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Muted mutiny with wife on guard

New Delhi, Jan. 14: Wife Nadira was at hand to rein him in, still Vidiadhar S. Naipaul bristled — but more at cellphone-ring interruptions than at the BJP-led government’s “lack of graciousness” in its handling of Tehelka.

The Nobel laureate expressed his “disappointment” with the way the government had treated the news portal after it exposed corruption in defence deals involving politicians. But he hoped that the government would step aside from the “sorry state of affairs”.

Naipaul appeared to be trying to use his credential as a BJP sympathiser to urge the government to “withdraw” what many consider to be the harassment of Tehelka.

Admitting that he retained some “goodwill” towards the government, the author, accompanied by Nadira and Tehelka CEO and chief editor Tarun Tejpal, told reporters that the Tehelka episode had become a “bad story” because of the “lack of graciousness and perhaps even gracelessness” on the government’s part.

Naipaul is a member of the Tehelka board, a post he said he accepted because of his “faith” in the integrity of Tejpal and his team. “I am profoundly disappointed over what happened to Tehelka which can damage the country,” he said — very restrained for someone known to give a sharp tongue freer play.

He snapped only once. “I’m not a tap. I think before I speak” — the words flashed out like a whiplash as cellphones sprang to raucous life all around, or people in the media exchanged loud whispers.

Naipaul said “it was a mistake” on the part of the government to have done what it did to Tehelka and expressed dismay that the controversy which should have been “resolved” by now had “unfortunately” not ended.

Nadira sought to assist her husband by trying to paraphrase him without quite revelling in the task. She was protective and often tried to answer the tricky political questions, wary that her husband might say something controversial.

In the process, she described deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani as a “suave” politician and a “good journalist”. Nadira said she and her husband were satisfied with their meeting with Advani who had promised “to look into” the Tehelka episode.

Tejpal said Tehelka, now almost defunct, would return, maybe in the form of a magazine or a paper.

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