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February 24, 2014 / subramanyam

A “Durbar” that enthralls…


          “Tell me who you go with and I’ll tell you who you are”  is an English proverb we all know.  Our behavior is by and large determined by the company we keep, good friends lead us to heights and the bad ones push us in to an abyss and it takes a herculean effort to come out of mistakes we commit in bad company.  Now, if a person does this mistake (falling prey to bad company), he and his immediate family suffers, but what if the Head of a State does this ?  Can you just imagine the repercussions of this mistake on the nation, one five year term can potentially create problems for the next 2 or 3 decades and the successive govts and the nation at large would bear the brunt. Won’t they ?

          As a part of my promise that I would read more non-fiction this year, I read Tavleen Singh’s Durbar a few days ago. In

The front cover

The front cover

this book she speaks about the instances where the rulers fell prey to coteries  and the mistakes that followed, some of these mistakes costed this nation dearly and we Indians are still suffering from the repercussions.  Here is an extract from the blurb of the book .

“In 1984, following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister, fortified by a huge mandate from a nation desperate for change. But, belying its hopes, the young leader chose for himself a group of advisors, friends and acolytes from the drawing rooms of Delhi, as inexperienced as him and just as unaware of the ground realities of a complex 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. ”

           There is hearsay  and there are  some unverified stories/rumors  on how Rajiv probably was misguided and I did hear some of them before, however I never came across a book that speaks about them. When I read this blurb of Durbar I decided to give it a try.

           Tavleen Singh, the author of this book narrates the events from her own perspective. We actually see all those events from her lens. The book covers a lot of things that happened between 1975 and 1990 and gives us a completely different perspective of things.  Tavleen was an ambitious young woman (in her 20’s) when India began to experience some of its most dramatic changes.  In mid 70’s a sequence of things lead to Indira Gandhi declaring the first and only “state of emergency”. The result, India went through a turmoil and quite a lot of things changed from there on.

           Tavleen Singh, the young and ambitious journalist has just started her career, her friends included a quite a number of influential people and some of them even had access to the Gandhi family.  What does all this tell her? What does she get to know about the Gandhi family? What were Rajiv’s views on politics? What was Sonia’s take on things?  This books gives some answers to all these questions.

           As we progress, we see the Janata government coming in, the rule of Shri Morarji Desai, the brilliance of  Vajpayeeji, the austerity of Morarji’s ministers and the intentions of Shri Chaudhary Charan Singh are all well portrayed.  Here she compares the durbar’s of all the 3 leaders, Shri Morarji Desai, Shri Charan Singh and Smt Indira Gandhi. That’s one episode that gives us a lot to learn. It shows the way of functioning of the tree leaders.

Tavleen Singh_pic

The Author — Tavleen Singh

          We also would get to see the way Kashmir gets complicated for us. The ascent of Farooqh Abdullah, the good things of his regime, the popularity he and his governance enjoyed in Kashmir. His contribution to tourism and how Kashmiris were wishing to be with India. Then comes the story of how things go for a toss due to misguided zeal of a selected few people in New Delhi. The defection that costs India and the incidents that make Kashmiris lose all their trust on us.

          These two episodes are must reads for every Indian. When immediate political gains blind the visions of leaders you will have troubles that will take a toll on the nation. Some parties are making similar mistakes even today and this book serves as a good eye opener.

          We then progress to the governance under Rajiv and how he committed blunder after blunder as the prime minister of India.  He probably had the biggest mandate in the history of the country and he just squandered it all.  His mistakes in foreign policy, his appeasement politics, mishandling of the famines, high-handed decisions, misadventures in Sri Lanka and finally the Bofors case that brought him down….  all these are covered and the insights provided are worth reading.   Then, Tavleen  Singh an old friend of Gandhi’s gives us insights into the lives and personalities of both Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.

          All in all a fantastic book, a book that educates readers about the colossal mistakes one makes when one falls into the hands of wrong friends.  It talks about the importance of seeing the big picture vis-à-vis immediate self-gratification and short-term political gains. It depicts the importance of principal governance over the sop and appeasement based governance.  The importance of experience, maturity and grip over affairs was well depicted. With them the energy and enthusiasm of an individual end up being misguided zeal and that is well shown in the book. The book covers some very important moments that shaped modern India. It is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the political events /political class/ politics of the country. Do pick it up, you are going to enjoy it.  

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