Telegraph Calcutta

Lost, then found, forever lost

We lose things. Like a game. We find things. Like fame at a game. We lose things. Like temper. We find things. Like temper. We lose them, and we find them. It is a rite of recovering, what is gone returns. But often what is gone does not. Often what we lose cannot be found again. Or, if it is found it is found in a state that it has been lost. Lost far beyond recovery. Lost forever. It is like memory. Maybe.

We lose memory, and we recover it. But sometimes we lose memory and never find it again. And at other times yet, we want to lose memory because it is not a memory we want to keep. We lose it and we do not wish to have it back. It helps to do that. It helps to not have some memories regained, or recovered. Memories can be precious. Memories can be poor. Sometimes they can be both, and on such occasions it is possible to wonder whether those memories should be fondled or forsaken. What do you do with the memory of the dead? Or the memory of the dead who may not be yet? Who knows? Would you lose it? Would you want to find it? Would you even know if it is only a memory and nothing but? What we lose and do not find may not be forever lost; what we lose and find may not be what we lost to begin with. We have to wonder about what we have lost, and what we have found. We have to wonder about what we have lost and not found. We have to wonder about what we have lost and what of it we have found, how much of it.

There is the debris. The torn feathers of that big bird. Torn and scattered. Where but? Oh there, right there, between Mt Perhaps and Mt WeDon’tKnow, between those two. Perhaps. We don’t know. But there is the debris. Found. From what was lost. And lost, from what was once not even to be found, it was just there. Not lost. But there. The big bird. That flew. And flew. And eventually fell because it could no longer fly. But why? But where? Who knows? Mt Perhaps. Mt WeDon’tKnow. Betwixt? We do not know.

It flew from warm climes, but it flew with a well-clad cargo. Cold bird that, made of aluminium and glass and powered by cold fuels. An untrammelled bird, not pressurised; they knew she would climb and her belly would get cold at those heights. They were prepared, the cargo. Let’s just say cargo. It’s easier. Now that all’s been lost. And found only to reveal that all is lost. Torn to smithereens and scattered like confetti from a demon’s feast. Or icing on a cake for a wake.

But who knows? If they are lost? Or cannot be found? Who knows what happens? In this twilight between being and not being, between being what requires no finding and being lost. They flew. They were to land. They were lost, they were to be found. Between take off and landing there lay no mystery. What goes up must come down; it’s only a flight. Happens all the time. Flights take off. Flights land. Go to the FlightRadar. You’ll know just how many are flying all the time all across the face of the earth. You’ll know just how many are landing. On any day everything that flies eventually comes to land. On some days, some don’t; or one doesn’t. It comes to be lost. Not found. And very often, when that lost thing comes to be found it is only a debris of lost things. No longer its shape, no longer the sum of its parts and what those parts contained. Lost. Found. But lost.

But who’s to tell? Who’s to tell what happened between Mt Perhaps and Mt WeDon’tKnow. What perished, what survived. Who’s to tell? Perhaps something’s survived. Perhaps nothing did. We don’t know. A life? A limb? A living, flailing limb? Or a living something or the other. Calling out. Calling out to say they are not lost. Calling out to say they need to be found. Calling out against being forever lost. And being found when being only and utterly lost.

We see things here and there

And then we see them not

We think: what happened, where?

And that is what’s our lot.

Telegraph Calcutta

We beat them, but now for some more


Oh we did. And how we did. Yeaaaaaah! Come on then, BullWorkerMan, come on, show us what used to be 56 and might now be… What is it now… measure, measure, stretch the measuring tape. And you, the rest of you, get a measure of things. Get ready. More ready than you have been. More ready than you thought you ought to be. Get ready for what is to come.

We beat you. But we want to beat you more. We want to beat you like there was no beating. We are on top. We do not want to leave this position of vantage, the vantage of heights. If you have the heights you have the advantage. We have the heights. We want the advantage. We will make the most of it.

In all combat there is this thing called being on top. It is not a frivolous thing. Being on top. We know who is on top of Kailash. We know what He can do from the top of Kailash. We have drawn our lessons on the advantage of heights from the one who is on top of Kailash. Period.

Let us not take any names here. There are names and there are names. And there are sacred names and there are names that are unmentionable names. They can also be names that are at once sacred and unmentionable. So we are not mentioning names. We know. We know who is on top of Mount Kailash. We know what advantages he enjoys. They are, in most part, the advantage of heights. So if we are on top it is inevitable that we will beat you. I have been close. Or as close. You would recall my effort, of course. At getting close. All attired and and almost as if I were retired. But not retired, of course, have no worries. I have responsibilities. I can be spiritual, but I am mostly temporal.

So I did go. As close to the heights as the cameras could get. Because there is no point in going where the cameras cannot. What is the point if I cannot show you where I am? What is the point if you cannot see where I am? What is the point going where the cameras cannot? I have to show you. You have to see. I am not God. I am one of you. I am human. I am not God. I am only pretending to be Him. Or Her? They do say these things these days, don’t they? Every Him has become Her. Every He, She. Wonder why? Upturned times. Kalyug. Such things happen. Hoy. We had been warned. Kalyug aayega! Aa gaya hai kya? Is Kalyug already here? Her. When Him would have done just well enough. What more evidence should we require of this being Kalyug, of Kalyug having arrived? What nature produces, man perverts. Or woman does. Let it not be man taking the knock for this one too, let it be woman. Everything has become what it used not to be. Caves have become air conditioned and en suite; cavemen have got civilisations to lord upon.

They have beaten the rest. Bored into them with their horns. And they are not stopping there. They are saying we need to beat you more. We have the advantage of heights. And we have to now beat you into the depths. Such depths that you shall never be able to emerge from, such depths that you shall have to raise your arms to wear your shoes or tie your laces.

Presuming you still have shoes to wear. Presuming you still wear lace-ups. Presuming, most of all, that by then you still have feet to put footwear on. We have knocked you down to your knees, but now we shall knock you down legless. Footless. Restful. Completely so. Or restless in ways that you cannot imagine it is possible to be restless.

We have won. Yes, but that may not mean we have beaten you. Not in the way that we want to beat you.

Look where I have come

Oh Mai, Oh Mai, Oh my

I may almost be done

Really, I am now feeling so high.


Telegraph Calcutta

These were no ordinary elections; these are no ordinary times

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Perhaps the most telling public message Pragya Thakur sent out after establishing dominion over Bhopal was a visual she tweeted. It had photographs of Giriraj Singh, Sakshi Maharaj and herself. It had their Lok Sabha victory margins superimposed: 4.19 lakh, 3.65 lakh and 4.01 lakh, respectively. It also had a caption emblazoned in saffron that read: “Yeh aankde bahut kuchh kehte hain… (these numbers tell a lot)”. Indeed they do. So too Pragya’s chosen trio — Giriraj Singh, Sakshi Maharaj and herself, all outspoken Hindu majoritarians who have made political careers taunting, bullying and baiting minorities; Pragya stands accused of worse, of having masterminded the Malegaon blasts of 2006 which claimed 40 lives. But here she was, rich and righteous in proclamation, underlining to whoever cared to listen the meaning of the landslide margins for the three — it was the unabashed, unapologetic Hindutva arrowheads that had won big in 2019, get the message from the mandate if you haven’t yet: jo Hindu hit ki baat karega, wohi desh par raj karega.

And guess who tip-toed to the centre stage from behind such chilling chorus just days later? Pratap Chandra Sarangi, newly elected MP from Balasore in Odisha, called out on the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt to take oath as minister of state in Narendra Modi’s second government. Sarangi of the bedraggled mane and beard has come introduced to the uninitiated as a devoted, austere, even saintly figure whose lifetime’s leitmotif has been simple living. There is another way Sarangi must be introduced. He was chief of the Odisha chapter of the Bajrang Dal when the Christian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two boys were burnt to death in 1999. Later, in 2002, Sarangi was charged with rioting, arson, assault and damaging government property. The government property in question happened to be the Odisha state assembly, which a violent VHP-Bajrang Dal mob had attacked. Sarangi too is to the hardened Hindutva manner born, a recruit marked out for services rendered and patted into the Lok Sabha and public office from the same stables as Pragya and other such notables.

If Pragya was a dagger brazenly wielded in the face of the conscionable and the correct — how could one accused of terror plots, one who hero-worshipped the assassin of Gandhi, be endorsed for the Lok Sabha by India’s ruling party? Sarangi was a dare, revealed on the honours list at Rashtrapati Bhavan. They were both tools, as it were, of pushing the boundaries of public discourse; it’s done to award a Lok Sabha ticket to a terror-accused, it’s done to honour a belligerent sectarian with a ministerial berth. That’s the direction to head in. But this is neither about Pragya Thakur nor Pratap Sarangi. This is about their enablers and promoters, namely Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, and his effective Number Two and home minister, Amit Shah. This is about the project that they have been systematically, and successfully, pursuing a good while now. This is about the euphemism they call New India. Do not be confused about it, New India is nothing like the New India Indians adopted and swore themselves to on January 26, 1950. This New India is a work in progress; it has consumed two general elections and the spaces in between. It will consume more, not slowly and steadily but speedily and sweepingly.

Violent street oppression, even lynching, barely makes news or gets notice, it has been pushed to brief mentions in the inside pages, if that. You can be beaten up, even killed, for what you wear because in doing so you have publicly identified yourself as the Other. Nobody cares. You can be harangued and threatened into forsaking your faith, if only temporarily, and paying obeisance to another. Nobody cares.

Godse worship has leapt out of closets and now occupies more than just one seat in the Lok Sabha; many more than one, if only the Pragya example would encourage others to come out. Marginalization of the minorities is a badge proudly worn by the ruling party; it’s almost a manifesto resolve of theirs, we don’t want their votes, strong majority governments can be achieved without them. In fact, they can all go to Pakistan, so can those who espouse their constitutional rights. All of this has swiftly become the new normal over the last five years.

But more is to come, inevitably. For what Modi began in 2013 is only understood in part if it is understood as a quest for power. It was a quest for empire. We have seen two general elections in that period, but what we may be missing out on is the referendum that was simultaneously triggered and has not come to the end of its course yet. It is a referendum that seeks to establish a majoritarian India. It is the quest for an empire that predates the many empires that ruled these parts over the last eight hundred years or so, empires fashioned by those that came from land, and empires fashioned by those that arrived via the seas. The little problem with those that arrived from land is that they stayed; they became part, and even when they parted, more chose to stay than go away. That problem needs solutions.

And so what has rolled out between the general elections of 2014 and 2019 is an undeclared open-ended referendum on what the arrival of Narendra Modi in power should really come to mean. These were no ordinary elections. Their meaning needs to be understood beyond the numbers in the Lok Sabha and the arrangements of executive governments. The time that passed between the arrival of the first Modi government and the installation of the second also needs to be carefully grasped. This was no ordinary time. And the time to come may be even less ordinary. For if there is one thing the last two general elections have done, it is this: validate the values Modi and his worldview embody and vacate the values of several, or all, of his prviaedecessors. Majoritarian India has never been so audaciously enthroned. The majoritarian ethic has never appeared so unflinching in its determination to impose itself. It has promised not to stop doing so, and is in a daily dare to those who will come in the way. The proliferating use of the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ cry as a heckler hoot is merely the street symptom of it. There’s more in the works where that came from. There is the promise to dismantle Article 35A of the Constitution which enshrines special guarantees to Jammu and Kashmir; there is the promised push for a Uniform Civil Code; there is the issue of space for the ‘Mandir’, of course, forever on the board; there is too the foregrounded pledge to effect a National Register of Citizens, herald of an indigenous lebensraum. It’s part of the playbook of the powers, now better than ever abled with 303.

Those who cannot see the fracture between Modi bowing before the Indian Constitution in the Central Hall of Parliament and the Modi that prodded the likes of Pragya and Sarangi into our top legislative House are deluding themselves. Or perhaps, and unfortunately, they see it and like what they see. Pragya Thakur was probably right to put out the image of that trio of which she is part; it proclaims not the victory of the BJP but of those in the ranks who won bigger than most… yeh aankde bahut kuchh kehte hain.


Telegraph Calcutta

Departed. Arrived. Departs, Arrives


Someone has been through here, someone has travelled. What you see is an image of that passing. Or a shadow of it. Or a remnant. Things remain. Nothing goes away. Even when things have passed, they do not go away. Even when folks have passed, they do not go away. They remain. In shadows. In imprints and embossed. In memory. What you see could be any of those things. What you see is, most certainly, a sign of someone having been through here.

Kolyma comes to mind. Nobody’s mother, this Kolyma. In fact, an entity mercilessly adept at making anyone feel motherless, this Kolyma. Know Kolyma? No? Let’s go there, briefly. Let’s go to the far Russian Far-East. Far, far up and away from everywhere else. Edged close to the Arctic. Probably. Not sure. But yes, closer to Arctic climes than to any other clime.

The tundra. You know what the tundra is. First know your tundra. Do not tell me I have a foreboding about the tundra without even knowing what the tundra is. That is typical. A foreboding about something you know nothing of. A manufactured foreboding. A pretended foreboding. A vacant, farcical, vacuous foreboding. Foreboding is not the critical word. Tundra is. And Kolyma. Then say you have a foreboding. Else, buzz off. Because if you do not know tundra and if you do not know Kolyma, you do not know the F, or the effing eff, of foreboding. Kid yourself in your quarters, with your fare. Boiled eggs and cakes? What else? Kid yourself in your prescriptions and proscriptions. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. This cannot be done. This is not how it is done. Leh. Who said? Ke bollo? Radhaballabi? Eat it. You would not even dare do that. You cannot even eat a radhaballabi and you are warning folks who can afford a million times less not to have their gulp of water off the lion-headed water hydrant on the street. “Baagher mukh theke jol khete nei!!” Tahole? “Tahole, kee? Aamar boye gaychhe.” Translated: live up to my fork and marrow-spoon standards, or DIE. Who cares, Marie? Who even cares, Antoinette?

Right? Yes. If you know the tundra. If you know Kolyma. Foreboding is the only thing you can have.

Because nature wasn’t the harshest aspect of Kolyma. Man was. He made a prison of it. A remote, frozen, bleak, depressing, diminishing prison. An open prison. So open. So vast. So cold. So inhospitable. So unending. Such a prison that there was no running away from it. Where would you run from Kolyma? In Kolyma, when you run you only ever land up, breathless and panting and completely trounced on intention, in Kolyma itself. Or some part of Kolyma. Kolyma is such a place. Kolyma is abomination. Kolyma is beyond most imagination. But Kolyma is. Google it. Gospel it. Gospel meaning Google; Google, the Gospel of Kalyug. Look at Kolyma on a map. You will find it. It is a huge unendurably cold geography. Most folks do not know Kolyma because most folks who know Kolyma do not survive to tell what Kolyma is. Some do. Some told the tale. But not many read them. They thought them incredulous. They thought them too noir. But in actual fact I shall reveal to you why they did not read the Kolyma tales. Or tell them aft.

Because they were too afraid. Too so. Even their worst imaginations feared to tread where the Kolyma tales began. But I shall tell you the beginning. One morning in Kolyma, a schoolgirl setting off to school told her mother she was in for a thrashing. But why do you say so, my dearheart, the mother asked. But don’t you see the shape cut out through the frost on the street, Maman? That is the shape of the headmaster. He has gone through here and reached school and left his shape behind. I am late. And therefore… Kolyma. Departed. Arrived… and thereafter

When the wind is down

Row, row, just row,

The signs are up all over town

And they just grow, grow, grow.

Telegraph Calcutta

Do not wake me when it’s done

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But please don’t.

Can you see? Can you see the moon? You want to ruin it? With bad news? You want to ravish it? With glad news?

Will you not let it be? Can you not let it be? Can you not just let be please? Look at it. Look up.

Or don’t. Suit yourself.

Let me go to sleep. It’s been too long a sleeplessness. It’s been too long that I have kept vigil. It’s been too long that I haven’t batted half an eyelid of half an eye. It’s been too long. Please.

Mahadeb. Mahadeb!! Where are you? Tell them. Tell them from where you are. Tell them from wherever you are. Tell them to let me sleep. Tell them to not wake me. Tell them of this fullness. Tell them of when you decide to wear this fullness reduced. You do, don’t you? When this fullness is reduced to a thinness, that is when you wear it. And you wear it divinely, of course and no doubt, but you do wear the thinness of this fullness. Tell them. Tell them a few truths. And tell them to let me sleep. I have no time. At least for the moment I have no time.

For bad news. For good news. For indifferent news. For news that is in the making, marinating, and will take yet more time to become news. Tell them. Please just tell them. I am tired of the news. Tell them not to wake me up. Tell them to just let me sleep. I need to rest. All of us do. Of course some of us do not realise this and shall later suffer for not realising, but they are them, and to them their lot and their destiny.

I need rest. So don’t wake me up. I looked to the skies. I saw this thing. I saw this celestial thing. And there is nothing I need to see. There is nothing I need to know. I am done. For a few days, at least. In a few days what you see up there too will be a bit done. But today. Or tonight. Just let me sleep. Having seen.

Some things have been coming. Some things have been going. I am not sure. I cannot be sure. It is not in my capacity to be sure. But it most certainly is in my capacity to not to care or to be bothered. I don’t care. I am not bothered.

One thing follows another. That I know. A good thing follows a not so good thing. Or it follows a bad or a terrible thing. And then that bad or terrible thing gets followed by other things. Things that are not so bad, or not so terrible.

There is, for instance, Krishnapaksha. A turn to darkness. An inevitable turn to darkness. No matter what you do, no matter what you believe, no matter what you pray, no matter what you wish. A turn to darkness is a turn to darkness. From light it will turn to dark. And that turn you can do nothing about. That turn is in the nature of things.

But nature it is. Nature will play this way and that way. Nature will play contrary games. It will give us light. It will give us the eclipses. And those eclipses Nature will give because it wants to remind us of light and respect what light is and what it gives us. Light gives us leave from darkness. Darkness is where we don’t take the light. Such is light.

And so there is, too, Shuklapaksha, the ascent of light over darkness. It comes. Inevitably. It is the law. It is the law of things as we have known it, and survive by. If there is Krishnapaksha, there must be Shuklapaksha.

Winter is coming. Yes. Be warned. But implicit in that dire dark warning is that Winter was once gone. Therefore, Winter is coming. Winter is not a forever season.

Nothing is. Nothing is forever.

And so, Shuklapaksha. It begins to end the darkness. Slowly, slice after slice, but surely. Shuklapaksha dawns. Nothing can stop it. Light conquering darkness. Layer upon layer, slice upon slice. And slowly it begins to soak up the darkness, which was once complete and convinced of its reign, and slowly does it begin to dispel all that is attached to the dark, favourably or unfavourably, and slowly too does it begin to assert itself as Light. As opposed to Darkness. Shuklapaksha. As opposed to Krishnapaksha.

A chain it is, and caught in that chain are we.

Do not wake me up. Please don’t.

It is nothing new

We’ve seen, it’s all come and gone

It is only a few

Who cannot see the foregone.

Telegraph Calcutta

Conversations with Mr Modi


In the midst of the Modi mayhem that May 23 was, an alert sounded on my phone. It was a text from a politically engaged friend. It read: “If these are the results then this is not politics. This is not an election. This is a cultural revolution and it cannot be defeated. It will play out and do whatever it has to do.”

The image you see above was rapturously lampooned.

The images from around the time and locale of the image above were rapturously lampooned. Why is this man behaving as if he were walking the red carpet at Cannes? Who meditates with cameras all around? How could you be meditating wearing glasses? Meditation in a 5-star cave? You must be joking. But there you are, what a joke this whole thing is!

All those years ago, when he began to stir tea for Barack Obama on the lawns of Hyderabad House dressed in a suit pin-striped with the fullness of his name — Narendra Damodardas Modi — he was lampooned. What low megalomania is this?

When he said, having announced himself “no expert” on the subject, that he gave the go-ahead for the Balakot airstrike because he thought cloud cover would mask radar detection, he was lampooned.

When he screamed for votes in the name of jawans massacred at Pulwama, he was lampooned.

When he chose filmstar and treacly acolyte Akshay Kumar for an intimate interview — his first during the election campaign — he was lampooned.

When he returned from that copiously photographed and filmed getaway in Kedarnath at a press conference in New Delhi and said not a word, he was lampooned. This man, he thinks he is not answerable?

He isn’t. Not to those who believe he should be answerable to them.

Modi cared a lemon for all the lampooning.

He lumped it, although secretly he may even have loved it. The more he is lampooned by some, the more he is lavished by others. Modi is wise to that. Give to him the genius of the populist. Modi is wise to the merits of playing anti-hero just as Lalu Prasad of Bihar once was. His adversaries had nailed into him the ignominy of “jungle raj”; Lalu wrenched it off his chest and fashioned it on his head like a crown. “Jungle Raj? They are calling Biharis junglees? Are you junglees?” Bihar voted him back, against the run of play.

So too Modi, as he arrived at the press conference to potentially defy the dare that he had spent an entire term in office without opening himself to a press conference. He had his say. Thereafter, he sat there chewing on his jaws, mussing his manicured beard, surveying the field for who might hold his stare. Mocking it with his animated silence. You will ask me questions? You? And you think I will answer? Me? Chaliyedhanyavaadnamaskar. The tone was vanakkam, or the obverse metaphor he has created of the word, buzz off.

Most of the lampooning of Modi has been legitimate lampooning. Prime Ministers should not be turning out in public like fancy-dress exhibitionists. Prime Ministers should not resort to patently unrealistic brags. Prime Ministers should not serve out myth as science. Prime Ministers should not be invoking the armed forces as political ancillaries. Prime Ministers in democracies should take questions and furnish answers. What sort of Prime Minister is this? Legitimate question. Normal, and, in fact, right and necessary in the democracy to raise it.

But no. Who set these rules and standards? Off with them. There is a new setting of things — a new right, a new just, a new normal, a new playing field that is not level, it is majoritarian and it demands obedience: Bharat Mata ki Jai!

Modi has gone along inventing a new language and grammar of public and political ethics and exchange. Its first rule is to put inverted commas on words as they were previously understood. Legitimate — “Legitimate”. Normal — “Normal”. Necessary — “Necessary”. Right — “Right”. Question — Depends on whether I framed it.

His conversations are with those that understand the new language and grammar of his crafting. He stopped conversing with those that cannot, or would not, comprehend it. They are not worth his while. He has talked at them, not with them.

The outcome of May 23 is probably proof to him that the stoppering of some conversations paid off. And not only because it opened a new and robust one. The one that was happy to let it be one-sided. The one that was merely happy to listen. The one that did not ask questions of him. The one that allowed him to raise questions that he best answers. The one that believed what it is hearing is music. The one that wanted more of it. The one that will give more of itself to Modi if he goes on the way he has been going: “Ek kaam 70 saal mein nahin hua thha, woh ek kaam Modiji ne kar diya.” (There was one job left undone in 70 years, that job Modiji has done.)

There’s no code to understanding what job; it’s an open-code thing, it’s the thing that chorused from the rostrums throughout the campaign just gone. But if it still needs explaining, that was Durgesh Jaiswal speaking in a recent report in this newspaper. Dateline: Varanasi, parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Durgesh also calls Varanasi Pakistan because there are so many of “them” in Varanasi.

No need to specify what’s that one thing; everybody knows. It’s the pointed exclusion and othering of India’s largest minority, their formal notarising as the unwanted and dispensable ones, even as the ones that constitute the enemy.

But Durgesh is not happy to stop at that, the othering is the first step, it cannot end here, it has to be taken forward. “Hum log kuchle jaa rahe hain apne hi desh mein, abhi bhi ghulam hain, iska kuchh karna hoga. Isiliye Modiji ki zaroorat hai. (We are being crushed in our own country, we are still slaves, something will have to be done. That’s why we need Modi.)”

Durgesh must be introduced again. Durgesh is in his mid-twenties. He is unemployed. He works for the Samajwadi Party. He is an undying dyed-in-the-wool Modi-bhakt. For that one reason. For that one “job” Modiji has done. Durgesh might just explain to us the meaning of what my friend jumpily texted to me as the Modi numbers became a blizzard on May 23 — “…this is not politics. This is not an election. This is a cultural revolution and it cannot be defeated. It will play out and do whatever it has to do…”

The underpinnings of this election do really go beyond just the political. They are about the cultural. They probably even are about the civilisational. They must necessarily take us back to Modi’s triumphal proclamation when he emerged the victor in 2014. That India had emerged, with his arrival in power, from 800 years of slavery. His liberation date was not August 15, 1947; it was May 16, 2014. The marker for India’s enslavement well predated the takeover by the British crown, his marker was closer to the last battle of Prithviraj Chauhan and the arrival on Muhammad of Ghor. Modi’s narrative of India is steeped far deeper in history than the history of what came to emerge and be known, much later, as India. Modi’s narrative of India enslaved begins with the defeat of the last Hindu king of Delhi before him.

Back, briefly, to Durgesh, for he must be allowed an explanation to why he believes he requires Modi. And we may want to listen, if only because that may allow us to better understand why what happened this week happened more emphatically than it happened in 2014.

“Hum log apne hi desh mein ghir gaye hain, saans nahin le sakte. Isse bachne ke liye Modiji kaa hona bahut zaroori hai, aur woh kuchh karen, nahin karen, isse koi matlab nahin. (We have been encircled in our own country, we can’t breathe. For this reason it is essential that Modiji remains there, whether he does anything else or not, I am not bothered).”

Durgesh and Modi have never met, but they have a conversation. This verdict, in preponderant part, was a consequence of that conversation. It was an act, too, of furthering that conversation.

When I met Durgesh, he was engrossed with his smartphone, listening in to Modi’s conversation with Akshay Kumar. It cannot be mere coincidence that across three weeks on the campaign trail in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, I came across at least a dozen people similarly engrossed in that conversation between Modi and Akshay Kumar. It cannot be mere coincidence that all of those people felt they were watching something endearing and intimate; they hadn’t seen a Pradhan Mantri open up — to Akshay Kumar and, through him, to the people — so casually, so next door-neighbourly. “Kamaal hai, dekhiye toh, Modiji khud bol rahe hain, hum log jaise…” (What a wonder, just watch. This is Modiji himself talking, just like us.”

There you are, that is why Modi cares a lemon for being lampooned.

Monogrammed suit? “Why, you think Modiji, our Prime Minister, cannot afford an expensive suit?” Kedarnath showman? “Why, do you want to come between the leader and his followers, does he have no right to convey what he is doing? And he is doing what few leaders do, he is meditating.” Modi behaving like an autocrat, not willing to take questions? “But why must he give you the rank of middle-man, Modi is in direct conversation with us, you think you are more important than us?”

Modi delivered the whimsical shock of demonetisation. Modi hectored a complicated GST. Modi presided over rural distress. Modi produced no jobs. Modi took away jobs. What did Modi do? “Modi kept us safe. He said dushman ke ghar mein ghus kar maarenge and he did that. Desh ko bachana hai, Modi ko jitana hai. Modi hai to desh surakshit hai. Aur koi hai kya, is there anyone else?”

Do not for a moment be persuaded that those questions are all unattributed, words put into anonymous mouths. They are all questions being asked by Modi. Well, perhaps by his huge league of proxies that have handed him 303 seats in the Lok Sabha, but those amount to Modi interrogating India through the India that he has chosen to converse with.

His most insistent question may be this: So what do you make of Pragya Thakur in the Lok Sabha on a four-lakh-plus victory margin? Pragya Thakur, accused of terror, in the crosshairs for premeditated and sectarian murder, espouser of the man who assassinated the Father of our nation. Pragya Thakur, honourable member of Parliament on a Modi ticket and a double-decker ride of a mandate. Pragya is a deeper Modi probe into India — where are you really located, how far might I go, how far might you yield?

Modi’s conversation with India isn’t over yet, in fact it has just begun. Stay tuned. Isn’t Mann ki Baat scheduled to resume sometime soon?

Telegraph Calcutta

The Opposition to Narendra Modi didn’t have a story

In the last episode of the just-concluded pop-epic Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister, the enduring imp of the Westeros court, tosses up a rhetorical question on what unites people. He then proceeds with his answer: “Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.”

This election, the Opposition to Narendra Modi didn’t have a story. Modi had one. It was the story of stability, of ultra-nationalism, of unabashed majoritarian assertion, most of all, the story of Modi himself, a leader who has towered above all else since he opened his bid for power in 2013.

This election, the Opposition to Narendra Modi didn’t have a story. Modi had one. It was the story of stability, of ultra-nationalism, of unabashed majoritarian assertion, most of all, the story of Modi himself, a leader who has towered above all else since he opened his bid for power in 2013.

The Opposition’s story was one of disputing Modi, of labelling him a “chor”; it did not have a narrative of its own. What was it offering India? And under what leadership? It provided no tangible answers to the voter. The Opposition failed to tell a story of itself.

Or it had a broken story. It was, from the very start of the campaign, a story of disunity, disarray and defeat. It wouldn’t be terribly unfair to say that the Congress, the Opposition’s lead act, did not even fight 2019 to win.

Consider this: the Lok Sabha number the Congress’s vaunted data cruncher, Praveen Chakravarty, publicly projected for his party was 144 seats. The estimate was subsequently endorsed as a sign of the Congress’s renewed electoral ebullience by the likes of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath.

For sure, 144 represented a huge leap on the Congress’s 2014 Lok Sabha number of 44. But here’s the more germane way of reading that number. It signifies barely half of the halfway mark in the Lok Sabha; it announced to the electorate ahead of the battle that the Congress didn’t intend victory on its own strength. Why would the voter invest faith in a party that ran with little faith in its own bid?

But had it stitched up a confederacy that would rally on its flanks and shore up numbers? No. Was it infusing cohesion and conviction in what few partners it had here and there? No. Did it have a face to match Modi’s? By a far distance no.

Positing Congress president Rahul Gandhi as a possible alternative to Modi as Prime Minister was, throughout the campaign, an occasion for mirth, if not worse. Paraphrased, the most consistent refrain across the heartland to any suggestion that Rahul could replace Modi was: “Really? But you must be joking.”

The defining moment of the campaign to me was meeting the desolate chowkidar of the defunct Motihari Sugar Mill in north-west Bihar. In 2014, Modi had famously promised to get the mill going, even said the next time he would come he would sweeten his tea with a spoonful from the mill.

Ahead of the campaign, Rahul had struck a note of succinct determination: “We will not let Modi win.” Thereafter, he provided little evidence he wanted to act on his dare. There was no credible attempt to build a national coalition to take on Modi and his formidable poll machine.

In Uttar Pradesh, where it desperately needed crutches, it went in limping and ended up on its face. In Delhi, the bid for an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party became an embarrassing start-stutter-stop affair that took away more than just the seven Delhi seats; it took away voter confidence from the Congress assertion that 2019 was a battle in which it would “not let Modi win”.

The Congress had one stable partner in the north — Lalu Prasad’s RJD in Bihar. But with Lalu in jail, it was an orphaned alliance that neither Tejashwi Yadav nor Rahul could project with any authority. It was left for far corners of Tamil Nadu and Kerala to shore up the tattered numbers the UPA has returned with a second time running.

Where it did seem to have the beginnings of a story, it lacked an effective teller. NYAY, the Congress’s flagship promise, barely had any resonance on the ground. Far from it, large sections of the electorate seemed not even aware of the promise, the Congress palpably lacked the men or the means to take the message to the ground.

Recurrently on the campaign field in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — and this echo was brought back by colleagues who travelled to other parts too — I heard the refrain: “Congress charcha mein nahin hai” (Congress is not in the reckoning.)

So even if the Congress had a story — on unemployment, on rural distress, on alleged corruption in the Rafale deal, on the alleged mutilation of institutions — few had got to hear it, or bothered to.

The defining moment of the campaign to me was meeting the desolate chowkidar of the defunct Motihari Sugar Mill in north-west Bihar. In 2014, Modi had famously promised to get the mill going, even said the next time he would come he would sweeten his tea with a spoonful from the mill.

“Promise belied?” I asked the guard. “Yes, so far,” he replied, “but if anyone can get this mill going again, it is Modiji, nobody else.” Such was the investment of faith in him; more importantly, such was the utter lack of faith in any other.

Does it tell us anything that in the 188 seats where the BJP went head to head against the Congress, it won 174 with a 93 per cent victory rate? It probably tells us the Congress could not bring itself to even pretend as contestant in the Game of Thrones; turns out it had no game, turns out it has no throne either.