Posts Tagged ‘Tavleen Singh’

How Tavleen Singh fell out with Sonia Gandhi

21 November 2012

The columnist Tavleen Singh has just penned what she calls her “political memoirs”.

Titled Durbar (Hachette, 324 pages, Rs 599), the book charts Singh’s view of the corridors of power in Delhi from the inside out—from Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency in 1975 to her assassination in 1984; from Rajiv Gandhi‘s rise to his downfall and death in 1991.

The book jacket describes how Singh, at various times a reporter for The Statesman, Delhi; The Telegraph and Sunday, Calcutta; The Sunday Times, London:

“observed a small, influential section of Delhi’s society—people she knew well—remain strangely unafffected by the perilous state of the nation…. It was the beginning of a political culture of favouritism and ineptitude that would take hold at the highest levels of government, stunting India’s ambitions and frustrating its people well into the next century.”

In chapter 14, titled Euphoric Early Days and a Plot, Singh chronicles throws light on how her friendship with Rajiv’s window Sonia Gandhi waned—and the role played by a 1986 profile of the current Congress president in India Today magazine.

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By TAVLEEN SINGH

By the middle of 1986, my relations with M.J. Akbar had become so fraught that I decided I was better off going freelance. I was writing regularly by then for the Sunday Times, London, which brought in more money than I earned at the Telegraph.

I came to an arrangement with Aroon Purie, owner and chief editor of India Today, to do some freelance work for him as well and with a considerable degree of pleasure sent Akbar my resignation. His tantrums and sulks had now become so routine as to make constant difficulties for me professionally….

So it was that I happened to be in the India Today office on the afternoon the news came that someone had tried to shoot Rajiv Gandhi when he was visiting Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial, Rajghat, on 2 October 1986. The failed assassin was a twenty-four-year-old Sikh called Karamjit Singh, who was such an amateur that he used a country-made pistol as his weapon….

When I heard that Sonia had been with Rajiv at Rajghat, I called her to find out what had happened. She said that what had upset her most was that when they heard the shots the first people to duck were Rajiv’s new and supposedly highly trained bodyguards from the special protection group (SPG).

I must have mentioned our conversation in the India Today office that afternoon because immediately afterwards Aroon Purie summoned me to his room to ask if I could do an interview with Sonia Gandhi.

He said that people were blaming her for the negative stories that were beginning to pollute the atmosphere around Rajiv and everyone was curious about what kind of person she was and whether she really controlled the prime minister as people said she did. Although she went everywhere with the prime minister nobody knew anything about her at all.

What did her voice sound like?

How did she spend her days?

What did she think of India?

I called Sonia and told her that India Today wanted to do an interview with her and emphasised that her image was really bad and that it might help her to give an interview and clarify some of the things that were being said about her.

I told her that she was being blamed for interfering in government affairs and such things as throwing Arun Nehru out of the circle of Rajiv’s closest advisors…. She listened in silence and remained silent for a few moments before saying that she would check with the prime minister’s media managers and see if they thought she should give an interview to India Today.

They did not think it was a good idea. So we agreed to do an interview disguised as a profile and that only Sonia and I, and of course India Today, would know that the profile was done with her cooperation. I asked her all the questions that Aroon wanted me to and produced a profile that was so anodyne that Aroon said, ‘I don’t mind being considered a chamcha of Rajiv Gandhi, but of Sonia…’

I pointed out that I had said right from the start that I would not be able to say anything negative about her since we were doing the profile with her cooperation. Aroon was unconvinced and said that the very least we should do was put in the things that people were saying about her. He suggested that we put some bite into the piece by getting my colleague Dilip Bobb to work with me so that if I had problems with Sonia afterwards I could put the blame on Dilip.

So on the cover of the 15 December 1986 issue of India Today there appeared a profile titled ‘The Enigmatic First Lady of India’.

I am going to quote here the first two paragraphs and admit that the writing of them had more to do with Dilip than me. My contribution was to provide information about Sonia’s likes and dislikes, her friends and her life as the prime minister’s wife:

Had fate – in the form of assassins’ bullets – not intervened, she would have probably been quite content to linger in the shadow of her formidable mother-in-law, her assiduously protected privacy undisturbed by the fact that she belonged to the most famous family in the land. But destiny – and dynasty – willed otherwise. Unwarned, Sonia Gandhi was suddenly pitch-forked into the position she would have least wanted – India’s First Lady.

It is, as the last two years have painfully revealed, a role she is not comfortable in. Compared to the relaxed style of her debonair husband, she appears awkward and wooden. Though impeccably attired and carefully groomed, her face, framed by luxuriant chestnut hair, is an immobile mask. Perhaps deliberately, her public personality has given her the image of a mere ceremonial appendage to the Prime Minister. She is not a Lalita Shastri, but neither does she seem cut out to be Nancy Reagan or a Raisa Gorbachova. And the fate of someone who falls between two stools is not a happy one.

The article went on to charge Sonia with being the power behind the throne ‘plotting the downfall of opponents, through cabinet reshuffles (she didn’t trust Arun Nehru) and advising her husband on everything from the Kashmir coalition to Pepsi Cola’s entry into India.’

The profile was not flattering but it was not as bad as it could have been. Considering how much vicious gossip there was about the Quattrocchis by then, the piece was not unfair. There was only an illusion to her friends using her name when they threw their weight around Delhi’s drawing rooms and government offices. This was mentioned in passing.

So, when I called Sonia to find out what she thought of the profile I did not expect the frosty response I got.

I asked her if she had seen the profile and what she thought about it, and I remember being surprised by the icy tone in which she replied that she did not think she was like the person I had described in the profile. In what way, I asked, and she mentioned the reference to her friends using her name.

I said, ‘Look, Sonia, there are people using your name. I don’t want to give you details over the phone. But let’s have coffee and I will tell you exactly what is going on and who is doing what.’

We agreed to meet the next day or the next, but an hour before our scheduled meeting Madhavan, her personal assistant, called to say that Mrs Gandhi was unable to keep our appointment as she was accompanying the prime minister to Kashmir. He had been instructed to tell me that she would call when she returned to fix another time.

She never did.

Some weeks later I wrote to her to offer condolences on her father’s death and got a polite handwritten reply in her neat, carefully formed handwriting. My New Year’s card in January 1987 was not written by hand and signed by both of them as it was the year before. It came from the prime minister’s office and was formally signed by Rajiv Gandhi.

I had been dropped.

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Book excerpt: courtesy Hachette

Photo illustration: courtesy Amarjit Siddu via Al Arabiya

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Also visit: Tavleen Singh‘s website

Follow her on Twitter: @tavleen_singh

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Also read: Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co

B.G. Verghese on the declaration of Emergency

Salmaan Taseer: The Tavleen Singh connection

5 January 2011

Indian media reports of the assassination of the Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer have been deferentially silent on his “Indian connection”—his dalliance with the columnist Tavleen Singh.

Although Twitter is abuzz, most newspapers (including The Indian Express, which carries Singh’s column on Sundays) have preferred to ignore any mention of the cross-border connection.

Except…

An IANS report: “Salman Taseer came to India in March 1980 to promote a laudatory biography of Pakistan’s leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. According to columnist Khushwant Singh, Taseer met Tavleen Singh at the Oberoi hotel where he stayed and fell in love with her. The two married briefly, but fell apart swiftly, leading to much bitterness.”

Sankarshan Thakur writes in The Telegraph: “Taseer teased the edge in private as he did in public. He married thrice and a brief tryst with Indian journalist Tavleen Singh produced his best-known progeny, author Aatish Taseer.”

Aakar Patel writes in Mumbai Mirror: “Taseer was fond of women and stories about his sexual appetite were part of his legend. With socialite-writer Tavleen Singh, he fathered a boy.”

Sameer Arshad and Omer Farooq Khan in The Times of India: “Taseer married twice and fathered six children including Indian journalist Tavleen Singh’s son, Aatish Taseer.”

A report in The Economic Times: “Born in London in 1980 to Taseer, the slain governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, and renowned Indian journalist Tavleen Singh , a Sikh by faith, Aatish always wanted to discover the faith of his father, Islam.”

‘The media is as guilty of neglect as politicians’

19 April 2009

Is the Indian media as guilty as those in the Indian polity in the “neglect” of the country it covers (and uncovers)? At least two well-known journalists, from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum,  seem to think so.

Kalpana Sharma, formerly of The Hindu, writes on the media website, The Hoot:

“Elections are a time when the media discovers India, the real India.  If people complain that their Members of Parliament only visit their constituencies once in five years, the same can be said about the media.  In the run up to any election, municipal, assembly or parliament, you find newspapers full of stories about the “real” conditions in which people live, stories that could have been written at any point in the previous five years.”

Tavleen Singh writes in The Indian Express:

“We in the media are almost as much to blame as the political class because we spend far too much time talking about stupid things and ignoring what is crucial. Throughout the election campaign we have spent so much time discussing the foibles and failings of the Gandhi progeny that we have found little time to talk of real issues. I got so tired of hearing important journalists discuss the badness of Varun Gandhi and the goodness of Rahul and Priyanka that I stopped watching the news channels. How many times did we hear serious discussion of why our public services are such a mess or why after 60 years of Independence our political leaders are unable to provide clean drinking water? Or why unplanned urbanisation has put Bharat Mata well on the road to becoming a continent of slums by 2050.”

Is this just heroic self-flagellation?

After all, aren’t there islands of sanity in the media, print and electronic, which cover the bijli-sadak-pani issues on a realtime basis day after day, month after month, year after year?

If frivolous media “brands” erected on the 4Fs—food, fun, fashion and fornication—thrive to the point of wiping out the serious media, what does it say about the concerns of the lay reader, viewer, listener, surfer?

Is the news consumer too guilty of neglect?

Read the full articles: Poll time reality check

Vote for governance

Also read: How the media misses the woods for the trees

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