Book Name: Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
Author: Karan Thapar
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Harper India; 1 edition (18 July 2018)
In the modernist literature, rarely comes a manuscript which is brimming with end-number of anecdotes and literarily rich words. One such manuscript is the book by the seasoned journalist and TV anchor Karan Thapar. The book is titled “Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story”.
Like his no holds barred television interviews, Thapar’s book also keeps a reader on tenterhooks. “Devil’s Advocate” is a detailed account of Thapar’s life ranging from his childhood days to his heydays as a television anchor.
The book has talked in detail about Thapar’s friendship with the former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto. A brief description about a debate titled ‘This house would have sex before marriage’ has been provided in the chapter titled ‘The Cambridge Union Society, and Meeting Benazir’. At that time Bhutto was the treasurer of the Oxford Union while Thapar was the vice-president at Cambridge.
Thapar writes that: “For an aspiring Pakistani politician, this was dangerous territory to tread on, but at the time it just felt like a fun debate.” It was from their stint at Cambridge and Oxford that their friendship bloomed and only ended with the death of Bhutto in 2007.
The book has also dealt in detail with the marriage ceremony of Bhutto which the author himself attended. Her extravagant marriage has been fully described by the author.
Foe turned friend
Karan Thapar became the first Indian journalist who interviewed General Pervez Mushraff after a bloodless coup in October 1999 which led to the ouster of Pakistan’s elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “Devil’s Advocate” provides an interesting anecdote from the interview of General Musharraf. This interview will go down in history as one of the best interviews Thapar has done.
Here is an anecdote of the Karan Thapar and General Musharraf’s interview: “During the commercial break, instinctively feeling that I needed to make small talk to keep our conversation going, I complimented the General on his tie.
‘Do you really like it?’ he asked.
‘Yes I do,’ I said. ‘It’s very attractive.’
Then the second part of the interview restarted and half an hour when the interview ended, the tie was the last thing on my mind. My thoughts were on walking a polite but fast gateway.
‘I’d like you to have the tie,’ the General suddenly said.
‘Sir, sir, sir’, I stammered.
‘I know,’ he replied. ‘It’s my gesture of conciliation with you.’
‘Thank you’, I said, still shaken.
Then, looking at the gold tiepin and chain now idly dangling on his T-shirt, I added with a laugh, ‘I should have admired the gold chain. Maybe you would have given that to me as well.’
The general roared.
‘Hann,’ he said. ‘Aur agar app ko jootein pasand ho to who bhi mil jaatein (And if you liked my shoes you would have got those as well)!’ “In a flash, the tension evaporated and the mood was full of bonhomie.”
The book reveals further that by the time the hotly debated interview had come to an end the foes had turned to be the best friends.
Friend turned foe
In no unambiguous terms, Karan Thapar has revealed his closeness to the then Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and his family. Thapar says it was one of the interviews that brought him close to the Advanis and also his another interview that was responsible for the break-up of their relation.
He writes that although both of them still are on the talking terms but things have not remained the same as they used to be between them.
Thapar candidly writes about his relationship with the then Pakistan High Commissioner to India Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. He writes that Pakistan was keen to establish rapport with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and it was the author who with the help of the then Defence Minister George Mathew Fernandes approached Lal Krishna Advani and established back channel between the BJP led government and Pakistan.
Calling himself a chauffeur, Thapar has also mentioned how he would drive Qazi in his car to the house of Advanis discreetly so that both could talk in utter secrecy and in dead of the night.
A detailed account is also given in the book about the incidents and get-together meetings that took place in New Delhi soon after the parliament was attacked. Right from the day first of the parliament attack, Thapar has been with the side of Qazi in helping him in trying to establish contact with the NDA led government in New Delhi.
Finally, the relationship between Advanis and Karan Thapar came to an end in the year 2009 when in one of the interviews L K Advani got offended over a few questions asked by the author. He left the interview mid-way and never returned. If not a foe, but they never again remained friends as well.
Thapar’s interviews with Amal Clooney, Barak Obama, Amitabh Bachchan, J. Jayalalithaa, Kapil Dev and Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar are worth a read in the book. A detailed description about his friendship with Sanjay Gandhi and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is also given. The author has also dedicated a chapter to P. V. Narasimha Rao, Chandra Shekhar, V P Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the four former prime ministers of the Indian state. Thapar has written about how he survived a bomb blast when he was on an assignment to Sri Lanka.
Mother of all interviews
If the book, ‘Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story’ is making rounds on the news media outlets it is because of the author’s interview with none other than country’s incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the year 2007. The interview did not even last a full four minutes.
This mother of all interview has been talked in detail in the last chapter of the book titled ‘Why Modi Walked Out and the BJP Shuns Me’. As the title suggests, the animosity between the two, which started in 2007, has only gone from bad to worse with each passing year.
The author has also complained in the chapter about how the rest of the members including the sitting minister have started to boycott Thapar’s interview programmes. He says that BJP National Secretary Ram Madhav was the last one he has interviewed from the BJP in January 2017.
Thapar has named politicians like Arun Jaitley, Prakash Javadekar, Amit Shah and even National Security Advisor Ajit Doval whom he tried to ask about why the Prime Minister is upset with the author and what has led to the members of the BJP to shun the programmes of Thapar.
Thapar’s expose about the politician Pavan Varma towards the end of the chapter has created an uproar across the media fraternity while others have raised questions about the journalistic ethics of the Thapar whether he should have written about the conversation he had with Varma or not. The author writes about the conversation that happened between Varma and Prashant Kishor.
The conversation: “Modi said to Prashant that he will never forgive you (Karan Thapar) and when he gets an opportunity he will take his revenge. This is something Prashant repeated at least two or three times. It wasn’t just an occasional comment made by Modi. Prashant was convinced that this was Modi’s intent and he wouldn’t rest till he had got even with you.”
While Pavan Varma in a tweet has refuted that such a conversation took place between him and Thapar, Karan Thapar on the other side defended his decision of expose in an interview with the Newslaundary saying that the conversation was never meant to be confidential.
The author has repeatedly repeated in his last chapter that he was ready to apologize if he had unwittingly upset someone or said something. Thapar would have no hesitation in apologizing. But the BJP left no door open for Thapar’s apologies.
The soul mate
The fourth chapter of the book title ‘My Wife, Nisha’ is the heartbreaking chapter which has been written in the most piercing manner. Nisha and Thapar got married in early 1980. It was a love marriage which only lasted just more than six years. Nisha died young just at the age of 34. She was a promising independent job-oriented lady.
Thapar has craftily written how Nisha had to go for an abortion before their marriage and how difficult it was for him to turn off the machines in a hospital on which Nisha’s life depended.