Single And Single: A Short Political Inventory of the Unmarried, the Separated and the Widowed

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The most powerful singles club in the country just got a little less crowded. Narendra Modi, has declared a long-denied wife mid-bid to Prime Ministership of India. But till just the other day, singlehood in Indian politics carried formidable heft. Modi’s chief adversary and undeclared pretender to the top office, Rahul Gandhi, has often teased a public and formal pledge not to marry. With one entry on his nomination form in Vadodara — “Jashodaben” — Modi announced himself as a living paradox: married in a marriage he neither committed himself to nor consummated. It was a bal-vivaha, child marriage, Modi was 17, Jashodaben two years younger. Even in that day, such coupling would not have had the sanction of law.  But on paper that now carries the weight of his signature, Modi is single no more. The singles club of our public people may just have lost its best known member.

It remains, even so, a mighty gathering possessed of influence across and up and down the nation.

When Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abduallah’s announcement in September 2011 that he was separated from wife Payal, he rendered himself the country’s eighth chief minister without a formally designated current partner.

Already in when Omar finally announced himself at the club door — squishing  speculation and kicking grapevine en route — were J. Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu, Naveen Patnaik of Orissa, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh, Shiela Dikshit of Delhi and Mamata Bannerji of Bengal. Narendra Modi of Gujarat, still there at the time, has just stepped out. But Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan has just returned, having recently grabbed the state back from the Congress.

Single people still rule over close to half of India’s population — 49.47 percent of Indians according to last count. And in a nation so moored to family and family values and in a polity so overrun by dynasties, they also constitute a charming collateral trend. But does that alone make a case for speculation on similarities in public behaviour and governance patterns? Yes and no.

Single chief ministers can all, for instance, be said to have more time available to devote to affairs of state by the sheer fact of not having to bother with family at the back of the office. Some also argue that a single person is less liable to resort to nepotism or other forms of corruption. And it is often suggested that they are less liable to be driven by pelf because most may not have progeny to hand it over to. Experience suggests much can be said on either side of these generalizations.

An individual’s performance in political office — as indeed in other jobs — is likely to depend more on individual personality, energy levels, and ethical and value systems than on marital status, say consultant psychiatrists who specialise in family affairs. Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar have both been singled out by a US Congressional research group as the most efficient among India’s political administrators. But there the similarities between the two — personal and political — end. Mayawati is widely perceived to be a 24/7 chief minister but that has not put Uttar Pradesh among the best governed states in India.

“A single person may appear to have more time on hand than a married person, but how much and what a person sets to do and actually achieves is influenced by these factors — not marital status,” said Anjali Chhabria, a consultant psychiatrist in Mumbai who runs a clinic called Mind Temple.

“But a person who is married but unhappy is likely to have less energy and ambition than a single person who’s happy,” she said. “The state of mind determines ambitions — someone who’s happy, whether single or married, is more likely to want more and achieve more.”

One expert said the value system that is part of an individual’s personality will guide behaviour in handling issues where there is scope for nepotism or corruption. “It may seem that a single person without family concerns has less chance of being greedy — but that is necessarily true,” said Shashi Bhushan Kumar, a consultant psychiatrist in New Delhi. “Take the case of Bihar’s [chief mimister] Nitish Kumar — he’s got a family, but has a very modest lifestyle,” Kumar said.

More time on hand may not necessarily translate into efficiency. Several studies in the past have suggested that marital status can influence mental health, sleep patterns, and even work performance. A study by social scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark released earlier this year, for instance, showed a positive association between being married and work effectiveness. The study based on an analysis of expatriate academics in Nordic countries showed that married people appeared to have better work outcomes than single individuals.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who lost his wife to pulmonary edema in 2007, and Omar, who probably lost his wife to incompatibility, may both disagree. Nitish advocates seldom tire of arguing that his “single” status is what gives him the edge over competition. Omar has suggested his being single has not impacted his work.

Nitish has a credible ring to his claims on being clean — he is a widower, his son is a meditative recluse, he has nobody to accumulate money and pass on to. The same does not hold true of Jayalalithaa who suffers a credibility deficit on the cleanliness count; she may not have a family but she does, like former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, has a foregrounded foster family. In both cases, the foster families weighed heavier on the “single” leaders than many other real families do.

So a club it is, but between one single and another lies a fair duality. Narendra Modi only just underlined that to us, unveiling Jashodaben on his ticket to Prime Ministership.

 

 

Double Jeopardy For Nitish: Bihar 2014, Roll Of The Dice For Bihar 2015

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This is going to be a two-in-one enactment, make no mistake about it. On paper, assembly polls are still a year and a half off, but this summer’s Lok Sabha verdict will be a decisive roll of the dice in the battle for Bihar. It’s a fool’s estimate the parliamentary numbers of 2014 will bring closure to the re-division of the Bihari pie; they will only set the stage for the final settlement of 2015.

Who’s to tell if the climax will even hold off that long? Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s is, after all, a minority government perched on a wafer that could give to the slightest shift in the balance of power.

Of all the paradoxes that pervade the radical re-arrangement of battlements since Nitish abrogated his alliance with the BJP last June, the hardest to miss is probably this: he survives on the support of arguably the most insignificant player in the field called the Congress, and the Congress is running three-legged with his old adversary Laloo Yadav.

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A Sibling Swing At Succession: The Picture That Tells Many A Tale

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Patna: But for the man absent from the frame, this picture would have belonged strictly in family albums, not in newspaper pages. But for him, this would have been a very different picture, or, actually, a picture few would have bothered taking.

The people in it may have come across as far more meagre of circumstance, the backdrop would have been far humbler, if not lowly, a backdrop that belongs in a coarse daguerreotype. It would decidedly not have been this. These are the back lawns of 10 Deshratna Marg, among the grander ministerial acreages of West Patna. And this is the family of RJD chief, Laloo Yadav, the man not in the picture, the artist of this portrait, the sole master of this arrangement — the setting, the swing, the shade, the smiles, the language of bodies that belongs in a throne which hasn’t been available to adorn in a while. But for Laloo Yadav and his astonishing journey from buffalo-boy in the Gopalgunj boondocks to extended suzerainty over Bihar, none of this would exist.

That journey hit a trough when Lalu was cast out of power in 2005 and travelled further south when, in 2009, he did so poorly in the Lok Sabha that he lost his UPA cabinet perch in New Delhi. This coming election, Laloo believes, could be his hour of revival, an opportunity to sneak through the bitterly sundered alliance between the JDU and the BJP who collaborated to unseat him a decade ago. With Nitish and Narendra Modi at war, Laloo is waving an altered calculus whose arithmetic he boasts to dominate: “No stopping this time, look at the voteshares, simpul, simpul, faarmula is simpul, do the plus-minus. Kyon pade ho chakkar mein, koi nahin hai takkar mein… Don’t be at all confused, the competition is all defused.”

Even when desperately downbeat, Laloo was never one to give up his derring-do countenance; the newly divided field in Bihar has added a decibel to his daring. When Laloo cries out loud, he gathers crowds. The forecourt of 10 Deshratna Marg is humming with notes of new possibility. At the back of it, a rivalry has begun to eddy that Laloo often doesn’t want to countenance and wishes he could put down with the brandishing of a patriarchal baton.

You may not get to see a swing seat so voluptuous with political ambition. Look closely at the picture and you’ll find it already too crammed; Misa has wedged herself in, but only just. To her right is the older of her two brothers, Tej Pratap; to her left is her mother Rabri Devi and then, ensconsed in the far corner, her little brother Tejaswi. There’s one former Bihar chief minister here and, should you individually enquire, three aspiring ones, Misa, Tej Pratap, Tejaswi, in descending order of age, though not necessarily in quantum of appetite.

The irony that runs across this image and its characters is that the one man who brought them this far is and the only one who could promise to take them any further from here stands barred from contesting elections and, therefore, from public office. He is the man not in the picture, Laloo Yadav.

Laloo and Rabri Devi have nine children, seven daughters and two sons, of whom Misa is the eldest. Six of the daughters have been given away in marriage; among them Misa is the only one who refused to go away. She was able to persuade her IIM-trained husband, Sailesh, to come live in the Lalu household, instead. The youngest and yet unmarried daughter lives mostly at the family’s camp residence in Delhi and spends much of her time looking after the affairs of Misa’s two school-going daughters.

Misa’s determination to stay on has often been ascribed to her will to become anointed RJD heiress, a desire whetted no end when as a 20-something girl she saw her father pull her mother out of the kitchen and install her as chief minister of Bihar. Misa, far better educated — a trained doctor of medicine, in fact, and well spoken — quickly divined a future opportunity for herself. She might think of herself as best qualified to succeed her father. Among all the Laloo-Rabri children, Misa is the one who alone has a memory of their days of adversity and struggle ; she was 15 when her father became chief minister and the family stepped out of the low income housing they shared with cousins on the Patna Veterinary College campus, into I Aney Marg, the chief ministerial bungalow. Life would never be the same again.

Through her late teens and early adulthood, Misa apprenticed actively in the backroom machinations of power while the younger ones were at play. On occasion, following the fodder scam and Laloo’s removal from power, she would enact obdurate public defence of her parents and the party.

But she was soon to discover competitors at home: her two brothers Tej Pratap and Tejaswi. The apparent good cheer on the swing seat, mind you, is not faked or pretended for the camera. There exists among the siblings a fair bonhomie that comes from having lived out an open-house childhood around Laloo’s court. But there also exists, inevitably, politics between them; very often, sibling rivalry can turn adult and begin to imitate the machinations of a medieval court where succession is up for grabs.

Misa is the domineering one who Laloo often does not venture to counter, for love or for latent fear, or probably both. Tej Pratap is an oddball character and therefore more intractable. He turned a self-styled “Krishnavataar” a few years ago. He donned saffron robes and made it convenient for Laloo to keep at arm’s length — a godman, not a man of this world, easy to keep off politics.

But came a time a few years ago, when he waddled into the family theatre, probably nudged along by Misa who was looking for an ally to counter Tejaswi, who is said to have Laloo’s favour. Laloo tried keeping Tej Pratap distracted, awarding him an automobile dealership near Aurangabad that the son dutifully and charmingly christened with an amalgam of his parents first names: Lara Automobiles, he called it. But he soon lost interest, or was made to, delegated responsibilities and returned to 10 Deshratna Marg. The saffron robes of Tej Pratap are long gone, he has donned khadi, the signature fabric of political intent. He now prowls the 10 Deshratna yard with his own clutch of loyalists and has posted a huge vinyl emboss of his on a side wall. Each of the three has a coterie, each spies on the others activities, each schemes about behind Laloo while he attempts an uphill comeback.

The RJD boss still appears intent on Tejaswi, though. He eased him onto to the 2010 campaign stage and since then, a murmur has prevailed that he is the chosen one. Tejaswi spent a couple of IPL seasons warming the bench in the Delhi Daredevils dugout, then retired hurt to the political stage. He began to figure on RJD posters beside his parents, he was made to tail his father, sit on meetings, recruit a bunch of his own loyalists. He was also given access to Laloo’s room at the RJD headquarters, if only as a sign others were meant to heed.

All of which was quickly noticed; very soon counter manoeuvres began to ripple on the family table. Misa landed one afternoon at the RJD offices and ordered her father’s room opened when neither he nor Tejaswi was in town. She sat in her father’s chair and ordered people around for a bit, if only to underline succession wasn’t a sealed affair. Then she laid claim to her disqualified father’s Lok Sabha seat, and secured it. This, even at the cost of Lalu losing staunch loyalist Ram Kripal Yadav, now the BJP rival to Misa from Patliputra. The battle is now for her to win and prove herself worthy. Tej Pratap, court whisper will tell you, is her ally. Tejaswi, not yet the age he can contest, can afford a smile because he has time, and probably his father, on his side. Often, because they believe it to be a long-awaited season of favourable wind for the RJD, they all can. Like on the swing seat.

The Tailor Of Telinipara: On Blood Brothers & MJ Akbar

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A 2006 piece on what MJ Akbar meant to a generation of journalists and consciousness

Life is not an equal opportunity employer. Literature is an even more discriminating concern, for the press of dubious claimants at its gates is frenetic. MJ Akbar is a Brahmin of that world, although he would have us believe he is a Mussulmaan descended from Kshatriyas born of the arms of Brahma. In truth, he came from the mouth of the Creator, already possessed, in the dreary deficits of an eastern jutemill slum, of a sense of preordained priority… “I was born a Capricorn, with Scorpio Ascendant along with Scorpio Navamsa and Pisces Dreskana in the fourth house of Anuradha, indicating that I would have fame, travel, wealth, worldly comforts, energy, determination, and the comforting ability to convince others of a course of action while nursing an alternative idea in the quiet depths of my heart, making me practical, self-motivated and therefore successful…” Only a Brahmin can arrive so anointed with entitlement. This, mind you, is the meritocracy of the Word, a reservation from which Mandal remains providentially banished. Rights of Admission Deserved.

As a sample of what conditions apply, this from Blood Brothers:

“Starvation is a slow fire that sucks life out in little bursts, leaving pockets of unlinked vacuum inside. Death comes when the points of emptiness suddenly coalesce; there is a silent implosion. The worst is in the beginning, when the body still has energy to rebel and the mind enough hope to fear. When hope fades, fear evolves into a dazed weariness. You turn numb and it no longer matters whether you are alive or dead…” Continue reading

Catastrophe After Catastrophe After Catastrophe: Khushwant Singh’s Parting Verdict On His Nation

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My first and only meeting with the Grand Khushwant Singh

My first and only meeting with the Grand Khushwant Singh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Here lies one who spared neither man nor God
Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod
Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun
Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”

–Khushwant Singh’s epitaph to himself

 

New Delhi, March 20: To the handful few who he allowed around him during his last years, urging their cherished one to a century of years had become a collective manifesto. It cannot be said for certain Khushwant Singh, who departed in the silence of a missed breath at home in Sujan Singh Park this afternoon, shared the zest of his constituency any longer. The first and only time I ever met him, shortly after he turned 99 this February, he intoned to me in whispers his diminishing lust for life. “Oh I so dislike no longer being my own master, I so dislike my dependence on other people. Even to go to the loo I must wait to catch someone’s eye and they have to help me…it’s the thing I have begun to most dislike, it’s my health I’ve most begun to miss, that I am no longer my own master…”

Reeta Dev Burman, neighbour and frequent care-giver to Khushwant Singh, sat opposite, having just fetched him the latest edition of “Private Eye”, his favourite magazine. She waved her arms about, as if to banish that despondency of tone. “But how could you even say that, Sir, you are the master of all of us, it is we who are dependent on you!”

Singh, lapsed in his sofa seat by the fireside, just looked at her with a wan here’s-looking-at-you-kid smile. Then he raised his glass, as if toasting the incredulity of Dev Burman’s exhort, and sniffed a sip. He was seldom known to have indulged himself to more than a peg a night, but that peg of single malt he missed for nothing. He never needed to say that evening how much he still loved his daily drink, but he spoke eloquently, though feebly, of how little he had begun to enjoy living. “I’ve already lived a rich and full life, you see, how much longer can one expect to go on…” For a man who had played the quirk of writing an obituary notice on himself aged 20, he had come a fair distance. He smiled infirmly, a little disagreeably, at the mention of going on to a hundred. His eye flickered, but only as if to say, look at the state of me.

By his fireside in Sujan Singh Park, February 11, 2014

By his fireside in Sujan Singh Park, February 11, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He took another sip of whiskey, dropped wrinkled lids on his eyes and chanted the Gayatri mantra as clearly and beatifically as I have ever heard it spoken. His eyes still shut, he then said, plaintively, “The only other prayer I say to myself each morning is Om Arogyam, Om Shanti, a prayer for health and a prayer for peace.”

The room was dimly lit, like a cavernous shrine; the fire gave off the most light and it picked out books everywhere, ordered and wantonly piled, in shelves, on the floor, on the centre table where bottles of whiskey stood competing with volumes of words. The shrine’s deity sat closest to the fire. He wore a loose cap over his sparse, straggly hair and had a blanket thrown across his knees. It was a cold evening. On his chest he wore a stain of gravy as big as his heart. Khushwant Singh seldom bothered pretending what he was not. He was now an old man; when he ate, he often spilt food onto himself, and he was beyond caring about it.

He had chanced upon a piece The Telegraph had run on his feisty toast to turning 99 (In centennial corner, Indian spring With malice towards none of the other 99-ers) and a few days later he’d had word sent to me. He had recovered from the exertions of celebrations around him, he was asking if I would like to drop by for a drink. Dev Burman would be my guide into Sujan Singh Park’s most vaunted precincts. There was a sign by the doorbell to the ground-level flat that said: “Do not ring the bell unless you are expected.” I rang.

A hushed usher and a turn in the hallway later I was in the company of the man I had known by so many descriptions I was a little taken aback to see that he fit, rather shriveled, in one corner of a sofa seat. Khushwant Singh, Inner Temple barrister, diplomat, historian, novelist, editor, columnist, scion of the builders of imperial New Delhi, imp, scamp, jokester, famed raconteur of Bacchic ribaldry, much of which was myth he invented around himself.  And yet all of that barely completes the description of the man who wrote the most words a Sardar ever did, bar the possibility that Manmohan Singh has been writing his life and times from Gah to goodbye and all that. Khushwant Singh collaborated notoriously with the Indira-Sanjay imposition of Emergency, earned the Padma Bhushan only to spurn it when Mrs Gandhi ordered the army into the Golden Temple in 1984 and rendered Sikhism’s holiest sanctum a bloodied battleground. A quarter century later, he would accept the Padma Vibhushan, the land’s second highest civilian honour, from a successor Congress government.

But if he took deep offence to Operation Bluestar, he turned with no less anger at the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the communal riptide that tore across many parts in its wake. One of the things that he recalled to me that first and last evening with him was his sense of outrage with the causes and consequences of the tearing down of the Babri Masjid. His wrath had probably been touched off anew by the insistent arrival of L.K. Advani to the private fete at Sujan Singh Park the day he turned the final lap to a hundred. “That man has blood on his hands,” Singh told me with a sense of disdain undiminished after all these years, “And I told him as much, and very openly. I was to be chief guest at an event and Advani was there as deputy prime minister. When my turn came to speak, I said it out loud, his hands are dipped in blood. He heard me out, and told me he would give the answer to that another day…” Advani had arrived at his birthday party and left; circa February 11, 2014, the day of our assignation, Singh still awaited his promised reply. I begged one question of him before the clock ticked over half seven in the evening, time for Singh to prepare for dinner and retire. I asked what he thought of the state of the nation, having spanned all its years since Independence and before, and he threw me a quizzical glance and asked, “But I didn’t get what you said.” He probably did not want to answer that one, but I repeated the question. “Ah,” he said, rearranging his blanket, “It’s one catastrophe after another, catastrophe after catastrophe after catastrophe, but I’ve got used to it.”

He didn’t have long to bear with it. He went just as he had wished. “All that I hope for is that when death comes to me, it comes swiftly,” Singh wrote in his last book, ‘Absolute Khushwant: The Low Down on Life, Death & Most Things In-Between (Penguin, 2010)’, “without much pain, like fading away in sound slumber.” A fair guess is the note he’d most have preferred to attend his last journey is a crescendo of “Cheers!”, apt salute to the son of a gun. Now gone. RIP Khushwant Singh.

From Gujarat Into Bihar: After the Mahatma, Narendra Modi

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Recently in Patna: Not since Indira Gandhi has any non-Bihari come to dominate the state’s political discourse as the BJP’s prime ministerial pick from the far end of the country, Gujarat’s Narendra Modi.

The central clue to Modi’s pre-eminence on the poll run is merely this: both Bihari protagonists, chief minister Nitish Kumar of the JDU, and predecessor Laloo Yadav of the RJD, have all but forsaken cognition of each other and narrowed focus on Modi as their chief adversary, the man to beat in this summer’s Lok Sabha election.

Nitish brought his protracted quarrel with Modi to a head last June, severing his 17-year tryst with the BJP even at the cost of losing majority on the assembly floor and losing out on the support of key upper caste sections. “Modi is a socially divisive and economically non-inclusive politician, a threat to pluralist India,” Nitish has repeatedly remonstrated in advocacy of his decision. More recently, as battle-lines sharpened and stakes rose, he has also been driven, in unlikely fashion, to pit himself in the race for prime ministership.

Laloo, on the other hand, has mocked Nitish’s “secular” avatar, emphasized his long conjugality with the BJP and foregrounded himself as the vanguard of the battle against Modi. “History will tell you, and the future will prove, the strength and force to fight communal and fascist forces like Modi resides in me, none else. I stopped (L.K.) Advani’s communal rath in Bihar, Nitish was the one who flagged it off again, tell me what credibility does he have?”

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The Political Nub Of It: Single Man in The Pioneer

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DRIVEN BY DESIRE TO BE PM; FAKING DISINTEREST:

By Rajesh Singh @rajeshsingh1958

Sankarshan Thakur’s book, Single Man, is a fascinating account of Nitish Kumar’s rise to power through a mix of talent and crafty manipulation. It also points to the Bihar Chief Minister’s deep desire to be Prime Minister

Towards the end of his engaging book, Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar, journalist and author Sankarshan Thakur observes: “Many see Nitish’s decision to jettison the BJP on the Modi issue as rooted in his own ambition to become India’s Prime Minister. They are probably right in believing that the desire exists — though Nitish has repeatedly rebuffed even the suggestion of it…”

Mr Thakur quotes a conversation he had with the Chief Minister in the winter of 2009, when the latter dismissed the suggestion that he was angling for a prime ministerial position. “Badi-badi baatein hain” (All this is big talk), he said, adding, “Mujhe kuch nahin banna, Bihar ko banana hai” (I don’t wish to become anything; I want to make Bihar).

This self-confessed noble intent has remained Mr Nitish Kumar’s calling card on selflessness for years, and more so after he broke off the alliance with the BJP in mid-2013 over Mr Narendra Modi’s projection as a prime ministerial candidate. But now that mask is off. A few days ago, the Chief Minister virtually threw his hat into the ring when he gloated over the 2012-13 growth figures of the State that the Central Statistics Office had put out. “All these people who are roaming around, am I any less in comparison?” he demanded to know. Nobody was left in any doubt as to who the “all these people” he was referring to, were. In fact, the plural sense he employed was a play of words; he was targeting just one individual: Mr Modi.

Interestingly, Mr Thakur’s analysis that Mr Nitish Kumar wants to become the Prime Minister, found echo in the BJP prime ministerial candidate’s speech at a public rally in Purnea in Bihar on Monday. Mr Modi alleged that the Janata Dal(U) leader had snapped the alliance with the BJP because Mr Nitish Kumar, in an over-estimation of his ability, wanted to become the Prime Minister.

It is true that Mr Modi’s endorsement as the prime ministerial nominee of the largest partner in the National Democratic Alliance had effectively shut the doors on any hope that Mr Nitish Kumar may have entertained of emerging as a consensus candidate within the coalition, and could have hastened his departure from the combine. But Mr Thakur has a different take, although he agrees with the premise that Mr Nitish Kumar wants to become the Prime Minister. He says in the book that analysts may have “erred in assuming Nitish and Modi are competing along the same timeline.”

In the author’s view, “Modi is playing for the 2014 vote. Nitish is not… He (Nitish) can be monumentally patient and work beaver-like to achieve his hour.” Mr Thakur’s book is replete with instances of how Mr Nitish Kumar bided his time even as he swallowed one insult after another during Lalu Prasad’s heydays. The author believes that the Chief Minister “doesn’t yet possess a winner social coalition in Bihar. His provincial JDU offers no organisational match to the elaborate BJP network that backs Narendra Modi… for the moment he may just be content to play an ant crawling up the elephant’s snout and causing it to trip.” If that is indeed the case, it does appear from the way things are unravelling for the JD(U) in Bihar, where opinion polls are predicting that the party will end up at the bottom of the tally while the BJP will lead the list, that Mr Nitish Kumar has been showing suicidal haste in crawling up the elephant’s snout.

Mr Thakur cannot be accused of being biased against Mr Nitish Kumar. The book presents an overall positive account of the JD(U) leader and Chief Minister, based on the admirable turnaround that Mr Nitish Kumar has managed in the State. Therefore, the author’s analysis of Mr Nitish Kumar’s opportunism as he rose in his political career cannot be brushed aside as being partisan. Given that the Chief Minister has repeatedly raked up the 2002 violence in Gujarat to express his opposition to Mr Modi and presented his defence for continuing in the NDA for a good 10 years after the incident, the author’s take on the issue assumes special relevance. He writes: “When the anti-Muslim horror began to unfold in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat in 2002, Nitish came under pressure to quit the NDA. He (Modi) would lead the Gujarat Assembly campaign in 2002. How could Nitish, socialist and secular of persuasion, be supping with such like…These questions seemed not to upset Nitish. He was cold in his determination to stay, bide his time. On the odd occasion, he reasoned feebly: I am not part of Modi’s Government…”

This punctures Mr Nitish Kumar’s recent claim of breaking with the BJP on ideological grounds, and re-establishes his credentials as an opportunist who uses ideology as a smoke-screen to promote his political career.

This is not the only instance where the Chief Minister, in the course of his ascent, has dumped friends and allies along the way, and adopted tactics and endorsed personalities which suited the order of the day. Mr Thakur’s book offers more examples where Mr Nitish Kumar’s façade of morality stands dented. To begin with, he had not seen anything wrong in Lalu Prasad when he became one of the RJD leader’s key lieutenants in the early days of Lalu Prasad’s rise in politics and to power in Bihar. Even when he became disillusioned, Mr Nitish Kumar continued to back him. Worse, even after Lalu Prasad humiliated him and Mr Nitish Kumar openly signalled that the paths of the two were divergent, he continued to lurk around in the party which the then supreme leader lorded over. He did all that because he believed the time was not ripe to strike — just as he was to later continue unmoved in the NDA after the 2002 Gujarat violence, an event which he a decade later made it the primary and only cause for snapping ties with the BJP.

Mr Thakur quotes Vijay Krishna, one of Mr Nitish Kumar’s aides in the early days and who later turned against him, as saying that the latter had promoted Lalu Prasad initially because it suited his strategy. “He Nitish Kumar) put his weight behind Laloo (sic)”. The author brings in another leader (he remains unnamed in the book because the man feared trouble on identification), who emphasises: “Nitish did not play a part, he played the lead part…Perhaps in Laloo he saw a bumbler who he could remote control.”

No account of Mr Nitish Kumar’s rise to fame can be complete without remembering the manner in which he sidelined senior leaders such as George Fernandes. Mr Thakur mentions in the book that today’s Chief Minister had benefitted from the political heft of Mr Fernandes when he decided to rebel against Lalu Prasad — that is, when he eventually summoned the courage to do so — and also subsequently contest elections. He had other lieutenants since those early days that he has now ruthlessly marginalised. Mr Shivanand Tiwari is a good example.

The Inimitable Ravish Kumar on Single Man

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Bihariyat Via Angreziyat: Daastan-e-Single Man:

“The imposition of emergency had beckoned a new genre of books into the room, studies of Adolf hitler and nazism-William L Shirer’s The rise and fall of the Third Reich, Albert sower’s Inside the Third Reich, Joachim C Fest’s biography of Hitler, the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Men Kampf. Indira Gandhi was being studied as a symptom of fascism” 

संकर्षण ठाकुर की क़लम इतिहास पर साहित्य की तरह चलती है । उनकी अंग्रेज़ी में कोई आक्सफोर्ड वाला बिहारी मानस की आहट सुनते हुए इस उलझन में पड़ सकता है कि क्या बिहार को भी अंग्रेज़ी में बयां किया जा सकता है । मैं ख़ुद मानता रहा हूँ कि बिहारियत अंग्रेज़ी में नहीं कहीं जा सकती । कुछ अल्फ़ाज़ ऐसे हैं जिनके बिना आप बात तो कह सकते हैं मगर बिहारी मानस की परतों को नहीं खोल सकते । संकर्षण की अंग्रेज़ीयत बिहारियत को दोनों विलियमों शेक्सपीयर और वर्डस्वर्थ के अंदाज़ में पेश करती है । वर्डस्वर्थ और शेक्यपीयर को 1985 और 1986 के साल में पढ़ा था । जब मैं नौवीं दसवीं में था । वो भी जब हमारी टीचर इंदिरा शांडील्य ने अंग्रेजी में पढ़ाने की ज़िद की तो हम हिन्दी मीडियम वाले गिड़गिड़ाने लगे कि कुछ्छो नहीं बुझाता है । के के पांडे भी तंग आ जाते थे अंग्रेज़ी को हिन्दी पढ़ाने में । मैंने शेक्सपीयर को हिन्दी में पढ़ा है । यहाँ यह बताना ज़रूरी था ताकि आप मेरे बारे में भ्रम न पाल लें कि मैं कहीं शेक्सपीयर और वर्डस्वर्थ की भाषा का ज्ञाता तो नहीं जो अंग्रेज़ी अख़बार द टेलिग्राफ़ के बंजारा संपादक ( रोविंग एडिटर) संकर्षण की बिहारियत वाया अंग्रेजीयत को बांच रहा हूँ ।
सिंगल मैन – द लाइफ़ एंड टाइम्स आफ़ नीतीश कुमार । जिस तरह से हार्पर कोलिन्स ने किताब के कवर पर सिंगल मैन को बड़ा छापा है उससे लगता है कि यह नीतीश कुमार की कोई जीवनी है । लेकिन यह किताब पूरी तरह से वो कहती है जिसे प्रकाशक ने छोटे हर्फो में छापा है । द लाइफ़ एंड टाइम्स आफ़ नीतीश कुमार ।
इस किताब में ख़ुद संकर्षण आपातकाल और जयप्रकाश आंदोलन के दौर को याद करते हुए बड़े हो रहे हैं । वो दौर लेखक के बचपन का था । उनके पिता जनार्दन ठाकुर सम्मानित और बारीक पत्रकार थे । नीतीश के बिहार को समझने को समझने के लिए बिहार को जानना ज़रूरी है । लेखक नीतीश के बिहार को लेकर शुरू के साठ पन्नों में कोई ख़ास उत्साहित नहीं हैं मगर वे ‘बिहार ना सुधरी’ से ‘बदल गया बिहार’ के बीच यहाँ के मानस की मनोवैज्ञानिक सहूलियतों को पकड़ रहे हैं । आँध्र प्रदेश में तीन सौ इंजीनियरिंग कालेज हैं मगर बिहार में दस । कुछ दंबगों के किस्से हैं जो बिहार के इस दौर में जीवाश्म में बदल रहे हैं । एक सज्जन कहते हैं कि हमारे ये गार्ड लालू के समय की निरंतरता हैं मगर अब कोई इनके साथ मुझे देखता है तो हैरान हो जाता है कि जब ज़रूरत नहीं तो क्यों रखे हैं ।
संकर्षण ने नीतीश को एक अणे मार्ग में रहने वाले नीतीश में नहीं ढूँढा है । बल्कि ख़ुद के साथ उन गाँवों क़स्बों और ज़िलों में देखा है जहाँ कई तरह के बिहार हैं जिन्हें आप सिर्फ बदलाव और यथास्थिति के खाँचे में बाँट कर नहीं देख सकते । नया बिहार या बिहारी पहचान में राजनीतिक गर्व का भाव भरने वाले नीतीश की उम्मीदों को आशंका की नज़र से देखते हुए संकर्षण शायद उन परकोटों को ढूँढ रहे हैं जहाँ से कोई कूद कर इस बिहारी पहचान को फिर से अलग अलग जाति की पहचान से बाँट सकता है । अपर कास्ट नीतीश के अगेंस्ट चला गया है , मैं जब भी पटना फ़ोन करता हूँ ये लाइन सुनाई देती है ।संकर्षण कहते हैं कि यह बँटवारा तो नीतीश ने भी किया । पसमांदा मुसलमान, अति पिछड़ा और अति दलित । इस सवाल के जवाब में नीतीश कहते हैं कि विकास और पहचान की राजनीति में कोई अंतर्विरोध नहीं होता है ।
इस किताब का पहला चैप्टर मेरा प्रिय है । जब संकर्षण लोहिया और जेपी के बारे में किसी सिनेमा के इंट्रोडक्शन की तरह लिखते हैं । सत्तर का दशक जाने बिना तो आप बिहार का प्राचीन इतिहास भी नहीं जान सकते । पटना जाता हूँ तो मुझे ये बात बेहद हैरान और रोमांचित करती है । बिहार में सत्तर के आंदेलन का अवशेष लिये कई लोग मिल जाते हैं मगर आज़ादी की लड़ाई का इतना शानदार इतिहास होते हुए भी कोई बात नहीं करता । जो सत्तर नहीं समझेगा वो उसके बाद का बिहार नहीं समझ सकता । सत्तर का दशक बिहार के इतिहास में पर्दे पर किसी सलीम जावेद की कहानी की तरह बच्चन जैसे महानायकों के उभरने का दशक है । फ्लाप हिट होते होते कभी लालू चल जाते हैं तो कभी नीतीश ।
ख़ूबसूरत वर्णन है पटना के काफी हाउस का । रेणु, दिनकर,बाबा नागार्जुन इन सबसे उनकी बिहारियत के साथ मुलाक़ात होती है । पढ़ते पढ़ते लगा कि मैंने भी दिनकर को देख चिल्ला दिया हो- सिंहासन खाली करो कि जनता आती है । बाबा नागार्जुन का रात में अंडा लेकर आना और संकर्षण के साथ मिलकर कड़ुआ तेल में पकाना । अच्छी अंग्रेजी में बिहार मिल जाए तो समझिये कि आक्सफोर्ड में दो बिहारी मिल गए । कहीं कहीं रूपक नुमा शब्द यह भी बता रहे हैं कि नेसफिल्ड और रेन एंड मार्टिन पढ़ कर सीखें हैं तो ऐतना तो बनता है । संस्कार हिन्दी का और अभिव्यक्ति अंग्रेज़ी की । इसीलिए इस लिहाज़ से भी किताब को पढ़ना दिलचस्प अनुभव है ।
बहरहाल आज का बिहार फासीवाद की वो समझ नहीं रखता जो सत्तर के दशक के बिहार में बना रहा था । उन किताबों और बहसों के ज़रिये फासीवाद को समझ रहा था । किताबें ख़रीद रहा था । किताबें पढ़ रहा था । वो लड़ाई कमज़ोर हो चुकी है । सलीम जावेद की फ़िल्म का ये वो सीन है जहाँ एक नायक घायल पड़ा है । मंदिर की घंटियाँ बज रही हैं । बेतहाशा शोर में भगवान के चेहरे पर ग़ज़ब की ख़ामोशी पसरी है । नायक बिल्कुल सिंगल मैन की तरह आख़िरी लड़ाई लड़ रहा है । क्या होगा पता नहीं । क्लाइमैक्स का सीन है । सीन में कोई और नहीं । सिर्फ एक सिंगल मैन है ।
मैं इस पुस्तक को पढ़ रहा हूँ । पढ़ते हुए देखना सबसे अच्छा तरीक़ा है पढ़ने का । लेखक और उसके पात्र की जीवनी बन पड़ी है । और दोनों के बीच का समय  इतिहास । पढ़ियेगा । पाँच सौ निन्यानबे दाम है । बाटा कंपनी का यह निन्यानबे छाप गया नहीं । जाएगा भी नहीं । खुदरा लेकर जाइयेगा ।

Laloo’s Emergency Daughter Misa Turns To Claim Her Place In Politics

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With Misa at the Lalu Yadav residence in Patna

With Misa at the Lalu Yadav residence in Patna

Patna, March 12: The eye of the home-minted storm whirling about Bihar’s best known political family has a twinkle in it. It belongs to a pigtailed six-year-old called Gauri who has pranced in on pink crocs from nowhere and deposited her frail frame in the lap of her mother, the storm herself. This storm is a young woman called Misa Bharti, daughter to the RJD boss Lalu Prasad, mother to Gauri, source of an untimely pre-poll revolt whose face is her party veteran “chacha“, Ram Kripal Yadav.

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“My miracle child,” Misa calls the bundle that has cavorted in to demand mom’s cuddles, “The absolute delight of my life.” Gauri was born with killer intestinal cysts and went under the knife four times before she was a week old; at the time, unbeknownst, Gauri wrote herself into the annals of paediatric surgery in India merely by surviving. She has turned out a frisky pet giggling about a compound abuzz with furrow-browed adults. Gauri’s abandon and gaiety belie the somber mood that looms over west Patna’s 10 Deshratna Marg estate.

All’s not well in the RJD’s first household, less still with its pater familias, the redoubtable Lalu Prasad himself. Part of the masonry of his legislature party crumbled away recently. An ally packed up its goods and crossed over to the BJP. Another has just about been persuaded to agreeable terms of seat sharing. And as if he hadn’t been caused enough gripe between the desertion of Ram Vilas Paswan and the overblown demands of the Congress, a blister of revolt has erupted where he expected a smooth romp. His endorsement of daughter Misa as RJD pick for the prestigious Patliputra Lok Sabha contest has meant losing one of his oldest, and considerably influential, loyalists, Ram Kripal. A trusted friend has overnight turned into formidable foe flying the NaMo banner.

Lalu is lapsed on a sofa seat under a corrugated vinyl gazebo on the lawns, running a distracted eye on the latest caste data from parliamentary constituencies. The airport is next door and he awaits an all-set from the chopper pilot who will fly him to Bettiah this day. Meantime, he seeks to speak to a Congress bigwig in Delhi, now to a candidate he may have in mind, now again to an officer who may have information he urgently requires. “Lagao, lagao ji phonwaa,” he hectors Bhola Yadav, his long time major domo, “Aur kya bola pilotwa…and what did the pilot say?” He turns to us, momentarily, and says a little weary of tone: “Din bhar kabaddi karte hain, raat bhar planning and thinking. Bahut critical chunav hai, desh par khatra hai, khali Bihar ka ladaai nai hai, mulk ka maamla hai…I run around all day, and all night and plan and think. This is a critical election, a danger looms over the nation. This is not only about Bihar, this is about the whole country.”

For the moment, though, the “khatra” (danger) hovers low on his own prospects; Ram Kripal’s angry departure is the last thing he required mid-battle. “Ladai hai, ladenge, Lalu dara hai kisise? …It’s a battle and I shall fight it, has Lalu ever been afraid of anyone?” So saying in assurance to himself, he hauls himself out the sofa and saunters off to a waiting SUV that will deposit him to the helipad. Misa, meantime, is still not done administeriing Gauri her periodic dose of attention.

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Rabri Devi, former chief minister of the state, is seated on a deck chair not far from the gazebo, a hubbub of young party workers hived around her. Among them are her two sons, Tej Pratap and Tejaswi, ardent close-door competitors for the RJD mantle. Tejaswi has all of Patna plastered with posters proclaiming him the mascot of “the promise of youth”; Tej Pratap, the elder but more introverted of the two, has hit back by monopolizing all of the side wall of the Deshratna Marg mansion: Yuva Shakti, Yuva Neta, The Pratap! a 70mm banner proclaims him to be. For the moment, though, neither Tej Pratap nor Tejaswi can yet go where Misa has already gone, they haven’t made the qualifying age to contest elections. They huddle around the mother importantly as they bide time.

It is elder sis Misa — fondly referred to as “Miss” by her soft-toned IIM-trained husband Sailesh — whose time it is to exude entitlement as only a to-the-manor-born can. “I have been waiting for this (contesting Patluputra) for a long time and after Laluji was disqualified, I had the first and natural claim, isn’t it?” A question? Or an assertion? Misa’s cleverly intoned reply leaves you wondering. “And if chacha (Ram Kripal Yadav) wanted to contest, he should have told us. He never did, I was ready to give up, but when the party supremo has decided, he has decided, that is the way it is to be.”

For the longest time, Ram Kripal was allowed to believe he was natural successor to the party boss, especially on the Patliputra election, which conviction has made out of bounds for Lalu. But he erred in reading the
unwritten laws of political inheritance. Misa is the second political child this season to render radical twists to family politics. Chirag turned father Ram Vilas Paswan back to the BJP not long ago. Misa has now opened a challenge within Lalu will probably struggle to surmount. “But why blame me?” she protests, “It was always clear to everyone I will head into politics, and now, with a legal bar on my father, is the best time.”

But her claim does rest in being Lalu’s daughter, not much else, isn’t it? “But of course,” Misa retorts, as if to mean her raison is as right as mother’s milk. “I am Laluji’s daughter, that’s a huge qualification. To be born in this family, to be born during the Emergency, to have breathed politics all my life. All of that is qualification, don’t you think? Politicians’ children do have political rights, don’t they? Shouldn’t they? They have home advantage too, I do not deny. I, on the other hand, would draw advantage from that advantage, I have a head-start, being Laluji’s daughter gets me interviews with people like yourself, after all, doesn’t it?” She’s giving her conditioned hair a casual back-flip, she’s savouring what she might think a smart reply. Her convent-bred diction floats about, delicate and crystalline on a compound thick with Bhojpuri. “I could have gone the backdoor route,” she presses on, as if to say she is deserving of commendation, not criticism, “I could have gone straight into the Rajya Sabha. But I have chosen the tough route, the direct route through people. I will do my best to win, but I am ready to face loss. And nobody thinks it is a courageous thing to do!”

It should require courage to be out there seeking votes as daughter of a convicted politician, though. It must be tough, being Lalu Yadav’s daughter in public. “No, of course not. And yes. I’ll be frank. I know what I will be confronted with, a lot of nonsense about my father and my mother. But there is a reason why Laluji remains a big leader with a huge following, he must have done something right. Look at his record as rail minister. Look at what he symbolizes for the underprivileged, and for minorities, don’t forget that. My father is a great man, and he will get justice from the courts one day, I am convinced. It is tough being his daughter, but whoever said I am not a tough girl?” Little Gauri, frolicking about in the nearby flowerbed, probably got the genes to survive her severe early ailment from her mother.

Gen Next Boys Break Alliance Over Frozen Fence

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New Delhi: Good fences do not always good neighbours make. It’s moot if Chirag Paswan ever read Robert Frost, but there’s no debating the newest son to mount the succession block, has convinced father Ram Vilas politics and poetry turn on different metres. Forget the romance, Papa, confront reality, move on.

With a common backyard on the prime peninsula of Janpath’s VVIP bungalows, the Paswans couldn’t get closer to the Gandhis. The latter occupy the famed Number 10, the Paswans have lived in 12 for decades, separated by no more than a convivial wicket gate.

Interviewing Chirag Paswan at home on 12 Janpath

Interviewing Chirag Paswan at home on 12 Janpath

For a while now, though, that gate hasn’t given. Last week, the Paswans tired of knocking at it; Chirag called time and turned to walk his father and their boutique Bihar concern, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a fair distance away.

For the mere lack of a crack in that wicket gate, the two households now lie separated by the widest chasm in Indian politics, between the Gandhis of the Congress and the man who has undertaken to rid the country of the Congress — Narendra Modi. Continue reading

The loud and long fight: How Nitish and Laloo fell out

Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar, seems to be down but not out, with the Lok Sabha contest in Bihar looking like a fight between Laloo Yadav and Narendra Modi. History has a way of coming full circle. For a long time, Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav were mates in university and Lohiatie politics. This is the story of how they fell out. This exclusive excerpt from Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Biharfirst appeared in Scroll.in.

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By 1992, Nitish was not on talking terms with Laloo Yadav. Proof of that lies buried in a slim but significant volume of letters put together by journalist Srikant, one of the few in Patna who labour over chronicling contemporary politics. The book, ‘Bihar: Chitthiyon ki Rajneeti’, or Bihar: The Politics of Letters, contains a long though little known missive that Nitish wrote Laloo Yadav. It is dated two years before he formally parted ways, but to read it is to be convinced of the rupture between the two. Continue reading

Nitish Kumar: Bihar’s Renaissance Man

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Exclusive excerpts from Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar, published in Mint Lounge, Saturday 15 February 2014

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Nitish Kumar as Union cabinet minister for railways in April 1998. Photo: Girish Srivastava/Hindustan Times

Bihar was never at a loss for those who set out to build it. In the narrow firmament of Bihari consciousness, they make a clotted constellation of visionaries and builders, reformists and revolutionaries, Samaritans and messiahs. Srikrishna Sinha and Anugrah Narayan Sinha, JP and Karpoori Thakur, Ram Lakhan Yadav and Jagannath Mishra. They have either been forgotten, some mercifully, or live on in dust-ridden memorial halls and rent-a-crowd commemorations. Or in disregarded town squares as busts routinely shat upon by birds. For all the retrospective reputation they have come to acquire, the gifts of Bihar’s league of legends don’t add up to much. Continue reading

Nitish and Modi: The Day Things Changed

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The picture below captures a low point in the Kumar-Modi relationship. PTI photo

Excerpt from Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar, first published in Mint Lounge

Narendra Modi was up to something, and Nitish did not like the thought of it. But it still did not bother him as long as he did not have to deal with his Gujarat counterpart. That changed on 10 May 2009.

The NDA, pushing for L.K. Advani as prime minister, had scheduled one of its biggest shows of strength in the 2009 Lok Sabha campaign at Ludhiana on that date. Invitations had gone out to prominent leaders of all constituent parties and NDA chief ministers. K. Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi had decided to participate, breaking away from the UPA. This had brought new buoyancy to NDA ranks.
Nitish was reluctant to join the rally, averse as he was to sharing a stage with Narendra Modi. He had requested JDU president Sharad Yadav to go. Two days before the rally, Jaitley called Nitish to say Advani was very keen he came, he had made a personal request. Nitish did not commit himself immediately. Jaitley then put Sanjay Jha on the job, and Jha was eventually able to convince Nitish that they’d go by chartered flight, attend the rally and return the same evening. Short and clinical. It would make Advaniji happy. Continue reading

Two Men in Winter: A Confluence of Contrasts

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New Delhi, Feb 3: Just one way of reporting this is to tell it like a story of contrasting men in winter. One who has raised hunch-backed toasts to convivial companionship with life’s final season. Another who is still trying to stare off its advance with Spartan ram-rod stiffness. One that has become a nestled shrine of sorts around which the faithful are allowed in to gather once every while. Another that is still looking for a seat out there in the cold.

The two winters came to a fleeting and uneasy confluence yesterday — Khushwant Singh turned 99 and L.K. Advani arrived to greet him at the centennial corner. He came with good wishes, a photographer and Black Cats. Among animals, Khushwant has retained only a preference for dogs. Among humans, his tolerance for company has shrunk to a handpicked few. Advani is not among them, which is why he had to ask to come.

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Advani would have seen an arm-chaired aristocracy of one surrounded by a coalition of the committed that wishes to keep Khushwant just as he is forever — jurist Soli Sorabjee, barrister and good-life aficionado Bhaichand Patel, mushaira impresario Kaamna Prasad, columnist Humra Quraishi, Ambassador Dalip Mehta and his editor spouse Nandini, artiste Vrindavan Solanki, who busied himself sketching a portrait.

Advani may have had occasion to wonder what happened to the court that once gathered around his own feet, why he is a sidelined patriarch and Khushwant still a surrounded one. At 87, he is yet a dozen years shy of the man he went to see, but he may sense his winter has already turned wistful. Khushwant’s still turns on whiskey, a peg of pedigreed single-malt raised each evening, then downed. Continue reading

For Nitish, A Signal From The Spurned

The refusal of JDU topguns denied Rajya Sabha re-nomination to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha battle could well augment Nitish Kumar’s current image deficit. Is the Bihar chief minister being told by his seasoned colleagues that the JDU ticket isn’t a desirable bet in the 2014 polls?

Two senior partymen — Shivanand Tiwari and N.K. Singh — have rejected Nitish’s offer to be fielded for the Lok Sabha, the former angrily, the latter articulately. Though stylistically different, the substance of how both have responded to Nitish Kumar’s offer is the same: No.

A ruling party’s Lok Sabha ticket is usually a thing to vie hard for; such swift and public spurning of it should worry, if not alarm, the JDU’s poll managers. Both leaders have told Nitish, rather unambiguously, that they no longer see an electoral winner in him.

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Singh cited “intensive multiple feedback from constituents” among the reasons why he was declining the party ticket. Tiwari, who declined to contest his home borough of Buxar, was more blunt. “Why should I fight elections for a party that has lost touch with the ground, whose leader does not bother even talking to me?” Tiwari railed this evening, when contacted by The Telegraph, “Let the Lok Sabha elections happen and Nitish Kumar will have a good sense of where he stands.” Continue reading

On the Eve of Split, A Few Telltale Signs in Patna

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Why it was clear it was over days before Nitish formally broke from the BJP over Narendra Modi

Patna, June 14: Either the wind did it or some vandal. But intentional or unintended, man’s mischief or nature’s collateral, it’s a sight whose symbolism would grab even the blind.

The first big Narendra Modi hoarding to be emblazoned at the BJP headquarters in Patna in the Nitish Kumar years stands ripped down the middle.

The face that has brought a 17-year-old alliance to the eve of bitter rupture occupies a beatific space on the half that remains intact: Modi’s. As if it couldn’t care the other half was gone, torn and sundered.

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Tomorrow’s another day in politics but on today’s evidence, the JD(U)-BJP coalition looks every bit the image of that hoarding — split down the middle under the looming gaze of Modi.

Just when and how the last rites will be consummated are probably only a matter of logistics and form. Tomorrow? The day after? In a week? Patna is a thick swirl of speculation, but the inevitability of the break is increasingly not part of any uncertainty.

Toot chuka,” a close aide of chief minister Nitish Kumar told The Telegraph this evening, referring to the alliance. “Kaise, kab yehi tay karna baaki hai (It’s gone. All that is left is deciding when and how).”

Nitish himself was not flinching from acknowledgement of an endgame. Returning from wrapping up the last leg of his protracted Sewa Yatra outings this afternoon, he called the situation “grim” and requiring of deliberation.

Only a fortnight back, in the aftermath of his Maharajgunj defeat, he had brushed off suggestions of trouble in the alliance and labelled it strong.

Today, he was prepared to turn sardonic on appeals from BJP leaders to keep the alliance alive in the name of respecting the mandate given to it. “Dua karte hain jaan ki, Dawa jaan lene ki dete hain (they pray for my life, they offer me the potion of death),” he quipped acidly before departing the Patna airport for home.

Nitish has been feverishly lobbied by the BJP top brass to hold his horses on the Modi issue, even been told privately that there is no certainty the Gujarat chief minister will become the party’s prime ministerial nominee. But he is unwilling any more to be cajoled or convinced.

He is believed to have described some of those offering private assurances on behalf of the BJP as “khaali kartoos (spent cartridges)”.

To him, the penny-drop moment was not so much Modi’s naming as campaign committee boss; it was BJP president Rajnath Singh announcing in Goa that the party wanted to see Modi as the “bhaavi neta (future leader)” of the country.

“He has seen the writing on the wall, there will be no compromise on this,” a cabinet minister in Nitish’s inner circle said. He mentioned, rather pointedly, that neither Modi nor anybody close to him had made even the “slightest effort” to appeal to the Bihar chief minister, much less allay his apprehensions.

“The Modi camp is unbothered about the survival of this alliance,” he said, “and those in the BJP that are making worried noises are either doing it for form or they do not matter at all.”

That is a sense echoed by sections of the BJP that want the alliance to somehow survive but have lost hope. “We cannot wish Modi away any longer and Nitish will not tolerate the mention of him,” a BJP leader said this evening, almost wistful of tone. “We have no common ground left, it has all been claimed by Narendra Modi.”

What’s left, though, is for Nitish to make good his own high and unequivocally stated claim: that he will not countenance an arrangement by a man he deems communal and, therefore, unacceptable. Nitish has never publicly named Modi as fitting that description but that is political nicety whose veil has now worn thin.

Nitish’s zero-tolerance protocol on Modi is well catalogued. He has refused to let the Gujarat chief minister campaign in Bihar. He has shied away from sharing public space with him. In private conversations with BJP interlocutors here and in Delhi, he has never minced his words he will have nothing to do with Modi.

It will probably goad him to take his promised plunge.

For all its fervent entreaties in the name of the alliance — leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj became the latest to make a save-our-soul and alliance appeal to Nitish today — the BJP has offered him no credible assurance that Modi will not eventually be named candidate for Prime Minister. Their drift has been quite the opposite: on Modi, there can’t be any compromise.

It will probably also goad him that pro-Modi sections in the Bihar BJP and his own cabinet have taken their gloves off and turned belligerent. Almost as if to taunt Nitish, his animal husbandry minister and Modi acolyte, Giriraj Singh, has decided to embark on an official trip to Gujarat, even though BJP ministers are currently on an undeclared pen-down.

State BJP chief Mangal Pandey has begun to accuse the JD(U) of trying to poach BJP MLAs, likening the Bihar allies to predator and prey. “Several of our legislators have been approached with inducements by JD(U) ministers,” Pandey ranted after a meeting of BJP leaders at the residence of deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, “This is no way for an ally to behave, in fact we have been meeting only to keep our flock together, it is becoming a desperate situation.”

Nitish’s cry is not unlike: what the BJP has done by foregrounding Narendra Modi is no way for an ally to behave. Not after they knew his mind, not if they wished to keep this alliance alive. Perhaps he has come to a pass where he doesn’t care either how closely his rocked ship resembles that tattered hoarding with Modi looming down.

For Rahul, With A Hundred Crore

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New Delhi, Jan 15: Staring at diminished electoral returns in 2014, the UPA is set to unleash a mega propaganda blitz dovetailed into Rahul Gandhi’s promotion to the fore of the Congress campaign.

Beginning tomorrow — the eve a widely-awaited Congress session — the government will pump in excess of Rs 100 crore into the eight-language multimedia offensive to buttress what could well become the Nehru-Gandhi heir’s debut lead in a national election.

The effort has been designed by the ministry of information and broadcasting in collaboration with Mumbai-based communications firm PerceptIndia as a six-week ad barrage that will terminate close to the notification of general elections in early March. UPA sources told The Telegraph tonight that this “final promotional push” is aimed at “correcting the imbalance between the huge achievements of the UPA over the past ten years and the erroneous perception that these have been wasted years”.

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The UPA appears unworried that the government-funded salvo could lend itself to being slammed by the Opposition as misuse of public money to serve the interests of the Congress, or, more bluntly, Rahul Gandhi. “Seven lakh crore rupees have been spent by the government on welfare under the eleventh Plan,” the sources countered, “This money is only a fraction of it, and besides, it has been lying allocated and unspent. All government have the right to speak about their achievements.” Continue reading

Inside the Democracy of a Dynast

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New Delhi, Jan 17: As crowning dramas go, it came close to approaching the Shakespearean. Thrice did the cry ripple for the coronet to descend on Rahul Gandhi’s head. Thrice was that cry motioned to silence. Twice by queen of the court, Sonia Gandhi, the last time by the preferred recipient of the crown himself.

The laurel he was not ducking — “I am a soldier of the party and I shall take any responsibility the party asks me to take” — but wait yet. Let it be time, let it be right, let the opportunity arrive. Here was the dynast as democrat, I’ll take the throne, but upon constitutional election. “That’s what we do,” Rahul proclaimed to an intended audience many millions times the faithful gathered in the Talkatora cupola, “We are democrats, we believe in election, we believe in what our constitution prescribes.” The cry for clan has long ceased to be a thing of orchestration in the Congress; it comes from default spontaneity. That cry did not stop to ripple — “Rahul! Rahul! Rahul!” Most resoundingly from a set of young men and ladies lined along the upper tier ringside. “Rahul! Rahul! Rahul!”

The decision not to name Rahul prime ministerial candidate has been taken and it is final, Sonia Gandhi said. “Rahul!Rahul!Rahul!”

I will come and explain this thing about the prime ministerial candidate a little later in the day, please be patient, please be silent, Rahul Gandhi intervened to say. “Rahul!Rahul!Rahul!”

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The anointment of Rahul Gandhi had leapt out of the hesitations of Congress Working Committee resolutions and acquired a fullblown life of its own. And by the end of the day it had seduced no less a spokesman than Salman Khurshid: “The sense of the house clearly is that there is a whole new India out that there is looking for change and Rajiv Gandhi is the messiah of that change.” About the first messianic change he achieved: having the government raise the LPG cylinder cap from 9 to 12 within minutes of making that demand from the Talkatora lectern.

Something seemed to have kicked and altered between the change of Nehru jackets — fawn, pre-lunch, when he sat cross-legged on stage taking notes like the best boy in class and noir, post-lunch, when he came to reveal a cannon tongue and a flashing sword arm. This wasn’t a Rahul many had seen, or even expected. No family-table sentimentality, no revelation of private mummy-lessons, no ahem! ambiguity on where he wanted to head: to power, of course. Or how: by articulating an inclusive growth narrative, of course.

Corporate houses did find mention in his discourse, but once, and after a long priority list that included the underprivileged and marginalised, tribals and Dalits, the minorities and women. “I wish to congratulate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for an unbroken decade of stability that has brought about massive socio-economic change,” he said, “And I want to tell you that what we will do henceforth is to walk with everyone, empower everyone, we have done more than any government on transparency and empowerment, we promise more. You are our strength, that is what the Congress promises.”

But much of rest was a pledge that awaits redemption: I want to empower you, the grassroots Congress man, I want half the Congressmen to be women, I want gram pradhans to become members of parliament, I want India to be corruption free, I want India to be rid of poverty, I want India to be run not by the power of one man but by the power of common Indians.

A lot of the rest was also what the billion jury will pronounce on sometime this coming May: the Congress is not a gimmick, unlike other parties, indeed not even a political party, the Congress is a movement with a glorious past, the Congress is a way of thinking. We are not divisive people intent on lighting fires, we combine the philosophies of the Geeta and Mahabharat, Ashoka and Akbar. We will fight those that seek to divide us. I will lead you into battle as a warrior with his head held high and I promise I will win, we will win, I tell you we will win. We will not retreat from this battle until we have won.

How Rahul Gandhi would hope the billion jury of May will be of a sentiment with the Talkatora platoon he charged into battle-mode today. How he’d hope he could bring the electorate down as he did his AICC delegates with fire and brimstone this winter’s day of misted chill. Shakespeare, alas, did not script how this will unfold hereon.

 

 

 

Chronicle Of A Death Foretold

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From the week that Nitish Kumar took over as NDA chief minister of Bihar in 2005 — and from far before Narendra Modi intervened — a piece on how long his unnatural alliance with the BJP could last

At the heart of the JD(U)-BJP alliance is a virulent anti-Lalooism. Now that their implacable foe has been quelled, will the combination crumble under the weight of its contradictions?

For a sense of where this massive mandate may have landed Nitish Kumar, perhaps this vignette from the recent past. Gandhi Maidan, Patna, staging post of many a momentous turn in our times — Indira Gandhi rallying opinion to wage the liberation of Bangladesh, the frail forefinger of Jayaprakash Narain risen to undo the Mighty Indira and her Emergency, an inspired Laloo Yadav sworn in to do what JP had left unachieved.

But this is Gandhi Maidan on November 16, the penultimate day of canvassing for the Bihar elections and the NDA’s final show of strength against the entrenched Laloo Yadav. A lesser battle, a lesser stage, a lesser audience. But in the immediate context, a moment momentous enough. These men had come storming Laloo’s castle several times in the past and each time they had been repulsed, one way or the other. This was a now-or-never moment.

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Star of the show, general of the battle: Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United). On his flanks, his allies, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Atal Behari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Uma Bharti, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Sushil Modi, Shahnawaz Hussain, Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav, Nand Kishore Yadav, Ravi Shankar Prasad, arm still in a sling from that gun assault. This was meant to be an NDA affair, a joint rally. Was there another leader from the JD(U) on stage? No. Did the stage sport JD(U) colours? No. There was the odd JD(U) flag held aloft in the audience but none courtesy the organisers.

Symbolic of what is to come? Or mere happenstance that the spearhead of the challenge — and now chief minister — found himself swamped by saffron at the peak of the campaign?

Nitish Kumar rode the show as unanimously agreed alternative to Rabri Devi, the BJP was upfront in stating that loud and clear. And now that the arithmetic of elections too has gone firmly in favour of Nitish, the BJP is in no position to dispute his skippership of the alliance even if it wanted to. The JD(U) has bagged nearly 90 seats, the BJP 55. So, for the record, everything is straight.

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Kejriwal: Not About Where He Came From But Where He Could Go

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New Delhi, Dec. 8: The question quite suddenly is not where Arvind Kejriwal came from to slay a three-term giant and threaten conquest of her kingdom. The question quite suddenly is where Arvind Kejriwal can go from here.

A formidable political reputation has been notarised by the public in the capital; the country’s attentions lie riveted. Are these the first steps towards a wider trampling of the existing political template? Is this the clarion of a new manifesto of change? Not from this party to that, or from one “ism” to another, but a fundamental change in the rules of the game, the overlaying of a new political ethic being righteously proclaimed as the only pure one, a takht badal do, taj badal do, beimaanon ka raaj badal do ethic.

Knowing him, Kejriwal probably isn’t terribly ruing he didn’t win Delhi; knowing him, he’s probably elated he has been spared the reins and afforded the freedom to travel beyond with the message of his big-bang debut.

It was not merely Delhi he had set out to take, it was always a place called India. That objective lies plainly stated on his Twitter handle for anyone to grasp. “Political revolution in India has begun,” it goes, “Bharat jaldi badlega.” (India will soon change.)

Among the more popular descriptors used for Kejriwal by AAP peers is “lambi race ka ghoda”, a man who’s in for the long haul. Delhi, even if captured, was never going to contain Kejriwal. Delhi unconquered is going to leave him free to run more ambitious missions.

There were those who rushed to annotate Kejriwal’s stunning step onto the centrestage with unsolicited notes of caution against casting ambitions wider. Like the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad whose compliments at AAP’s heady hour came clipped with advice it shouldn’t hurry to look farther afield: “Delhi is one thing, India quite another.”

That may have left Kejriwal amused, had he found time from the chaotic jubilation around him to listen in.

The AAP boss framed his thoughts on that way back in 1999 when he launched Parivartan, a public-assistance NGO. Parivartan’s credo was, and remains: change begins with small things. AAP’s run on Delhi, it has been ungrudgingly conceded by the entire competing field, is no small thing.

Consider that Kejriwal hadn’t even a registered political party to call his own until eight months ago. Consider that it had no office, no office-bearer, no worker, not even a thought-out name. All it had was a cap and a credo — main aam aadmi hoon, I am the aam aadmi — but it stained by disapproval from its moral fount, Anna Hazare, who only wished a movement and never a political party.

Consider then, that Kejriwal’s AAP came close as a coat of varnish to taking Delhi, a rookie barging through veteran playmakers of the Congress and the BJP. More than 30 per cent of the vote share, 28 seats in the Assembly, a whopping 20 more than the Congress which, until today, had ruled Delhi for 15 years.

Consider also that when AAP came to be and announced its intention to contest Delhi it couldn’t name a dozen candidates it could hand out tickets to. It found 70 of them, one for each seat in the Delhi legislature, and nearly half of them won.

Many of them, like party spokesperson Shazia Ilmi, lost very narrowly; Shazia by a mere 300-odd votes. It’s not a scenario most in the party had even dared dream a couple of months ago. Shazia often tells the story of the first discussions that took within AAP.

“Most of us used to say ours is going to be a symbolic fight, we were not in it to win but to spread our message, create a base. But this man Kejriwal would always disagree, and disagree angrily. Why contest, he would ask us, if not to win? We knew Kejriwal had nothing to back him other than conviction but he infected all of us with it. We came to believe it was possible to win, very quickly he taught us that ambition.”

Delhi has now given that ambition legs, and Kejriwal will bid it to rove. A more widespread itinerary already lies signposted. AAP units in 350-odd districts across 19 states in the country — that is the party’s annexure to its sterling Delhi report card.

Don’t miss the expanded parameters of Kejriwal’s stated dare: “This is just the beginning,” he said as exhort to fellow celebrants at AAP’s camp headquarters in central Delhi as his numbers teased an unlikely majority. “I have said this is not an election but a movement, a revolution. We are going to finish this politics of caste, creed, corruption and crime, we are going to bring a new order. This is just the beginning.”

It’s clearly a whetted appetite Kejriwal speaks from, an appetite that wants to move on from the devoured Delhi table and nibble at others. It is an appetite fed by happy takeaways. Delhi has not bothered with widely articulated scepticism about Kejriwal and AAP. That they are untested. That they didn’t have a chance in hell of taking the Delhi Assembly; a vote for them would be a vote wasted. That they spoke a language too idealistic, if not also too self-righteous.

In that language, it would now appear, Delhiites chose to dissolve both their cynicism and their weariness with the big two taking turns in power, and chose AAP as warning wand.

It remains true that AAP and Kejriwal are untested and Delhi has not offered them an opportunity. It remains equally true that their first outing has offered no evidence the party has the ability to break into the great rural heartland.

But while the substance of AAP’s promise awaits demonstration in the crucible of power politics, what the IIT-trained former income-tax officer has come to display is a new style cross sections of people — patricians and plebeians alike — may have found refreshing.

Its two key elements are participation and proximity. AAP’s campaign became evidence the leader had returned among the people — no commando rings, no bullet-proof insulation, no security moat between the leader and led. Its pick of candidates was, equally, an exercise conducted with far greater democracy and embrace. It succeeded in creating some sense among people they had a greater role than just voting candidates imposed upon them.

Such participation may not be an easy thing to replicate elsewhere, and power will inevitably, bring trappings that will create distance between the ruler and the ruled. But then, Kejriwal has only just set out, and he has a blaze following in his wake. It’s begun with small things, who knows how big it could become?

 

Tejpal And Tehelka, Maker And Unmaking

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As literary presaging goes, Tarun Tejpal laid out the markers of his recent life with admirable, even frightening, clarity: The Alchemy of Desire, The Story of My Assassins, The Valley of Masks — his three novels to date, in that order.

It seems a rending irony too how the littlest of Tejpal’s constructs have flown off his ingenious desk to taunt his current circumstances. When Tehelka was a fledgling tabloid, a raw and unwashed reincarnation of the hounded shell of tehelka.com, the resident wordmeister, Tejpal himself, minted the smarter of many pitches that would become bow-tie to the brand. “You can’t change the truth,” it went, “But the truth can change you.”

The jury has just begun to grind on violations that ring-sided Tehelka’s tarnished Goa celebfest, but the subterfuge that played out in the public space subsequently has already laid convincing claim to being called sordid.

This is not about the dark episodes that are alleged to have transpired between insistent boss and reluctant employee, this is about what light Tehelka’s protagonists have cast upon themselves in the aftermath of unthinking misdemeanour. Deceit is one word that comes readily to mind. Deception is another.

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“Why Is There Such Palpable Public Criticism Of You, Mr Nitish Kumar?”

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His eighth anniversary as Chief Minister of Bihar is, technically, an unprecedented moment for Nitish Kumar — he has always come to his annual observations with a report card as head of a coalition. This time, it will be on his own, as head of the only JDU government in the country. 

For that reason, and more, this is also probably the toughest anniversary for Nitish — he has lost the cushion of a two-thirds majority in the Assembly thanks to the rupture with the BJP in June; he has earned a belligerent enemy in his former allies; he looks politically more vulnerable than he has ever been since he assumed charge of Bihar in the winter of 2005. But for all of that, Nitish Kumar, exuded a quiet confidence about his work being his best certificate. “Log dekhenge kisne kaam kiya kisne nahin kiya,” he told me in an interview at his 1 Aney Marg residence, “Log bewakoof nahin hain.” (People see who had done the job who has not, people are not fools.) Excerpts:

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Q: How do you sum up your performance over the last year, particularly now that you have broken with your long-term ally? Was that distracting?

A: What happened to the alliance has nothing to do with governance, that was a separate thing, that was politics and ideology. Governance has proceeded along the lines of the agenda of governance we have had all this time. I would say good progress has been made given our constraints. Especially in areas where huge expectations were attached. Power, for instance. I had made a promise in 2012 that if I cannot improve the power situation I will not go asking for votes. Power has improved. From 700-800 megawatts a few years ago, we are now generating 2300 megawatts, and the results are visible. This will improve further. One power unit in Kanti has been revived, Barauni is set to become functional again, there is a new facility in Barh. I know there are still problems with transmission and distribution but we are working on it. The encouragement to women and girls in many sectors has been amplified. Their participation has increased, that is a big thing to me. All schoolgirls are now getting a scholarship upto class X, we have been able to retain more and more at school. Infrastructure upgradation is continuing apace. Three new bridges have been sanctioned across the Ganga, they are all big projects. A bridge across the Kosi that I was pledged to inaugurat on January 14, 2014 will be opened a month ahead of schedule. Work on the Ganga embankment has begun, the state-of-the-art museum we planned is under construction in the centre of Patna. Things are moving.

Q: Why is there this impression then among people that governance in your second term has suffered, especially after you broke with the BJP? There is palpable public criticism which was absent in previous years.

A: It has not been hit one paisa. But what is one to say of this chattering class that sometimes says Ganesh is drinking milk, sometimes says the Gods are eating up salt. What is one to do about myth-makers? They (meaning the BJP) are more vocal, they have a grip on the chattering circles, that is true. But there are many who are silent, are they not going to vote? There is a reverse consolidation happening in the polity to the new noises you hear. A negative atmosphere is being deliberately created, there is an attempt to pervert the discourse. I am not going to respond to afwah (rumour) masters. People see who has done the job, who has not, people are not fools.

Q: Even so, there have been lapses recently. The bomb blasts in Gaya and Patna, the poisoning of school-children, the way mobs were allowed to run amok in Patna after Bramharshi Mukhiya’s killing last year. There is an impression the administration is losing grip.

A: I will address those issues one by one. In the Mukhiya case, it was a deliberate decision to let the funeral procession come to Patna. There was anger among his followers, they were intent on it, the issue was to conduct the funeral procession peacefully. That did not happen, unfortunately. But once distrubances began, again the choice was between confronting the crowd or letting the anger pass before action was taken against the guilty. I know there has been criticism about the way the incident was handled, but to my mind, intervening with an emotionally surcharged crowd would have sparked more violence. The school children’s deaths was very tragic, but it was not a case of neglect or food poisoning, it was pesticide. We learnt our lessons, processes have been tightened. I saw news of a rat found in another school meal today. Action has followed, people are on their toes. The blasts, who would have thought they would happen in Bihar? Our politics does not have a culture of violence, especially terror violence. Who would have thought someone will try to bomb a Gandhi Maidan rally? We had done routine checks, but you know how Gandhi Maidan is. It is impossible to sweep the whole ground, check everybody coming in. But now, those drills will have to be put in place, everyone will have to follow security protocols, go through metal detectors. Then people will say they are being harassed, people are not being allowed in. You know how things work.

Q: There’s a related issue here. Following the blasts, people have alleged your government is soft on terrorists because there is the question of the minority vote.

A: Absolute nonsense, let anybody come and make that allegation face to face with me and I shall respond to it. We have a government in Bihar, we have responsibilities, we are entrusted with upholding law and order. What is the evidence we have been soft on terrorists or on left wing extremists? Let anybody prove we have not done whatever needs to be done to tackle both. Irresponsible things have been said about the handling of the arrest of Yasin Bhatkal. Central agencies wanted him, why don’t people find out whether there were differences on what to do with Bhatkal between the IB and the NIA?

Q: Is it not true though that there is a change in the public mood? Do you sense it? Two years ago, you had told us Bihar was in a ‘Dil Maange More’ mood. Is that your sense even today?

A: Look, the work is proceeding as it was. I am committed to it. But there will be critics and criticism, that is the nature of democratic societies. When we got a huge majority in the last election, we still had about 40 percent of the vote, no more. So some people or sections are always against you, no matter what is done. I have drawn my lessons on what requires to be done in Bihar from small incidents in my experience. Over my many years in politics in Bihar, I have come to conclude that education, healthcare and positive discrimination for women and for underprivileged sections is absolutely necessary. That is what we have concentrated our efforts on. It is difficult to please all people all the time, but people will eventually understand the difference between good and bad and they will make a choice. Of this I am sure.

Q: Does Narendra Modi’s arrival on the scene worry you? Does the BJP’s belligerence worry you? After all you have to face both the BJP and Lalu Prasad as adversaries now.

A: I am not worried on that count. I do not have sleepless nights. What’s the need? I know I am doing the job as well as I can. The consequences will follow. As for people who are talking about a hawa, let me tell you that is hawabaazi (bluster). It is true I took a gamble, but it was based on ideology and principle. If others believe they will succeed on the basis of a section of the youth and corporate houses and strategists, they are deluding themselves. They are also trying to breach social peace and harmony. I know just how desperate they are to create disturbance and polarization. As chief minister I know more things than I can reveal. But the very fact we have failed their efforts is proof of the success of our efforts to keep law and order and to defeat their designs. Bihar is a very complex society. I have fought elections since 1977, so I can claim to have some sense of why people vote and why they do not. The BJP talks of a higher success rate. That itself gives the lie to their claims. Higher success rate for the BJP in the last elections means that our vote got transferred to them and theirs did not get transferred to us. Aba aata-daal ka bhaav maloom chalega (now they will realize the true nature of things).

The Big Test: Old Nitish Versus New Nitish

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Patna, Nov 23: This is the most challenging and adverse power anniversary Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has arrived at in his eight years at the helm.

The deficits of a long incumbency are coming into play. The many aspirations he kindled on the derelictions of Laloo-raj are seeking fulfillment. He no longer enjoys the luxury of shining in comparison to Laloo Yadav; he is measured against his own manifesto of hope. Most of all, he must now square up to the political consequences of the ideological gamble he took in cutting off the BJP and deciding to sail solo. Nitish Kumar is on choppy waters infested with adversaries sharking in; his test will be how he negotiates them.

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A Reward Unto Himself, A Reminder Unto Another

Mumbai, Nov 16: A thought may have travelled far across the globe from here and struck Roger Federer wherever he is: Time to go?

Could there be more to the reason why Federer became the first non-cricketing sportsman to tweet Sachin Tendulkar farewell than just that they have made a habit of meeting during the Championship at Wimbledon each summer? Could it also be the tennis star has sighted in the cricket icon the grey apparition impending closer upon him? Retirement?

Like Sachin, Federer has already moved into the lofty and lonesome manhattan of achievement. He has spared no trophy left to grab. His exploits have defied earthly gravity. His following is its own Christendom. His coffers must cough to suffocation. His mantel must groan with the burden of achievement. His body, like Sachin’s, has begun to reveal that unconquerable thing called age. He’s only 32 to Sachin’s 40, but if modern turns on a brutal treadmill, international tennis is rubber on an F1 lap. It burns you out.

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Federer’s down seeded sixth on the ATP charts, behind David Ferrer and Juan Del Potro. He’s lost bouts recurrently to the others who make up the top five: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovich, Andy Murray. He’s begun to snarl at play and gnash in defeat. He’s unrelenting yet to what his body might tell him. He will give up his serenity and turn to scrapping, if that’s what it’ll take hereon to bark the competition off court. He’s busy banishing approaching ghosts and said somewhere recently he is still planning, as always, 18 months ahead. Which means he’s already thinking Wimbledon 2015. Which may well mean, he’s also mulling what the arrangements of what transpired at the Wankhede this afternoon.

It came to pass that at high noon Sachin soaked up the shadows of a matchless journey under his hat and said goodbye.  A tear fell, or several, Sachin will best be able to tell, and became an ellipse of full stops. Game’s end.

A cruelly truncated end, for he may have rightfully bargained on ten last days out on the park and four last outings with the bat. The West Indies were keener on a triumphal sendoff than Sachin probably cared for. They lasted two and three quarter days at Eden and fewer here on Sachin’s home ground. Their woeful deficits made a moth-eaten series of it and ended up robbing Sachin an entire game’s playtime. It was a 2-0 defeat conceded, improbably, in the time it takes to conclude one Test.

This morning, the Best Men of Sachin’s farewell party put some of their calypso abandon on display, but none of the fearsome authority that was as much part of the West Indian credo. They extended lunch, but showed no stomach for a fight. They made a meal of themselves, bowled out for far fewer than Clive Lloyd alone hit up (242) at Wankhede’s inaugural game in January 1975. Lloyd isn’t the size that’s easily concealed, but through the course of this match, the Big Cat may have been looking for a suitable place in the Wankhede pavilion to shake off the blushes.

Came another crown a little later in the day that may have waited on the glow of Sachin’s final tryst with cricket to abate. Intimation with grace is not an undue demand to make on the highest honour this nation bestows on its citizens, a divined moment, a well-lit place, a standout assignation. The Bharat Ratna hurtled off the government’s cooling rooms to join the end of a scrummy beeline extended before Sachin: a commemorative stamp, a BCCI cap, a STAR India trophy, an MCA trophy, a Mumbai Police album, a Sri Lankan government medal, then Bharat Ratna.

The crown Sachin has signed off wearing is mostly the aggregate of his own singular labours; the Bharat Ratna could have displayed lesser haste than to lunge and want itself pinned on it rightaway.

Today, Sachin could have been afforded just his own radiance, just his own easy eloquence which few knew existed until he began to speak, just the gathered rewards of his own realm — a cuddled family, an engaged coach, a praying mother, a father somewhere in the radiance overhead, a fondness of mates past and present, a reclusive mentor-brother somewhere in the shadows, a lachrymose constituency rooted round the stands interminably long after Mohammed Shami had castled Shannon Gabriel and coaxed a Peter Pan cackle of joy from the 40-year-old at square leg. He’d only just retired and was clapping his own curtains down.

PS: If Sachin Tendulkar is synomous with Indian cricket, it remains, hearteningly, on good shoulders: his last lap of honour Sachin concluded borne by two men named Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli.  Roger Federer will have to trek off court solo, whenever he calls it quits, and with his own shoulder to carry the kitbag on.

Pablo Neruda’s Swan, Sachin Tendulkar’s Song

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Mumbai, Nov 15: In his redolent memoir of a life fully lived, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda recounted a childhood fragment of hunting swans — big unwieldy birds, clumsy of flight, easy to strike down. As a boy, Neruda once tended a battered swan as big as himself for several weeks, until one day its neck twisted and the swan keeled. “It was then that I learned,” Neruda wrote, as only he could, “that swans don’t sing when they die.”

Should some quirk of magic-realism have brought the laureate to the Wankhede for Sachin’s swansong this morning, he may have considered revising his evocation of how swans die.

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This one danced all the way to sudden death, laying back, stepping down, swinging, twisting, flicking, flickering on like a flame nobody save eleven West Indians on the park wanted put out. He brought the spectators tiers to sing and swing along. He was on a waltz that held the swell and ebb of a million pumping hearts, temporarily the sole conductor of diastoles and systoles.

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Sachin Tendulkar: Where No Man Has Been Before

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Mumbai, Nov 14: History is unbeaten on 38 and has taken an overnight break. The future resumes in a while. A little past nine in the morning, millions of hearts will leap back into mouths and begin to palpitate like prayer.

Sachin Tendulkar’s last stand on the cricket field has interrupted this long and cheerless season of cynicism, drowned out unseemly political blame and claim, smothered the clamour on many embattled barricades and brought a whole nation to exult in unison: “Saachin! Saachin!!”

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Despondency and dissonance can await restoration on prime time; at 33 minutes past three this afternoon, Sachin began to cause a happy disruption, however temporary, with a kilo and a half of willow at the Wankhede.

He brought it sheathed in India colours, and wielded it like a wand of undiminished magic. He made it seem an outrageous travesty he is hanging his cap on it after this one and taking it home forever, signing off at a chosen peak because he can see none else left to climb.

Every moment he has spent on the playing park in recent years, every single run he has scored, has become a new space no man has ever been before. No one has played as many Tests, no one has scored as many runs; maybe he is bored on this solo run, weary of pushing the boundaries so far his company has fallen out of sight.

He pushed a little further on today for cricket and country, and progressed farther afield, a little more solitary in that zone. Six missives to the ropes in his unfinished essay — four exquisite taunts to gaps on the off boundaries, a delectable paddle to fine leg, and the last, a signature posting of authority to long on. Fourteen singles, squeezed about and caressed, 51 other offerings patiently seen through, as if he were determined to make his last fling more than just a one-night stand. He was correct as a textbook throughout; only, the Windies, who have given a torrid description of themselves thus far, couldn’t read him.

Darren Sammy’s men stood Sachin a gracious guard of honour as he walked in, then immediately laid an elaborate snare — slip, close in, short point, forward short leg, a fine leg so short he could pick Sachin’s back-pocket, and wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin breathing down his bootlaces. Shane Shillingford, the lone Caribbean shark on tour, had the blood of openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay fresh on his fingers; he was finning in for another kill. Sachin dabbed and padded and then twirled one to square leg and called ‘run’, oblivious that Cheteshwar Pujara couldn’t possibly have heard him at the other end. The roar lifting off the Wankhede was such, it was pushing the risen tides of the Arabian Sea on the close by shore. “Saachin! Saachin!!”

For the better part today, the Wankhede centrestage was actually the fringe — deep fine leg, or third man, or long off, where Sachin stood as the West Indians crumbled yet again around the pole of a promising start. For all the merry wreckage Pragyan Ojha, Ravichandran Ashwin & Co were causing mid-field, the arena’s attentions roved and settled where Sachin went. It was a crowd unwilling to concede cricket is an eleven-a-side game; it was there just for that one diminutive giant minding the fence in a floppy hat.

To behold Sachin unmindfully tapping grass and enacting that trademark pre-stance crouch in the face of such imploring adulation was to be in the vicinity of a transcendent presence. How may a man contain the reverberation of a million jangling nerves, let alone his own?  How may a man remain calm in the eddy of high-decibel arousal and expectation he has come to cause? Sachin looked so removed and disengaged under his helmet from the reverence rippling around, it almost seemed a rude thing to do.

But then, he may have been otherwise occupied. He may have been paying final obeisance to the craft that has made Sachin Tendulkar what he is — beyond adjective or ascription, Sachin Tendulkar himself. The Chief Editor of my newspaper is possessed of quirky inventiveness with metaphors. He discontinued describing the few things he reckoned world-class as world-class a while back; he began to call them Tendulkar-class.

The world saw Sachin salute the Wankhede turf before he took guard today; what he may have kept to himself was a bow to mother Rajini whose first match-day out at the stadium would be her son’s last. And to guru Ramakant Achrekar, who arrived on the viewing deck in a wheel-chair to watch his ward play one final time.

Sachin’s elders may have to make that effort one more time tomorrow. History is still in the scripting. And when Sachin enters the Wankhede bowl tomorrow, he might well render the future for his cricketing peers a little more unattainable. Breathe easy, this man has nothing more to prove than the undying expectations of his following.

Bihar’s Chhatth: Pre-Vedic Gift To Post-Modern Consciousness

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“Chhatth ke argha taa deyli babua,

Tabhiyo Bihar naa sudhri…”

(I’ve done the devotionals of Chhatth, young one,

But even so Bihar shan’t redeem itself)

— play on the refrain of a popular self-deprecating Bhojpuri ballad

 

For far too long Bihar’s name was, in good measure, infamy. It exported hungry migrants, bad news and an outcrop of civil servants. The first two did Bihar little credit. The third came at such a premium it became not a Bihari thing but exceptional of Bihar — they were uber-Biharis, those that had overcome Bihar rather than come off it. Bihar: boondock of malignant cargo.

That unseemly signature has begun to cure itself lately, and may already have become a stylized curl along fringes of water across the land. From the Juhu beachfront in Bombay, to the Ganga ghats of Varanasi and Calcutta, to the shallow moats of Delhi’s Boat Club and punctuations of rivulet, stream and pond strewn betwixt, an iridescent frill has erupted and put new colour and contour to what Bihar or Bihari might mean — pre-Vedic Chhatth has brought to its devotees the gift of a post-modern consciousness, the opening of a grand frontier of their mostly hard-pressed migration.

It’s what N.K. Singh, technocrat, politician and notarized fellow of Bihar’s ruling elite, calls a “cultural watershed” in the annals of his people. “The journey of Chhatth out of Bihar and to far places is, finally, evidence of the confident assertion of Bihari identity,” he says, “It represents a phenomena far beyond migration, this is high-value migration. Like Diwali has travelled to the White House, Chhatth has taken others parts of India in its sweep.” What Singh picks out as most remarkable is that “Chhatth is not something Biharis are sheepish any more to observe outside their domain, they are doing it with pride wherever they are.”

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