Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Review: 24 Akbar Road by Rasheed Kidwai

This is more than the biography of a bungalow, which was the center place of activities of Congress party for many decades. It provides biography of all its occupants and of the political party too. It has stood a mute witness to “Rise-Fall-Rise-Fall” of the historical party.

This bungalow situated at 24, Akbar Road of New Delhi, was turned into Party Office in 1978 by Indira Gandhi during her low and tough years after the emergency. The building was in the state of shambles, reflecting the situation of the party too. But the years ahead proved lucky for the building and its occupants.

Then book turns into historic events in making of Indira Gandhi and some details about her father too. When she was expelled from party, she had said “Nobody can throw me out of Congress. It is not a legal question but a question of the very fibre of one’s heart and being.”  That is because her house was not limited to her family but to many of the party workers and freedom fighters. She had witnessed her father and grandfather going to jail several times during British rule. She had confronted British at a tender age objecting their house hold goods being taken away by them as her father had not paid the fines imposed by British court. Though not an adult during freedom struggle of India, her Monkey Party had played the role of passing on critical messages to the freedom fighters. Indira’s role as a Congress party worker was indisputable. She came back to power and the bungalow at 24, Akbar filled with people and became a place where major decisions of the party are taken.

Indira was groomed by none other than her father. He had written lengthy letters to her shaping her personality in his absence as well. But Indira had a mind of her own. Along with wit and courage, she had weaknesses too. Her politically active son Sanjay was getting into many day to day functioning of the Govt. and that of party. Those who did not align with him quickly lost their influence and place. But the accident did not let Sanjay live longer and led to reluctant Rajiv’s arrival into politics. Subsequent killing of Indira and Rajiv too brought many changes into the functioning of party. After three generations of Nehru-Gandhi family holding the top post of Prime Minister, it was the turn of PVN Rao for the high post. In party matters too, Sitaram Kesri rose to chief post. The mismanagement and the mistakes of the party led to its fall and BJP assumed power under leadership of Vajpayee. But the political tide does not let anyone remain in top forever.

Congress was reelected in 2004. But Sonia opted to be a king maker by putting the learned man Dr. Man Mohan Singh on the throne. Activities resumed again at the bungalow of 24, Akbar Road. During this time, the building became tech savvy too, enabling better communication and coordination between party offices all over India. The book ends with an optimistic note on Rahul Gandhi, hoping that the prince will be crowned.

Author Rasheed Kidwai had written this book in a lucid style, keeps the reader engaged in this political thriller. He presents many interesting facts from the history of the party but he got it all wrong with Rahul. 2014 elections proved to be a disaster for Congress and Rahul. (This book was published in 2013). Like in 1978, the party seems to be in shambles again. Recently the ruling Govt. had issued a notice to Congress to vacate 24, Akbar Road. Is this the end of the historical party or a new beginning? At least it seems to be the end of 24, Akbar road in the history of Congress.