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Dynasty rooted in Indian political tradition: Writer Zareer Masani

New Delhi: He grew up in a family that aligned its destiny with the turbulent politics of post-independence India and fell apart for it. London-based biographer-historian Zareer Masani, who courted controversy with a biography of Indira Gandhi, feels dynasty is deeply rooted in the Indian political tradition.

But Masani, the son of free market political guru Minoo Masani and "an Indira Gandhi loyalist" Shakuntala, told IANS he has "not let the dynastic pressures of politics touch his vocation".

He has returned to India with a new biography of his parents - "And All Is Said: Memoir of a Home Divided (Penguin-India)".

"Dynasty is deeply rooted in the Indian tradition," he said. "In most political families, children want to swallow the family`s politics to achieve power office. The problem with the Nehru-Gandhi family is all about `kursi` (chair) actually rather than in believing in anything very much," Masani told IANS in an interview.

Today, people will not be bothered by the fact that Rahul Gandhi is "expected to be in his father`s shoes".

"Blood ties still play an important role in modern India. People still venerate `maharajas` and the parliamentary political system reflects it...Whose son or daughter you are is very important. Parentage should be one of the factors, but meritocracy should be the deciding factor," Masani said.

Criticism has been Masani`s literary signature - and in a way also a bane. In 1975, he earned the ire of the Congress party with a biography of late prime minister Indira Gandhi in which he criticised her authoritarian rule.

The writer said he "could not return to India from London after the biography was published because he was warned that he was on Sanjay Gandhi`s hit list".

"They wanted me to delete the last chapter of the book because it was there that I had criticised Indira Gandhi, her authoritarian policies and Sanjay Gandhi`s rise. There was pressure on me through my mother to stop being critical," Masani said.

The writer, however, returned to India in 1977 to cover the general election after the emergency was lifted, he said.

In his new biography, Masani bares the roller-coaster lives of his parents.

Zareer Masani was a Congress party member between 1970 and 1975. "But I was opposed to emergency. By 1974, it was clear that Indira Gandhi was becoming authoritarian from the way she was cracking down on the Left. My father (Minoo Masani) disapproved of it from the start. My mother was pro-Indira Gandhi...It was difficult to convince her that it was a mistake," Masani told IANS.

Twice-married Minoo Masani, the founder of the pro-market Swatantra Party, and Shakuntala, the daughter of industrialist J.P. Srivastava, a British Raj loyalist from Uttar Pradesh, were united by a love marriage but divided in their temperament, lifestyles and political affiliations.

Shakuntala was brought up in the lap of luxury while Masani was austere in personal life despite promoting "free market economic model". Their politics eventually led to their acrimonious divorce in the 1980s, when Minoo Masani was 84.

"The cultural difference between the two was marked in some ways.. though both the families were Westernised. My mother`s family was based in the Lucknawi arts and culture of Uttar Pradesh. Her father was the fifth largest industrialist of his time. My father was from a middle-class professional background, which looked down upon money. My mother missed the luxurious life," Masani said.

The writer said his "mother supported Minoo Masani`s Swatantra Party out of personal loyalty".

"But I influenced her to become pro-Indira in 1970. She became a part of it and the Congress made full use of it by taking her canvassing for the Congress candidate in Delhi to the press. My father felt bad about it," Masani said.

Walking through his father`s political journey, Masani said, "The Swatantra Party was completely different because it rejected Nehru`s model of a planned economy for what it called a free-market opposed to the `neta-babu permit-license raj`. It had a pro-Western foreign policy as opposed to Nehru`s appeasement of the Soviet Union."

Masani tried to convince his mother to leave the Congress, but she refused. She remained a party loyalist till the end of her life.

The writer, who still is a socialist, pursues his own vocation.

IANS

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