2015, Bihar, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Asaduddin Owaisi: This bit of Hyderabad isn’t going away from Kishanganj. #ManInTheNews

A report recalled from the Bihar campaign of 2015. Even then, the “outsider” Owaisi had a fifth column buzz about him. But he was clear and insistent his wasn’t a passing visit to the Muslim-preponderant Seemanchal region of Bihar. He stayed, and this time, in 2020, he won five seats in the Assembly.

There’s a bit of Hyderabad in Kishanganj. But only a bit, insists Asaduddin Owaisi, emir of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and, after Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the most talked about outsider of this election.

Owaisi is by now weary and more than a little annoyed of the insinuation that defies banishment: that he is the Modi-Shah fifth column in Bihar, sent out to divide the minority vote and create cracks for the BJP to slip through. “Just look at how small our entry is, just six seats in one pocket,” he protests, “And I have openly declared that on the 237 seats that we are not contesting, people should support secular parties and defeat Narendra Modi. Am I conspiring to bring down the anti-Modi coalition with six seats?”

We are in Owaisi’s camp quarters, the charmingly christened “Chanchal Palace” – no royal estate, merely a mofussil hotel as un-palace like as it can get. Owaisi, looming of built, probably doesn’t fit straight on the beds they provide. It will be a while before he sets out for the day. He is kitted out in crisp whites, before he leaves he’ll pick one of several trademark striped sherwanis that hang on the wire curtain behind him.

He’s been here several weeks now, living out of a suitcase and a duffel, and a personal retinue that serves up traditional Hyderabadi fare once each day.

Why has he travelled so far from home to cough dust in this bereft Bihar outback? “For no other reason than to inform Muslims, and also Dalits, of another voice, another tone. I would not have been required to come here if parties that claim to espouse Muslim interests had been true to their word. Muslims have been used and cast aside, called to iftar parties and been bidden goodbye, that can’t work any more. I have come here to do duty, this is more than politcal, this is a social mission I have been driven to.”

Continue reading “Asaduddin Owaisi: This bit of Hyderabad isn’t going away from Kishanganj. #ManInTheNews”
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”.

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Journalism, Politics 2020, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Adityanath’s UP and the Imagination of Hell

Twice in two years has Ajay Mohan Bisht, also known as Adityanath, been voted the nation’s best chief minister in polls that purport credibility.

It may be fair to wonder which sordid corners of hell those pollsters went scouring. Or perhaps they were merely scouring Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh, which answers to multiple descriptions of hell.

Such as the one whose grisly layers we might yet want to banish as the fiction of a traumatic nightmare. Unfortunately, we are living it and being cynically denied the ordeal of the dead.

A 19-year-old is gagged, raped and bludgeoned by an entitled crew of criminals in Hathras, barely 200km southeast of Delhi. So brutally that her spine snaps and leaves her paralysed.

When news of the savagery breaks, district authorities damn it as “fake news”. But she survives the multiple assaults and the slur of official lies. She struggles for life a fortnight, shifted from hospital to hospital, and eventually dies in Delhi. She can no longer be dismissed as “fake news”, she has become a dead body.

But this is Adityanath’s realm, what it decrees dismissed will have to be dismissed.

Continue reading “Adityanath’s UP and the Imagination of Hell”
2017, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Adityanath: He always promised to make Uttar Pradesh the horror story it has become

As Yogi raj marauds around the state, wreaking atrocity upon sordid atrocity, reposting a piece in The Telegraph from the day he took over reins as chief minister. What is happening today under him was never tough to foretell

***

March 18, 2017: As widely perceived and often stridently promised, the Bharatiya Janata Party has brought the D word to Uttar Pradesh’s centre stage; it’s not development, it’s divisiveness.

Few can match the unwavering sectarian virulence of Yogi Adityanath, who steamrollered his way to unanimous election as Uttar Pradesh chief minister this evening amid vociferous “Jai Shri Ram” cries from a cheer-mob that clotted central Lucknow’s arteries.

And far too many, even among those he outstripped, stood better qualified to handle the country’s second most important political and governance assignment. The Uttar Pradesh BJP doesn’t lack for leaders with administrative experience. The man it has picked doesn’t have any.

About the only institution Yogi Adityanath, aka Ajay Singh Bisht, originally from Garhwal, has ever presided over is Gorakhpur’s Gorakhnath Math, a prosperous temple trust. As mahant of the Math, Adityanath has been used to wielding unquestioned authority and expecting blind obeisance. Such, that he has often brooked no restraint from the law and flagrantly violated it. Jailed once in 2007 for encouraging Hindutva rioters and flouting prohibitory orders, Adityanath has often not been ashamed to play outlaw. This man is now the law in Uttar Pradesh.

He hasn’t baulked at bringing social peace to peril. He has shared a stage with hate preachers and those that have made open exhorts to violence against minorities. Much of what Adityanath has to say from the public stage probably deserves no repetition because it is patently violative of constitutional values, the law and good sense. But for those that might seek a sense, social media sites store an abundance.

Continue reading “Adityanath: He always promised to make Uttar Pradesh the horror story it has become”
2002, Ayodhya, Indian Express, Reportage

This piece was first published in December 2002, the tenth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid

“What Do You Do, Even the Gods are Locked in Dispute”

Sankarshan Thakur, Indian Express, Ayodhya

You will go back disappointed, said the former Raja of Ayodhya. Nothing here ten years later, he said, the action was further west, in Gujarat, where Babri VIPs were lining up to cheer their new hero. So Sankarshan Thakur and photographer Prashant Panjiar let Ayodhya’s residents tell their stories: from an ailing architect of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement to boys who sell Babri demolition cards they can’t read. From a Muslim shoemaker who watched his shop burn to a mason who’s chipping away at the pillars of a very real and, at the same time, a very imagined temple.

 

The time was about right, we were told, but we had got the place terribly wrong. However could we have mixed up Godhra with Ayodhya? That is where it is all happening this year, isn’t it, in Gujarat, that last surviving fortress where a make or break battle rages. In Ayodhya it was going to be all symbolic and this time, unlike December 6, 1992, they honestly meant it. There weren’t enough of them around to manage anything beyond the symbolic.

Continue reading “This piece was first published in December 2002, the tenth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid”