Really, Kaul is sometimes remarkably slow in understanding. How
could he have thought I had changed the subject? But apparently
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
is this important, because...Oh!...Ah!...Oh! Dead on
replaced the receiver.
‘Bad news, Kaul?’
‘Yes and no,’
he replied cautiously. ‘Your predecessor, the former Prime
Minister of the Republic of India, has just died of heart
‘What a tragedy,’
I said immediately. I knew how to say the right things on such
replied Kaul and Mathur in chorus.
‘A great man, mahaan
neta,’ I said, for the record.
neta,’ they repeated in unison.
‘He will be
sorely missed,’ I said. After all, someone was bound to miss
echoed the double act on the other side of the table.
‘And so will his
memoirs,’ I added.
never be finished,’ said Kaul.
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?’
interested. ‘Please, Mathursaheb,’ I said. ‘The newspapers
are far more important.’
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.’
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.
California?’ I asked Kaul. ‘Silicon Valley?’
I was staggered.
Kaul nodded. ‘It
appears that we have paid for about fifteen million faulty
‘What is meant
by faulty?’ I asked carefully.
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
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.’
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
said Shailendra, ‘appears to be lack of control over the
‘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
Based on the
original Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn & Antony
Penguin Books in
association with BBC Worldwide)