Sonia Gandhi was the de facto Prime Minster for a decade and in doing so diminished the role of the incumbent, Manmohan Singh, and ruled the country without accountability, in the process, overturning the reforms initiated by P.V. Narasimha Rao in the early 1990s, says Tavleen Singh, a well-known political columnist.
“Sonia Gandhi has been de facto prime minister of India for ten years and leader of our oldest political party (the Congress) for twenty,” Tavleen Singh told IANS in an interview.
“I oppose her politics because I think she diminished the role of the prime minister and brought in the idea of keeping power in the hands of someone who was not accountable. I believe that this harms democracy. If she wanted to keep real power in her hands then she should have had the courage to become prime minister. Her ‘inner voice’ enabled her to rule without accountability and I believe that is wrong,” she added.
She said Sonia Gandhi, in her opinion, reversed the economic reforms that Narasimha Rao brought and took the country back to Indira Gandhi’s economics by spending money on huge welfare schemes like MNREGA instead of on rural hospitals, schools and the creation of jobs.
Her latest book “India’s Broken Tryst” (Harper Collins/424 pages/Rs 599) apart from throwing light on the failure of the Indian state to provide a reasonable standard of living to its teeming millions, is driven by both rational and visceral criticism of one person — Sonia Gandhi.
Because there is almost not a single other political commentator who has ever dared to criticise Sonia Gandhi personally, Tavleen Singh responded.
“The book begins with a tax raid that, I believe, was ordered by Sonia Gandhi, partly because she objected to my daring to criticise her. In the book I mention that her friends said openly at Delhi dinner parties that they had tried to close my (Indian Express) column down because of the things I wrote,” she pointed out.
Tavleen Singh expressed sadness over the fact that “colonial governance” continues in many ways, even today. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she said, has not been able to bring about ‘parivartan’ (transformation) in governance.
“Our bureaucrats, who are more colonial in their attitude than even our political leaders, have become very powerful under him and have in many cases blocked change from happening because it would lessen their powers,” she added.
In the book, she mentions that even today, democratic India has been unable to meet the most basic needs of its people. A dangerous mix of colonialism, socialism and statism, she says, has brought about this situation.
She further impressed upon the importance of moving officials out of vast bungalows in Lutyens Delhi because when elected officials and bureaucrats “live like our colonial masters once did” there is no hope that they will ever shed their colonial mindset.
“This is the cycle that has to be broken and it will only begin when those we elect live among the people and face the same daily problems they do. Clearing officials and MPs out of Lutyens Delhi is where the process should begin. No other democratic country uses taxpayers’ money to enable elected officials to live like princes,” said the author.
Tavleen Singh, however, praised Modi’s efforts in bringing about social change.
“Swachch Bharat and Beti Bachao are programmes that have already begun to show results. His efforts to reduce corruption in governance are also showing results but I believe he has not yet begun the process of decolonising governance and I believe he must do this for real change to happen,” she maintained.
So what should be the government’s priorities given that, as the book says, previous dispensations have failed the people of India?
“Most of India’s failures have been in the social sector; so I believe change has to come in schools, healthcare, sanitation and here Modi has already shown that he understands the scale of the changes needed.
“He has also talked of smart cities but seems not to have yet understood the scale of change needed in urbanisation. India’s big cities look like slums and our small towns look like squalid overgrown villages. If this continues it will not be long before all of India begins to look like a vast shanty town,” she contended.