Monday, September 19, 2016


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Courage and Commitment by Margaret Alva ; Published by Rupa ; Pages 370 ;  Price Rs. 500/-


Margaret Alva finds a place among the longest serving members of the Indian Parliament. She  was elected to the Rajya Sabha four times, the Lok Sabha once. For her family it was a record of sorts—an Alva in Parliament from 1952 to 1998.Alva was Governor of four States and held significant positions in the Government of India as also the Congress Party. A favourite of Indira Gandhi, she continued to be part of the inner coterie of the Gandhi clan. She has had a ringside view of the major developments of four decades—the Emergency, Indira Gandhi’s election in Chikmagalur, Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Narasimha Rao’s  ushering in of liberalization and Sonia Gandhi’s entry into politics and the two terms of Manmohan Singh.

In her “ Autobiography” she recounts graphically her 1979 expulsion from the Congress party, her spats with Sanjay Gandhi , the Jain Hawala transaction and her resignation from the post of AICC General Secretary, One chapter is devoted to Devraj Urs.

There are no earth-shaking revelations and there are few shocks.

 Alva belonged to a dyed-in-the wool Congress  family but  became unacceptable to Sonia  when her son Nivedith was not given a ticket for the Karnataka assembly elections. She was forced to quit and bundled off  as the Governor of Uttarakhand.

She affirms that the Gandhis are experts in using and dumping politicians. We have an account of  how she went against  Sanjay Gandhi thrice during the Emergency . She opposed Rajiv Gandhi on the Shah Bano case . Rajiv once declared  in anger: "A fine minister I have---contradicting me in an open meeting. You were called in to help. If you could not support me, the least you could have done was shut up!") .She also has a delicious encounter with Fidel Castro in Cuba, who ends up sending a prescient warning for Rajiv Gandhi through her---to alert him that his finance minister V.P. Singh is up to no good and will end up betraying him.

What emerges clearly is the dominance of the Gandhis who believed that there ought to be only one dynasty in the Congress party and brooked no rivals. Alva recalls how  “the gun carriage bearing Narasimha’s  body was not allowed to enter the AICC headquarters. Instead it was parked on the pavement outside the gates, with chairs for party leaders.”
Alva makes a few  revelations in  the book.

-- The decision by the Narasimha Rao government to appeal against a Delhi High court order quashing the Bofors case linking Rajiv Gandhi made Sonia  suspicious of him. Alva, who was the minister in charge of CBI at that time, says Sonia once asked her whether Rao wanted to send her to jail.

-- CPN Singh, a minister in Indira Gandhi's government, and Sanjay Gandhi had links with Wolfgang Michel, father of middleman Christian Michel both arms—dealers. 

--Sanjay Gandhi's Emergency atrocities had Indira Gandhi's approval. She had declared, “ Any attack on Sanjay is an attack on me.”

 Alva's expose on the style of functioning of the Congress High Command is of some meaning.One example.

 In the 2004 Lok Sabha election in Kerala  Congress party fared abysmally. The CPM bagged  19 of the 20 seats, leaving a lone seat to the Indian Union Muslim League, an ally of the Congress. A.K.Antony, also of the Gandhi family's "inner circle", was the State's Chief Minister then. Sonia sent Alva and   R.L. Bhatia to Kerala to inquire into the debacle. "The complaint was," Alva writes, "that A.K.Antony cared only about his image, to the exclusion of all else. He neglected the party." Antony was replaced by Oommen Chandy.

 In 2008, Alva  alleged openly that the party lost the Assembly election to the BJP in Karnataka only because it had "sold" tickets, offering them to the highest bidders instead of deserving ones. This was quite an explosion resulting in her expulsion from the party on the recommendation of Antony. Antony got even with her !

Alva also makes it clear that   Sonia and Rahul have their own, separate inner circles.

 Faced with disciplinary action, Alva resigned as the Congress General Secretary but was pretty quick to patch up with Sonia . She  was happy to become Governor of Uttarakhand in 2009 and of Rajasthan in 2012.

 Alva expresses her  displeasure at Rao’s body not being placed in AICC headquarters. “He was a Congress president. He should have got his due in his death.”

We end with a charming anecdote. Justice Hidayatullah, Chairman of Rajya Sabha  told  her that  he pitied her husband who had to deal with her at home. Margaret Alva’s riposte “I’ve my husband’s permission to make as much of a noise as I want in Parliament as long as I keep the peace at home.”


18 /  09  /  2016

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