In her new book, India’s Broken Tryst (HarperCollins, Rs 699), columnist Tavleen Singh explores her favourite theme: how India’s people have been let down by the ruling classes. She holds the Nehru- Gandhi family particularly responsible for the state of affairs. Singh weaves her very readable story around the lives of both the powerful and the dispossessed. Excerpts:
In the book, you meet Sonia after many years and she remarks, “You hate me more than anyone else.” You reply, “I don’t hate you, I hate your politics.’’ But in your book, disproportionate space is devoted to blaming Sonia for where the country is today.
Actually, I replied, “I hate your being in politics.’’ If I’ve given more time to Sonia, it’s because she attacked me personally. Not only did she harm me, she harmed Ajit (businessman Ajit Gulabchand, promoter of the Lavasa township project and Singh’s partner) much more. She wanted to close Lavasa down, whether it was because of me or whether she thought Lavasa was built with Sharad Pawar’s money. I do believe in the last three years of the UPA, a booming economy was taken right down. She closed major progressive projects. Forget Lavasa, what about Vedanta? If the scheme had taken off, Orissa would have been the biggest producer of aluminum in the world.
How can you single out only the Nehru-Gandhi family for blame? There have been others who ruled India whom you barely mention.
The family has ruled the country for 53 of the 67 years of our independence. What’s the point in talking about (IK) Gujral and (HD) Gowda, who ruled for five minutes? I’m very critical of (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee.
You refer to Vajpayee as a disappointment. You say he was in awe of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and perpetrated the colonial system he inherited.
I believe two things destroyed India and kept her poor. One is a colonial mindset and the other is democratic feudalism. Vajpayee and (LK) Advani got co-opted into Lutyens Delhi’s drawing rooms and so did the favourites of journalists, people like Lalu (Prasad Yadav) and Mulayam (Singh Yadav). For democratic feudalism, I entirely blame Indira Gandhi. If she hadn’t projected her son, we wouldn’t have a situation today where every political party is a private limited company. It is because of the colonial system that our ministers and MPs have to live in government bungalows. This is not the practice in other democracies.
It has been two years since Narendra Modi became prime minister. Has he lived up to the promise of parivartan? You don’t assess his performance. You merely express the hope that the RSS won’t steal his mandate.
I actually started writing the book during the 2014 election. I was very enthused by why the slogan, parivartan, has such resonance. I believe that in the last two years, the media has been very unfair to Modi.
But he has remained silent when people from his party and the Sangh Parivar made provocative and divisive statements.
I actually met the PM the other day and he said that he had not spoken out because in India, every day, something or the other happens. For instance, in Kerala, a Dalit BJP worker’s hands were chopped off the other day. He took a decision not to speak but left it to the chief ministers to speak out on the law and order in the state.
You frequently refer dismissively to the elite in Lutyens Delhi’s drawing rooms and media pundits who fail to grasp the reality on the ground . But you come from a similar elite background.
I am ashamed of the fact that I grew up colonised. Our generation ended up speaking only English. I had to make a conscious effort to learn Hindi in later life and read Hindi literature. I ended up writing two weekly columns in Hindi. The colonial generation has no concept of India beyond their drawing rooms. I am very happy that a new middle class is coming up and I hope they will be better than us.
You once knew Sonia personally but your assessment of her in 2004 was totally off the mark.
I admit I made a mistake. The emergence of Sonia is the real example of India’s broken tryst. India’s leaders were unable to take on a relatively uneducated housewife, a person from another country who at that time did not speak Hindi.
You say that Sonia had editors eating out of her hand.
I don’t want to name names but every major anchor and editor was invited to her tea parties. They would come out preening. She never gave interviews. Never said anything in public.
In your book, you alternate your narrative of personalised political reporting with accounts of your interactions with the homeless people near your apartment building in Mumbai with whom you have become friends.
I started my interaction some 15 years ago. The children on the street loved my dog Julie. Now the kids I knew have become mothers and they come with their problems to me. I respect them as human beings, who need support against a callous state machinery. I started a programme to ensure that they start the day with a good breakfast.
You sneer at the homage paid to the feudal Nehru-Gandhi dynasty but there is a certain deferential tone towards former maharajas and maharanis in your writing.
Some of my very good friends and my father come from a feudal family. If you are going to have feudalism, then let them come back. They built nice cities and palaces. Why pretend to be socialist if you rule India to save it for your children? People are not in public life for public service but for power and money.