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31st May 1998

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Rao tells all from inside

By Bandula jayasekara

The former Prime Minister of India Pemalapuri Venkata Narasimha Rao has bounced back into limelight and national reckoning with his first book 'The Insider'. It is a hard cover, hard core 800 pages Penguin India Publication priced Indian rupees 700/= (almost one rupee per page).

'The Insider' touted as the first work of fiction written by a Head of State was launched recently in Delhi, attended by three Prime Ministers and a President. The usually quiet Rao makes some interesting revelations in 'The Insider'.

Talking about politics, he says he chose the field, "Because I wanted something that would engage all my energy I chose politics, knowing that in this field there is no such thing as success.... I chose it for endlessness."

It is left to people to judge a leader when he says , "I was never completely enamoured by the power of politics. Power always sat lightly on my shoulders".

P.V. Narasimha Rao admits that the Congress brought freedom to India but failed to bring economic freedom to the country. However many critics in India have accused Rao that his writing on corruption in high places sounds credible but is far too polite and discreet.

Rao has dealt with "Operation Blue Star" and the assassination of Indira Gandhi with only a few lines.

Indian author and news paper columnist Shobha De had one question for Rao (Anand in the book). She asked who was the mysterious Aruna in the book? Was Rao immortalising his real life relationship with the dusky journalist Kalyani Shankar?

The Insider will be available at the Vijitha yapa Book shop in June.

You got it wrong there De!

Shobha De wrote recently in her column, "I have become something of an addict of BBC's "Hard Talk". If our poor Bachchan was given a particularly hard time on it by Nisha Pillai, there are others who have come across brilliantly like Chandrika Kumaratunga, President of Sri Lanka. She spoke exceedingly well in her broad, Sri Lankan accent and she looked wonderful.

"I've always found her an exceptionally attractive lady and her appearance in "Hard Talk", further reinforced my admiration.

The line of questioning wasn't soft at all.

"She had no bombastic claims, nor did she damn her opponents, unlike Benazir Bhutto, who was strident and shrill. Chandrika was restrained and respectful, even towards her enemies. The sign of a good leader."

Sorry Shobha,I can't agree with you there. You missed a few points. The President has a Sri Lankan accent and a French style. After all this femme fatale went to Sorbonne. The line of questioning was not hard enough. The interviewer was very patronising. She does damn her opponents very much. It is no secret here, and now the whole opposition is damned. Just switch on the television not Doordarshan but our own Rupavahini.

Mugabe: All set for life as a highland laird

They are already calling him the new king of Scotland. Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, is trying to buy a castle deep in the Highlands.

The stately retreat, dubbed "MacGabe Towers" by his opponents in Zimbabwe, could become a hideaway for the African ruler as he faces increasing difficulties at home.

Business associates say he fell in love with the Highlands during numerous visits since he became Zimbabwe's ruler 17 years ago. Mugabe is believed to have made inquiries about buying an ancient Scottish seat during the Commonwealth conference in Edinburgh last year.

He is not the first African ruler to fall in love with the country. Idi Amin, the former Ugandan dictator, claimed he was "the last king of Scotland". Amin often wore a kilt and even sponsored a group sympathetic to Scottish nationalism. According to sources in Harare, Mugabe has already been turned down by the owner of one castle and is in negotiations with a second. For a man who has become used to 1iving in the lap of luxury, the choice is relatively small with only a handful of suitable properties for sale, although negotiations for such residences are always conducted in confidence.

One on the market is Muchalls castle, near Aberdeen. priced at £650,000. It is close to the estate where Mugabe used to stay with a former friend and is just 40 miles from the Queen's Balmoral estate.

Mugabe, 73, a former teacher who studied at London University, became ruler of Zimbabwe shortly after the fall of Ian Smith's government in 1979 but is seen as increasingly remote from his people.

He recently faced his most serious crisis since he came to power when he clashed with trade unions and white Zimbabweans weary of his government's corrupt rule and economic mismanagement. He has also been widely criticised for his extravagant lifestyle. Since marrying his former secretary Grace, 41 years his junior, in a £2m ceremony in August 1996, he has set about increasing his number of houses. He already owns six in and around Harare.

"It is his wife who is behind this drive for new homes," said Dr Jocelyn Alexander, an expert on Zimbabwean politics at Oxford University. "While he has always been extravagant, she, encourages him in it."

According to sources in Harare, Mugabe has shown an interest in Scottish property for some time. It has been claimed that he and his wife have also used a Johannesburg-based air freight company to transport furniture to Scotland. "Some say it would be in keeping with the man," said one well-placed observer in Harare. "If he does go to Scotland there would not be many people here who would miss him." -The Sunday Times

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