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Thirty-four years ago, I published a biography of Sanjay Gandhi titled The Sanjay Story. It has been reissued by HarperCollins and should be on sale next week. The biography, the only one till date on Sanjay, was a small commercial and critical success even though my version of the “extra-constitutional authority” came out a time when a succession of quickies, as they were dubbed, were keeping the nation alarmed and entertained by their sordid and sometimes comic revelations. My quickie set out to be objective but in the highly charged atmosphere post the Emergency, objectivity was in no great demand. It suffered a further infirmity. Sanjay refused to cooperate in the writing of the biography, insisting on copy approval. It was an offer I had to refuse.
In 1978, my day job consisted of revamping Debonair. I had taken my first tentative step into journalism-editorship, and while most of my creative energy was taken up with luring innocent and not-so innocent girls to shed their clothes for the princely sum of Rs 250, Debonair (being a monthly magazine) allowed me time to probe into a man who, even in the opinion of his elder brother, had much to answer for. “I will never forgive Sanjay for having brought mummy to this position,” Rajiv had told family friend Pupul Jaykar.
In the biography, I have tried to provide a flavour of the man who would be king. The man who almost captured the crown—had it not been for those damned Kohlapuri chappals. The Kohlapuri mystery is revealed in the book, which I am happy to report, has already received a very generous review on Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast website. Under the headline “Hold onto your penis” the review asks, “How did a nation of 600 million people bow to the fancies of a prime minister’s pampered son?” And then, the part I like best. It describes The Sanjay Story as a “brief but indispensible psycho-political biography.” Do buy it. It only costs Rs 499. The royalties will help me keep Editor on a steady diet of Italian cheese!
While the Indian media continues to keep its head resolutely buried in the sand, in Britain the much-awaited Leveson Report is recommending a new independent regulator for the press with statutory underpinnings. The report is 2,000 pages and one million words long. An editorial in The Guardian says, “Many in the press will disagree with the conclusion, but no journalist should fool themselves. The fact that the industry is threatened with statutory controls is no one else’s fault.” A recent opinion poll reveals that 77 per cent of the British public—fed up, in Leveson words, with a “culture of reckless and outrageous journalism”—want an independent regulator with statutory control.
The report, which should be deemed essential reading for every journalist in India, says much that holds relevance for us. And yet we live in denial because we claim to speak “truth to power” in the public interest. I have been banging on about this for years, but if the press in India does not appoint an independent regulator, the politicians will do it for us. Is that what we want?
Sex On The Breach
The professional demise of David Petraeus via extramarital sex has had one benefit. A belated debate has started in the United States on why a brilliant general who has served his country with extraordinary distinction should be brought low by an act between consenting adults. Adultery, especially if it has no serious security implications (as in the case of Petraeus), is a private matter to be settled between the two parties. That is the way it is done in Europe, but in hypocritical Anglo-Saxon cultures, it is asked that if a man can’t be faithful to his wife how can he be faithful to his country! Rubbish. So many of our netas manage the feat quite nicely.
The incident reminded me of a story about the legendary philanderer, the Indonesian President Sukarno. On a visit to the United States, the anti-US president was provided by the CIA with some blonde girls, who he ravished. As he was leaving the country, a CIA agent took the President aside, produced an envelope and showed Sukarno half-a-dozen explicit, compromising photographs of his escapades. He looked at them intently for a minute and without batting an eyelid said, “I’ll have two copies of these three pictures.”
The spinner who is tormenting India, Monty Panesar, is a teetotaller, a vegetarian and goes to his local gurudwara regularly. His parents are desperately looking for a suitable and devout girl, preferably from Punjab, to get him married. His full name is Madhusudan Singh Panesar. If we’re going to get thrashed by England, let it be at the hands of Madhusudan.
I finished reading Tavleen Singh’s much-discussed book, Durbar. It is a page-turner.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com