Kuldip Nayar, 89, has seen Gandhi at prayer in Birla Mandir, quizzed Nehru, watched Jinnah closely, worked with Shastri and Govind Ballabh Pant. Journalist, editor, author, he has seen history unfold, watched in action people most of the present generation know only as institutions or physical landmarks, say Kamraj University or the Netaji Subhash Airport. “My story is really the story of modern India. Of the freedom struggle, of Partition, of Nehru’s India, of the Bangladesh war, of Emergency and more recently of liberalisation and India as a world power,” he says. Here are vignettes from his overarching autobiography, a sort of a fly-on-the-wall account of how our country came to be, from Mountbatten to Manmohan.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah
‘What have I done?’
The catholicity of Hinduism and the compassion of Islam: if such sentiments survived, they made no difference. Villages after villages had been annihilated, the Muslim habitations destroying and burning the Hindu-Sikh ones, and Hindus and Sikhs in turn retaliating or taking the initiative in wiping out the Muslims....
Riots, in fact, had erupted in Punjab in March 1947 itself. Rawalpindi and Jhelum were the most affected, where many Hindu and Sikh women jumped into wells to save themselves from rape and kidnapping. Lahore became a battleground between Hindus and Sikhs on the one side joining hands, and Muslims on the other. This was the city where Master Tara Singh, the Sikh leader, had unsheathed a sword in front of the state assembly building and raised the slogan of Khalistan....
The men in khaki—the army, the police, and other services—were meant to bring the riots under control but they too were infected by the communal virus. To expect them to be impartial and punish the guilty from their own community was to hope for the impossible. They had lost all sense of right and wrong. These custodians of the people knew they would go scot-free in their “own country” after the transfer. I think it was a blunder to give the choice to civil servants, the police, and the armed forces to opt for India if they were non-Muslims and Pakistan if they were Muslims. A mixed administration would have behaved differently and infused the minorities with confidence. Jinnah would not believe the reports that thousands of people were migrating from both sides of the border. Both the Congress and the Muslim League had rejected the proposal for an exchange of population and had insisted on Muslims and non-Muslims staying back in their homes. Jinnah remained sullen for a few days and then accused India of seeking to undermine Pakistan. Even so, he was deeply concerned not only about the migration of people but also recurrent news that several lakhs of people had been butchered on either side of the border.
One day when Jinnah was in Lahore, Iftikhar-ud-din, Pakistan’s rehabilitation minister, and Mazhar Ali Khan, editor of Pakistan Times, flew him in a Dakota over divided Punjab. When he saw streams of people pouring into Pakistan or fleeing it, he struck his hand on the forehead and said despairingly: “What have I done?” Both Iftikhar and Mazhar vowed not to repeat the remark. Mazhar took his wife Tahira into confidence and told her what Jinnah had said, and she communicated Jinnah’s comment to me long after her husband’s death.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
‘Kashmir can go to Pakistan’
My impression is that had Pakistan been patient it would have got Kashmir automatically. India could not have conquered it, nor could a Hindu maharaja have ignored the composition of the population, which was predominantly Muslim. Instead, an impatient Pakistan sent tribesmen along with regular troops to Kashmir within days of independence.
While it’s true that Nehru was keen on Kashmir’s accession to India, Patel was opposed to it. Sheikh Abdullah told me in an interview later (February 21, 1971) that Patel argued with him that as Kashmir was a Muslim-majority area it should go to Pakistan. Even when New Delhi received the maharaja’s request to accede to India, Patel said: “We should not get mixed up with Kashmir. We already have too much on our plate.”
Nehru’s anxiety (on this issue) was clear from his letter to Patel (September 27, 1947), three days before Kashmir’s accession to India: “Things must be done in a way so as to bring about the accession of Kashmir to the Indian union as rapidly as possible with the cooperation of Sheikh Abdullah.” Nehru wanted Indian forces to fight against the Pakistan tribesmen and others advancing in the Valley. It was Mountbatten who asked Nehru to get the instrument of accession signed first before sending troops.
From the very outset, the maharaja’s preference was for independence. Failing that, he wanted a merger with India. His fear in relation to the second alternative was that with Nehru at the helm of affairs, he would be reduced to a mere figurehead, and Sheikh Abdullah would be the one with real power. When Patel, otherwise close to the maharaja, suggested that he should “make a substantial gesture to win Sheikh Abdullah’s support”, the maharaja knew his fate was sealed.
Mountbatten later told me that Patel had agreed to let Kashmir go to Pakistan if the state so wished. “By sending its irregular troops into the state, Pakistan spoiled the whole thing,” added Mountbatten. He was, however, worried that Nehru’s Kashmiri ancestry would lead him to unwise decisions. (Nehru is reported to have confessed to a British officer: “In the same way as Calais was written on Mary’s heart, Kashmir is written on mine.”)
However, Pakistan could not wait. Kashmir had always been a part of the concept of Pakistan and the letter ‘K’ in its name stood for Kashmir. As the Pakistan minister for Kashmir affairs said in 1951, and this has been repeated by many ministers to this day, “Kashmir is an article of faith with Pakistan and not merely a piece of land or a source of rivers.”
Lal Bahadur Shastri
Was he poisoned?
That night I had a premonition that Shastri was dying. I dreamt about him dying. I got up abruptly to a knock on my door. A lady in the corridor told me: “Your prime minister is dying.” I hurriedly dressed and drove with an Indian official to Shastri’s dacha which was some distance away.
I saw (Soviet premier Alexei) Kosygin standing in the verandah. He raised his hands to indicate that Shastri was no more. Behind the verandah was the dining room where a team of doctors was sitting at an oblong table, cross-examining Dr R.N. Chugh who had accompanied Shastri.
Next to it was Shastri’s room. It was extraordinarily large. On the huge bed, his body looked like a dot on a drawing board. His slippers were neatly placed on the carpeted floor. He had not used them. In a corner of the room, however, on a dressing table, there was an overturned thermos flask. It appeared that Shastri had struggled to open it. There was no buzzer in his room, the point on which the government lied when attacked in Parliament on its failure to save Shastri’s life.
Our official photographer and I spread the national flag, which had been neatly folded up near the dressing table, over the body, and placed some flowers to pay homage to him. I then went to meet Shastri’s assistants. It was a few yards away and one had to walk through an open verandah to reach it. Shastri’s personal secretary, Jagan Nath Sahai, told me that Shastri had knocked on their door at around midnight and wanted water. Two stenographers and Jagan Nath helped him walk back to his room. This was fatal, Dr Chugh said.
After sending the flash on Shastri’s death, I went back to his assistants’ room to learn the details about his death. Bits and pieces of information gathered together indicated that Shastri, after attending the farewell reception, reached his dacha around 10 pm. Shastri told (his personal servant) Ram Nath to bring him his food which came from Ambassador (T.N.) Kaul’s house, prepared by his cook, Jan Mohammed. He ate very little: a dish of spinach and potatoes and a curry.
Ram Nath gave Shastri milk, which he used to drink before retiring at night. The prime minister once again began pacing up and down and later asked for water, which Ram Nath gave from the thermos flask on the dressing table. (He told me that he had closed the flask.) It was a little before midnight when Shastri told Ram Nath to retire to his room and get some sleep because he had to get up early to leave for Kabul. Ram Nath offered to sleep on the floor in Shastri’s room but Shastri told him to go to his own room upstairs. The assistants were packing the luggage at 1.20 am (Tashkent time), Jagan Nath recalled, when they suddenly saw Shastri at the door. With great difficulty Shastri asked: “Where is doctor sahib?” It was in the sitting room that a racking cough convulsed Shastri, and his personal assistants helped him to bed. Jagan Nath gave him water and remarked: “Babuji, now you will be all right.” Shastri only touched his chest and then became unconscious. (When Lalita Shastri was told by Jagan Nath in Delhi that he had given him water, she said: “You are a very lucky person because you gave him his last cup of water.”)
Gen Ayub was genuinely grieved by Shastri’s death. He came to Shastri’s dacha at 4 am and said, looking towards me: “Here is a man of peace who gave his life for amity between India and Pakistan.” Later, Ayub told the Pakistani journalists that Shastri was one person with whom he had hit it off well; “Pakistan and India might have solved their differences had he lived,” he said. Aziz Ahmad, Pakistan’s foreign secretary, rang up Bhutto to inform him about Shastri’s death. Bhutto was half asleep and heard only the word “died”, and apparently asked, “Which of the two bastards?”
When I returned from Tashkent, Lalita Shastri asked me why Shastri’s body had turned blue. I replied: “I am told that when bodies are embalmed, they turn blue.” She then inquired about “certain cuts” on Shastri’s body. I did not know about those because I had not seen the body. Even so, her remark that no post-mortem had been conducted either at Tashkent or Delhi startled me. It was indeed unusual. Apparently, she and others in the family suspected foul play. A few days later, I heard that Lalita Shastri was angry with the two personal assistants who had accompanied Shastri because they had refused to sign a statement which alleged that Shastri did not die a natural death.
As days passed, the Shastri family became increasingly convinced that he had been poisoned. In 1970, on October 2 (Shastri’s birthday), Lalita Shastri asked for a probe into her husband’s death. The family seemed to be upset that Jan Mohammed, T.N. Kaul’s cook at the time, had cooked the food, not Ram Nath, his own personal servant. This was strange as the same Jan Mohammed had prepared food for Shastri when he visited Moscow in 1965.
Following newspaper reports, the old guard Congress party supported the demand for a probe into Shastri’s death. I asked Morarji Desai towards the end of October 1970 whether he really believed that Shastri did not die a natural death. Desai said: “That is all politics. I am sure there was no foul play. He died of a heart attack. I have checked with the doctor and his secretary, C.P. Srivastava, who accompanied him to Tashkent.”
Lal Bahadur Shastri
‘Nehru has Indira in mind’
As the days went by, instances (of humiliation) piled up. In fact, Shastri had to wait even to get an appointment with Nehru and at one point thought of resigning from the ministry. Once he told me that he would return to Allahabad. “There is nothing for me here now,” he said. He then added woefully: “If I continue to stay in Delhi, I am bound to come into a clash with Panditji. I would rather retire from politics than join issue with him.”
Many people told him that Nehru’s behaviour was influenced by Indira Gandhi’s “hostility” towards him. Initially Shastri would never encourage such doubts, but later he would go out of the way to find out if that was true. In due course, he became convinced that he was not uppermost in Nehru’s mind as his successor. Indira Gandhi was more open about ignoring him and would herself take important files to Nehru. I ventured to ask Shastri one day: “Who do you think Nehru has in mind as his successor?” “Unke dil mein to unki suputri hai (He has his daughter in his heart),” said Shastri, “but it won’t be easy,” he added. “People think you are such a staunch devotee of Nehru that you yourself will propose Indira Gandhi’s name after his death,” I said. “I am not that much of a sadhu as you imagine me to be. Who would not like to be India’s prime minister,” was Shastri’s reply.
‘We have the bomb’
Mushahid Hussain, editor of Muslim, a daily from Islamabad, invited me to his wedding (in 1987). He was a close friend who had once met me in Delhi when he was a lecturer, to seek my advice on whether he should take up journalism. I found his writing promising and predicted that he would one day make a good editor if he took to journalism seriously. Mushahid was at the airport to receive me when I landed in Islamabad. He told me that he would give me a ‘wedding gift’, and then whispered in my ear that A.Q. Khan, the nuclear scientist, had agreed to meet me. I was flabbergasted. True, I had asked him many times to arrange a meeting with A.Q. Khan but had never imagined he could pull it off.
When we reached A.Q. Khan’s house, the security guard spoke to Mushahid but did not even look towards me. That convinced me that the interview was sanctioned by the government. Khan was waiting at the verandah to welcome me. As he was leading me to the drawing room, he said he had been following my writings and was a “great fan” of mine. “They treated me very badly at Bhopal,” said Khan. That’s where he graduated. He was referring to his migration from India to Pakistan a few years after Partition. I told him that I came from Sialkot and had faced more or less the same privations. “The cake is delicious,” I said. “My wife baked it for you,” he replied.
I had heard he was very full of himself, and he matched the description to perfection. I annoyed him when I mentioned in passing that he had been hauled up before a Dutch court in a case for having “stolen” information from one of their nuclear laboratories. He raised his voice to deny the charge, adding that the court had cleared him. The question of whether India had tried to penetrate the secrets of Pakistan’s nuclear plant pleased him. Laughingly, he said that New Delhi had sent spies for the purpose, among them an Indian army major, but they had all been arrested.
My entire interview was directed towards learning whether or not Pakistan had made a nuclear bomb. He skirted all such questions, brushing me aside whenever I tried to be specific. It appeared to me that he had been permitted to give me this interview but at the same time had been told not to say anything specific. I praised him for being an outstanding scientist and the only one in the subcontinent who had two PhDs, one in metallurgy and the other in physics. I asked him whether he had any foreigner assisting him. He proudly said that his team comprised only Pakistanis.
I thought I would provoke him. Egoist as he was, he might fall for the bait. And he did. I concocted a story and told him that when I was coming to Pakistan, I ran into Dr Homi Sethna, the father of India’s nuclear bomb, who asked me why I was wasting my time because Pakistan had neither the men nor the material to make such a weapon. Khan was furious and began pounding his hand on the table: “Tell them we have it, we have it.” Mushahid was taken aback and looked distraught. I followed up Khan’s disclosure with the remark that it was easy to make such a claim but it needed to be corroborated. No test had so far been conducted to confirm that Pakistan possessed a nuclear bomb. He said that they had already tested the bomb in their laboratory. “Haven’t you heard of a prototype plane flying with the help of a simulator? We do not have to explode a nuclear bomb to ascertain its potency. Sensitive and advanced instruments in a laboratory can show the scale of the explosion. We are satisfied with the results.”
“Why haven’t you announced that you have a nuclear bomb,” I asked him point blank. “Is it necessary? America has threatened to cut off all its aid,” he replied. Khan said their bomb was larger than the one we had exploded in Rajasthan on May 18, 1974. “The US is aware that Pakistan has a nuclear bomb,” said Khan, “and what the CIA has been saying about our possessing a nuclear bomb is correct as are the speculations in the foreign media.”
Khan made no pretence that Pakistan’s nuclear programme was for peaceful purposes. “The word ‘peaceful’ associated with the nuclear programme is humbug. There is no ‘peaceful bomb’. Once you knew how to make reactors, how to produce the plutonium, all of which Pakistan has mastered, it became easy to produce a nuclear bomb.”
Jawaharlal Nehru-Edwina Mountbatten
‘Theirs was spiritual love’
My interest in finding out about Lady Mountbatten’s influence on Nehru did not slacken with time. I picked up the thread when I was India’s high commissioner in London in 1990. I learnt that Air India flights would carry Nehru’s daily letter, which the high commission dutifully delivered to Lady Mountbatten and daily collected her reply and forwarded it to Nehru. Nehru took officials to task whenever her letter was delayed.
During my stint in the UK, I met her grandson, Lord Romsey, who headed the Nehru Trust, which Mountbatten had constituted in London to arrange an annual lecture in Nehru’s memory. As high commissioner, I was an ex-officio member of the trust. Lord Romsey and I met many times in that connection. After meeting him a few times, I thought I had developed a sufficient equation to talk to him about his grandmother. He did not seem to mind.
I once broached the subject of Nehru’s letters with him. I said: “Nehru wrote beautifully.” His reply was that his grandmother too wrote beautifully. I told him I would love to see at least one of her letters. I had seen Nehru’s writings but not hers. He said that Rajiv Gandhi and he had exchanged copies of his grandmother’s and Nehru’s letters. There were two sets, one with him and the other with the Gandhi family. I realised then that it would be difficult to obtain access to them.
Nonetheless, I bluntly asked him one day whether his grandmother and Nehru had been in love. First he laughed and then wondered how he could describe their relationship. He paused for a while and said: “Theirs was ‘spiritual love’.” Then he changed the subject. I let the matter rest there. Lord Romsey subsequently said: “They fell in love; a kind of chivalrous love which was understood in the olden days. Nowadays when you talk of love, you think of sex. Theirs was more a soul-to-soul kind of relation. Nehru was an honourable man and he would never have seduced a friend’s wife.”
Back in Delhi, I tried to get access to the letters. I went to the Nehru Memorial Library and asked for the correspondence between Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Mountbatten. The librarian looked surprised. “You have to get permission from Mrs Sonia Gandhi,” he said and closed the topic. I wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi stating that I was working on a book on the Mountbattens and would like to see Nehru’s papers. She did not reply but Natwar Singh, then the state minister for external affairs, said that I could go to the library and consult the letters. I could hardly believe it. When the librarian placed before me a bundle of papers in a secluded room, I thought my efforts had borne fruit. I spent many hours sifting through the pile, but they proved to be Nehru’s letters and notes to Krishna Menon, who got him to change many policies on foreign affairs. My mission, however, was different.
I approached the librarian who said that my permission was for the ‘C’ grade papers. For this I would have to obtain Sonia Gandhi’s specific instructions. I wrote to her again. Once again Natwar Singh was the channel of communication. He told me the papers could not be made available to me.
There was no explanation. All he said was that they were her property and she alone could decide. I think Nehru’s letters are the nation’s property and should be made available to the public because they throw light on matters meaningful to our history. But this does not seem to be the general policy. The Government of India has not yet made public the papers relating to the transfer of power by the British to India while the UK has.
Lolita, Swan Lake and Meena Kumari
Too Risque for Comfort
Lal Bahadur Shastri, who, like Nehru, belonged to Allahabad, was conscious that he was way down in the social ladder in comparison to the Nehru family. After all, Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru’s father, was an iconic figure and a dashing social figure while Shastri was a struggling lower middle-class individual. I recall Indira Gandhi’s remark about “middle-class living” when she visited Shastri’s residence to consider whether she could move there after his death.
Shastri was impressed with English-speaking intellectuals who he thought came from highly educated families. Once he wrote a note on the Punjab situation and asked me to read it. I thought he wanted me to see whether his analysis tallied with mine as I came from Punjab, but to my surprise he wanted to know whether the note was well written. As I began reading it, Shastri said that even L.P. Singh, his favourite joint secretary, had praised his writing style.
Shastri’s note to Nehru on Punjab did not create any stir, but his letter on Vladimir Nabokov’s racy novel Lolita did. One Congress leader had written to Shastri that Lolita, which had reached bookshops in India, was so lewd that it should be banned. Shastri accordingly wrote to Nehru (L.P. Singh provided the draft) that the book should be banned. Prompt came Nehru’s reply the following morning (he replied to all correspondence within 24 hours) arguing at length why he thought Lolita should not be banned and why D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover should continue to be. Lolita wasn’t banned.
Shastri was not a moralist but he was a traditionalist. When he watched Swan Lake performed by the Bolshoi Ballet group in Leningrad, he was uncomfortable. At intermission, I asked if he was enjoying the show. He said he had felt embarrassed throughout because the legs of the dancers were naked, and amma, the word with which he addressed his wife (Lalita Shastri), was sitting by his side. He was equally embarrassed at the reception hosted by Kamal Amrohi in Bombay at the sets of his film, Pakeezah. Meena Kumari, then at the peak of her career, garlanded him and read out a small speech in his praise. Before responding, he took me aside and asked who the lady was. I was flabbergasted and told him that she was Meena Kumari, the leading film star in the country. He began his speech in Hindi—“Meena Kumari ji mujhe maaf karein”—for admitting that he had heard her name for the first time in his life.
Why August 15, 1947?
The process of division (of the country) was clumsy and hurried, particularly when Mountbatten advanced the date from June 3, 1948 to August 15, 1947. Why did he do this? …(His press secretary) Campbell-Johnson told me that Mountbatten selected August 15 because it was the day when the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, ending the Second World War. Some British Foreign Office hands disagreed with this reasoning. Their argument was that Mountbatten was lobbying for a more senior position in the Royal Navy and did not want his appointment in India to block his aspiration. When I checked with Mountbatten himself, he said he had to change the date because he could not hold the country together. “Things were slipping from my hands,” he said repeatedly. “The Sikhs were up in arms in the Punjab, the great Calcutta killing had taken place, and communal tension was prevailing all over. On top of it, there had been the announcement that the British were leaving. Therefore, I myself decided to quit sooner.…” “This was not to the liking of Lord Attlee,” Mountbatten added, “but he had given me full powers.”
Lalit Narayan Mishra
She (Indira Gandhi) realised her credibility was low; she said at a meeting to condole the death of L.N. Mishra (the rail minister killed in a bomb attack in Samastipur), “Even if I were to be killed, they would say that I myself had got it done.” Mishra was a dear friend. He rang me up at midnight before going to Samastipur that he had handed his resignation to her personally. He sadly remarked that he’d be killed at Samastipur and put down the phone. It proved to be true. He was murdered at Samastipur the following day. The murder mystery has not been resolved to this day.
Sanjay had heard about the book I was writing. Strangely, he asked me not to include any part of our conversation. I have, however, no obligation after his death and am therefore disclosing the gist of our conversation for the first time. The first question I asked Sanjay was how he thought that they would get away with it: the Emergency, the authoritarian rule, and the rest? He said there was no challenge to them and that they could have carried on with the Emergency for at least 20 to 25 years or more until they felt confident that they had changed people’s ways of thinking. In their scheme of things, he said, there would have been no elections and they would have ruled from Delhi, with the help of provincial satraps like Bansi Lal from Haryana and like-minded bureaucrats in other states. It would have been a different kind of governance, with power centralised in Delhi. In the scheme of Sanjay's rule, there was no Congress leader of eminence and experience. Anyone who wanted to be part of the form of governance he was contemplating had to believe in a state
completely devoid of fundamental rights, freedom of speech and expression. The judiciary would have to function accordingly. “Then why did you hold elections?” I asked Sanjay. He didn’t, he said. He was opposed to it to the very end. It was his mother's doing. “You should ask her,” he said. By then Indira Gandhi reappeared at the porch, probably wondering what we were discussing, but then rapidly retraced her steps.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
Making of a Terrorist
It was Sanjay Gandhi, known for his extra-constitutional methods, who suggested that some 'sant' should be put up to challenge the Akali government. Both Sanjay and Zail Singh, particularly the latter, knew how the former Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon had fought the Akalis. He had built up Sant Fateh Singh against Master Tara Singh, the Akali leader who had become a hard nut to crack…. As Sanjay's friend Kamal Nath, a member of Parliament, recalled: “The first one we
interviewed did not look a ‘courageous type’. Bhindranwale, strong in tone and tenor, seemed to fit the bill. We would give him money off and on,” Kamal Nath reminisced, “but we never thought he would turn into a terrorist.”
Dr Rajendra Prasad
Ms Lazarus from South
The prime minister and the home minister jointly decided on the final list (of Padma awardees). The President, who authorised the gazette notification, rarely amended the list. However, Dr Rajendra Prasad, the then president, made an exception on one occasion. He added 'Miss Lazarus from the south' in his own hand to the list. We in the ministry worked hard to find out who she was. There was an educationist by that name in Chennai and we informed her about the award of the Padmashri. However, when the list went back to Dr Prasad, he wrote that she was a nurse and returned the list. His adc informed us that she had treated him when he fell ill travelling by road from Vijayawada to Hyderabad. We were eventually able to locate her, and that year two ladies with the name Lazarus received the award.
The Man We All Loved
I have often told Pakistanis that Indian Muslims paid the price for constituting the new country. Helpless and abandoned, Muslims in India recalled Maulana Azad's warnings that after Partition their importance would be reduced to nothing. They rallied around him but it was too late. Hindus maintained a streak of respect for him, no matter how angry they were with Muslims in general. This was clear when he died on February 22, 1958. A ceaseless queue of non-Muslims flowed into his house through the night to pay respects. I was one of them. Nehru himself selected the site for Azad's burial near Jama Masjid. Azad had left behind piles and piles of books and papers which I tried to access in vain. I finally located the papers over 40 years ago in a trunk in the custody of the family of Ajmal Khan, Azad's private secretary. I wish someone would retrieve them because the papers belong to a significant period of our national struggle. There was no money in Azad's bank, nor was there any at home. Significantly, another Muslim cabinet minister, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, too died penniless. The fact that these Muslim ministers had no assets spoke a great deal about the integrity of nationalist Muslims.
Austerity to Opulence
I recall his phone call to the Statesman when I was resident editor, requesting me to have tea at his house. He held no government office then. We three, including his wife, sat on the floor and sipped tea.... They had very little furniture and no servant.... His wife was a struggling dancer seeking to gain recognition. When he requested me to give her publicity, I realised why he had invited me. I met the same Mukherjee some years later during Emergency. His house exuded opulence...the sitting room was cluttered with stylish furniture, plush carpets and sparkling silver. He was then commerce minister.