Novel provides inside view

NEW DELHI, India (AP) — A novel published Wednesday by former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao opens a window on the world of Indian politics — a fictional indictment of the self-seekers, sycophants and crooks he says mirror real people who have governed India.
Rao admits the central character in “The Insider” is drawn from his own experience: A boy from a dusty village in southern India who gets caught up in the struggle for independence, moves swiftly into state politics and rises above his scheming enemies to the highest public office.
But other characters in the 767-page novel are composites, he said.
Rao worked on the book for more than 20 years and kept tinkering with it late at night during his five years as prime minister, ending in 1996, which capped a 40-year political career.
“It has been following me around from a distance,” Rao told an audience at his book-launching party, which included the current prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and three of his predecessors.
“When I write about back-room politics, conspiracies, musclemen and money-men, I’m only writing the truth. Everybody knows it,” he said.
The book tells more about the author than he has publicly disclosed before. As prime minister, his image was dour, reticent and indecisive Ñ hardly the type to gossip about colleagues or discuss sexual yearnings as he does in the book.
The book takes a cynical view of people who enter politics.
“The gravitational pull for many of these individuals was power alone; few seemed to be aware of the responsibility devolving on them, and still fewer were ready for it,” he writes.
Its characters could have been drawn from a pulp Hindi movie: either good or evil, they are uncomplicated by any shade of gray.
The hero, Anand, is brilliant, incorruptible and publicly spirited. And Rao’s protagonists are venal, like one named Chaudhury who learned his political philosophy from an aging prostitute: “Appearance, make up, not the real you, is what politics is all about.”
Anand’s earliest memories include police abuses against the poor, tension between Hindus and Muslims, and the petty corruption of politicians.
It was during Rao’s leadership in 1992-93 that India witnessed one of the worst periods of religious strife, when police came under unprecedented criticism for human rights abuses, and when government corruption reached a peak. Rao himself is under indictment for allegedly bribing legislators to avoid losing a no-confidence motion in Parliament.
The story, weaving fiction around history, ends in 1973, four years before Rao joined the federal government under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Rao indicated he would offer a close look at Mrs. Gandhi in a sequel. “Nobody has bothered to find out why she wanted more power for herself,” Rao told Outlook. “Some people said she was paranoid and had an inferiority complex, but nobody has adequately explained her personality.”
The Asian Age newspaper praised the novel, saying “universities ought to make it required reading for students of political science.”
“It forces us to ask ourselves what we have done with our democracy,” the newspaper said.