Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Who?

In Maharashtra, it is mandatory to sing the National Anthem before and after cinema performances. When one has attended a fairly nondescript movie, it is the fairly rousing anthem that one remembers. But who is the ‘jana-gana-mana-adhinayaka’ to whom our national anthem is a paean? Have you given thought to whose praises are being sung, even as you fidget waiting for the movie to begin?

Surely not the government. You see it everyday – it exists to collect taxes from the middle class, and brickbats from the media. One look at our unswept streets, overflowing rubbish, choked gutters and non-existent streetlamps will tell you that India is not ruled by a government.

Maybe it is the politicians, one of whom is the Prime Minister. They need our votes after all; and that public toilet or dam does appear sometime. But what about the inane debates in parliament (or absence of them), decade old enquiry commissions and other such shenanigans? Foundation stones strewn all over the country like the ruins of an aborted civilisation seem to speak contrariwise. The increasing frequency of the word ‘anti-incumbency’ in newspapers and television seems to tell me that the politicians are not quite in charge after all.

Maybe not the elected ones. But we have no shortage of the shadowy ones, never elected, who like to loudly proclaim themselves ‘remote controls’. They are over and above the C.M. or P.M., make or break governments and are a law unto themselves. Ha! Our public knows them well, makes movies about them and is not swayed by their demagoguery.

Talking of movies, film stars have a huge effect on us. Do they rule India? After all, they have a massive impact on the personal appearances of most citizens. Barbers, tailors and perhaps cosmetic surgeons owe their livelihoods to these folk. But when has a movie actor made any difference to our national policy or diplomacy?

Since that is handled by the babus, they must be the real masters. But a day’s trip to get your passport or ration card will, after a harrowing number of forms filled and queues filed, tell you that they live in a world of their own, quite unconcerned about India. Nothing is to be got out of this tribe.

Maybe it is the industrialists, who control our economy. They employ us in millions, and give us our daily bread after all. In other countries, they can cause their governments to go to war to help shore up their bottom-lines. But not in ours. Our industrialists sadly, are busy sorting out their own muddles. And the rate of growth of our economy depends on the number of inches of rainfall after all.

So it must be the seasons. The winds, the sun, the rain. But their vagaries are restricted to a few forgettable remote areas inhabited by equally forgettable primitive tribes. The ‘real people’ of India, have long since conquered the weather with air-conditioning, e-commerce and expressways.

So who then is the great personage? Who alone can make us do what sane men would never do? Who dictates to us what and how much we wear or eat? Who tells us when to smile and when not to? Whose wrath or slightest discomfort even do we fear the most?

August readers, I have thought deeply for many years, and have an answer. It is the photographer. Do we not sit quiet, or smile, in any pose; head contorted in any manner when he holds the camera? Does he not command whether we crouch, or sit, or kneel or stand or even hang upside down, so that we fit into his viewfinder?

At social gatherings, weddings, prize distributions, book releases, election rallies, is it not the photographer alone, whom even the President of India dare not disobey? So I conclude, that this humble, man-of-the neighbourhood personality, when he wields his instrument of power, for that fleeting moment, is the supreme master of every Indian. It is he whose praises the Anthem sings.

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An old childhood memory

(This was originally written for The South Reports on May 18, 2012)

Some interesting developments led me to dredge this thing up from fading memories of a childhood spent on the Indo-Pak frontier.

This was a doggerel that we kids used to recite in recess and generally have fun. There are many versions, mostly harmless. But this one isn’t, largely as an experience of frontier life and a foreign country (a hostile one at that) looming large in one’s life. So here goes:


Usme se nikle Panditji

Panditji ne khaya ganna

Ganne se nikla Rajesh Khanna

Rajesh Khanna ne kholi almari

Almari se nikli Meena Kumari

Meena Kumari ne todi roti

Roti se nikli Tun-tun Moti

Tun-tun Moti ne phoda anda

Ande se nikla Tiranga jhanda

Tirange jhande ne dee pukar

Raj karega Hindustan

Jhadu mare Pakistan

So why dredge it out now?

One was the new advertisement for Havell’s fans on television, beaming a decrepit Rajesh Khanna into our collective consciousness.This triggered off a canteen discussion – was he being made fun of, or was this a clever warning that human fans can be fickle?

The other was the outbreak of commerce between India and Pakistan over the recent months. It began with the MFN status that Pakistan finally gave India. After wrangling with itself for months before it decided that commerce was better than war. Then came the news of the opening of a customs post at Wagah that could handle 1000 trucks a day. The whole world is hoping that the roar of trucks will eclipse the roar of guns.

So is our childhood anthem doomed? Will commerce lead to peace? Will the mutual antagonisms that made life so spicy on the frontier disappear, replaced by boring commercial rivalries?

And will Rajesh Khanna emerge from the grave, demanding us to take him seriously again?

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The Bangladeshification of India

This was originally written on The South Reports on Aug 31, 2012

(Spoiler Alert: This post is not about Bangladeshi immigrants, illegal or otherwise. So if you were looking for a rant on those lines, sorry)

Question: What party has initials that begin with a B and end in P, has a narrow and religious definition of nationalism, cannot stand the prime minister, stalls parliament and thinks it will win a general election if parliament is dissolved today?

Answer: The Bangladesh National Party (BNP).

Surprised? Well, I cannot blame you if you thought Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was the right answer.  Bear with me, as I walk you through my new thesis – that the BJP has become much like the BNP. To be fair, I will also try to show that the Indian National Congress (INC) has much in common with the Awami League (AL), the ruling party of Bangladesh.

Nationalism in Bangladesh comes in two varieties. The AL, which is the party of Mujibur Rehman (the father of Bangladesh), has a core of ‘Bengali Nationalism’. It struggled to get the Bengali language equal rights when it was part of Pakistan, whose official language was Urdu. It sought to end discrimination against Bengali Muslims in military and civil posts. At the founding of Bangladesh, its vision encompassed a secular state founded on Bengali values. The nationalism of the BNP is ‘Bangladeshi Nationalism’, which is founded on the new identity acquired after 1971. It regards Bangladesh as a country primarily of Muslim Bengalis, repudiating the larger, non-religious Bengali identity.

This isn’t unlike the fundamental divide between the INC, which takes at its core a composite and secular ‘Indian Nationalism’, and the BJP, which takes Hindutva (often described by foreign writers as ‘Hindu Nationalism’) at its core.

Beyond these definitions, the attitudes of the parties are also eerily similar. The Awami League is the Congress of Bangladesh – the grand old party, the party of freedom fighters, the party that drafted the constitution. It’s also dominated by a family – Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, is the party leader and current prime minister. But more importantly perhaps, it’s a party that lives more in a distant memory than the present. Pursuing Mujib’s assassins four decades after the deed, reversing policies to go back to an imagined ‘golden era’ under Mujib and so on. One might say the Congress too is trapped in a memory, perhaps older, of Nehru and Indira and of the ‘glorious’ socialist era. Pranab’s policies as FM were often decried by economists as going back to the bad ole 70s & 80s.

There’s also the issue of legitimacy. Over time, the Awami League has been seen as a nest of corrupt people, and therefore its licence to rule is seen as having lapsed. On the other hand, AL partisans treat the BNP as an intruder, especially as a beneficiary of Mujib’s assassination. (Zia-ur-Rehman, the general who came to power after the assassination, didn’t pursue justice. His widow Khaleda leads the BNP now).

These similarities may just be academic exercises by an idle columnist. But a far dangerous trend is emerging. It is a well-known fact about Bangladesh that its politics has consisted of paralysing boycotts and strikes, continuous violence and counter-violence and a slowing down of the economy. Whichever party is the loser in an election, holds the winner to ransom.

This trend is now beginning to emerge in Indian politics too. The boycott of George Fernandes by the Congress when in opposition might be considered the start. But the current parliament has taken it to the next level, with serial boycotts of ‘tainted’ ministers, the destruction of the 2010 winter session, and now the complete logjam of legislation as the BJP asks for the PM’s head to roll. With the party promising to hit the streets, things will become uglier. With the current communal tension in the country, triggered by Kokrajhar riots and fanned by several developments since, the likelihood that India will fall into an irredeemable abyss is rising by the day. That ‘illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’, real or imaginary, have acted as fodder for this, is rather ironic.

The Bangladeshification of Indian politics seems complete.

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The Kalki Syndrome

(This was originally written for The South Reports on Aug 6, 2012)

Before I start, I admit I have no training in sociology. Nevertheless, what I write below is based on some observations I’ve made over the last few years, and also draws from India’s Hindu heritage.

We’ve grown up with the idea that we live in Kali Yuga. That has probably made us a country that’s almost always lived in a pessimistic, bad mood (often called fatalism, like this study here:http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3316807?uid=3738256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21102440498097). The global economic crisis beginning 2008 has deepened this gloom. Add to that the Commonwealth games, 2G, the Karnataka mining scams, Adarsh and the amazing numbers the CAG keeps churning up, you’ve added despondency to the gloom covering the pessimism.

Is there any cause for optimism at all? Oh, yes – from our mythology again. One of these days, Kalki will come riding on a white charger flaming at the nostrils. The avatar of Vishnu as the Redeemer, who will end this Kali Yuga, and the restart of Satya Yuga.

With this background, comes my contribution to pop sociology – do you think we’re a country perpetually in search of a Kalki to come save us?

In the early 1970s we made a Kalki-esque messiah out of JP. His calls for Sampurna Kranti, the Gujarat Navnirman movement, the ouster of Congress from Bengal and TN all led to a strange heady mixture. We thought we would move towards a socialist paradise, when inequalities would be wiped away. Instead it led to national heartbreak with the Emergency. What little optimism remained, was washed away with the disastrous Janata Party government. (Though I wasn’t even born then, I know it through my father’s jokes – on Morarji’s ‘urine therapy’ and the antics of Raj Narain).

In the 80s, I remember growing up with Rajiv Gandhi’s beaming face, and waving hand. He was the man that would free us from the past and take us to the future. As a nine-year old, I used to love whenever he’d come on TV. When he was replaced by the decidely ugly VP Singh, I felt resentful and cheated. Then of course, I knew little of Bofors, or what a false prophet I had backed. (I would come to know of it in my teenage years, in long discussions with my father.)

Since then I’ve had healthy contempt for all manner of prophets. So to watch my country undergo the Kalki Syndrome, not once but twice these last two years has been alarming.

The first affliction is the Anna Hazare movement of 2011. I watched a country swept by a frenzy as the septuagenarian hunger artist proposed to storm Delhi. I admit even I fell for it, before my shield of cynicism reasserted itself. I could not make up my mind as to who the Kalki here was going to be – Anna Hazare himself, or the almighty Lokpal he wanted to bring to life. It took Mumbai’s irreparable cynicism to deflate them, and they have wallowed in shallow waters since.

The second affliction is somewhat more tenuous. As Satyameva Jayate hit the airwaves earlier this year, I got the same brooding feeling? Was Aamir Khan, using his ‘star power’ and high TRPs – and his quick-fix solutions – aiming to be Kalki? Was it all that was needed – a TV show with lots of people crying on screen – to change a country with prejudices going back thousands of years?

I don’t mean to be a killjoy or skeptic, pouring cold water on everything without doing anything positive. But here’s a feeling – why do we as a country, keep looking out for Kalkis? I am not a compare-India-with-US writer either, but that’s a country that seems to be free of any such syndrome.

Almost all nations have a similar Messiah Syndrome. Iran believes the Mahdi will come soon (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_al-Mahdi). English tradition holds that King Arthur will come riding back when his country needs him (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur). Nevertheless, the US is an exception. Obama attempted to paint himself as a Messiah. Remember this quote – “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”? The attempt led to a backlash, with the rise of the Tea Party that prides itself on personal enterprise and American ‘exceptionalism’.

So where’s that ‘Yes We Can’ spirit in India? Why instead do we make a hero of anyone who pretends he has all the answer? We saw the idol-worship of Team Anna in 2011, as thousands bought the ‘I Am Anna’ caps, and put India Against corruption pic-badges on their social media profiles. Today Aamir seems to have taken that place. He has the illusion of success at the least – Rajasthan ‘agreed’ to set up fast track courts, and even Parliament giving him the royal treatment when he deposed before the committee looking into generic drugs.

2013 will probably see the rise of a new ‘Kalki’ – if the growing adulation of Narendra Modi on social media is any indication. Of course it may come to nothing – given how Kalkis seem to have risen and fallen – or it may lead to the coming true of the unfulfilled ‘India Shining’ dream. Maybe even earlier, for one version of the Kalki Purana even puts the date of advent in 2012 (http://ww-iii.tripod.com/hindu.htm).

Time to wind up. I don’t know whether Indians really have a Kalki Syndrome, or they are just waiting for the optimism to come back. Every time India has had a major catastrophe – invasions, religious turmoil, colonialism – it has sprung back. Maybe that’s the essence of Kalki – the hope to revive and reinvent ourselves. But if that is what Kalki is – then we need to be our own Kalkis. 1.2 billion Kalkis who can redeem themselves, not followers of false prophets.

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The New Jyoti Basu?

The fifth straight win for the BJP in the Gujarat elections, and Modi’s third, has already been trumpeted by the right as the beginning of their march to Delhi. But will it be a Triumphal March, winning state after state in 2013, or a Mao-like Long March? Or, as my title says, is he doomed to live in Gandhinagar to a ripe old age?

Those who think he will have a Triumphal March can take comfort from many things. One is his unassailable formula that has won him Gujarat thrice – a call to Gujarati ‘asmita’, and centre-right economics. Two is the Congress’ self-destruction since 2010. Three is the way his rivals within the BJP are falling like ninepins.

A bit of linguistics here. In 2002 he used ‘Gujarati Gaurav’, and was attacked by Sonia for using the term, because she felt he had lowered Gujarat’s pride in the eyes of the world. However, gaurav usually means ‘self-esteem’ in Gujarati, the word for pride is ‘Asmita’. Willy-nilly, Sonia implied that Gujaratis should give up their self-esteem, which is as terrible an insult as can be. Gujaratis banded around Modi. In the 2007 and 2012, Modi has shifted to ‘Asmita’, thinking he’s earned it because of all the ‘vikas’ that he has done – roads, private factories, Narmada water in Ahmedabad and so on.

The Congress’ brand of Nehru-Indira socialism also sits uneasy with the (stereo-typically) enterprising Gujaratis. By making Gujarat seem a China-like destination for investment (good roads, 24X7 electricity and water, easy approvals for projects), he has the Chambers of Commerce cheering. So when you appeal to the asmita of six-crore Gujaratis and give them freedom from the license-quota raj, it’ll be surprising if you can’t win three terms in a row. Riots? What riots?

(Interestingly, in 2007 he used ‘five crore Gujaratis’, when the state population was 5.5 crore, and by the way, a tenth of the population was Muslim. Now it is six and he’s saying six. He’s also saying ‘sadbhavna’. Just saying.)

The Congress’ self-destruction has only helped him, as the embarrassments (no need for explanations) have continued since 2010. The downfall of his rivals too makes things easy for him. The strongest rival was eliminated (literally) in 2006 when Pramod Mahajan was shot by his brother. Vasundhara lost her way in Rajasthan, Uma Bharti’s career imploded. Raman Singh and Shivraj Chauhan are stuck in their states, Gopinath Munde has faded away. Nitin Gadkari is wobbling. Sushma? Arun Jaitley? Arun Shourie? Yashwant Sinha? Jaswant Singh? Ha ha ha!

Yet, the odds are, it will be a Long March. Here’s my thesis why:-

a) India has 27 other states. The BJP now rules only 5 of these – Karnataka (shaky), MP, Chhattisgarh, Goa (tiny), Jharkhand (coalition). In the plains, where any power base with which to make a claim in Delhi must be built, the BJP is irrelevant. In Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and Bengal, it either never made a mark or is a junior partner. In UP, it’s chief rival is the Congress, for the bottom. It lost tough elections in Uttarakhand and Himachal. The North-east doesn’t exist for it (consider how Nitin Gadkari was to be exiled to Itanagar when the Purti Group allegations were hot). In the South, Karnataka has been a mess; in AP, TN & Kerala it is a non-entity. In Maharashtra, the party is riding a tiger (well, a cub now. Maybe two.).

b) The Gujarat dilemma: If he is to get to the 272 seats in the LS to get his South Block office, Modi will need MPs from the plains (and other states). Which means party building, which means campaigning extensively in these states in the run up to summer 2014. He doesn’t have that luxury – he was given a ‘mandate’ to govern Gujarat, after all. In any case, his rival no. 1, Rahul Gandhi has had that luxury and few results to show (unless you think Mandsaur voting for Meenakshi Natarajan counts). If he does choose to start his campaign now, he’ll have to neglect Gujarat or rule by proxy (Amit Shah?). An extended election Mitt Romney style campaign might exhaust him, and also risk losing ground in Gujarat (Romney lost his home states of Massachusetts and Michigan).

c) The BJP’s ally-making (and more importantly, ally-keeping) skills are terrible. It couldn’t keep Chandrababu or Amma, Naveen chose to dump it when he felt it was a liability to him. The DMK and Trinamool have slept around. It’s relationship with the Akalis is of total subordination. In JD(U) it has an uncertain (and ambitious) partner. It’s marital quarrels with the Shiv Sena are only outshouted by the other marriage in Maharashtra. Other allies have gone to semi-oblivion (remember the HVP? AGP?) or turned into deadly enemies (BSP).

d) The Communists. Once they ruled 3 states and aimed for Delhi. They came close in 1996, before the ‘Himalayan blunder’ that Jyoti Basu cribbed about for the rest of his life. Their chance to be the power behind the throne was demolished in 2008. Yet they still rule, often by setting the opposition agenda. As the Indian Express keeps writing, a lot of the opposition’s stance has been crafted by the left (opposition to FDI in retail, insurance etc) and blindly followed by the BJP. What signal do the enterprising banias, who faithfully donate bricks for the Ram Mandir, get? What signal does USA (whom the NDA wooed when in power, with the Jaswant-Talbott talks) get?

e) Personality cults. Modi isn’t the only one. Mayawati and Nitish have multi-state cults, while Mamata, Naveen and Amma are no pushovers. Even Sheila Aunty (though that is now tarnished). Sharad Pawar has a cult of sorts, and the Gandhi ‘magic’ hasn’t faded away completely. There are still posters of ‘radu naka, ladha’ (don’t cry, fight) for the late ‘tiger’ on Mumbai’s streets. Why, Ajit Singh has one. There’s Yeddy in Bangalore & Reddy in Hyderabad. Chandrashekhar Rao. Achuthanandan. P K Chamling. Manik Sarkar. Plus all the dynasties – the Badals, Yadavs, Abdullahs, Sangmas. People still love them, however misguided Modimaniacs may consider them.

e) Indians. Will Modi ever talk of 120 crore Indians and Indian Asmita the way he goes on about Gujarat? And navigate the gaurav-asmita semantic minefield?

The Dalit movement, although fractious, is still a powerful force in UP and Maharashtra, and is certainly not enamoured of Modi’s ‘manuvadi’ policies. The BJP’s blocking of the SC/ST promotion reservation bill will irritate them. The Dravidian movement is not going to accept him either, certainly not if he keeps speaking in his folksy, jokes-y Hindi. Too much Moditva might also rankle the Akalis (who retreat to a ‘panth-is-in-danger’ plank when in electoral danger themselves). The Marathi manoos (aka Shiv Sena voter), though appreciative of ‘vikas’ in Gujarat, has a perpetual flame at Hutatma Chowk, Mumbai to remind him of the bullets fired at him the last time a Gujarati was his political master (when Morarji Desai’s police killed 106 Samyukta Maharashtra agitators in January 1960).

As for his centre-right ‘vikas’ economics, will his no-freebies election campaign work in laptop-giving UP or colour TV-giving TN? Are Indian voters as open to free enterprise as Gujarat, and being weaned off giveaways like NREGA and cash transfers? Bijli-sadak-pani was a plank on which BJP CMs have won elections, only to be backstabbed later (vide Vasundhara, Uma Bharti). Chandrababu Naidu tried it and failed. And does anyone remember India Shining?

(Well, I wonder whether Gujaratis have total consensus on Modinomics. In Sanand, which was such a showpiece for Modi, the voters chose the Congress. And as Digvijay Singh tom-toms, voters did vote Congress in the constituencies Rahul baba campaigned in.)

No one is shaking Narendra Modi from the CM’s office in Gandhinagar when he is alive. Unfortunately for him, I suspect he’ll become an old, old man still sitting in it. Like Jyoti Basu.

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Cyclone Thein: A game-changer, or a game-player?

Election campaigning in Yangon for the April 1 by-elections.

Cyclone Thane is what is familiar to Indians, the fury that wrought itself on the Coromandel Coast. But it is a Burmese (more correctly Myanma) name, similar (or the same?) as Thein Sein, president of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (called Burma by ordinary mortals). And Cyclone Thein is the one that is making international waves.

The Friday 13th release of prominent political prisoners has indeed sent shockwaves through the world. Admittedly, these, while significant, are nothing compared to the quick events of last year, which left the world gasping for breath.

To summarise, Thein Sein shocked the world first on September 30th, 2011, when he announced that he was halting Myitsone, a dam that China was building in north Burma and had attached some prestige to. One does not know what happened in Naypidaw in the days before the announcement, but the dam was ferociously opposed by the people.

Even as China reeled from the news, ASEAN leaders rubbed their eyes and the rest of the world was trying to interpret them move, news trickled through that Thein Sein was holding talks with Daw Aung San. Given that he has been part of a regime that was never kind to her, this did smell fishy. But this was on top of the release of over 200 prisoners (mostly political), including the comedian Zarganar. Then came the November 4 announcement, that the electoral law, which had banned the NLD, was being amended. NLD was free to contest elections, and Daw Aung San announced that NLD would stand for all seats in the by-elections (there are 48 seats, and I wonder how the vacancies came by).

Then came Hillary Clinton’s much discussed visit to both Naypidaw and Yangon, with the iconic shot of the two women at dinner together. And now come the latest aftershocks. Then came the truces with the Shan, kachin and Karen rebels.

The list of prisoners includes former PM Khin Nyunt, who is now all praise for his former opponent. It includes U Gambira, one of the prominent monks of the failed Saffron Revolution of 2007. (Did the curse that the Generals would get no good karma work?). It includes Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Htay Kywe, Mya Aye and Nilar Thein, leaders of the  88 student uprisings. Some have shown support fr Daw Aung San’s engagement with Thein Sein, some have kept an independent voice. The amnesty even includes ethnic rebels.

So what is this going on? Has Thein changed the game? Will we see Burma fleeing the close embrace of China and into the arms of the US? Did Thein Sein’s visit to India (12 days after suspending Myitsone) have anything to do with the reforms? As an Indian, I could be excused for harbouring pleasant fantasies that India pushed him, or agreed to stand by him of he angered China a bit too much with his reforms.

Or is this some kind of game, not unlike the original 1988 election? Perhaps it isn’t, but that is only a hope. It may also also happen that there is another player (or more) in the background, given that the leadership of the Burmese Army hasn’t quite come out openly in support. Nevertheless, the date to watch now is April 1, the date set for the by-elections. One hopes it will happen, if only for the sake of the election fever that has gripped Burma.

Whatever it is, it is in India’s interest to follow this game, and perhaps play a discrete hand. Chinese military presence in the Bay of Bengal is certainly to be balanced, if not actively resisted and repulsed. A democratic, business-like Burma is also going to be a big nucleus for investment. Both South India and North-East India have a substantial stake in developing  trade relations, which go back centuries. And Burma Bazaar could be vibrant again, with the Burma Chettys trading Burmese imports – the famous teak, rubies and rice, among other things.

Cyclone Thane needs to be on our watchlist.

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Maharashtra’s Dhritarashtras

The new political fad in Maharashtra is of nephews stabbing their uncles in the back. Or so believes Maharashtra’s original Dhritarashtra, otherwise known as Balasaheb Thackeray.

This is the content of a rant in the Shiv Sena party’s newspaper Saamna, of which he is the editor. This is in commiseration with Gopinath Munde, the BJP leader whose nephew embarrassed him badly this week.

Gopinath Munde has (now changed to had) a stranglehold on Beed district of Maharashtra, in the Marathwada region. After being an MLA for many years from here and deputy chief minister for a few years, Munde moved on to the national stage. In the October 2009 election to Maharashtra state assembly, he handed over his seat to his daughter Pankaja Palave. Which apparently upset the person who was presumed yuvaraja till then, his nephew Dhananjay Munde.

The boy simmered like Duryodhana would have when his lac palace gambit failed. But he had his chance earlier this week, during the election of the municipal council chairman of Parli, a major town in Beed district. He ‘managed’ to get enough councillors to ‘defect’ and vote for a rebel candidate. The BJP candidate was seen eating humble pie, which is rarely ever a tasty dish, though available in copious quantities. (As Anna can certify, having broken his fast on it.)

This has since left Gopinath feeling high, dry and angry. He might look for a shoulder to cry on, but the spacious one of Nitin Gadkari, his number one rival, is certainly not available. He might of course patch up with his nephew, hugging him publicly as the Brothers Ambani are said to have done. The young man has so far not indicated the formation of a new party or any such move. Meanwhile, the ancient patriarch of Maharashtrian politics, has come forward to lend his shoulder.

This is of course our very own Hinduhrudaysamrat, Balasaheb. He of course, knows all about backstabbing nephews. Although the nephew – founder of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena – might take a different view. He might suggest that a knife called Uddhav was driven up the back called Raj when the issue of succession in the Shiv Sena leadership came by. The jury is still out in this one.

There was a movement to get the cousins to patch up, but it might succeed in getting an Ambani-esque photo-op of Duryodhana and Yudhisthira in a pose of brotherly love, before it can make the Thackeray cousins so much as face each other. And the Congress and NCP are happily willing to play the role of Manthara. (Mixing epic metaphors here, I know, but Shakuni doesn’t work.) Meanwhile Dhritarashtra Thackeray is reduced to growing a long beard (after having rashly promised never to shave till his party makes it back to Mantralaya), and writing long rants.

Then there is the case of the near rebellion perpetrated by Ajit Pawar over the Saheb (In Maharashtra, one need not take his name. Saheb will do for Sharad Pawar). For similar Munde-esque reasons, though not so overtly. Dada (as everyone calls the nephew) was the presumed heir, till Saheb discovered daughters are thicker blood than nephews. Supriya Sule’s inheritance of Baramati constituency, while daddy dearest shifted to nearby Madha, apparently did not go well with Dada.

During government formation in November-December 2009, Dada allegedly ‘disappeared’ during the tense negotiations with Congress (NCP-Congress relations are always ‘tense’, probably because of the rampant back- and chest-stabbing in Zila Parishad elections.) It was feared that he might lead a group of ‘disgruntled MLAs’ to the BJP-SS camp. It never came about. At that time of course, both the original and now newly-minted Dhritarashtra’s were eagerly hoping for a positive (in their view) outcome. It has since been forgotten by the Maharashtrian public, which is never known for good memory anyway. (Proof: it elects the same government three times, much like Cadbury’s infamous Ramesh-Suresh duo keep doing.)

Far sadder is the case of Omraje Nimbalkar, nephew to the once powerful NCP minister and ‘sugar baron’, Padamsinh Patil. Nimbalkar contested as a Shiv Sena candidate (proving that not all nephews defect away from this party), against a nominee of his uncle and won. The campaign had one issue – sending Padamsinh to jail, since he is one of the main accused in the murder of his brother-in-law Pavanraje Nimbalkar, Omraje’s father. Not like Angada, who pardoned his uncle Sugriva although he had a hired assassin (Rama) murder his father Vali.

The Tamils, among the oldest of rivals of the Marathis, of course have to show they are a step ahead. So they do it with ‘grand-nephews’. And they also do it the other way round, where the knife is in the hands of the doddering, wheelchair-bound octogenarian ‘grand-uncle’, as Mr. Dayanidhi Maran can testify. or it may happen with an  ‘udan pirvai sagodhari’ (sister born with self), as the Matriarch of the Mannargudi Mafia can testify. Examination of her back will reveal a knife labelled with the name of one Jayalalithaa Jayaram, of Poes Garden, Alwarpet, Chennai.

The Tamils’ other great rivals, the Andhras, do it with sons-in-law. Just ask Nara Chandrababu Naidu about what he did in August 1995. Of course, they do it with uncles too, as Y S Vivekananda Reddy would tell you, if you ask him nicely. Don’t ask Y S Jaganmohan Reddy though.

In Karnataka of course they do it with sons. Madhu Bangarappa and H D Kumaraswamy being the prime suspects. Nevertheless, the quick patch-ups afterwards smack too much of, well, politics.

One wonders whether this catalogues of Dhritarashtra’s has omitted anyone significant. Perhaps the benign reader, who has kept company this far, might suggest? This writer is for now, truly blinded.

[Originally posted on The South  Reports]

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