2014, Essay, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

Catastrophe After Catastrophe After Catastrophe: Khushwant Singh’s Parting Verdict On His Nation

My first and only meeting with the Grand Khushwant Singh
My first and only meeting with the Grand Khushwant Singh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Here lies one who spared neither man nor God
Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod
Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun
Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun.”

–Khushwant Singh’s epitaph to himself

 

New Delhi, March 20: To the handful few who he allowed around him during his last years, urging their cherished one to a century of years had become a collective manifesto. It cannot be said for certain Khushwant Singh, who departed in the silence of a missed breath at home in Sujan Singh Park this afternoon, shared the zest of his constituency any longer. The first and only time I ever met him, shortly after he turned 99 this February, he intoned to me in whispers his diminishing lust for life. “Oh I so dislike no longer being my own master, I so dislike my dependence on other people. Even to go to the loo I must wait to catch someone’s eye and they have to help me…it’s the thing I have begun to most dislike, it’s my health I’ve most begun to miss, that I am no longer my own master…”

Reeta Dev Burman, neighbour and frequent care-giver to Khushwant Singh, sat opposite, having just fetched him the latest edition of “Private Eye”, his favourite magazine. She waved her arms about, as if to banish that despondency of tone. “But how could you even say that, Sir, you are the master of all of us, it is we who are dependent on you!”

Singh, lapsed in his sofa seat by the fireside, just looked at her with a wan here’s-looking-at-you-kid smile. Then he raised his glass, as if toasting the incredulity of Dev Burman’s exhort, and sniffed a sip. He was seldom known to have indulged himself to more than a peg a night, but that peg of single malt he missed for nothing. He never needed to say that evening how much he still loved his daily drink, but he spoke eloquently, though feebly, of how little he had begun to enjoy living. “I’ve already lived a rich and full life, you see, how much longer can one expect to go on…” For a man who had played the quirk of writing an obituary notice on himself aged 20, he had come a fair distance. He smiled infirmly, a little disagreeably, at the mention of going on to a hundred. His eye flickered, but only as if to say, look at the state of me.

By his fireside in Sujan Singh Park, February 11, 2014
By his fireside in Sujan Singh Park, February 11, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He took another sip of whiskey, dropped wrinkled lids on his eyes and chanted the Gayatri mantra as clearly and beatifically as I have ever heard it spoken. His eyes still shut, he then said, plaintively, “The only other prayer I say to myself each morning is Om Arogyam, Om Shanti, a prayer for health and a prayer for peace.”

The room was dimly lit, like a cavernous shrine; the fire gave off the most light and it picked out books everywhere, ordered and wantonly piled, in shelves, on the floor, on the centre table where bottles of whiskey stood competing with volumes of words. The shrine’s deity sat closest to the fire. He wore a loose cap over his sparse, straggly hair and had a blanket thrown across his knees. It was a cold evening. On his chest he wore a stain of gravy as big as his heart. Khushwant Singh seldom bothered pretending what he was not. He was now an old man; when he ate, he often spilt food onto himself, and he was beyond caring about it.

He had chanced upon a piece The Telegraph had run on his feisty toast to turning 99 (In centennial corner, Indian spring With malice towards none of the other 99-ers) and a few days later he’d had word sent to me. He had recovered from the exertions of celebrations around him, he was asking if I would like to drop by for a drink. Dev Burman would be my guide into Sujan Singh Park’s most vaunted precincts. There was a sign by the doorbell to the ground-level flat that said: “Do not ring the bell unless you are expected.” I rang.

A hushed usher and a turn in the hallway later I was in the company of the man I had known by so many descriptions I was a little taken aback to see that he fit, rather shriveled, in one corner of a sofa seat. Khushwant Singh, Inner Temple barrister, diplomat, historian, novelist, editor, columnist, scion of the builders of imperial New Delhi, imp, scamp, jokester, famed raconteur of Bacchic ribaldry, much of which was myth he invented around himself.  And yet all of that barely completes the description of the man who wrote the most words a Sardar ever did, bar the possibility that Manmohan Singh has been writing his life and times from Gah to goodbye and all that. Khushwant Singh collaborated notoriously with the Indira-Sanjay imposition of Emergency, earned the Padma Bhushan only to spurn it when Mrs Gandhi ordered the army into the Golden Temple in 1984 and rendered Sikhism’s holiest sanctum a bloodied battleground. A quarter century later, he would accept the Padma Vibhushan, the land’s second highest civilian honour, from a successor Congress government.

But if he took deep offence to Operation Bluestar, he turned with no less anger at the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the communal riptide that tore across many parts in its wake. One of the things that he recalled to me that first and last evening with him was his sense of outrage with the causes and consequences of the tearing down of the Babri Masjid. His wrath had probably been touched off anew by the insistent arrival of L.K. Advani to the private fete at Sujan Singh Park the day he turned the final lap to a hundred. “That man has blood on his hands,” Singh told me with a sense of disdain undiminished after all these years, “And I told him as much, and very openly. I was to be chief guest at an event and Advani was there as deputy prime minister. When my turn came to speak, I said it out loud, his hands are dipped in blood. He heard me out, and told me he would give the answer to that another day…” Advani had arrived at his birthday party and left; circa February 11, 2014, the day of our assignation, Singh still awaited his promised reply. I begged one question of him before the clock ticked over half seven in the evening, time for Singh to prepare for dinner and retire. I asked what he thought of the state of the nation, having spanned all its years since Independence and before, and he threw me a quizzical glance and asked, “But I didn’t get what you said.” He probably did not want to answer that one, but I repeated the question. “Ah,” he said, rearranging his blanket, “It’s one catastrophe after another, catastrophe after catastrophe after catastrophe, but I’ve got used to it.”

He didn’t have long to bear with it. He went just as he had wished. “All that I hope for is that when death comes to me, it comes swiftly,” Singh wrote in his last book, ‘Absolute Khushwant: The Low Down on Life, Death & Most Things In-Between (Penguin, 2010)’, “without much pain, like fading away in sound slumber.” A fair guess is the note he’d most have preferred to attend his last journey is a crescendo of “Cheers!”, apt salute to the son of a gun. Now gone. RIP Khushwant Singh.

2014, New Delhi, Reviews

The Political Nub Of It: Single Man in The Pioneer

DRIVEN BY DESIRE TO BE PM; FAKING DISINTEREST:

By Rajesh Singh @rajeshsingh1958

Sankarshan Thakur’s book, Single Man, is a fascinating account of Nitish Kumar’s rise to power through a mix of talent and crafty manipulation. It also points to the Bihar Chief Minister’s deep desire to be Prime Minister

Towards the end of his engaging book, Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar, journalist and author Sankarshan Thakur observes: “Many see Nitish’s decision to jettison the BJP on the Modi issue as rooted in his own ambition to become India’s Prime Minister. They are probably right in believing that the desire exists — though Nitish has repeatedly rebuffed even the suggestion of it…”

Mr Thakur quotes a conversation he had with the Chief Minister in the winter of 2009, when the latter dismissed the suggestion that he was angling for a prime ministerial position. “Badi-badi baatein hain” (All this is big talk), he said, adding, “Mujhe kuch nahin banna, Bihar ko banana hai” (I don’t wish to become anything; I want to make Bihar).

This self-confessed noble intent has remained Mr Nitish Kumar’s calling card on selflessness for years, and more so after he broke off the alliance with the BJP in mid-2013 over Mr Narendra Modi’s projection as a prime ministerial candidate. But now that mask is off. A few days ago, the Chief Minister virtually threw his hat into the ring when he gloated over the 2012-13 growth figures of the State that the Central Statistics Office had put out. “All these people who are roaming around, am I any less in comparison?” he demanded to know. Nobody was left in any doubt as to who the “all these people” he was referring to, were. In fact, the plural sense he employed was a play of words; he was targeting just one individual: Mr Modi.

Interestingly, Mr Thakur’s analysis that Mr Nitish Kumar wants to become the Prime Minister, found echo in the BJP prime ministerial candidate’s speech at a public rally in Purnea in Bihar on Monday. Mr Modi alleged that the Janata Dal(U) leader had snapped the alliance with the BJP because Mr Nitish Kumar, in an over-estimation of his ability, wanted to become the Prime Minister.

It is true that Mr Modi’s endorsement as the prime ministerial nominee of the largest partner in the National Democratic Alliance had effectively shut the doors on any hope that Mr Nitish Kumar may have entertained of emerging as a consensus candidate within the coalition, and could have hastened his departure from the combine. But Mr Thakur has a different take, although he agrees with the premise that Mr Nitish Kumar wants to become the Prime Minister. He says in the book that analysts may have “erred in assuming Nitish and Modi are competing along the same timeline.”

In the author’s view, “Modi is playing for the 2014 vote. Nitish is not… He (Nitish) can be monumentally patient and work beaver-like to achieve his hour.” Mr Thakur’s book is replete with instances of how Mr Nitish Kumar bided his time even as he swallowed one insult after another during Lalu Prasad’s heydays. The author believes that the Chief Minister “doesn’t yet possess a winner social coalition in Bihar. His provincial JDU offers no organisational match to the elaborate BJP network that backs Narendra Modi… for the moment he may just be content to play an ant crawling up the elephant’s snout and causing it to trip.” If that is indeed the case, it does appear from the way things are unravelling for the JD(U) in Bihar, where opinion polls are predicting that the party will end up at the bottom of the tally while the BJP will lead the list, that Mr Nitish Kumar has been showing suicidal haste in crawling up the elephant’s snout.

Mr Thakur cannot be accused of being biased against Mr Nitish Kumar. The book presents an overall positive account of the JD(U) leader and Chief Minister, based on the admirable turnaround that Mr Nitish Kumar has managed in the State. Therefore, the author’s analysis of Mr Nitish Kumar’s opportunism as he rose in his political career cannot be brushed aside as being partisan. Given that the Chief Minister has repeatedly raked up the 2002 violence in Gujarat to express his opposition to Mr Modi and presented his defence for continuing in the NDA for a good 10 years after the incident, the author’s take on the issue assumes special relevance. He writes: “When the anti-Muslim horror began to unfold in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat in 2002, Nitish came under pressure to quit the NDA. He (Modi) would lead the Gujarat Assembly campaign in 2002. How could Nitish, socialist and secular of persuasion, be supping with such like…These questions seemed not to upset Nitish. He was cold in his determination to stay, bide his time. On the odd occasion, he reasoned feebly: I am not part of Modi’s Government…”

This punctures Mr Nitish Kumar’s recent claim of breaking with the BJP on ideological grounds, and re-establishes his credentials as an opportunist who uses ideology as a smoke-screen to promote his political career.

This is not the only instance where the Chief Minister, in the course of his ascent, has dumped friends and allies along the way, and adopted tactics and endorsed personalities which suited the order of the day. Mr Thakur’s book offers more examples where Mr Nitish Kumar’s façade of morality stands dented. To begin with, he had not seen anything wrong in Lalu Prasad when he became one of the RJD leader’s key lieutenants in the early days of Lalu Prasad’s rise in politics and to power in Bihar. Even when he became disillusioned, Mr Nitish Kumar continued to back him. Worse, even after Lalu Prasad humiliated him and Mr Nitish Kumar openly signalled that the paths of the two were divergent, he continued to lurk around in the party which the then supreme leader lorded over. He did all that because he believed the time was not ripe to strike — just as he was to later continue unmoved in the NDA after the 2002 Gujarat violence, an event which he a decade later made it the primary and only cause for snapping ties with the BJP.

Mr Thakur quotes Vijay Krishna, one of Mr Nitish Kumar’s aides in the early days and who later turned against him, as saying that the latter had promoted Lalu Prasad initially because it suited his strategy. “He Nitish Kumar) put his weight behind Laloo (sic)”. The author brings in another leader (he remains unnamed in the book because the man feared trouble on identification), who emphasises: “Nitish did not play a part, he played the lead part…Perhaps in Laloo he saw a bumbler who he could remote control.”

No account of Mr Nitish Kumar’s rise to fame can be complete without remembering the manner in which he sidelined senior leaders such as George Fernandes. Mr Thakur mentions in the book that today’s Chief Minister had benefitted from the political heft of Mr Fernandes when he decided to rebel against Lalu Prasad — that is, when he eventually summoned the courage to do so — and also subsequently contest elections. He had other lieutenants since those early days that he has now ruthlessly marginalised. Mr Shivanand Tiwari is a good example.

2014, Essay, New Delhi, Single Man

The Inimitable Ravish Kumar on Single Man

Bihariyat Via Angreziyat: Daastan-e-Single Man:

“The imposition of emergency had beckoned a new genre of books into the room, studies of Adolf hitler and nazism-William L Shirer’s The rise and fall of the Third Reich, Albert sower’s Inside the Third Reich, Joachim C Fest’s biography of Hitler, the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Men Kampf. Indira Gandhi was being studied as a symptom of fascism” 

संकर्षण ठाकुर की क़लम इतिहास पर साहित्य की तरह चलती है । उनकी अंग्रेज़ी में कोई आक्सफोर्ड वाला बिहारी मानस की आहट सुनते हुए इस उलझन में पड़ सकता है कि क्या बिहार को भी अंग्रेज़ी में बयां किया जा सकता है । मैं ख़ुद मानता रहा हूँ कि बिहारियत अंग्रेज़ी में नहीं कहीं जा सकती । कुछ अल्फ़ाज़ ऐसे हैं जिनके बिना आप बात तो कह सकते हैं मगर बिहारी मानस की परतों को नहीं खोल सकते । संकर्षण की अंग्रेज़ीयत बिहारियत को दोनों विलियमों शेक्सपीयर और वर्डस्वर्थ के अंदाज़ में पेश करती है । वर्डस्वर्थ और शेक्यपीयर को 1985 और 1986 के साल में पढ़ा था । जब मैं नौवीं दसवीं में था । वो भी जब हमारी टीचर इंदिरा शांडील्य ने अंग्रेजी में पढ़ाने की ज़िद की तो हम हिन्दी मीडियम वाले गिड़गिड़ाने लगे कि कुछ्छो नहीं बुझाता है । के के पांडे भी तंग आ जाते थे अंग्रेज़ी को हिन्दी पढ़ाने में । मैंने शेक्सपीयर को हिन्दी में पढ़ा है । यहाँ यह बताना ज़रूरी था ताकि आप मेरे बारे में भ्रम न पाल लें कि मैं कहीं शेक्सपीयर और वर्डस्वर्थ की भाषा का ज्ञाता तो नहीं जो अंग्रेज़ी अख़बार द टेलिग्राफ़ के बंजारा संपादक ( रोविंग एडिटर) संकर्षण की बिहारियत वाया अंग्रेजीयत को बांच रहा हूँ ।
सिंगल मैन – द लाइफ़ एंड टाइम्स आफ़ नीतीश कुमार । जिस तरह से हार्पर कोलिन्स ने किताब के कवर पर सिंगल मैन को बड़ा छापा है उससे लगता है कि यह नीतीश कुमार की कोई जीवनी है । लेकिन यह किताब पूरी तरह से वो कहती है जिसे प्रकाशक ने छोटे हर्फो में छापा है । द लाइफ़ एंड टाइम्स आफ़ नीतीश कुमार ।
इस किताब में ख़ुद संकर्षण आपातकाल और जयप्रकाश आंदोलन के दौर को याद करते हुए बड़े हो रहे हैं । वो दौर लेखक के बचपन का था । उनके पिता जनार्दन ठाकुर सम्मानित और बारीक पत्रकार थे । नीतीश के बिहार को समझने को समझने के लिए बिहार को जानना ज़रूरी है । लेखक नीतीश के बिहार को लेकर शुरू के साठ पन्नों में कोई ख़ास उत्साहित नहीं हैं मगर वे ‘बिहार ना सुधरी’ से ‘बदल गया बिहार’ के बीच यहाँ के मानस की मनोवैज्ञानिक सहूलियतों को पकड़ रहे हैं । आँध्र प्रदेश में तीन सौ इंजीनियरिंग कालेज हैं मगर बिहार में दस । कुछ दंबगों के किस्से हैं जो बिहार के इस दौर में जीवाश्म में बदल रहे हैं । एक सज्जन कहते हैं कि हमारे ये गार्ड लालू के समय की निरंतरता हैं मगर अब कोई इनके साथ मुझे देखता है तो हैरान हो जाता है कि जब ज़रूरत नहीं तो क्यों रखे हैं ।
संकर्षण ने नीतीश को एक अणे मार्ग में रहने वाले नीतीश में नहीं ढूँढा है । बल्कि ख़ुद के साथ उन गाँवों क़स्बों और ज़िलों में देखा है जहाँ कई तरह के बिहार हैं जिन्हें आप सिर्फ बदलाव और यथास्थिति के खाँचे में बाँट कर नहीं देख सकते । नया बिहार या बिहारी पहचान में राजनीतिक गर्व का भाव भरने वाले नीतीश की उम्मीदों को आशंका की नज़र से देखते हुए संकर्षण शायद उन परकोटों को ढूँढ रहे हैं जहाँ से कोई कूद कर इस बिहारी पहचान को फिर से अलग अलग जाति की पहचान से बाँट सकता है । अपर कास्ट नीतीश के अगेंस्ट चला गया है , मैं जब भी पटना फ़ोन करता हूँ ये लाइन सुनाई देती है ।संकर्षण कहते हैं कि यह बँटवारा तो नीतीश ने भी किया । पसमांदा मुसलमान, अति पिछड़ा और अति दलित । इस सवाल के जवाब में नीतीश कहते हैं कि विकास और पहचान की राजनीति में कोई अंतर्विरोध नहीं होता है ।
इस किताब का पहला चैप्टर मेरा प्रिय है । जब संकर्षण लोहिया और जेपी के बारे में किसी सिनेमा के इंट्रोडक्शन की तरह लिखते हैं । सत्तर का दशक जाने बिना तो आप बिहार का प्राचीन इतिहास भी नहीं जान सकते । पटना जाता हूँ तो मुझे ये बात बेहद हैरान और रोमांचित करती है । बिहार में सत्तर के आंदेलन का अवशेष लिये कई लोग मिल जाते हैं मगर आज़ादी की लड़ाई का इतना शानदार इतिहास होते हुए भी कोई बात नहीं करता । जो सत्तर नहीं समझेगा वो उसके बाद का बिहार नहीं समझ सकता । सत्तर का दशक बिहार के इतिहास में पर्दे पर किसी सलीम जावेद की कहानी की तरह बच्चन जैसे महानायकों के उभरने का दशक है । फ्लाप हिट होते होते कभी लालू चल जाते हैं तो कभी नीतीश ।
ख़ूबसूरत वर्णन है पटना के काफी हाउस का । रेणु, दिनकर,बाबा नागार्जुन इन सबसे उनकी बिहारियत के साथ मुलाक़ात होती है । पढ़ते पढ़ते लगा कि मैंने भी दिनकर को देख चिल्ला दिया हो- सिंहासन खाली करो कि जनता आती है । बाबा नागार्जुन का रात में अंडा लेकर आना और संकर्षण के साथ मिलकर कड़ुआ तेल में पकाना । अच्छी अंग्रेजी में बिहार मिल जाए तो समझिये कि आक्सफोर्ड में दो बिहारी मिल गए । कहीं कहीं रूपक नुमा शब्द यह भी बता रहे हैं कि नेसफिल्ड और रेन एंड मार्टिन पढ़ कर सीखें हैं तो ऐतना तो बनता है । संस्कार हिन्दी का और अभिव्यक्ति अंग्रेज़ी की । इसीलिए इस लिहाज़ से भी किताब को पढ़ना दिलचस्प अनुभव है ।
बहरहाल आज का बिहार फासीवाद की वो समझ नहीं रखता जो सत्तर के दशक के बिहार में बना रहा था । उन किताबों और बहसों के ज़रिये फासीवाद को समझ रहा था । किताबें ख़रीद रहा था । किताबें पढ़ रहा था । वो लड़ाई कमज़ोर हो चुकी है । सलीम जावेद की फ़िल्म का ये वो सीन है जहाँ एक नायक घायल पड़ा है । मंदिर की घंटियाँ बज रही हैं । बेतहाशा शोर में भगवान के चेहरे पर ग़ज़ब की ख़ामोशी पसरी है । नायक बिल्कुल सिंगल मैन की तरह आख़िरी लड़ाई लड़ रहा है । क्या होगा पता नहीं । क्लाइमैक्स का सीन है । सीन में कोई और नहीं । सिर्फ एक सिंगल मैन है ।
मैं इस पुस्तक को पढ़ रहा हूँ । पढ़ते हुए देखना सबसे अच्छा तरीक़ा है पढ़ने का । लेखक और उसके पात्र की जीवनी बन पड़ी है । और दोनों के बीच का समय  इतिहास । पढ़ियेगा । पाँच सौ निन्यानबे दाम है । बाटा कंपनी का यह निन्यानबे छाप गया नहीं । जाएगा भी नहीं । खुदरा लेकर जाइयेगा ।
2014, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Gen Next Boys Break Alliance Over Frozen Fence

New Delhi: Good fences do not always good neighbours make. It’s moot if Chirag Paswan ever read Robert Frost, but there’s no debating the newest son to mount the succession block, has convinced father Ram Vilas politics and poetry turn on different metres. Forget the romance, Papa, confront reality, move on.

With a common backyard on the prime peninsula of Janpath’s VVIP bungalows, the Paswans couldn’t get closer to the Gandhis. The latter occupy the famed Number 10, the Paswans have lived in 12 for decades, separated by no more than a convivial wicket gate.

Interviewing Chirag Paswan at home on 12 Janpath
Interviewing Chirag Paswan at home on 12 Janpath

For a while now, though, that gate hasn’t given. Last week, the Paswans tired of knocking at it; Chirag called time and turned to walk his father and their boutique Bihar concern, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a fair distance away.

For the mere lack of a crack in that wicket gate, the two households now lie separated by the widest chasm in Indian politics, between the Gandhis of the Congress and the man who has undertaken to rid the country of the Congress — Narendra Modi. Continue reading “Gen Next Boys Break Alliance Over Frozen Fence”

2013, Journalism, New Delhi, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Two Men in Winter: A Confluence of Contrasts

New Delhi, Feb 3: Just one way of reporting this is to tell it like a story of contrasting men in winter. One who has raised hunch-backed toasts to convivial companionship with life’s final season. Another who is still trying to stare off its advance with Spartan ram-rod stiffness. One that has become a nestled shrine of sorts around which the faithful are allowed in to gather once every while. Another that is still looking for a seat out there in the cold.

The two winters came to a fleeting and uneasy confluence yesterday — Khushwant Singh turned 99 and L.K. Advani arrived to greet him at the centennial corner. He came with good wishes, a photographer and Black Cats. Among animals, Khushwant has retained only a preference for dogs. Among humans, his tolerance for company has shrunk to a handpicked few. Advani is not among them, which is why he had to ask to come.

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Advani would have seen an arm-chaired aristocracy of one surrounded by a coalition of the committed that wishes to keep Khushwant just as he is forever — jurist Soli Sorabjee, barrister and good-life aficionado Bhaichand Patel, mushaira impresario Kaamna Prasad, columnist Humra Quraishi, Ambassador Dalip Mehta and his editor spouse Nandini, artiste Vrindavan Solanki, who busied himself sketching a portrait.

Advani may have had occasion to wonder what happened to the court that once gathered around his own feet, why he is a sidelined patriarch and Khushwant still a surrounded one. At 87, he is yet a dozen years shy of the man he went to see, but he may sense his winter has already turned wistful. Khushwant’s still turns on whiskey, a peg of pedigreed single-malt raised each evening, then downed. Continue reading “Two Men in Winter: A Confluence of Contrasts”

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.