Telegraph Calcutta

This Happened And That Happened

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Some things we need not be told. Or need not be told at a time. Or be told at another time. When there is the need for them to be told; it’s what some folks also call being told on a need basis. Those needs, it is becoming apparent, have begun to arise. And we have begun to be told. In dribs and drabs. Did you know this happened? Did you know that happened? But did it? Oh! But we were told all the time that nothing happened in NothingHappened? So something happened? Really? Even during the long drought of NothingHappened? Is that so? But of course. Has it not been said that in order to understand the present you must first understand the past?

Actually, the thing is a lot of what has happened now and should not have happened is because of things that happened during NothingHappened. And as a matter of fact a lot happened during NothingHappened that has caused what should not have happened to happen today. For instance, NumberWon and NumberToo would not have happened if things that caused them to happen had not happened during NothingHappened. And NumberTlee, well he would not have become NumberTlee if there had been no NumberWon and NumberToo happening ahead of them. Get the sequence of things? It’s simple and straight. Just do the count right for the present: Won; Too; Tlee. Now let’s go back to the beginning when NothingHappened and get a swift inventory of what happened.

Mahadeb happened, of course. He happened during NothingHappened and, in fact, vanished when NothingHappened had been abrogated. It did appear to some, actually, Mahadeb vanished almost as part of the abrogation of NothingHappened. It is a complex affair trying to figure the connection between the two — the whys and the wherefores — but there is the evidence of coincidence. But to just add a word of caution and correction here, Mahadeb is far above notions of evidence and coincidence; he may well attend, from time to time, both but he is defined neither in part nor in whole by either at any given time. Mahadeb is Mahadeb. Wherever he is. And he is. How can Mahadeb not be. Especially if we still are. Puny creatures filling up newspaper columns, and reading those somehow filled up columns.

But, as very often, we digress. And digression is a terrible thing in the one leader, one idea, one flag, one party, one objective norm we have adopted by majority vote. Thirty some per cent, but that counts enough in the FPTP system.

First past the post, you get the drift. Of course you do; you celebrated its great virtues in 2014, even though you knew how sorely outnumbered you were.

Well. Anyhow. That’s how we are. That’s who we are. Majoritarians with a minority vote. So there. But we had things before we came here. Things happened in NothingHappened. This whole cantankerous line that we have to fire along and keep protected all the time happened in NothingHappened. You know, where people die every other day, and that sort of thing, and we make slogans out of them and then make many votes out of them. Then this Mirkash business too. Such a headache. But such a profitable one. Bash one Mirkashi, or kill, and you get ten votes in return, if not more. All the Mirkashis, such a migraine, but really, such a crop of riches. And this whole Bandal thing. The Bandal that wanted to travel reservation class. And the Kabandal thing, the one that wanted to bundle everything else out and become the One thing. These happened during NothingHappened. Bandal and Kabandal. And we are fortunate we can play with both. When Bandal does not work, we play with Kabandal; when Kabandal looks as if it cannot be encashed, there is always Bandal. Play one. Play the other. Play one against the other. So many things happened in NothingHappened, it must be conceded. Even dollars. And look what we did. We made things happen, in contrast to NothingHappened. We made the Rupaiyah climb on the dollar line it had never climbed before. To the extent that we may now explode. But wait. We have a bigger exclusive, errr… explosive.

Because, you see, the big bum

That too happened

Bole bum, bole bum

Parmanu bum, too happened.

 

Telegraph Calcutta

Kishor and the kinship of cartwheels

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New Delhi: The art of the political cartwheel has made Patna its stage again. Strategist Prashant Kishor, who joined the Janata Dal United on Sunday and announced his “new journey from Bihar”, is as adept and frequent a fence-hopper as his boss and Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar.

The near-incredible trapeze loops the two men have enacted over the last several years may, in fact, have evoked a special sense of kinship.

The journey Nitish Kumar has charted since 2103 runs thus: NDA to belligerently anti-NDA and anti-Narendra Modi; thereon to embracing

Lalu Prasad and the Congress; thereon to ditching both overnight, resurrecting his marriage with the BJP and turning Modi fanboy from Modi-baiter.

Prashant Kishor’s political somersaults have been no less recurrent or unabashed.

Beginning with Modi’s Gujarat Assembly campaign in 2012, he came to devise the strategy for his power-run to prime ministership in 2014; thereon, he shifted to then arch-rival Nitish Kumar, and played bridge for the JDU-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan which rebuffed Modi’s Bihar grab in 2015; thereon he moved to Delhi and entered the Congress backrooms; he was part of a miserably failed bid on Uttar Pradesh in alliance with the Samajwadi Party but made a success of the Congress’ return to power in Punjab; thereon, during a long lull mulling what to do next, he retreated to a shell from where he simultaneously probed future possibilities with both the Congress and the BJP.

In his first public interaction at Hyderabad’s Indian School of Business (ISB) last week, where he announced his decision to give up political consultancy, Kishor agreed he was in touch with both Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

But as recently as the ISB event, Kishor scoffed at a direct question on whether he was joining politics. “There will be speculation… the media speculates all the time, I have lived with this for the last six years. Today media is speculating that because I have chosen to speak publicly for the first time, there must be a reason. I can tell you the media will be wrong again…. I am telling you I have worked with big leaders enough, I want to work with people at the grassroots now….”

Pushed by repeated questions at the same event on his political ideology and how he could work for bitterly adversarial camps, Kishor had said: “I am not a gun for hire, I have never been. If I were to really define myself in ideological terms I would choose the western term Centre-Left… but I should also add that you can have an ideology but you should not be blinded by that ideology.”

This is the sort of non-committal flexibility that sets Kishor rather comfortably into Nitish Kumar’s precincts. An avowed Lohiaite Socialist, Nitish has found himself seamlessly comfortable in the company of both the Congress and the BJP. He shunned the BJP in 2013 and called for a “Sangh-mukt Bharat”; four years later, he was back as outspoken ally of the Sangh company.

Kishor would have meditated long on his move from the backrooms to the front office of politics. Those with a sense of how he works cannot be surprised he chose neither the BJP nor the Congress for his debut despite knowing, and having worked with, bosses in both parties closely. Both are huge and established parties and may not have offered the kind of operating room Kishor imagines for himself.

Nitish’s JDU is a contrast – it has one leader and no real other to speak of; Nitish’s confidence alone can give Kishor a platform he wouldn’t be served elsewhere. Besides, it gives him an opportunity to open his public life in his home state.

By association with Nitish, Kishor has located himself firmly in the NDA camp and some have begun to suggest he will tangentially end up doing for Narendra Modi in 2019 quite what he did for him in 2014. But Nitish and Kishor have repeatedly displayed they are possessed of both political caprice and cunning. A note of caution on the certainty of their future may be in order. It is lost on no political player of any worth that Kishor – and probably even Nitish – remains in meaningfully close touch with both the BJP and Congress brass. Both are inveterate believers in the craft of what’s politically possible.

On an individual note, it is also beginning to be volubly suggested that Kishor is now the Number Two man in the JDU and, therefore, in Bihar’s ruling establishment. Moves during days to follow will reveal if and how this de jure ranking is turned to de facto reality. Kishor could become potentate in both party and government – a high organisational seat by appointment to Nitish himself, and probably also a clutch of significant ministerial responsibilities.

Doubtless, Kishor’s high-profile induction has taken many in the JDU not merely by surprise but also by their nerves. Kishor’s entry has already left part of the aspiring JDU hierarchy disrupted and should he assume his speculated high station, greater disruption will follow.

On the other hand, party ranks may feel enthused to see an eager-beaver like Kishor, who has a reputation for energy and getting things done, at the front. Nitish Kumar’s cryptic remark on Sunday that Kishor “is the future” is key to what is in the works.

Kishor himself is no man to set his ambitions low; he revels, in fact, in punching above his weight. But if he has arrived on the scene with long-term political ambitions in his home state, he may have to wrestle with default deficits. He is a Brahmin in a highly Mandalised polity; the last of his kind to embrace the chief minister’s chair was in 1989.

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Telegraph Calcutta

So there, Forward Looking Folks

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Arrey O KyaHaiReTeraNaam! Kitney saal ka sarkar rakhhe hai hamare naam par?””Sardar, poore pachaas saal.”

” Poore pachaas saal! Ha-ha, ha-ha, sun liya! Poore pachaas saal! He-he! He-he! Ahahhhaaaaaaaaaah! Poore pachaas saal!”

Hmmm. Heard that? Folks? Fifty years, poore pachaas saal. Live with it. What did they say in them olden days? As you sow, so shall you reap. Reap it. Keep reaping. Poore pachaas saal. What did they just tell us? From Rs 70 odd a litre to Rs 80 odd a litre represents a 13 per cent drop in petrol prices. Yes. Well. Great and consoling arithmetic. Reap it. Chew it. And when you have chewed and chewed and chewed and there is nothing left to chew anymore but your fingers, you will still be chewing on it. Remember, it’s going to be a while. Poore pachaas saal. How many of us do even hope to be around?

But what a time to be around it will be, bhaaiyon aur behnon! Mahadeb, hang on, wherever you are. It will be the time of times, such as we have never ever been witness to before in all our journey from the cosmic Shoonya to here. Imagine. If the price of petrol from Rs 70 odd to Rs 80 and some more odd represents a 13 per cent drop in prices, how many percentage points would petrol prices have dropped by the time we complete poore pachaas saal? Can you even imagine?

Arrey, it will be flowing free through your taps. So free, you’ll be afraid it is flowing so free and all over. Imagine. Your kitchen taps. Or mixer-dispensers, which you will surely have by then, it’s the least you shall have. Don’t you understand, you fools? Mandir waheen banayenge. You shall have it. In your kitchens. Left dispenser for petrol, the right one for diesel. Flick one and petrol flows, flick the other and there’s viscous diesel. Promise. Oh, but in the kitchen? No. Really? In the kitchen. Tapfuls of fuel? Where we have matches and lighters, without which we cannot have fire, and without which we cannot cook? Are you serious? Taps gurgling petrol and diesel? Naa baba, naa. I can see myself and more going up in flames. Don’t want to go up in flames before the doctors have certified me to go up in flames, don’t want to do that trying to make myself a mamta suji, or nonta suji, or whatever it is called. Upma, is it? Whatever. Don’t want petrol and diesel flowing down the taps close to where the matchbox is. These folks, they’ll burn up the nation with their promises some day. Really!

Oh. So how about milk and honey? Milk through one dispenser and honey through another? That too will be in plentiful supply. Milk, because mataawill give more and more the longer she is assisted to live. And honey, because it drips all the time and incessantly from the lips of our DeeaahLeader. Mitron? How sweet! Every time he gets on stage, he sheds potloads of it, honey honey honey, so much honey it makes me feel funny: “Main aapka Pradhan Sewak hoon.” Oh so sweet, so sweet it’s treacly. Kiska sewak? Kaunsa Sangh? So it shall come to drop too, milk and honey; think of re-configuring your kitchen taps. Kahin aag naa lag jaaye, if you make the mistake of opting for petrol and diesel. The food will be hot, but then, you may end up charred, carcinogenic matter, no more.

But there might yet be protections. The streets will be voluptuous with holy dung and holy urine, mootra. Not yours, silly, that was Morarji, this mootra is shed by another for your benefit. Lotion and balsam, face-pack and body-wash. And who knows what magical properties their application might reveal?

If that doesn’t suit you, there will, of course, be alternatives available. Like the next Pushpak flight to another Nakshatra. Zoooom! And you are on Shani. No? Okay Budh. Or Shukra. Or Yama. No? Oh, Yama, not the right name or connotation. But worry not, we shall have choices. It’s only been four years and some, and we have landed in hell. There’s more to conquer, but there’s time. Poore pachaas saal. We shall rule the cosmos by then, no worries, and we shall shoot you where you choose to be shot. And these two will still be singing:

Yeh dosti, hum nahin chhorenge,

Jaan pe bhi khelenge,

Satta ke liye le lenge

Sab se dushmani.

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Telegraph Calcutta

Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat speaks to Sankarshan Thakur

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Q General Rawat, you are more than half the way into your term, what would you rate among your achievements?

A few things I had set my mind on. Within the ranks, I wanted all sense of difference or discrimination ended. This unit is rated higher, they get more priority, they get less. Nothing doing. We are one army, one force. There are no shades to OG (olive green), OG is one shade and that is us. I also wanted to deal with discipline issues sternly – corruption and moral turpitude. Nobody will get away with that. No second chances. And, of course, I wanted to continue to modernise the army and keep it abreast of the times and its demands. The most important issue here was technology, the continuous infusion of updated techno- logies for our men and machines. We always need to ask ourselves: are we prepared, are we equipped to compete with world armies? This is the age of information warfare, cyber warfare. We need not only a strong man behind the gun, we need a smart man behind the gun. This reorientation has to happen, physically and psychologically. The one good thing that has happened in this regard is the impetus to Make in India.

Q How is that?

In the sense that as we move forward, we are also looking at indigenised weapons systems in addition to what we get from elsewhere. We have a new unit called the Army Design Bureau and it is exploring both the public and private sectors, see what they can produce for us. If they want some hand-holding from our side, we are prepared to give that, tell them what precisely we need. I am happy to say that it is moving well and you will see the results.

Q Could you be more precise?

Well, we must have an army capable of undertaking all tasks at all times. We are putting our soldiers into better gear, better protection. We are replacing the Gypsy vehicles with the sturdier Tata Storme; we are getting a new range of assault rifles; we are getting the Vajra tanks from South Korea, from America we shall have a version of ultra-light howitzers, many things have happened, many are happening. This modernisation is a long and continuous process.

But you are also substantially undersizing the army in terms of personnel…

As we infuse technology, we must revamp. It does not mean you take the old baggage along. After Independence, the army moved into many remote areas where there was no infrastructure to speak of. The army had to do it all by itself and we did it. Today’s India is much changed. There is infrastructure available everywhere, there is expertise and logistical assistance everywhere. Why should that not be outsourced? We want a lean and mean force, our requirements have changed, technology has changed, we need to reorient and structure ourselves accordingly.

Let me take you to an issue that has engaged a lot of your time and attention as Army Chief: Kashmir.

Too early, I’d rather not speak about it.

But you have spoken volubly on Kashmir in the past, and without mincing words…

Yes, but I will tell you why I’d rather not at the moment. There is a new man (the recently appointed Governor Satya Pal Malik) in charge. In Kashmir, we want to give the new man time. I do not want to fix his position by making statements and airing my views at the moment. I will speak later. He has to set the agenda. He has to decide what he wants to do, how he wants to handle the situation. If I speak now, people will say the army is trying to influence him or dominate the discourse in Kashmir. That will not be right. We have to see how he goes about it. If he has plans and he can rein in terrorism, we will be most happy.

But I am sure we can talk about the recent past in Kashmir. The Ramzan ceasefire, for instance. It failed, you withdrew it at the first opportunity… it didn’t last long.

It was a gesture we made to the people of Kashmir. Festival time was approaching, we made that offer. Although let me be very clear we never said we will allow the violators of the ceasefire to go scot-free. And our assessment is the other side did not take the offer seriously. They do not want to give peace a chance.

Who is they?

I do not mean the people. The people of Kashmir want peace, they are tired of this. If they were given a chance, why would they want to live in such turmoil?

But the same people, often entire villages and neighbourhoods, come out to disrupt secu- rity forces and shield militants. That is increa- singly the trend.

That’s because they are being pushed by the gun, they are afraid of the gun. They do not come out on their own, they are compelled to come out by elements that are active in the Valley and are under constant motivation and encouragement from across the border.

But a lot of them are highly motivated, especially the young, won’t you agree? I mean when have you seen funeral processions at which these gunmen routinely turn up with no sense of fear or consequence? They are feted like heroes…

That’s a false sense of heroism. Look, there are forces across the border that are engaged full-time in trying to radicalise these people, especially the youth. It is being stuffed down their minds that they are on their way to some martyrdom, they are even being compelled in many cases. All of these young boys who appear on such occasions become part of the next janaza (funeral procession). Do you think parents who have toiled to educate their children want them to go this way? They are being forced into this, all of them. There is also a deliberate effort to try and indigenise terrorism, to recruit and radicalise and arm more and more boys so it can be argued that it is a local movement and not exported from across the border. Kashmiris are being forced at gunpoint to do this, they are motivated most of all by fear.

 Many argue these are sacrifices being made for the sake of azadi

What azadi? Talk to Kashmiris and most of them do not know the meaning of azadi, they can’t define it, most of them have no idea what they are talking about, most of them have different interpretations of it. Azadi is a nebulous thing, azadi from what?

Well, for a start, they say the army and paramilitary should go…

We know where that sentiment is being fostered from, we all know. They just go on repeating and repeating until it begins to ring like the truth to them. All this radicalisation of the youth, the brainwashing, this false sense of martyrdom and what happens in heaven, etc., this talk of a new Caliphate… Don’t we know who is doing this? But what are they talking about, these nonsensical things? But as I said, I don’t want to talk too much on Kashmir right now.

There is also the issue of AFSPA that comes up again and again.

Look, insurgency and terrorism are very special situations. And everybody knows what is happening in Kashmir daily. When the army is called out in aid to civilian authority, we have to carry along an officer with magisterial powers with us so he can sanction action, whatever the situation requires. But insurgency is different. There is a grave situation we are handling every day. And do not forget, the army is your last resort, the nation’s last resort. We are called in only when the situation is extremely bad, as a last option, and in Kashmir the situation is such.

Q I ask again, do we still need AFSPA?

You remember what it was like in 1990, gun-toting militants were walking the centre of Srinagar, they were going from house to house threatening and killing people. For a time, it seemed out of control, a terrible situation. But we brought it back. We retrieved it. But just because we retrieved it then, you think provisions are no longer required? You think there are no terrorists? You think there are no guns and arms? You think there are no sleeper cells? There are enough of them around, and we know what is happening from across the border. The pressure has to be kept up all the time.

How do you see a set of army officers approaching the courts in defence of AFSPA, since we are on the issue. How does that reflect on the state of civil-military relations?

We have always supported our soldiers. Always. It is an unnecessary concern. AFSPA gives us rights to operate in certain situations. Its misuse, we punish.

Not very often, not in Kashmir…

No, why? We have instituted proper inquiries, the signal has gone out against misuse. In Machhil, in other cases. But let me tell you, there are fake cases too. And we have to fight them. And what is the punishment for those who make false allegations? There are 1,528 cases in Manipur, are many of them not hearsay? Are they all true? In Assam, there was a complaint we have killed someone. We produced the person a month later. What did you say? Security forces are being maligned too. Who protects us? The army has paid with its blood for peace to arrive, or in the effort for peace. Don’t malign your own soldiers even before they have been proven guilty, owe them some debt and respect.

But there are also soldiers like Major Leetul Gogoi who take human shields, and then get involved in what appears to be unsavoury behaviour. Why did you commend him?

Listen, I thought about it to myself. What would I have done in that situation? Would I have shot my way through and killed or maimed people? Or was there another way? Forget afterthought, we are all very wise in hindsight. He had to make a split-second decision. And he made it, he took the initiative and he took the least harmful way out of that situation. I commended him for that. For quick thinking, for trying to save lives, for trying not to vitiate the atmosphere even more.

But what self-respecting army would take a human shield, General?

No, we do not normally do it (take human shields), I am not saying this is what we do or should do. I am only saying in that split-second he took a decision and it was probably the better decision because it saved lives and probably a worse situation.

And what about the inquiry he now faces for inappropriate behaviour?

The inquiry is on. But let me tell you something. I too have operated on the ground. We do work with informants, especially in an insurgency situation. And often women are very good informants. You see, some of these young terrorists like to have girlfriends who they meet furtively when the situation allows. A lot of these girls are not sure they are being cheated or two-timed. They are uncertain. They can be nervous. They open up. And they have good information to reveal. That could be the case here. But even if that was the case, the way Major Gogoi was going about it was not correct. But let us see, the inquiry is on. And I told you there are no second chances for corruption or moral turpitude.

One last question. Do you not think the army has been politicised more than ever before and alarmingly? The way the jawan is daily invoked and used in the political discourse by the government, the way the army is sought to be valorised by the ruling party? Are you comfortable with that?

You have started giving the jawan the respect he deserves. You know what happens in the US? When a flight is carrying the body of a dead soldier, the pilot announces it to all passengers… Ladies and Gentlemen, this flight is carrying the remains of so and so… and everybody puts their palms to their chest and stands to two minutes’ silence. That is respect. Today, we are beginning to bring that respect to our jawans and martyrs. Earlier a soldier died in Kashmir, we would do the last rites there. Now we drape him in the Tricolour and bring him to his native place and the entire community gathers to pay its last respects. Where is the politicisation here? This is due respect. In fact we are talking to Air India to do what is done in the US. And if Air India can do it, why not the other airlines? What is the shame in respecting a soldier who gave his life for you, for the nation?

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Telegraph Calcutta

After That Shock, Others

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Ghar mein shaadi hai paise nai hain… tilli lilli, tilli lilli!!! Can’t remember who said that, the ghar mein shaadi hai thing. Sounded like a terrible taunt at the time, still does when memory, that mostly unkindly thing, fetches the echoes back. Can’t remember who did that, the tilli lilli, tilli lilli thing, you know the one in which you wag your thumb left and right to mock whoever it is you want to mock, and which is only barely seemly when little children do it to each other and unseemly at all other times? You must know tilli lilli by now, it happened on television live, and it was played in a loop on prime time. Can’t remember where the performance was enacted and aired from, but probably some foreign land. Can’t remember why the trip was taken or trip number what it was to some foreign land. Impossible to remember with such a frequent tripper what trip was taken when and to where. But this we remember and this we cannot forget, not in a hurry – the tripper tripped the nation, and having tripped flew off on another of his countless trips. And from there it was that he waved us his memorable and unforgettable tilli lillies. Still can’t remember who it was but whoever it was must have particularly scorned us and our ways. Imagine. Imagine someone mocking that rite we hold so dear and take such care and pains over – ghar mein shaadi, a wedding at home. Nothing probably comes as close in our attentions and investments – material, emotional, social, cultural, ritual, spiritual and so many other als that may have been missed out here for lack of recollection or of space or both – as the rite of a wedding. Shaadi! Ghar mein shaadi!! Can’t imagine what could, at the approach of arrangements for a shaadi, be more important than a shaadi. Par paise nai hain! Tilli lilli, tilli lilli!! What sort of person taunted us so? Can’t remember but can’t have been anyone who had the slightest care for who we are how we do things in this country of ours. A country that he tripped before going on that trip and doing that tilli lilli gig. Takleef to hogi, lekin sehna padega… Can’t remember who said that but whoever said it said right. Takleef to hui, sehna bhi pada… Our moneys in our accounts and nobody to account for why we could not access our moneys, honest, hard earned, tax-paid moneys. Our own thousands coming to us in drip-fed bits of tens and twentys, if that. If the queues ahead moved and melted. If the ATMs were given and still gave. If it still was the case that the rupee you had finally laid hands on after redoubled labour had not also been declared illegitimate and ill-earned, although how it had been earned in the first place those slogging the queues knew. Takleef to hui… beggars had to buy POS machines to earn their daily alms and there were no alms to be earned even so because what’s a beggar to do with a cashless transaction conducted in ether? And what were we to do with the frightening news about the new notes that would issue from ATMs, as and when they would, will come embedded with chips. Chips? Or so was that all we were now going to be allowed to have? Withdraw your notes, get chips instead, and munch them all the way home, end of story? Such horrific rumour and mongering we lived through.

Takleef to hogi, but burn me if I do not prove to you I am doing the right and just thing within 50 days. Can’t remember who said that. Bring to any chauraha and hand me any punishment, I am prepared, if I am not able to demonstrate that this takleef is a good takleef. Can’t remember who said that. We have given a body-blow to terrorism and Naxalism with one stroke notebandi, you will see this will break the backs of terrorists and Naxals. Can’t remember who said that. All the black money will be obliterated, GangaMaiyyaKiKasam. Can’t remember who said that.

And Mahadeb’s tea isn’t available to jab and jog memory. If I remember right, this is about the time he vanished. Or was it not? Or was it the same time another year? Can’t remember. Can’t remember anything without a sip of Mahadeb’s piping tea. But just as well it’s not there to be had; just as well some memories are lost. And nothing’s gained. Not even black money. And the gang that has it is singing:

Naa biwi naa bachcha

Naa baap bada naa bhaiyya

The whole thing is that ki bhaiyya

Sabse bada rupaiyya.

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Telegraph Calcutta

READ BETWEEN THE LINES — Review of Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haksar and Indira Gandhi by Jairam Ramesh

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The trouble very often with recording significant contemporary events or lives is that there is so little recorded about them. Jawaharlal Nehru’s generation and, to a reduced degree, Indira Gandhi’s were the last that wrote and read and replied and left behind a documented discourse of sorts on how and why things came to be the way they did.

One in 14 prime ministers of India bothered with a record of life publicly lived and that came from an accidental and passing prime minister called I.K. Gujral. Pranab Mukherjee, L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh can count themselves among exceptions. They’ve written and written contentiously; they’ve brought contrary light to fall upon events and they have triggered debate; they’ve delivered what will become fragments of history. But for the most part, the worlds and deeds of our political leaders are left to hang in a miasmic cloud. It may spew speculation, the odd rumour will rupture through, gossip will float, reliable sources will be invoked to parade anonymous and inspired propaganda, freelance raconteurs will tell tales that nobody may deny but none will ever attest. An opaqueness floats, insulated from inquiry, averse to its purposes. What you mostly get, instead, are oral accounts. People ply information that they want no part of. They can mislead, misrepresent, lie. They play witting and unwitting games with memory; it gets easily twisted to suit current purpose or prejudice. There’s often no way of getting to the truth because nobody has put out, often by design, a firm version of it.

Among many others, this is the chief reason that Jairam Ramesh’s brickwork of a book stands out as singular. It reveals, through casual notes scribbled on chits and formal letters and much else that Ramesh was able to lay his hands upon and grasp, how two of India’s chief actors directed the course of a nation still so young it had yet to find firmness under its feet. The Indira Gandhi-P.N. Haksar tandem – and it was not always a smooth tandem, it tumbled on occasion, and tumbled injuriously – played out during a delicate, often even fragile, time.

When Haksar, arguably the most formidable mandarin that ever informed power in Independent India, began his assignment as secretary to the prime minister in 1967, Indira was yet to come into her own and assume command. And far too many trials, domestic and external, lay lined up – the food crisis, factional plotting by commissars in the Congress and the eventual split, the first major electoral shocks to the Congress in provincial elections rendered by combined Opposition efforts, seminal rearrangements like the nationalization of banks and the abolition of privy purses, the Liberation of Bangladesh and the diplomatic cut and thrust that preceded and followed it, and much, much else. And through this minefield, the rise and rise of Indira as the indomitable one, and the creation of an entity that would become known as her alter ego: Parmeshwar Narayan Haksar, PNH. For the most part, what PNH advised, Indira heard and what PNH said was Indira’s word.

Ramesh’s scholarly scribing, or mining, has dug out nuggets that suggest Indira depended on PNH for more than merely policy or strategy; she’d turn to him for personal advice. When her younger but more insistent son, Sanjay, was getting fidgety studying automobile technology at the Rolls-Royce establishment in England, she asked PNH to have a word with him, which he did. Sanjay shot back a piqued missive to his mother: “I have talked to P.N. Haksar about my future some time back and I didn’t get anything concrete out of it. He seems to be of a similar opinion as you are… I don’t really relish going on with this for 2 more years…”

Sanjay remembered, and recoiled at PNH almost a decade later during the first months of the Emergency. PNH had irreconcilable differences over the Emergency and Indira’s increasingly dictatorial demeanour; he had begged off and been relocated at the Planning Commission. But Sanjay remained unforgiving of PNH on several counts (including his counsel against the Maruti car project) and had his octogenarian uncle, Inderbhai, arrested.

But PNH, in radical and assuring contrast to the demeanour of succeeding generations of bureaucrats/advisers, seldom flinched from speaking his mind and arguing his case. When Indira Gandhi signed the Indo-Soviet treaty in the run-up to the conflict over East Pakistan, she passed on a note wondering whether New Delhi should not hint to Beijing about the possibility of a similar deal. PNH said no. “… As for signing a Treaty with the Chinese,” he wrote back, “even a talk about it will not bring about a Treaty with China and it would certainly attenuate greatly the effect of the Treaty which we have signed with the Soviet Union.” Indira Gandhi stepped back. About the same time, a proposal was moved in the cabinet for the establishment of a centre in Varanasi of the American Committee for the History of South Asian Art.

Known to lean left, and known even better for being no friend of the US, PNH put his foot down. “I have nothing against Americans who have an insatiable thirst for knowledge to study South Asian Art, but such a centre for study should be located in the United States… But if we in India want to study South Asian Art, we should do it ourselves and set up an Academy for it and pay for it…”

He would eventually pay for speaking his mind out, as often as he thought required, and be cast out of Indira’s power circle. But he stood redeemed in history’s eyes for what he did not participate in.

PS: Haksar first set eyes on Indira way away in 1921 when both were kids and had no notion of their future tryst. He would remember her as a girl with “large round eyes”. Pick up this volume no less for the delectable portraits of Indira PNH clicked while at work as chief counsellor to the prime minister of India.

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