You've ruffled many feathers with this book, and strangely, many of the people you criticised were part of your launch. You've referred to Arun Jaitley brainwashing Vajpayee against making a statement on the Gujarat riots in Goa. You've gone so far as to call Khushwant Singh a “Gandhi family sycophant”. Jaitley shared the dais with you and a video of your gifting the book to Khushwant Singh was screened. Was this intentional, to separate your personal friendships from your opinions of their actions?
(Laughs) No, no. I'll tell you how it happened.
But before that, I've also criticised Vinod Mehta in my book. I held a meeting for him, when he was dismissed [from India Post]. But he refused to take sides.
I said look here, you've been dismissed, say something. And he said, no, I want a job, so I won't say anything against proprietors. I've written that. But he remains a good friend, and so he was part of the discussion at the launch.
We wanted a person from Pakistan, whom we weren't able to bring in last minute. So, along with Mahfuz Anam [the editor of The Daily Star] from Bangladesh, we had Arun Jaitley and Vinod.
But I'm quite clear in that, even if it's a friend, I will be open in my criticism. I still do that.
In your book, you speak of Shekhar Gupta becoming abnormally affluent and arrogant, and say ''his personal views and other considerations shaped the Indian Express which was once India's most anti-establishment newspaper.'' But at the book launch, you also apologised to Shekhar Gupta, and said you've been unfair on him in the book.
Well, you know, I thought about that, and the reason for it was that see, somebody has made money - why should I pick on a journalist for making money?
But for what I said about his arrogance, I don't offer any apology. The money, I needn't have brought up in that way. But, my God, how many abuses I got on this point, you have no idea! (Laughs)
You've spoken at length about The Times of India brand of journalism, where content is sold, and sometimes, it becomes money versus truth. Is this killing journalism in our country?
Absolutely. The classical kind of journalism has been killed by The Times of India group.
The New Yorker published a nine-page article on The Times of India, wherein they justify this, and say, “What is editorial? We only believe in advertisements.” Then, they justify paid news.
I want to write about that article.
How do you follow the news now? What is your routine?
Well, I read the newspapers, and I listen to the radio, and watch television.
I do head out once in a while – like, a few days ago, I was coming back from Nagpur, and Gadkari was there. So I talked to him, and in about one hour, I got the whole lowdown on BJP, and I can make up my mind ke what might happen in the next few days or weeks.
Now, I'll talk to some Congress leader, and get an idea of what's happening there. I won't know this intimately, but you see, I don't go wrong overall.
You've also said your column was pulled from several newspapers, and it all seems to have been from personal vendetta. Has anyone given you an acceptable reason for stopping the column?
You mention that a stigma that has haunted you through your life is your belief that you don't write well enough. That's a strange stigma for someone who has written a weekly column for decades, and who has published so many books, to suffer from.
Well, I feel that I don't write as well as I should, as well as I would like to. I do write, and my books sell a lot. But I still feel I can't write like I want to.
Just see how well some British journalists write! And so many from America. I would like to write like [Alistair] Cooke, the Guardian chap. I used to enjoy reading his Letter from America.
Then, there was a journalist who came to cover Sheikh Abdullah's trial from Britain – I can't recall his name right now, but what a writer! What a writer!
In Picture: Workers put up a billboard advertising The Times of India.
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