With Punjab again sitting on a powderkeg, this book by a senior journalist serves to reinforce old conspiracy theories, revisit long-held suspicions. It’s a timely reminder of political intrigues that play out in the national capital.
What was the role of the Intelligence Bureau and RAW from 1980 to 1991? Suggesting that both these agencies had penetrated radical Sikh networks, the book wonders if a probe would ever reveal the whole truth. Neither Indira Gandhi nor Rajiv Gandhi, the author emphasises, was anti-Sikh (Rajiv, he claims, was ready to hand over Chandigarh to Punjab). And yet a section of ruling Congressmen put up the Dal Khalsa and Bhindranwale to take on the Akalis. And even when Bhindranwale turned rogue and the Centre had the reason and the opportunity to rein him in, why did it drag its feet? Who summoned DIG A.S. Atwal to Amritsar to convey Bhindranwale’s displeasure at the police checking his men? Atwal was shot dead as he came out of the Golden Temple unarmed after praying.
The book is scathing on the role of Arun Nehru and claims that Rajiv told him he was ashamed to acknowledge him as his cousin. As the powerful minister in charge of internal security, the book holds, it was Arun who took most of the controversial decisions and that it was his name that should have been among the accused in the Bofors case. Hinting at some kind of collusion between Arun and the right wing, the book wonders why the BJP was always soft on Arun and rarely, if ever, attacked him.
A refrain that runs through the book is that Indian leaders have never stood up to America. ‘Even Modi is close to them.’
But what is bound to generate even more heat is the claim made in the book that Rajiv and Pakistan’s Zia-ul-Haq were close to settling the Kashmir dispute when the latter was killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1988. Hours before his own assassination in 1991, the book says, Rajiv hinted to Barbara Crosette of The New York Times at the possibility of the CIA being behind Haq’s ‘assassination’. The author, for good measure, says the LTTE, which was responsible for Rajiv’s own assassination, was trained by Israel’s Mossad.
A refrain that runs through the book is the lament that few Indian leaders have stood up to the Americans. “Even Modi is close to them,” he writes, convinced that the CIA had colluded with Pakistan’s ISI to foment and support Sikh militancy in Punjab, Canada and the US. Chawla recalls conversations with Rajiv to claim that the former PM was deeply suspicious of the Americans and felt that even if the Congress had won the 1991 election, they wouldn’t have allowed it to function. G.S. Dhillon, who first moved the resolution for a Sikh nation, had travelled to Chandigarh on an American passport and no action was taken despite his seditious activities.
The book, which can serve as a dummy’s guide to Punjab politics and politicians, deserved better editing and proof-reading. But despite the rambling narration, repetitions and the typos, it is a political junkie’s delight, peppered as it is with anecdotes and insights. In one delightful passage, he recalls how hours after a private meeting with the President in his private quarters on the third floor of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he was confronted in North Block with a tape of the entire conversation. He writes of a time when a car mechanic could get access to the home minister and report an assassination plot he had overheard, when a Union home secretary did not hesitate to admit that the IB’s assessment was wrong and when PMs confided that they made mistakes. But then, as the author writes in desperation, politicians never learn their lessons.