2014, Kashmir, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Kashmir Won’t Vote, But It’s Riveted On Which Way India Will

Margund (North Kashmir), April 28: The surest sign that the Kashmir campaign is part of a mainstream election is that Narendra Modi has come to drop in the thick of it.

The surest sign that the mainstream here is differently defined is that three-fourths of Kashmiris aren’t bothered voting.

Panchayat elections have drawn upwards of 80 percent voters in parts of the Valley. Assembly turnouts this last decade and a half have seen an average 45 percent turnout. Electoral engagement in Kashmir comes tethered to compulsions of quotidian utility, local means and ends; it’s no benchmark of political endorsement. If it is, the interpreters of the Kashmiri morse in New Delhi and beyond should spell out the message of 25-odd percent, no more, coming forth to vote for Parliament.

But between those insistent truisms has sprung a teaser that captivates voter and boycotter alike: Is Modi coming? Is it going to be iss baar Modi sarkar? More Kashmiris are interested in how India is voting than Kashmir itself. Is Modi really coming? What will that do?

At the Abdullahs’ election rally in Margund in North Kashmir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this election Kashmir’s renewed interrogation of the idea of India? Having spurned the poll themselves, are they reading in the 2014 ballot-leaves clues to the prospect of a re-negotiation? What could Modi do? For better or for worse, but surely something new, something beyond remaining knocked as the “arch-stone” in the edifice of secular India? “He’s not a man to hang around,” a retired civil servant with stated separatist aspiration told me of Modi over tea last evening, “He speaks a new language many may not like, but it is a new language. He may have new terms of reference to spell out to Kashmiris.”

Continue reading “Kashmir Won’t Vote, But It’s Riveted On Which Way India Will”

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2014, Essay, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

Single And Single: A Short Political Inventory of the Unmarried, the Separated and the Widowed

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The most powerful singles club in the country just got a little less crowded. Narendra Modi, has declared a long-denied wife mid-bid to Prime Ministership of India. But till just the other day, singlehood in Indian politics carried formidable heft. Modi’s chief adversary and undeclared pretender to the top office, Rahul Gandhi, has often teased a public and formal pledge not to marry. With one entry on his nomination form in Vadodara — “Jashodaben” — Modi announced himself as a living paradox: married in a marriage he neither committed himself to nor consummated. It was a bal-vivaha, child marriage, Modi was 17, Jashodaben two years younger. Even in that day, such coupling would not have had the sanction of law.  But on paper that now carries the weight of his signature, Modi is single no more. The singles club of our public people may just have lost its best known member.

It remains, even so, a mighty gathering possessed of influence across and up and down the nation.

When Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abduallah’s announcement in September 2011 that he was separated from wife Payal, he rendered himself the country’s eighth chief minister without a formally designated current partner.

Already in when Omar finally announced himself at the club door — squishing  speculation and kicking grapevine en route — were J. Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu, Naveen Patnaik of Orissa, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh, Shiela Dikshit of Delhi and Mamata Bannerji of Bengal. Narendra Modi of Gujarat, still there at the time, has just stepped out. But Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan has just returned, having recently grabbed the state back from the Congress.

Single people still rule over close to half of India’s population — 49.47 percent of Indians according to last count. And in a nation so moored to family and family values and in a polity so overrun by dynasties, they also constitute a charming collateral trend. But does that alone make a case for speculation on similarities in public behaviour and governance patterns? Yes and no.

Single chief ministers can all, for instance, be said to have more time available to devote to affairs of state by the sheer fact of not having to bother with family at the back of the office. Some also argue that a single person is less liable to resort to nepotism or other forms of corruption. And it is often suggested that they are less liable to be driven by pelf because most may not have progeny to hand it over to. Experience suggests much can be said on either side of these generalizations.

An individual’s performance in political office — as indeed in other jobs — is likely to depend more on individual personality, energy levels, and ethical and value systems than on marital status, say consultant psychiatrists who specialise in family affairs. Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar have both been singled out by a US Congressional research group as the most efficient among India’s political administrators. But there the similarities between the two — personal and political — end. Mayawati is widely perceived to be a 24/7 chief minister but that has not put Uttar Pradesh among the best governed states in India.

“A single person may appear to have more time on hand than a married person, but how much and what a person sets to do and actually achieves is influenced by these factors — not marital status,” said Anjali Chhabria, a consultant psychiatrist in Mumbai who runs a clinic called Mind Temple.

“But a person who is married but unhappy is likely to have less energy and ambition than a single person who’s happy,” she said. “The state of mind determines ambitions — someone who’s happy, whether single or married, is more likely to want more and achieve more.”

One expert said the value system that is part of an individual’s personality will guide behaviour in handling issues where there is scope for nepotism or corruption. “It may seem that a single person without family concerns has less chance of being greedy — but that is necessarily true,” said Shashi Bhushan Kumar, a consultant psychiatrist in New Delhi. “Take the case of Bihar’s [chief mimister] Nitish Kumar — he’s got a family, but has a very modest lifestyle,” Kumar said.

More time on hand may not necessarily translate into efficiency. Several studies in the past have suggested that marital status can influence mental health, sleep patterns, and even work performance. A study by social scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark released earlier this year, for instance, showed a positive association between being married and work effectiveness. The study based on an analysis of expatriate academics in Nordic countries showed that married people appeared to have better work outcomes than single individuals.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who lost his wife to pulmonary edema in 2007, and Omar, who probably lost his wife to incompatibility, may both disagree. Nitish advocates seldom tire of arguing that his “single” status is what gives him the edge over competition. Omar has suggested his being single has not impacted his work.

Nitish has a credible ring to his claims on being clean — he is a widower, his son is a meditative recluse, he has nobody to accumulate money and pass on to. The same does not hold true of Jayalalithaa who suffers a credibility deficit on the cleanliness count; she may not have a family but she does, like former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, has a foregrounded foster family. In both cases, the foster families weighed heavier on the “single” leaders than many other real families do.

So a club it is, but between one single and another lies a fair duality. Narendra Modi only just underlined that to us, unveiling Jashodaben on his ticket to Prime Ministership.

 

 

2013, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Kashmiri Anger Looms Above Panicked Ground Proscriptions

Courtesy of GettyImages

New Delhi, Feb 10: At four this morning, a police posse pulled up at a printing facility in Shalteng on Srinagar’s outskirts and confiscated hot-minted copies of Kashmir Images, one among a fair crop of the Valley’s English dailies. There was nothing incendiary or provocative about the newspaper’s treatment of the day’s front page; it had led with a value-neutral headline: ‘Guru Hanged, Buried at Tihar’. Yet, like all its competition, it was prohibited from getting to readers.

But that was probably the mildest of many curtailments decreed in the wake of Guru’s speed-march to the gallows. Continue reading “Kashmiri Anger Looms Above Panicked Ground Proscriptions”

2013, Kashmir, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Afzal Guru: A Hanging in Delhi; A Resurrection in Kashmir?

New Delhi, Feb 9: Naeem Akhtar daren’t go on television today.

As spokesman for Kashmir’s main opposition, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Akhtar is a familiar face and voice on the Valley’s tricky socio-political discourse. His latest intervention was last week’s polite pooh-poohing of the fatwa on the girl-band “Praagaash” as frivolous and defamatory of Islam.

But this morning he begged off live cameras, intensely distressed by the causes and consequences of Afzal Guru’s hanging, unable, yet, to get a measure of its future portents. “I don’t want to be part of this discourse,” he told The Telegraph on phone from Srinagar, “I am wondering if there is even place for me in this discourse, what has happened is a huge setback to voices of reason in Kashmir, it has dramatically narrowed the liberal space.”

Almost morose of tone, he added: “I understand a crime and its legal implications, but there are also issues of evidence against a man and the morality of fair trial. Is it not true that mercy too is part of the legal framework of India? Could it be true that in trying to win another election this government may have lost another generation of Kashmiris?” Continue reading “Afzal Guru: A Hanging in Delhi; A Resurrection in Kashmir?”

2013, Kashmir, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Pragaash: In Dead Music, Kashmiri Embers Looking for a Flame

New Delhi, Feb 5 :The virtual passing of Kashmir’s teenage all-girl band has become occasion for the Valley’s many fragile faultlines to re-open along raw edges. As “Pragaash”, or morning light, extinguished itself on Facebook in deference to “Kashmiri sentiment”, Kashmiris stoked a babble on the girls’ dead music.

This isn’t Kashmir’s first skirmish with imposed diktat; its record of negotiating them has been chequered. In 2000, militants ordered all Kashmiri girls and women under the veil; before the shroud could come down on the Valley, it was nonchalantly discarded by women. Students of Kashmir University didn’t prove as feisty; in 2011, they scrapped a music festival christened “Ilhaam”, loosely translated as divine message, in the face of threats generated in cyberspace. Through most of the 1990s, and even after, cable television was decreed illicit from time to time and for all manner of reasons. It was a prohibition that was cheekily, and rampantly, violated.  Continue reading “Pragaash: In Dead Music, Kashmiri Embers Looking for a Flame”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Omar’s Revamp Gamble over Valley of Anxious Drifts

Omar Abdullah
Omar Abdullah

New Delhi, Jan. 14: Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah is gambling with a makeover reshuffle in the middle of a winter of atypical disquiet over the Valley.

Scheduled for tomorrow, Omar’s cards-close-to-chest cabinet rejig could open two possibilities. It could infuse new blood in a government that has survived violent troughs but struggled to establish a credible mass connect. Or, it could trigger new disaffection if the old guard of the National Conference (NC) is sidelined, as many power observers have speculated.

Continue reading “Omar’s Revamp Gamble over Valley of Anxious Drifts”