Prabhakaran is no angel. His acts in the past of eliminating all other leaders of the Tamil groups and also the fact that he did not tolerate democracy inside the LTTE are factors that have now led the LTTE into its present crisis. But then, these are not reasons to allow the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka to be reduced to refugees in their own land.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Are we being honest when we call ours a vibrant democracy?

Nafisa Ali, a socialite from Delhi is now the Samajwadi Party’s candidate from the Lucknow Lok Sabha constituency. She was the Congress candidate from South Calcutta in the May 2004 elections against Mamta Banerjee. Nafisa Ali’s claim to fame is that she is part of the elite gatherings in Delhi and had also won a beuty contest in her younger days. It is not known as to when she adopted Mulayam Singh’s Socialism. But then, it does not matter.

Ranjitha Singh, who happens to be wife of Pappu Yadav, underworld don now serving a jail term in the case involving the murder of CPI(M) leader Ajit Sarkar, is now a Congress candidate from Saharsa in Bihar. She had contested elections from the same constituency in May 2004 too. But as a candidate of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party. And she won the elections then. Ranjeeta, for those who are unfamiliar with Bihar and its politics, is not a native of Bihar. Her own home is in Punjab. This is true of Ram Vilas Paswan’s wife too. And that was one of the reasons why Paswan made her his party’s candidate in May 2004. Ranjeeta was given the LJP nomination this time too.

However, she decided to refuse the LJP nomination and accept the Congress as her party. Not because she found the Congress representing a superior ideology than the LJP. The reason behind her changing the party is because her husband, Pappu Yadav, an RJD MP in the last Lok Sabha wanted the party to nominate a person of his choice as RJD candidate this time from Purnea. Pappu Yadav could not contest the election because of his jail sentence. But RJD chief Lalu Yadav, for reasons best known to him refused to indulge Pappu Yadav. And hence Pappu was angry with Lalu and asked his wife, Ranjeeta, to walk out of Paswan’s party. Well, Lalu and Paswan are friends for the time being and that made Pappu ask Ranjeeta to walk out of the LJP.

The Congress wasted no time in taking Ranjeeta into its fold. Well. The Congress is hardly the party that the underworld prefers today in Bihar. Not because the party is full of saints. It is because the party has very little chance of winning and hence the dons do not join it. But when Pappu Yadav, who manages to carry on with his looting and other criminal acts even from inside the jail, found himself out of the RJD, he saw the Congress as another option. And for the Congress, which is not in a position even to ensure that its candidates retain the security deposit in Bihar, having Pappu’s wife Ranjeeta as one of its candidates means a possible Lok Sabha seat. Not because Ranjeeta is known to have served the constituency as a MP but because Pappu’s money and muscle power is such that it could ensure Ranjeeta’s victory from Saharsa.

The Congress managed more. It has now got Anirudh Prasad Yadav, also known as Sadhu Yadav, as one of its candidates. Sadhu, whose claim to fame begins with being Rabri Devi’s brother is also known for his goondaism in and around Gopalganj. He won as RJD MP from Gopalganj in May 2004 and was among those whom Lalu trusted when it came to organizing rallies and collecting large sums of money. Sadhu is also known to own a huge fleet of buses and trucks that ply across Bihar without the necessary papers. The Congress can hope to win Gopalganj too!
Well. Such a movement of individuals from the RJD, the LJP and the Congress is not going to make a difference in any real sense. Lalu Prasad, Mulayam and Paswan, after all, are declaring day in and day out that they continue to be a part of the Congress-led UPA and that they will continue that way even after the elections. The same sort of absurdity is also seen in Orissa. Naveen Patnaik, who was also in-charge of the Home portfolio when Christians and their churches were attacked in Kandhamal until a few months ago, is now a paragon of secularism according to the Left parties. The sight of Sitaram Yechury, Sharad Pawar and Naveen Patnaik seated on the same platform in Orissa was bad enough; recall the fact that Pawar remains a part of the UPA (and has firmed up a perfect alliance with the Congress in Maharashtra) and Sitaram Yechury’s party cries from the rooftops that it is committed to ward off the Congress and the BJP. Naveen Patnaik, meanwhile, is still not sure as to whether he considers the BJP a communal party.

Pawar’s end game is restricted to two things. One is to make his daughter Supriya Sule a MP. And the other one is to make sure that his ``Nationalist’’ Congress Party gets at least a dozen MPs so that he can bargain for a portfolio in the Union Cabinet that will fetch him a lot of money and thus shore up his kitty that is full to the brink even otherwise. The farmers in Maharashtra, whose aspirations he is supposed to represent as MP, shall fend for themselves and even consume pesticides and kill themselves when their debts increase because of a poor harvest. And lest we forget, Pawar will also keep himself busy with the BCCI and make more money out of the game. And if things take another turn, he will try for the Prime Minister’s job too.

Another one of such players is good old Deve Gowda. He did not care when his party’s M.P.Veerendrakumar was humiliated by the CPI(M) by being denied of his sitting Calicut Lok Sabha seat. Gowda’s only ambition is to become Prime Minister again and he has latched on to the CPI(M)-sponsored joke called the Third Front. For the CPI(M) too, it did not matter that Gowda does not recognize even the existence of the party in Karnataka. Parakash Karat does not miss an opportunity to acknowledge Gowda as the leader of that joke called the Third Front. The Third Front joke, after all, is of some use to the CPI(M) and the CPI because it helps the two Left parties to win a few Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh thanks to the AIADMK and the TDP. And amidst all this, Karat is making sure that he has a place in the Congress-led UPA, at least after the elections, by stating that his party will prevent the BJP forming the next Government by all means. And Karat’s party does not hesitate to join hands with Abdul Nasser Madhani and his PDP to ensure that India remains secular!

And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too does not want to be left behind in all the drama that is unfolding. Unmindful of the fact that his party too has fielded such mafia dons as Mani Kumar Subba, Sadhu Yadav and Pappu Yadav’s wife Ranjeeta Singh as candidates and his party leader Sonia Gandhi is still looking forward to a tie up with Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and any other leader who is willing to support a Congress-led Government decided to recall the old story of the Quit India movement and the Left’s role in that at Kochi recently.

It is proper here to recall Dr. Singh’s lecture at Oxford in June 2005 where he held that the British rule, contrary to popular impression, did a lot of good to India. Dr. Singh had then said that the British were guided by a sense of governance that helped India’s growth. The point is that Manmohan Singh, as Prime Minister, had acted in a manner that simply defied all that the freedom struggle and its legacy had built and established as the norm for our nation building. The Indo-US nuclear deal for which he staked everything and even ensured the survival of his Government by way of organizing defections from parties and striking deals with such shady characters as Amar Singh chose to strike at the communists for their role in 1942. Singh did not mind the communists sustaining him as Prime Minister for at least 4 years after May 2004.

Well. It is now clear that Manmohan Singh too would want to remain India’s Prime Minister as much as Deve Gowda wanting to become Prime Minister again. Mulayam Singh Yadav, like Sharad Pawar, would be content with a portfolio that will fetch him lots of money and even more than what he had made as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for several terms until now. But then, if there is a chance, he too will not decline the job of Prime Minister. He will agree to take up that job unmindful of whether it comes to him as being part of the Third Front (in other words, he will join that Front if the joke turns into serious business) and if that does not materialise, his next bargain will be for that of becoming the next Prime Minister’s Deputy! Mulayam Singh, after all, learnt his primary lessons in politics from Charan Singh and the disciple cannot be different from his teacher!

We also have such other contenders for the top job. Jayalalitha will not mind. But then, unlike other such aspirants, she will not settle for a Deputy Prime Minister’s job or a berth in the Union Cabinet. She will, instead, do anything to get M.Karunanidhi out as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and occupy that post. The Third Front means nothing for her. And that is true of another aspirant to the top job: Ms. Mayawati too will not refuse the Prime Minister’s job. And like Jayalalitha, she too will not settle down for a Deputy Prime Minister or a cabinet berth.

Like these leaders, we also have L.K.Advani, who still thinks that his BJP is a national party, wanting to be the next Prime Minister. Well. Advani is the only one who has made an open offer that he is willing to take the job. But then, he has a problem. His own ``stature’’ will prevent him from settling down for anything less. And his party, the BJP, is hardly in a position to wrest as many as at least 150 Lok Sabha seats to even hope to cobble up a working majority in the next Lok Sabha.

It is true that the BJP remains a strong force in Gujarat and is in power in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. But then, there is hardly any indication to suggest that the party has revived in any way from its state in May 2004. And the situation has worsened with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s failing health. Despite the fact that the Congress-led UPA is now a rickety coalition and the Left combine continuing to bark at it, the fact is the political discourse, at the national level, continues to be guided by a set of factors that are specific to regions within the various states and fragmented in all senses of the term.
Take, for instance, the ground reality in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP is in no better position now than it was in May 2004. The contest from Uttar Pradesh remains between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. And it is most likely that the two parties will end up winning at least 60 Lok Sabha seats from out of the 80 seats from the state. That would mean that the Congress and the BJP will end up sharing only 20 seats from the state and this will be the same as it happened in May 2004. With Vajpayee now out of the scene, it is unlikely that the Brahmin votes will remain with the BJP in Uttar Pradesh; and in the emerging scheme of things, the BSP and the Congress could gain some more seats in the process and end up with a couple of seats more than they won last time.

The fact is that Rajnath Singh, as party president, has failed to capture the imagination of the Rajputs and the reason is that it is now clear that Singh is there in that post only for symbolic reasons. The Samajwadi Party remains the favoured destination of the local lords from this community and a strong BSP will only further this trend. The point is that the BJP was reduced to being the second largest party in May 2004 primarily because it lost heavily from Uttar Pradesh. From 29 in 1999, the BJP’s score from Uttar Pradesh was just 10 in 2004. The same is true about Bihar too.

The BJP won just five Lok Sabha seats from the state in 2004 against its 1999 score of 23. In other words, the BJP lost as many as 37 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh between 1999 and 2004; and this led to the fall in the party’s strength from 182 in 1999 to 138 in 2004. While there is no way that the party can hope to substantially improve its position in Uttar Pradesh, the scope for improvement in Bihar is only marginal.

And yet, we find Advani, serious about his own self and his chances of becoming the next Prime Minister.

To cut a long story short, the compelling message that comes out of the election scene 2009 is that we have a number of small chieftains who will do anything to preserve themselves in offices of power and go to any extent to ensure that. The list includes Sharad Pawar, Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Jayalalitha, Prakash Karat, A.B.Bardhan and even a Naveen Patnaik. While all of them would want to be Prime Minister and will not shirk if asked to do that job, they will also agree to support someone from the Congress for that job as long as they are handed out with lucrative portfolios. This used to happen in the ancient and medieval times when petty vassals used to prop up an emperor and sustain such an emperor as long as they were allowed to loot the people. The political leaders of today are no different from the vassals and the petty kings of the past.

Another important aspect of the times of the Kings and the Emporors was that the right of succession was vested in the children. That aspect too is so blatant in our own times. Sharad Pawar to Supriya Sule, K.Karunakaran to K. Muraleedharan, K.M.Mani to **** Mani, M.Karunanidhi to M.K.Stalin, M.K.Azhagiri and M.K.Kanimozhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav to Akhilesh Kumar Singh, Murli Deora to Milind Deora, Rajesh Pilot to Sachin Pilot, Jitendra Prasada to Jitin Prasada, Madhavrao Scindia to Jyotiraditya Scindia and hmmm…… Nehru to Indira to Rajiv and now to Rahul Gandhi.

Are we being honest in pretending that our democracy is vibrant?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Here is a Book Review I did for The New Indian Express, Sunday, March 29, 2009

The many facets of a maharaja

A biography need not be a chronicle of the life of the subject. It is also not possible for a biographer to stay detached from the subject. I is, after all, also an expression of the passion with which the author looks at his subject. Vir Sanghvi makes clear, in the preface, his close association with and even his attachment to Madhavrao Scindia. One wonders whether Namita Bhandare too shares such feelings.

Sanghvi and Bhandare have provided a riveting account of the life and the times in which Madhavrao lived. The narrative contains not merely the political events in his life but a lot about his private life and his close friends. The many facets of Madhavrao — early childhood in the Gwalior palace, his life in Scindia School, his days in London and Bombay, spent looking after the family’s wealth and business, and Madhavrao the Congress leader — are all presented in such manner that the reader is led to believe Madhavrao was good at anything he laid his hands on.

Sanghvi even conveys that this goodness ran in the blood of the Scindias. There is an effort to make it seem that all the rulers of the Scindia clan were benevelonce personified; that Jayajirao Scindia, king of Gwalior during the 1857 revolt, directed the entire saga from behind the scene. History texts, however, tell us a different story.

Writing of the rift in the clan, Sardar Sambhajirao Angre is identified as the cause for all that went wrong. Angre, we are told, was behind turning Rajmata Vijayaraje to the Jan Sangh and also behind Madhavrao’s stint as Jan Sangh MP between 1971 and 1977. Sardar Angre, we are told, sent Madhavrao to Nepal the day after the Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975 and ensured that he stayed on even while his mother was in jail.

Madhavrao was just 26 in March 1971 when he accepted the Jan Sangh’s nomination to contest the Guna Lok Sabha constituency. Then, the biggest issue on the minds of the Maharajas was the abolition of the privy purses by Indira Gandhi. Like many others who lost the allowance, Madhavrao too joined the Jan Sangh. It is surprising that the authors ignore this even while eulogising the subject as someone committed to democracy in all its elements.

The bias is equally clear while dealing with Madhavrao’s stint as railway minister. The impression given is that the Indian Railways would have remained a mid-19th century relic if Madhavrao had not become minister of state for railways. The cushioned seats in second class coaches are said to be Scindia’s gift. Actually, it was Madhu Dandavate’s idea when he was railway minister between 1977 and 1979.

The writers mention that Scindia was emerging as the natural choice for the Prime Minister’s job and P V Narasimha Rao found his own position threatened. Hence, he was implicated in the Jain Hawala scandal. They seem to imply that the scandal was a figment of someone’s imagination and cite the dismissal of the CBI’s charges by the Delhi High Court as proof. It is true that the Delhi High Court dismissed the charge-sheet. But the grounds for dismissal were that the CBI, though it had evidence to show that the accused had taken money from B R Jain, could not establish the nexus between that and the favours they did for Jain. In other words, the problem was with the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Sanghvi and Bhandare have overlooked a lot of things in their attempt to present the life and times of Madhavrao Scindia. But Sanghvi does not conceal the fact that Scindia was his close friend and also that they have a lot of friends in common. The lucid narrative makes the biography a good read. The fact is that kings and emperors have court historians to chronicle their times. Madhavrao, after all, was the Maharaja of Gwalior apart from being a MP, minister and businessman. The biography does convey that much.

Madhavrao Scindia: A Life

By Vir Sanghvi & Namita Bhandare

Publisher: Penguin/Viking,

Price: Rs 550

Pages: 356