2015, Book Excerpts, The Brothers Bihar

The Brothers Bihari: The great hand-grab and a dinner not served

Or, the roots of the animosity between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi. Excerpt five from my book

In 2005, Nitish did not want Narendra Modi to come to Bihar to help with the campaign, not even after he fell short in the first elections in February.  That defeat did not tempt him to import Gujarat’s rising star to see if he could add to the NDA kitty. Some in the BJP did suggest it, but Nitish rejected the offer out of hand. The anti-Muslim violence under Modi in 2002 and his subsequent defence of it — calling it a ‘natural reaction’ to the burning of a vestibule full of Hindu pilgrims at Godhra — Nitish believed was one of the reasons Vajpayee lost power in 2004, almost against the run of play. In 2002, Nitish did not part with the NDA, but he took his reservations to Prime Minister Vajpayee, who attempted feeble and oblique corrections. Vajpayee reminded Modi of the obligations of rajdharma, a concept of kingship that imbricates the great Hindu epics. The BJP, though, patted Modi on sans an ion of censure, and celebrated his politics of fracture in Gujarat. After the defeat in the national elections of 2004, Nitish argued, albeit only in private, that Modi had rudely shaken down what Vajpayee had assiduously built up — a liberal, secular temper of governance. ‘Poore Hindustan ke Musalmaan aur dharma-nirpekshtabkon mein bhay aur asuraksha ka message chala gaya Modi ki wajah se, NDA ko haani hui, divisive neta is desh ko acceptable nahin hai,’ … A message of fear and insecurity has gone out to Muslim and secular sections across the country because of Modi, the NDA has suffered. Divisive leaders are not acceptable to this country.

The one thing he had resolved ahead of coming to power was never to allow Modi anywhere near Bihar. Nitish had very different ideas of how he wanted to run the state, should he get the opportunity. When he got it, in November 2005, he presented the parameters of the alliance to the BJP. The alliance would run on a special arrangement: it would be guided by secular ideas and policies of the kind Lohiaite socialists espoused; minority protection and promotion would be one of its directive principles; the BJP or the Sangh would cease to press the Hindutva agenda; Bihar would remain off-limits for Narendra Modi’s politics.

Of course, none of this was written down, as such agreements between political parties seldom are; they are letters of trust notarized in the court of public opinion. Arun Jaitley and Sushil Modi, Nitish’s university friend, who became the deputy chief minister with charge of the finance portfolio, would be the executors of this compact on the BJP’s behalf; Nitish, already signed on as junior NDA ally, promised to play by the BJP’s national ambitions. Sanjay Jha was the intermediary between Nitish and Jaitley, ferrying messages to and fro, helping iron out what differences came up.

In Nitish’s first term, barely any arose. Jaitley and Sushil Modi remained honest to the coalition’s unwritten code, even through periods they may have had cause to quibble. Nitish reopened proceedings on the anti-Muslim violence of 1989 in Bhagalpur, a consequence of the BJP’s Ayodhya temple campaign. The guilty were located and punished. Properties sold by panic-stricken Muslims were restored to them or cash compensation handed out. The government also opened its purse-strings for minority welfare programmes. As finance minister, Sushil Modi signed the cheques; in the BJP’s annals, he must rank as the man who has handed out the biggest kitties to Muslims. He did so uncomplainingly and often at the cost of being chided by partymen.

By the by, that chiding turned to rebuke. During a leadership meeting in Delhi in 2008, some colleagues charged Sushil Modi with having become more loyal to Nitish than to the objectives of the party, of having turned the BJP in Bihar into a ‘subservient tool’ of Nitish.  The chief minister is pursuing his political programmes and objectives, they complained, the BJP is at a standstill, it is not able to express itself, it is not able to expand, it has been reduced to Nitish’s ‘B’ team. Some of these voices belonged to party leaders from Bihar, men like Bhagalpur MP Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy. Sushil Modi turned to them and wondered if the party wanted to be part of the Bihar alliance at all? He underlined the framework under which the government ran and told his colleagues he would like to hear their views on whether they thought those terms worth their while. His critics went quiet, but that did not mean they were pleased. They wanted to control Nitish rather than be controlled by him, to dominate Bihar’s decision-making, its political discourse. Nitish was not even bothering to consult them, leave alone yield them space on government and governance matters. He was happy to deal with Sushil Modi and, in Delhi, with Jaitley. ‘What use is being part of a ruling coalition in Bihar,’ one BJP MP carped privately to me during that period. ‘What use is it when I cannot even recommend someone for a petty job, cannot assure a small contract, cannot manage to have a troublesome officer transferred? Nitish has hijacked this alliance and our own leaders have allowed him to.’

This lobby had its counterpart in Patna, equally irate, reduced to colourful cribbing: hum log is sarkar ke napunsak dulha hain, we are the impotent grooms of this government. Men like Rameshwar Chaurasia and Nitin Naveen, both MLAs, men like Giriraj Singh, minister in Nitish’s government. Some of them had begun to spend time in Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad as guests of the Gujarat government. Nitish had a good sense what was taking them on journeys across the subcontinent, what they might be coming back with. Narendra Modi was up to something, and he did not like the thought of it. But still it did not bother Nitish as long as he did not have to deal with his Gujarat counterpart. That changed on 10 May 2009.

Continue reading “The Brothers Bihari: The great hand-grab and a dinner not served”
2020, Bihar 2020, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Bihar2020: The BJP has a bunny in Bihar, the name is Nitish Kumar

Or, why the chief minister is headed for drastic diminishment even if he were to secure a record fourth term

Chief minister Nitish Kumar has become the hare of the Bihar campaign, the BJP its hound. The two are running together; it doesn’t test imagination to tell how hare and hound tandems usually end.

Bihar has turned into a teeming melee, thick with the kicked-up dust of battle that defies clear deciphering, just as it also defies cognition of a rampant and killer pandemic.

But the verdict on Nitish Kumar already lies inscribed in bold letters on the unintelligible skirmishing for Bihar’s honours: he is headed to drastic diminishment. Should Nitish manage to secure — as Union home minister Amit Shah has publicly promised — a record fourth term as chief minister, it will be as chosen bunny of the BJP.

The Nitish who used to dictate terms to the BJP is long history; the Nitish now in the making — or unmaking —  is one who will take dictation. Amit Shah’s guarantee on Nitish becoming chief minister again “regardless” of who gets how many in the alliance must be read as just that — a chief minister on Amit Shah’s guarantee, an office granted at his pleasure.

The one clear message ringing out from Bihar is that Nitish’s public image has nosedived — “sushasan babu” has become a thing of ridicule. He has been mocked and taunted during election outings, angrily motioned to go back where he came from, called, among other things, a “chor”.

Continue reading “Bihar2020: The BJP has a bunny in Bihar, the name is Nitish Kumar”
2020, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

LazyEye: Let us do some Tann ki Baat

The thing is that it is not a thing to last. But while it lasts it is the thing you might hold most dear. Because it is the thing you are, this tann. You know that, of course. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be reading this. It is because you know that, because you have a tann, that this is a thing that can be conveyed. It is because you know that you can receive. Without the tann, that would not be possible. Not for me to tell, not for you to hear.

Lots of things would not be possible without the tann, it is the vessel of our beings, the house where we house ourselves while the tenancy of life lasts. Tann is the factory floor on which we become who we are, it is where we might do the things we might do, or mightn’t, it is the womb of our souls. And then the soul escapes the womb one day, of course, and leaves the tann behind. That is what we call death. The expiry of functions of a most complex concoction of things, innumerable things, let’s not even begin to count or draw an inventory of the tann, there would be no time for that. The tenant departs, those quarters would no longer admit another occupant. End of tann.

Continue reading “LazyEye: Let us do some Tann ki Baat”
2015, Bihar, Book Excerpts, The Brothers Bihari

The Brothers Bihari. The Outsider as Insider: How Laloo Yadav brought his politics of revolt into its own in 1995 and stamped himself as Bihar’s potentate

Excerpt Four from my book is a swivelling snapshot of what power and its sudden loss can do. Here’s Laloo Yadav at the height of his reign, and after losing it

It was a private coronation with a public message. Sometime in mid-1995, twenty-two years and nine children into their marriage, Rabri Devi decided to change her manner of referring to Laloo Yadav. She began calling him Saheb. All these years she had done with a ­common enough pronoun: eeh, the untranslatable third ­person singular Bihari wives are wont to use for their ­husbands. When they had got married in 1973, Rabri Devi had neither sense nor cause to call her husband Saheb. She was a village girl of fourteen and probably unaware of the weight of words. And Laloo Yadav was no saheb. He was, in fact, serving time at the other end of the social order, among those the sahebs lord over. He was a lowly employee of Patna Veterinary College, a clerk who brought tea to tables and carried files from officer to officer. Eeh sufficed.

Through several lightning leaps up the ladder of rank and fame, Rabri Devi had found no reason to alter Laloo Yadav’s domestic description.

Then, quite suddenly, after the assembly elections of 1995, she went on an urgent hunt for alternatives. Her husband had won a remarkable victory in the face of heavy odds, not least of which was the messianic Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan, out with rockjawed determination to grab glory by enforcing a blemishless election in Bihar, the graveyard of free and fair polls. Seshan had choked the state with para­military forces. He had postponed elections four times. He made daily threats of countermanding the process ­altogether at the sight of the slightest misdemeanour. The campaign had become a duel between the chief election commissioner and the Bihar chief minister. Laloo Yadav had been relatively unbothered by the Opposition but Seshan had worried him. This scourge is meant to ensure people vote but he is going on postponing their opportunities to vote,” he would complain aloud at his daily morning durbar, issuing colourful threats that sent his audiences in raptures. “Seshan pagla saand jaise kar raha hai, maaloome nahin hai ki hum rassa baandh ke khataal mein band kar sakte hain (Seshan is behaving like a raging bull, he does not know that I can tame him and tie him up and lock him among the cows in my shed). The night Seshan had faxed his fourth postponement order to the chief minister’s office from Delhi, Laloo Yadav had been a bit of a raging bull himself. He had called up the state’s chief electoral officer, a copybook bureaucrat called R.J.M. Pillai, and blasted him as only Laloo Yadav could. “Ei ji Pillai, hum tumra chief minister hain aur tum hamra afsar, ee Seshanwa kahan se beech mein tapakta rahta hai?” (Pillai, I am your chief minister and you are my officer, where does Seshan keep dropping in from?). Before Pillai could begin to stutter at the other end, the chief minister had let loose the second burst of fire. “Aur fax message bhejta hai! Ee amir log ka khilaona le kar ke tum log garib log ke khilaaf conspiracy karte ho? Sab fax-foox uda denge, election ho jaane do” (And he has the temerity to inform me on fax! You people are using expensive toys to conspire against the poor? I’ll send all your fax machines packing, let the elections be over).

Continue reading “The Brothers Bihari. The Outsider as Insider: How Laloo Yadav brought his politics of revolt into its own in 1995 and stamped himself as Bihar’s potentate”
2001, Archives, Indian Express, Journalism

Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men: Watching this fine film reminded me of this story I had written in 2001. A real man – Tulsi – using his real son – Thathagat – as material for his outlandish experiments

For those that have seen Serious Men, and for those that have not: This is from the Indian Express Sunday Magazine of August 19, 2001

There is, somewhere, subterfuge stalking this story. Perhaps it has confiscated centerstage from the protagonist, perhaps it has run away with the story itself. For if this is meant to be the story of Tathagat Avatar Tulsi — at 12, the youngest postgraduate of the human race — there isn’t a story to tell. Tathagat never had a story of his own; it was always the story of Tulsi Narayan Prasad, progenitor and sole proprietor of what he calls the Tathagat Patent and what the world has called by various names at various times — whizkid, genius, aberration, fraud. Take Tulsi off the stage and Tathagat vaporizes from the plot, like a character whose role has been expunged. There is no Tathagat if there isn’t Tulsi, just as there isn’t a creature minus creator, or a puppet without puppeteer. That Tathagat story could be nothing but the story of strings with Tathagat attached. Or, shall we say, Tulsi wouldn’t allow it to be anything but that.

I go to meet Tathagat and I meet Tulsi. He is guardian, gatekeeper, regent. You talk to Tathagat  and Tulsi talks to you. You ask Tathagat questions about his work and Tulsi begins to answer them. “You see, he won’t answer all your questions because secrecy is the key to the work he is doing, don’t try to decode the secret because Tathagat will not tell you.” Tulsi is proxy and protector too. “I know more about Tathagat himself because I made him Tathagat much before he himself realized he was Tathagat. He is my programme, my product. Ask me.”

And before you have begun to wonder at the strangeness of the father’s choice of words for son, the product has responded to programming — Tathagat has slunk away like an admonished spaniel and installed himself beyond the forbidden boundary of the bedroom. Genius does not need to offer proof of genius by act of personal presence, not in the photocopy age, not when the Maker of Genius himself is notary to those photocopies. He has kilos and kilos of them, catalogued in the chaos of mouldy newspapers — certificates, degrees, marksheets, testimonials, what not. He is happy to pull them out of his pygmy steel almirah, from among uncertain texts on tantra and astronomy and Kamasutra and scatter them like confetti of self-congratulation. Tathagat is only incidental to Tulsi; and, in any case, he is currently engaged — being spoon-fed rancid kheer by his mother. The essence is here, spread out around me, a paper trail of the making of Tathagat and the glazed enchantment in the eyes of his Maker. Imagine Rumpelstiltskin on the morning after the miller’s daughter’s night of labours. “Do you know it took me almost 20 years to make Tathagat? But I made him and the proof is before you. Can you deny all this? Can anyone?”

Continue reading “Sudhir Mishra’s Serious Men: Watching this fine film reminded me of this story I had written in 2001. A real man – Tulsi – using his real son – Thathagat – as material for his outlandish experiments”