2013, Essay, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

An Architect Of Fractures, or, The Man Who Could Be Prime Minister

This is a piece I wrote for Man’s World in the run up to the Gujarat Assembly elections following the carnage of 2002; I am reproducing it sans update or re-calibration for events, as they have turned out, rendered that unnecessary

Narendra Modi has a killer’s instinct for power and a hunter’s will to pursue it. What’s more, he has a diabolical sense of the hour and how to make it his own. As the run up to the elections have made it clear, his adversaries are the likes of  Sonia Gandhi and Pervez Musharraf and his battleground is not provincial but national. The Gujarat election results on December 15 might prove to be a turning point in our lives

by sankarshan thakur

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 Behari 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.

“Accuse Narendra Modi of being a Hindu communal bigot and he would respond like you had paid him a compliment. That’s like telling Ariel Sharon he is anti-Palestinian or Slobodan Milosevic that he is too pro-Serb. Those are the badges they want to wear. That’s the badge Modi wants on his chest, it’s his ticket past the turnstiles into power”


But there are many who hope he never gets there for if he does, they fear, he would already have charted a ruinous course for India as she is known. For here is an architect of fractures who can dream but a splintered design, who can deal but in debris. Here is a man striding divisions, driving them deeper, infusing them with greater hate and bitterness. Here is a man quite unabashed about what he is up to. Here is a man so focused on his distorted vision, he couldn’t care for correctness, political or otherwise. The Gujarat riots were nothing but a “secular reaction” to the carnage of Godhra; if tempers were such they spilled into murder and mayhem it was only a measure of the depth of public shock and anger. The relief camps had to be shut and the refugees sent back to their charred and sundered homes because the government was not interested in any more charity, not certainly for baby-making factories; the Muslims could go and turn their five into twenty-five and twenty-five into six hundred and twenty five but his government was not subsidising them. Continue reading “An Architect Of Fractures, or, The Man Who Could Be Prime Minister”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Sidelined, Pitamah Flings Spoke on Modi Rath

New Delhi, Sept 13: Bhishma Pitamah flung a spoke into the wheels of Narendra Modi’s rath just as it formally set out to capture Delhi this evening. L.K. Advani, the man all of BJP, Modi included, pays obeisance to as singular mentor-guide, refused to sit among those who raised their hands to endorse the Gujarat chief minister’s candidacy. And on a day that high-decibel rapture erupted around the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road, the party’s senior-most active player and verily the architect of its occupation of the national stage, issued missives of pain and disappointment from behind closed doors.

“I had told you about my pain when you had come to inform me about the parliamentary board meeting this afternoon,” Advani wrote to BJP president Rajnath Singh, “And I had also told you a few things about my disappointment with your running of the party…I told you I will think about coming and expressing my sentiments to all (parliamentary board) members, but I have decided it will be better if I do not go to today’s meeting.”

Modi's rath arriving at Advani's residence
Modi’s rath arriving at Advani’s residence

This may have been as strong a dissenting note the loyal son of the Sangh could have drafted but, like his resignation after his party’s Goa meet in June, it moved nothing. When copies of its were handed out to frenzied media hands bivouacked at Advani’s shuttered doorstep, Modi had already been named the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee. It had the ring of a defeated man bleating and begging off — “It would be better if I do not go to today’s meeting…”  Continue reading “Sidelined, Pitamah Flings Spoke on Modi Rath”

Telegraph Calcutta

Two Talks: Narendra Modi. Caste, Sectarianism and Elections 2014

Forthcoming from me at Princeton University: Sessions on Emerging Indian Politics




Program in South Asian Studies
Sankarshan Thakur, Roving Editor, The Telegraph (New Delhi)
Cosponsored with the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice and the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance


Location: Bowl 1, Robertson Hall


Date/Time: 09/25/13 at 4:30 pm – 09/25/13 at 6:00 pm


Category: PIIRS





Program in South Asian Studies
Sankarshan Thakur, Roving Editor, The Telegraph (New Delhi)
Cosponsored with the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice and the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance


Location: 219 Aaron Burr Hall


Date/Time: 09/26/13 at 12:00 pm – 09/26/13 at 1:15 pm


Registration required.  RSVP to Jayne Bialkowski (jayne@princeton.edu)


Category: PIIRS


Telegraph Calcutta

G 20: Of A Fire in The Sky

Strelna, Off St. Petersburg, Sept 6: The fireworks weren’t all celebratory. Under the canopy of spectacular starbursts that lit up the darkened skies last night, world leaders sat rigid and divided down the long table over Syria at the gilded Peterhof Palace.

Tableau artistes staged vivacious song and dance, but the tremors of war rumbled underfoot; an elaborate dinner lay served, but host and guests alike picked on differences rather than delicacies. The world was pushing patience and consensus, the United States remained unmoved of adopted aggression, saying it could barely wait to strike.


When Russian President Vladimir Putin invited UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to the lectern, the G 20 assembly could foretell what was to come: a plea to await evidence on the use of chemical gas by the Assad regime, an appeal to build consensus. UN scientists, Ban Ki Moon said, would produce their conclusions on the Syrian gassing “within a matter of days”; the world should proceed with caution and consensus on the way ahead.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh added his own to voices of prudence, saying any action should be based on evidence and must proceed on the collective authority of the UN Security Council. India, he iterated, condemned the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world, but underlined his riders in the extant case. “We need to be certain of what happened,” the Prime Minister said, “We need to wait and see what UN inspectors (who are currently analyzing human tissue samples from the site of the sarin explosions) conclude.”

His position came clearly informed by the Iraq experience where US-led military intervention had proceeded without enough evidence in hand and led to no discoveries of weapons of mass destruction, the initial ruse for invading and then unseating Saddam Hussein. Singh made it clear he stood across the fence from current US understanding and representation of the situation in Syria, and seemed to be spelling out strong reservations about what could unfold with US military action. “We are not in favour of regime change,” the Prime Minister pointedly said, “What happens should follow a UN consensus.”

But for the Americans, the case is already made, the evidence conclusive, the culprit identified — the Assad regime has used chemical weapons and that constitutes a security threat we cannot countenance. Defeated at home by anti-war sentiment in the House of Commons, British Prime Minister David Cameron continued to wave an individual flag for Washington. He regretted the Parliamentary rebuff to his push for military action and blamed his MPs for “failing to act against the gassing of children”.

Deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who was briefly at the summit dinner, conveyed to journalists the Indian position and the UN Secretary General’s case, but declined any elaboration on differences saying he would rather not speak for other nations.

It was the Italian premier Enrico Letta who offered assured word that the G 20 summit dinner had remained cold to consensus. “We have just finished dinner,” Letta said late last night, “And divisions on Syria were confirmed.”

Lateral voices filtering in to the summit halls seemed to point to opinion mounting against military action in Syria. Prominent among them was Pope Francis, who condemned the loss of lives and “world inaction” in the face of use of chemical weapons in Syria but held out against military strikes. In a public letter to G 20 leaders, the Pope said, “To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution…Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community.”

The BRICS nations and the European Union too have joined the anti-strike advocacy. Part of their concerns are guided by the adverse consequences of unilateral US militarism, part of it also stems from economic worries. A military strike, and its unpredictable spillover, could well push up global oil and gas prices and worsen the economic downturn.

But it remains moot if any of that will impact the US decision. There is little thus far in Strelna that would suggest the Americans have been moved to reconsider their stated determination to conduct disciplinary missile strikes. For all their sparkle, the fireworks over the Peterhof Palace, summer residence of the bygone czars, may have brought little cheer to the G 20 table.


St Petersburg

Strelna: A War and A Quarrel

The US brought the tremors of a distant war to this picturesque Baltic islet this today and Indian sails lay a little knocked of wind as New Delhi’s effort to build consensus with BRICS leaders against US liquidity withdrawals floundered. Three BRICS nations — Russia, China and South Africa — virtually vacated India’s concerns on adverse spillover effects of the US economic policies saying the problems were for New Delhi to handle, not for the collective.

US President Barack Obama has arrived here holding the world to an obligation on Syrian strikes several big nations gathered here are unwilling to undertake. “My credibility is not on the line, the world’s credibility on the line…the world had set the red lines when 98 percent of the nations condemn the use of chemical weapons.”


Half his campaign in the US Congress won with the Senate’s endorsement, Obama is now at hair’s breadth distance from pressing the button on Syria. Obama’s unyielding host, President Vladimir Putin, appears to be gritting harder at his jaws. “Any unilateral military action against Syria will be deemed and act of aggression,” he warned just before he welcomed G20 leaders at the majestic entrance to the Konstantinovsky Palace this afternoon, “There is no evidence they used chemical weapons.”

War rumbles are new to the G 20 forum, purely economic of makeup, but with Obama and Putin stepping onto the same stage, it was bound to shake. Bilateral atmospherics have been tense coming into this summit. The US underlined Obama did not intend meeting Putin one-on-one on the sidelines, an almost routine event at such multilaterals. The Russians made it clear they were going to leverage their status as the G 20 hosts to signpost their opposition to US brinkmanship over Syria.

The only significant sideline that did unfold today was a mini-summit of BRICS leaders, where India failed to rally support for its call to restraint on capital flow volatility triggered mainly by the US. India claimed that BRICS leaders had “reiterated concerns expressed at the Durban Summit in March regarding the unintended negative spillovers of unconventional monetary policies of certain developed economies”.

The claim found no consonance in individual statements emerging from leaders of some other BRICS member states, who seemed to be saying that India’s economic difficulties were essentially her own and she should take steps to tackle them.

Reuters quoted the Chinese Vice Premier Zhu Guagyao as saying, “We see temporary difficulties of some BRICS countries, mainly as difficulties in terms of international balance of payments…the policy response to such difficulties include increasing interest rates and devaluing currencies.”

The Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak  appeared to brush aside the Indian effort to rally consensus saying the issues raised amounted to “individual problems not concerning BRICS as a whole.” The South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan, was downright dismissive: “We don’t know what the proposal is, this is India’s initiative to resolve India’s issues,” he was quoted as saying.

Asked whether discordant BRICS voices meant India lay isolated in its concerns over the negative impact of US monetary policies, foreign secretary Sujata Singh said: “I can only tell you what I heard and I heard all (BRICS) leaders expressing concern on unconventional monetary policies. Our official release says concerns were reiterated by BRICS leaders, it is a common position.”

Setting the stage for St Petersburg, India had raised the pitch to secure wider agreement between emerging economies on speaking out against unconventional monetary policies. Economic Affairs secretary Arvind Mayaram had expressed the hope India’s position will find traction among BRICS and G20 nations and said, “There is no reason why our voice should not be heard. I do believe if our voices are strong and clear, we will be heard.”

The Indian reluctance to accept lack of consensus among BRICS notwithstanding, different voices emerging from the platform may well have belied Mayaram’s optimism. The Indian contingent remains optimistic, however, on being able to lobby G 20 nations more effectively. “Wait to hear what emerges from the G 20 on the level of international cooperation among emerging economies on the adverse impact of unconventional monetary policies,” an official said, “The different voices could be misleading because their contexts they are responding to may be different.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself reiterated his fears adverse impacts, telling G20 leaders at the commencement of the summit, “The world economy is not in good shape.  There is some good news of a strengthening of growth in some industrialised countries, but it is not broad based…     The G 20 is the premier international forum for discussing international economic issues. I think we need to reflect on why we are having less success in restoring global growth than we had hoped.”

Global economic corrections in the part of developed nations isn’t a battle he is giving up on easily. His intended audience, though, may be engrossed on the grim prospect of a more immediate battle. It is unlikely Obama and Putin will part from Strelna agreed on Syria.