My Father Was Manmohan Singh’s Inspiration: Zareer Masani


March 2, 2012

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Books | India | Politics

Charismatic politician Minoo Masani, founder-leader of the pro-Western, free-market Swatantra Party, is acknowledged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as his ideological inspiration rather than Jawaharhal Nehru, his son and biographer-historian Zareer Masani says.

Article in Outlook India

In an unflinchingly candid memoir And All is Said: Memoir of a Home Divided, Zareer draws on the letters and diaries of his parents – Minoo and his gifted wife Shakuntala – to paint an intimate portrait of two remarkable individuals and their prominent but very different families – the Masanis (Bombay Parsis) and the Srivastavas (UP Kayasths) united by marriage but divided by temperament, lifestyle and political affiliation.

"My father’s role as the founder leader of Swatantra Party, India’s first serious parliamentary Opposition, is well known; and it is ironical that our present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledges Minoo Masani as his main ideological inspiration, rather than Pandit Nehru," the London-based Zareer writes.

Minoo’s father Sir Rustom Masani was an ascetic scholar who scorned wealth and all the comforts it could buy. Shakuntala’s father, Sir J P Srivastava, arch-loyalist of the British Raj and viceregal councillor, made a fortune as a mill owner and brought up his daughter in the lap of hedonistic luxury.

When the two fell in love and eloped, Minoo was a twice- divorced, left-wing Congress activist. Later, he went on to become a tireless campaigner against global Communism.

The author writes of his turbulent upbringing as an only child torn between the rival influences and attractions of his parents and grandparents; of the struggle to express his own sexuality in 1960s India; and of the stormy and agonizing breakdown of his parents’ marriage, which was closely interwoven with the political drama of Indira Gandhi’s rise to power and the Emergency she imposed.

Zareer was a Congress party member between 1970 and 1975. His biography of Indira Gandhi in which he criticised her "authoritarian" rule earned the wrath of the Congress.

"In 1970, I rebelled politically against my father and in a dramatic public defection that made press headlines; my mother and I joined Indira Gandhi and rejoiced in her landslide victory of 1971.

"Unfortunately, their political differences marked the end of my parents’ marriage; and I paid the price for encouraging the break when I had to cope with my mother’s loneliness, unhappiness and general decline in the decades that followed. Our disillusionment with Mrs Gandhi, especially when she imposed her state of Emergency, made the whole domestic rift seem even more futile," Zareer writes in the book, published by Penguin.