In the wide, wide world of journalism, Tavleen Singh is recognised as a columnist of impeccable reputation, whose writings have commanded respect and attention. She must be of the most widely read columnists in India. She has had a varied career. She has, in her time, done several current affairs programmes in both English and Hindi for TV and indeed, even now, she anchors her own TV show for NDTV Profit though she is probably better known for her incisive writings as a columnist in The Indian Express these past two decades.
Not desk-bound as many journalists are, Tavleen has travelled far and wide and when she writes, she does so basing her views on her own hands-on experience and person-to-person interviews. She started writing in 1987 at a time when the political scene was depressing and ?unbending socialism? as she so aptly describes it, was the political order of the day. India had political freedom and free elections but, as Tavleen rightly saw it, ?the state'scontrol over the economy was totalitarian?. The government determinedly discouraged the so-called Private Sector and central planning was the order of the day. All economic activity was controlled. Rightly was the government described as License Raj. Corruption reigned supreme. The result, Tavleen was to note ?was unrelenting, pervasive, dreadful poverty?. Tavleen, in the circumstances came to be similarly ?unrelenting? in her attacks against the government. One notices that sense of burning anger in her early writings in which nobody is spared, neither a Prime Minister nor any Minister at large.
?Poor RG?, Tavleen was to note in one of her early columns about Rajiv Gandhi, ?those who have taught him the art of politics have clearly told him that the only way to deal with Reality is to close one's eyes and pretend to be deaf?. Harsh words, but highly appropriate ones. As a columnist she had occasion to meet many politicians and celebrities. Name them and Tavleen had met them and reacted with them. Not everyone impressed her. Indeed, she has a true journalist'sapproach to politicians which is one of distancing oneself from them. Few impressed her.
She dismisses Kanshi Ram as ?a soft-spoken man with the manner of a government clerk?. Of Rajiv Gandhi'ssycophants she notes how they spoke only in English rather than in native tongues and had attended elite schools and wore ?the softest superior quality white khadi?. Of V.P. Singh she comments accurately that he ?emerged as a leader so much in the mould of the Gandhis that it is hard to understand why he felt it necessary to leave Congress (I).? She has little respect for Indira Gandhi.
As she put it in a column written in June 1991 ?when we look back at what happened, even Indira Gandhi'smost ardent admirers find it hard not to concede that had she not toppled Farooq Abdullah'sgovernment in 1983 and indulged, at least initially, the antics of a certain Punjab priest, we would not have a Punjab and Kashmir problem today?. Her contempt for dynastic rule comes through in her comment that ?dynasties thrive by making everyone else seem like dwarfs and it is time now for dwarfs to show how tall they can grow?. She can mock at MPs and the ways they are pampered with all kinds of privileges and points out how ?budgets come and go, and although we hear about cutting subsidies, we never hear about cutting subsidies, we never hear about cutting down the subsidised lifestyle of our politicians and officials?. And rightly she asks: ?What kind of socialism is it that allows the vast majority of our people to live without schools, drinking water, roads and hospitals, forty years after independence, while our politicians and officials live like kings??
Her contempt for our Intelligence Agencies is most noticeable?and understandable. It is March 1993. The Khalistan Movement had grown from strength to strength ?financed by nysterious financiers abroad?, unbeknownest to our intelligence agency, notably the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). But what had RAW to say? Nothing. In her column Tavleen wrote: ?How many more innocent people will have to die before the government realises that our intelligence agencies have completely collapsed??.Why are they so ineffectual compared with our neighbour'sISI?? Her contempt for Sonia Gandhi'ssycophants is even more pronounced. Wrote Tavleen in March 1983: ?If Sonia Gandhi is genuinely interested in taking over the Congress Party, she could perhaps consider lending the AICC a pair of sandals that could be placed on a velvet cushion in a place of honour at party headquarters?.
To emphasise her point, she added: ?It should be made obligatory for dissidents and loyalists to file past every morning and kowtow?. What she wrote in 1993, alas, is still true even to this day fourteen years later. What makes this collection of columns so readable is that each is of a short length and is reader-friendly. Besides, one need not read sequentially. One can open the book at any page and enjoy Tavleen'shard-hitting views.
She can be sarcastic with a vengeance. In an article (August 25, 1996) she asks: ?For such a poor country isn'tit fascinating how very rich our Ministers and ex-Ministers have become? She had good reason to tell it like it is, considering the blatant life-style of some of our mantris whose wives wore costly jewellery, their children had fleets of cars to take them for joyrides and the number of times they travelled abroad and the kind of luxury hotels they stayed in all at the country'sexpense. As she put it: ?Even our might honest-Man-of-The-Year Shri T.N.Seshan wears a gold Rolex and Mulayam Singh a Mont Blane pen. Isn'tit time that our rulers were made to explain how they afford their lifestyles?? Yes. Tavleen writes about the Real India, warts and all and it is difficult to put the book down once one starts reading it. The writing is captivating in its own way. It is political all right, but certainly not incorrect.
Tavleen writes from her heart and in First Person singular. But so what? She reflects the thinking of the average Indian because she feels like him. She has no pretensions to scholarship or style; what is attractive is her singular honesty and that is the reason, one suspects, why she is so popular. And admired. We needs columnists like Tavleen Singh to make democracy in India truly meaningful. What comes through clearly in all her columns is her intellectual honesty, a virtue sadly lacking among her tribe. Many of the columns here reproduced are from India Today as well. They speak as much for India as for herself.
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