2014, Essay, New Delhi, Telegraph Calcutta

Pracharak To Pradhanmantri: Narendra Modi’s Extraordinary Journey

The last time India elected a single party to rule itself Narendra Modi was an anonymous pracharak of the RSS apprenticing in the debris of devastated barracks. Indira Gandhi’s assassination had handed Rajiv a merciless Lok Sabha majority; his adversaries lay decimated. The BJP had two members of Parliament. There wasn’t much to apprentice with in the Sangh Parivar’s mainstream precincts. It was 1984, a time for solitary reaping in the Opposition’s ransacked ranks.

The next time India elected a single party to rule itself, three decades later, the 16th day of May 2014, Narendra Modi stood adorned with the coronet of unprecedented achievement. In fact, a string of unprecedented achievements. The spearhead of the first non-Congress party to wrest power single-handed in New Delhi. The first from a classified backward community to arrive at the helm of the nation. The first chief minister to become Prime Minister in a single, stunning leap. Pracharak to Pradhan Mantri. When he mounted the Vadodara rostrum on Friday evening astride an electoral avalanche and pronounced himself merely “Mazdoor No 1”, he spurred his delirious votaries to roaring. It’s solitary reaping time no more, it has become a harvest beyond the imaginings of those who sowed the seeds of this saffron tempest.

Risen at twilight was a man a constituency far wider than Vadodara’s millions, far wider than India’s billion-plus, was looking at with a rainbow range of sentiments — hope and expectation, rapture and ravishment, bewilderment and keen curiosity, even fear and apprehension. Narendra Modi is about to be sworn into leadership of the world’s biggest democracy, the globe is tuning in, or will have to. A leading EU ambassador in Delhi told The Telegraph as the EVMs were wheeled in for the cascade count on Thursday night: “For us he has been a man not to ignore for a while now, which is why we made our openings to him more than a year back. Now, we cannot afford not to know who this man really is, what he means, what he intends, how he will conduct what he intends to conduct. At the moment he probably dictates the highest curiosity value the world over.”

Curiosity may not prove enough to fetch answers, though. Narendra Modi remains an enigma even to those who have been closest to him. The mother of the 64-year-old Prime Minister-designate included. In 2002, following his first victory in Gujarat, I travelled to his native Vadnagar to attempt piecing together a face that even then seemed worth a close look at. She lived at the time in a tiny two-storey house abutting a water-tank that’s hub to Vadnagar. The old lady was reticent to begin with and remained so through the half hour of time she granted. All she offered me was: “But what do I really know about my son? He left us as a teenager saying nothing to me other than that he was going. He has rarely come back, he has always had us told he is at work. I know little of my son.”

Ask a top PR executive who has worked closely with Team Modi and he sounds like an echo of the mother. “The one thing I can tell you about Narendra Modi is that anyone who claims to be close to him or to know him is lying. It isn’t possible to become close to Narendra Modi.” There is a territory Modi has practised to shield zealously from any prying — the core of Narendra Modi. At the end of the day — or at the beginning of it — the man who has courted, and won, stirring mass adulation, is a solitary man.

But clues to some of what he wanted to fashion for himself he had begun to drop early. That same year I went to Vadnagar following Modi’s 2002 victory, I wrote a long piece which began thus: “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 Bihari 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.”

Continue reading “Pracharak To Pradhanmantri: Narendra Modi’s Extraordinary Journey”

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2014, New Delhi, Reviews

The Political Nub Of It: Single Man in The Pioneer

DRIVEN BY DESIRE TO BE PM; FAKING DISINTEREST:

By Rajesh Singh @rajeshsingh1958

Sankarshan Thakur’s book, Single Man, is a fascinating account of Nitish Kumar’s rise to power through a mix of talent and crafty manipulation. It also points to the Bihar Chief Minister’s deep desire to be Prime Minister

Towards the end of his engaging book, Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar, journalist and author Sankarshan Thakur observes: “Many see Nitish’s decision to jettison the BJP on the Modi issue as rooted in his own ambition to become India’s Prime Minister. They are probably right in believing that the desire exists — though Nitish has repeatedly rebuffed even the suggestion of it…”

Mr Thakur quotes a conversation he had with the Chief Minister in the winter of 2009, when the latter dismissed the suggestion that he was angling for a prime ministerial position. “Badi-badi baatein hain” (All this is big talk), he said, adding, “Mujhe kuch nahin banna, Bihar ko banana hai” (I don’t wish to become anything; I want to make Bihar).

This self-confessed noble intent has remained Mr Nitish Kumar’s calling card on selflessness for years, and more so after he broke off the alliance with the BJP in mid-2013 over Mr Narendra Modi’s projection as a prime ministerial candidate. But now that mask is off. A few days ago, the Chief Minister virtually threw his hat into the ring when he gloated over the 2012-13 growth figures of the State that the Central Statistics Office had put out. “All these people who are roaming around, am I any less in comparison?” he demanded to know. Nobody was left in any doubt as to who the “all these people” he was referring to, were. In fact, the plural sense he employed was a play of words; he was targeting just one individual: Mr Modi.

Interestingly, Mr Thakur’s analysis that Mr Nitish Kumar wants to become the Prime Minister, found echo in the BJP prime ministerial candidate’s speech at a public rally in Purnea in Bihar on Monday. Mr Modi alleged that the Janata Dal(U) leader had snapped the alliance with the BJP because Mr Nitish Kumar, in an over-estimation of his ability, wanted to become the Prime Minister.

It is true that Mr Modi’s endorsement as the prime ministerial nominee of the largest partner in the National Democratic Alliance had effectively shut the doors on any hope that Mr Nitish Kumar may have entertained of emerging as a consensus candidate within the coalition, and could have hastened his departure from the combine. But Mr Thakur has a different take, although he agrees with the premise that Mr Nitish Kumar wants to become the Prime Minister. He says in the book that analysts may have “erred in assuming Nitish and Modi are competing along the same timeline.”

In the author’s view, “Modi is playing for the 2014 vote. Nitish is not… He (Nitish) can be monumentally patient and work beaver-like to achieve his hour.” Mr Thakur’s book is replete with instances of how Mr Nitish Kumar bided his time even as he swallowed one insult after another during Lalu Prasad’s heydays. The author believes that the Chief Minister “doesn’t yet possess a winner social coalition in Bihar. His provincial JDU offers no organisational match to the elaborate BJP network that backs Narendra Modi… for the moment he may just be content to play an ant crawling up the elephant’s snout and causing it to trip.” If that is indeed the case, it does appear from the way things are unravelling for the JD(U) in Bihar, where opinion polls are predicting that the party will end up at the bottom of the tally while the BJP will lead the list, that Mr Nitish Kumar has been showing suicidal haste in crawling up the elephant’s snout.

Mr Thakur cannot be accused of being biased against Mr Nitish Kumar. The book presents an overall positive account of the JD(U) leader and Chief Minister, based on the admirable turnaround that Mr Nitish Kumar has managed in the State. Therefore, the author’s analysis of Mr Nitish Kumar’s opportunism as he rose in his political career cannot be brushed aside as being partisan. Given that the Chief Minister has repeatedly raked up the 2002 violence in Gujarat to express his opposition to Mr Modi and presented his defence for continuing in the NDA for a good 10 years after the incident, the author’s take on the issue assumes special relevance. He writes: “When the anti-Muslim horror began to unfold in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat in 2002, Nitish came under pressure to quit the NDA. He (Modi) would lead the Gujarat Assembly campaign in 2002. How could Nitish, socialist and secular of persuasion, be supping with such like…These questions seemed not to upset Nitish. He was cold in his determination to stay, bide his time. On the odd occasion, he reasoned feebly: I am not part of Modi’s Government…”

This punctures Mr Nitish Kumar’s recent claim of breaking with the BJP on ideological grounds, and re-establishes his credentials as an opportunist who uses ideology as a smoke-screen to promote his political career.

This is not the only instance where the Chief Minister, in the course of his ascent, has dumped friends and allies along the way, and adopted tactics and endorsed personalities which suited the order of the day. Mr Thakur’s book offers more examples where Mr Nitish Kumar’s façade of morality stands dented. To begin with, he had not seen anything wrong in Lalu Prasad when he became one of the RJD leader’s key lieutenants in the early days of Lalu Prasad’s rise in politics and to power in Bihar. Even when he became disillusioned, Mr Nitish Kumar continued to back him. Worse, even after Lalu Prasad humiliated him and Mr Nitish Kumar openly signalled that the paths of the two were divergent, he continued to lurk around in the party which the then supreme leader lorded over. He did all that because he believed the time was not ripe to strike — just as he was to later continue unmoved in the NDA after the 2002 Gujarat violence, an event which he a decade later made it the primary and only cause for snapping ties with the BJP.

Mr Thakur quotes Vijay Krishna, one of Mr Nitish Kumar’s aides in the early days and who later turned against him, as saying that the latter had promoted Lalu Prasad initially because it suited his strategy. “He Nitish Kumar) put his weight behind Laloo (sic)”. The author brings in another leader (he remains unnamed in the book because the man feared trouble on identification), who emphasises: “Nitish did not play a part, he played the lead part…Perhaps in Laloo he saw a bumbler who he could remote control.”

No account of Mr Nitish Kumar’s rise to fame can be complete without remembering the manner in which he sidelined senior leaders such as George Fernandes. Mr Thakur mentions in the book that today’s Chief Minister had benefitted from the political heft of Mr Fernandes when he decided to rebel against Lalu Prasad — that is, when he eventually summoned the courage to do so — and also subsequently contest elections. He had other lieutenants since those early days that he has now ruthlessly marginalised. Mr Shivanand Tiwari is a good example.

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”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Sidelined, Pitamah Flings Spoke on Modi Rath

New Delhi, Sept 13: Bhishma Pitamah flung a spoke into the wheels of Narendra Modi’s rath just as it formally set out to capture Delhi this evening. L.K. Advani, the man all of BJP, Modi included, pays obeisance to as singular mentor-guide, refused to sit among those who raised their hands to endorse the Gujarat chief minister’s candidacy. And on a day that high-decibel rapture erupted around the BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road, the party’s senior-most active player and verily the architect of its occupation of the national stage, issued missives of pain and disappointment from behind closed doors.

“I had told you about my pain when you had come to inform me about the parliamentary board meeting this afternoon,” Advani wrote to BJP president Rajnath Singh, “And I had also told you a few things about my disappointment with your running of the party…I told you I will think about coming and expressing my sentiments to all (parliamentary board) members, but I have decided it will be better if I do not go to today’s meeting.”

Modi's rath arriving at Advani's residence
Modi’s rath arriving at Advani’s residence

This may have been as strong a dissenting note the loyal son of the Sangh could have drafted but, like his resignation after his party’s Goa meet in June, it moved nothing. When copies of its were handed out to frenzied media hands bivouacked at Advani’s shuttered doorstep, Modi had already been named the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee. It had the ring of a defeated man bleating and begging off — “It would be better if I do not go to today’s meeting…”  Continue reading “Sidelined, Pitamah Flings Spoke on Modi Rath”

2013, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

The Modi Lunch EU Pushed Under the Table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Delhi, Feb. 8: The prospect of Narendra Modi’s quickened surge to the national centrestage has compelled the European Union (EU) nations to dissolve their cold shoulder to the Gujarat chief minister

Forsaken for more than a decade for his alleged human rights stains from the protracted anti-Muslim violence of 2002, Modi was sought over for an extended working lunch by EU ambassadors here in early January, shortly after he won a third successive term in power. Continue reading “The Modi Lunch EU Pushed Under the Table”

2012, New Delhi, News, Telegraph Calcutta

Gujral dead, not the drama of that day

Sankarshan Thakur, The Telegraph

New Delhi, Nov. 30: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could credibly claim he acceded to the job without having to try. Inder Kumar Gujral, who died today aged 92, was one better — he became Prime Minister without trying or even knowing.

He was lying in bed reading at his Maharani Bagh home in southeast Delhi, quite unaware that he was about to become collateral beneficiary of a succession battle between United Front chieftains that none was prepared to lose but none could win.

April 1997: Delhi had become capital of a kingdom without a king. The Congress, led then by Sitaram Kesri, had withdrawn support to the H.D. Deve Gowda government in a spike of pique. The United Front, for all its protestations over principle and annoyance with the Congress, had resolved to sacrifice Gowda, not the government.

But for a week and more after Gowda’s near-lachrymal exit from power, they hadn’t come to agree on a successor. India’s prime ministership had become an agonising palaver not much unlike the murky palace intrigues that littered the latter decades of the Mughal empire, a swing-door of namby-pamby figureheads who were foisted and finished off as often as the nobles pleased.

None of the court nobles of 1997 wanted Gujral. The problem was they wanted each other less. Continue reading “Gujral dead, not the drama of that day”