Posts Tagged ‘Tavleen Singh’


“What puzzled me about Sonia in those early days was her complete lack of interest in doing something worthwhile in response to the dreadful poverty she saw everyday in her husband’s country… The only comment on politics I remember her making was on a night when Rajiv and she were dropping me home after a dinner party. I asked her if she would like her children to be in politics some day, and she said, ‘I would rather my children begged in the streets than went into politics.”

Engrossing, and voyeuristic, is how one could describe Durbar, well-known political journalist Tavleen Singh’s book on the Indian political scenario since the Emergency. And if you’re a Nehru-Gandhi family basher, you’ll love the book!

Tavleen Singh began her career with The Statesman as a junior reporter in 1975 and within five weeks of that she witnessed post-independent India’s most turbulent period. On June 12, 1975 the Allahabad High Court annulled the election of Mrs Gandhi from Rae Bareli. And around a fortnight later, on June 26, claiming the country was being destabilised, she declared an Emergency.

Tavleen’s account of the days during and after the Emergency details the rise of Sanjay Gandhi as a political force, his five-point programme that was meant to make India a better place, but which, she says, only ended up doing more harm than good. Her description of the events that led to the demolition of Muslim settlements at Turkman Gate and the subsequent riots that broke out resulting in the deaths of a number of Muslims, make for avid reading, especially if you’re, like me, interested in politics and politicians. Quite a few incidents she has written about are, as she herself claims, hearsay, but since she has made them public, we’ll take her word for it.

However, what held my interest was her description of Operation Bluestar, the ascension of Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister on the assassination of his mother, and his refusal to stop the riots that followed, resulting in the cold blooded murders of countless Sikhs on Delhi’s streets. Having been a part of Sonia Gandhi’s circle of friends, Tavleen gives us a pretty unflattering view of India’s Camelot. It is something loyalists of the First Family might find hard to digest. Rajiv, according to her, is a “comical, half-witted prince with no idea of the country he was ruling or its problems” – the charm notwithstanding.

There are other incidents she describes that show Rajiv in very poor light. The Indian Airlines hijack incident, the much publicised visit to Kalahandi in Orissa, his public sacking of the foreign secretary, his reluctance to order a probe into the Bofors deal, which did make people wonder whether he was shielding anyone specific, his role in the problems in Kashmir which India is still paying for, his disastrous forays into Sri Lanka (the IPKF) and Nepal, his inner circle of advisors, and the stranglehold of the bureaucracy and the power brokers over the late prime minister, once the corruption charges began to flow thick and fast, all portray Rajiv as an incompetent leader with little understanding of ground realities.

Sonia is portrayed as a warm, friendly person at times, but indifferent to India’s problems, at others. She is caring towards her family and friends but contemptuous towards her husband’s political advisors and politicians. One senses that Tavleen is bitter at being dumped by Sonia Gandhi, even though she feels she was only doing her job, and ‘Durbar’ seems to be a way to get back at the First Family. But look at the bright side. If Tavleen had remained one of Sonia Gandhi’s close friends, I doubt if we would have got an almost voyeuristic account on the role of India’s First Family, so up close and personal, in India’s recent history.

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