Whodunit? Political and literary circles are intrigued over the authorship of a moving tribute to Rajiv Gandhi. Published in The Week magazine under the pseudonym ‘A Kindred Spirit’, the article is a special feature on the late prime minister to mark his 30th death anniversary.
Is it Sonia Gandhi? Rahul Gandhi? Or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra?
Manickam Tagore, Congress MP from Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar, considered part of Rahul Gandhi’s inner circle, raised the query in a tweet on 21 May 2021: “Can you guess who is the author?”
Those doubting that the article is written by a Nehru-Gandhi family member point out its “impersonal nature”. However, the counter-argument is that this impersonal writing style was intentional because it was an anonymous article.
Why it cannot be Sonia or Priyanka…
The Week’s editors, Gandhi family, and the Congress have maintained a studied silence. Some think it could be the good doctor, Manmohan Singh, or one of the senior party leaders such as P. Chidambaram, A.K. Antony, or Jairam Ramesh. But a closer look makes that possibility highly improbable. Why would these worthies not lend their names when the magazine’s list of contributors on Rajiv consists of the likes of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Bhupesh Baghel, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Sam Pitroda, Salman Khurshid, Sunita Kohli, Wajahat Habibullah and others who had worked closely with Rajiv as politicians, technocrats and friends.
Those familiar with Sonia Gandhi’s writings rule her out. In Rajiv [Penguin, 1992], as author and editor, she has written a first-person account, revealing the former prime minister’s life through recollections and reflections. The book uses pictures and captions, interweaving the former PM’s personal history as it unfolded.
Sonia’s writing style comes through wherever she was present as a participant or a witness. Her writings are in public domain in a range of books she edited or wrote forewords for, such as the two volumes of Two Alone, Two Together: Letters Between Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru [Hodder & Stoughton Ltd], and Selected Sayings (Indira Gandhi) [Penguin, 2009].
Similarly, as a co-author, Priyanka Gandhi gives a clear glimpse of her writing skills in the coffee table book Ranthambhore: The Tiger’s Realm [Sujan Art Pvt Ltd, 2011] that she co-authored with friends Anjali and Jaisal Singh.
Following this process of elimination, Rahul Gandhi appears to be a credible author of the recent article on Rajiv in The Week. The article begins with a reference to the Covid-19 pandemic catastrophe where the ‘Kindred Spirit’ longs for a healing touch. “Our people require genuine hand-holding, untiring resolve and relentless hard work to tide over the crisis and its aftermath. These painful times remind me of one of India’s most compassionate prime ministers, Rajiv Gandhi.”
The tribute to Rajiv turns political when the author says, “as the country is going through an unprecedented national health crisis under a callous leadership which has been found wanting on every count, it is good to recall the life of a youthful leader, who not only dared to dream but implemented massive transformation and change without fanfare and with enduring effect.”
Rajiv Gandhi’s passion for science and technology gets highlighted in the article with the use of key words such as “modernization”, and “technology as a tool of equality and empowerment and information technology”. “Despite the naysayers mocking him and his set of reformists as ‘computer boys’ unconnected to India’s reality, he pushed forward to thrust India into the first line of the league of nations.”
Change with continuity, a Congress mantra for justifying economic reforms of 1991 comes next in The Week article: “The rubric of economic reform was the propellant to fire up India’s economy. The 1985 budget, framed under his guidance, broke the old mindsets. The budget initiated a bold process of modernisation, starting the deregulation of the economy. The process was irreversible and opened the way to the path-breaking reforms of 1991. No wonder India’s GDP grew at double digits and the economy bounced back”
Rajiv Gandhi’s rule by ‘accords’ to keep India together also gets a mention: “The Punjab Accord; the Assam Accord; the Mizoram Accord; the Darjeeling Accord, to name a few. While difficulties, sometimes grave, beset the process of implementing the accords, the direction of the country was significantly altered from the path of confrontation to the path of reconciliation.”
For the author, the former prime minister’s most “penetrating insights into the political system” made him attempt to get rid of the “brokers of power” who according to him, “insinuate themselves as intermediaries between the people and their elected representatives in Delhi and the state capitals”. “This realisation set him on a path to ensure “maximum democracy” and “maximum devolution” up to the grassroots to ensure true “power to the people”, writes ‘A Kindered Spirit’.
‘A Kindred Spirit’ also recalls how Rajiv had overruled his own party to send then leader of opposition, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to the United Nations as India’s representative.
“Political prejudices did not ruffle him, nor did the invectives or insinuations, for he believed in his commitment to bring about a paradigm shift in governance in India.” For Rajiv, “political opponents were not his enemies but only compatriots seeking their place in the polity,” says the author.
More political colours follow in the feature article. The author refers to Rajiv’s statement in Parliament that “only a secular India could survive” and emphasises the late prime minister’s assertion “that perhaps an India that was not secular did not deserve to survive”.
To conclude, ‘A Kindered Spirit’ says, “the greatest memorial to his (Rajiv Gandhi) life’s work would be to restore the nation to its innate culture of compassion, of healing and reconciliation, of harnessing intellectual independence and technological adroitness, of entrusting and believing the young, and finally, igniting India’s economy on principles of economic prosperity with equality. This would be the true affirmation of Rajiv Gandhi’s life.”
How Nehru and Rao used ‘writing’
If the writing belongs to Rahul Gandhi, then the former Congress president seems to be following the footsteps of his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru and former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, both of whom used to occasionally write in prominent publications without identifying themselves.
According to Nehru’s biographer Benjamin Zachariah, the former prime minister dwelled on the idea of starting a paper in 1936 when he was frustrated with Congress’ internal politics and wanted a platform to vent out. Zachariah wrote, “Faced with his own entanglement in the reactionary tendencies that controlled the Congress, in which he was unable to make an impact, Jawaharlal took refuge in journalism. In 1936, he began to consider running his own newspaper; on 9 September 1938, the inaugural issue of the National Herald appeared from Lucknow.” Zachariah claims that Nehru wrote some unsigned editorials presenting to a wider audience — some of the principles he was quite unable to stand for in open public life.
Similarly, P.V. Narasimha Rao had sought help from his journalist friend Nikhil Chakravarthy to vent his dissent within the Congress when he penned a series of articles in Mainstream under the pseudonym ‘A Congressman’.
Much like Nehru of the 1930s and Rao of the 1970s, Rahul is unhappy with the current state of the Congress. If Rahul has indeed authored The Week article, should he not be writing more often to communicate his vision?
Rasheed Kidwai is an ORF visiting fellow, author and journalist. The views expressed here are his own. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)