‘Messiah Modi?’, veteran columnist and author Tavleen Singh’s new book ends with a question mark. In this free-wheeling interview, Tavleen shares everything about her support for PM Modi, her recent critique of the BJP government, and the controversy around her son Aatish Taseer.
How honest have you been in writing this book? You have been under a lot of attack, from various quarters, that your relationship with Modi and the BJP has seen ups and downs, depending on your personal equation.
No, I have written in the prologue itself that Messiahs are what people look for in dark times. I supported Modi because I liked what he was saying. I believed it was a very dark time in which he came along and you know people saw him as the messiah. Not just me. Everyone said this guy is going to fix it because he talked about ‘parivartan’.
Has he been the messiah that everyone thought that he was?
That’s why there’s a question mark in the title. I think, that the first few months that I described in the book when people called him to Washington and New York and the reception that he got because you see, the world is very keen for India to do well. And what they hope for is if India will succeed in doing as well with democracy because democracy and free markets are considered the recipe for success. He blew it away with the lynching and demonetisation which again I talk about.
But it is rather ironic that, some of the deepest friendships that Modi has been able to forge are with dictatorial regimes and very problematic monarchies.
I don’t think that’s fair because our relations with America remained good, with the change of Presidents. Our relations with Europe, and now with the UK out of Europe, are good. He has struck a balance, umm, these relationships, with also keeping a relationship with Xi Jinping and Putin; Putin and Xi are two dictators and that is the thing. I don’t agree that he’s being particularly soft on dictatorships and he’s been very tough with countries that export Islamic Jihad.
On Modi and Muslims
But Islamic Jihad, somehow, in this particular regime has been a stick to beat the minorities with.
That is very unfortunate. I wish that he had been as tough on people who promote Jihadism as he is with those poor women sitting in Shaheen Bagh because if you go there, I don’t know if you’ve been but I’ve been there, and I didn’t meet one Jihadist there. And I think it’s really quite wonderful that students and women are in the streets and they are wrapped in the Indian flag and you know with Constitution in their hands and they are, you know, that’s great and he’s getting tough with them and saying that they are Pakistanis, and you know he’s got people like Yogi Adityanath, who should be ashamed of himself frankly for saying the kind of things that he has been saying about these protests.
Yogi Adityanath or for that matter even Narendra Modi was actually empowered by people like you for example, who did not check him when first red flags were up there, but you chose to ignore that.
Not true. Not true. When the first red flag to me, was the killing in.. the first lynching, Akhlaq in his village and immediately, I went on television ten times to say it is really wrong and must stop. I then attacked him on every, every time that they had one of these incidents, I attacked him. When he failed to do the economic change I was critiquing him then. It’s just that people choose to be blinded by their own narrow vision. But I must add that most of these attacks or on social media from the most disgusting kind of Hindutva fanatics, that I have ever come across in this country. I never even knew people so filled with petty hatred and grievance existed. Now, I do.
On Amit Shah
Now, I also want to steer this discussion towards another man, whom you have mentioned and dedicated a whole chapter to him. The Home Minister, Mr. Amit Shah. What is your assessment of him?
I feel that he is very limited. And that he is, you know, a kind of copycat Modi, as I said, he copies even some of his speeches. And the most recent example was Modi said, I think, in Ramleela Maidan, ‘Main aapse kuch maang raha hun, doge? (I am asking something of you, will you give it to me?)’. The next day Amit Shah was making a speech, ‘Main aapse kuch maang raha hun, aap doge ki nahin? (I am asking something of you, will you give it to me or not?)’. You know, I think that he has made, he has become like a kind of parody of Modi, which is not good, for either him or Modi. And, you know, he is kind of ruthlessly ambitious. You see. He has to have his eye on the top job. But, I think he knows that he can only do it with Modi. And, I don’t know what he wants but, I have not been impressed by him at all.
Why is Modi awestruck, It seems, by the Home Minister, by his second in command?
You know, Modi has very few friends and not many colleagues who’ve been on this, on this journey with him and Amit Shah happens to be, I think the only one. So maybe it’s that. I don’t know, it makes no sense to me.
On Her Son Aatish Taseer
Let’s talk about Aatish. What Happened?
Aatish did not meet his father till he was 22 years old. He has grown up in this country. This is his country but he has a British passport because in the beginning, when Salman and I both thought that you know, he was born in England before they had changed the law, that it would be easier for him to go between two countries. So, he had a British passport, grew up here and had a long term visa, till he was eighteen. When he turned eighteen, I went to the office and they said, ‘Ji, aap ye visa kyun maang rahe hain ye PIO dedo? (Why are you asking for the visa, give the PIO?)’. I said, “Dilwado (Please get it). And then when in 2016, he had to renew it, it became an OCI. They asked him, whether, you know, his father, if his father was Pakistani. They already knew his father. His father was quite a famous Pakistani. Salman had a British passport because his mother was English and Aatish wrote British on that ground alone. They’ve taken away the OCI. If that’s not vindictiveness, you know. I don’t know what it is. Because in the law, exceptions can be made. Right? Adnan Sami is one of the exceptions that they have made. I am sure Tarek Fateh, he wanted an Indian passport and they gave it to him in a flash.It was obviously a vindictive gesture done by very small minded people.
But, do you also feel that Aatish Taseer being Atish Taseer made headlines everywhere but there are people who are not of that stature and they get victimised on an every day basis and nobody even comes to know about that?
I don’t know about them. I think that actually, Atish got victimised because he wasn’t just any old journalist. Atish, because of his peculiar personal history because of the India-Pakistan thing, you know, was a target. And actually, if you read the article, trouble with them is that they actually don’t read. So they might actually just read the headline and they go all,”Oh, look look look.” Why’d she put a question mark is because of her son. They think that I wrote a book in two weeks or it’s been six weeks since the OCI. Do you think I can write 100,000 words in six weeks? I mean they must think that I am a computer.
Have you had fights, you know, you and Atish?
Atish, sort of started to see through Modi earlier and took a more, you know, an outsider’s view. I am a more hopeful optimistic person. And I kept hoping that, that’s why the last chapter is called ‘Hope Against Hope’. Until now. Now, the Citizen Bill is where I am really getting worried because now I see there is a systematic attempt to tear apart the secular culture of India and that I think is awful. The Muslims have contributed as many poets and writers and scientists and so on as have the Hindus. The Sikhs have done their bit. I mean as more soldiers than scientists and writers. I also think that if they continue to do it, it is irreparable damage and unforgivable. Unforgivable.
Does Aatish tell you, see mama, I told you so?
No, he wouldn’t dare. And if he did, he would really, he would feel my rage.