Telegraph Calcutta

For Nitish, A Signal From The Spurned

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

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

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

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

2013, Patna, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will probably goad him to take his promised plunge.

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

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

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

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

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

For Rahul, With A Hundred Crore

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

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

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

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

2013, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

Inside the Democracy of a Dynast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

2005, Essay, Patna, Tehelka

Chronicle Of A Death Foretold

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Chronicle Of A Death Foretold”