2014, New Delhi, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

P Chidambaram, Arun Jaitley And The Rajdeep Sardesai Book They Almost Forgot

Between two Finance Ministers, a Book Launch Nearly Gives In To Budget Talk

New Delhi, Nov. 7: For a fair while it was tough to make out if the evening was about a hot-off-the-press bestseller or about superannuated or future budgets.

Between an incumbent finance minister and his immediate predecessor and adversary, the launch of Rajdeep Sardesai’s 2014 The Election that Changed India (Penguin Viking, Rs 599) became a dour policy duel rather than a soiree of political spice that lies liberally stuffed between the covers.

P. Chidambaram challenged Arun Jaitley to have the courage to scrap the controversial retrospective tax proposals with the comfortable parliamentary majority his government enjoys; Jaitley appeared the meeker to the task, suggesting he expected the outgoing UPA to have “cleaned up the mess” before departing from power.

“I feel let down, if I enjoyed such a majority as you, I would have repealed the retrospective tax,” was how Chidambaram cast his dare to Jaitley. “And I sincerely hope you do that in your next budget, that you will scrap it.” Continue reading “P Chidambaram, Arun Jaitley And The Rajdeep Sardesai Book They Almost Forgot”

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2014, Bihar, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta, UP

Poll Recall: Telegraph May 14/Bihar-UP: Along Buddha’s Last Walk, The Vibrant Myth Of Messiah NaMo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gautam Buddha’s last walk has become a Narendra Modi inroad. It must have been along these banks somewhere that Buddha crossed the Gandak bed and carried on to his mahaparinirvana at Kushinagar in 483 BC or thereabouts.

Having preached his last sermon at Vaishali, where part of his remains were later brought; having persuaded weeping Lichchhavi disciples to give up their pursuit at Kesaria, where a denuded stupa stands, a massive red-brick rotunda islanded in flat farmland; having brushed off his last pursuers with the gift of his begging bowl near Khajooria. Thereafter, he walked mostly alone and incognito until he crossed the river and came to rest in Kushinagar.

All along this 200-odd-kilometre run from Vaishali in north Bihar to the jagged fringes of east UP, we came upon again and again the Buddha legend in repose and a Modi newly rampant.

Irrespective of who wins these contests that closed on May 12 — all of these are gridlock battles, mind you, meshed in complex caste-creed loyalties — the spectre looming over the field is Narendra Modi’s.

He has come to acquire exclusive cross-country command of the discourse in a way neither national adversaries nor local competition can match. Few people even mention Rahul or Sonia Gandhi; Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad figure often, but only as counterpoints to Modi, where they can match him, where they’ll get rubbed.

Continue reading “Poll Recall: Telegraph May 14/Bihar-UP: Along Buddha’s Last Walk, The Vibrant Myth Of Messiah NaMo”

2014, Kashmir, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Poll Recall: Telegraph May 7/Kashmir: Final solution: Mind Your Business

 A shop to run, a lathe to work at, a field to till — Baramulla knows too well not to wait for messiahs

Under the simmering canopy of the Kashmir dispute lumbers the realm of the forgotten Kashmiri.

In a vale so tiny — it is 130-odd kilometres long and 40 kilometres at its widest — that realm is never far to seek but it seldom attracts notice.

The tourism industry doesn’t mark out routes to it, the guides will never take you there, the state stays mostly away and averse, the politicians, oh but they barely even remember. Barely even at the time they require this realm most, at election time.

Hamara siyasat se matlab nahin, siyasat ka hamse nahin (we have nothing to do with politics, politics have nothing to do with us),” so saying, Mohammed Alam, cloth merchant in the one-lane bazaar of Kamblinar, wished us on.

In a day or two, men and materials will drone into the heart of the village, churning dust and curiosity, and set up a polling centre in the tumbledown structure that calls itself a middle school.

Alam won’t be bothered going in to vote. Nor his mates in the Kamblinar bazaar that stocks nothing beyond the most rudimentary things — you can acquire torch cells but not torches; they would have to be got from Handwara, the closest retail hub, two hours on a local bus that plies once a day.

Alam’s reasons for not voting are not what you’d classically expect from a Valley Muslim. His reasons are not about subscribing to the Hurriyat’s boycott call, or about the protracted sub-continental quarrel over where Kashmir should belong.

It’s merely about what Alam said in the first place: about not giving anything to politics because it gives nothing to you. “I will not acquire a bigger shop or a plot of land or a better school for my children if I go and vote,” Alam said sardonically. “I have a chance of doing that if I run my shop well. We are happy being what we are, let me not be told some masiha (messiah) will change things overnight.”

His friends from Kamblinar’s little merchant community — half-a-dozen shopfronts including a bread-and-tea vend — said they wanted to add no more to what Alam had said.

“You can see we are happy with what we have, and you can see what we do not have,” one of them said. “Should we be fooled it will come from casting a vote? We’ve tried that. All we have heard is talk of a final solution to Kashmir. Meantime, what are we meant to do?”

We had arrived in Kamblinar quite by accident. We had strayed looking for quite another village in the up-and-down maze of rural Baramulla — Chandoosa, the native place of Supreme Court lawyer and PDP candidate, Muzaffar Hussain Beg. We had climbed up the arrow road from Srinagar to Tangmarg, humped over Gulmarg — teeming with the summer’s first tourists scratching about the dregs of remnant snow — and plunged down the back of the forested shrine of Baba Reshi.

Quite suddenly, the clamour of tourist Kashmir had faded and an ante-dated Kashmir had taken over. We had travelled no more than 10 minutes downhill and we had plunged in time, into a radically removed environ from the luminous signposting of Gulmarg, shorn of its glitter, bereft of the excited hubbub of its hotels and eateries, the tinkle of easy cash and the chirp of commerce.

There was barely a dwelling to be seen that wasn’t ramshackle, barely a field that wasn’t being worked with bare human hands. We passed struggling horse carts and farmers pushing wheelbarrows. We barely came across motorised transport. We saw no hospitals or health centres, only the odd school where the classrooms were empty. There were no security people either, as they are elsewhere in the Valley.

The road had vanished and rubble had taken over. The Chandoosa of Beg was nowhere to be found. Somebody told us it may lie beyond the bend north of Kamblinar

That’s how we came to meet Alam.

Chandoosa was not one but several bends in the undulating valley from Kamblinar. “You’ll find nothing special there,” Alam said to us by way of caution. “It’s just the same as here, a forgotten place.”

In the centre of Chandoosa, we found iron smith Abdul Khaliq working his denuded lathe, the only man in the village with the time or the patience to talk. “I’ve been at this since I was a child,” he said motioning to his workstation of scattered metal things, “since the angrez (Englishman) ruled. Nothing has changed, not even my tolls or how I craft them.”

Khaliq was happy to have pictures taken; to look at him was to see a man from centuries ago. “I voted once, for Sheikh Abdullah, but never after, they all come and say good things and go, the fools, they are no good, a waste of time.”

The mustard was being harvested, and soon it would be time to sow paddy; Khaliq had his hands full crafting or sharpening farm tools. Isn’t he happy to have a fellow villager in the fray, the famous Beg? “But who?” Khaliq cocked his ears. “Yes, we are told he is from here but does he ever come? I have never seen him.”

Baramulla, one of the three Valley seats other than Anantnag and Srinagar and probably the one with the longest LoC run among them, has another famous contender — Sharifuddin Shariq of the National Conference. Shariq has represented the constituency three consecutive times. But with little to show for it.

It’s a harsh place, the Baramulla countryside; its bedraggled beauty does little to offer relief from the daily grind of subsistence life. Neither do those who compete to represent it in the high halls of legislature. For them, the lot of the people, remains in abeyance until they are done with the high rhetoric of Kashmir’s “final solution”, which looks nowhere in sight in this abandoned wilderness.

 

2014, Kashmir, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Poll Recall: Telegraph May 1/Kashmir:Freedom To Boycott: The Horrendous Enactment Of 60 Percent In 1996, And The 26 Percent In 2014

As polling begins for Srinagar, a soldier takes position atop a polling station in the northern rural pocket of Kangan
As polling begins for Srinagar, a soldier takes position atop a polling station in the northern rural pocket of Kangan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Srinagar, May 1: At a little past ten in the morning, the wan morning sun began to pick out little groups of women in the village square across from the polling station. They waddled out the lanes in twos and threes and soon they turned into a buzzing congregation, like birds sniffing out the safety of their course. Then one gathered steps and vanished past the ajar iron gates where armed jawans stood. Then another, and another, and then the children of some of them began to tug them forth. The plunge was taken. The women had joined their men; two queues began to curl out the polling booth at Dardpora in Budgam.

Not long after, as the hubbub mounted around the polling hive, a group of youngsters walked up and stood across the jawans at the iron gates. They wore track-suits and gelled hair, their sneakers were slaked with mud; they may have come off a morning’s nets on the cricket field. One of them revealed a voters’ slip in his palm but none of them was going in. “Baayecaaat!” he shouted out and then the others shouted too: “Baaayecaat!!”

Continue reading “Poll Recall: Telegraph May 1/Kashmir:Freedom To Boycott: The Horrendous Enactment Of 60 Percent In 1996, And The 26 Percent In 2014”

2014, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Gen Next Boys Break Alliance Over Frozen Fence

New Delhi: Good fences do not always good neighbours make. It’s moot if Chirag Paswan ever read Robert Frost, but there’s no debating the newest son to mount the succession block, has convinced father Ram Vilas politics and poetry turn on different metres. Forget the romance, Papa, confront reality, move on.

With a common backyard on the prime peninsula of Janpath’s VVIP bungalows, the Paswans couldn’t get closer to the Gandhis. The latter occupy the famed Number 10, the Paswans have lived in 12 for decades, separated by no more than a convivial wicket gate.

Interviewing Chirag Paswan at home on 12 Janpath
Interviewing Chirag Paswan at home on 12 Janpath

For a while now, though, that gate hasn’t given. Last week, the Paswans tired of knocking at it; Chirag called time and turned to walk his father and their boutique Bihar concern, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a fair distance away.

For the mere lack of a crack in that wicket gate, the two households now lie separated by the widest chasm in Indian politics, between the Gandhis of the Congress and the man who has undertaken to rid the country of the Congress — Narendra Modi. Continue reading “Gen Next Boys Break Alliance Over Frozen Fence”