Sunday, Jul 03, 2022
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Frankness Don't Pay

Maneka wins damages, an apology and a weapon to fire at Sonia

Frankness Don't Pay Jitender Gupta

When Katherine Frank published her biography of Indira Gandhi a few months ago, she thought she was closing the dynasty cult and politics forever. "In the twenty-first century, this cycle appears finally to have closed," were her last words in her 567-page Indira, The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi. Only that in the opening year of the new century, on November 8, Maneka Gandhi won not only an apology and "substantial damages" from Frank and her publisher in a London high court but also the right to shoot from Frank's shoulder in the next round of the Battle of the Dynasty's Bahus.

It was an unexpected victory—with the stiff libel laws in the UK and most of the characters Maneka was suing on behalf of already dead, not even Maneka's lawyers were hopeful of winning the libel suit she filed against Frank six months ago. Until a close reading of the heavy tome produced a small para that turned the case around. Frank refers in that fatal sentence to Sanjay "arranging" for an underworld figure, Sunderlal, to be "eliminated". The next sentence turned out to be even more foolhardy: she mentions that both Sanjay and Maneka went to call on a close friend, Navin Chawla, secretary to the then Delhi governor. Sanjay and Maneka asked Chawla, the magistrate who got them married, for the "small favour" of taking the rap for Sanjay, according to Frank, who cited Chawla's wife, Rupika, as her source. But when the Chawlas denied ever having met Frank, and Rupika submitted a three-page letter to Maneka's lawyer Raj Panjwani denying everything, Frank was in a "big jam".

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