2015, Bihar, Patna

Inside story: Why Nitish Kumar fell out with Narendra Modi

TheBrothersBihari

This is an excerpt from my book, The Brothers Bihari.

Narendra Modi was up to something, and Nitish did not like the thought of it. But it still did not bother him as long as he did not have to deal with his Gujarat counterpart. That changed on 10 May 2009.

The NDA, pushing for L.K. Advani as prime minister, had scheduled one of its biggest shows of strength in the 2009 Lok Sabha campaign at Ludhiana on that date. Invitations had gone out to prominent leaders of all constituent parties and NDA chief ministers. K  Chandrashekhar Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi had decided to participate, breaking away from the UPA. This had brought new buoyancy to NDA ranks.

Nitish was reluctant to join the rally, averse as he was to sharing a stage with Narendra Modi. He had requested JDU president Sharad Yadav to go. Two days before the rally, Jaitley called Nitish to say Advani was very keen he came, he had made a personal request. Nitish did not commit himself immediately. Jaitley then put Sanjay Jha on the job, and Jha was eventually able to convince Nitish that they’d go by chartered flight, attend the rally and return the same evening. Short and clinical. It would make Advaniji happy. Continue reading “Inside story: Why Nitish Kumar fell out with Narendra Modi”

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2014, Patna, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Zero-Cost Eggs, And The Loneliness of Giriraj Singh

Patna: A country egg hatching in a remote poultry pen has become Giriraj Singh’s thing of armour against invited assault. But we shall come to the eggs presently; first, the reason why this tale’s protagonist is on eggshells.

Such a torrent of censure and rejection he never did expect to descend on him for uttering the “undiluted truth of my heart”. Such a clap of overhead thunder it was, resonating from foe and friend, it left the bellicose Giriraj moping in a corner of his west Patna bungalow.

“I have been told I must hang, I have been told I must be arrested, I have been told I should be charged with treason, I have been told I am anti-national, and nobody is defending me. Everybody, even people in my party, is tearing into me. For what? For telling the truth? I am devastated, this moment has brought me to think if I should leave public life altogether, what’s the point if I cannot say the truth?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The counter-torrent issuing from Giriraj is in spate. He won’t stop. “I am telling you, and maybe I should not be telling you, but I feel like leaving politics, doing something else. I have probably won the Nawada Lok Sabha seat (polling in Nawada was held on April 10) , but even so, I feel so wronged, I want to give it all up.” Continue reading “Zero-Cost Eggs, And The Loneliness of Giriraj Singh”

2014, Essay, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

Double Jeopardy For Nitish: Bihar 2014, Roll Of The Dice For Bihar 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is going to be a two-in-one enactment, make no mistake about it. On paper, assembly polls are still a year and a half off, but this summer’s Lok Sabha verdict will be a decisive roll of the dice in the battle for Bihar. It’s a fool’s estimate the parliamentary numbers of 2014 will bring closure to the re-division of the Bihari pie; they will only set the stage for the final settlement of 2015.

Who’s to tell if the climax will even hold off that long? Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s is, after all, a minority government perched on a wafer that could give to the slightest shift in the balance of power.

Of all the paradoxes that pervade the radical re-arrangement of battlements since Nitish abrogated his alliance with the BJP last June, the hardest to miss is probably this: he survives on the support of arguably the most insignificant player in the field called the Congress, and the Congress is running three-legged with his old adversary Laloo Yadav.

Continue reading “Double Jeopardy For Nitish: Bihar 2014, Roll Of The Dice For Bihar 2015”

2014, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

A Sibling Swing At Succession: The Picture That Tells Many A Tale

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Patna: But for the man absent from the frame, this picture would have belonged strictly in family albums, not in newspaper pages. But for him, this would have been a very different picture, or, actually, a picture few would have bothered taking.

The people in it may have come across as far more meagre of circumstance, the backdrop would have been far humbler, if not lowly, a backdrop that belongs in a coarse daguerreotype. It would decidedly not have been this. These are the back lawns of 10 Deshratna Marg, among the grander ministerial acreages of West Patna. And this is the family of RJD chief, Laloo Yadav, the man not in the picture, the artist of this portrait, the sole master of this arrangement — the setting, the swing, the shade, the smiles, the language of bodies that belongs in a throne which hasn’t been available to adorn in a while. But for Laloo Yadav and his astonishing journey from buffalo-boy in the Gopalgunj boondocks to extended suzerainty over Bihar, none of this would exist.

That journey hit a trough when Lalu was cast out of power in 2005 and travelled further south when, in 2009, he did so poorly in the Lok Sabha that he lost his UPA cabinet perch in New Delhi. This coming election, Laloo believes, could be his hour of revival, an opportunity to sneak through the bitterly sundered alliance between the JDU and the BJP who collaborated to unseat him a decade ago. With Nitish and Narendra Modi at war, Laloo is waving an altered calculus whose arithmetic he boasts to dominate: “No stopping this time, look at the voteshares, simpul, simpul, faarmula is simpul, do the plus-minus. Kyon pade ho chakkar mein, koi nahin hai takkar mein… Don’t be at all confused, the competition is all defused.”

Even when desperately downbeat, Laloo was never one to give up his derring-do countenance; the newly divided field in Bihar has added a decibel to his daring. When Laloo cries out loud, he gathers crowds. The forecourt of 10 Deshratna Marg is humming with notes of new possibility. At the back of it, a rivalry has begun to eddy that Laloo often doesn’t want to countenance and wishes he could put down with the brandishing of a patriarchal baton.

You may not get to see a swing seat so voluptuous with political ambition. Look closely at the picture and you’ll find it already too crammed; Misa has wedged herself in, but only just. To her right is the older of her two brothers, Tej Pratap; to her left is her mother Rabri Devi and then, ensconsed in the far corner, her little brother Tejaswi. There’s one former Bihar chief minister here and, should you individually enquire, three aspiring ones, Misa, Tej Pratap, Tejaswi, in descending order of age, though not necessarily in quantum of appetite.

The irony that runs across this image and its characters is that the one man who brought them this far is and the only one who could promise to take them any further from here stands barred from contesting elections and, therefore, from public office. He is the man not in the picture, Laloo Yadav.

Laloo and Rabri Devi have nine children, seven daughters and two sons, of whom Misa is the eldest. Six of the daughters have been given away in marriage; among them Misa is the only one who refused to go away. She was able to persuade her IIM-trained husband, Sailesh, to come live in the Lalu household, instead. The youngest and yet unmarried daughter lives mostly at the family’s camp residence in Delhi and spends much of her time looking after the affairs of Misa’s two school-going daughters.

Misa’s determination to stay on has often been ascribed to her will to become anointed RJD heiress, a desire whetted no end when as a 20-something girl she saw her father pull her mother out of the kitchen and install her as chief minister of Bihar. Misa, far better educated — a trained doctor of medicine, in fact, and well spoken — quickly divined a future opportunity for herself. She might think of herself as best qualified to succeed her father. Among all the Laloo-Rabri children, Misa is the one who alone has a memory of their days of adversity and struggle ; she was 15 when her father became chief minister and the family stepped out of the low income housing they shared with cousins on the Patna Veterinary College campus, into I Aney Marg, the chief ministerial bungalow. Life would never be the same again.

Through her late teens and early adulthood, Misa apprenticed actively in the backroom machinations of power while the younger ones were at play. On occasion, following the fodder scam and Laloo’s removal from power, she would enact obdurate public defence of her parents and the party.

But she was soon to discover competitors at home: her two brothers Tej Pratap and Tejaswi. The apparent good cheer on the swing seat, mind you, is not faked or pretended for the camera. There exists among the siblings a fair bonhomie that comes from having lived out an open-house childhood around Laloo’s court. But there also exists, inevitably, politics between them; very often, sibling rivalry can turn adult and begin to imitate the machinations of a medieval court where succession is up for grabs.

Misa is the domineering one who Laloo often does not venture to counter, for love or for latent fear, or probably both. Tej Pratap is an oddball character and therefore more intractable. He turned a self-styled “Krishnavataar” a few years ago. He donned saffron robes and made it convenient for Laloo to keep at arm’s length — a godman, not a man of this world, easy to keep off politics.

But came a time a few years ago, when he waddled into the family theatre, probably nudged along by Misa who was looking for an ally to counter Tejaswi, who is said to have Laloo’s favour. Laloo tried keeping Tej Pratap distracted, awarding him an automobile dealership near Aurangabad that the son dutifully and charmingly christened with an amalgam of his parents first names: Lara Automobiles, he called it. But he soon lost interest, or was made to, delegated responsibilities and returned to 10 Deshratna Marg. The saffron robes of Tej Pratap are long gone, he has donned khadi, the signature fabric of political intent. He now prowls the 10 Deshratna yard with his own clutch of loyalists and has posted a huge vinyl emboss of his on a side wall. Each of the three has a coterie, each spies on the others activities, each schemes about behind Laloo while he attempts an uphill comeback.

The RJD boss still appears intent on Tejaswi, though. He eased him onto to the 2010 campaign stage and since then, a murmur has prevailed that he is the chosen one. Tejaswi spent a couple of IPL seasons warming the bench in the Delhi Daredevils dugout, then retired hurt to the political stage. He began to figure on RJD posters beside his parents, he was made to tail his father, sit on meetings, recruit a bunch of his own loyalists. He was also given access to Laloo’s room at the RJD headquarters, if only as a sign others were meant to heed.

All of which was quickly noticed; very soon counter manoeuvres began to ripple on the family table. Misa landed one afternoon at the RJD offices and ordered her father’s room opened when neither he nor Tejaswi was in town. She sat in her father’s chair and ordered people around for a bit, if only to underline succession wasn’t a sealed affair. Then she laid claim to her disqualified father’s Lok Sabha seat, and secured it. This, even at the cost of Lalu losing staunch loyalist Ram Kripal Yadav, now the BJP rival to Misa from Patliputra. The battle is now for her to win and prove herself worthy. Tej Pratap, court whisper will tell you, is her ally. Tejaswi, not yet the age he can contest, can afford a smile because he has time, and probably his father, on his side. Often, because they believe it to be a long-awaited season of favourable wind for the RJD, they all can. Like on the swing seat.

2014, Bihar, News, Patna, Telegraph Calcutta

Laloo’s Emergency Daughter Misa Turns To Claim Her Place In Politics

With Misa at the Lalu Yadav residence in Patna
With Misa at the Lalu Yadav residence in Patna

Patna, March 12: The eye of the home-minted storm whirling about Bihar’s best known political family has a twinkle in it. It belongs to a pigtailed six-year-old called Gauri who has pranced in on pink crocs from nowhere and deposited her frail frame in the lap of her mother, the storm herself. This storm is a young woman called Misa Bharti, daughter to the RJD boss Lalu Prasad, mother to Gauri, source of an untimely pre-poll revolt whose face is her party veteran “chacha“, Ram Kripal Yadav.

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“My miracle child,” Misa calls the bundle that has cavorted in to demand mom’s cuddles, “The absolute delight of my life.” Gauri was born with killer intestinal cysts and went under the knife four times before she was a week old; at the time, unbeknownst, Gauri wrote herself into the annals of paediatric surgery in India merely by surviving. She has turned out a frisky pet giggling about a compound abuzz with furrow-browed adults. Gauri’s abandon and gaiety belie the somber mood that looms over west Patna’s 10 Deshratna Marg estate.

All’s not well in the RJD’s first household, less still with its pater familias, the redoubtable Lalu Prasad himself. Part of the masonry of his legislature party crumbled away recently. An ally packed up its goods and crossed over to the BJP. Another has just about been persuaded to agreeable terms of seat sharing. And as if he hadn’t been caused enough gripe between the desertion of Ram Vilas Paswan and the overblown demands of the Congress, a blister of revolt has erupted where he expected a smooth romp. His endorsement of daughter Misa as RJD pick for the prestigious Patliputra Lok Sabha contest has meant losing one of his oldest, and considerably influential, loyalists, Ram Kripal. A trusted friend has overnight turned into formidable foe flying the NaMo banner.

Lalu is lapsed on a sofa seat under a corrugated vinyl gazebo on the lawns, running a distracted eye on the latest caste data from parliamentary constituencies. The airport is next door and he awaits an all-set from the chopper pilot who will fly him to Bettiah this day. Meantime, he seeks to speak to a Congress bigwig in Delhi, now to a candidate he may have in mind, now again to an officer who may have information he urgently requires. “Lagao, lagao ji phonwaa,” he hectors Bhola Yadav, his long time major domo, “Aur kya bola pilotwa…and what did the pilot say?” He turns to us, momentarily, and says a little weary of tone: “Din bhar kabaddi karte hain, raat bhar planning and thinking. Bahut critical chunav hai, desh par khatra hai, khali Bihar ka ladaai nai hai, mulk ka maamla hai…I run around all day, and all night and plan and think. This is a critical election, a danger looms over the nation. This is not only about Bihar, this is about the whole country.”

For the moment, though, the “khatra” (danger) hovers low on his own prospects; Ram Kripal’s angry departure is the last thing he required mid-battle. “Ladai hai, ladenge, Lalu dara hai kisise? …It’s a battle and I shall fight it, has Lalu ever been afraid of anyone?” So saying in assurance to himself, he hauls himself out the sofa and saunters off to a waiting SUV that will deposit him to the helipad. Misa, meantime, is still not done administeriing Gauri her periodic dose of attention.

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Rabri Devi, former chief minister of the state, is seated on a deck chair not far from the gazebo, a hubbub of young party workers hived around her. Among them are her two sons, Tej Pratap and Tejaswi, ardent close-door competitors for the RJD mantle. Tejaswi has all of Patna plastered with posters proclaiming him the mascot of “the promise of youth”; Tej Pratap, the elder but more introverted of the two, has hit back by monopolizing all of the side wall of the Deshratna Marg mansion: Yuva Shakti, Yuva Neta, The Pratap! a 70mm banner proclaims him to be. For the moment, though, neither Tej Pratap nor Tejaswi can yet go where Misa has already gone, they haven’t made the qualifying age to contest elections. They huddle around the mother importantly as they bide time.

It is elder sis Misa — fondly referred to as “Miss” by her soft-toned IIM-trained husband Sailesh — whose time it is to exude entitlement as only a to-the-manor-born can. “I have been waiting for this (contesting Patluputra) for a long time and after Laluji was disqualified, I had the first and natural claim, isn’t it?” A question? Or an assertion? Misa’s cleverly intoned reply leaves you wondering. “And if chacha (Ram Kripal Yadav) wanted to contest, he should have told us. He never did, I was ready to give up, but when the party supremo has decided, he has decided, that is the way it is to be.”

For the longest time, Ram Kripal was allowed to believe he was natural successor to the party boss, especially on the Patliputra election, which conviction has made out of bounds for Lalu. But he erred in reading the
unwritten laws of political inheritance. Misa is the second political child this season to render radical twists to family politics. Chirag turned father Ram Vilas Paswan back to the BJP not long ago. Misa has now opened a challenge within Lalu will probably struggle to surmount. “But why blame me?” she protests, “It was always clear to everyone I will head into politics, and now, with a legal bar on my father, is the best time.”

But her claim does rest in being Lalu’s daughter, not much else, isn’t it? “But of course,” Misa retorts, as if to mean her raison is as right as mother’s milk. “I am Laluji’s daughter, that’s a huge qualification. To be born in this family, to be born during the Emergency, to have breathed politics all my life. All of that is qualification, don’t you think? Politicians’ children do have political rights, don’t they? Shouldn’t they? They have home advantage too, I do not deny. I, on the other hand, would draw advantage from that advantage, I have a head-start, being Laluji’s daughter gets me interviews with people like yourself, after all, doesn’t it?” She’s giving her conditioned hair a casual back-flip, she’s savouring what she might think a smart reply. Her convent-bred diction floats about, delicate and crystalline on a compound thick with Bhojpuri. “I could have gone the backdoor route,” she presses on, as if to say she is deserving of commendation, not criticism, “I could have gone straight into the Rajya Sabha. But I have chosen the tough route, the direct route through people. I will do my best to win, but I am ready to face loss. And nobody thinks it is a courageous thing to do!”

It should require courage to be out there seeking votes as daughter of a convicted politician, though. It must be tough, being Lalu Yadav’s daughter in public. “No, of course not. And yes. I’ll be frank. I know what I will be confronted with, a lot of nonsense about my father and my mother. But there is a reason why Laluji remains a big leader with a huge following, he must have done something right. Look at his record as rail minister. Look at what he symbolizes for the underprivileged, and for minorities, don’t forget that. My father is a great man, and he will get justice from the courts one day, I am convinced. It is tough being his daughter, but whoever said I am not a tough girl?” Little Gauri, frolicking about in the nearby flowerbed, probably got the genes to survive her severe early ailment from her mother.

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.

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”