Up Close and Personal
Author: Tavleen Singh
Price: Rs 599
A recurring theme in veteran journalist Tavleen Singh's exceedingly readable Durbar is that the country has been let down by its rulers. Insulated from the harsh realities of the country by a cocoon of privilege, most politicians are out of touch with the real political, social and cultural problems of India, she argues. Singh traces the root cause of this phenomenon to dynastic politics, which has installed a ruling class, which looks to the West as a role model and is unfamiliar with India's rich heritage. Rajiv Gandhi, for instance, despite his speeches against power brokers in the party, was influenced largely by his advisers into taking the wrong decisions. The precedent for dynastic politics was set by the Gandhis and has since been emulated by other parties and politicians.
Singh gives us a peep into the darbari politics of the Gandhis in the Seventies and Eighties. She herself was part of the exclusive social circle in which Rajiv and Sonia once moved. The Gandhi coterie included Arun and Nina Singh, Suman and Manju Dubey, Romi Chopra, Ottavio and Maria Quattrocchi, Satish and Sterre Sharma and Mohan and Nimal Thadani. With her eye for detail and an incisive touch, Singh provides us some juicy nuggets. You get to know how the politically privileged conduct themselves in private. Politics was never discussed with the Gandhis during the Emergency. There is a riveting account of a dinner party conversation between Naveen Patnaik, now chief minister of Orissa, and Sonia Gandhi. Patnaik was not sure whether it was proper for him to mingle with Rajiv and Sonia since Indira Gandhi had put his father Biju Patnaik in jail but he finally decided that etiquette demanded he go across and say hello. Admiring Sonia's dress, he asked if it was a Valentino. Sonia replied that it was stitched by her local darzi.