Turbulent Years: A letdown

By Pattabhi Ram

I read the Turbulent Years (1980-1996) by President Mukherjee and must confess that I am deeply disappointed. Let me tell you why.

It was perhaps one of the most significant periods in India’s history. The second coming of Mrs. Gandhi, the two tragic assassinations, the disappointment that the knight-in-shining-armor turned out to be, the Babri demolition, the Shah Bano case, and finally the opening up of the economy. It is a storyline pregnant with enormous possibilities and lined up to be written by a man who was in the thick of things.  But alas the President has gone ahead and messed it.

Except for the parts where he talks about Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination and the subsequent take over by the reluctant entrant, the story lacks the essentials of a political thriller: speed, spice, salacious gossip, and controversy. Characters don’t get built up. In that case, how would today’s generation be able to relate to the people in the book?  To top it, a large part of the story involves reeling off of statistics that don’t resonate with the readers.

But then there are high points with interesting nuggets that enlighten an otherwise dull prose. Pranabda’s reading of, and passing on to Mrs. Gandhi, a book by Alvin Toffler, and Mrs. Gandhi’s cryptic remark of her finance minister having the time to read the book while he was busy preparing the budget is instructive. Her reference to the length of his budget speech as “the shortest finance minister has delivered the longest speech,” brings a smile to the face. So does opposition man Ravindra Varma’s mixing up of budgets of two different years.

A piqued Congressman’s reference to the Rajiv government as being run by 1.5 men, evidently alluding the current president’s height brings to the surface the simmering discontent of those times.  Mukherjee’s spending the night of the assassination of both Mrs. Gandhi and later of Rajiv Gandhi at the lawns of 10 Janpath touches a chord.  The friendly relationship between his family and that of P V Narasimha Rao and of how his wife offered surety in Rao’s court case brings about their friendship which wasn’t ruined by Rao not inviting Mukherjee to be part of his council of ministers.

Had there been more of these, plus greater efforts at character building and fast paced writing by doing away with statistical information, it would have made the book a great read. President Mukherjee should seriously look at enlisting the help of a journalist for the next volume of his biography.  My apologies to President Mukherjee, if I have sounded abrasive.

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