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An insider’s take on the powerful Delhi Durbar

Dec 04, 2012

Tavleen Singh’s new book Durbar is a memoir that provides an insider’s perspective of the Nehru-Gandhi family, the origins and spread of dynastic politics in India, the cult of sycophancy and the ensuing impact on governance in the country.


Based on a study done by political scientist Patrick French in 2011, every Member of Parliament in India under the age of 30 has a family background in politics. If one raises the age to 40, the proportion comes down to two-thirds.

The Indian political system has long been known for dynastic politics, with the original First Family being the Nehru-Gandhis. Tavleen Singh’s new book Durbar examines the rise of this culture of the durbar, where just like in feudal times, an heir apparent through bloodline inherits the throne and is fawned over by a clique of sycophants, thus being completely cut off from the ground realities of the land s/he is serving. Singh’s position as a personal friend of many of the Nehru-Gandhis and an inner observer of the ongoings within the closed circles of Lutyen’s Delhi provides her with an insider’s perspective, which she brings forth in her memoir.

“You are being ruled by a Durbar, and there’s one developing in every state capital in the country” said Tavleen Singh, speaking at the launch of the book. This disconnect, she argues, results in a betrayal of the people. The handling of the insurgencies in Punjab and Kashmir are two major events that she examines. In the case of Punjab, she examines how Bhindranwale was sustained by the Congress till the problem grew out of proportion, resulting in the deaths at Blue Star and the horrific massacres of Sikhs that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The handling of Kashmir and the 1987 elections too resulted in full-blown militancy. In each case decisions were taken by politicians unaware of the complexities on the ground and on the basis of advice given by equally inexperienced advisors.

“Indira Gandhi has become a role model, and politicians today are trying to emulate her style”, said Singh when asked about why politicians would seek to insulate themselves from honest feedback. “The real problem is moral, what we need are elections within parties, elections on grounds of merit by people who are actually trying to solve problems, and not just to sit in the Lok Sabha, which is fast becoming the most exclusive club in the world.”

The book is published by Hachette and was launched at the India Habitat Centre by journalist Ashok Malik.

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