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.
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.
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.