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2 Rajya Sabha entries & their contrasting books

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By Sanjeev Chopra

Valley of Words is delighted to share that two of its authors – at completely opposite ends of the spectrum – are all set to enter the Rajya Sabha. We have Govind Bhai Dholakia, whose 2021 offering was ‘Diamonds are Forever, and So are Morals’, is the BJP nominee from Gujarat; and we have Sagarika Ghose, who wrote ‘Indira Gandhi: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minster’ in 2017, as the TMC nominee from West Bengal. While Govind Bhai was with us in our ‘Afternoons with an Author’ program, last year, Sagarika Ghose’s book was featured in the very first edition of VoW in 2017.

Like their political and ideological dispositions, the books are also quite apart in their approach to the subject under discussion. Govind Bhai’s book is narrativized autobiography, which traces his life from a farmer’s son to one of the wealthiest diamond merchants of India in the course of ten chapters: Activation, Enterprise, Edification, Power Plays, Ascend, Human Gems, Higher orbits, Rainbow People, New India and Go Win. In his own words, he was inspired to write his autobiography after reading the Mahatma’s ‘My Experiments with Truth’. Elsewhere in the book he writes that an autobiography is the best genre for writing, for the life of an individual is not just his own – it is the life of his community as well as his state and   about the social and political mores of the times.

The book starts with the story of his birth in village Dudhala, at the cusp of India’s independence, his move to Surat where his brother has become an apprentice to a diamond cutter. It was in Surat that he learnt the technique of polishing rough diamonds which led him to establish his own enterprise in Bombay. Each of the subsequent chapters takes us on a journey of his life – but it covers not just his business, but also travels across the country to visit places he associated his heroes with. Thus, Rajasthan was Maharana Pratap, Maharashtra was Shivaji, Punjab was Guru Gobind Singh, Delhi was Prithviraj Chauhan, Uttar Pradesh was Rani Laxmi Bai, MP was Ahalyabai and Bihar was Samrat Ashok and Chandragupta Maurya. He tells us about Surat, and his travels to the global centres of the diamond trade. But rather than discuss each of the chapters, let me now focus on the key takeaways.

The first of these is about goal setting, and working ha
hard to achieve them. Dholakia had a dream of becoming a successful diamond businessman, and he never gave up on that dream. The second key message is about ethics and morals. While Artha is important, it has to be in the context of Dharma. Therefore, Dholakia always maintained high moral standards, even in the face of temptation for, to him, ‘means were as important as the ends’. Then there is the aspect of strong relationships because, at the end of the day, business is about people: employees, traders, consumers and all those who are part of the value chain – from raw material suppliers to those who draw up market strategies in the board room.  Govind Bhai is a ‘people’s person’, and he has built strong relationships with his family, friends, and business associates. Giving back to the community is equally important. As a philanthropist, he has donated generously to charitable causes for he believes that the community, the state and the nation which have contributed to his success must be acknowledged in every possible way. ‘Diamonds Are Forever So Are Morals’ is a well-written and inspiring book. Interspersed with shlokas from the Geeta, Vedas, Puranas and the Guru Granth Saheb: the book is equally about morals, as it is about the trade of diamonds!

Sagarika Ghose’s book is an anniversary tribute to India’s third (and till recently) most powerful Prime Minister, a title which may now go to the present incumbent, Narendra Modi. Though based on secondary sources, it gives a fairly critical analysis of her life and politics and the predilections of remaining in power, whatever the cost. Ghose is careful to acknowledge Indira’s very mixed legacy, her undermining of Indian democracy, her paranoia and her increasing superstition. With its mix of tragedy and privilege, and her eventual failure, due in no small part to fatal flaws in her character, her life was Shakespearean. While not a hagiography, ‘the empurpled prose does strain to imbue Indira with unwarranted grandeur’.

Over the years, the Dynasty has worked quite hard in trying to build a myth and mystique around itself. But, as new scholarship comes to light, one realises that at the end  of the day, Ms Gandhi was a shrewd and clever politician who used whatever instruments she could muster at different points of time to perpetuate her power. She struck a blow to the Syndicate, abolished privy purses, nationalised banks, gave more regulatory teeth to her civil servants, weakened the authority of the CMs, cabinet ministers as well as the Supreme Court. Even Presidents were treated like puppets. The Emergency years confirmed that she could do anything to stay in power. She was powerful, yes. But, for her, it soon became an end in itself. And then there was the increasing influence of the heir apparent, Sanjay Gandhi, because of whom she fired PN Haksar, the one person who had contributed the most to her domestic and foreign policy.

However, this column is not about Indira Gandhi, but Sagarika Ghose, who was approached by Juggernaut   with the idea for a biography of Indira Gandhi, in the centenary year of her birth, ‘to bring Indira alive for a new generation’. Well, if this was the objective, Sagarika Ghosh has done a good job. The millennials will certainly enjoy the probing letter which she writes to her at the end of each chapter – in which many personal, political and even irreverential questions are asked. It’s a novel way to conduct a conversation with one’s muse!

(Sanjeev Chopra (born 3 March, 1961) is a retired IAS officer of the 1985 batch, from Kapurthala, Punjab. He is a resident of Dehradun. He is a former Director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration and has written a book, “We, the People of the States of Bharat: The Making and Remaking of India’s Internal Boundaries”, published in 2022. He is now the patron and honorary consultant to a literary festival, the Valley of Words International Literary Festival, held annually in Dehradun. Chopra has held the Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship (Cornell), the Robert S McNamara Fellowship (World Bank) and positions at Royal Asiatic Society, London, the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute (Harvard).