The tag of Rasheed Kidwai’s book—“a short history of the people behind the fall and rise of the Congress”—hides what is in fact an absorbing tale rather than a scholarly history, written as it is in a racy style. Like “a political thriller”, as Rajdeep Sardesai says in the foreword. Despite the flashbacks to the Nehru era and to Indira Gandhi’s first innings as prime minister, the story is essentially of the period beginning with her humiliating defeat in the post-Emergency 1977 election. For that is when the Congress (I) shifted its headquarters to 24 Akbar Road, conveniently close to Sonia Gandhi’s residence since 1989.
Much of the story is well-known, though Kidwai has dug up some juicy gossip that adds spice to his narrative. Of the large cast of characters in the unending drama, many have been long forgotten. Who remembers Sanjay Gandhi’s “close associate and socialite” Rukhsana Sultana, who attracted so much limelight during the Emergency? But she gets a few pages here if only because of her antics and the intense dislike she evoked, especially in Maneka Gandhi and Ambika Soni. Interestingly, figures like the flamboyant Akbar Ahmad “Dumpy”, once very close to Sanjay, hardly find a mention. But some utterly inconsequential individuals do.