'India's tipping point: The view from 7 race course road' book review
Written in clumsy prose and a hagiographic tone, the book appears to be an exercise in vanity publishing.
Authors have different reasons for writing a book. It can range from the urge to inform, educate and entertain, to share memories that may soon fade. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, and one should not groan or grunt when a publication leaves the reader terribly disappointed. But,S Narendra isn’t an ordinary person. An officer who served for four decades in the Information Service, he rose to the top to become the press advisor to the controversial Prime Minister,
PV Narasimha Rao. Surely, he was well aware when he picked up the pin or hit the keyboard of what readers would expect from him. The title of the book is aimed to whet the appetite: The View from 7 Race Course Road. But, this fails to work the intended magic.
There have been other communication consultants to Indian PMs who have written readable, if not valuable, memoirs, but this slim volume is the dampest squib of all. Written in clumsy prose in an unabashedly hagiographic tone, it appears to be an exercise in vanity publishing.
The book is divided into 20 chapters of different lengths, and are titled in a mixed manner. For some, there’s a single dramatic word like ‘Brushfire’, and at other places, it is a whole sentence: ‘Sir, Why are You Running Away from a Probe?’ Seldom does the author free himself from the crutches of clichés: ‘A Caged Tiger pre-1991’, ‘Lives Twists and Turns, Gaining the PM’s Trust’. He describes Rao’s political style as unique, typical and classically diplomatic, avoiding bombast and rhetoric, and preferring pragmatism. Unfortunately, masks of patience and restraint are not always enough to disguise indecisiveness and timidity.
It is curious that Narendra steers clear of any mention of the tantrik Chandra Swami, a shady wheeler-dealer, who exercised considerable influence during the Rao years. The index doesn’t include Lakhubhai Pathak, the pickle king based in London, either. There is no description also of the distinction Rao acquired as an accused appearing in court while still in office. The writer suffers from an exaggerated sense of self-importance.
If his account is to be taken with more than a pinch of salt, it was Narendra who “swung into action” swiftly in times of crises that threatened catastrophe to save the situation. The worm’s eye view may, at times, provide an interesting perspective, refreshingly different from the soaring bird’s eye view. It stretches credulity when huffing and puffing, pulling strings at his level, ringing up persons from the office attendant at night to the topmost officers at BBC headquarters in London, Narendra averted an explosive Indo-Pak confrontation in J&K.
The sad story of the run-up to and the demolition of the Babri mosque is retold in a most unconvincing manner. Narendra tries, like Sancho Panza, to refurbish the badly dented image of the ‘knight’ he served that fateful night. Rao’s indecision, and ostrich-like reluctance to not face ground reality, made many suspect that his sympathies lay with the karsevaks.
Only the gullible will buy the argument that the wily old man had put everything at stake, “blindly trusting his old friends in the BJP––Advani and Vajpayee”. Rao may not have been complicit, but certainly aggravated the explosive situation by procrastination.
It’s easy, in hindsight, to blame the PM’s advisors who were supposed to be his eyes and ears, but the buck ultimately stopped with him. It serves no purpose to quote the Liberhan Commission’s comment: “…the Constitution of India was inadequate to deal with a political problem in which a public official, in this case the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, failed to honour his assurance given in a sworn affidavit to the highest court of the land.”
Narendra’s book is a pure play of memory; he hasn’t included a list of sources consulted, or books referred to. It is a case of speak-memory. The author does mention Vinay Sitapati’s substantial biography of Rao somewhere, but it doesn’t seem to have any difference to the substance or style of India’s Tipping Point.
The author has scrapped the bottom of the barrel to provide some semblance of body to the book. The 20-page chapter, ‘Was Rao a Reluctant Reformer?’, reproduces, verbatim, an official handout prepared by the Press Information Bureau, titled Upalabdhiyan 1995.As one puts this book aside, one is left with the feeling that poor, perpetually pouting PV deserved better than this.
India's tipping point: The view from 7 race course road
By: MS Narendra
Price: Rs 699