2013, Essay, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

An Architect Of Fractures, or, The Man Who Could Be Prime Minister

This is a piece I wrote for Man’s World in the run up to the Gujarat Assembly elections following the carnage of 2002; I am reproducing it sans update or re-calibration for events, as they have turned out, rendered that unnecessary

Narendra Modi has a killer’s instinct for power and a hunter’s will to pursue it. What’s more, he has a diabolical sense of the hour and how to make it his own. As the run up to the elections have made it clear, his adversaries are the likes of  Sonia Gandhi and Pervez Musharraf and his battleground is not provincial but national. The Gujarat election results on December 15 might prove to be a turning point in our lives

by sankarshan thakur

There are many who believe that this man is headed not for Gandhinagar but for New Delhi, that the tide he has unleashed will soon gobble up his mighty mentors—Atal Behari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani and company—and deliver him at the helm of the Party and the Parivar, perhaps even of the country. In a skewed but probably telling sense he has already raised the bar of competition higher than any other Indian chief minister would; he is not in a contest with locals, he has pitted himself against Pervez Musharraf, or at least that’s what the pitch of his campaign is. And when he picks adversaries at home, he picks Sonia Gandhi, hardly ever Shankarsinh Vaghela, his former shakha-mate and chief provincial challenger. The psychological template of his battle is not provincial, it’s national, that’s the stage he is fashioning.

“Accuse Narendra Modi of being a Hindu communal bigot and he would respond like you had paid him a compliment. That’s like telling Ariel Sharon he is anti-Palestinian or Slobodan Milosevic that he is too pro-Serb. Those are the badges they want to wear. That’s the badge Modi wants on his chest, it’s his ticket past the turnstiles into power”

M_Id_405805_Narendra_Modi

But there are many who hope he never gets there for if he does, they fear, he would already have charted a ruinous course for India as she is known. For here is an architect of fractures who can dream but a splintered design, who can deal but in debris. Here is a man striding divisions, driving them deeper, infusing them with greater hate and bitterness. Here is a man quite unabashed about what he is up to. Here is a man so focused on his distorted vision, he couldn’t care for correctness, political or otherwise. The Gujarat riots were nothing but a “secular reaction” to the carnage of Godhra; if tempers were such they spilled into murder and mayhem it was only a measure of the depth of public shock and anger. The relief camps had to be shut and the refugees sent back to their charred and sundered homes because the government was not interested in any more charity, not certainly for baby-making factories; the Muslims could go and turn their five into twenty-five and twenty-five into six hundred and twenty five but his government was not subsidising them. Continue reading “An Architect Of Fractures, or, The Man Who Could Be Prime Minister”

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2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

The Hand that Rocks the Bihar Cradle

Even as crude provincial caricature, it was a tableau tough to locate in Bihar until very recently. A dummy Nitish Kumar dolled up as object of derision, a placard in hand that proclaimed: “Alpasankhyak voteron ko hum apna daamaad bhi banane ko taiyaar hain….I am even ready to accept minority voters as sons-in-law…” Beside him, a live prop as stereotype of the minority voter. Another representing the Congress and proclaiming it is willing to “gamble away the nation” for minority votes. In the backdrop to such coarse burlesque, the purported solution: an enthroned representation of Narendra Modi.

The incendiary Bettiah tableau
The incendiary Bettiah tableau

It was partly the public mounting of such and similar montages that lit the fuse to communal clashes in mixed settlements off Bettiah in north-west Bihar last week. A few days before the Bettiah hostilities, a skirmish had erupted in Katihar over burial rights and quickly contained. A few days after Bettiah, an argument over a dhaba menu near Nawada triggered unfounded rumour-mongering, criminal rousing of passions and two violent deaths. Continue reading “The Hand that Rocks the Bihar Cradle”

2002, Ayodhya, Indian Express, Reportage

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

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

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

2006, Baroda, Reportage, Tehelka

The Secular Lies of Vadodara

Sankarshan Thakur visits a torn city whose communal neuroses go beyond Narendra Modi and recent riots. First published in Tehelka on May 20, 2006.

The driver’s saying, no way, his taxi isn’t going any further. He is shaking his head and looking as if to say, “You must be mad even to ask.”

Champaner Gate? “Nai saab, apun kaa jaan kaa bhi to fikir hai; biwi, baal-bachcha hai, nai saab, yahin chhodo.”

We walk the teeming rivulet lanes of the old town, a crazy baroque of medieval finery embossed with coarse masonry; carved timber held together by garish tiling, a block of cement smothering evidence of a fallen balustrade, a rusty water-cooler rammed into what was once some refined Parsi’s gable, style choked by substance.

We return late afternoon near-swayed by the intransigent driver’s reason. Champaner Gate isn’t so much the opening on a wizened town breathing through layer upon layer of coexistent time. It is more a gash cleaved in the minds of its people. 1969. 1971. 1978. 1982. 1983. 1987. 1991. 1992. 1993. 1995. 1998. 2000. 2002. 2002 again and again. 2005. April 2006. The tear has been ripped too oft, too savagely for sutures to work. Continue reading “The Secular Lies of Vadodara”