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Since 1st March, 1999
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Politicians’ stories in election year

New Delhi, April 4: This election year seems to be the write season for many top politicians in the country. Several big-ticket politicians are penning their memoirs that are set to hit the bookstores down the coming months.

Among the most watched will be the autobiography of the Speaker of the just-concluded 14th Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee.

Chatterjee is on a year-end deadline with HarperCollins. Now that he has no Lok Sabha to mind and no party to do duty for, Chatterjee is expected to finish well in time. Following that, he plans to write another book on Bengal politics, contracted by Penguin India.

Considering that Somnathda has been in the tide of several late-career controversies within and outside Parliament, ending in an acrimonious break with the CPM, many are waiting with eyes peeled and ears flapping for what he will have to say. He has not stopped from indulging in a bit of pre-publicity himself, promising it will be “khatta-meetha” (sweet and sour). Many are betting there could be bitter stuff in there, too, enough to generate fresh ripples in Left circles.

Another former Lok Sabha Speaker — and humiliated home minister — Shivraj Patil, too, has been working on his memoirs. Another man with little else to distract his attention, another man who is known to be making fast progress on his work.

Patil is said not to have finalised a publisher, but the industry buzz is that he is not giving away much that is interesting.

Patil’s Maharashtra colleague, A.R. Antulay, isn’t keen on contesting his home seat of Raigad and one reason he has cited is that he wants to complete his life story.

His cabinet colleague and another old Congress warhorse, Arjun Singh, has had his life ghost-written by journalist Ram Sharan Joshi. The memoir, titled Ek Sahayatri Itihas Ka (A fellow-traveller of History), is ready but the release has been deferred to after the general elections. Some say, on account of its controversial and explosive content.

Apparently, there are references to Arjun’s “loyalty” to the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhis not being rewarded in full measure. At one place, Joshi, the biographer, has said Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to back Arjun as President of India had left him and his family “deeply hurt”.

Some of that bitterness is pouring out in bits — Arjun’s daughter has decided to contest the Lok Sabha elections as an Independent against the Congress. But then, probably he is holding back the really explosive bits for later.

The publishers, Raj Kamal Prakashan, said the book might be in the shops soon after the polls.

Another interesting life story is under the pen — Pranab Mukherjee’s. This, as he does not tire telling the Jangipur electorate, may be his last election, but nobody’s betting on the man being able to set time aside to actually put out the book.

Apart from bearing responsibilities as foreign minister, Mukherjee is also his government’s and party’s chief trouble-shooter; there is barely any group of ministers’ committee he does not head or is not part of. But, as a man of phenomenal memory and an equally phenomenal political career, Mukherjee’s memoirs will be of huge interest to connoisseurs of contemporary public life.

He hasn’t picked a publisher yet, but when he is ready, there is little doubt he will be spoilt for choice.

“Politicians in India do not usually retire,” said Pramod Kapoor, publisher of Roli Books. “So you do not get the kind of autobiographies that you find in the West where politicians do retire and then write. In India, their endless careers continue to come in the way of them baring it all candidly.”

The slew of books in the works should keep publishers like Kapoor interested.

The market? The industry is rather bullish it exists. “There is a market for these books,” said Ravi Singh, publisher of Penguin India, confidently. “The biography of Mayavati we brought out last year is in reprint now.”

More’s coming their way.

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