Kuldip Nayar

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Kuldip Nayar


Memoirs of a veteran journalist

Reviewed by Karamatullah K. Ghori

The past of even ordinary mortals is usually full of anecdotes and memories. But when a veteran of journalism, and part-time diplomat, digs into his chest of memories, he can be counted upon to come up with real gems. That’s exactly the case with the legendary Kuldip Nayar, who is almost a household name in India, and even in Pakistan he can count a large number of admirers.

He took up journalism as a profession when India and Pakistan were delivered, after a Caesarian operation from the womb of ‘Mother India,’ served as media guru, adviser and confidant of many a Indian political stalwarts, including Lal Bahadur Shastri, who became prime minister of India after Jawaharlal Nehru. This accords Nayar a unique perch than available to an ordinary scribe. He has a repertoire of authentic journalistic scoops and insights, which few in the fourth estate could ever aspire to.

Nayar is also that rare Indian journalist who has interviewed and won the trust of most Pakistani rulers, both civilian and military. Because of this unique facility, he is a rare South Asian journalist with the right credentials to write on India-Pakistan relations, and all their angularities and policy-makers.

His recollections of events and personalities that shaped the history of both India and Pakistan in the years since he took to wielding the pen as his tool-of-trade provide, in some cases, rare glimpses of history not known before. Real scoops, in journalistic parlance, that he produced as a result of close interaction with policy-makers and leaders, are a treat to read and savour, especially if one happens to be a connoisseur of South Asian region’s history of the past 60-odd years.

The personalities portrayed in his scoops include stalwarts like Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Mountbatten, Radcliffe, Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Ayub Khan, Bhutto, Ziaul Haq, Dr A.Q. Khan et al. These personalities have shaped South Asia’s political landscape in our lifetime and, hence, evoke nostalgia in many hearts.

Likewise, the events studding Nayar’s narrative of contemporary history comprise the Partition Award; the bitter aftermath of Partition; Gandhi’s assassination; Kashmir and the war of 1965; Tashkent and the death of Shastri in mysterious circumstances; Indira’s rise to power and the 1975 ‘emergency’ she foisted on India; the crisis in Pakistan 1970-71; surrender of Dhaka and the birth of Bangladesh which was administered by India, as amply chronicled by Nayar; Bhutto’s judicial murder in Pakistan and the advent of the Zia era; Indira Gandhi’s murder in Delhi; the saga of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and its ‘father’ Dr A.Q. Khan.

There is nary a doubt that Nayar is a star witness to almost all the dramas that have unfolded on the India-Pakistan stage in the past six decades. And he has juicy, insightful tidbits and vignettes — some revealing and truly sensational — on all these history makers and epochal events. His words, inferences and observations thus carry a lot of weight, if not conviction, too.

Nayar personally interviewed both Mountbatten and Radcliffe, two of the principal British characters played a pivotal role in the carving of India into two dominions. He found Mountabtten to be as vainglorious, unrepentant and megalomaniac as ever. The last viceroy of India boasted of his clairvoyance and claimed he had warned Jinnah that his ‘moth-eaten’ Pakistan wouldn’t last 25 years. This was obviously an after-thought with the pompous Mountbatten because Radcliffe was positive he had never heard him saying it.

Radcliffe, though he lived a simpler lifestyle, was nearly as disdainful as Mountbatten in his hauteur towards Pakistan and its leaders. In response to Nayar’s reminding him of the Pakistani sense of hurt at his hands in the boundary award, Radcliffe inflicted insult over injury by saying the Pakistanis should be grateful that he awarded them Lahore, out of generosity, for in his original scheme it was marked for India, which, in his esteem, ‘deserved it.’ However, Radcliffe, out of charity, consigned it to Pakistan because otherwise the new state would have ended with no big city.

Nayar’s scoops on the Indian involvement in the crisis of East Pakistan should be compelling reading for anyone in Pakistan still interested in that grisly chapter of our history. India got into the act of dismembering Pakistan long before the rumblings in East Pakistan were heard all over the world. It was exactly 10 months before the birth of Bangladesh that India started arming the insurgent Mukti Bahini force.

Nayar believes that the founder of Pakistan didn’t anticipate the massive migration that attended the birth of Pakistan, nor the horrendous blood-letting that heralded it on both sides of the divide. He reports, on sound authority, how Jinnah felt terribly grieved by the mayhem and was crestfallen because of it.

He was at Tashkent in January 1966 when Ayub Khan and Lal Bahadur Shastri met there for peace brokered by the Russians. He witnessed how Bhutto used all his guile to upstage Ayub; how Ayub scribbled in his own hands, on the draft of the agreement with Shastri, that Pakistan wouldn’t resort to the use of force to settle Kashmir (the Indian foreign ministry still has that draft in its archives); how Bhutto later tried to put a spin on the proceedings and was rebuked by Gromyko, the quintessential Soviet foreign minister, for trying to be too smart for his peers, and finally, how desperately Shastri tilted at the windmills to persuade Ayub to sign a ‘no-war-pact’ with India.

The committed journalist was also one of the first persons to rush to Shastri’s villa in Tashkent the night he died there in mysterious circumstances. Shastri’s wife and family never accepted the official version that he died of a heart stroke. They suspected that he had been poisoned by the cook of the Indian ambassador in Moscow, who had been detailed to prepare his meals during his stay at Tashkent. But the government of Indira Gandhi, his successor, wasn’t too keen on investigating the episode so the matter was hushed up.

Nayar’s scoops on the Indian involvement in the crisis of East Pakistan should be compelling reading for anyone in Pakistan still interested in that grisly chapter of our history. India got into the act of dismembering Pakistan long before the rumblings in East Pakistan were heard all over the world. It was exactly 10 months before the birth of Bangladesh, in Nayar’s words, that India started arming the insurgent Mukti Bahini force.

The Indian press, with its much-vaunted freedom on line, fell right behind the plan to suffocate Pakistan. By consensus, not a word about the cloak-and-dagger scheme was ever allowed to creep out. Stories in the Indian press about the activities of Mukti Bahini were invariably datelined Mujibnagar. But in actual fact Mujibnagar was sitting right there, in Calcutta, or the present-day Kolkata. The press didn’t mind its voluntary gag in ‘national interest’ because Pakistan was the ‘enemy.’

India rubbed salt into Pakistan’s wounds by deputing Lt Gen Jacob, a Jew, to negotiate the surrender terms with Lt Gen ‘Tiger’ Niazi in Dhaka. Why Indira Gandhi was so keen to humiliate Pakistan, Nayar doesn’t elucidate.

There are other juicy snippets of memories that will be engaging for Pakistani readers. Stories such as Z.A. Bhutto going on record at Simla to make the line of control the ‘line of peace.’ But upon his return to Lahore, the wily politician that he was, he promptly induced his party cohorts and friends to start denouncing the Simla Agreement.

Equally riveting is Nayar’s account of his interview with Dr A.Q. Khan and how he provoked the good doctor to fly into a rage and spill the beans on Pakistan’s then-in-the-closet A-bomb. Mushahid Hussain, who had arranged the interview with Dr Khan, pretended to be terribly upset by the episode, but later confessed to Nayar that it was all a set-up to send a message to India that Pakistan shouldn’t be trifled with in any misadventure.

Another interview, this one with Ziaul Haq, conducted only days before Bhutto’s hanging in Rawalpindi on April 4, 1979, gave him a clear indication that the deposed prime minister was destined for the gallows.

Nayar was on board the bus which brought Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore at the start of the ‘bus diplomacy’ in Nawaz Sharif’s era. The three service chiefs of Pakistan, including Gen Musharraf, were present in the welcome line but didn’t salute Vajpayee.

The Kargil misadventure had probably been conceived long before it. Nawaz Sharif told Nayar, later in Jeddah when he was in exile, that he had no inkling of Kargil until it was too late. Vajpayee stood by Nawaz’s initiative for peace and paid him due tribute for it by telling Nayar, after Musharraf’s coup, that ‘he sacrificed himself for us.’ Regarding the much-hoped-for settlement on Kashmir, Vajpayee had this to say: ‘We were almost there,’ not amplifying what he meant by ‘there.’

Much to Nayar’s regret, and the regret of every sane Indian and Pakistani hankering for a ‘peace of the brave’, we still aren’t there. This is due to a variety of reasons. Perhaps Nawaz Sharif’s return to power, not inconceivable in the current scramble, will bring with it a chance for peace and amity.

At 84, Nayar is undoubtedly the grand old man of Indian journalism, and he must be anxious to share his treasure chest of memoirs with the younger generations. For posterity, on both sides of the border, his will be a great legacy.

Scoop: Inside stories from the Partition to the present

By Kuldip Nayar

Harper Collins, New York

Available with Paramount Books, Karachi

ISBN 81-722-3643-4

214pp. Rs531

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