2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Bilawal-Bhutto-Zardari: Now Faryal Talpur in Pakistan’s Alchemy of Power

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s quiet exit to Dubai sometime last week could mean any of several things: business rendezvous, recreation break, sabbatical from security scares, brat tantrum. It could also mean a mid-campaign shove to the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) by its recently anointed patron-in-chief.

Few in Pakistan are prepared to be convinced yet the prodigal Bhutto son has pressed self-eject following a dust-up with his presidential father and de facto PPP boss Asif Ali Zardari. Many are ingesting it with dollop doses of salt because Bilawal’s departure — and its circumstances — was revealed by an Indian wire service, the Press Trust of India (PTI).

This makes for an enigmatic pattern to blockbuster newsbreaks on Bilawal, whatever their worth or truth: they seem to originate not in Pakistan but pop up elsewhere in the subcontinent. Last September, the Blitz of Dhaka had front-paged a flaming, though fanciful, tale of illicit love between Bilawal and Pakistan’s glamorous foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar. It is still not clear what part, if any, Bilawal or Hina Khar had in it; the ISI most likely did. The appearance of the ISI’s by-line on it dealt the tale of the “fiery affair” a swift kiss of death.

But stranger things have happened in Pakistan than celebrity scandal; that’s commonplace for Pakistan’s influential and politically incestuous elite swim a small and crowded pond. Continue reading “Bilawal-Bhutto-Zardari: Now Faryal Talpur in Pakistan’s Alchemy of Power”

2013, Calcutta, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Calcutta And The Art Of Political Seduction

Calcutta, March 23: Three noble notions jousted on the lawns of the Calcutta Club this evening. A fourth won.

The Telegraph National Debate 2013 was, in a sense, about none of the three ideas flung into the crucible of competition — democracy, freedom, equality. It was about a calling that serves or subverts them: Politics.

In the end all it took to conquer the House was a dose of well-meditated flattery. And who’s to be better at that than a politician, a dyed-in-the-khadi Congressman to boot? Arriving last at the lectern, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid just how — and why — politics, for all the ignominy it earns and exudes, remains the arbiter of superior things. Democracy, Freedom and Equality may be higher virtues; the art of charming goes the longer distance.

“This is the brightest, the most intelligent audience you can hope to find,” he proclaimed of his audience, “Don’t try to confuse it because it won’t be confused. This is Calcutta, ladies and gentlemen, and if equality doesn’t get support in Calcutta, it hasn’t a chance anywhere else.”

The House had been smartly stood up by Khurshid, its conscience tickled by entreaty to endorse equality, its cockles warmed by glowing praise. It’s weight fell on his side of the stage. A day after he tethered the runaway Italian marines back to face trial, the external affairs minister had lassoed a domestic constituency of eminences. Continue reading “Calcutta And The Art Of Political Seduction”

2013, Essay, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

Bombay 1993: The Blisters That Became The Bomb

Or, why we refuse to look where blame might lie

Sanjay Dutt was still only a celluloid khalnayak, protagonist of Subhash Ghai’s magnum, a wickedly stained and lovable villain. What we knew of his real life delinquencies were still juvenile of nature and evoked sympathy, the drifter son of Sunil and Nargis, struggling to emerge from his haze of addictions. What we knew was that posters of Khalnayak were in print. What we still didn’t know was that Sanjay Dutt’s personal life had surreptitiously imitated his public art.

Dawood Ibrahim was still a latter-day imitation of Haji Mastan, no more: a beach bandit, a gully don who had slipped away to Dubai to elude the law and grab more riches. Yakub Memon was still nameless chartered accountant working off a hole in the wall on the ragged Mahim shoreline.

The pigeons at Gateway of India hadn’t been acquainted to mid-flight expiry by explosion. The liveried valets at the Taj knew better manners than to usher guests to submit to metal detectors.

Mumbai was still called Bombay. And Ajmal Kasab was still 15 years adrift, a six-year-old scraping dust and deprivation in Pakistan’s Okara, quite innocent that destiny was setting him up to violently flame and be extinguished.

And yet 1993 seemed like it could never ever get worse for Bombay. An apocalyptic visitation that came well foretold, never mind those that chose not to take note.

A week-long street frenzy had erupted followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid the December just gone. The official toll of sectarian clashes: 278.

Continue reading “Bombay 1993: The Blisters That Became The Bomb”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

The Lamb’s Turn to Slaughter; Waxen Manmohan Drips Hot on the BJP

New Delhi, March 6: Slaked by rambling and protracted criticism, the usually waxen Manmohan Singh today dripped hard and hot on the BJP, taunting its frontrunners as proven failures and daring them with the prophecy of another electoral defeat. “In 2009 they (the BJP) fielded their Iron Man Advaniji against the lamb that Manmohan Singh is and we all know what the result was,” Singh told the Lok Sabha, to rippling applause from treasury benches packed behind him, “The BJP will lose again because of its arrogance…I am convinced that if people look at our record, they would repeat what they did in 2004 and 2009.”

For the record, Singh was replying to the motion of thanks to the President’s address, but for those that heard him, this was as close as it could come to a declaration of candidacy for a third successive term as Prime Minister. There is time yet for the battle for 2014 to gather steam but Manmohan Singh may have already picked up the war bugle.

Read with Congress scion Rahul Gandhi’s recent remonstrations against being touted as the party’s uncontested choice for the top job, Manmohan Singh’s off-the-text pugilism in the Lok Sabha left few in doubt he was not merely ready for another round but being backed by his party bosses for it. Among the most fervent bench-thumpers for his combativeness this evening were Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, president and vice president respectively of the Congress. Continue reading “The Lamb’s Turn to Slaughter; Waxen Manmohan Drips Hot on the BJP”

2013, Calcutta, News, Telegraph Calcutta

When Greg Comes To Gangulytown, Effigywallahs Haunt Him

Calcutta: He came despite the effigywallahs. There were enough of them at a time, especially in this city, for him to ponder cheeky profit — craft miniature effigies, trade them at a dollar a piece and die a rich man.

He came despite having had to wonder whether it had been worth trysting with India or Indian cricket, which can often begin to seem the same thing.

He came winging all the way from Melbourne for forty minutes on an arc-lit stage erected in another man’s honour.

Greg Chappell must desperately believe there are more pieces to his mind than got picked during his truncated tutorship of Team India. Any takers or none, he revealed some of the leftovers this evening in the course of a meditation on whether India can become the Brazil of cricket.

Continue reading “When Greg Comes To Gangulytown, Effigywallahs Haunt Him”