NEWS, VIEWS AND THE IN­SIDE TRACK

India Today - - UPFRONT - By Ajoy Bose Ajoy Bose is an au­thor and jour­nal­ist

Much of Karan Tha­par’s life has re­volved around peo­ple in high places. This is not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing his top fam­ily con­nec­tions, Oxbridge ed­u­ca­tion and the need as a tele­vi­sion show host to chase down celebrity guests. To carp that this made him elit­ist, as some of his de­trac­tors have, makes lit­tle sense since Tha­par has un­abashedly and quite jus­ti­fi­ably used his ac­cess to those who mat­ter to make a vo­ca­tion.

In­deed his prox­im­ity from an early age to movers and shak­ers in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles and be­yond is what makes Tha­par’s first book named af­ter his show, Devil’s Ad­vo­cate, a good read. Some of it is un­doubt­edly trivia like him be­ing named by the Ma­ha­rani of Kash­mir or San­jay Gandhi com­ing around to the house to fix his mother’s tran­sis­tor or how Ra­jiv Gandhi got him his first job in In­dia. But he does tell a telling story about learn­ing how to fly from San­jay in a sin­gle-en­gine pro­pel­ler plane above Delhi with the Gandhi scion oc­ca­sion­ally swoop­ing down to scare farm­ers work­ing in agri­cul­tural fields out­ly­ing the cap­i­tal, mak­ing them scurry in panic.

There are some very pi­quant anec­dotes of the young Be­nazir Bhutto, whom he be­friended while he was at Cam­bridge and she at Ox­ford. The best chap­ter in the book is on the in­trigu­ing dal­liance chap­er­oned by the tele­vi­sion jour­nal­ist be­tween Pak­istan’s high com­mis­sioner in Delhi, Ashraf Ja­hangir Qazi, and the then home min­is­ter Lal Kr­ishna Ad­vani and his wife at a cru­cial stage of In­dia-Pak­istan ties. Tha­par’s si­mul­ta­ne­ous rap­port with Bra­jesh Mishra, Man Fri­day of the then Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee, un­der­lines his ac­cess to the cor­ri­dors of power dur­ing the Va­j­payee years, dis­pelling the ca­nard of him be­ing a mere Congress groupie.

Yet, both as po­lit­i­cal his­tory and per­sonal mem­oir, Devil’s Ad­vo­cate is dis­ap­point­ingly lim­ited to a string of racy yarns. Per­haps used to re­lay­ing just a sharp ex­change of sound bites on tele­vi­sion, Tha­par fails to de­velop on the many fas­ci­nat­ing per­son­al­i­ties or events in the book. In fact, it is sur­pris­ing that he has not at­tempted a biog­ra­phy of Be­nazir de­spite his per­sonal in­sights of the slain Pak­istani leader from her for­ma­tive years nor a book with his in­sider’s knowl­edge of the Va­j­payee gov­ern­ment’s gam­bit to mend re­la­tions with Pak­istan. And apart from a per­func­tory ac­count of his child­hood, youth and pro­fes­sional ca­reer, he re­veals noth­ing about him­self.

Fi­nally, there is the con­tro­versy over whether Tha­par should have bro­ken the jour­nal­ist code of not re­veal­ing sources to tell the story of his boy­cott by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and his regime. He could shrug off the protes­ta­tions of the ex­citable BJP spokesper­son Sam­bit Pa­tra, but the flat de­nial of key quotes in the book at­trib­uted to cel­e­brated au­thor and diplo­mat Pa­van Varma, a friend to boot, is more em­bar­rass­ing. Tha­par’s dis­missal of this as a “se­nior mo­ment” might make Varma even more fu­ri­ous. But then the book is, af­ter all, a cel­e­bra­tion of the tele­vi­sion host’s many es­trange­ments and rap­proche­ments.

Both as po­lit­i­cal his­tory and per­sonal mem­oir, the book is dis­ap­point­ingly lim­ited to a string of racy yarns

DEVIL’S AD­VO­CATE The Un­told Story by KARAN THA­PAR Harpers In­dia `699; 224 pages

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