New Delhi: He grew up
in a family that aligned its destiny with the turbulent politics
of post-independence India and fell apart for it. London-based
biographer-historian Zareer Masani, who courted controversy with a
biography of Indira Gandhi, feels dynasty is deeply rooted in the
Indian political tradition.
But Masani, the son of free market political guru Minoo Masani and
"an Indira Gandhi loyalist" Shakuntala, told IANS he has "not let
the dynastic pressures of politics touch his vocation".
He has returned to India with a new biography of his parents -
"And All Is Said: Memoir of a Home Divided (Penguin-India)".
"Dynasty is deeply rooted in the Indian tradition," he said. "In
most political families, children want to swallow the family's
politics to achieve power office. The problem with the
Nehru-Gandhi family is all about 'kursi' (chair) actually rather
than in believing in anything very much," Masani told IANS in an
Today, people will not be bothered by the fact that Rahul Gandhi
is "expected to be in his father's shoes".
"Blood ties still play an important role in modern India. People
still venerate 'maharajas' and the parliamentary political system
reflects it...Whose son or daughter you are is very important.
Parentage should be one of the factors, but meritocracy should be
the deciding factor," Masani said.
Criticism has been Masani's literary signature - and in a way also
a bane. In 1975, he earned the ire of the Congress party with a
biography of late prime minister Indira Gandhi in which he
criticised her authoritarian rule.
The writer said he "could not return to India from London after
the biography was published because he was warned that he was on
Sanjay Gandhi's hit list".
"They wanted me to delete the last chapter of the book because it
was there that I had criticised Indira Gandhi, her authoritarian
policies and Sanjay Gandhi's rise. There was pressure on me
through my mother to stop being critical," Masani said.
The writer, however, returned to India in 1977 to cover the
general election after the emergency was lifted, he said.
In his new biography, Masani bares the roller-coaster lives of his
Zareer Masani was a Congress party member between 1970 and 1975.
"But I was opposed to emergency. By 1974, it was clear that Indira
Gandhi was becoming authoritarian from the way she was cracking
down on the Left. My father (Minoo Masani) disapproved of it from
the start. My mother was pro-Indira Gandhi...It was difficult to
convince her that it was a mistake," Masani told IANS.
Twice-married Minoo Masani, the founder of the pro-market
Swatantra Party, and Shakuntala, the daughter of industrialist
J.P. Srivastava, a British Raj loyalist from Uttar Pradesh, were
united by a love marriage but divided in their temperament,
lifestyles and political affiliations.
Shakuntala was brought up in the lap of luxury while Masani was
austere in personal life despite promoting "free market economic
model". Their politics eventually led to their acrimonious divorce
in the 1980s, when Minoo Masani was 84.
"The cultural difference between the two was marked in some ways..
though both the families were Westernised. My mother's family was
based in the Lucknawi arts and culture of Uttar Pradesh. Her
father was the fifth largest industrialist of his time. My father
was from a middle-class professional background, which looked down
upon money. My mother missed the luxurious life," Masani said.
The writer said his "mother supported Minoo Masani's Swatantra
Party out of personal loyalty".
"But I influenced her to become pro-Indira in 1970. She became a
part of it and the Congress made full use of it by taking her
canvassing for the Congress candidate in Delhi to the press. My
father felt bad about it," Masani said.
Walking through his father's political journey, Masani said, "The
Swatantra Party was completely different because it rejected
Nehru's model of a planned economy for what it called a
free-market opposed to the 'neta-babu permit-license raj'. It had
a pro-Western foreign policy as opposed to Nehru's appeasement of
the Soviet Union."
Masani tried to convince his mother to leave the Congress, but she
refused. She remained a party loyalist till the end of her life.
The writer, who still is a socialist, pursues his own vocation.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)