0 Highlights of India's Broken Tryst author Tavleen Singh's Interview

Tavleen Singh is an Indian columnist, political reporter and writer. Tavleen Singh has never been one to shy away from lambasting inefficient governments and political leaders. So when this diarist chatted up with Singh about her new book, India's Broken Tryst, it didn't come as a surprise when she refused to hold back from speaking about the powers that be.

Her former friend, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was first in the line of fire. In the book, Gandhi gets featured prominently, and not for good reasons. We asked why, and Tavleen was quick to ask if there was anybody else who would dare to do that job. "I am almost the only journalist in India who has criticised Sonia Gandhi by name. You could even Google it up [to verify the claim]," she says, adding, "When she came into politics, I did not criticise her for her 'foreignness', but her policies. But she took it personally. She is so used to being the Rajmata of India that nobody can speak against her. Is that democracy?"

Singh, however, isn't disapproving of everyone from the Congress. She took up the cudgels for former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been accused a time too many for playing second fiddle to the High Command. "He was a very good PM in the first term. The economy boomed, there was prosperity, and he followed policies that made India business-friendly."

But if any leader wins Singh's approval, it's NaMo. "I support this PM publicly and will continue to do so," she says of Narendra Modi. "He hasn't gone far enough to make India business-friendly, but he has pointed out the right direction for the country by talking about 'save the girl child' and 'swach' Bharat." Her book, we hear, has many more scathing and flattering observations. We love the sound of that.

You combine political analysis with accounts of your encounter with street children in Mumbai. What do you intend to do with this book?
The purpose was to show how the Indian state has become the enemy of the Indian people, both rich and poor. I did it anecdotally because I find it very boring to read heavy analysis of things that are simple to understand.

Where do you think we went wrong?
I believe that we should have de-colonised governance after we became an independent country. The training of our bureaucrats remains colonial. Their allegiance is to the ruler, not the people. If you go to the small towns in India, there is always one street that is spotlessly clean. They have clean water, electricity – everything that the people do not. We have a mixture of colonial governance and democratic feudalism. The only people who've benefited from it are a small power group at the top. Our English speaking politicians, and English speaking bureaucracy have been very disconnected from people who do not speak English.

Why blame only politicians for the mess? Isn't part of the problem the corruption and apathy at the lowest levels?
Politics is about results, it is about policies. I don't think the policies have benefited India. We've had an economic dictatorship that has kept India poor in the name of socialism and political feudalism that has served as an instrument of repression. Which state would not be rich if it didn't have better policies? You take Orissa, which would be as rich as Bali in 10 minutes, couldn't it?

Are you still optimistic about Narendra Modi's tenure?
I am prepared to give him a chance, as are the people. It is not even two years yet. And he's up against an establishment that involves the media, intellectuals and leftist university professors, which has served the interests of the Congress. Modi has made all the right noises. We don't know how well he'll succeed. He's possibly the first PM to point out that India no longer lives in the villages. I think some of the Hindutva stuff has been very damaging. He should have stopped his chief ministers from the beef ban and all that hysteria. In Maharashtra, he should have concentrated on creating enough infrastructure for relief in Marathwada; instead you have this Bharat Mata Ki Jai rubbish.

You point to the deficiencies of Nehru's economic policies, but didn't his emphasis on secularism help to keep the nation together?
I don't share that view. I covered many communal riots and found that Muslims were ghettoised and made to believe that they could only trust the Congress party. But they were massacred every time there were riots. And there were many riots. Secularism was a poisoned chalice.

You write unflatteringly of Atal Behari Vajpayee in this book.
I was very disappointed. I was a huge fan of Vajpayee. I hoped that he would change the awful colonial governance and dynastic politics that I blame for India being backward and poor.

You accuse him of being too courteous...
Where was the need for him to show up for every funeral and sit with Sonia Gandhi looking disdainfully down at him? I was very disappointed in his time as prime minister.

Is Modi any different?
He (too) is courteous – (though) I think he made a mistake by putting Sonia at the high table in the banquet for Obama. And all she's done since is attack him. When you defer to a family that in any case considers it its birthright to rule India, then you tread a very dangerous course.

What was the Gandhi family's reaction to Durbar?
I start the book with a tax raid most journalists believe was so because I was virtually the only journalist to criticise Sonia. I mention how she tried to get my column thrown out of The Indian Express.

With 44 seats, do you think this is the end of the road for the Congress?
In politics, there is never the end of any road. The Congress is our oldest political party and still stretches across the country. But they haven't been able to capture the interest of younger Indians. I think it'll be a while before they revive, but you can never say.

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