The Tribune - Spectrum


, September 29, 2002

Book extract
A hilarious peek into the PMO

AT last we were in agreement. And we moved on to another matter that has been causing me the most profound ongoing irritation. ‘May we now discuss the equally vexed question of your predecessor’s memoirs?’

As if we hadn’t had enough trouble with Chapter Eight, it seemed that he had now started work on his final chapter, the one that concerned his resignation and my accession to the Prime Ministership. And, to that end, he wanted access to certain government papers.

I asked if we couldn’t find any way to stop this bloody autobiography before it ruined my career. Little did I know that my wish was about to be granted.

Mathur shook his head sadly, ‘Memoirs and autobiographies, alas, are an occupational hazard.’ And he sighed deeply.

I couldn’t think why he was sighing. I was the one who was being bambooed. And it was not even what he had written that upset me — it was the betrayal! Until I read the first eight chapters of his book I thought he was a friend of mine!

For instance, in the draft that arrived this morning he had called me dobla. Two-faced. I had shown it to Kaul.

‘Very wrong’ was Kaul’s gratifying comment.

I was grateful for the vote of confidence.

‘And unforgivably indiscreet,’ Kaul went on.

‘Indiscreet?’ I looked at him, surprised.

‘And wrong!’ Kaul added emphatically.

‘How can he tell such lies about me?’ I asked rhetorically.

‘What lies?’ asked Kaul. ‘Oh I see,’ he quickly added.


Really, Kaul is sometimes remarkably slow in understanding. How could he have thought I had changed the subject? But apparently he did.

Why had the former Pradhanmantri written this garbage? Simply so that he’d increase the sales of the book by inventing stories? I thought not. Some people lie not because it is in their interest but because it is in their nature. ‘He is an ek-number-ka vile, treacherous, malevolent, nalayak, kameena aadmi,’ I told Kaul, ‘and if he’s hoping to get any Padma Shri or Padma Bhushan or other honours he’s a fool. He will not get one bit of official recognition as long as I’m here.’

I regretted this outburst, because at that moment the phone rang. Kaul took the call.

‘Yes?.... Look, is this important, because...Oh!...Ah!...Oh! Dead on arrival?...I see.’

Solemnly he replaced the receiver.

‘Bad news, Kaul?’ I asked.

‘Yes and no,’ he replied cautiously. ‘Your predecessor, the former Prime Minister of the Republic of India, has just died of heart attack.’

‘What a tragedy,’ I said immediately. I knew how to say the right things on such occasions.

‘Indeed,’ replied Kaul and Mathur in chorus.

‘A great man, mahaan neta,’ I said, for the record.

‘A mahaan neta,’ they repeated in unison.

‘He will be sorely missed,’ I said. After all, someone was bound to miss him.

‘Sorely missed,’ echoed the double act on the other side of the table.

‘And so will his memoirs,’ I added.

‘Which will never be finished,’ said Kaul.

‘Alas!’ sighed Mathur.

‘Alas!’ I said.


Kaul tried to comfort me. ‘Kshama kare, Pradhanmantriji, I must say that I think you worry too much about what the papers say.’

I smiled at him. How little he knew. ‘Kaul,’ I said with a weary smile, ‘only a civil servant could make that remark. I have to worry about them, especially with the Party conference around the corner. These rumours of a stock market scandal won’t go away.’

But Mathur was unflappable. ‘Let’s not worry about it until there’s something more than a rumour, Pradhanmantriji. May I show you the Cabinet agenda?’

I wasn’t interested. ‘Please, Mathursaheb,’ I said. ‘The newspapers are far more important.’

‘With respect, Pradhanmantriji,’ replied Mathur impertinently, riled by my refusal to look at his silly agenda, ‘they are not. The only way to understand newspapers is to remember that they pander to their readers’ prejudices.’

Mathur knew nothing about newspapers. He was also a civil servant. As a politician, I knew all about them. I had to. They could make or break me. I knew exactly who read them. The Times of India was read by the people who ran the country. The Hindustan Times was read by the people who thought they ran the country. The Indian Express was read by the people who thought they ought to run the country. The Asian Age was read by the people who thought the country ought to be run by another country. The Pioneer was read by people who didn’t know who ran the country but were sure they were doing it wrong. The Mid-Afternoon was read by the wives of the people who ran the country. The Economic Times was read by the people who owned the country. The Business Standard was read by the people who thought the country ought to be run as it used to be run. And the Mid-day’s readers didn’t care who ran the country provided the Recipe for the Day was a good one.


Over lunch I prepared for Parliamentary Questions. The Parliament Office Secretary expected questions from the anti-nuclear lobby about the rumour in the press today about the latest US missiles. It seemed that there was fear of Japanese infiltration at the place where most of our guided-missile microchips were manufactured.

‘Is that California?’ I asked Kaul. ‘Silicon Valley?’

‘Taiwan,’ he replied.

I was staggered. ‘Taiwan?’

Kaul nodded. ‘It appears that we have paid for about fifteen million faulty microchips.’

‘What is meant by faulty?’ I asked carefully.

He shrugged hopelessly. ‘No one knows exactly, Pradhanmantriji. We don’t dare ask. Maybe the missiles simply wouldn’t work. Maybe they’d blow up in the face of whoever pushed the button.’

‘My God!’ I said. I was horrified. I asked what else might happen.

Kaul shrugged. ‘Maybe they’d boomerang. Go all the way round the world and land back on us.’

I stared at him in silence, my boggling mind trying to assimilate the full implications of this horror.

Kaul spoke again. ‘Maybe it would be better to avoid full and frank disclosure of this matter.’

Shailendra, our press secretary, whom Kaul had included in the meeting, nodded vigorously, in full agreement.

A sudden thought struck me, a thought even more horrific than that of boomeranging missiles. My mouth went dry with panic. ‘When did we buy these?’ I asked, petrified.

Kaul reassured me. ‘Before you took office, Pradhanmantriji, So there’s nothing to worry about.’

Thank God! It was certainly fortunate that I wasn’t responsible. But I was now, now that I knew! And ‘nothing to worry about’ was a curious way to talk of guided missiles that might do their own thing. ‘Nothing to worry about?’ I repeated incredulously.

‘No. I mean, nothing to worry about personally,’ he said. ‘Unless they boomerang on the PMO,’ he added pensively.

‘And what doesn’t?’ muttered Shailendra. He was so gloomy!

I asked who was responsible. ‘The Ministry of Defence,’ said Kaul. ‘And the Pentagon. The issue seems to be lack of control over the defence industries.’

‘The issue,’ said Shailendra, ‘appears to be lack of control over the missiles.’

‘The issue,’ I said, ‘seems to be the low level of imagination in the Ministry of Defence.’

‘Might be better to avoid disclosing that too,’ suggested Shailendra.

In the event, the Parliamentary Questions went off smoothly and, has always, I left the Sansad immediately afterwards.

(Excerpted from Ji Pradhanmantriji. Volume 3. The Diaries of Shri Suryaprakash Singh.

Based on the original Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn & Antony Jay.

Penguin Books in association with BBC Worldwide)