He was in his heyday a very influential Congress figure, wholly trusted by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

 

 

Makhanlal Fotedar was born on 5 March 1931 at Matan in Anantnag district of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. He passed away on 28.9.2017, a bitter, disillusioned but a proud man.

In 2015, his charmingly titled autobiography, The Chinar Leaves was published. It has lot of political masala in it. For nearly a decade and a half, M.L. Fotedar was among the very few Congressmen who were in the know of what was going on in the Congress in Delhi and Congress ruled states. He was an accomplished trouble shooter. He knew who was saying what and to whom and where. He was much feared by most of Congress leaders for several years. He had one loyalty—besides his family, to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty (an elected dynasty). He was in his heyday a very influential and powerful Congress figure, wholly trusted by Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, but not 100% by Sonia Gandhi.

On page 191 he quotes Indira Gandhi on Priyanka: ‘“Fotedarji”, Indira Gandhi said, “I may not live long. But you must watch over her—Priyanka—as she grows.” I said, “Do you think I will live that long? “Yes”, she replied, in a voice of assurance and certainty. “You will live to see her grow and shine on the national horizon. People will see me in her and remember me when they see her. She will shine and the next century will be hers. Then people will forget me.”’

On page 303 is another reference to Priyanka. “I drew Sonia’s attention to Indiraji’s desire to see her granddaughter Priyanka in politics and carry forward the family’s legacy. I handed over to her Indiraji’s will dictated to me by Indiraji just two days before her death. Soniaji’s face became very grim. She asked me very curtly whether this was what Indiraji desired. I replied in the affirmative and told her that every word written on this paper has been dictated by Indiraji and explained the circumstances in which this conversation happened.” Gradually, Sonia Gandhi sidetracked Fotedar. He was not given a Rajya Sabha ticket.

The last chapter in the book is on Sonia Gandhi, 30 pages long. It begins on a happy and high note. The ending is cheerless, dejected, acutely depressing, disconsolate, heavy-hearted, almost grief stricken. It is, however, fearlessly candid.

I quote the concluding two paragraphs: “Sonia Gandhi will go down in history as the longest serving Congress president even if not the most distinguished. She took over as the party chief in 1998, the party was on the verge of disintegration. In fact she helped to rebuild it… The supreme irony is that sixteen years later the party is again on the verge of collapse. However, this time there is no saviour. Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is unacceptable to the people of this country and Sonia Gandhi has her best years behind her…

“Since Soniaji still is the unchallenged leader of the party, it should be her responsibility to reinvent the party. Blaming Rahul Gandhi in a way is shifting the blame from the Congress president… I will be observing closely how they stand up to this looming challenge, because Sonia is not Indira and Rahul is not Sanjay.”

This was written in 2015. What would M.L. Fotedar have written if he were alive today?

***

Mr Boris Johnson is the British version of President Donald Trump in several ways. Both are unconventional, unpredictable, admired and loathed. While Prime Minister Johnson has a brilliant mind and a sense of humour, President Trump is devoid of both.

In any case, he is an improvement to his lady predecessor, the lamentable Mrs May. No tears were shed on her departure. Arguably, she is the worst Prime Minister the UK has had for more than a hundred years.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has strong links with India. His mother-in-law is an Indian. Dip Singh was one of the stunning beauties of her generation. We used to play tennis at the Delhi Gymkhana club in the late 1950s. She married Khushwant Singh’s younger brother, Daljit Singh. The marriage did not last. Dip, after a gap of some years, married Charles Wheeler, the BBC representative in Delhi. Boris Johnson married one of their daughters; they were divorced not too long ago.

Mr Johnson is a highly distrusted, divisive politician. Dozens of his party MPs do not approve of him, some even dislike him. He has started his innings with a bang. He made a combative no nonsense speech in front of 10 Downing Street on his return from his audience with Queen Elizabeth, who appointed him as Prime Minister, the 14th of her reign.

In his Cabinet he has given heavyweight ministries to three persons of Indian origin. Priti Patel becomes Home Secretary. Rishi Sunak, the son-in-law of Infosys founder N.R. Narayan Murthy becomes Chief Secretary of the Treasury. Alok Sharma is made Internal Development Secretary. Sajid Javid, born in England of Pakistani parents has been made Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister).

Prime Minister Johnson is in for a rough tenure, which could be a short one. It will, nevertheless be a lively one.

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