Face-to-face with Karan Thapar


Karan Thapar is back in the news!

(Karan Thapar – journalist, commentator and interviewer – has got people talking again with his recently launched book ‘Devil’s Advocate – The Untold Story, in which he relates his encounters with various well-known personalities he has interviewed.)

Below, Aurora shares from its archives, two interviews conducted with Thapar; one back in 1998 and the other in 2003. Also included is a piece written by him in 2000, in which he recounts his meeting with (the then) Pakistan’s Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf.

1. The General and the Journalist: The Tie That Bound

Karan Thapar succumbs to the charms of General Musharraf.

(From Aurora May-June 2000)

Sometimes the most unlikely things can leave a lasting impression. You don’t expect them, you certainly can’t plan for them, but when they occur they change everything. In a flash all that has happened before alters and all that is to follow is conditioned. Last week, this happened on two consecutive days but in two separate countries and with two quite different people. One of them was General Musharraf. The other was Shah Rukh Khan.

I was in Islamabad to interview Pakistan’s Chief Executive. As an Indian interviewer, my first objective was to get him to accept he is a military dictator and that his claim to be restoring democracy is codswallop. The other was to talk to him about how his actions, or lack of them, were the real problem in Indo¬-Pakistan relations.

As you can imagine it’s not the sort of task that will endear the interviewer to the interviewee and I must admit there was a certain apprehension in my heart. After all, you can’t sit in a man’s drawing room and call him a tamashah to his face and not annoy him.

Well, I did my bit. I called the General a dictator, I told him that in Indian eyes his sincerity and credibility were utterly suspect and I claimed to have discovered the contradictions that bedevil him. He is an army chief who has overthrown an elected prime minister in the name of democracy, yet wants his protestations to be taken at face value even though he is not prepared to do very much to prove his credentials. As I put it to him, what could be more bizarre than that?

The General simply smiled. In fact it wasn’t long before I noticed he was unperturbed. Of course, he defended himself, always fluently, often ably, and even nodded in agreement with some of the comments I made. By taking my critique on the chin and showing no anger, he cleverly defused it.

During the commercial break, instinctively feeling I needed to make small talk to keep a relationship going, I complimented the General on his tie. I had not expected any response; leave aside the one I got.

“Do you really like it?” he asked, a smile lighting up his face, and his voice revealing the same innocent pleasure that you or I would feel if someone had admired our clothes.

“Yes I do,” I said. “It’s very attractive.”

Then the interview re-started. Part two was on Kashmir which means the disagreements were sharper and the potential for acrimony greater. Half an hour later, when we ended, the tie was the last thing on my mind. My thoughts were on making a polite but fast getaway.

“I’d like you to have this,” General Musharraf suddenly said, undoing his tie. “Please let me give it to you.”

“Sir, sir, sir… ” I stammered, “that was only an innocent remark. I wasn’t hinting or anything.”

“I know,” he replied. “It’s my gesture of conciliation to you.”

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