Virendra Kapoor is a political commentator based in Delhi
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An ego clash at Kuldip Nayar's book release and what sitting MPs fear

VETERAN JOURNALIST Kuldip Nayar’s 16th and last book, On Leaders and Icons: From Jinnah to Modi, was released at a gala function a few days ago in one of the finest five-star hotels of the capital. In this book, Kuldip reminisces about events of pre-Partition days in the Modi era. Celebrities whom he met, what they said and saucy tidbits about them are all littered in the unputdownable book. Now, you would expect Kuldip to write about politicians, but his insider account of filmstars of his time came as an eye-opener. For example, he throws new light on the life of Bollywood’s famous tragedienne, Meena Kumari. How she was exploited by her estranged husband Kamal Amrohi, how she fell head over heels in love with Dharmendra, who nonetheless did not show up at her funeral, and the most sensational of all revelations that Kamal Amrohi’s brother was behind her death because he believed she had brought shame to the family due to her excessive drinking and the much- talked about affair with the then struggling Jat hero from the back of beyond in Punjab.

Even as the who’s who of the capital sat engrossed flipping through the book while simultaneously catching snatches of the tributes paid to the late author, there was a little drama going on behind the scenes. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had begged off at the last minute, declining to release the book; his excuse was that Kuldip had written that PMO files were sent to 10 Janpath, something various others, including Sanjaya Baru, his media advisor, had duly committed to paper. Kuldip’s sons, Rajiv, a senior high court lawyer, and Sudhir, an ex-Hindustan Lever executive, were now hard put to arrange another speaker. Former UPA minister Kapil Sibal and ex- diplomats Pawan Verma and Hardeep Puri, a Union Minister in his new avatar as a politician, were joined by Navtej Sarna, till recently our man in Washington. Sarna was called in on the morning of the book release. Well- known TV anchor Rajdeep Sardesai moderated the discussion.

However, what surprised everyone in the crowded ballroom of the recently renovated hotel was Sibal engaging alone with Sardesai while former diplomats, Pavan Verma, Navtej Sarna and diplomat-turned- Minister Hardeep Puri waited on the side of the stage. Two separate sessions looked odd while all four were to discuss the book. Until yours truly learnt from the actors involved that Sibal declined to share the stage with the others, allegedly on the ground that all three were junior to him. To soften the blow, the three were told that Sibal was in a hurry to leave for another function. Puri, however, thought that Sibal’s reluctance to share the stage with him stemmed from the mauling he had received at his hands when both had participated in a discussion on his book at the recent Jaipur Literature Festival, despite the session being moderated by the feisty Sagarika Ghosh who flaunts her anti-saffron credentials on her sleeves. When the other two former diplomats learnt of the real reason for Sibal’s reluctance, one of them cattily commented, “How can he call us ‘juniors’ when he failed not once but twice in the Indian Foreign Service exam?” Amen!

THE PARLIAMENTARY poll is upon us. Most sitting MPs are not weighing their chances of winning, which will come later, but being fielded yet again by their parties. In the national capital, BJP chief Amit Shah is set not to repeat at least three of the seven MPs. Their names are on the chopping block. The other three are certain to get BJP tickets. The fate of one is hanging in the balance. Heading the list of those to be denied tickets is the member from New Delhi constituency, Meenakshi Lekhi. The chatter in the party is overwhelmingly against her, though often this is attributed to her not being a good constituency MP while proving her worth in Parliament. Unfortunately, what counts with voters is whether you have got someone a job, someone else’s uncle a transfer, someone’s child school admission, etcetera. Distortions in the role of a Parliament member have been the undoing of several leaders in the past. Meenakshi seems to be falling victim to an injection of the local in national politics.

AND THEY SAY there are clamps on India’s free media imposed by the Modi Sarkar. In the ongoing hearing of the Kulbhushan Jadhav case at the Hague, Pakistan’s Attorney General approvingly quoted two Indian journalists, Karan Thapar and Raghav Bahl of Bloomberg Quint. Need not say more.