Telegraph Calcutta

The dead tell tales

Violence is concealed by a lie, and the lie maintained by violence

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Somewhere in his copious meditations on the nature of Soviet Russia, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had made a remark whose truth has far outlasted the life of his oppressor regime. Paraphrased, the sense Solzhenitsyn conveyed was that violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Violence, inspired mass violence in particular, is easier enacted than erased. Very often, it lives on in the decibels of denial.

There lie layers and layers of subterfuge in the recurrent trapeze bouts of blame the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party play over 1984 and 2002. For every reference to the horror of 1984, the Congress brings up 2002, and for every reference to the unspeakable crimes of 2002, the BJP raises 1984. And so it plays on and on in a nauseous loop, the excess of allegation and the absence of admission. Perhaps, in a cynical fashion that we have unfortunately been inured to, it serves the interests of political parties to spar on, unmindful of the requirements of regret or redress or both. What that also serves, frighteningly, is the purpose of history’s chilling lesson to the future: mass murder can be ordered again and will bring few consequences other than arguments over it. Often profitable arguments.

Here lies another layer of the subterfuge. It involves us all, the lies we tell of ourselves to ourselves. Who kills? And maims and rapes and arsons about? We do. At the exhort of an H.K.L. Bhagat or a Sajjan Kumar or a Jagdish Tytler; a Maya Kodnani or a Babu Bajrangi, or some debased stoker of evil from the Sanatan Sanstha, or any or many of the lynch clubs that have sprung up across our geography? We hang the blame on them – and blame does lie on the vanguard that screams violence – but it is we, people among us, who enact that script.

For a talkative society, we tell very little of the essence of ourselves. We babble in the subconscious hope it will drown our truths. We’ve erected opaque mental monuments to Buddha and Gandhi to blind our eager resort to bloodletting. When the glare catches us red-handed, we wipe our sins on others and melt into our vast convenience of numbers.

What continues to cloy and will not go away is the memory nearly three decades old from a village called Logain near Bhagalpur in Bihar. It was the winter of 1989, the shivered evidence of crimes we collectively wreak and bear no responsibility for. It was eventually left to the vultures to rip the cover. The bodies, 116 of them, had lain there decomposing for six weeks. In that period, the village had grown wiser to the fineries of tilling – dead men made good compost. A lush winter crop of mustard had sprung on the bed of corpses they had laid. But the village was also to grow wiser to a thing or two about old idioms: dead men do tell tales, it is seldom they don’t. The stench had risen high off the field and the vultures had begun to swoop low. The killing had been consummated weeks ago, an entire settlement of Muslims on the edge of Logain. Their common guilt the villagers had consigned to a common grave.

The carnage was an open secret in the village but to the world beyond it was just a secret. Until the vultures arrived, followed by that rare thing called a policeman with a conscience. He had the crop shaved and the field dug up. The skulls flew into the sky as the spades got to work…

Some among us were there and told the story. Logain became, like many of our stories, the child of memory’s whore – an unwanted, forgotten consequence of collective shame. We are a nation eddying with bastard deeds.

Nellie. Moradabad. Bhiwandi. Hashimpura. Maliana. Meerut. Kanpur. Bhagalpur. Sopore. Baroda. Aligarh. Mumbai. Chittisinghpura. Ahmedabad. Delhi. We lay blood-litter on the streets and retreat into our homes. Nobody owns up. We decamp from facts and populate our horrors with clichéd characters of fiction – a violent mob, a murderous horde, a crowd screaming, slashing, burning, a mass that suddenly descended and vanished.

Who? Where from? Us. Here from. Every single time. It is we who pillage, rape and murder. Under wrongful excitement and exhortation. Under criminal instruction and protection, yes, but it is we who do it. We are the apparatchik of serial and periodic political madness, we are the midwives of the abortion of the senses. Then we wash our hands and line up for secular prabhat pheris, our opaque monuments to Buddha and Gandhi urgently recalled to veil memory and guilt.

The Babel Tower of inquiries and commissions, reports and recommendations that we have piled for ourselves is a route of escape. A talkative society talking endlessly. Or an argumentative society, as we are told on formidable authority, arguing on. About who and how. About cause and consequence. About crime and the absence of punishment. Never once do we dare look ourselves in the mirror. Never do we stop pointing fingers at others. Outraged, shrieking justice, baying retribution, if legal. Hush.

Where were you at the time? And what were you doing? You were electing Narendra Modi under whose watch sectarian violence proceeded unbridled. You were voting Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler back to respectable titles and hallowed portals. You were turning up in thousands to pirouette to the twisted bigotry of Pravin Togadia. You were letting Thackeray hone your hatreds.

We need to ask a few questions of each other. We need to ask questions of the households that were spared the mayhem of Trilokpuri. Ask the shopkeepers of Mandvi Ni Pole. Ask around in the bylanes of Hashimpura. Ask those who live across the charred remains of Gulberg. Ask the villagers of Logain, it’s been 28 winters since that resplendent mustard crop that contained a gene of murdered blood.

We cannot pretend being a civil society when we claim, every now and again, rights over uncivil liberties. We cannot invoke laws that we ourselves violate. We cannot look up to a Constitution that we trample underfoot.

There are a myriad contemporary Indian stories we have forgotten. They are all true stories. They have dates and datelines. They have pegs and dead people hanging by them. And there are, among us, the many hands that hung them there that have since been washed in collective and convenient forgetting.

The truth about mass murder in this country we haven’t learnt to tell. Even less to confront. Which is why someday, when that diabolical sloganeer appears again with a manic prescription and a surcharged bloodcry, we will again turn upon each other and consume. We live in times that implore us to beware of far too many dangers lurking about. Or above. Among them, let’s face it, we should count ourselves as well. That’ll be a beginning that awaits any people that wish to call themselves civilized.

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2018, Bihar, Column, State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

Laloo Yadav, Burnished and Tarnished

The thing about Lalu Prasad is that he is a man of more parts than most others on display possess. One of those parts has been convicted and may well be ordered to prison, the part that got greedy and fell to fodder felony. Some of the other parts remain more happily located – as preponderant colour on the floor of the Bihar assembly; as irreplaceable boss of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the state’s largest single banker of votes; as essential exhibit in the gallery of the most compelling and durable of our public entities. Nobody is taking Lalu out of there in a long time; popular imagination is a sovereignty membered by the unlikeliest heroes.

Bihar has never been at a loss for those who set out to make something of it. In the narrow firmament of Bihar’s consciousness, they make a clotted constellation of visionaries and builders, reformists and revolutionaries, samaritans and messiahs. Sri Krishna Sinha, Anugrah Narain Singh, Krishna Ballabh Sahay. Jayaprakash Narayan and Karpoori Thakur. Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav and Jagannath Mishra. They have either been forgotten, some mercifully, or live on in dust-ridden memorial halls and annually enacted rent-a-crowd commemorations. Or survive as disregarded busts routinely s**t upon by birds in chaotic town squares. For all the retrospective repute they have come to acquire, the gifts of Bihar’s league of legends don’t add up to much.

Eighty per cent of Biharis still have no access to toilets, partly also because those meant to be making those toilets have been busier making money over them. What passes in the name of education is nothing short of scandalous; Bihar’s premier university cannot fill out basic criteria for an upgrade. Its most reputed medical facilities often lack for rudiments – a saline drip, a sterilized bandage, a functional X-ray device, an urgently required LSD. No more than 20 and few decimal per cent receive regular electricity at home. A mere seven per cent live in concrete homes. Sixty five per cent possess mobile phones. That is how lopsided Bihar’s lurch towards development has been. You could be talking about Haiti where, in 2012, only ten per cent had bank accounts and 80 per cent used hand-held telephones.

For the last quarter of a century, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar have presided over those spoils, briefly in league but for the better part at loggerheads. Bihar is still out adorned in its badge of deficits, brandishing that begging bowl for special category status. Nobody has bothered looking in the direction of that bowl. Meantime, careers have flourished and reputations built, foundation stone by derelict foundation stone. Some years ago, the state government sponsored a listing of Bihar’s leading lights and luminaries, such as they are. Bihar Vibhuti, the compendium was christened, and last heard, it had run into two volumes, each thick as a brick. There is fair evidence to suggest that the collective achievement of Bihar’s countless vibhutis has been that they came to drop; Bihar is a bonfire of those vanities.

Continue reading “Laloo Yadav, Burnished and Tarnished”

2017, Essay, Telegraph Calcutta

I, PROMISCUOUS Power and the Improbable Amorality of Nitish Kumar

My take on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s turncoat vault back into the lap of the BJP

Nitish Kumar on top of the Taxila ruins in Pakistan in 2012. Photo by Sankarshan Thakur.

His first chosen partner was, believe you me, the CPI(ML). His current chosen partner is a BJP as approximate to the RSS as it can get. Between them, Nitish Kumar has run the entire political spectrum, picking this one, ditching that one, in the pursuit and possession of power – from the provincial rogue called the Bihar People’s Party to national players like the Congress and the Left, each seduced at one time or another to afford him his embrace of the chair.

Nitish’s record of serial dalliance and ditchery springs from good reason, though. For, if power has been the central theme of Nitish’s career, the inability to secure it on his own is its central truth. Astounding as it may sound, the man who is in his third successive term as chief minister and who for a good while fancied himself as prime minister in waiting, has never won his home state singly. At his best he never had enough to propel him anywhere close to office; 17 per cent, never more. He needed booster feeds, he always needed an ally. Not a fanciful token as the CPI(ML) in 1995 – that effort fetched him the princely Assembly tally of seven of 324 seats in pre-Jharkhand Bihar – but a significant, bankable one.

He found not one but two.

Both would be handed good reason, at different junctures, to believe our chosen headline sits aptly on the man. For he has, at different junctures, found reason to kiss, then kick both.

It’s fair to reckon he’s not done with them yet; nor they with him. The guillotine-drop on Lalu Prasad mid-week and the immediate garlanding of Narendra Modi is by no means the last that’s been heard of Nitish Kumar in their annals. Not too far ago in the past, it was Modi under Nitish’s guillotine-drop, and Lalu the one getting the garland. There are scores here that await settlement.

Continue reading “I, PROMISCUOUS Power and the Improbable Amorality of Nitish Kumar”

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”

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”