But former cabinet secretary B.G. Deshmukh has chosen to remain in Bombay, serve many social causes and write of past national events of which he knows much. This book of his years with three prime ministers as cabinet secretary and later, principal secretary to the prime minister, makes fascinating reading. It was an eventful period—the strange governments of V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar, national elections, overthrow of the Congress, the play of ambitions in Delhi’s power game, including the desperately aspiring field marshal K. Sundarji and T.N. Seshan who turned from tiger to pussycat. Writing with the calm dissection of a cabinet secretary in the British mould, Deshmukh demolishes other giants like Chaudhary Devi Lal, a Greek god of six feet four with a Mario Caruso voice. Deshmukh is rough on Lal, which I can understand. How, after all, can a calm and almost cold Maharashtrian understand the emotional, erratic, effervescent people’s choice Haryana Jat? But his cameo on Giani Zail Singh, saying little, hiding some, is more affectionate.
Bofors, the Mandal imbroglio, Punjab, Kashmir and many other national events, figure here. Events and personalities, some dead and many alive and still active in governance, flit across these pages. To take one example, Gen Sundarji, Arun Singh, defence secretary S.K. Bhatnagar, Arun Nehru and Seshan, all figure in a frank discussion of defence matters. "Arun Singh, minister of state, was completely bowled over by the top brass. It was openly said that the military chief would tell him what to do and he was happy to fall in line; he took many decisions, even major ones, on behalf of Rajiv Gandhi." Sundarji would not attend the defence secretary’s meetings and Deshmukh writes of a spat where he put him down in a meeting before the prime minister. Sundarji, according to him, was Gen B.M. Kaul-like: a self-imagined marshal out of control. Deshmukh writes, "Sundarji had made up his mind to get the baton of Field Marshal." He also tried hard to have his nominee, Gen B.C. Nanda, succeed him rather than Gen V.N. Sharma, who ultimately did.