Author's Note: I came across this piece a while back. Perhaps while trawling the net. Perhaps a friend forwarded it. Don't remember now. You see... it's quite foggy and chilly these days *wink* so... if I'm unknowingly violating someone's copyright... please do let me know. The piece makes for an interesting read... so read on.
The winter session of Parliament is always a good time to network, and most politicians put on their party gear, and start some major dinner diplomacy. The most politically significant one was undoubtedly the 'fishy' dinner hosted by Somnath Chatterjee for Opposition leaders. After much activity, the dinner marked the first coming together of Opposition stalwarts, whose friendly cooperation will undoubtedly result in the total rout of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, followed by the inevitable domino consequences in the rest of the country... maybe even a midterm election. Dinner diplomacy is not new in Indian politics, and as women in politics we have often found to our disadvantage, that when the sun sets, male politicians begin their nocturnal networking, and since we are totally shut out of this bonding exercise, women are usually the last to know of any development in the party.
Sometimes I feel that Parliament is a mere background, because after about 12 noon, hardly any MP will be found seated in the House. There are of course some hard core members who determinedly keep the House going, but most will be found on the move, touching base with various colleagues, and catching up on the latest.
In my first couple of years in Parliament, I behaved like it was the High Court, or similar place of work, and sat there till the bell rang for us to leave. I gained tremendous experience of Parliamentary practice, but gained precious little on the political front. I was always two steps behind politically, and would realise too late the significance of any particular development. It was in this way that I was completely ignorant of the importance of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Bofors. I had no idea that being made a member of the Committee was a sign of the Prime Minister's confidence in you, and many senior members were lobbying hard to be on the Committee.
When my name appeared, I just assumed it was run of the mill, perhaps because of my legal background or something, and I was thus totally unprepared for the terrible resentment my appointment unleashed among several senior colleagues, who felt slighted that they had been left out, and a raw junior like me included. If only I had moved around a bit more, I would have understood the ramifications of being a member of the Committee.
One thing stands out in my mind. I went to the Prime Minister, at that time, and asked him what he wanted us to achieve on the Bofors Committee in terms of the Congress Party. He looked me straight in the eye, and told me "Jayanthi, there is only one thing I want you to do... fear no one, and go after the truth with all your heart."
That is one of my cherished memories of Rajiv Gandhi. In later days so many lies were spread about him, and so often, his idealism and essential goodness were completely obscured. At the height of the worst controversy in his life, when his very integrity was being called to question, Rajiv looked me in the eye, and said. "Fear no one in your pursuit of the truth. We have nothing to hide."
Thus I went my merry way, innocent of any political survival skills, and it was not much later, after many bitter experiences of betrayal, and treachery, that I learned that the only way to survive in politics is by keeping your ear to the ground, and keeping in constant touch with your colleagues. It is of course quite another story that when I did rouse myself to go for a dinner, I simply assumed that we were meeting to eat, and would be more or less blind to other activity, unless it was explained to me in one syllable words!
There are so many dinners I have attended, that it is a nostalgic trip down memory lane to recollect them. In those days, the Prime Minister always called Party MPs for dinner during the Parliament Session. That was the high point of the session. Rajiv Gandhi always had small groups of us over for dinner, and it gave him a chance to interact with us at close quarters.
The best Parliament session I remember was the one where I was deputed by the Prime Minister to write some report or other, and consequently had to attend every dinner. I felt more important than if I had been made a Cabinet Minister! Narasimha Rao never called us for dinner... he preferred to keep a distance from his MPs, and kept interaction to a bare minimum. He was always courteous when we went to meet him, but it was clear that he did not want any kind of personal rapport with the likes of us.
Rashtrapathi Bhavan keeps a list of MPs who are called whenever foreign dignitaries visit, and the dinner I will never forget is the one to which Princess Diana came... There she stood looking so beautiful, that we could not take our eyes off her. If I remember correctly, it was winter then, and she shivered a little in the fresh evening air.
Immediately, the ever gallant Amjad Ali Khan whipped off his priceless Jamavar shawl and put it round her shoulders. She kept it on, and later went home with it, after thanking him with charm and wit. Her mother-in-law the Queen was totally different. When she came to India, a few years ago, I was Minister for Civil Aviation. And when I went for dinner, I was prepared to be rude and disagreeable, because her husband Prince Philip had made several obnoxious remarks about India's population (You really need more condoms in this country) and Jallianwala Bagh, and the entire country was up in arms. Then I met the Queen, and words forsook me. She is not the Queen for nothing... she was so regal and gracious, and queenly that I just did not have the courage or will to be controversial. Even though her clothes were old-fashioned and almost frumpy, she carried the day with her royal grace.
Then there was the dinner for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev, but I would be lying if I claimed to remember anything. The moment I was introduced, I looked at Mr Gorbachev, and muttered something. There was such piercing intelligence in his eyes, that I was too intimidated to say anything remotely intelligent, and by the time I recovered my wits, it was too late, and he had moved on. Those were the heady days of glasnost and perestroika, and I have always regretted that I let the opportunity pass, because there was so much I wanted to ask him.
There have been so many dinners, and so many opportunities. Presidents, Vice Presidents and Prime Ministers have each their own style and signature food. One of the enduring advantages of being an MP, and in Delhi, is the chance that then becomes available to meet the movers and shakers of the world. And in case I have given anybody an impression that I get invited to dinners, where I gawk at the high and mighty, and leave without saying a word, I have to report about a very enjoyable meal I was invited to, along with Delhi's flavour of the month... Benazir Bhutto.
Benazir has taken Delhi by storm this season. Some thought it strange, that a politician in exile from her own country should get so much importance, and newspaper coverage in India, but these were just the usual disagreeable dissenters. After all, if Delhi could roll out the red carpet for Robin Raphel, a junior diplomat from America, who laid down the law for us on Kashmir, there is no reason on earth, why we should not encourage one of the few voices of democracy in or from Pakistan.
Those who knew her earlier say that she has changed, and is far more sensible and politically acute now. She definitely hit all the right notes in her interaction with Indian leaders and the media. She said that she would not repeat her earlier mistakes, and would adopt a more constructive approach regarding relations with India. She spoke about Empowerment of women, and was really effective, when she described her identity as a Muslim woman and politician. At dinner, she sparkled. There was a very small crowd present, and Benazir set out to charm them.
It was first name terms with everyone... Margaret (Alva), Sushma and Najma. She chatted and joked and laughed. She said that Najma had always been her favourite Indian politician, but now Sushma had taken her place, after Sushma's performance at the Agra Summit! And beyond all the good natured ribbing, she never lost sight of her political agenda. She kept on pushing her cause to Najma Heptulla (who is the President of the Inter Parliamentary Union) to send IPU observers to monitor the forthcoming elections in Pakistan. The only time she was a little taken aback was when she asked for kababs and biriyani and was told that this was a vegetarian household.
At this late stage, I have learned something. It is possible to laugh and eat and quietly push your political agenda. It now remains for me to be invited to other dinners, so that I may practise my newly acquired skills.
P.S. Perhaps it was written by Jayanthi Natarajan... a lawyer and Congress party member.
Note: Prince Philip is the tall chap who married Queen Elizabeth II - the Queen of England, enjoys making beautifully inappropriate comments, and feels intimate contact with his television might be necessary in order to make it work. In a revealing interview, only some of which seems to have appeared on the Buckingham Palace YouTube channel, the prince laid bare his electrical dysfunction, one that many might, secretly or not, actually share. His interviewer, a rather well spoken chap called Kevin McCloud, brightened up the pages of London's Times newspaper with some of the prince's heartfelt words. Perhaps the most elegant of the phrases turned by the 88-year-old prince was: "To work out how to operate a television set, you practically have to make love to the thing."
It has never been my habit to wonder about the conjugal behavior of the regal. Of course, the prince's imagery is so disconcerting that I wonder just what actions came immediately before the creation of, for example, Prince Charles. Must say... simple things of life get addled and muddled by the prince's highly colourful imagery. What??
Learn about the strange but true - The Prince Philip Movement (Religion). More about it can be read at: Is Prince Philip a god? And... the Prince Philip Movement. It is a cult religion of the Yaohnanen tribe - an ancient tribe - living high in a mist-shrouded mountain village on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu. The tribes' people (Yaohnanen) believe that Prince Philip, aka Duke of Edinburgh, aka the Queen of England's husband, is a divine being. Sputter! Gulp!
Pic courtesy: Link. Prince Philip aka The Duke of Edinburgh is not known for his politically correct choice of words. Talking to an Aborigine during a trip to Australia he asked "still chucking spears are we?" (March 2002)