Vaidik, Hafiz Sayeed and the Sting on Journalism

Tags

, , , ,

New Delhi, July 14: An interview that nobody has read, and probably hasn’t yet been written, flamed into the headlines today, stoking partisan skirmishes in Parliament and ethical paroxysm, even some envy, across newrooms.

Should Ved Pratap Vaidik have taken himself into a Lahore safehouse for an hour-long conversation with Mohammed Hafiz Sayeed, amir of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the man India accuses of plotting the Mumbai terror assault and calls a clear and present danger to Indian security?

ved

But before that, Ved Pratap Vaidik, who? He seems a man convinced he escapes simplistic description and is entitled to a higher, multifaceted calling. He describes himself as a “journalist, ideologue, political thinker, orator”. His specialty is South Asia — “Aryavarta” to his preference —from Afghanistan all across the India’s northeastern periphery. He was once opinion editor of the Hindi daily Navbharat Times, then editor of Bhasha, the Hindi cousin of the Press Trust of India. Came a time, he forsook the quotidian yoke of employment, and turned freelance fount of varied wisdoms, an aspiring rishi to political rajas. He occasionally found them and offered them what he could. His current hat is Chairman, Council for Indian Policy, an institution of unclear provenance. He is also yoga teacher Ramdev’s best-known non-yogic impresario, and, should you happen to ask, high counsellor to a string of political leaders across party lines.

Congressmen, he revealed today, wanted him at one time during the P.V. Narasimha Rao days, to be elevated to deputy Prime Minister. Earlier this year, he delivered a “civilizational discourse” to a Delhi gathering attended, among others, by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Arun Jaitley and Ramdev. And earlier this month, on July 2, he was able to effect that first-of-its-kind cross-border tryst with Hafiz Sayeed.

Journalism took him there, Vaidik insists, no ulterior motive or undercover task. The bafflement remains he took the better part of a fortnight to announce his journalistic coup, and when he did, he appended no journalism to it. What he did put out was a photograph seated across Sayeed, between them a table with a jug of water, an offering he declined, this being the month of Ramzan. What he also gave out of his interview was interviews of his own — I told Hafiz Sayeed about Narendra Modi and him being a “brahmachari”, he told me he had three wives; I told him Indians accuse him of promoting terror, he told me he has never done any such thing, he’s only been defamed by America under Indian pressure; I told him more about Modi and he said Modi will be welcomed in Pakistan, he himself wants to come to Delhi and Mumbai and address gatherings, and that his mother escaped to Pakistan from Ropur (in Punjab), when she was carrying him. The tone would suggest this is not a senior Indian journalist interviewing a man India considers Public Enemy Number One; it approximates a Track II, no notes, conversation more.

Questions arise, several of them. For a start, what exactly was Vaidik doing with Hafiz Sayeed?

The Congress, scanning the board for pins to dig into the Modi government, was quick to raise the “traitor!” charge and demanded an explanation on why the government was dispatching emissaries to cosy up to an internationally proclaimed terrorist and professed India tormentor: we need to know immediately if this government is negotiating with terrorists instead of demanding they be brought to justice, as we have been.

The BJP rushed to rubbish the charge and dust off any hint of intimacy with Vaidik or his mission. “We have nothing do to with it,” protested parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, “I have checked with the ministry of external affairs, there was nothing. We were neither consulted, nor did we consent to any such thing. For the record, Hafiz Sayeed remains an enemy of India.” Vaidik himself appeared diligently engaged all day today, trying to deflect Congress volleys, protect the Modi establishment from taking hits. “I went on behalf of nobody, I went on my own,” was his relentless song, “It was something I did as a journalist.”

Which begs another question. How did he secure access to Hafiz Sayeed?

Vaidik’s doesn’t constitute the first Indian media effort to question Hafiz Sayeed, though the jury remains out on whether he intended to question the JuD boss in the first place. Dozens of Indian journalists have tried and failed. The truth is Sayeed remains a prized entity for formidable Pakistani state actors — the GHQ/ISI complex which dictates policy — and retains the benefit of their proctection. You don’t get to see Hafiz Sayeed by knocking at his Johar Town residence in Lahore; a likelier prospect is you’d get knocked before you get anywhere near if you make a solo attempt without travel documents. Phonelines need to be burnt, subterranean connections made, purpose and credentials verified and channels cleared, before such a meeting can come to be. Vaidik seems to have had the benefit of all of those; he has gone where no Indian journalist has ever been before.

Arriving as part of then foreign minister S.M. Krishna’s media crew at a Lahore five-star in the September of 2012, some of us caught a shivered whisper in the hotel lobby: Anyone here who wants to meet Hafiz Sayeed? What? Really? Or was it just a mischievous truth-or-dare trick? But how? When? Where? It can be arranged, the whisper offered, probably here, probably somewhere nearby, within ten minutes. He lives in a double-storey in Johar Town, after all, and he enjoys the way of his will. There were not a few excited and willing among us: Hafiz Sayeed, a scribe’s big story, let’s take it. But then, the whisper vanished, almost as suddenly as it had arrived. Only the electric ripple of it remained. The hive of spooks and securitymen, Indian and Pakistani, in the hotel atrium couldn’t possibly not have caught a sense of it. They swiftly banished the prospect of Hafiz Sayeed, even the floating spectre of the promise.

I would have taken the chance with both hands and two hooves, but even then, as now, there were those among us who declared, astonishingly,

that even offered an opportunity they’d decline on some cuckoo illusion that interviewing Sayeed would compromise their patriotism. It’s  a stance Vaidik dexterously used all day today to secure holes in the frayed masonry of his story: “As a journalist, I’d meet anyone, I’ve met the LTTE’s Prabhakaran, I’ve met armed Naxalites, I’ve met many enemies of the state, but that is my duty as a journalist.”

But all along, he himself issued reason for his “purely journalistic mission” tale to be doubted. Journalists don’t go on roving foreign missions — and should not — promoting home governments. Vaidik did. His own writing from Pakistan contains the best evidence of it. Among the things he told the Pakistani leadership, according the solitary piece he wrote for a home publication: “Modi hasn’t uttered a word against Muslims and is good for all Indians”; “Nobody has a bad word to say of Modi in Pakistan”; “All of Pakistan is looking forward to an early Modi visit”. Upon his return home, Vaidik penned a paean to Arun Jaitley’s maiden budget and titled it, “Modi kaa Manmohak Budget” (Modi’s Spellbinding Budget).

The reason why a “dubious” cry attends Vaidik’s journalistic-mission protestation isn’t far to seek. And we are still wondering where the core of all this clamour is? His “interview” with Hafiz Sayeed. What desk did he send it to?

 

Last Among Unequals

Tags

, ,

 

Chandra Shekhar was a deeply flawed politician but in many ways he embodied an ethos that has little resonance or currency in today’s India.

In this, his seventh anniversary year, an appraisal I wrote in 2007

In extant public consciousness, the facial stubble probably lies copyrighted as signature statement to Anil Kapoor or to Abhishek Bachchan. But that could only be a trick of not knowing. The stubble was launched as street vogue on the face of a fledgling socialist called Chandra Shekhar in the mid-1960s and has endured through the decades as trademark lean and hungry look of the smalltown neta with bigtime ideas and ambitions. There was a tribe of north Indian politicians that came to subliminally believe you had to have a stubble if you wanted to be taken seriously. In an era where there was still some political premium on being and appearing rustic and rooted rather than cityslicker-swish, the unkempt visage was what made first impressions. The stubble was, if you like, the fashion statement of a certain political species — rough and always ready for the road, no time for personal care because public life wasn’t meant to be about any of that.

download

Chandra Shekhar was no Gandhi, there can be no confusing them. (And even Gandhi was in many ways no Gandhi; didn’t Sarojini Naidu remark how she wished the world knew how much it cost to keep the Mahatma poor?) But if symbolism is a legitimate tool for setting norm and standard, we may have lost in Chandra Shekhar the last great villager-politician. Not because to the end of his days, the man wore nothing but rumpled dhoti-kurta, bandi, ahinsak chappals and, in the bitter cold, a khadi shawl; not because he preferred to squat and chat in the kutia he had had constructed in his 3 South Avenue Lane home; not because he kept open house there even when he was, for a trice, Prime Minister; not because he never went campaigning in choppers; not because he never got seduced by the dazzle of the celebrity-corporate complex that debuted harmlessly on Page 3 and has now extended its insidious grip, octopus-like, to all vital precincts of national life; not even because he was the only contemporary politician to have walked — his 1983 Bharat Yatra was no air-conditioned cross-country in a souped-up rath, it was a sole-splitting marathon at the end of which he had his feet wrapped in reams of gauze — the heart of the land.

It was because he was utterly unembarrassed about his lack of chic. It was because it would have embarrassed him to be seen as enamoured by it or aspiring to. That isn’t true any more of many of those who fashion themselves as sons of the soil. The list includes Laloo Yadav and Mulayam Singh, both of whom owed much to Chandra Shekhar that they aren’t generous enough to reveal. Mark this contrast — Laloo Yadav and Mulayam Singh have, in time, turned into prosperous and unabashed little dynasts; Chandra Shekhar, for all his years, access and influence, never promoted his family into politics. Sons Pankaj and Neeraj are private people, barely recognised beyond their departed father’s close circle.

It has become kosher, in some ways even obligatory, for the political classes to flaunt wealth, or the company of the wealthy, these days — the cocktail appearance, the shake-a-leg gig, the flash car or cell, the private jet courtesy so-and-so. In Chandra Shekhar’s book that was strictly schlock. Like most politicians of a generation getting framed up on the walls, Chandra Shekhar took a dim, even contemptuous, view of such ethics; he thought such exhibitionism uncouth and unseemly in a country still overwhelmingly populated by the poor. The last time I saw him — a brief meeting in the improvised hut at 3 South Avenue Lane several months ago — he lay already quite consumed by the rot in his veins but still typically irascible at the way things were. “Matibhrasht neta hain is desh ke jinko GDP ka das ank laakhon mare kisanon se jyada bada dikhai deta hai.” (The leaders must have lost their minds to view two-digit GDP growth as bigger than hundreds of thousands of dead farmers.)

It wasn’t as if Chandra Shekhar didn’t build personal wealth; the modest farmer’s son from Ballia in east UP came to acquire fabled — and dubious — estates in the name of the Bharat Yatra Trust at Bhondsi on the fringes of New Delhi and back in his native Ibrahimpatti. It was not as if he did not deal with big and dirty money; as leader of a political concern that had to be kept going and, later, as Prime Minister, he had to. But he had a way about money; money was not about personal ostentation, it was even less about losing sense of realities and perverting policy as a consequence. If ever he used one, Chandra Shekhar probably needed an aide to operate the mobile phone, but he knew his rabi from his kharif and was familiar with all the miseries that happen in between. And he wasn’t afraid to evoke that sensibility even if he was the only man doing so. He left the Praja Socialist Party to join Indira Gandhi because he became convinced that Congress conservatives were bent upon gobbling her — and socialism — up. He fought off the rightwing syndicate with Mrs Gandhi. He left her side when he sensed her turning autocratic and preferred jail to submission. He fought tooth and nail — and in vain — against the formation of the Janata Dal under VP Singh because he thought VP a Congress crony and an opportunist and said so openly. He wasn’t bothered to know if he convinced anyone.

But at the worst of times, he commanded patient hearing in the Lok Sabha or outside, whether it was running against the national mood and warning of the dire consequences of sending armed forces into the Golden Temple or, in the vortex of the post-Babri demolition turmoil, remonstrating with the Left not to push the Sangh Parivar so hard that there was no room for return. Too much a secular-socialist ever to agree with the Sangh and irate at the horror it had enacted in Ayodhya, Chandra Shekhar still counselled dialogue — don’t forget, they too are people who belong to this country, they have strayed, they need to be corrected, you can’t extern them. Not for nothing did the late PV Narasimha Rao say that the closest the Ayodhya dispute came to a resolution was during Chandra Shekhar’s premiership. But then that was a stint with “short-term” written all over it.

He was a die-hard inclusivist because he was grounded in the contrary pluralities of India and understood that contradictions cannot be fought, they would have to be managed. No wonder his friendships ran deep and across ideological lines. No wonder that little Chandra Shekhar wanted done went unrequited in the power corridors. The man only ever held one post — Prime Minister for seven lame-duck months — but he wielded influence far in excess of what he let on. He became much reviled too for the strings he could pull over the phone from 3 South Avenue Lane. Did he care? He didn’t much. On the contrary, he continued to offer plentiful fodder to critics. His weakness for Thakur aggrandisement — wasn’t the rivalry for the Rajput crown at the bottom of his visceral differences with VP Singh? — his loner’s inability to create an organisation, his clumsy late-life grab for high office, the sordid company he often kept. Suraj Deo Singh and Chandraswami, one a dreaded Dhanbad mafia don, the other a high-flying conman. It can’t be he didn’t know the truth about them. But here again, it was that stodgy streak of personal conviction working against public perception — they were friends, Chandra Shekhar couldn’t be bothered what the world thought of them.

For more than the last decade, Chandra Shekhar stood in the Lok Sabha as lone representative of a party that had no brand recognition and that has probably died unlamented with him — the Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP). But being solitary seldom shook him. He was, from the beginning, an as-is-where-is man, like me, lump me. A little before the end, he made another contentious, and solitary, flip — vote Shekhawat for President, not Pratibha. He was nearer to the Congress than he was to the BJP but then, Shekhawat was a friend. The stubble had by then turned from pepper to salt-and-pepper to pure salt on his face and now it’s turned to ash. But that was the original one and it lies copyrighted in his name.

 

Not At The Placenta

papaIn the fifteenth year of Janardan Thakur’s passing, representing an old essay from an MW anthology on Fathers and Sons  

The jacket on the man in that picture is nearly fifty years old, only a little younger than I.  The first time I saw it was in a photograph sent back by my father from a long trip to the United States; it is the colour of lightly burned ochre and it has leather buttons on it the size of baby chestnuts. That man is Janardan Thakur, my father, and the boy on the arm of the chair is me. The picture was taken the day Bangladesh was born. To the right of where we sat, still flows the Ganga. To the left was what used to be the residence of the Principal of Patna College, a two-storeyed British era mansion with a deck overlooking the river and a portico up front where cycle rickshaws would lumber up and halt.

Patna had very few cars those days, and you saw fewer around the university; my father had a white Vespa, and when I went out with him, I liked to stand in front, between him and the handlebar, a vertical obstruction that impeded vision and skewed the scooter’s centre of gravity. But it was a thrill riding the prow, even with all the dust and fleas flying into my face.

The Principal of Patna College at that time was a man called Mahendra Pratap, a fiesty votary of the liberation of East Pakistan and a friend of my father’s. He’d hung up a large red-and-green of the new nation in his living room, and he’d called my father that morning for a celebratory breakfast. He was a big man, so big it seemed incongruous to me he could be chirpy as a bird, which he was that morning. He’d hugged my father as if he’d just been bequeathed a personal kingdom. He seemed not to know how else to employ his jollity; he pulled out his Rolliflex and took pictures. This one was among those he sent my father several months later. I remembered quietly sliding down the out-of-bounds bank to the river as my father and Mahendra Pratap engrossed themselves in conversation. He wanted to know what the Americans had been saying about the sundering of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. “So Mr Kissinger couldn’t prevent it, heh?” he grunted triumphally, “Nor his Seventh Fleet, heh? Come back in the evening and we shall raise a toast, but meantime tell me the mood in America.”

My father had only recently returned from a studyship in the US ; he’d been gone six months, probably a little more. He mailed close to a hundred picture-postcards during that time to populate his absence and to relentlessly promise return. I can’t quite tell what they should mean to me today now he’s gone somewhere nobody ever gets postcards from. They are all there somewhere in my cloister of my abandoned treasures, rubber-banded and curling at the corners, my father’s wad of notes to me. They came from far, and at that time, magical places – Bangkok, Kowloon, Osaka, Maui, Honolulu, San Francisco, Salem, Phoenix, Denver, Cincinnati, Missouri, Houston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Boston, Long Island. There was a line common to all of them, a default appendage, like a signature: “I am missing you but I will soon be back.”

The first one he sent me was from Bangkok of the floating vegetable markets on the Chao Phraya. He must have posted  that within hours of waving us off from the Dum Dum tarmac and arriving in Thailand. I can still sense my quiet grouse from that morning, looking at the PanAm jumbo parked in the haze, convinced the only mission of its sortie was to steal my father away, an abduction I confusedly watched and he air-kissed his way to. Could this be a good thing, him vanishing into the neck of that blue-white whale of a plane? He seemed happy to go; I never did make up my mind, although over the next few months, I missed him to tears. I was eight, and provincial. I had no notion of where my father was headed, or why. I only knew he was excited. He’d bought a pair of Chinese shoes the previous day from Bentinck Street, he clicked his way to the plane, turning once, then again, but always headed farther and farther until he became a blur climbing up the ladder, and vanished. Swallowed. I stood there, on the open Dum Dum gallery, refusing my mother’s hand, angry that she had allowed this to happen, let him go. From the moment he had taken the stairs down to customs and entered a space I had no passport to, everything had slipped out of grasp and become irretrievable. I had no way of reaching my father anymore; and he was completely taken by the notion of flight. When the ladder was unhooked from the aircraft and rolled away, the great abductor was free to fly. It revved its engines and  began to nose away into the morning mist, and took off in a great groan of bereftness.

That first postcard he sent me already had that line at the end: I am missing you but I will soon be back. He had begun a chain and every subsequent postcard would become a link in the journey back to where we would be together again. By the time he returned, they had become such a daily high, I was almost wistful my father wasn’t still out there mailing them from faraway geographies.

It was during that time that I first got a glimpse of the jacket. It was in a photograph he had sent back, tucked between sheets in a par avion envelope. My father stood wearing it on a promontory across the Grand Canyon. It was an eve-of-twilight photograph, that splice of day between glare and gloom when all the world seems burnished in Macenna’s magic. He sported thick sideburns those days and he stood looking back into the camera in fawn Levis and that corduroy top. I know I say this of my father but I haven’t seen a handsomer sight. There are some things that get so irrevocably imprinted in the eye that there isn’t any need more to revisit them for recall. A Vishwanath square-cut, or Nargis lapsed on Raj Kapoor’s pectoralis major mid-street on a night of torrents, or those airliners sharking into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. That picture of my father is one such. It is in the albums somewhere that I haven’t revisited in a while but I have never needed to; I can see each detail down to his lengthening shadow travelling out of the bottom right of the frame. He filled out that jacket like I have never been able to although I have now owned it for more years than he ever did. And for all the trips it has taken to the cleaner’s and for all the petrol and weaker scouring agents it has been subject to, it still smells of him. Or perhaps it is just the memory of him ionising around my nostrils at the sight of burnt-ochre corduroy.

Memory is only a little about memorising, it’s one in a constellation of things that make up that magical thing called memory. Sense and sensation, association, connection, smell, colour, time, distance, space, voices, silences, genes and the chemicals that make them up, behaviour and its weird geometry. My father never actually taught me to clip my nails but I do not know when or how precisely, I began to clip my nails exactly the way he did, with my fingers splayed and the blades sniping in arches. I was familiar with my shaving rituals long before I sprang facial hair, just what swathes the blade would cut into foam, just those arcs across my face.. My fingers had been choreographed for a typewriter keyboard before my brain trained in Pitman lessons. I see my handwriting from early school on a few Enid Blytons that survive in the household and I see my hand now and can’t decipher the route it took from an awkward squarish scrawl to a stylized slant. Too many years of seeing my father’s writing; too many postcards received from too many places. He never actually taught me. But that is the tango genes dance with behaviour on the helix of memory. There will be pitfalls and missteps in the perilous architecture of the helix but if the tangoing can override them it will eventually spin the dancers into a trance of subconscious fusion. Among the many things —good and bad—I took from him is my habit of smoking, my love for cigarettes and each little act that goes into reducing them into ash. The manner of lighting matches and the manner of bringing the flame to tip, the lips wrapped around the filter in a kiss, eyebrows screwed on the little box of light in closed palms, and then the first puff of smoke shot out like a plume of gunfire. And the fingers yellowed from years of holding and burning the tip too close. I don’t remember if it was he who told me this or I who told him but Graham Greene once indulgently and romantically described his nicotine scars as the “golden fingers of a smoker”. Quite late in our years together —  late enough for us to have been comfortable in each other’s company latenights at Leopold’s (a bar in Mumbai’s Colaba district fabled for its libertine, even risqué, nocturnal turnings), which is saying a lot considering the conservative stable we came from and the stable whose rules both punctiliously respected while there – I briefly developed a habit of flicking away burnt out cigarettes with a pincer thrust of the index and the thumb. Soon enough, I noticed him doing the same with rather easy facility.

In the years that he has been gone, I have often spied my mother looking at me in a strange sort of way, in a way I have never seen her look at me, almost as if she were looking at someone else and I just happened to be in the way. I used to shrug it off as my imagining but one day, leaving home and headed for and appointment in peril of being missed, I stopped and asked her, rather irritable, “What is it? Why are you looking like that at me again?” She capped her brow with a palm and said, “Nothing, nothing, it isn’t you, it’s your father, sometimes, with some things, it is like he were blowing through you.” Here’s memory in unfathomable dimensions; it is the memory of one man but it has come to reside within me through various conscious and subconscious routes, and finds various exits —  gait, voice, temper, manner, gesture, agitations, the trajectory of my eyebrows, the way I peer over my half-moons sometimes. To my mother, that same memory is an external, even physical, construct. She should know. She has spent more time watching the two of us, together and apart, than we could ever manage.

We all come attached to our mothers and keep going through a series of dis-engagements starting with the placenta at birth. There isn’t a choice about it that we have; attachments to mothers is one of the most essential givens of nature. Fathers are the variables of this equation. Their quantum is a matter of being worked out, about being deciphered through unwritten formulas. Fathers and offspring discover each other along the way or they don’t.

On the first night of my first real disengagement from my mother—my father had taken me, on my great insistence and on my many promises not too cry, to out north Bihar village to attend yearly rituals – I wailed so disconsolately for my mother, my father almost had to scrap the visit and ferry me back. In the event, he didn’t have to but that was achieved by unleashing his fury – one of the few times he did so – on me. I was barely four then and I was told I would never be going out with him again. I did. More times than I can remember. Then on, we never were on a journey not together until he turned the alley where entry is strictly by invitation. I remember him at the point where he forked off alone and forever.

It had to be Bombay, the city that he had grown to love so in such short a time that it could not have just been the sea. Or perhaps it was, I cannot yet reckon. I was on my way back from assignment in Goa to New Delhi and had stopped over to see my parents. But my stopover was shorter than short. Kargil, where military attrition was fast spiralling into what would become the war of 1999, was pressing, and I had to get the first flight out. We spent the morning together in my parents’ Colaba apartment and then my father said he would take a ride with me to Dhobitalao where he had ordered sets of old classics in a second-hand bookstore. He got down en route to Sahar and I touched his feet, as I always did at meetings and partings, and he crossed the road and waved. He was wearing, by some quirk, an ochre shirt and he beamed in the high Bombay noon. I remember thinking on the way to the airport what an odd father and son we made. We drank together and discussed Anais Nin at Leopold’s but it wasn’t ever that I left him without seeking his blessings the old-fashioned way, at his feet. He never demanded it but I have a sense he would have been disappointed if he didn’t. I never felt like not doing it, and that was only because I did not want to disappoint him. He borrowed cigarettes from me but there was something about him that forbade me to puff in front of him. I never did. He disliked me smoking, especially smoking too much. But all he ever did was to scribble advice and leave it in my books as markers. It takes two to tango and we both knew the rules.

Pracharak To Pradhanmantri: Narendra Modi’s Extraordinary Journey

Tags

, , , ,

The last time India elected a single party to rule itself Narendra Modi was an anonymous pracharak of the RSS apprenticing in the debris of devastated barracks. Indira Gandhi’s assassination had handed Rajiv a merciless Lok Sabha majority; his adversaries lay decimated. The BJP had two members of Parliament. There wasn’t much to apprentice with in the Sangh Parivar’s mainstream precincts. It was 1984, a time for solitary reaping in the Opposition’s ransacked ranks.

The next time India elected a single party to rule itself, three decades later, the 16th day of May 2014, Narendra Modi stood adorned with the coronet of unprecedented achievement. In fact, a string of unprecedented achievements. The spearhead of the first non-Congress party to wrest power single-handed in New Delhi. The first from a classified backward community to arrive at the helm of the nation. The first chief minister to become Prime Minister in a single, stunning leap. Pracharak to Pradhan Mantri. When he mounted the Vadodara rostrum on Friday evening astride an electoral avalanche and pronounced himself merely “Mazdoor No 1”, he spurred his delirious votaries to roaring. It’s solitary reaping time no more, it has become a harvest beyond the imaginings of those who sowed the seeds of this saffron tempest.

Risen at twilight was a man a constituency far wider than Vadodara’s millions, far wider than India’s billion-plus, was looking at with a rainbow range of sentiments — hope and expectation, rapture and ravishment, bewilderment and keen curiosity, even fear and apprehension. Narendra Modi is about to be sworn into leadership of the world’s biggest democracy, the globe is tuning in, or will have to. A leading EU ambassador in Delhi told The Telegraph as the EVMs were wheeled in for the cascade count on Thursday night: “For us he has been a man not to ignore for a while now, which is why we made our openings to him more than a year back. Now, we cannot afford not to know who this man really is, what he means, what he intends, how he will conduct what he intends to conduct. At the moment he probably dictates the highest curiosity value the world over.”

Curiosity may not prove enough to fetch answers, though. Narendra Modi remains an enigma even to those who have been closest to him. The mother of the 64-year-old Prime Minister-designate included. In 2002, following his first victory in Gujarat, I travelled to his native Vadnagar to attempt piecing together a face that even then seemed worth a close look at. She lived at the time in a tiny two-storey house abutting a water-tank that’s hub to Vadnagar. The old lady was reticent to begin with and remained so through the half hour of time she granted. All she offered me was: “But what do I really know about my son? He left us as a teenager saying nothing to me other than that he was going. He has rarely come back, he has always had us told he is at work. I know little of my son.”

Ask a top PR executive who has worked closely with Team Modi and he sounds like an echo of the mother. “The one thing I can tell you about Narendra Modi is that anyone who claims to be close to him or to know him is lying. It isn’t possible to become close to Narendra Modi.” There is a territory Modi has practised to shield zealously from any prying — the core of Narendra Modi. At the end of the day — or at the beginning of it — the man who has courted, and won, stirring mass adulation, is a solitary man.

But clues to some of what he wanted to fashion for himself he had begun to drop early. That same year I went to Vadnagar following Modi’s 2002 victory, I wrote a long piece which began thus: “There are many who believe that this man is headed not for Gandhinagar but for New Delhi, that the tide he has unleashed will soon gobble up his mighty mentors — Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani and company — and deliver him at the helm of the Party and the Parivar, perhaps even of the country. In a skewed but probably telling sense he has already raised the bar of competition higher than any other Indian chief minister would; he is not in a contest with locals, he has pitted himself against Pervez Musharraf, or at least that’s what the pitch of his campaign is. And when he picks adversaries at home, he picks Sonia Gandhi, hardly ever Shankarsinh Vaghela, his former shakha-mate and chief provincial challenger. The psychological template of his battle is not provincial, it’s national, that’s the stage he is fashioning.”

Continue reading

Poll Recall: Telegraph May 14/Bihar-UP: Along Buddha’s Last Walk, The Vibrant Myth Of Messiah NaMo

Tags

, , , ,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gautam Buddha’s last walk has become a Narendra Modi inroad. It must have been along these banks somewhere that Buddha crossed the Gandak bed and carried on to his mahaparinirvana at Kushinagar in 483 BC or thereabouts.

Having preached his last sermon at Vaishali, where part of his remains were later brought; having persuaded weeping Lichchhavi disciples to give up their pursuit at Kesaria, where a denuded stupa stands, a massive red-brick rotunda islanded in flat farmland; having brushed off his last pursuers with the gift of his begging bowl near Khajooria. Thereafter, he walked mostly alone and incognito until he crossed the river and came to rest in Kushinagar.

All along this 200-odd-kilometre run from Vaishali in north Bihar to the jagged fringes of east UP, we came upon again and again the Buddha legend in repose and a Modi newly rampant.

Irrespective of who wins these contests that closed on May 12 — all of these are gridlock battles, mind you, meshed in complex caste-creed loyalties — the spectre looming over the field is Narendra Modi’s.

He has come to acquire exclusive cross-country command of the discourse in a way neither national adversaries nor local competition can match. Few people even mention Rahul or Sonia Gandhi; Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad figure often, but only as counterpoints to Modi, where they can match him, where they’ll get rubbed.

Continue reading

Poll Recall: Telegraph May 7/Kashmir: Final solution: Mind Your Business

Tags

, , , , ,

 A shop to run, a lathe to work at, a field to till — Baramulla knows too well not to wait for messiahs

Under the simmering canopy of the Kashmir dispute lumbers the realm of the forgotten Kashmiri.

In a vale so tiny — it is 130-odd kilometres long and 40 kilometres at its widest — that realm is never far to seek but it seldom attracts notice.

The tourism industry doesn’t mark out routes to it, the guides will never take you there, the state stays mostly away and averse, the politicians, oh but they barely even remember. Barely even at the time they require this realm most, at election time.

Hamara siyasat se matlab nahin, siyasat ka hamse nahin (we have nothing to do with politics, politics have nothing to do with us),” so saying, Mohammed Alam, cloth merchant in the one-lane bazaar of Kamblinar, wished us on.

In a day or two, men and materials will drone into the heart of the village, churning dust and curiosity, and set up a polling centre in the tumbledown structure that calls itself a middle school.

Alam won’t be bothered going in to vote. Nor his mates in the Kamblinar bazaar that stocks nothing beyond the most rudimentary things — you can acquire torch cells but not torches; they would have to be got from Handwara, the closest retail hub, two hours on a local bus that plies once a day.

Alam’s reasons for not voting are not what you’d classically expect from a Valley Muslim. His reasons are not about subscribing to the Hurriyat’s boycott call, or about the protracted sub-continental quarrel over where Kashmir should belong.

It’s merely about what Alam said in the first place: about not giving anything to politics because it gives nothing to you. “I will not acquire a bigger shop or a plot of land or a better school for my children if I go and vote,” Alam said sardonically. “I have a chance of doing that if I run my shop well. We are happy being what we are, let me not be told some masiha (messiah) will change things overnight.”

His friends from Kamblinar’s little merchant community — half-a-dozen shopfronts including a bread-and-tea vend — said they wanted to add no more to what Alam had said.

“You can see we are happy with what we have, and you can see what we do not have,” one of them said. “Should we be fooled it will come from casting a vote? We’ve tried that. All we have heard is talk of a final solution to Kashmir. Meantime, what are we meant to do?”

We had arrived in Kamblinar quite by accident. We had strayed looking for quite another village in the up-and-down maze of rural Baramulla — Chandoosa, the native place of Supreme Court lawyer and PDP candidate, Muzaffar Hussain Beg. We had climbed up the arrow road from Srinagar to Tangmarg, humped over Gulmarg — teeming with the summer’s first tourists scratching about the dregs of remnant snow — and plunged down the back of the forested shrine of Baba Reshi.

Quite suddenly, the clamour of tourist Kashmir had faded and an ante-dated Kashmir had taken over. We had travelled no more than 10 minutes downhill and we had plunged in time, into a radically removed environ from the luminous signposting of Gulmarg, shorn of its glitter, bereft of the excited hubbub of its hotels and eateries, the tinkle of easy cash and the chirp of commerce.

There was barely a dwelling to be seen that wasn’t ramshackle, barely a field that wasn’t being worked with bare human hands. We passed struggling horse carts and farmers pushing wheelbarrows. We barely came across motorised transport. We saw no hospitals or health centres, only the odd school where the classrooms were empty. There were no security people either, as they are elsewhere in the Valley.

The road had vanished and rubble had taken over. The Chandoosa of Beg was nowhere to be found. Somebody told us it may lie beyond the bend north of Kamblinar

That’s how we came to meet Alam.

Chandoosa was not one but several bends in the undulating valley from Kamblinar. “You’ll find nothing special there,” Alam said to us by way of caution. “It’s just the same as here, a forgotten place.”

In the centre of Chandoosa, we found iron smith Abdul Khaliq working his denuded lathe, the only man in the village with the time or the patience to talk. “I’ve been at this since I was a child,” he said motioning to his workstation of scattered metal things, “since the angrez (Englishman) ruled. Nothing has changed, not even my tolls or how I craft them.”

Khaliq was happy to have pictures taken; to look at him was to see a man from centuries ago. “I voted once, for Sheikh Abdullah, but never after, they all come and say good things and go, the fools, they are no good, a waste of time.”

The mustard was being harvested, and soon it would be time to sow paddy; Khaliq had his hands full crafting or sharpening farm tools. Isn’t he happy to have a fellow villager in the fray, the famous Beg? “But who?” Khaliq cocked his ears. “Yes, we are told he is from here but does he ever come? I have never seen him.”

Baramulla, one of the three Valley seats other than Anantnag and Srinagar and probably the one with the longest LoC run among them, has another famous contender — Sharifuddin Shariq of the National Conference. Shariq has represented the constituency three consecutive times. But with little to show for it.

It’s a harsh place, the Baramulla countryside; its bedraggled beauty does little to offer relief from the daily grind of subsistence life. Neither do those who compete to represent it in the high halls of legislature. For them, the lot of the people, remains in abeyance until they are done with the high rhetoric of Kashmir’s “final solution”, which looks nowhere in sight in this abandoned wilderness.

 

Poll Recall: Telegraph May 1/Kashmir:Freedom To Boycott: The Horrendous Enactment Of 60 Percent In 1996, And The 26 Percent In 2014

Tags

, , , ,

As polling begins for Srinagar, a soldier takes position atop a polling station in the northern rural pocket of Kangan

As polling begins for Srinagar, a soldier takes position atop a polling station in the northern rural pocket of Kangan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Srinagar, May 1: At a little past ten in the morning, the wan morning sun began to pick out little groups of women in the village square across from the polling station. They waddled out the lanes in twos and threes and soon they turned into a buzzing congregation, like birds sniffing out the safety of their course. Then one gathered steps and vanished past the ajar iron gates where armed jawans stood. Then another, and another, and then the children of some of them began to tug them forth. The plunge was taken. The women had joined their men; two queues began to curl out the polling booth at Dardpora in Budgam.

Not long after, as the hubbub mounted around the polling hive, a group of youngsters walked up and stood across the jawans at the iron gates. They wore track-suits and gelled hair, their sneakers were slaked with mud; they may have come off a morning’s nets on the cricket field. One of them revealed a voters’ slip in his palm but none of them was going in. “Baayecaaat!” he shouted out and then the others shouted too: “Baaayecaat!!”

Continue reading

Poll Recall: Telegraph April 29/Kashmir: Hands Off Buttons, Eyes On Modi

Tags

, , , ,

Farooq Abdullah being assisted off the dais by security personnel at Margund in north Kashmir

Farooq Abdullah being assisted off the dais by security personnel at Margund in north Kashmir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The surest sign that the Kashmir campaign is part of a mainstream election is that Narendra Modi has come to drop in the thick of it.

The surest sign that the mainstream here is differently defined is that three-fourths of Kashmiris aren’t bothered voting.

Panchayat elections have drawn upwards of 80 per cent voters in parts of the Valley. Assembly polls this last decade and a half have seen an average 45 per cent turnout.

Electoral engagement in Kashmir comes tethered to compulsions of quotidian utility, local means and ends; it’s no benchmark of political endorsement. If it is, the interpreters of the Kashmiri Morse in New Delhi and beyond should spell out the message of 25-odd per cent, no more, coming forth to vote for Parliament.

But between those insistent truisms has sprung a teaser that captivates voter and boycotter alike: Is Modi coming? Is it going to be iss baar Modi sarkar? More Kashmiris are interested in how India is voting than Kashmir itself. Is Modi really coming? What will that do?

Is this election Kashmir’s renewed interrogation of the idea of India? Having spurned the polls themselves, are they reading in the 2014 ballot-leaves clues to the prospect of a re-negotiation?

What could Modi do? For better or for worse, but surely something new, something beyond remaining knocked as the “arch-stone” in the edifice of secular India?

Continue reading

Why Development Doesn’t Pay, And Caste Does: The ABCD of Bihar Elections

Tags

, , , ,

20newpop

Blacktop highways, powerlit villages, teeming schools, beehive health centres and block offices are not the news from Bihar any longer. The news from Bihar is you fetch no votes for any of that.

All along the 300-odd-kilometre journey I made north-east of Patna to this rural outpost, the state and its people offered resounding testimony that chief minister Nitish Kumar’s dream of fashioning “Naya Bihar” is a fiction of his fancies, no more. It’s a dream he had the silly cheek to dream; it has turned into a nightmare slapping him. If he thought — as he told The Telegraph repeatedly in 2010 and 2011 — that he had created a new Bihari identity that overarched caste and creed and endorsed development with common purpose, he thought erroneously and fatally ahead of time.

Constituency after constituency, Bihar is voting neither indigenous work nor imported wave, but current and counter-current of caste and creed. If Nitish is floundering in those currents it is down to him having no history of winning a mandate on his own. He wrested Bihar from Laloo Yadav after a decade-long effort only upon allying with the BJP. His wager that he had achieved enough through governance to hold his ground is about to become a sorry manifesto of how poorly he read the ground he has ruled for nine years. Democratic victories in Bihar are not yet achievable through delivery; they remain a tribal rite of alliance-building, cynical but effective “jod-tod”. Continue reading

Zero-Cost Eggs, And The Loneliness of Giriraj Singh

Tags

, , , , ,

Patna: A country egg hatching in a remote poultry pen has become Giriraj Singh’s thing of armour against invited assault. But we shall come to the eggs presently; first, the reason why this tale’s protagonist is on eggshells.

Such a torrent of censure and rejection he never did expect to descend on him for uttering the “undiluted truth of my heart”. Such a clap of overhead thunder it was, resonating from foe and friend, it left the bellicose Giriraj moping in a corner of his west Patna bungalow.

“I have been told I must hang, I have been told I must be arrested, I have been told I should be charged with treason, I have been told I am anti-national, and nobody is defending me. Everybody, even people in my party, is tearing into me. For what? For telling the truth? I am devastated, this moment has brought me to think if I should leave public life altogether, what’s the point if I cannot say the truth?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The counter-torrent issuing from Giriraj is in spate. He won’t stop. “I am telling you, and maybe I should not be telling you, but I feel like leaving politics, doing something else. I have probably won the Nawada Lok Sabha seat (polling in Nawada was held on April 10) , but even so, I feel so wronged, I want to give it all up.” Continue reading

Freedom To Boycott: The Horrendous Enactment Of 60 Percent In 1996, And The 26 Percent In 2014

Tags

, , ,

As polling begins for Srinagar, a soldier takes position atop a polling station in the northern rural pocket of Kangan

As polling begins for Srinagar, a soldier takes position atop a polling station in the northern rural pocket of Kangan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Srinagar, May 1: At a little past ten in the morning, the wan morning sun began to pick out little groups of women in the village square across from the polling station. They waddled out the lanes in twos and threes and soon they turned into a buzzing congregation, like birds sniffing out the safety of their course. Then one gathered steps and vanished past the ajar iron gates where armed jawans stood. Then another, and another, and then the children of some of them began to tug them forth. The plunge was taken. The women had joined their men; two queues began to curl out the polling booth at Dardpora in Budgam.

Not long after, as the hubbub mounted around the polling hive, a group of youngsters walked up and stood across the jawans at the iron gates. They wore track-suits and gelled hair, their sneakers were slaked with mud; they may have come off a morning’s nets on the cricket field. One of them revealed a voters’ slip in his palm but none of them was going in. “Baayecaaat!” he shouted out and then the others shouted too: “Baaayecaat!!”

Women and elders hesitantly join the polling in Budgam

Women and elders hesitantly join the polling in Budgam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The young boycotters stood their vocal dare. The jawans stood opposite, eyeball-to-eyeball, but impassive. Those in Dardpora that wished to vote passed betwixt. Nothing happened. Continue reading

Kashmir Won’t Vote, But It’s Riveted On Which Way India Will

Tags

, , , ,

Margund (North Kashmir), April 28: The surest sign that the Kashmir campaign is part of a mainstream election is that Narendra Modi has come to drop in the thick of it.

The surest sign that the mainstream here is differently defined is that three-fourths of Kashmiris aren’t bothered voting.

Panchayat elections have drawn upwards of 80 percent voters in parts of the Valley. Assembly turnouts this last decade and a half have seen an average 45 percent turnout. Electoral engagement in Kashmir comes tethered to compulsions of quotidian utility, local means and ends; it’s no benchmark of political endorsement. If it is, the interpreters of the Kashmiri morse in New Delhi and beyond should spell out the message of 25-odd percent, no more, coming forth to vote for Parliament.

But between those insistent truisms has sprung a teaser that captivates voter and boycotter alike: Is Modi coming? Is it going to be iss baar Modi sarkar? More Kashmiris are interested in how India is voting than Kashmir itself. Is Modi really coming? What will that do?

At the Abdullahs’ election rally in Margund in North Kashmir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this election Kashmir’s renewed interrogation of the idea of India? Having spurned the poll themselves, are they reading in the 2014 ballot-leaves clues to the prospect of a re-negotiation? What could Modi do? For better or for worse, but surely something new, something beyond remaining knocked as the “arch-stone” in the edifice of secular India? “He’s not a man to hang around,” a retired civil servant with stated separatist aspiration told me of Modi over tea last evening, “He speaks a new language many may not like, but it is a new language. He may have new terms of reference to spell out to Kashmiris.”

Continue reading

Between Anisur And Akhtarul, The Confounded Bihari Muslim

Tags

, , , ,

Between one Akhtarul and one Anisur could lie the scrambled clues to the confounded run of the Muslim voter in Bihar.

The former junked his JD(U) ticket from Kishanganj on Tuesday in the name of preventing a split in the Muslim vote. The latter sits a little shaken if the move will leave the minority voter confounded mid-election. Anisur sounds not terribly pleased with what Akhtarul has done. “We have prospered under Nitish Kumar as has the whole state, such decisions spread confusion, this is not the time to be confused.”

As general secretary of the Imarat-e-Sharia, a pre-Independence charitable body with a jurisdiction spread across Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and parts of Bengal, Maulana Anisur Rahman believes he has commitments to the community that transcend the exigencies of an election.

“We must be able to think ahead,” he sagely counsels no one in particular. “This is an important election, probably the most important we have seen in recent times, this is a time for united approach, not confusion. What Akhtarul has done creates khalbali(confusion), I find it hard to approve.” Continue reading

In The Backseat Of Misa’s SUV, A Swinger At Moodyji

Tags

, , , , ,

Maner (Pataliputra), April 15: The heat is such, it is burning up the standing stalks of wheat. The air conditioning in Misa Bharti’s road-ragged SUV is turned to “high cold” but she’s sweating in the front seat. Cooling doesn’t work when the windows have to be kept rolled down; rolling them up doesn’t work when you’re trying to catch each extended hand, smile at each approaching face, wear each garland flung at you.

The campaign is lurching to a close in Pataliputra’s rural outback, there isn’t much more Misa can do on her final spin than sweat a little more in her seat, bat away a few more flies, swig a few more draughts of a home concoction.

“There isn’t even time to eat today,” Misa mutters to herself, “sab kuchh gaadi mein hi karna hoga… Everything will have to be done in the car.” She isn’t getting down, she tells her driver, as a cluster of supporters appears down the road. “Chalte rahiye… keep going.”

The driver turns to her and nods but tells her he doesn’t know where to go. “Someone said Punpun, someone said Maner, someone said Phulwari, the road forks ahead, so which way?” Misa doesn’t know either. “Chalte rahiye,” she says again. She sticks her head out of the window, cranes her neck into more garlands, grins widely and urges the driver on. Continue reading

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

Tags

, , , , ,

Image

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

Tags

, , , , ,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Continue reading

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

Tags

, , , , ,

photo (4)

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

Tags

, , , ,

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

Tags

, , , ,

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

Tags

, , , , ,

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?”

Continue reading

The Political Nub Of It: Single Man in The Pioneer

Tags

, , , ,

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

Tags

, , , ,

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

Tags

, , , ,

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.

photo (2) copy
“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.

photo (3)

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

Tags

, , , , ,

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.

e06b2090-ca3c-4080-b593-bc1ed320cc1f

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

Tags

, , , ,

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

NITISH1--621x414

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

Tags

, , , ,

nitish3--330x220

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

Tags

, , , ,

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.

download

 

 

 

 

 

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.

M_Id_433638_Nitish_Kumar

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,400 other followers