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Why is Karan Thapar complaining? His dynasty holds a key to Lutyens’ Delhi

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The Thapar clan was among the elite of undivided Punjab and then New Delhi, with connections to the Nehru-Gandhis and Khushwant Singh.

New Delhi: Karan Thapar’s new book Devil’s Advocate tells the reader a number of interesting things, notwithstanding the fact that the veteran journalist has friends in high places. The book, which was released on 20 July, was frantically scanned by media houses in a race to publish the juiciest extract; Thapar’s autobiography, after all, would include a behind-the-scenes account of two of his most controversial interviews — J. Jayalalithaa and Narendra Modi.

One thing is clear: In terms of access, there are very few doors and drawing rooms that Thapar can complain of being denied entry into. And yet, complain he does.

“No doubt there’s the odd minister whom I am friendly with—Arun Jaitley being the principal example, but the vast majority (of BJP ministers), with whom I used to get on extremely well, found reasons or excuses to shun me within a year of Mr Modi becoming prime minister,” Thapar writes in a recent extract published by The Wire, titled ‘Why Modi Walked Out in 2007 and the BJP Now Shuns Me’.

Simultaneously, ThePrint carried a segment highlighting Thapar’s daredevil adventures with his close childhood friend Sanjay Gandhi.

“I first got to know Sanjay as my sister Shobha’s friend. It was the early 1960s, Daddy was army chief and we were living in Army House on what was still called King George’s Avenue (now Rajaji Marg) in Delhi. At the time, Sanjay was the prime minister’s grandson and studying at St Columba’s School,” Thapar writes.

Evidently, the TV anchor has been largely welcomed on either end of the political spectrum. One could argue that he holds a key to Lutyens’s Delhi, one which was fated and forged for him long before he discovered his anchoring potential.

The Thapar dynasty 

Born in 1855, Karan Thapar’s paternal grandfather was Diwan Bahadur Kunj Behari Thapar of Lahore. He belonged to a section of the Punjabi elite that came into new wealth as commission agents for the British.

Kunj Behari Thapar was also one of four people, including Umar Hayat Khan, Chaudhary Gajjan Singh and Rai Bahadur Lal Chand, who donated Rs 1.75 lakh to the fund of Punjab governor Sir Michael O’Dwyer — the man who backed the actions of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer during the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Kunj Behari Thapar was also awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1920 for his loyalty.

Also read: Jains of Jodhpur: How a tiny community ruled India’s Supreme Court

Kunj Behari Thapar had three sons — Daya Ram, Prem Nath and Pran Nath — as well as five daughters.

Daya Ram and Pran Nath (Karan’s father) launched a network of familial affiliations which would keep the Thapar clan politically and socially relevant for years to come.

General Pran Nath Thapar served as an Indian Army chief, under whose leadership India lost a war against China in 1962, forcing him to resign in disgrace on 19 November that year.

In March 1936, Thapar had married Bimla Bashiram Sahgal, the sister of Gautam Sahgal, who would later marry Nayantara Sahgal in 1944.

Nayantara is an Indian writer in English, the second of three daughters born to Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, whose brother was Jawaharlal Nehru. Vijaya Lakshmi, daughter of Motilal Nehru, was an active member of India’s freedom struggle. She served as a member of the Constituent Assembly, and India’s ambassador to the Soviet Union, the United States, Mexico, the Court of St James, and Ireland. In 1953, she became the first woman to preside over the United Nations General Assembly.

Bimla Sahgal’s sister, Karan’s maternal aunt, was married to V.P. Menon’s son — a fact Karan mentions himself while countering L.K. Advani’s blog titled When V.P. Menon cornered a British General, dated 17 November 2013. Menon played an integral role in India’s post-Partition political integration, serving as the secretary to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Deputy PM.

Pran Nath and Bimla had four children: Shobha, Premila, Kiran, and Karan, who is the youngest sibling.

Daya Ram Thapar was the oldest of the three brothers, and was a medical student in Edinburgh. He volunteered for medical service in the Indian military, eventually retiring as Director General of the Indian Armed Forces Medical Services. He had a son, Romesh Thapar, and two daughters, Bimla and Romila.

Romila Thapar is one of India’s foremost historians. She is regarded as Left-leaning in her historical analyses, with the focus of her study being ancient India. In 2004, the US Library of Congress appointed her as the first holder of the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South. She also declined the Padma Bhushan in 2005.

Romesh Thapar was born in Lahore in 1922, and was sent by his family to England to pursue his education. The post-war socialist discourse popular in British universities had a deep impact on Romesh, thereby laying the foundations for his affiliation with the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

By the 1950s, however, as the late theatre personality Habib Tanvir wrote in his memoirs, Romesh “grew distant from the Communist Party but his political views remained leftist to the end”. This distancing, according to human rights activist and lawyer Nandita Haksar’s account of the time, came after Romesh’s left-leaning publication Crossroads was banned by the erstwhile state of Madras for publishing what was perceived as anti-Congress content.

Romesh fought a case against the ban in the Supreme Court in 1950, with the apex court ruling in his favour.

Along with his wife Raj, Romesh launched a monthly journal called Seminar in 1959, which established a loyal, powerful readership base in Nehru’s socialist dispensation. In the late 1960s, Romesh and Raj were part of the intellectual elite that was privy to political undercurrents at the Centre. Known to be members of the ‘inner cabinet’, they enjoyed close proximity to Indira Gandhi, a friendship that only strengthened after Nehru’s death.

Raj and Romesh Thapar had two children, Malvika (Mala) Singh and Valmik Thapar.

Valmik Thapar married Sanjana Kapoor, actor Shashi Kapoor’s daughter, and is one of India’s most respected wildlife conservation experts today. Valmik has produced documentaries for the BBC, Animal Planet, Discovery and National Geographic.

Malvika Thapar married Tejbir ‘Jugnu’ Singh, son of one of New Delhi’s most pre-eminent families (see below) that built the new capital when it shifted here from Kolkata.

Together, Malvika and Tejbir ran Seminar after the death of her parents. Malvika is also currently an adviser to the government of Rajasthan on culture and tourism.

Malvika and Valmik also launched a government project to beautify Rajasthan’s railway platforms in 2016.

The Singh dynasty

Tejbir Singh is the grandson of Sir Sobha Singh, a key witness in the bomb explosion in Parliament on 8 April 1929. It was Singh who identified Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt during his testimony, as a result of which Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Tejbir and Malvika’s ancestry mirrored each other — Sobha Singh’s loyalty to the British, a lot like Kunj Behari Thapar’s, is what won him immense wealth and prestige. He, along with Sujan Singh, were awarded the contract to build Lutyens’s Delhi after Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy of India, announced the plan to move the British Indian capital to Delhi from Calcutta (as it was known then).

Sir Sobha Singh’s younger brother Sardar Ujjal Singh would become a parliamentarian as well as the governor of Punjab, and later Tamil Nadu.

Sir Sobha Singh had four sons, Bhagwant, Khushwant, Gurbaksh and Daljit, and a daughter, Mohinder Kaur.

Khushwant Singh was a prominent journalist, author, and politician, who served as a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1980 to 1986. Singh was often criticised for what was seen as an apologist stance towards Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. He was a vocal Congress supporter, who received the Padma Bhushan in 1974 — an award that he returned in 1984 as a mark of protest against Operation Blue Star. He was then awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2007, the second-highest civilian award in the country. He died in March 2014.

Mohinder Kaur, Khushwant Singh’s sister, is the paternal grandmother of actor Amrita Singh. Shivinder Singh Virk, a general in the Indian Army and socialite Rukhsana Sultana are her parents.

Sultana, a close friend of Sanjay Gandhi, is remembered in modern Indian history for her notorious role in the massive sterilisation programme during the Emergency, which she defended on multiple occasions.

Amrita Singh married fellow actor Saif Ali Khan in 1991. He is the son of late Mansur Ali Khan, Pataudi, former India cricket captain, and actor Sharmila Tagore. Amrita and Saif divorced in 2004.

An earlier version of the report identified Romesh Thapar as a member of the CPI(M), but he was never an active member of the party. The error is regretted.

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  1. Arguments are nonsensical. Writer is on a personal vendetta. Karan Thapar is one of India’s best known journalists—erudite, polished, engaging, and at the same time unrelenting in his approach to sensitive issues. News anchors everywhere have their biases. After all, they are human. But, one should recognize quality of reporting and talent for journalism when one sees it.

  2. A garbage of an “article”. Arguments are flimsy to say the least. Writer is on a personal vendetta. Utter garbage. Karan Thapar is one of India’s best known journalists—erudite, polished, engaging, and at the same time unrelenting in his approach to sensitive issues. News anchors everywhere have their biases. After all, they are human. But, one should recognize quality of reporting and talent for journalism when one sees it.

  3. Finally an article that explains the opportunistic traitor and their descendants continuing subversive and sabotaging action against the beloved country.
    Reading Khushwant Singh article as teenagers I would always wonder why if this guy such an anti national?
    Great article.

  4. his family is anglicised pump brothel slut family his grand father was dyer agent in jailanwalah bagh his father pnthapar nehru responsible for China in 1962 nayantara sahagal left thapar make bczc of adultery romila thapar sleeveless sexy concubine of communist 3 rd rate historian

  5. line of thinking of Karan Thapar exposes
    Todi S of INDIA
    Benefactors from British and GandhiS
    Speaks with a face of Constipated patient in need of enema

  6. I used to enjoy his interviews until I saw him literally putting words in Kapil Sibal’s mouth. His dishonesty came through.

  7. What is the point of this article? It is bizzare in the least. It is an attempt to drag the family name through mud by pointing out how illustrious the members of the Thapar family and the ones related to them were and are!

  8. This article sheds light on Karans lineage of traitors, successive generations how they acquired positions to downcast our country! From Jallianwala Bach to Bhagat Singh to losing the war against China! Now that he’s not getting any chance to denigrate our country, he’s complaining thus… He’s truly an advocate of the Devil!!!

    • All others who have read this article could not understand the purpose of this article, detailed lineage etc. You have rightly thrown light on the this aspect.

  9. In spite of whatever has been said about Karan Thapar,he remains one of the best, if not the best interviewer in the country.It is a pity that the present media cannot use his services.Has whatever been said here is out of sheer jealously?

    PS: Whatever reaction has been given in response to my comment is bullish. I do not have the time to do whatever has been suggested.

  10. In spite of whatever has been said about Karan Thapar,he remains one of the best, if not the best interviewer in the country.It is a pity that the present media cannot use his services.Has whatever been said here is out of sheer jealously?

  11. That is why now a days i firmly behold that the writer of an article should clarify her/his political stand as it helps the reader to engage with a particular article in a fruitful way. It clearly is demonstrated here through Nandita’s writing that she holds some sort of grudge or apprehensions towards Karan Thapar else there is no point in writing a article to EXPOSE his dynasty using his book as a cover. Having said that, it is a very informative article to understand the politics of Karan Thapar and I think it should have been like that from the very beginning itself.

    • Political leaning is exactly what she wanted to highlight and you got it. Of Mr Holier than Thou You Thapar

  12. Not understood what all this family history of Karan Thapar has to do with Modi and his circle bycotting him. High family connections can be a justification for boycotting a journalist?

  13. Ohh beautiful family history of karan thapar. So he has powerful eye to grab anybody in klutch and put in transe everyone including narendra modi. He has historical blood in his vain. We proud of it. Nowadays he is not seen on media. Why ? Answer.

  14. How does it answer the actual issue? Does the writer think that because of Modiji Karan Thapar is jobless and begging in streets?

  15. I respect your portal..and I’m a regular reader of the same…

    I simply can’t understand the rationale behind this article elaborating on his lineage…

    He has never allowed his past to interfere in his present…

    He has never been biased ..

    I’m really sorry…do you have any hidden agenda against him…

    I also read the article where you have rightly pointed out that he shouldn’t have disclosed the sources as per ethics of journalism…

    But this article … What is there …

    We know Karan Thapar as he is…we are simply not interested in his lineage…

    Thank you…

  16. If i was born with silver spoon like Karan Thapar i too would be cambridge educated and run shows like him. Neither i had elite well connected family nor the political patronage to take me to next level

  17. Strange article ! To publish – with a diagram (!) Karan’s entire genealogy just for saying a correct thing: yes, he will be refused access in the present set up for obvious reasons. Rather than debating those reasons, why onion-out his past generations?

  18. I fail to understand the rationale behind this article except that it is clearly meant to denigrate Mr. Karan Thapar. Mr. Thapar is an excellent journalist. Ms Nandita Singh on the other hand has shown the standards journalism is capable of falling to. What else except defamation could be the objective of this article? Never expected this from The Print!

  19. I never understood why, if someone tries to portray himself as a journalist with principles, had to repeatedly offer his apologies, as Karan went on in his narrative. Secondly what is the intellectual honesty one can claim if one violates the promise not to divulge what someone else has confided in him. Just another book to sensationalise and sell somehow. By the way one of the newspapers that has rushed to publish the exerpts didnt have the journalistuc integrity to publish similar comments sent to them. Such people cannot complain against Mr.Modi who atleast has a stand to take and boldly sticks to it

  20. Jaat na poochho sadhu ki, poochh lijo gyaan. A fascinating genealogy. I have watched many of Shri Karan Thapar’s shows. He does his research, runs a tight ship, sometimes feel a little sorry for guests whom he cuts short. Honestly cannot recall any instance when he has been biased or unethical as a journalist. 2. He is being faulted for pursuing, with growing desperation, continuing access to senior figures in the ruling dispensation. If he was doing this to secure an out of turn allotment of a petrol pump, that would be wrong. Doing shows is – used to be, for he has been driven off the air – his rozi roti. A man cannot be faulted for wanting to keep the home fires burning. 3. Journalists are canaries in the mine. Drive them away and wait for it to fill up with methane.

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