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Four Designers Re-imagine Men’s Fashion

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inside Nitish Kumar and the Art of Losing l i f e

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HOW TO

LOSE INDIA The congress Way PLUS THE PRIYANKA SPELL


WELCOME TO OUR WORLD

Thom Richard is one of the few pilots in the world to possess the talent, experience and courage required to compete in the final of the famous Reno Air Races – the world’s fastest motorsport. Less than ten champions are capable of vying with each other at speeds of almost 500 mph, flying wing to wing at the risk of their lives, just a few feet off the ground. It is for these elite aviators that Breitling develops its chronographs: sturdy, functional and ultra high-performance instruments all equipped with movements chronometer-certified by the COSC – the highest official benchmark in terms of reliability and precision. Welcome to the Breitling world.

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Volume 6 Issue 18 For the week 6—12 May 2014 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers

cover design Anirban Ghosh

12 may 2014

A N D

S . T I M E

Y E V E R

W E E K

Sampurna

According to the writer, decolonising the Indian mind, especially with regard to political vision and political systems, is only about shedding the cultural yoke of the folks that ruled India and spoke English (‘Decolonisation of the Mind’, 14 April 2014). And there’s nothing to be said or done about the cultural yoke of the folks that ruled India and spoke Arabic and Persian? In the article, the writer says, ‘The Raj, which prided itself on incorporating India into its booming capitalist growth story...’. The ‘Raj’ effectively started after the war of 1857, India was clearly a when the British Crown colony—and not even realised the importance a dominion—to be of India for its own treated as a milch cow interests and felt it would be imprudent and for Britain’s growth, and unprofitable to leave it to not India’s the care of a company. The carrot that the Raj dangled in front of Indian statesmen and princes was of British ‘fair practices’ in obvious contrast to the mercenary and unfair practices of the East India Company. India was clearly a colony—and not even a dominion—to be treated as a milch cow for Britain’s growth, and not India’s. Britain’s interests worked like a worm-wheel against India’s. So it is not acceptable to mislead people by using ambiguous language like ‘incorporating India into [Britain’s] booming capitalist growth story’.  letter of the week best combines the g for Bentley t. excellence: Breitlin Luxury and accomplishmen ance. British chic, Swiss this ly epitomising . Style and perform of both worlds refinement. Perfect a Manufacture y. Power and Unitime houses Class and audacit Official the Bentley B05 COSC (Swiss of exceptional world, certified by the ark in terms chronometerbenchm calibre, g highest Breitlin e), the ve crownTesting Institut by its exclusi Chronometer is distinguished user friendliness. reliability. It g revolutionary precision and the ime system featurin art of British carmaking and adjusted worldt grand between the A proud alliance n. aking traditio watchm fine Swiss

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EXC LUS IVE

5 MAY 2014

Anil Budur Lulla (Bangalore), Shahina KK, Aastha Atray Banan, Mihir Srivastava, Chinki Sinha, Sohini Chattopadhyay Special Correspondents Aanchal Bansal, Lhendup Gyatso Bhutia (Mumbai), Gunjeet Sra Assistant Art Directors Tarun Sehgal, Anirban Ghosh SENIOR DESIGNER Anup Banerjee photo editor Ruhani Kaur assistant Photo editor Ritesh Uttamchandani (Mumbai) Staff Photographers Ashish Sharma, Raul Irani Editorial Researcher Shailendra Tyagi asst Editor (web) Arindam Mukherjee staff writer Devika Bakshi

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ISSUE 17 VOLUM E 06

Haima Deshpande (Mumbai) Mumbai bureau chief Madhavankutty Pillai Associate Editor (Web) Vijay K Soni

SUBSC RIPTIO

ITAIN G ENCE OFnd BR by BREI TLIN THE ESS zerla Made in Swit

RS 40 14 5 M AY 2 0

Of a Nose and a Speech in Telangana

N COPY

Open Mail | editor@openmedianetwork.in Editor S Prasannarajan managing Editor PR Ramesh Deputy Editors Aresh Shirali, Ullekh NP art director Madhu Bhaskar Senior Editors Kishore Seram,

rquez briel García Má The Magic of Ga INSIDE

14.04.14 15:00

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Feudalism in Politics

tavleen admits that she has enjoyed the privileges of an enclaved existence for years. Why is she cribbing? (‘Fear and Loathing in Lutyens’ Delhi’, 7 April 2014). She wants to curry favour with Narendra Modi as she probably anticipates that he will be the next PM. Talking of feudalism, Chaudhury Charan Singh had more than 27 members of his dynasty as MPs and MLAs. Bhajan Lal and his family, Karunanidhi and his family are all into dynastic politics. There are scores of others like Chidambaram and Yashwant Sinha who have introduced their sons into politics. Even Bal Thackeray’s son, nephew and daughter in

law are all following the same dynastic or feudal politics. If Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrugan Sinha, Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Anil Kapoor, Dev Anand, et al, have got their children following in their footsteps, so have these politicians.  Subhash Madiman

One-sided Approach

i was disappointed by the one sided nature of the article ‘His Master’s Mind’ (21 April 2014). The article almost reads like a eulogy to Amit Shah. The article describes him variously as an ‘out and out family man’, ‘a smart crisis manager’ with ‘legendary’ organisation skills, and so on. This article

extensively quotes BJP leaders, and no source that can be considered detached or neutral. The author calls the FIRs against Amit Shah diversions, the Ishrat Jahan case a ‘Congress plot’ without providing any justification, and dismisses the snoopgate saga in a sentence.  harman sachdeva

Karunanidhi’s Priority

this refers to the article ‘Patriarch in Pathos’ (21 April 2014). The DMK patriarch, M Karunanidhi, was the first and foremost to cry himself hoarse against the dynastic rule of the Nehru family. His protests grew fierce and vociferous during the Emergency days. But somehow, his own party became a victim and epitome of dynastic politics. His party supported his own brother-inlaw, Murasoli Maran, as he became an MP and then Cabinet minister for several years. After Maran senior’s death, Dayanidhi Maran stepped into his shoes and became India’s Telecom Minister. Karunanidhi then introduced his daughter, Kanimozhi, to Parliament. There is nothing for Karunanidhi to feel shy of his dynastic politics, as it has taken deep root in almost all political parties and become synonymous with all political leaders, barring the few who can be counted on one’s fingertips. The best Karunanidhi can do now is resolve the battle between his sons MK Stalin and MK Alagiri before it completely destroys the party’s credibility.  pushpendra

open www.openthemagazine.com 1


An Obituary for India’s Only Gorilla passing

A zookeeper remembers Polo, who passed away at Mysore Zoo after 17 lonely years

speaks of Polo as if he were a human being. “We were great friends. He would sit on a chair and read newspapers. Sometimes, he would get angry and turn his face away, but only for a few minutes. A short whistle from me and he would come asking for his reward,’’ he says. Polo was India’s only gorilla and Shankar was his keeper in Mysore Zoo for almost two decades. On 26 April, Polo passed away. In the postmortem, Shankar saw how much the animal resembled a human. “The only difference was that

C Shankar

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he could not speak and would only grunt. His different grunts were a proper response for every situation. One has to understand the psychology of animals,’’ he says. Shankar had Polo’s charge from the day the gorilla arrived from Ireland in 1995 as a naughty, healthy 20-year-old mate for Sumathi, a female gorilla. Sumathi died within two years and Polo was left alone. “There were many attempts to get a mate, but somehow they were not successful,’’ says a senior zoo official. Shankar, now 46, was in

charge of Polo till last year when he was promoted as superintendent and put in charge of the hippo enclosure. But most of his life revolved around the Chimpanzee point, which housed chimps, orangutans and gorillas. “I had to keep him occupied. Veterinarians and foreign experts say if a gorilla gets lonely, it will go into depression,’’ says Shankar. “I could make out when he was sick or out-of-sorts. It was a challenge tricking him to have medicines which I slipped between food and

mixed in juices.’’ Polo’s favourites were boiled eggs and grapes. In a completely human-like manner, Shankar says, the gorilla would dip bread slices into milk or tea served in his halflitre mug while relaxing in a chair. Twice a week Polo would get a bath and be goaded to ‘ujjuko’ (rub) his face, hands and legs. “Sometimes, if I would imitate his actions, he would whack me playfully, giving the crowds good reason to cheer. Now I am going to miss him,’’ says Shankar. n Anil Budur Lulla

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g.s. ravishankar

small world


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contents

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cover story

36

The surrender of the Congress

seemandhra

Will Jagan Mohan Reddy have his revenge?

open essay

hurried man’s guide

to the EU’s import ban on Indian mangoes

8

Myth of the safe scribe

26

locomotif

Anyone but the One

person of the Week digvijaya singh

nitish

The lost reformer of Pataliputra

The Lover Who Admitted His Love Digvijaya Singh’s contemporaries cry ‘conspiracy’ when news surfaces of their relationships. You’ve got to hand it to him for his openness Lhendup g Bhutia

W

hen a scandal about a

politician’s personal life becomes public, there are but a few set standard responses. ‘Doctored tape’ is one. ‘Political conspiracy’ is another favourite. The then 84-year-old Andhra Pradesh Governor ND Tiwari when caught in a scandal over a tape featuring him in an orgy with three women was more specific. He said he was being targetted in a political conspiracy over the Telangana issue, although he did not explain how exactly the demand for a separate state was related to it. Abhishek Manu Sanghvi of the Congress, who also featured on a sex tape, chose the former reason. He called it ‘forged, concocted, morphed and fabricated’. And Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah who was going through a divorce took to Twitter to deny the gossip that he was having an affair with a television anchor. It is always thought more prudent to deny or blame mischief-mongers with a political agenda, than to admit and question if there is anything wrong in it. Consider then what Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh did. When the recent video with private photographs of the widowed 67-year-old leader with a married television journalist in her early forties was being shared on social media websites, the leader admitted to it. Not in some private chat or through a minion. But on Twitter. In one tweet, he wrote, ‘I have no hesitation in accepting my relationship with Amrita Rai. She and her husband have already filed a mutual

4 open

consent divorce case.’ And in the second, ‘Once that is decided we would formalise it. But I do condemn encroachment [on] our private life’. This was followed by tweets from the woman concerned, admitting her relationship with Singh, and claiming that her computer and emails were hacked into. Her husband also put up a Facebook update saying his wife and he are going through a divorce and had separated for some time now. Singh’s first wife, with whom he had five children, passed away last year. The journalist in question, Amrita Rai, is Shekhar Yadav/India Today Group/Getty Images

much younger than him and married to a professor. There is nothing wrong about a relationship between two consenting adults, even if one or both is married. But such finer points are often lost on the public at large. With the right spin, it could be made to appear that Singh is a lecherous old man using his influence to break up a home. This was already in evidence when his two tweets were retweeted thousands of times, often accompanied with potshots of the perceived evidence of an old man’s lust. He became a trending subject on Twitter soon. And newspapers and websites started digging up unnamed sources to report that Singh’s children are averse to his father’s new sweetheart, and Rai’s husband, Anand Pradhan, is a member of Singh’s political foe, the Aam Aadmi Party. Singh has himself been very unsparing of others’ follies. In the recent past, he has constantly picked on Narendra Modi for not owning up to his wife. It was thus unlikely that the BJP would let an opportunity like this pass by. BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi has said that instead of preaching morality to others, Digvijaya Singh should look within himself to see if he practices what he preaches, and suggested that perhaps Pradhan could file a case of adultery. Veteran politican that he is, Singh would have expected all this. But you have got to say, whatever the reason may be—the macho bravado of new love or a well-thought out response—it takes guts to admit a relationship as openly as he has. n 12 May 2014


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b books

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Welcome the autonomy economy

fashion

Dressing up the Rebel

d arts

Architect Raj Rewal

chira

njeev

i

f o r trying to jump the queue

inside a polling station to cast his vote As he went to cast his vote for the constituency Khairatabad in Hyderabad’s Jubilee Hills area on 30 April, actor-turned politician Chiranjeevi, who is heading the Congress campaign in Andhra Pradesh, tried to jump the polling queue. He was stopped by a voter called Raja Kartik who had specially flown in from London to cast his vote. Kartik has been quoted as asking

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A short and bloody history of rum

the Telugu film superstar, “Do you need special treatment? You may be a Union minister, but you are not a senior citizen.” With no support from onlookers, the celebrity had to force a smile and walk back to the end of the queue while his embarrassed son, actor Ram Charan Teja, left the booth though he returned later to vote. Chiranjeevi had to await his turn at the voting machine for about half an hour. In doing so, the superstar hopefully learnt one of the basic lessons of democracy—that all citizens are equal. The superstar he might have taken a cue from is Rajinikanth, who was among the first to arrive at a polling station in Chennai to cast his vote. It has been reported though that a couple of voters had already arrived at the booth in Stella Maris College in Chennai by the time Rajinikanth dropped by around 7 am, and that one voter offered to let the superstar vote first.n

NOT PEOPLE LIKE US

viraj dharma

“Modi can never become PM because of his role in the riots. Modi’s Sadbhavna fast mission for promoting communal harmony was a drama and stunt”

‘Dear Narendra Bhai Modi, I have... been appreciative of your clear nonapproval of such opportunistic bigots who time and again try to hijack your plank of development, good governance...’

—Swami Agnivesh at a press conference in Vadhodra on 5 July 2012

—Swami Agnivesh as quoted in The Hindu on 23 April

around

Terror Probe of a Train Blast through a train in Chennai on 1 May, killing one passenger. The blasts occurred on two coaches of the Bangalore-Guwahati Express just as the train was approaching the city’s main station. Union Home Ministry officials said the Indian Mujahideen has been active in the city for the past few years. Yasin Bhatkal, IM’s co-founder who is in police custody, government officials say, had set up a module in the city two years ago to carry out terror attacks.

T w o bl a s t s r i p p e d

afp

12 may 2014

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Fussy Saifeena

Two years after sharply criticising Narendra Modi for the 2002 riots, social activist and former Team Anna member Swami Agnivesh has written him a letter in his praise

turn

on able Pers Unreasotnhe Week of

drink

The Special Investigation Team set up by the government will also probe the role of Tamil Nadu-based Al-Umma. The group had organised explosions with Improvised Explosive Devices fabricated out of material allegedly stolen from granite quarries. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in 1992, there were a series of terror strikes in Tamil Nadu. The most serious of these was the serial explosions at Coimbatore in 1998, coinciding with LK Advani’s visit. n open www.openthemagazine.com 5


angle

A Hurried Man’s Guide

On the Contrary

to EU’s import ban on Indian mangoes

The European Union recently banned the import of mangoes from India. The move came about after 207 shipments of fruits and vegetable from India were found to contain pests. While the pests pose no risk to public health, authorities are worried that the tobacco whitefly might destroy tomato and cucumber crops in Europe. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK claims the ban is necessary. Otherwise, the pests could threaten the country’s £321 million-worth salad crop industry of tomatoes and cucumbers. Apart from mangoes, eggplant, taro plant, bitter gourd and snake gourd have also been banned. Annually, some 16 million mangoes are imported from India, a market that is estimatAccording to ed to be worth around £6 Mumbai traders million. The ban is due to the price of run from 1 May 2014 to export-quality December 2015, although mangoes has some are hopeful that they already dropped by Rs 500 per box will be able to get the EU to change its mind.

noah saleem/afp

Apart from traders in India, wholesalers and retailers in Indian-dominated regions of the UK have opposed the ban. Keith Vaz, an MP of Indian origin, has written to the European Commission president to reverse the decision.

According to reports, he has also written to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to find out if the Indian Government was consulted on the matter. The ban is, however, expected to rapidly bring down the price of the fruit in the Indian market. According to traders in Mumbai, as quoted in various news reports, prices of export quality mangoes have already dropped by almost Rs 500 per box from the usual Rs 3,000. A CNN-IBN report says, in major markets like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, the prices of Alphonso mangoes have fallen by Rs 100-150 per kg. Prices are supposed to further dwindle in the next few weeks as the Middle East market, which also imports a large quantity of mangoes, gets saturated. n

The Thing about Saints And the miracles one must perform to become one M a d h ava n ku t t y P i l l a i

I

n the late Pope John XXIII

and Pope John Paul II, the world now has two new saints, courtesy the current Pope Francis who canonised them last Sunday. By itself, this should not be an issue for rationalists. It is the Vatican’s prerogative to place who it wants in heaven standing next to God, even if the measure of sainthood keeps changing. As an article in The Independent by Paul Valley points out, ‘For the first 1,000 years of Christianity, saints were simply declared by popular acclamation among believers—the original vox populi. Believers voted with their feet by visiting the tombs of dead individuals they regarded as particularly holy.’ Then, the Church took over and controlled the process. New saint John Paul II himself canonised 483 saints when he was Pope, a record of sorts. There would be nothing to quibble about if the definition of a saint were limited to the life he or she led, which is an important component of canonisation. In his speech announcing the canonisations on Sunday, Pope Francis so eloquently put it: “Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalised by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother, because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.” But faith, empathy and virtue are not the only measures for a saint. They are necessary but not sufficient conditions. The problem for the rationalist is that sainthood requires the saint to intercede with heaven on

behalf of someone on earth. The broad general rule is that two miracles are required, though there are loopholes and discretions to circumvent it. In Pope John XXIII’s case, only one miracle was enough to canonise him. In Pope John Paul II’s case there were indeed two stated miracles. The second was performed on Floribeth Mora, a Costa Rican who had had a brain aneurysm and was told by doctors that there was no hope left. One morning she looked at a photo of John Paul II in a newspaper, prayed to him and, according to her, was cured. The problem with this account is that even if it were true that her ailment vanished, there is no reason to attribute it to the prayer. As Sainthood the saying requires goes—correlathe saint to tion is not causation. There intercede are an endless with heaven number of on behalf of unexpected someone on recoveries of earth—twice terminal cases and often it is attributed to a variety of agencies, from alternative medicines to gods to spiritual gurus. But the body itself can work in mysterious ways and it is a miracle only until the lens of science digs out the reason with patient toil. The only way to believe in such powers is if everyone with a terminal illness who prayed to Pope John Paul II were cured. And not just that, to test this under controlled conditions. Say, take 20 terminally ill patients, stop their medications, give them photographs of two different Popes, ask them to pray and take their readings daily until an effect is observed. But not even the Vatican will believe that such a test would be successful. A miracle can only exist in ones or twos because it is impossible to verify using the rigour of science. n 12 May 2014


business

te l e com “The world of technology is on the verge of a change that we believe will be as profound as the creation of the internet,” declared Rajeev Suri on the occasion of his appointment as CEO of Nokia. The Finnish company, which for years led the global mobile phone handset market, had been looking terribly lost after announcing the sale of its handset division to Microsoft Corp late last year. Analysts feel that Suri’s ascendance will give the 150-year-old company—which has morphed itself several times over since its early days as a firm of lumberjacks— just the strategic direction it needs to reinvent itself. Suri, 46, is an engineering graduate of Mangalore University. And the news of his rise to Nokia’s top saw the company’s stock jump 7 per cent in European markets. Suri earned his spurs as a turnaround leader while he was in charge of Nokia’s crucial but struggling ‘network’ operations (which involve telecom infrastructure), which he took over in 2007. “Suri has done an exceptional job managing Nokia’s network business,” says Daniel Gleeson, a senior analyst with the global thinktank, IHS Technology, “He slogged hard to turn this business around in the past seven quarters.” Before the company hived off and sold its handset business, the network and handset divisions contributed almost equally to its revenues. Gleeson tells Open that with the handset business gone, the network business “is going to be the big part of Nokia’s focus going forward”, possibly even the company’s sole money churner. This explains why despite wearing the hats of president and CEO at Nokia, Suri will continue to look after the network business. The company’s two other business ‘verticals’, its mapping business HERE and Technologies division, account for only a small slice of its overall earnings and will have separate heads in place reporting to Suri. Nevertheless, it is valid to wonder what went so wrong with the company that it had to sell its handset business to Microsoft, a deal that many say was forced upon Microsoft’s board by Satya Nadella’s predecessor, Steve Ballmer. Analysts say that Nokia failed to recognise in good time the challenges that Apple and BlackBerry posed to Nokia’s global hegemony in the handset market. Nokia wanted to retain

12 may 2014

Lehtikuva, Heikki Saukkomaa/AP

The Challenge of Saving Nokia

white knight Nokia is counting on Rajeev Suri, 46, a graduate of Mangalore University, for a revival

its lead in volume terms, one reason that it focused heavily on emerging markets where mobile phone penetration in the early noughties was still low. This mass-market effort meant that it let its attention slip on innovation and got blindsided by the smartphone boom, led first by BlackBerry’s secure messaging service and then by Apple’s iPhone touchscreen apps (and News of Suri’s its Android clones). rise to Nokia’s That BlackBerry has top saw the slipped since is company’s another story. stock jump Even in an emerging 7 per cent in market like India, European Nokia has got a markets battering of late. While Apple and Samsung ate up Nokia’s share at the upper end, domestic handset makers—assemblers of cheap Chinese kits—like Karbonn and Lava took over the market for low-cost devices. Nokia found itself knocked out in every segment. The lesson, of course, is that leadership of the top-end of a market is always critical for sustainable success, even if mass volumes are needed to boost revenues. This is what Nokia would have to do with its network operations: stay at

the cutting edge of the business. But if Nokia has what it takes to be innovative, why did it slip with handsets? And why would investors expect it to do what it takes in the network market? Suri has assured shareholders of Nokia’s capacity ‘to make the necessary investments to remain an innovation leader…’ Whether that is true is not easy to assess. Innovation in consumer markets—where Apple has clearly stolen ahead—depends on an intuitive feel for how people behave and use products, while backend businesses demand a somewhat different set of technical and other skills. Nokia is betting that it can impress telecom companies—its key customers now—with technology to help them offer better high-speed data services. As the emerging world waits to embrace third- and fourth-generation data services, demand for such equipment is bound to soar. Telecom operators have bought precious airwave spectrum in many markets to this end, and if Nokia can forecast how these services will shape up better than its rivals, it may have a good chance of regaining what it has lost: its broad leadership of a sector—telecom— that’s still perhaps the world’s most dynamic. n Shailendra Tyagi open www.openthemagazine.com 7


lo co m ot i f

Anyone but the One S PRASANNARAJAN

A

nyone-but-Modi is just another re-

frain that brings out the extent to which the singularity of this contest has gone. The mantra, uttered by those who have a pathological aversion to the man who could be the next Prime Minister and by those within his own political family whose ambition is as big as his but is not matched by their performance or popularity, may no longer be as audible as it was earlier. It is, nevertheless, a measure of how one man’s passion can galvanise as well as divide. It is also a manifestation of one trait of Indian politics that won’t be swept away by any wave: the sheer ease with which it abandons the mandate and settles on the least deserving, the darkest horse. Anyone-but-Modi, however feeble and unrealistic it may turn out in the end, is a response from the legion of the lost towards the inevitability of this election: No-one-but-Modi. There were, of course, such moments before, when the choice of India was between the One and nothing. Most memorably, the One was Indira Gandhi once. There was no agenda more national than Mrs G, and there was no candidate who was an alternative to her. That was candidate as mother redeemer, larger than the party, and it was her emotional covenant with India that looked unbreakable then. It would be broken, and nothing would be as ruthless as the end of a relationship built on sentimentalism and adoration. But while it lasted, it was a rare relationship between the leader and the people that allowed no space for third parties. It was no-onebut-Indira. The One is Modi now, and at this moment in Indian politics, as the poet would have said, the performer and the performance have become one. The performer, without a supporting cast and a worthy antagonist, is different from the One before. Biography is not his destiny. His evolutionary story as a politician is not part of a larger family saga with the Independence movement as a backdrop. Power and privilege, and growing up in history—that is not Modi’s backstory. He was not the Chosen One, and he won’t be. He is the Inevitable One. He came from outside the Establishment, from the ordinariness of India an Arvind Kejriwal has sloganised but never comprehended. Within his own party, he was not the Choice until he made him-

8 open

self inevitable—and indispensable. The outsider whose campaign, which began more than a decade ago from Gujarat, was about defying hierarchies within his own party and outside it. The velocity of the commoner’s ascent, like a force of nature, tells us that he is here to stay, ahead of the rest, for better or worse. This election is about him, as the others he has starred in before. That is why India-is-not-Gujarat is a redundant line. For those who have watched Modi on the stump in the three elections he fought and won in Gujarat, it was obvious: He never fought a local election, and he never fought an election in which he was not the theme—the only national theme. He spoke India—its possibilities, its enemies, its diminished esteem—and exaggerated it for effect in successive Assembly elections, all referendums on his leadership. Today, the Modi campaign is a bigger version of it, and it is as presidential as the earlier three. For this man, there was no one else to build his mythology and market it; he had to do it all by himself. Rarely have such projects in political mythology become a national show of this magnitude. It is one man’s ambition—and the lone struggle for its realisation—as a national passion play. And you just can’t alter the script by inserting this ridiculous line, anyone-but-Modi, at this stage, the denouement. Its ridiculousness is amplified by what is unsaid but implied. Who’s Anyone? Is it the wise old man of BJP, still floating in the fantasy of a compromise, a karmic reward for walking the longest distance for the cause of the Indian Right? Or, is it the warhorse from the heartland, the party boss and an active apostle of Moditva, waiting for something to go wrong after the victory, a mathematical error maybe? Or is it one of those leaders from the provinces, permanent anirban ghosh bargainers in the post-election black markets of Indian politics? Any of these could have been a possible scenario in another time, in another India. It could have been possible if Modi was merely a prime ministerial candidate of BJP, as LK Advani was five years ago. Today the truth is: BJP just happens to be the party of Modi. It is not that a cult of the Maximum Leader is in the making, and that his attitude towards power is more important than the apparatus of the party. We are not there yet. We are, nevertheless, closer than ever before to an upheaval: one tenacious man has made India his argument, and he lets no one steal it—or alter it. Anyone may still try. n 12 May 2014


Aatish Taseer a bend in the ganges

The Runaway Messiah O

n the morning Narendra Modi was to file his nomination papers from Benares, and the mythical jansailaabh was still but a trickle, Arvind Kejriwal sat in a great sulk outside my house on Assi Ghat. It was a scorcher of a day; the city was getting ready to come out in vast numbers for Modi; and Kejriwal’s gathering, even by AAP’s modest standards, was small. Fifty odd people, of which half were policemen and journalists, sitting in sombre silence under a peepal tree. The protest was being held in

honour of Somnath Bharti, Delhi’s former law minister, who, the night before, had been attacked by men thought to belong to the BJP. (These clashes, by the way, between knots of men in white and saffron caps have become something of a nightly occurrence on the Assi ghat, and the atmosphere is now distinctly medieval; one is either a Guelph or a Ghibelline, Lancaster or York.) Kejriwal, swollen-cheeked, with two garlands of marigolds round his neck, was emerging from an hour of silence, and beginning to address the press in low tones. His supporters, with the air of men at a wake, looked vacantly about them. Just then, a voice was heard. It carried up from the river and, with something of the faraway quality of a Delphic utterance, it disturbed the tranquil melancholy of this scene. A boatman, making his way up to the ghat, made a casual but devastating remark. He said, in a voice loud enough for all to hear: “Ajeeb baat hai. Dilli mein itni badi kursi chhodh kar, Kejriwal Benares chale aaya.” It was a blinding moment; or, at least, it should have been. This passing Tiresias had said the thing that was on everyone’s mind. And, in that instance, it was plain for anyone with eyes to see that Kejriwal’s plan to leave Delhi and come to Benares had been an act of madness. But the AAP men, even if inwardly they recognised the wisdom of the boatman’s words, did not let on. They looked away as if nothing had happened. And I remember thinking then, as I had a few times before, when I first began attending AAP meetings, that for all their talk of receptivity, this was far less flexible an organisation than it seemed; that somewhere under the cloying sweetness of those gatherings, the question-and-answer sessions, the jholawala concerns, the air of kumbaya, there lay the soul of a petty despotism. It did not surprise me. For the experience of two centuries tells us that every time the name of the People has been invoked for political purposes— 12 may 2014

whether it be the People’s Tribunal or the Janata ki Durbar— it has been shorthand for tyranny.

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here is one charge, above all others, that has not left

Arvind Kejriwal’s side this election. It is that, when faced with the hard practical reality of running an administration in Delhi, he fled the field, returning once more to the only thing he knows: the life of protest. To this, Kejriwal has responded in an understandable way. He has tried to turn a weakness into a strength. Like the writer who, made aware of a flaw in his book, pretends it is not a flaw at all but part of the book’s strength, Kejriwal has, on numerous occasions, spoken of the courage needed to leave the Chief Minister’s chair in Delhi. He has invoked the life of renunciation. Doston, inko kya pata tyaag kya hota hai! He has compared his leaving Delhi to Ram leaving Ayodhya. It has been a valiant effort, but, in my view, unconvincing. The charge is too serious. It is serious not just because it is on everyone’s lips; not just because it has harmed him politically, earning him one of this election’s most damning epithets: bhagoda; no, it is serious because it goes to the heart of our fears about the Aam Aadmi Party. These include fears of anarchy, intolerance, an inability to work with others. But, of all these, one stands out in my mind. It is the fear that Arvind Kejriwal is that most dangerous of all political animals: the messiah. The man for whom any existing reality is too impure to be corrected, and who strives for some necessarily vague Utopia, which he, alone, by what feels like an act of faith, will bring into being. The messiah is dangerous because he is at bottom a nihilist. I have written before, in a different context: ‘Every man who ever dreamt up a Utopia was animated far more by the wish to purge than to build. I would say, too, that the great flaw in any Utopia is open www.openthemagazine.com 9


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the intellectually lazy notion—and one capable of unspeakable violence—that if only the society were cleansed or purged of some particular undesirable element, the Utopia would automatically—come into being. That nothing more would need to be done.’ In the case of Arvind Kejriwal, that undesirable element—the fire by which all aims will magically be realised, all evils cleansed—is Corruption. It came up again and again in a speech I heard him give in Harsos, a small village on the rural edge of this constituency. It was the first time I was hearing him speak, and I was at once alarmed and fascinated. Let me say first that it is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which this man is physically unimpressive. He has thin long arms; a small frame and, one suspects, a flaccid body; he wears baggy clothes in dull colours, and carries a blue Reynolds pen in his pocket. There is the trace of a whine in his voice. He is not so much the aam aadmi as he is the caricature of an aam aadmi. He is like the Punjab Power employee Shah Rukh Khan plays in Rab ne Bana di Jodi, who, out of a kind of shame at his ordinariness, adopts a Bergerac-esque proxy to win the love of his wife. Yet—and this is what makes his physicality so fascinating—under this drab diminutive appearance, this Gogolian

picture of the government servant, there lies an iron-willed monster of perseverance and doggedness. When his party men say, “Modi will never find a fiercer, more relentless opponent than Kejriwal,” I believe them. And when Kejriwal himself says: “I have not run away. Antim saans taq tumhari chhati pe moong daalunga,” I believe him too. It is, in fact, in this combination of physical puniness and inward strength that the resemblance to Gandhi becomes striking in more ways than one. For, like Gandhi, Kejriwal’s vision of what he seeks to dismantle is all too real and tangible, but what he wishes to put in its place—that kingdom of heaven he wishes to lead us into—is pure chimera. On that hot day in Harsos, surrounded by freshly harvested fields, he said his aim was to defeat Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Because, he stressed: “The BJP and the Congress are two faces of the same monster. Defeat Rahul and Modi and the monster will be utterly decimated. And from this decimation will come a new kind of politics.” But when, I wanted to ask him, has that ever happened? When, in the history of any stable democracy, have its two major political parties simply withered away, and a new politics come spontaneously into being? This is not the language of electoral democracy; this is the language of revolution. It is

Kejriwal’s vision of what he seeks to dismantle is all too real, but the kingdom of heaven he wishes to lead us into is pure chimera

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what makes Kejriwal seem like certain characters from literature. I’m thinking of Kirilov, the nihilist, in Demons, or Conrad’s Professor in The Secret Agent, who never leaves the house without a glass vial of explosives in his breast pocket and a detonator in his palm. Nor does this impression decrease when one observes the things he has chosen to attack. They are, whether he is speaking in Harsos or down a back alley in Dara Nagar, always the same: Mukesh Ambani, Adani, FDI in retail, privatised utilities, helicopters, and all that they stand for… The list goes on, but the politics is familiar. One never hears him utter a harsh word against what must be the fountainhead of corruption in this country, the Indian state. In fact, if one were to close one’s eyes and imagine Kejriwal’s India, it would be a giant expanse, reaching as far as the eye could see, of two- and three-storey government flats, in Sovietised shades of blue, beige and grey, packed full of pious government servants, leading a dreary existence on subsidised gas, housing, water and electricity. But haven’t we—you might well ask—already rejected this vision of India? Isn’t that what this election is about? Hasn’t India, having already sampled the genius of the Indian state, come out in significant numbers to say: no, we do not want that India. And not simply because it doesn’t work or is corrupt, but because it is shabby and lifeless and stifles the spirit. Have we not already opted for the other India? Which, crude as it may still be, is the India of roads and malls and IPLs—Sheila and Munni’s India! Do we not agree that, at this stage in our development, we have more to fear from big government than big business? Is it not generally acknowledged that the source of corruption in this country is a State that preys on private enterprise, rather than private enterprise preying on the State? And is it not true that India’s daily encounter with corruption occurs, not in the Reliance or Vodafone shop, but in the government office? Kejriwal—that scourge of Corruption—does not reflect this in his politics at all. He is far more willing to demonise business than the State. And he has crafted a political style to go with his politics; he has made a great show of his simplicity. It is a mistake, I fear. I think he will discover that if style is to be the test of ideology, then the people of India prefer Modi’s chopper to Kejriwal’s Scorpio. In fact, one of the things that has intrigued me this election is the kind of anger I sense for Kejriwal’s brand of austerity. The AAP will tell you that the violence against its volunteers is all BJP-sponsored—and, no doubt, some of it is. But some of it is also spontaneous. They seem to arouse a kind of contempt. I have witnessed it in all quarters, now in a driver at the Harsos rally, who, on seeing Kejriwal in his Scorpio, might say: “Yeh simplicity kuchh zyaada toh nahi ho gayi?” Now, in some BHU students, jeering at AAP workers taking a boat ride on the Ganga: “Lagta hai ke pehli baar boat mein jaa rahein hain.” Or, here, in a man who took me aside in Chitvan gym, to say: “Kejriwal se zyaada diwaaliya insaan maine kabhi nahi dekha hai. Voh maansik rogi hai.” And, even at the little protest outside my house, a BHU student muttered: “Isko toh main bhi thhapadh maar sakta hun.” India, it seems, knows what to do 12 may 2014

with simplicity when it comes in the form of a holy man— Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Anna Hazare. It is far less sure of what to do with it when it comes in the form of Arvind Kejriwal.

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till, it is something of a miracle that he exists at all. Wrong-

headed as his politics may be, there is no greater tribute to the democracy we live in than its ability, less than two years after Kejriwal was fasting in the streets of Delhi, to have absorbed him electorally. I will say, too, that the people who comprise his party—many of whom have left their jobs to serve the cause— are among the most decent people to ever enter politics. And, whether they win or lose, they will have forever altered the political culture of this country. Already, due largely to their advent, there is a growing conviction that politics need not be the province of the cynical professional, but that ordinary people, Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

modi jansailaabh In this angry flood of youth, testosterone, hope and pride, perhaps Modi needs someone to whisper ‘memento mori’ in his ear

tired of what they see around them, can and must step forward. This is not AAP’s election. Many of them know as much. They would like to be, they say, Modi’s main opposition. They are hoping for 100-150 seats. They are dreaming. It would have been much better had they stayed in Delhi and proved that their politics was more than a politics of protest. And yet, that morning when I left them in their small silent circle on the edge of the Ganga, and found myself swept up in Modi’s jansailaabh, an angry flood of youth, testosterone, hope and pride, which was, by turns, exciting and scary, I could not help but feel what a good thing it would be for Indian democracy if, in Modi’s hour of triumph, the man tasked with whispering ‘memento mori’ in his ear was none other than this most formidable of former taxmen. n Aatish Taseer’s new novel, The Way Things Were, will be published at the end of this year. His weekly despatch from Benares will appear through the elections open www.openthemagazine.com 11


open essay

By Garga Chatterjee

MYTH OF THE SAFE SCRIBE Is the threatened journalist a Pakistani curse alone?

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n 19 April, bullets fired by ‘unknown’ gunmen injured Hamid Mir, the acclaimed Pakistani journalist, columnist and political talk-show host for Geo TV. His brother alleges that Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI is behind the attack. Known to be a strong votary for democratic rule in Pakistan and consistently against religion-inspired militancy, he has never been in the good books of the intelligence establishment. The subcontinent is a dangerous place, particularly for those who consistently speak truth to power. This danger can often be in the form of threats to life, especially if you are in the media. Since I write for daily and weekly newspapers in Pakistan, I happen to have acquaintances in Lahore and Karachi who have become close friends over time. I have met some of them. One of them is Raza Rumi. My Pathan broadcaster friend Wajahat S Khan had introduced me to Raza. It was Raza who first welcomed the idea of my writing for The Friday Times, the Najam Sethi-edited weekly. Raza was, and still is, a consulting editor with the publication. It is important to state that quite a few of my pieces published in The Friday Times have been quite critical of the human rights and civil liberties situation in Pakistan. I believe that the editorial team also deserves credit for this. Raza has been very active in Indo-Pak peace initiatives, and as the director of the Jinnah Institute, a think-tank, he has been a key participant in Track 2 dialogues of all sorts. He has an ongoing love affair with all things Delhi, and revels especially in the bygone cultural space of north India that encompassed Delhi and his favourite city and hometown, Lahore. He had recently published an exquisite travelogue, Delhi By Heart. I was among the people he shared his manuscript with for comments, before it was published. On 28 March, I heard that Raza had been shot at by a group of

‘unknown’ assailants. He survived. I suspect that his views, which have always been supportive of greater regional cooperation in South Asia, and especially between Pakistan and India, are not entirely unrelated to the attack. After anchoring his television show, Raza was on his way to the Data Darbar shrine. That was when bullets rained on his car. His driver succumbed to the gunshots and his bodyguard was seriously wounded. For a long time, he has been one of the most vocal champions of secularism in Pakistan. He has stuck his neck out to bring to people’s notice the continued repression of the hapless religious minorities of Pakistan, who have very few real supporters. Probably the most consequential stance vis-àvis the attack on him, Raza Rumi has been one the staunchest critics of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other extreme Islamist groups that are directly opposed to his vision of a pluralist and harmonious society. Specifically, the Express Media group, for whom he often writes and whose TV channel he does his show on, has been attacked five times with three staff members being killed in an attack earlier this year. Raza Rumi has appealed to the government to provide him with security, and prevent him from becoming the ‘victim of an ideology asserted with bullets and bombers’. Most TV channels in Pakistan underplayed the incident, and reported other items of news on Srinivasan and the Indian Premier League in India.

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ow there is a feeling perpetrated by Delhi-based ‘watch-

ers’ and other peddlers of the ‘idea of India’ that things are radically different on this side of the Radcliffe line, that this is some kind of safe haven for journalists and fearless reporters. Of course, the usual exceptions apply. Local journalists in in the line of fire Hamid Mir, the GEO TV journalist in Pakistan who was shot at on 19 April in Karachi. Mir’s brother has alleged that the ISI was responsible for the attack

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‘disputed’ territories of India have been paying with their lives and limbs for decades now. You can be beaten up with bamboo canes and dragged along the road by the state police and Central Reserve Police Force if you interview protesting students or take pictures that the powers-to-be don’t want taken. Azhar Qadri of Kashmir Tribune found this out in a painful way in 2012, as did Showkat Shafi, a Srinagar-based freelance photojournalist, in 2011. Both were covering protests in Srinagar. These are not exceptional events, merely illustrative. Delhi journalists who visit such ‘disputed’ areas often enjoy junkets in the name of reporting. As for foreign journalists who might be critical–they are simply classified as persona non grata and denied entry into India, as was the case with the respected American broadcaster David Barsamian who was deported from New Delhi airport in 2011. Barsamian, who had visited India for more than 40 years until then, has said that it was his work in Kashmir that led to his deportation. He is sympathetic to separatists in the state. A closer look tells us that the threat to journalists is more widespread in India, and not only limited to insurgency-hit areas. Some may think it is strange, while others may think it is not so strange, that if you are already famous, it affords some protection from assaults. This is not fool-proof protection —it only helps you hold out longer. If Raza Rumi were a local reporter in Swat or Waziristan, saying what he has been saying and reporting locally, we would have crossed his tenth death anniversary by now. Or he would have long left for the UK or the US. Or, he would have done what most people end up doing: shut up, change the subjects of his reporting, change his views, change vocation. In India, the complicity of media in sustaining the abuse of power makes the powerful in media quite safe in this sense. Far from a life threat, they might even end up as parliamentarians. But for the honest and fearless reporter on the ground, things are often very different.

these cases is that the finger of accusation points to state agencies such as the police and other security forces. A journalist is attacked to deny people’s right to know the truth. What might be the kind of crimes that need to be hidden away from public view that state agencies consider it worth the bad-press that comes from bloodying journalists? Chhattisgarh is not the lone bad apple, though the rot there runs particularly deep. The killing in Bhopal of Shehla Masood, Right To Information (RTI) activist and blogger, created some furore, especially in light of the fact that she had been harassed by the police for some time. On 10 February this year, officers of the Indian Reserve Battalion at the Kangla Fort attacked Arindam Chaoba Sharma of the newspaper Imphal Free Press ferociously. In recent times, reports of killings and grievous assaults on journalists have come in from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Karnataka and even as far as to the Andamans where the police have continuously harassed Denis Giles, editor of the newspaper Andaman Chronicle. Giles broke the now-famous story of poachers and outsiders sexually exploiting Jarawa women. At least eight murders of journalists have been reported in 2013. This was the year that India slipped to an abysmal rank of 140 of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders. However smug may be the claims of the power elite in terms of freedom of expression and hence, the freedom to express freely, a rank of 140 tells another story. Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, two basket-cases in the Anglo-American worldview, do marginally better than Incredible India. If this is the state of freedom of expression, a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution, then one should reflect very critically on what happens to this right when one drives 10 km away from Mumbai or Delhi. If it is any consolation to a warped mind, Pakistan ranks No 158 in the list. The neighbour has managed to make the power-centres unsafe too. As for India, ‘Criminal organisations, security forces, demonstrators and armed groups all pose a threat to India’s journalists’ says the Reporters Without Borders report. On that list, the security forces are the ones that have greatest impunity. Surely then, the violator of liberties with the greatest impunity must be the most serious threat to securing the freedom of expression of people. Raza Rumi, in a public statement, appealed to the state for protection. Where do potential victims of state agencies in India turn to? If truth is a security threat for the powers-to-be and security forces are engaged in curbing people’s right to know the truth, this is a sad commentary on the state of a republic undergoing the world’s biggest exercise in representative democracy. n

Eight murders of journalists have been reported in 2013. This was the year that India slipped to the rank of 140 of 179 countries in the Press Freedom Index

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hhattisgarh ranks high on the list of areas where the threat to reporters is very high. ‘Unknown’ people on a motorbike shot Umesh Rajput of the Hindi newspaper, Nai Duniya, dead near his home in Raipur. He had been receiving threats to stop reporting. In Dantewada, Bappi Ray of the regional TV news channel Sahara Samay was harassed after he interviewed a farmer who had been assaulted by the District Collector. Naresh Mishra of Zee TV was badly beaten, and Azad Saxena of ETV and Venu Gopal, a local journalist, were kidnapped to prevent them from reporting from the village of Tadmetla. Surpiya Sharma of The Times of India also faced a denial of entry. According to Reporters Without Borders, an international media freedom-watch organisation, the police rammed the car of the newspaper Bastar Impact’s editor Suresh Mahapatra and several other journalists. The disturbing commonality in

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Garga Chatterjee is a post-doctoral scholar at MIT, Cambridge , Massachusetts 12 May 2014


the fall

THE SURRENDER Missing leader. Muddled message. And a Congress that has conceded defeat without even the semblance of a fight ullekh np


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inutes after Rahul Gandhi began his speech at the Congress Party’s Jaipur conclave early last year, it struck a senior Union minister that the Gandhi scion was as eloquent as his father Rajiv Gandhi was at the allIndia Congress centenary session of 1985. The late PM had delivered his stunning ‘this-is-a-moment-consecrated-by-history’ speech to an audience that included, among others, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who died shortly after. “The excitement, the expectations, the dream… all looked similar,” said the minister. No doubt, Rahul Gandhi, just elected Congress vice-president, spoke with gusto. And his mother, party president Sonia Gandhi, wiped her tears when the son invoked the sacrifices of the family. After a long apprenticeship in politics, he had arrived, thought the minister. So did many others, including a large section of the media. Congressmen looked up to the man who would keep alive the Nehru-Gandhi legacy—that showpiece of the party’s electoral prowess. “I got carried away,” the minister now says, his gawky facial expression betraying his frustration at the prospect of losing the ongoing General Election. Then what was that about Rahul being the Congress’ future, the leader who could tide over anti-incumbency against a scam-scarred government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? What went wrong?

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Rahul vs Party

At a time when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was gaining in strength in Delhi, Rahul’s efforts to establish himself as a leader with a clean image ran deep. Through his ‘I am different from my party’ posturing, he also wanted to woo the ‘young and impatient’ India that he knew wanted change. But his endeavours and statements also rendered a devastating blow to the image of the UPA Government and the party’s senior leadership. In his bid to reform the Congress, he tried to surround himself with new faces, distancing himself from the party. Several Congress leaders across states that Open spoke to say that the “whole machinery” of the party—which could have otherwise put up a good fight against the Narendra Modi-led BJP—was hobbled by Rahul Gandhi’s public censure of the Government last September over an ordinance meant to overrule the Supreme Court order on disqualifying convicted MPs and MLAs. He called the ordinance “nonsense”, detaching himself from the wrongs of the UPA Government controlled by his own mother. The irony was evident, rendering his youth-aimed moral stance somewhat comic. It didn’t help at all that Rahul was aloof, inviting criticism that he is too introverted for politics and that he doesn’t have the patience required of politicians to hear arguments out. For instance, he walked out of last year’s Budget speech midway. A common refrain in Congress circles is that he

the time of polls. Set up two years ago by a former journalist and sponsored by Congress leader Bhupinder Hooda, it has a team of smart young men working hard to get the party’s message across and combat an onslaught on social-networking websites. “The ordinance incident changed everything. No one wanted to take a decision on their own for fear of incurring Rahul’s displeasure,” says a Congress activist. The party’s new website, Inc.in, was created as early as May last year, but it became active only this February. The reason: a point-person hired by Rahul to vet the website wanted printouts of every page of the content, making the whole exercise cumbersome. It didn’t help that the man who was responsible for ‘scanning’ the website’s content was also busy distributing Lok Sabha tickets in a southern state. This disjointed leadership has also hurt the war room’s ability to function. New Power Centres

Another senior Congress leader based in Delhi says that, in the name of decentralisation, Rahul created his own ‘core team’ that ended up centralising power instead. The team includes the likes of Dr Mohan Gopal, director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies; Sachin Rao, a Michigan Business school graduate who handles internal research; Deepender Singh Hooda, Bhupinder Hooda’s son; KB Byju, a former SPG officer; Kanishka Singh, his Whartoneducated close aide; Jitendra Singh and Meenakshi

A common refrain within Congress circles is that Rahul doesn’t listen enough and comes up with unrelated subjects in the middle of discussions doesn’t listen enough and comes up with unrelated subjects in the middle of a discussion. His approach to power, too, has been a subject of much curiosity. The man who could’ve become Prime Minister if he chose to in 2009 appeared reluctant to be a candidate for the post this time as well. “He is more comfortable sdoing things for people through his special status as a powerful person. He doesn’t want to be PM. Maybe because he was able to wield tremendous power without being in that position,” says a friend of Rahul. Noted leadership coach Santosh Babu doesn’t see this as a strange behaviour. “His personality type is different from leaders who want to act collectively,” he notes, “His actions prove that he is entirely individualistic and therefore prefers to work independently of anyone.” Whatever that is, Rahul’s drastic measures may not yield immediate results because the message looks muddled in the face of political expediency. A few Congress leaders close to Rahul justify this, saying that their leader is ready for the long-haul and is not looking for instant gains. Strangely, though, his party joined hands with tainted Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad, who would have been a beneficiary of the ordinance Rahul fought tooth and nail. Rahul’s long-term plans may have resulted in collateral damage to the Congress for the time being, concedes a person who has closely worked with him. Take, for example, the case of the Congress ‘war room’ in 18 open

Natarajan, both MPs; Haryana Congress chief Ashok Thanwar; and such usual suspects as Jairam Ramesh and Digvijaya Singh. Rahul Gandhi’s oft-stated aim has been to rebuild the Congress organisation from scratch—and he has indeed put in place ambitious schemes to enlist youngsters and hire grassroots-level workers. However, the kith and kin of the powerful old guard continue to be his closest leaders. “His plans have clearly boomeranged in the short term. Dynasts continue to surround him. I hope he gets to make a change in the long run,” says another party functionary close to Rahul. Professor John Echeverri-Gent of Virginia University, who has closely studied how India’s first family has maintained its hold over the 129-year-old party, feels that, as of now, “however well meaning, Rahul has failed to show the mettle of great political leadership”. He is of the view that at a time when Sonia Gandhi has lost energy due to ill-health and age and Rahul’s political leadership has not managed to meet the challenge posed by Modi, the Congress appears to be headed for a decisive defeat and severe crisis. Political pundits forecast that banking merely on pro-poor schemes would cost Rahul dearly in this Lok Sabha election. After all, the ‘young and impatient’ whom he has vowed to woo aren’t pleased with government handouts and sundry doles. They are keen on policies that generate jobs and promote entrepreneurship. MGNREGA, the flagship programme 12 May 2014


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of the UPA which has for sure saved lives in many villages, has come under attack from various quarters for destroying India’s rural work culture by encouraging ‘lazy labour behaviour’. Analysts also point out that not having pitched himself as a prime ministerial candidate against Modi was seen as Rahul’s sign of unpreparedness and lack of initiative. Resistance to Change

It comes as no surprise to students of Congress history that Rahul’s organisational reform steps are being frowned upon. In fact, the Congress has never been a monolithic organisation, having transformed itself to wring out the old and ring in the new over the decades. When an inexperienced Rajiv Gandhi took over the party and Union Government in 1984, the old guard raised eyebrows—and even protested—at the cultural shift within the party and Government. Rajiv promoted his school buddies, hired experts and ushered in a culture that went against the DNA of the Congress at the time, packed as it was with senior leaders who balked at non-politicians taking charge of governance and calling the shots. Several leaders who had close ties with corporate groups were aghast that the new dispensation didn’t consider such ‘old ties’ sacred. It’s an altogether different matter that middlemen and corporate lobbyists eventually had their way. But there was a paradigm shift in the way India’s Government went about its work. Even Rajiv’s emphasis on computer education was resisted by senior leaders within the party who poked fun at the late PM, calling him a ‘computer boy’. Similarly, when PV Narasimha Rao kickstarted India’s economic reforms in 1991, he did it rather forcibly, employing stealth as a strategy. Widespread condemnation of liberalisation within the party was led by the likes of veteran minister Arjun Singh, who portrayed it as an abandonment of the Congress’ so-called socialist values. Rao, a shrewd politician, undertook the task of radically altering the system by 12 May 2014

maintaining secrecy and by letting a small group of people handle decisions. It was as Prime Minister, armed with the Commerce portfolio, that he started dismantling the Licence Raj and adopting free market principles. Despite a serious economic crisis at the time, there was much resistance within the party—given Nehru’s ‘mixed economy’ legacy—and many insiders say it was Rao who persuaded the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh to push ahead. According to former Congress leader Natwar Singh, the “greatness” of liberalising India was thrust upon Singh by the media while it was Rao who deserves the credit. Advantages of Dynasty

Over the past six decades, the Nehru-Gandhi family has offered the Congress the symbolic—often, just recall—value it has needed to appeal to a country characterised by diversity. It has also offered the party a measure of unity, and with it, freedom from the sometimes tortuous process of electing a leader. “Thanks to the family, the leadership issue is always settled,” notes Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor Gupreet Mahajan. While other parties spend a lot of time and energy in choosing their chiefs, the Congress can do without—and this provides the party with “some kind of certainty” vis-a-vis the political process, though it goes against the grain of politics in a democracy, Mahajan adds. Interestingly, one of Rahul’s major concerns has been lack of “strong, well-connected” leaders for the party. Which is why people close to the 43-year-old say that he is looking at refurbishing the organisation to groom “some 40-50 leaders” who can lead the country—even though the outcome of his efforts so far, others argue, has been starkly the opposite. In the assessment of Natwar Singh, who has worked closely with Indira Gandhi, Rajiv and Sonia before he fell out with the party’s high command, power is much “more centralised” in the Congress than ever. Unlike in the days of open www.openthemagazine.com 19


Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even Rajiv, he rues, far fewer Congressmen have access to top leaders now. “If a senior minister has to meet Sonia, more often than not, he is directed to meet Rahul. In the days of Indira, any MP or politician from any party could easily meet the top leader to either air grievances or make suggestions,” he states, adding, “This has hurt the party very badly within.” Singh recalls that even leaders considered close to Nehru could demand the ouster of his Man Friday VK Krishna Menon. “Even in Ms Gandhi’s time, suggestions could be made by anyone. This is no longer the case,” he says. “There is no access [available] at all, except to loyalists.” True, times have changed and there is tremendous competition among parties in India, agrees Mahajan. Unlike in the time of Nehru, Indira or Rajiv, the Congress is no longer the rainbow coalition it used to be with loyal vote-bases of Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins, she says. The party’s weakening, without doubt, is the cumulative impact of the emergence of strong regional parties and others such as AAP.

them were offering about Rs 6-7 for every rupee bet on Rahul Gandhi as India’s next PM. The odds seem to have steepened since. Modi, meanwhile, has established an unassailable lead in these satta alleys. The odds for Modi’s becoming PM have shortened: just 20 paise. This means if he becomes PM this May, anyone who bets Rs 1 lakh on this outcome will get Rs 1.20 lakh back. Rahul has some cause for cheer, though: he has better odds than AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, for whom the going rate is Rs 500-525. “This says nothing about the likely outcome. We have been around for the past 10 years, but we could not combat the Modi-led campaign, which was based on polarising the electorate along communal lines. This will give them an advantage this time round. But the Congress under Rahul will come back with renewed vigour,” hopes a senior Cabinet minister. He insists that the problem at hand for the party— more than a weak organisation—is its failure to showcase its achievements. “Let’s not forget that since time immemorial, top politicians have had good teams to spread their

Bookies have stopped taking bets on Rahul Gandhi. Narendra Modi has established an unassailable lead in the satta market message. If you read history, even the most humble of leaders—for instance, Abraham Lincoln—had a strong PR network. We did do well on that front, while our rivals spent huge sums of money on advertising to stay ahead in the race,” he offers. This Congress leader also seeks to blame Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for not being assertive enough. “Our government didn’t act tough on corruption,” he adds, “Our government was soft towards erring allies.” Losing Streak

Utpal Baruah/Reuters

Betting Trends

In betting circuits, the odds are stacked against his victory. Congress leaders, however, close to Rahul are dismissive of such trends. They reiterate that he is not ‘actually’ concerned about this election. “He is here to set things right in the Congress rivetted by corruption and weak organisation. He knows very well that it takes time. Whoever is underestimating him is doing it at a disadvantage. He will do very well in the opposition,” says a person close to the family. Nevertheless, the air of resignation within the party finds reflection in the satta bazaars of Delhi, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Various reports suggest that several bookies have stopped taking bets on Rahul. Until a month ago, some of 20 open

Perhaps the party’s blame game has already begun in anticipation of a rout at the hustings. The second Congress functionary close to Rahul says that Priyanka Gandhi will step in “as an interface” between the Congress leadership and Rahul Gandhi “to act as a buffer” if the party has internal revolts after the polls. “You see, Priyanka’s importance within the party is growing,” he says without elaboration. Princeton University Professor Atul Kohli hopes that the setback for the Congress in this election, as poll surveys indicate, might well push the ‘dynasty’ aside and open the party to new and better leadership. Counters the Congress minister, “On the other hand, any poll defeat will only strengthen Rahul’s position—because at no other time will the Congress more need the strong leadership he can offer.” Then, after a long meditative pause, he adds, “You can’t judge a leader based on one election alone. Rahul has fire in the belly.” He also says he doesn’t subscribe to the theory, well known in corporate circles, that family enterprises weaken after the third generation. “Congress is not a corporate entity,” he explains. This leader may be right, but for the time being, there isn’t much for his party to cheer about. n 12 May 2014


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INNOCEAN-001/12


ashish sharma


legacy

The Intimate Daughter Priyanka on the stump exudes the charisma of her grandmother. A portrait Chinki Sinha and Aanchal Bansal

A

few days before she was assassinated, former Prime

Minister Indira Gandhi had walked barefoot the lawns at the Nehru guesthouse in Srinagar with a close aide. She told him she could see herself in Priyanka Gandhi. According to close family friends, the former PM told the trusted aide that the responsibility of her granddaughter’s education and training would lie with him in case anything should happen to her. Perhaps she knew. A few days later, she was gunned down, and the aide sidelined. That was 1984. There are now signs aplenty that Indira Gandhi’s words were prophetic. Just earlier this year, there was a glimpse of what she perhaps saw in Priyanka, now 42. The day the Telangana Bill was tabled in Parliament, Congress workers were worried. Anticipating trouble, they urged Rahul and Sonia Gandhi not to attend the session. That moment, Priyanka Gandhi entered, and asked why: were bullets going to be shot, would bombs explode? “The issue was explained to her,” says a witness. “She said, ‘We are political people. Why should we be scared? My brother is not a coward. My brother will attend and so will my mother,’ and that explains her natural instinct for politics.”

on the BJP’s Narendra Modi, even as she defends her husband, there are those who see her as the saviour of the Congress. Others, who claim to know her, feel she would not pose a challenge to her brother. A person close to the family says that while “Rahul is often considered to have acquired his personality from his maternal side—slightly reserved and cold—Priyanka has taken after her ‘dadihal’ (paternal family) and is like her uncle Sanjay Gandhi and grandmother Indira Gandhi.” Mother Sonia Gandhi remains an anchor, and as her daughter tours the constituencies of her mother and brother, mobilising cadres, stopping by to speak with people, Sonia is relying more and more on Priyanka Gandhi as a campaigner. Last month, when Rahul Gandhi went to file his nomination papers to contest the Lok Sabha election from Amethi, Priyanka Gandhi and her husband travelled by road to greet him. Throughout their roadshow in Sultanpur and Amethi, as brother and sister smiled, waved, shook peoples hands and were showered with rose petals, Priyanka was hailed as the ‘daughter of the land’. At chai shops, and chaupals, they recalled how she came to the constituency after her wedding, and the women offered her gifts. Striking a Chord

Growing Up

Outside a guest house in Munshiganj in Amethi on 17 April, Iqbal Ahmed, a party worker from Tiloi Vidhan Sabha area, was waiting for his turn to have an audience with her. She had come for a few days to campaign in the two constituencies, and was meeting party workers to get a grasp of local issues. The sun was riding high, and Ahmed was trying to find a cooler spot on the highway among the people waiting for her arrival. “She listens to us,” says Ahmed, “and she knows most workers by their names. She broke caste barriers in the party by

12 May 2014

open www.openthemagazine.com 23

Priyanka grew up learning kathak and sanskrit. For both she and her brother, now vice-president of the Congress, it was not an easy childhood, by no means normal. First, they saw their grandmother get killed, and later, in 1991, their father. Their lives were heavily shielded. In the mid-80s, both brother and sister had to be withdrawn from boarding schools in Dehradun, and they formed a special bond. Now that Priyanka Gandhi has taken over the campaign in Amethi and Rae Bareilly, and rules front pages for taking


bringing in meritocracy. She doesn’t impose. But we tell her to take over, and she says there should be no issue between brother and sister. She says she is here for him.” Her style of campaigning hasn’t changed much from what it used to be, only it is much more visible. People close to the party say she is quite in sync with the system and addresses issues of politics mostly from Rahul Gandhi’s house on Tughlaq Road or Jawahar Bhawan. She clocks in more than 12 hours of work every day. After 16 May, Congressmen could clamour for her to take charge of a party that seems beset with confusion. However, Rahul has said she will not enter active politics besides campaigning in family pocket in grandma’s footsteps Indira Gandhi in the garden of her private residence with her grandchildren Rahul (aged 4) and Priyanka (aged 3)

buroughs or contest polls. “Priyanka is my sister. She is my friend. I don’t think she would ever have an electoral role,” he had said. In 2004, she said she had inherited her saris from Indira Gandhi. She said she was taller, so she had to add an extra ‘fall’ to have them fit properly. That was an instant identifier for people. Many Faces

There is the other side: Priyanka as mother. Rolly Kumar, whose younger son Anmol is in the same grade as Miraya at Delhi’s Shri Ram School, says she attends almost all school workshops and parent-teacher meetings. “She is always prompt. She would come to drop off her daughter and pick her up until Class 5,” she says. “You would see her early morning at the railway station when the school planned an outstation trip.” That she came in a motorcade of three cars, her bulletproof Safari in the middle, was a sign of the power elite she was from—her security was always a concern. But once on the school’s campus, she would interact freely with others, smiling at everyone, Kumar says. “Of course she is very stylish, and wears these long skirts. Always casual,” she adds. Delhi-based designer Neeru Kumar, who owns the label Tulsi, says Priyanka and Sonia both have an uncluttered sense of style. The green sari Priyanka wore at a recent rally is an example of her subtle taste, says Kumar, identifying it as simple and bold, yet sophisticated. “I think they have a very defined sense of style,” Kumar says, of both mother and daughter. “Priyanka and Sonia don’t wear zari, and go for cotton weaves. Much like how her grandmother would do.” Anmol, who is in Class 7, finds Priyanka Gandhi funny. Once, she had played a scientist in a skit when the kids were being taught a class, and he found her hilarious. She always sends cupcakes and other baked items to school. He says she is a Congress worker. Beyond that, his own interactions with Miraya have never been about her family. “She is into sports and is great in races,” he says. “Miraya is not like others. She says ‘Hello’ not ‘What’s up?’ She has a lot of friends. She is very popular,” he says. “And her mother is always there. Her class projects are really good.” Known to be fond of children in general, Priyanka is also credited with doing up the office basement of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and converting it into a children’s library that is visited by students of several schools in Delhi. “She is very close to her brother, who is not a classical politician who believes in the rhetoric that one has to win this election,” says another aide, “He isn’t hungry for power. He has a vision, and is a strategist. I think when he talks about empowerment, he believes it.” Those who know the siblings insist on discretion, speaking only in whispers, if at all, and always sticking to protocol. The two are not to be named. Only then would

Gerard Gery/Paris Match/Getty Images

12 May 2014


Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Now that Priyanka Gandhi has taken over the campaign in Amethi and Rae Bareilly, there are those who see her as the saviour of the Congress they reveal anything to a scribe. These are ‘those times’, they say. “She has charisma,” says one, “She is less anglicised than her brother, and in a speech recently, the only English word she used was ‘computer’.” Language is a tool she understands well. In December 1998, soon after Sonia Gandhi decided to enter politics, Priyanka Gandhi was by her side at a rally in Sriperambudur, Tamil Nadu. The rally was only attended by a couple of hundred of people, says a family aide. “She spoke a sentence in Tamil,” he says. “She had that instinct. She is a natural leader. She isn’t a housewife. That’s an understatement.” “She is easily the most photogenic politician we have who dresses in saris, dons a short hairstyle and is extremely fair— an instant throwback to her grandmother,” says image guru Dilip Cherian. “Also, she may be visible everywhere, but is rarely available,” he adds, pointing to the mystique that surrounds her. “Call it her induction or call it her suction, it has begun,” 12 May 2014

says the aide. “It is inevitable. She has spunk. She is uninhibited. It was the family’s decision to project Rahul Gandhi. She has been a great source of strength to her mother and has a strong connection to the Hindi heartland in terms of reaching out to people,” this person adds. “In many ways, the battle is about mindspace. She has managed to compete with Modi on that,” says a friend. “I was close to her father. I have seen her grow up. Indiraji used to keep her by her side, making her make lists [of people] to distribute gifts to. But again, she can’t be Indira Gandhi,” he says. He then recites a couplet, attributed to Allama Iqbal. It signals his loyalty to the dynasty, and allegiance to that one name: Indira Gandhi. ‘Hazaaron saal nargis apni benoori pe roti hai Badi mushkil se hota hai chaman mein Didahwar paida’ Maybe that time isn’t far. That’s what he’d like to hope. But again, the mind is a difficult thing to navigate. There are a million sides to her. Like her grandmother. n open www.openthemagazine.com 25


misreading

The Lost Reformer of Pataliputra Nitish Kumar rebuilt the state on the ruins of Lalu raj and allowed his hatred for Narendra Modi to cloud his political judgement. PR RAMESH, travelling across Bihar, follows a cautionary tale of self-destruction

m

aneijar Rai is one of those rickshaw pullers in Patna who warms up to an out-of-towner easily. This sultry afternoon, he’s pedalling furiously from the city’s Gandhi Maidan to Dak Bungalow chowk, but is generous enough to take a pause and tell the curious journalist of his choice in this election. On polling day, he travelled to his village of Jamui, which lies 160 km away from Patna, to cast his vote. “I voted for the laalten (the lantern), and Lalu will win.” After pronouncing his preference, Rai pedals away. The tarred road is as smooth as his words. Ten years ago, in the final days of the Lalu-Rabri raj, Rai would have been braving a stretch of potholes pretending to be a road. What Rai plies his rickshaw on today is a tribute to the man he did not vote for, the man who partly rebuilt Bihar on the ruins left by a decade-plus of RJD rule. “True, things are so much better for us now. There were times in the past when passengers would get off at their destination without paying me my fare. On occasion, I have been thrashed for daring to ask for my payment.” In 2012, Bihar, among the worst performing states in the country on all social indices, matched the national infant mortality rate of 44 per thousand births 26 open

and actually bettered the national average in rural areas (45 per thousand against the all-India 48 per thousand). Bihar’s life expectancy is now 65.8 years, just short of the national 66.1. Bihar’s death rate is down to 6.7 per thousand people, against the all-India figure of 7.1. This reflects huge progress in immunisation. Each of these social transformations would have directly touched the lives of Rai and his family. But neither the state’s transformed class narrative, the noticeably improved social order, nor even the significant infrastructural changes in Patna dampen Rai’s enthusiasm for Lalu Prasad’s RJD. Why did Rai vote for Lalu Prasad? Pat

Nitish Kumar’s Bihar model of development is not vote worthy, it seems. Sadly for him, people here habitually tend to ‘caste’ their vote

comes the reply. “Okra mein hamaar dil ba... jaat ki baat ba.” (In him lies my heart… it’s about caste). That is why the Bihar model of development is not vote worthy. In this state, people habitually tend to ‘caste’ their vote. Add to that one of the most acrimonious separations in Indian politics: the end of the JD-U’s alliance with the BJP. Nitish Kumar of the JD-U wanted a veto over the BJP’s choice of a prime ministerial candidate, and this unreasonable demand was an expression of his visceral hatred for Narendra Modi. Nitish Kumar’s secularism needed a convenient enemy. He did get one—and gained little politically. The transformation that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wrought across Bihar is evident in Gopalpur, too. This village in Saran, where Lalu Prasad’s wife and former Chief Minister Rabri Devi is pitted against the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy, has power supply for 20 hours a day, an achievement by any rural standard in the country. Farmers are assured sufficient water for their agricultural needs by the state irrigation department, and the roads leading here are no longer a rollercoaster ride through dust and dirt. Still, there are few who talk of Salim Pervez, Bihar Legislative Council vicechairman and JD-U’s candidate for this 12 May 2014


REUTERS

good but not good enough Chief Minister Nitish Kumar may be credited with the past decade’s developmental makeover of Bihar but it hasn’t paid him off politically

constituency, as a serious contender. BJP supporter Sanjay Kumar Singh says it’s a direct battle here between Rudy and Rabri Devi. “There is a BJP wave sweeping the country. Everyone wants Narendra Modi as Prime Minister,” he contends, earning the instant endorsement of those gathered around. “Only a section of Yadavs and Muslims will back the RJD,” asserts Singh. Ironically, Singh, whose electoral choice is the BJP, has only praise for Nitish Kumar, his development work and governance model that have trans12 May 2014

formed his home state over the past decade. “When Lalu Yadav was in power, we could not leave home after sunset, the law-and-order situation was terrible.” More specifically, he backs the JD-U leader’s political bete noire, Narendra Modi. “This election is for deciding who should rule the Centre,” he says, “and Modi is the only one on the scene.” Singh argues that it is the Gujarat CM rather than the local BJP candidate who is drawing votes for the party. “The M-Y voters (the social coalition of Muslims and Yadavs that Lalu forged) will vote for

the RJD. Every other Hindu caste and subcaste, barring Kurmis (a numerically weaker OBC caste to which Nitish Kumar belongs) will rally behind the BJP,” he says. Curiously, Kumar’s JD-U appears missing from the main electoral discourse despite the party’s pre-poll strategy of wooing Muslim MLAs away from the RJD in a bid to strengthen the party’s social base among Bihar’s Muslims. These voters, it seems, may favour Lalu’s RJD this time round, seeing it as the state’s best-placed challenge to the BJP. open www.openthemagazine.com 27


Decoding Bihar Polls Development alone won’t fetch votes, something Nitish Kumar may learn the hard way

Caste is

Vote

BIHAR: ELECTION OUTCOMES vote share

SOCIAL PROFILE (% of total population)

(in % )

8.5

2010 Assembly

39.2

25.9

26.4

2009 Lok Sabha

38.5

26.2

24.9

4

1.

16

. ST 0

P 22 M asw .4 ah a ad n a 5 M lit 1 .3 us 2 lim .6

.4

BC M

seatS in 2009

32

4

2

2

RJD+

INC

No

Sa wa r

15

n 1 n- Yad 2.1 Ya av da v O 14. BC 6

10.4

NDA

Others

Phase-1

28 open

SOCIAL PROFILE MBC 16.5 Non-Yadav OBC 16.9

vote share (in % ) Paswan 5.8

2010 Assembly

37.2

Yadav 15.1

8.8 27.3

26.7

Mahadalit+ST 20.6 2009 Lok Sabha

Muslim 10.6

Sawarn 14.4

33.6 26.1

26.6 13.7

Phase-2

7.4

21 ah Pa ad sw .1 al an it+ 6 ST .2 M 14 us .6 lim

.2

BC

18

vote share (in % ) 4.7 2010 Assembly

43.2

2009 Lok Sabha

44.0 29.0 22.0

28.1 23.8

5.1

M

No

M

n

1

6. 7 n- Yad Ya av da 1 5 vO . BC 8

SOCIAL PROFILE

Sa wa r

Under Nitish Kumar, the economy of Bihar—a so-called ‘Bimaru’ state faring worse than the national average on just about all social indicators—has registered an average annual growth of 12 per cent for eight years, the fastest among major Indian states. Its social indicators have shown remarkable progress, too. Literacy in the decade 2001-11 rose 17 percentage points, the country’s biggest gain. Female literacy improved even faster, by 20 percentage points, perhaps a world record. The extent to which the ruling JD-U, despite the palpable developmental makeover of Bihar, has been marginalised in the 2014 General Election can be made out at Darbhanga town’s Anjuman reading room, where a group of elders are engaged in a heated discussion on the polls. One of India’s 250 districts officially identified as economically underde-

12 May 2014


NDA

RJD+

INC

Others

vote share

Phase-3 SOCIAL PROFILE 4.3

Sawarn Yadav Non-Yadav OBC MBC Paswan Mahadalit+ST Muslim

14.6 10.9

3.2

(in % ) 2009 Lok Sabha

2010 Assembly

23.8

12.3

30.9

38.6

37.5

22.5 12.5 26.4

19 11.6 32

Phase-4 SOCIAL PROFILE

vote share (in % )

Non-Yadav OBC

14.1

Paswan 6.1

MBC 25.8

Mahadalit+ST 12.5 Yadav 16.2

9.9 37.5 27.5 25.1

2009 Lok Sabha

Muslim 15.3

Sawarn 10

2010 Assembly

40.3 25.9

20.2

13.7

Phase-5 SOCIAL PROFILE

vote share 2010 Assembly

26.9

27.2

2009 Lok Sabha

M

BC

13

.8

.7

15

2 M Pas 2.7 ah w ad an al 6 it .6 M +ST us lim 12

nYa d

Ya d

6.7

37.3

29.6

21.8 11.2

No

Sa wa r

n

av av 14. OB 7 C

14 .4

39.2

(in % )

Phase-6 SOCIAL PROFILE Yadav 11.4

Non-Yadav OBC

16.9

Sawarn 12.5 Muslim 17.9 Mahadalit+ST

13.1

12 May 2014

vote share 2010 Assembly

(in % )

7.3

38.8 21.9

32

MBC

24.3

2009 Lok Sabha

37.1 Paswan 4.1

29.3 6.6

27.0

veloped, this district is a recipient of special aid from Central Government schemes such as the Backward Region Grant Fund Programme. Politically, this Lok Sabha constituency has swung between the RJD and the BJP, making it a tough task for the JD-U to mark its presence. The main contenders here are Kirti Azad of the BJP, who holds this seat right now, and many-time winner Ali Ashraf Fatmi of the RJD. The JD-U’s best shot here would have been on the development plank. Referring to the JD-U candidate Sanjay Jha, who led a motorcycle rally to drum up support in the town just hours earlier, Ajmal Khan maintains “the issue this election is development”. Reclining on a nearby charpoy, an elderly Shahabuddin intervenes to disagree. “That’s far from settled. Muslims here will only decide after a meeting at the madrassa,” he says, adding that “any split in our votes will only help the BJP”. In fact, the JD-U’s gradual loss of Muslim support through the election period was best seen—despite Nitish Kumar’s efforts—when Akhtarul Iman, its candidate for Muslim-dominated Kishanganj, withdrew his candidacy to help the Congress’ Maulana Asrarul Haque Mohammad. Iman called it a “sacrifice for the larger cause”. It was a sign of which way the poll winds were blowing. In Yadav-dominated Madhepura to the east, Lalu Prasad—convicted last year of Bihar’s multi-crore fodder scam—is not contesting the election. But his protege and controversial ex-MP Rajiv Ranjan (alias Pappu Yadav) takes on JD-U President Sharad Yadav. This battle is billed as a 70-mm potboiler. The BJP has fielded Vijay Kumar Singh. In 1999, splitting Yadav voters asunder for the first time, Sharad beat Lalu here. In 2004, Lalu wrested the seat back, but in caste-hued Bihar, the current contest is being watched for who emerges as the state’s flagbearer of socialist politics: Lalu, with his social justice and anti-communal stance, or Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav, with their development pitch. The Madhepura battle is also expected to yield key readings on the broader popularity of the party led by Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav. Despite being the JD-U chief, the latter may find it hard to retain the seat. Earlier, speculation was open www.openthemagazine.com 29


rife that he would shift to a safer seat such as Nalanda. A polarisation between pro and anti-Modi votes could well scrunch the JD-U stalwart between the RJD and the BJP. The polarisation of Muslim voters away from the BJP and towards the RJD (rather than JD-U) is a scenario being replicated in many parts of Bihar. With the BJP seemingly set to rake in vast electoral riches in the state and Muslims mostly deserting the JD-U, Sharad Yadav’s predicament in Madhepura is another indicator of the drastic diminishment of Nitish Kumar’s electoral project. Fragility of JD-U’s Political Calculus

The tectonic political movements in caste-riven Bihar this election season point to the fragility of Nitish Kumar’s calculations on which he based his decision to snap his party’s alliance with the BJP after 17 years. This happened after the

BJP announced Modi as its PM candidate, and came in the thick of an anticipatory post-BJP plan set in motion by the JD-U stalwart. It meant re-working the expansion of the party base among Muslims, Backward Classes and Dalits. With his Kurmi subcaste accounting for a mere 3.5 per cent of the state’s population, the CM was aware that gains could be made among voter segments that the BJP and RJD were not actively wooing. Perhaps his most astute move was to extend 20 per cent reservation in panchayats to ‘extremely backward’ castes (EBCs). While Yadavs and Kurmis had made the most of Mandal politics, EBCs tasted grassroots-level power for the first time only under Nitish Kumar’s leadership. EBCs constitute a third of the state’s population, and—even if splintered into dozens of subcastes—could have been a significant source of support for the JD-U.

From basket case TO case study Under Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s economy grew at a faster clip and saw rapid improvement on all social indicators

2012-13

Increase

Decrease

Social Indicators

164121

2004-05

77781

2.1

Economic Indicators

63.8

61

65.8

61 54.4

47

4.8

43 33.7

1.9

16.8

-18.0

How Nitish’s Plan Misfired 0.08

In Per co C m ap e it 7914 (R a s) GS Gr 14904 DP ow (R th s Ra cr or te e) of St at e Pe In c Ex r C (in om 0.2 pe ap i nd ta % e ) itu Co 15.1 re ns : R um P ur p Ex er C al tio 780.0 pe ap (R n nd ita s) itu C 970.4 re on : U su rb mp an ti (R on 1238.0 s) Li 1396.7 te Li r ac fe yR Ex pe at ct e (% an cy ) In a ( i t (p fa er nt n ye Bir 1,0 Mo ar th 00 rt s) lif ality e P ov bir Rat Hu t e er m ty hs) an Ra De tio ve (% lo pm ) en tI nd ex 0.367 0.447

190.4

158.7

14.9

30 open

-20.7

There have been other forces at work as well. The CM’s move for land reforms (under the Bataidari law), however, turned Bihar’s ‘upper’ castes restive. Two years ago, a clutch of landowners and ‘upper’ caste leaders launched a ‘kisan mahapanchayat’, warning the government against any move to disenfranchise them, as they saw it. But the CM was able to contain the resentment since his government had the BJP as a partner, and those who’d revolted saw Lalu’s RJD as a worse alternative. By now, BJP-JD-U ties had begun to fray. Bihar’s CM needed to do something. In a bid to attract Dalits and insulate the JD-U against a potential BJP surge, Nitish Kumar worked to a plan that would club all Dalit subcaste groups except Paswans (supporters of the Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP, currently a BJP ally) together as ‘Mahadalits’. Having thus set the stage for wooing EBCs and Mahadalits, Bihar’s CM now needed to wean Muslims—who form 17 per cent of the state’s population—away from the JD-U. Some, he’d already won over soon after taking office in 2005; he had riot-related cases reopened that the police had closed on lack of evidence (39 cases have been reopened since 2006 and are back in court). He paid special attention to Pasmanda Muslims (the most ‘backward’ among them). In 2013, he doubled the monthly pension paid to the 384 families affected by the Bhagalpur riots to Rs 5,000. Ignoring charges of appeasement, his government built boundary walls around Muslim graveyards, accorded government recognition to 2,400 madrassas, and appointed an Urdu teacher in each of Bihar’s schools. However, Muslims do not always vote as a monolithic bloc. They too are divided along caste lines. Nitish Kumar’s calculations rested on the belief that his decision to snap ties with the BJP over Modi would make him Bihar’s sole beneficiary of Muslim goodwill. Along with EBCs and Mahadalits, they would form an unbeatable social coalition. And this, coupled with an earnest pursuit of developmental goals, would assure him victory. But electoral arithmetic that appears sound on paper need not be valid on the ground. While identity 12 May 2014


politics had begun to sway EBCs and Mahadalits, whether they would vote en bloc was far from certain. As the Lok Sabha polls approached, the CM was confounded by the BJP’s appeal to ‘Backward Classes’ that one of their own—Modi being of a ‘Most Backward Class’ background—ought to be India’s next PM. Notably, in rally after rally, Modi has suggested that those opposed to the uplift of MBCs and EBCs are keen on thwarting his leap to the PM’s chair. Making matters worse for Nitish Kumar, his lack of a core vote base appears to have turned Muslims suspicious of his ability to defeat the BJP. Lalu Prasad, in contrast, can count on Yadavs—who account for 14 per cent of the electorate—as a bulwark against a possible Hindu consolidation in the BJP’s favour. The irony is that this latter possibility is strengthened by the collapse of Nitish Kumar’s social coalition strategy; BJP managers are confident that they can mop up a large share of the popular vote by appealing to ‘upper’ castes, non-Yadav OBCs, MBCs and even Dalits (thanks to its alliance with the LJP). Development’s Low Dividends

The trajectory of development politics in Bihar and its electoral dividends may be seen as a study in contrast between Nitish Kumar and the rest. The CM’s problems were compounded when he let himself get trapped by the Congress promise of ‘special status’ for his state. It may or may not have done Bihar much good, but it would have buffered him against the charge of betrayal by the BJP and helped him forge a caste-plus constituency. Unlike Narendra Modi, however, Nitish Kumar has been unable to hone this issue into one of state prestige that should transcend caste dynamics. Despite the extensive infrastructural and social development work done by Nitish Kumar’s government, its benefits appear to have little political traction in this casteist cesspool, at least for the time being. The persistence of identity politics has made it impossible for him to bank on his performance alone to deliver votes, and so, despite his complex backup plan to reinforce the JD-U’s hold over the state’s electorate. One powerful indicator of significant socio-economic change is the gradual stemming of out12 May 2014

Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Lalu Prasad can count on Yadavs, who account for 14 per cent of the electorate, as a bulwark against a Hindu consolidation in the BJP’s favour ward migration over the past decade. Bihari labourers countrywide have been returning home to find their brethren healthier, better-schooled and betterpaid—and living with noticeably better infrastructure and other public amenities. Economic activity is up and crime

down—a far cry from the state’s days when Lalu Yadav was at the helm, marked by an acute lack of rural healthcare and a crumbling education system. The transformation, it seems, has not been enough to see Nitish Kumar through. In contrast, CMs of other states who performed well on the development and governance fronts—such as Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh—have been rewarded well in state elections. Interestingly, several poll projections have shown that both these CMs could have added a large number of Lok Sabha seats (in their states) on their own to the BJP’s tally even without Modi’s campaigning there. Bihar was once said to be a law unto itself—law of the jungle. Nitish Kumar changed that, but it is still the primordial pull of caste and not the modern promise of growth that wins Bihar. And Nitish Kumar is not winning. n open www.openthemagazine.com 31


fallout

The Uranium Itch and Other Maladies in Seemandhra MADHAVANKUTTY PILLAI travels through the strongholds of the YSR Congress chief where violence is a casual state of being. Will Jagan Mohan Reddy have his revenge? photographs by ritesh uttamchandani


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he YSR Congress headquarters in

Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, is a white bungalow with a pillared entrance. At the steps is a stocky young man with a shoulder bag. Is he going somewhere? Has he returned from some place? We don’t know. He is just standing there, greeting leaders who come intermittently in their swanky cars. Bhavanam Bhushan is the grievance cell state coordinator of the party. He speaks with a Western accent because he used to be an NRI in Australia but has since returned to Andhra Pradesh and politics. He has been with the YSR Congress ever since its leader Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, broke off from the Congress and floated his own party. When Seemandhra goes to polls on 7 May, it is highly likely that either the YSR Congress or the Telugu Desam PartyBharatiya Janata Party (TDP-BJP) alliance will come to power. Till a few months ago, it was thought Jagan would get a comfortable majority. Forecasts have shifted since. One recent survey put the TDP-BJP ahead, but it is hard to believe anything in the present political climate. Enormous amounts of money are in play on all sides. A Business Standard article said that of the Rs 195 crore seized in cash across India by the Election Commission till 7 April, Rs 118 crore was in Andhra Pradesh alone. And the only reason that cash is being seized is that there is President’s Rule in the state, making it difficult for politicians to control the police. Questions over his party’s anticipated majority notwithstanding, Bhushan is not a man given to self-doubt. In the little time that I spend talking to him, he offers certainties and precise numbers: “Landslide win for YSR Congress”, “The TDP-BJP alliance will benefit us by 5,000 votes in each constituency [because] minority votes will consolidate [in our favour]”, “Surveys are managed by Chandrababu Naidu who can manage everything except the people”, “Jagan Mohan Reddy will get 20 [Parliamentary] seats in Seemandhra and two seats in Telangana”, and “Kadapa, you mark it, out of 10 Assembly seats, YSR Congress will get all 10, there is no district of Telugu Desam like that”. This straight-faced propaganda contin-

12 May 2014

ues until an ageing man steps out of the office. He is Y Gopal Reddy, who used to be the Congress president of Nellore district but has now switched over to the YSR Congress like numerous others. In Seemandhra, the Congress is a spent force, following the split. Gopal Reddy comes over and begins his propaganda: “One thing I can tell you, people are going to vote for Jagan Mohan Reddy to carry forward the legacy of the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy.” I ask him where he wants the new state’s capital to be after 10 years, once the currently-shared Hyderabad goes to Telangana. For the first time, something beyond vacuous political posturing is noticeable. Even as Reddy starts speaking, Bhushan interrupts, “It will be Guntur

both in coastal Andhra and so is the town of Ongole, which many see as the frontrunner in the race to become the capital. Jagan Mohan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu both have their constituencies in Rayalseema. But no one thinks that region is going to host the capital. Rayalseema is the impoverished cousin. Wealthy coastal Andhra and its flourishing cities are where big business is located—run by the barons who come to the rest of India’s notice when they attack each other with pepper spray in Parliament.

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here are three kinds of heat, says the driver—in Telangana it is the heat of coal, in Coastal Andhra it is the heat

going strong (Facing page) Jagan Reddy basks in the spotlight as he greets supporters at a village near Puddutoor; (above) TDP workers stop for a tea break during a campaign on the outskirts of Vijayawada

most likely.” “No, no, no, no,” says Reddy. “Because he is a Guntur man, he says that. I hear that it is Nellore. He is very much biased.” Bhushan laughs heartily. It is goodnatured jibing, but indicative of an imminent tug-of-war between regional interests once the government of Seemandhra, eviscerated from united Andhra Pradesh, is elected. There is also irony hidden here. Seemandhra is made up of two regions—coastal Andhra and Rayalseema. Guntur and Nellore are

of water, and in Rayalseema it is the heat of stone. For Kadapa, that is a metaphor waiting to grab you by the throat. The heat is like wet gravity, a weight pulling you down with your sweat. The stones are strewn everywhere, much of it going into the many cement factories in the district. One of them, resplendent with lights at night like a glittering city, is Bharathi Cement plant. Bharathi is the name of Jagan Mohan Reddy’s wife. This is the district that his father, the late YSR, made his kingdom. He never lost an elecopen www.openthemagazine.com 37


the rising Jagan Reddy’s supporters form a single tier pyramid before his arrival in Puddutoor district

tion here and the only time the Congress lost was when YSR wanted it to lose. The story of the YSR family begins with violence in a land where violence is a casual state of being. The name it goes by is ‘factionalism’—opposing groups in a village, town or district at war for generations. The phenomenon can be traced all the way back to a time when kings used to rely on local warlords to be their agents. YSR’s father and Jagan’s grandfather, Raja Reddy, was a late entrant to it, but one of the most ruthless. He was made a partner in a barite mine because of his muscle power and then allegedly 38 open

When Seemandhra goes to polls on 7 May, it is highly likely that either the YSR Congress or the TDP-BJP alliance will come to power

killed the owner to take it over. When barite was found to be a useful element in purification of petroleum, its price shot up and the YSR family found itself suffused with cash and ready for the next step—politics . As the late civil rights activist K Balagopal wrote in an EPW article in 2004, ‘With the money flowing from the barites mines in his pockets, YSR was in a position to undertake the transformation of ‘village factions’ into full-fledged instruments of political and economic domination at the highest level…The money was used to buy the support of village factionists. The factionist would be helped to overcome his rivals and establish unchallenged power over his area of operation. If a factionist was too adamant and did not heed the call, a rival would be funded to rise against him. A lot of lives would of course be lost in the process, but then that was, for these gentlemen, a matter of no moment. Once a sufficient monopoly of control over the local factionists was established, the leader’s political-economic future was ensured. Elections would be concluded in his favour, and his muscle power would ensure that he monopolised all the civil/excise contracts he coveted. This sounds bland when stated in this fashion, but the process involved tremendous amount of violence and inaugurated a veritable regime of terror in the area.’ Factionalism has changed form in recent times and is not as cutthroat as it was in the old days, says a local journalist. The level of violence has reduced. Absolute loyalty to the leader, which was the basis of villagers willing to kill without question, is fading away and they also need to be paid well now. But markers of that culture are still present across Kadapa. We go to the village of Kodikandlapalli, a short distance along a side road from the highway. There is nothing there except shrubbery, and, if you look closely enough, foundation stones of houses. The entire village had been burnt down two decades ago in a bout of factional violence. The villagers were resettled along the main road. Some of them are sitting on a 12 May 2014


cot near which is a pile of onions, the only crop they can grow because of the soil’s aridity. They are Telugu Desam Party supporters. Some distance away is the other half of the village, Congress supporters. They don’t talk to each other. There had been an uneasy truce for sixseven years in between and relations were cordial. One of the villagers tells me that they thought the enmity was over, but then a TDP leader was attacked with a bomb and the state of relations reverted to the mean. It is difficult to unravel the chronology of the cycle of violence, but this village’s recent one goes like this: in 1990, a TDP leader was murdered; in 1991, five Congress supporters were killed in revenge; the next day, on the festival of Ugadi, attackers came while they were playing cards and burnt the village down; in 1994, all the cases were dropped after they made a truce and refused to stand witness against each other; in 1999, two Congress leaders were killed; in 2010,

bombs were hurled at a TDP leader, and though he survived, two others died. An old woman in a red sari and pale pink blouse talks about how she will only vote for the TDP because its leaders gave them their new houses. She gets more and more angry as she speaks—until, her face laden with grief, she lets out that her son is in jail. We see an overweight man dressed unusually in a T-shirt and trousers. He says he is a policeman accompanying a prisoner who has come on parole to attend his son’s wedding. The prisoner is 68-year-old Venkat Ram Reddy, who has been convicted of a 1999 murder. As we talk in the verandah of his home, he points to his wife’s hands. One of her index fingers is oddly bent. It happened when the village was burnt and she suffered an assault. He says he has been implicated in a false case. I ask him why the fighting does not stop. “It is not in our hands,” he says. “Any party, one leader will live, all others will be suffering.”

I

n the village of Bhoomaiahgaripalle,

Raghav Reddy, the sarpanch with a white flowing beard, points to his forehead where there is a boil. He complains of an itch in other parts of his body and displays a skin ointment tube. It is late afternoon and he has just returned after participating in a procession that YS Avinash Reddy, Jagan Reddy’s cousin, took out to file his nomination papers for the Kadapa Lok Sabha constituency. It is a seat that Jagan had won last time, but he is now contesting the state’s Assembly polls. Raghav Reddy blames his itch on the uranium mining and processing that is happening a few kilometres away in Thummalapalle, where there is a Uranium Corporation of India plant. The project came up with the support of Jagan’s father, YSR. When Chandrababu Naidu had been Chief Minister, the same YSR had joined activists in scuttling a uranium mining project in Nalgonda, another place in Andhra Pradesh. “But once


he came to power, to please the Centre he agreed to have a uranium plant here,” says K Jayashree, Kadapa district convenor of the Human Rights Forum, an umbrella group of activists who operate across Andhra Pradesh. She has been leading an agitation against uranium mining in this region for years. Initially, the villagers were in favour of it because they thought it meant jobs, but that thinking has changed because of the skin ailments they suffer and the depletion of water sources (because mining results in water channels being cut off). “Earlier we used to drink borewell water, but we have stopped because the water got polluted. Now we drink the water supplied by UCL,” says Raghav Reddy. This then is his situation: he thinks the fallout of uranium mining is disastrous for him and his village, and he still goes campaigning for the very family that let this plant come up. Outside his house, there is a tree under whose shade villagers are sitting. All of them claim to have an itch in some part of their body. Many pull their shirts up to show patches of hardened skin. And yet this is really not an election issue. I ask them why they still support the YSR family if they okayed the plant. “There is no strong leader in the opposition, so we have to vote for them only,” says one of them. Later, Jayashree who visits these villages frequently, says she has never heard so many people complain of skin ailments. She thinks the effects of uranium mining in the area are only getting worse.

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he day Jagan Reddy filed his nomination for the Pulivendula Assembly seat, the town had come to a stop. Newspapers had photographs of people in the streets clogged like flies around jaggery. I reached Kadapa in the evening and was told that he would make a speech at a place called Kamlapuram. It was around 9.30 at night. A policeman said thousands of people had been waiting since afternoon and were going back because there was no sign of the man. In a corner of the village, there was a gathering with television crews waiting for him. It was almost midnight and people were still milling around. And then, just as they started giving up on his coming, suddenly there he was, his arrival 40 open

no succour Pipes carrying effluents from the uranium mining and processing plant in Thummalapalle. Villagers complain of skin ailments but see no choice but to support the YSR family that okayed the plant

marked by a motorcade of cars that never seemed to end. Jagan stood on top of a modified bus with men and women cheering wildly all around. He didn’t speak a word and just greeted them from atop with hands joined together. They didn’t seem to mind that this was all they would get—a glimpse. The next afternoon, I went to Pulivendula and it seemed like a sleepy town on a weekend with empty roads and downed shutters. This was where Jagan’s grandfather, Raja Reddy, is alleged to have caught a Tribal who had robbed a woman and, dousing him with kerosene, set him aflame in public. It gave him a reputation of terror that he held all his life till he was killed in a bomb blast in the late 90s. In a white stately house in the middle of town, I spoke to YS Manohar Reddy, Jagan’s uncle and cousin of YSR. He

said he had been a reluctant entrant to politics, preferring to concentrate on the municipality. Another brother looked after the constituency, and yet another, the district. His side of the family had six brothers and all of them were in politics with Jagan. “For 70 years, our family has been associated with this constituency,” he said, “My grandfather, Venkat Reddy, was in Balpanur [village]. He was probably the first convert in Kadapa district. He was asked to leave the village.” He spoke of the family being responsible for development in the region, from spinning mills to sack factories to institutes that offer free education. But when it came to the violence associated with the place, his answer was short and succinct—“Nothing like that.” Given the level of opposition here, it might even be true now. n 12 May 2014


Artist Subodh Gupta: in his studio in Gurgaon. Gupta is wearing a natural indigo-striped kala cotton jacket over a khadi cotton shirt, and handmade khadi denim pants, all by 11.11. Shoes and glasses are Gupta’s own

11.11 Shani Himanshu and Mia Morikawa Trends and colours for this summer “Indigo, camel, beige, white, pastels, sage green, and greys with accents of red. Indigo has millions of shades and tones. There are beautiful reds, and there is kora, which is no colour but is a fabric that is not bleached. All should be naturally dyed” Recommended fabrics “The fabric should be light. Kala cotton, khadi and chambray denim. Kala cotton is made in Gujarat, and is a light pure cotton”


fa s h i o n

Dressing up the Rebel Four trendsetters in Indian fashion re-imagine menswear for a cool summer look Chinki Sinha photographs by raul irani

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n menswear fashion in India, there is almost always a compromise. The Indian man, designers say, is restrained. Unlike the woman. At fashion weeks, you’d see a man dressed in a dhoti skirt. Outside, it is more about being in a herd. They are afraid of being labelled—‘gay’, ‘goth’, ‘punk’, ‘outlandish’, etcetera. That’s what makes it challenging for designers. They have to fight the prevalent notions of conformity, attitudes that pertain to perceptions of masculinity. So far, menswear has been in a nascent stage compared to women’s clothing in India. Very few homegrown designers have been able to make a mark internationally, and the Indian market remains hard to crack open. There’s also the rejection of what are tagged as ‘Indian silhouettes’ , such as Aligarhi pajamas, or the dhoti. In the West, there are men’s fashion weeks, and more freedom to experiment with design. Here, the forces a designer has to battle are cultural and social. Then there’s also the financial aspect.


Rajesh Pratap Singh Trends and colours for this summer “Calm and earthy pastels” Recommended fabrics “All natural” “There are very interesting and intelligent men who have been around, know their mind, and who have been discerning about their wardrobe,” says Singh

Poet, novelist and musician Jeet Thayil: at the Grey Garden in Hauz Khas Village in New Delhi. Thayil is wearing a charcoal-grey cotton tieand-dye shirt with churi sleeves and dhoti pants made of denim and linen, both by Rajesh Pratap Singh. Shoes and shades are Thayil’s own

“Why can’t we wear kurta pajamas to offiice? Why can’t we tweak our own silhouettes? I don’t expect Italians to wear an interpretation of the dhoti. It is not part of their culture. A suit is a representation of hierarchy that should be challenged here,” says Arjun Saluja, a Delhi-based designer, who feels that menswear fashion is still vague in India. “There is no identity.” Saluja, who trained at Philadelphia College of Textiles in the US, is among India’s few designers of menswear. In his work, he says he tries to be free. But again, this freedom comes at a cost. David Abraham, of the label Abraham & Thakore that retails at high-end stores in Tokyo and London, says that once one accepts the strict parameters that govern menswear, the design challenges are rather enjoyable. “Detail and subtlety become primary design features rather 44 open

than the broad flourishes that womenswear design incorporates,” he says. “Most people use fashion to belong. It is not easy to break the monotony of 300 years of colonisation. Men appropriated Western wear to get jobs in the British era. I think Mahatma Gandhi was rebellious and very fashionable. He took off all that clothing, and owned what was his.” There aren’t enough male rebels in the country, he says. This makes it quite a task to design menswear for Indians. It is more profitable not to rebel in one’s field of work. Women do better than men at role play. Men have always operated with fragile ideas of fashion here, he feels. The Van Heusen India Mens Week failed to find sponsors after 2010, and eventually stopped showcasing menswear on the runway. Only a few male models have walked the ramp since, and

only for a few designers, displaying just scattered pieces. Like an interlude, or a relief. But never claiming their space. Rajesh Pratap Singh, one of India’s finest menswear designers who launched his label for men and women in 1997, says India’s menswear scenario is changing rapidly. “It is becoming a much more interesting space. In the past five years, men in India have been breaking a lot of rules. I hope this trend continues, and men are ready to express themselves through their clothes,” he says. “I think men in India have been in deep slumber for a decade. They have been coming out of it, of late. Men should now be ready to let go of cliches.” There is a craftsmanship in his clothes, which bear his signature style of minimalism, industrial deconstruction and clean cuts. His style draws from his 12 May 2014


Recommended fabrics “Cotton, linen and lightweight blends are ideal summer fabrics for menswear” Trends and colours this summer “While lighter colours like ivory, tan and grey are appropriate, it’s important to include more experimental colours. Bright red, yellow and green have slipped into men’s wardrobes and gained acceptability in the form of chinos, jeans and shirts”

Abraham & Thakore

Alex Davis, artist and designer: outside his store in Shahpur Jat, New Delhi. Davis is wearing two cotton poplin shirts worn one over the other as a ‘play on three-piece summer dressing’, teamed with black cotton gaberdine pants inspired by Aligarhis. All three items of clothing are by Abraham & Thakore. Shoes are Davis’ own

Indian roots but also incorporate international silhouettes. He speaks of a lack of focus in menswear design. Also, of very little financial support.

S

aluja, who has lived in chaotic, lib-

erated and experimental New York City, is among the few designers who work to break down gender barriers in apparel. “We don’t want to explode, or explore any more,” he says, “ I don’t see identity in menswear. There is no role play in menswear.” Saluja’s dhoti pants were one such attempt. Intriguingly cut, these were presented as a neatly edited version that drew upon several layers of maleness seen in a collection called ‘In between’ that he showcased at the Wills India Lifestyle Fashion Week this spring.

12 May 2014

“Men are conservative,” he says, “But you are not thinking ‘gender’ when you are designing. Menswear can go into any realm. It’s a role play with yourself.” Saluja finds muses everywhere. “I was inspired by Prince and David Bowie. Fashion has nothing to do with sexuality. We are held back by the worry ‘if I look like this ...’ There should be a deconstruction. Go out there and play with colours, shapes, and drapes. Play with the length of the suit, the shape. Not everything needs to be outlandish,” he says. “While we don’t have certain cultures like hiphop in India, there is so much inspiration on the street.” His own work is modern and traditional, with an understated design aesthetic marked by an ownership of what’s Indian. While they say that the menswear market is expanding in India as people

become more fashion-conscious, with individuality being emphasised, Saluja is not very optimistic. Again, it has to do with rebellion. Women crossed that barrier much earlier, Abraham says. “Like everything else, we have compromised too soon and too easily. Maybe in the past, it was a question of survival and a desperate need to blend in. But I think the Indian man is gradually gaining in self confidence, and therefore, the wardrobe will shift adequately to reflect this,” Abraham adds. At least, that’s the hope. Both Saluja and Abraham design for men and women. But the issue of lack of identity in Indian menswear is a complex one. It starts early. In the fashion curriculum. Fashion design schools usually train designers to work with the female form, open www.openthemagazine.com 45


Rishta by Arjun Saluja

Trends and colours this summer “Keep it industrial blue, dirty white— there’s a placidity to it—and have depth. No heavy colours. Light grey, white, nude and ice-grey are nice. Try and keep silhouettes relaxed, with a little drape for fluidity” Recommended fabrics “Lightweight fabrics—mull and voile, light cottons, linen. Get a white shirt, nice drape pants (dhoti pants, drop-crotch pants inspired by salwars), a nice linen suit and T-shirts. Experiment with them, make them statement pieces” Actor and musician Imaad Shah: at Shahpur Jat in New Delhi. Shah is sporting an asymmetrical cotton shirt-kurta with skirt-meets-dhoti pants of cotton, both by Arjun Saluja. Glasses are Shah’s own


with the result that only a few designers venture into menswear. There are too many battles to fight. Out in those glass structures that line the wide roads of Gurgaon, or at Nariman Point, you’ll spot an army of clones. Heavily corporatised fashion with suits fashioned by European trends. With economic liberalisation, India has witnessed countless high-end fashion labels setting up stores in swanky malls in big cities. But many Indian designers feel yuppies have failed to take ownership of what’s India’s own, preferring to borrow their sense of fashion from the West. “Work wear, this so-called corporate dressing, is still not very developed in India. Given our climate and work environment, we need to give it an indigenous twist. Does the corporate environment mean everybody has to wear grey suits?” asks Singh, who regularly showcases his work on Paris ramps. European cuts don’t always suit Indian body frames, say designers. This makes for an awkward look. “There is no retail market here. It is an unorganised sector, and there are no stores. There’s not even one that stocks indigenous Westernwear designers. It is changing but not at the pace it should. When clothes are made by hand, they have character and a story,” says Shani Himanshu of the label 11.11 by CellDSGN, which uses a lot of natural fabrics and handwoven textiles to make urban cool clothing. “Others have taken inspiration from the streets in their countries, like Turkey. We have such a range of silhouettes in our backyard, like the Aligarhi pajama. We can tweak them,” says Saluja, an advocate of desi officewear. “We as a society are not relaxed. Once we let go of the restraint, the menswear fashion scene in India will become far more interesting. There is not much of a market, as of now. That holds us back.” There is also the dynamics of pressure, of trying to be what we are not. “We are us and they are them,” says Pratap, “In the end, we need to just define our fashion languages without being dictated to by popular pressure.” For instance, Saluja says, Indian men don’t understand their bodies. If there is a belly, they need to wear a different kind of suit. But that needs to be understood, 12 May 2014

“We have a range of silhouettes in our backyard like the Aligarhi pajama... I don’t understand why men here can’t wear the kurta pajama to work” and more silhouettes need to be explored. “It is this idea that menswear shouldn’t be Indian. This means the dhoti was out.” The sari, on the other hand, is making a comeback in many ways. Designers have found new ways for women to drape six yards—often less—of cloth. There’s also the issue of fabric. That’s where one of the main challenges lies. Labels like 11:11, Rishta by Arjun Saluja, A&T, and Rajesh Pratap use handwoven textiles and weaves from India. In their opinion, these are ‘breathable’ fabrics that are in harmony with the climate. “Break the barriers. Revolt. A beautiful handwoven khadi suit can be a white collar garment. Why would you stuff yourself in polyester? Khadi is no longer a poor man’s fabric,” Himanshu says. Abraham & Thakore’s work has been exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, in a British Council exhibition on contemporary Indian design, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi, and in a Volkart Foundation sponsored exhibition on this homespun fabric. But they find it hard to make a convincing pitch to the Indian male for khadiwear and other fabrics of Indian heritage. The 11.11 label’s khadi denims are being touted as a breakthrough. But they are doing better abroad than here. In India, the market is crippled by misplaced fears of what others think, not to mention Western lifestyle aspirations. “We have projected the idea of swadeshi and swaraj,” says Himanshu. The 11.11 team of young designers trained abroad are returning to their roots for inspiration. Mia Morikawa and Shani Himanshu say they are trying to

dissolve the distinction between daywear and evening wear—creating a look that’s never over or underdressed in any particular situation. “Borrowing from textile traditions, we recontextualise fabrics and silhouettes in ways we feel comfortable,” says Morikawa, “If we can produce the garments we want to see in the market, made in a way we believe in, surely others are looking for something similar. We created our menswear line with sensitivity to our environment and circumstances.” Should we then push for what’s India’s own—say, khadi? “Absolutely,” says Himanshu, “ This is where the challenge for the Indian fashion Industry lies, we need to go back to our roots and redefine them in a contemporary context. You can definitely wear that bandhgala to your office.” Nevertheless, Pratap says it is difficult to showcase such work in India. “Probably because menswear doesn’t get enough attention from the media,” he guesses, “For us, it is an important and a serious section. We showcase menswear wherever possible.” His label has an appreciative clientele: “Very interesting and intelligent men who have been around, know their mind, and who have been discerning about their wardrobe for better or for worse,” in his description. Among the challenges, says designers, is the lack of backup. No men’s fashion week is held in India anymore. That the menswear market, dominated by traditional attire like sherwanis, remains far behind the women’s wear market is often dismissed with a shrug. Old notions are hard to break. Masculinity may be a social and cultural imposition, but it is also a state of mind. There’s also the question of profitability that complicates the creative effort. Menswear, to many, is just not worth the investment. Yet, designers such as Raghavendra Rathore, Ashish Soni, Troy Costa, Rajiv Mohan, Suket Dhir and Manoviraj Khosla continue to do interesting work in this nascent market. The hope is that attitudes will change as the market evolves. There’s a risk they will not, but no rebellion is without its share of fears. No matter. As any, indeed all, of them would say: “It was appropriate to do, and in our heads, the right thing to do, so we did it.” n open www.openthemagazine.com 47


a rc h i t e c t u r e

mindspace

luminary Raj Rewal’s architecture of light 50

Autumn of the Nawab

63

O p e n s pa c e

Saif Ali Khan Kareena Kapoor Riteish Deshmukh

62

n p lu

Revolver Rani Son of God

61 Cinema reviews

Kaleidescape Cinema One Balmain Dream Chrono Lady Bose Sound Link III

60

Tech & style

The Limits of Mortality Chuckle for Health Mite Sets New Speed Record

58

Science

Ticket to Pollywood

56

roug h cu t

Rum’s Rebirth

53

drink

Path of the Swan Centrestage

books

Raj Rewal

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architecture

HEMANT CHAWLA/INDIA TODAY IMAGES

Halls of Light Raj Rewal denies he is a cultural nativist, though his fixation with temples is apparent. His buildings stand out for their cool passages of pure light divya guha

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aj Rewal’s hands are witchlike—gnarled like tree trunks in a gothic forest, tapering and with pointed fingertips—and he uses them a lot when making a point about his buildings, as he moves from accounting for their physical strength, to describing their utility, to outlining how he achieves the trickiest aspect of design: venustas, or beauty. Looking at Rewal’s work, one is amazed at the beauty of stone, a material Rewal is clearly obsessed with. His structures are often huge, dominantly clad in stone mined from across the country. He often chooses sandstone, a sedimentary rock made of compacted sand found most abundantly in Rajasthan, but all over the rest of the country, too. Divergent in colour, tone and appearance of finish, sandstone, when prepared for setting, can be glossy like well-polished marble, or muted and grainy, in a dull, greyish

pink or a rare, deep green. For his iconic Parliament Library Building, Rewal used a type of sandstone that had the appearance, but not (obviously) the sensation, of wood. An unlucky CPWD mason who was tasked with its selection for the building’s elephantine pillars recalls this detail with a wry smile during a 40-minute documentary made by Rewal’s son for the show Raj Rewal: Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape, now open to the public at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. Rewal may be accused of ostentation in his use of marble—a stone with poor acoustic qualities—in Delhi’s parliamentary auditorium, for example. Contractors had to go the extra mile while building its roof and cutting the marble into slats, placing sound-absorbing material underneath. Come to think of it, one hardly sees an auditorium with marble interiors—this is why. 12 May 2014


let there be light (Left) The Lisbon Ismaili Center in Portugal, designed by architect Raj Rewal (facing page)

At the time the auditorium was built, it could accommodate 1,100 spectators, making it one of the largest such venues for this country’s administration, meant to accommodate the two Houses of Parliament and then some. Rewal’s structures are usually expansive in size and scope, as if land were no object, many commissioned by governments when they were socialist minded, many by the Congress, when a lot of land was publicly owned. Most of us know that unless invited to tea by someone important, visits to these high security places are not, as it were, walks in the park—one requires several permissions just to enter. Many of Rewal’s buildings are as difficult to enter as the War Memorial at India Gate, which is more often than not cordoned off. Accessing government buildings such as the Parliamentary Library is fiendishly hard. Rewal is quick to defend himself and 12 May 2014

say that Rewal Associates, his Delhibased architectural firm, offered a design for one-bedroom housing units in Navi Mumbai that would cost no more than Rs 1 lakh to construct and include plenty of democratic-feeling common spaces. But human habitats, like animal habitats, are becoming smaller, and no matter how cheaply they might be made—they are still built on expensive urban land, dulling the purported affordability angle.

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orn in 1932, Rewal studied architecture in Delhi (and later in Paris) in the 60s and 70s. When Rewal the architect was emerging, he was an observer of Lutyens’ and Baker’s colonial monuments in central Delhi, such as the Presidential Palace and Parliament House. But Rewal insists he is not like his colonial forebears. When commissioned

to build the new Delhi library adjacent to the iconic colonnaded drum of Parliament House built by ‘imperialists’, he knew it could not be incongruous, though it needed a distinct spirit. Also, the new library could not be higher than Parliament House. His ruse was to build six floors into the ground. If the Parliament was the centre for consensus and decision-making, its roundness symbolic of democratic values, the library was a place for study, repose and meditation. He included a great glass dome made of many chunks of glass that were scaffolded and fitted into steel, and placed on pillars—a way for the large central hall to be bathed in natural light. While a lot of architecture feels most romantic lit up, making so much Western architecture in cities such as Prague and Paris a nocturnal art, Rewal’s masterpieces revel in wholesome and abundant light that is never fierce. This element of the library’s design makes it a place of enlightenment, he says. The most peculiar quality of Rewal’s designs is the way that, when you are on their premises, you wonder ‘where is the building?’ as one is surrounded by a glow of nothing but natural light, different parts of a building connected with long passageways. Rewal maximises the use of natural light, while protecting occupants from the harsh glare of the Indian sun. This, the architect says, is from where the building derives its “modesty and inner strength”. “It is pure light that surrounds you.” The gnarled hands come up again, and he smiles a smile of pleasure.

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odernism in architecture hit

India rather late, at a time when many early examples, such as Le Corbusier’s ‘tower blocks’—tall multistoreyed housing—in France and the US awaited demolition. These had been built in the spirit of Corbusier’s belief open www.openthemagazine.com 51


diverse sensibilities (Below) A section of the Visual Arts Institutional Campus at Rohtak, designed by Raj Rewal Associates; (right) the Parliament Library building in Delhi

that houses are machines for living in, and designed in great detail, down to the furnishing of the flats. This philosophy was misjudged, however, because quite the opposite happened—the people expected to live in these buildings hated them so much they urinated in the lifts and vandalised the common or public spaces provided with quixotic flair. Modernist architects of Rewal’s vintage believed that modern technology relieved them of the constraints imposed by tradition and convention. But this was not the case for Rewal who steadfastly drew inspiration from traditional Indian architecture, which he calls his ‘cultural memory’. In the course of his work as curator of an exhibition of traditional Indian architecture in Paris, he went measuring important classical structures such as the Fatehpur Sikri fort, the stepwells of Gujarat, and Jantar Mantar—all built as secular public spaces, which he would return to for inspiration throughout his career. Rewal says his lines and symmetry are taken from the Jain mandalas. He names Ranakpur Temple in Rajasthan, 52 open

dedicated to the first Tirthankara, Adinath, as his main inspiration for the structure of the Parliament Library. He denies that he is a cultural nativist, though his fixation with temples does not seem very secular. He points out that the courtyards around the main edifice of the Parliament Library are influenced by those in Fatehpur Sikri, where Mughal Emperor Akbar built a special chamber for theological debates. There is a spark of curatorial honesty in choosing to show a film, as part of the NGMA exhibition, that be-

The most peculiar quality of Rewal’s design is his use of light. Different parts of a building are connected with long passageways; you are surrounded by a glow of natural light

gins with doddering politicians— how many of Rewal’s building in the 70s and 80s would have been possible without them? The film has footage of the Parliament library’s inauguration, with President Narayanan, VicePresident Krishan Kant, then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi lighting a ceremonial lamp. There is also black-and-white footage of the young Rajiv Gandhi laying a foundation stone at another time. Rewal says that the two main parties fighting 2014’s election are both planning to build ‘100 cities’, and that India, thus, has a bright architectural future. The truth on the ground is that a lot of India is beginning to feel like a vast construction site. But the grandee may be forgiven for making blatantly political statements through his work; those clean, cool passageways of pure light absolve him of his arrogance. n The exhibition Raj Rewal: Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape is on at the NGMA in Delhi until 16 June 12 May 2014


Books The Lives of Monks Like any other myth-based novel, the fastest growing pulp thriller in India, Charu Singh’s debut is about good versus evil, but with a Buddhist backdrop GUNJEET SRA

Path of the Swan

By Charu Singh Hachette India | 443 Pages | Rs 499

‘A

moment of intense silence followed and then the

Rigden spoke up, his voice even: ‘Lama Nyima Ozer, Prince Narasimha Miyi Senge, Prince A-Karo, the Golden One, Yeshe Nam Lha and last, but not least, young Tashi Thendup! You have all been called today before the sacred court and from now, in every breath, in every heartbeat, in the shadow of every moment, in the intensity of the thoughtless state, in life, and in not-life, in physical or subtle form, we declare you our emissaries, our sacred envoys to the world of men. Shambhala has a task for you. For you will be Shambhala’s hand in the age that is now upon men...’ Mythology has always been one of the oldest inspirations of storytelling, full of fantastical parables and life lessons of epic proportions. Charu Singh’s debut novel Path of the Swan, part one of The Maitreya Chronicles, is merely one more in a string of myth-based narratives, this time drawing from Mahayana Buddhism. The book, as summarised on its back cover, tells the story of two monks—Lama Ozer and his novitiate Tashi— who leave the hidden monastery where they have lived all their lives in order to answer a call from the kingdom of Shambala. That the call is made to the lama while he is deep in trance only adds to the drama. The book then follows the travels of Ozer and Tashi as they leave the monastery to make this life altering journey. Battling the freezing cold and many dark forces that try to get in their way, they journey through the highs and lows of Sikkim and Tibet before arriving at the Silver Fortress, which is in the most remote part of western Tibet. They then shed their corporeal forms in order to meet otherworldly, divine and dark beings, including the golden Dakini, Yeshe Nam Lha, daughter of the Goddess Tara; Prince A-KarO, heir to the Lha Empire; and Prince Narasimha, heir to the Rigdens and the Shambala legacy. Both the

princes are Yeshi’s guardians and suitors and she must travel with them to Earth, where it is decreed that her child, Maitreya, the saviour, will be born. (Maitreya is, of course, another name for the Buddha.) The danger with prophesies in both literature and mythology is that they are extremely hard to fulfill. In order to fulfill their destiny, Ozer and Tashi—the former a link between Shambala and Earth and the latter his confidant—must battle the Asurs and the dark prince Arden and rescue Yeshe so that she can meet her fate. At its core, the book, like all religious myths, is nothing but a story of good versus evil. The narrative is influenced by the tenets of the mythology on which it is based, and relies heavily on the value of compassion and forgiveness. Tantric Buddhism, on which the book is based, is a fascinating world, full of vivid and dark mythology, complete with alternate myths of creation, its own powerful feuding gods and goddesses, sacred secret rituals and prophecies. The source material promises a plot made in fantasy literature heaven, but somehow the writing does not match up to the ambitious premise. The reinterpretation of a myth requires an easy flow. Path of the Swan, however, is staccato in parts and does not make for easy reading. This is its greatest weakness—its inability to transcend the exercise of story telling and thus create an alternative universe. Although it draws heavily from mythology and will in all probability be picked up because of its uncanny resemblance to Amish Tripathi’s series, it is clearly no Immortals of Meluha. Not just because it lacks the effortless ease of Tripathi’s storytelling, but also because of the complexity of its subject—which is a lot less riveting and relatable than the tale of Shiva, who has become something of a pop culture phenomenon. To make it easier to relate to a subject that is a little alien to the average Indian reader, the author takes pains to etch out detailed backgrounds for each setting and character. Though it may never attain the same cult status as Meluha, the Maitreya series is likely to be of interest to those who love mythology and detail. It could also prove itself a great reference point to understand the lives of monks and those who inhabit Sikkim and Tibet. n

Path of the Swan, part of The Maitreya Chronicles, is clearly no Immortals of Meluha—not just because it lacks the effortless ease of Amish’s storytelling, but also because of its complex, somewhat alien subject

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open www.openthemagazine.com 53


Books Let’s Welcome the Autonomy Economy Gujarat

isn’t Guangdong, but shows the rest of India what its model of governance can achieve DHIRAJ NAYYAR

CENTRESTAGE: INSIDE THE NARENDRA MODI MODEL OF GOVERNANCE

By Uday Mahurkar RANDOM HOUSE INDIA | 192 pages | rs 499

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f Narendra Modi finds himself at the centre of the most hotly contested General Election in recent times, the ‘Gujarat Model’ finds itself centrestage in equally fiery contests of some fine minds (and sundry politicians, of course). And while each side of the debate uses macro-statistics to prove its point—whether this involves proving that Gujarat has grown faster under Modi than under any previous government, or whether it means showing how Modi’s Gujarat has lagged on social indicators—nobody cares to explain in any detail what the Gujarat Model that they are praising to the skies or criticising to the ground actually is. And that is where journalist Uday Mahurkar, among Ahmedabad’s pre-eminent scribes, takes centrestage with this appropriately titled book. The author makes no secret of his proximity to Modi, nor does he hide his awe of Gujarat’s Chief Minister. For a neutral observer, that would be enough to doom the book. Curiously, though, Mahurkar’s access to Modi and his top officials is precisely what makes this book a mustread. It is perhaps the only book in what’s now a mini-industry of Modi books that tells us in some detail what the Gujarat Model is. It’s a journalistic narrative, unburdened by statistics, complex analysis or any grand ideology of economics or governance, and it allows you to make up your mind about the model rather than have someone else make it up for you. In its nuts-and-bolts reality, the Gujarat Model may disappoint diehard believers in ‘laissez faire’ economics and those on the Left in equal measure. The State is not invisible in the economy, nor is it omnipotent. It is a system of governance run on a commonsensical problemsolving approach rather than ideology. That is why several aspects of it can easily be applied to other parts of India. Of course, Modi’s style of governance does have significant shades of conservative economics. Perhaps the most important

feature of the model is its fiscal prudence. Mahurkar documents how Gujarat’s Chief Minister turned around a precarious fiscal position that he inherited in 2001 to one of considerable comfort a decade later. What’s noteworthy isn’t just that Modi’s government bridged the gap between expenditure and revenue—this was achieved at least partly by a more efficient mop-up of revenues and the plugging of leakages in wasteful PSUs for example—but also how Gujarat achieved a qualitative shift in government expenditure. In 2001, non-plan items of largely unproductive consumption accounted for 60 per cent of the state’s spending, while planned expenditure on such productive things as infrastructure made up the rest. By 2013-14, the ratio stood more than merely reversed, with 68 per cent being spent on investment and just 32 per cent on consumption. This is the kind of switch in Central government spending that India’s economy desperately needs. A corollary of the state’s fiscal responsibility and another standout feature of the Gujarat Model is its rejection of freebies and doles. There is no such thing as a free lunch in Gujarat—no free power or cheap food schemes that are central to most other state governments. It is a strategy that has won political support; Modi chose to crack down on electricity-thieving farmers in the run-up to an important state assembly election despite political advice to the contrary. Again, this is something that the wider economy, caught in a vicious cycle of freebies and doles that India cannot afford, needs to emulate. The most talked about aspect of the Gujarat Model has been its business friendliness. Mahurkar believes that the biannual Vibrant Gujarat Summit (which the author compares with the World Economic Forum in Davos) started by Modi after he became Chief Minister has played a crucial role in winning the confidence of investors, both Indian and foreign. A single-window clearance system for projects has eased Gujarat’s business environment at a time when clearances at the level of the Central Government have been fraught with difficulty. You can argue about Gujarat’s growth rates and social development indicators, but there is no denying that Modi has made the state an attractive destination for manufacturing, forcing investors to look beyond the usual hubs of

A federal structure of governance with genuinely empowered states could work well for an overcentralised country like India

54 open

12 May 2014


ajit solanki/ap

Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Maharashtra. But it isn’t just the Invisible Hand of the market at work here. It wouldn’t have been enough without a concerted proactive government thrust on infrastructure, particularly roads and power. If there is one feature of the Gujarat Model which ought to be replicated in every state of India, it is in the power sector. Like many other states, Gujarat was saddled with a loss-making, debt-ridden State Electricity Board (SEB) when Modi took over as Chief Minister. Its main problem, like in other states, was its huge losses to theft in transmission and distribution, amounting to 30 per cent of all power supply. And much of the theft was in agriculture, which consumed 70 per cent of the state’s power largely for the purpose of pumping groundwater. An innovation suggested by an SEB engineer (opposed by most bureaucrats) and adopted by Modi and his power minister Saurabh Patel began the turnaround: the idea involved setting up separate transmission lines for domestic consumption in order to have two distinct supply networks for agriculture and domestic use. It would imply a cost of Rs 2,000 crore, but once done, domestic consumers would get 24x7 power supply while farms would get a rationed supply of eight hours a day. After a successful pilot project, the plan was extended to the entire state via its Jyotigram Scheme in 2003. Soon, even industry was assured non-stop power supply, a key input for any manufacturing unit. There is no ideology behind Gujarat’s power sector turnaround, just an engineering innovation that Modi and his power minister pushed through despite bureaucratic opposition. It is simple—and frankly inexpensive—enough for other states struggling with similar problems to adopt.

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or those who believe that industrial success alone can-

not lead to inclusive growth (those on the Left, that is), the Gujarat Model has something scintillating to offer: the outstanding performance of the state’s agriculture sector, which grew at an annual rate of 6-10 per cent for a decade between 2002 and 2012, a period when the sector’s all-India rate struggled to reach 4 per cent. And it ought to gladden the hearts of the Left to learn that the government played a crucial role in this boom: first, by introducing modern and efficient means of irrigation (not just canals, but rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation); and second, by sending out experts to advise farmers on what seeds to use, what fertilisers to deploy, etcetera. The Gujarat government’s annual Krishi Mahotsav revived agricultural extension services, which in theory ought to exist not just in Gujarat but in other states of India too. Again, there is nothing Gujarat-specific in either of these policies. They can easily be deployed in other parts of India. What also ought to please those who believe in a greater government role in the economy is the manner in which Gujarat has streamlined its bureaucracy. Officials now enjoy stable tenures without the fear of transfers. They are encouraged to brainstorm with the political leadership at annual Chintan Shivirs and throw up ideas. They have considerable autonomy in implementing government programmes. And

12 may 2014

yet, they are accountable not just to the Chief Minister but to the public at large via the country’s most ambitious e-governance programme. Of course, Gujarat isn’t paradise. It isn’t even Guangdong. Mahurkar devotes several pages to the problems that remain and mistakes that have been committed. But what is perhaps the biggest constraint on Gujarat is that many policies critical to its success are framed in New Delhi and not Gandhinagar. In all, the most attractive feature of the Gujarat Model, which doesn’t find mention in Mahurkar’s book, is that it shows what can be achieved by a truly federal structure of governance with genuinely empowered states. The Gujarat experience has a message for New Delhi: governance in general is more efficient at the state rather than Central level, and this is reason enough to devolve more functional and financial autonomy to the states. Perhaps a Prime Minister Modi would recognise as much without enforcing the specifics of the Gujarat Model upon every state. Sure, while some of the model’s features can and should be used by other states, these states should think out-of-the-box and form their own models. Competition among states will be good for India. India’s governance desperately needs a problem-solving approach administered by competent managers. That is the one salient lesson that stares us in the face from Gujarat and this book. n Dhiraj Nayyar is CEO of Think India Foundation and editor-at-large, Firstpost open www.openthemagazine.com 55


DRINK

Rum’s Rebirth: Don’t Swill, Just Taste The story of how the drink survived the fury of the seas and the cruelty of men Manu Remakant

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ap

ho said that rum, born in the

Caribbean, reared over the waves and brewed in England, had sunk to the murky bottoms of the deep along with privateers, buccaneers, slaves and those brave British naval officers, forever? ‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum... Drink and the devil had done for the rest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!’ We listened to ditties of slavery and rum, as we listened to bloodcurdling tales of Dracula—with trepidation, but with the glimmering hope that these were mostly figments of imagination, fantasies of excited writers, remotely rooted in history. We felt doubly secure as a revival of the dark potion meant opening the vault inside the story as well as the vault of the fictional framework. Well, the vaults are empty. Rum, the undead, has returned. In myriad forms. Rum is once again in fashion. Today, you hop through the pearly islands of Central America— Jamaica, Barbados, Costa Rica, Cuba or Martinique—and pick one of those ruddy evenings to relax on a beach, listening to groovy reggae or hiphop. The drink that floats to your hands might hardly resemble the one that emerged from the deep, dark and sinister sugarcane plantations some three-and-a-half centuries ago. The first step to make rum back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was easy. Pay African kings with gallons of rum and purchase their Black subjects, throw them into crude ships limbs tied, ride the slime, sweat and groans tightly packed in the basement over pitching waves for months, slip those who’re still alive onto those fiery islands lined up in the Caribbean Sea—the same ones where we would be relaxing three centuries later with

56 open

a drink in hand, cool zephyrs on our napes, bikini-clad girls in our eyes, reggae in our ears, and curls of smoke from jerk chicken in our nostrils. Then, strip the subjects naked, beat them hard and mercilessly until they shed all human instinct along with broad welts of their swarthy skin, and shove them further inland to the plantations where they would toil from sunrise to sunset for the rest of their lives, harvesting sugarcane.

The second step required patience and skill. With ripe shoots of sugarcane harvested and stacked in the godown, the planters now had two options before them (even though all roads eventually led to rum under a harsh Caribbean sun). One: make rum as a byproduct. Due to the huge demand for sweetness in the continent, a majority of planters distilled sugar from cane juice. The residue they got—molasses—was treated 12 May 2014


with yeast cells, distilled, and converted into a fiery drink of rum. Two: make rum directly from sugarcane juice. In islands like the French Martineque, where they could afford luxury, they made rum straight from cane juice and designated it rhum agricole (as opposed to the common rum industriele which forms almost 99 per cent of the rum in the world), claiming that it is the purest expression of rum possible. And what did planters do with all the rum they made? After satiating Europe, the planters sold the rest of the dark potion to purchase more slaves from African kings. Thus did they complete an evil circle. Yet, in spite of extracting labour free of cost, European planters were not a happy lot in the seventeenth century. How could they do business on a sea infested with pirates? The planters who were minting a lot of money on those islands began to invite unwanted attention. Ships were attacked midsea. A few were sunk, the ones that managed to survive were looted; what a tremendous racket there was over the meniscus! The planters knew there was only one way to check the pirate menace: entice the British Royal Navy’s fleet to the Caribbean Sea. But how could you enlist their services? How do you make the Royal Navy fleet frequent your ports and guard your ships so that pirates steer clear of your merchandise? The planters had one juicy carrot with them—rum—and they decided to dangle it high to attract the Royal Navy. They were not very wrong in their calculations. Eventually, the British Royal Navy turned their prows towards the minuscule islands of Central America that held all the excitement of the times. And thus began the long affair of the British Royal Navy with the dark poison. There exists a brand called Pusser’s Rum today; you could consider it the sailor’s tribute to the grog that served the Royal Navy for so many centuries. It was once their life, bread and blood. The name ‘kill-devil’, by which rum was once known, tells you much about 12 may 2014

its taste in old times. Shunned by plantation owners as ‘hot, hellish and terrible liquor’ that was fit only for beasts, the drink was originally lapped up by the ebony men who slaved on the plantations till sundown. It was their bread. It was their solace. It was their nepenthe, which helped them forget the faded pictures of their villages and homes far far away—in lands as far as previous lives or dreams or fairy tales—with their edges curled, browned or smudged with the passage of time. Homes that were once of wives and children, of sunny peals of laughter, of tiffs and sobs, from where they were rounded up one night and hurled into dark cellars pitching over violent waters, cellars reeking with human sweat and excrement. Would such men mind the taste?

N

ow when you relax in a hammock on a beach under the shade of a coconut tree, meditating with the turquoise water ahead, you would probably never spot the bitterness of one ingredient in that cocktail in your hand or guess the journey it has made. Rum has undergone a sea change in its second coming. Unlike those dark times when the drink was considered fit for only beasts and slaves, we now have different expressions of rum for the suave and the chic. While white rums are designed for feminine appeal and cocktails, the sombre shades that suggest long affairs of the liquid with oak barrels are programmed for cooking. These are delicious rums, spiced with rosemary, pepper or cinnamon, or flavoured with lime or mango. And if you still hold that pirate in your heart, sip one of those over-proof rums from the Caribbean. Tell me, how many of you know that rum is a blend, just like Scotch? Experts spend long moments calibrating extracts from various distilleries to make that one poison that trips your gustatory wirings. There is art in it. There is science, too. Today if you want to catch rum in one of its most ebullient and creative moods, you must parachute down to one of those rum

kingdoms in the Americas. The island is right in the centre of the Caribbean archipelago. Fringed with sugary sands, coconut trees, and beautiful resorts, Jamaica—in addition to its fame as the ultimate rum country— is also the homeland of reggae, of Bob Marley. Tourists fly in from faraway countries to enjoy its beaches, complete with a glass of rum steeped in coconut water or pineapple. Some climb the cliffs only to see how long they can defy gravity before they hit the waves below. Others hibernate in coves. Wherever you go, the beats and pulse of reggae from the beach follow you faithfully in the country. Jamaica comes alive with sundown. The beach bars offer mouthwatering pork and jerk chicken (chicken marinated with Jamaican jerk spice). Together with a rum punch—white rum with lime juice, grenadine syrup, light rum, orange juice and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg—this constitutes the quintessential island cuisine. When you feel a happy buzz, shake a leg on the beach to the beats of reggae. A tour of Jamaica is not complete without a visit to one of the oldest and most famous rum distilleries in the Caribbean: the Appleton Estate, which produces a wide variety of rums of different ages and complexions. Now, amble back to the beachside and relax. Hold the glass high and watch the sun set through a rum tiki. What else do you see amidst all the celebrations and beach parties? Can you see the white eyes of ebony men glint in the dark as they dance frenziedly around stubborn fires lit three centuries ago along the same windy shore where you now relax? Can you hear the voodoo chants set to mad drums as slaves call upon their gods of distant villages to sweep over the ocean and come rescue them? Can you see the gods of Africa gather on a faraway shore, not knowing what to do with the wide ocean? Can you see them through your glass? n The writer is an associate professor of English who runs the website, rumroadravings.com open www.openthemagazine.com 57


rough cut

Ticket to Pollywood Why mass entertainment is a perfect training ground for a career in politics Mayank Shekhar

I

n an interview to Suparna Sharma of The Asian Age rerelease also reflects the spirit of the times; 1950s commercial cently, Gujarati actor Paresh Rawal said what India really successes like Awaara, Do Bigha Zameen and Mother India needs is a dictator. He prefixed the dreaded D-word with could simultaneously compete at Cannes or the Oscars. ‘benevolent’—I suppose, to mean a ‘great dictator’ rathThree of the four biggest hits of this election year thus far er than a bad one. He also referred fondly to the Emergency are Ragini MMS 2, Main Tera Hero and Jai Ho. You can track as a time when things “worked”: trains and buses ran on a similar decline in the standard of India’s elected representime, nobody sat on files. These are Rawal’s personal opintatives, although if you compared the quality of both movions. Except that he is running for the Lok Sabha from ies and politicians today with those in the 80s and 90s, you Ahmedabad East, having replaced a seven-time BJP MP who might agree that there has been a vast improvement. This holds the seat. Rawal is also, I’m told, most likely to win. could be because of a growing middle-class and a new generIn 1993, Rawal played Sardar Patel in Ketan Mehta’s biopation of urban voters that casts votes rather than votes caste, ic. Patel (may his soul rest in peace) was a Congressman and and prefers variety over formula in films. Nehru’s deputy in India’s first cabinet; he is now a mascot Practically all political parties field entertainers in elecfor the BJP. Rawal has also impersonated Lalu Prasad Yadav tions. They always have. Only the number of such candiin a film called Dand Nayak (1993). What are his other politdates has grown. Rawal’s chief advantage over a rookie polical credentials? Plenty, if you ask me. He belongs to mainitician is that he is a popular actor. He’s used to facing huge stream Bollywood and has done exceedingly well. This tells crowds. All politicians cannot possibly think exactly the me he has tremendous political experience. same way about every word written in their party’s manifesLike democratic politics, Bollywood has no barriers to ento, yet they stick to a written script—actors do the same. try. Family names often matter. The trade naturally gravPolitics can be terribly divisive, though. Appeasing specifitates towards important mentors and camps, making ic constituents, based on caste or religion, through fear or loyalty an important precondition for rising up the ladder— favour, guarantees a certain percentage of voters. In a firstother than luck, looks, talent and other attributes, of course. past-the-post system, all you need to win is one vote more A culture of patronage would be just as strong in bureauthan your closest rival anyway. This generates typical politcracies and corporate firms. But you still have to go through ical formulae: M (Muslim) + Y (Yadav) + Other OBC (Other a common filtering process to land an entry-level execuBackward Class), etcetera. tive’s job, before you can suck your way up to lead a small Formula films are unifying that way. They aim to maxteam as a manager. The Indian electorate doesn’t value eduimise ticket-sales, preferring to alienate no one, creating cational qualifications for candidates who are meant to lead products out of trends and adhering to the status quo. This is the country. If anything, in public, politicians pretend to be one of the reasons mainstream Bollywood films have always less intelligent than they are. This is true of a lot of people in remained either politically agnostic or totally unaware, Bollywood too. It is intellectually reas have those involved in making assuring for the masses. them. This is revealed in Rawal’s odd It is unclear exactly what a poliunderstanding of democracy itself. Rawal belongs to mainstream tician does for a living while out of I’d so much prefer Bappida, the Bollywood and has done public office. ‘Netaji’ is how idle men other Bollywood candidate who’s exceedingly well. This tells in khadi uniforms are introduced to fighting from Serampore in Bengal. me he has plenty everyone in small towns and villages. The strongest political statement ‘Struggler’ is Bollywood’s equivalent. he’s ever made: “You are my chickof political Being perennially an aspirant is a full- credentials and en fry. You are my fish fry. You are time job, just as legitimate success is my masala dosa. You are my samosa.” experience achieved only through voting by the You are my man, Bappida! n public—in elections every five years Mayank Shekhar runs the popor at ticket windows every Friday. culture website TheW14.com The outcome of an election or a film’s 58 open

12 May 2014


the right tickle According to the ‘Benign Violation Theory’, humour emerges when we perceive something that is wrong (a violation) while also seeing that it is okay (benign)

The Limits of Mortality The blood analysis of a woman who died at 115 reveals why death is life’s eventual certainty

Chuckle for Health

david trood/photonica/getty images

science

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ow do seemingly healthy people die of old age? What ensures that all of us come with expiry dates? A new study brings us closer to understanding the limits of human mortality than ever before. According to a new study published in the journal Genome Research, our lifespans are limited by our cells’ ability to divide. That stem cells, which replenish tissues day in and day out, will eventually reach a state of exhaustion where they gradually die out, diminishing the body’s capacity to regenerate vital tissues and cells, eventually resulting in death. This finding was made by a group of Dutch researchers who were studying the blood of a dead woman who had once been recognised as the oldest woman in the world. Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, who was born in 1890 in the Netherlands and died at the age of 115 in 2005, was known to be remarkably healthy for her age. Even in her last few years, she was known to possess clear cognition and her blood circulatory system was disease-free. On her death, her body was bequeathed to medical research. According to the researchers, most 60 open

humans are born with 20,000 blood stem cells. The number of active stem cells is known to shrink through the years, and most bodies are known to possess at least 1,000 simultaneously active stem cells to replenish blood at any given time. When analysing van AndelSchipper’s blood, the researchers found that around two-thirds of the white blood cells in her body at death originated from just two stem cells. All the blood stem cells she had started her life with had already burnt out. Her white blood cells had also drastically worn-down telomeres, protective caps at the end of chromosomes, which burn down each time a cell divides. These were around 17 times shorter than those found in her brain cells, which are more static in comparison with regularly dividing blood cells. This too pointed towards the level of stem cell exhaustion. The researchers claim this finding raises hope for longevity. They say it is now theoretically possible that old bodies are rejuvenated by injecting them with stem cells saved from birth or early life. n

According to a new study by researchers at Loma Linda University, humour reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, increases blood flow and lightens your mood. The act of laughter—or simply enjoying some humour—increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward. These positive neurochemical changes, in turn, make the immune system function better. There are even changes in brain wave activity towards what’s called the ‘gamma wave band frequency’ that also boost memory and recall. n

Mite Sets New Speed Record

A Southern California mite far outpaces the Australian tiger beetle, the current record-holder for running speed as measured in body lengths per second. By this measure, the mite runs 20 times faster than a cheetah and the equivalent of a person running at a speed of 2,092 km per hour. The mite Paratarsotomus macropalpis, which is no bigger than a sesame seed, is often found running along rocks or sidewalks. “Looking deeper into the physics of how they accomplish these speeds could help inspire revolutionary new designs for things like robots or biomimetic devices,” says Samuel Rubin, a physics major at Pitzer College who led much of the fieldwork to document the mite’s movements. n 12 May 2014


kiddie remote When a Kaleidescape Cinema One Child Remote is used, its onscreen display switches to a simplified child user interface, which only offers special movie options. The child sees just the movies that parents add to this kiddie selection. Other viewing options stay hidden

tech&style

Balmain Dream w Chrono Lady

Kaleidescape Cinema One It adds an entirely new dimension to home movie watching gagandeep Singh Sapra

$3,995

Price on request

Balmain has specially crafted the Dream Chrono Lady for the winner of the Miss Switzerland 2014 beauty contest. A ‘crown for the wrist’, this chronograph is decorated with 68 diamonds. Its polished steel case is 36mm in diameter and 9.95mm thick, and there is a choice of dials: silvered with classical arabesque motifs, black or white mother-of-pearl. It is water resistant up to 50 metres. n

Bose Sound Link III

E

ncased in a metal box , the Kaleidescape Cinema One looks like your average Blu-ray player, but it is just not that. Winner of the Red Dot Design Award 2014, this niche player has built-in storage for 600 DVDs or 100 Blu-ray quality movies. You can expand the storage by using an external storage array or by linking it to another Cinema One unit. The set comes with an HDMI output, coaxial digital and stereo analog audio outputs, a USB port, an Ethernet port for a wired network connection (a USB WiFi adapter is also included in the package), and an IR input for integration with an advanced control system. Besides watching content off a disc, you can buy more movies from the online Kaleidescape Store. Once you have the movies inside the box, a beautiful user interface lets you search for movies by title, actor, genre, director, length and even by rating. It also comes with a bunch of movies pre-installed. If the film you 12 may 2014

have stored is Standard Definition and the Kaleidescape’s store has a High Definition version of the movie available, it offers you an upgrade for a small fee. Its nifty remote control lets you choose your favourite movie, scene or song with ease. For better control, you can download its control app on your iPad. There is even a special remote handset for kids. The device supports most optical disc formats, including BD-Live and Profile 2.0 discs. It also supports Dolby digital, DTS digital surround, and MPEG audio. There is no optical audio out, though. Also, while you may import a Blu-ray movie, the disc has to be in the drive—due to copyright issues—for you to watch it. There are other downsides, too. You can’t stream movies stored on the Cinema One to another TV set in your house, and its web interface is not too helpful. But overall, the home movie-watching experience has never been this wonderful. n

Rs 22,388

The Sound Link III looks pretty and sounds wonderful, just as all other Bose products are. In its third avatar, the Sound Link has done away with its flip cover, though Bose still offers a bumper in grey, blue, green, orange or pink for Rs 2,475. In the new avatar, its battery life has been extended to 14 hours. The Speaker is slightly bigger than its previous version, and still retains the AUX In, just in case you want to plug in a wired source. The SL III can remember the last six paired devices, so re-connection is pretty simple and straightforward. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at gadgets@openmedianetwork.in

open www.openthemagazine.com 61


CINEMA

Made for television Son of God is based on the Emmy-nominated ten-part TV mini-series The Bible (2013). Son of God director Christopher Spencer also directed three instalments of the mini-series, and most of the cast remains the same

Revolver Rani A biting satire of political and media skullduggery that slides into B-movie parody mode ajit duara

o n scr een

current

Son of God Director Christopher Spencer cast Diogo Morgado, Amber Rose

Revah, Sebastian Knapp Score ★★★★★

das a Ranaut, vir Cast Kangan r bi Director sai ka

S

atire is a demanding art and its first rule is that you have to be clear about what it is you are satirising. Is Revolver Rani an ironic take on the gangster politics of Uttar Pradesh, or is it just a parody of B-grade cinema on the dacoits of Chambal? Till the end of the movie, this is not made clear and the audience is never sure what to laugh at. The one who suffers most from this confusion of directorial intention is the lead actress, Kangana Ranaut. In the first part of the film, playing dacoit Alka Singh, better known as ‘Revolver Rani’, she does the guns-blazing-whileflying-in-the-air routine as skillfully as a hidden dragon or a crouching tiger. However, once she demonstrates her banditry skills and rescues her paramour from the clutches of the enemy, the movie switches subjects and makes fun of the nitty-gritty of electoral politics in UP. To be honest, one sequence in this po62 open

litical parody actually works. Alka’s lover is the aspiring Bollywood hero, Rohan Kapoor (Vir Das). Besotted with him, she funds his movies. She even gets married to him—against the beautiful backdrop of the Taj Mahal at Agra—and the video is played endlessly on a news channel. Her Uncle and guardian (Piyush Mishra) thinks this is terrible for her political image. He flatly denies that Alka has married Rohan, says the video is doctored, and then produces another video of Rohan getting married to a different girl at the same location. When people protest, because this new girl has a Muslim name and the marriage rituals are Hindu, he solves the problem by forcing Rohan to convert to Islam. This is biting satire of political and media skullduggery, but shortly after, the movie goes back into B grade movie parody mode, and everything is over the top and not very funny. Revolver Rani is a disappointing film. n

The life story of Jesus remains fairly consistent in cinema, but the ideological interpretations vary. When the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini made The Gospel According to St. Matthew in the style of neorealism, he presented Jesus as an angry rebel in a Jerusalem under occupation by the Roman Empire. Pasolini said he chose the dialogue for his movie from Matthew’s Gospel, because he felt ‘John was too mystical’. Significantly, Son of God is based on the Gospel of John and, yes, it is mystical. Jesus is played by an actor with a smiling, beatific look. Diogo Morgado is a tall, long haired and ravishingly good looking man. He is the beautiful, gentle, persuasive Jesus of the picture books and rarely do we see him rant and rave when he arrives at Jerusalem during Passover and sees the commercial and religious excesses of the Pharisees. Only once does he get genuinely upset: when he sees money changers in the Temple, the House of God. Son of God focuses more on Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness and does not dwell excessively on his suffering. Yet, despite its fairly conventional ‘Sunday School’ positioning, the film is a good watch, because it remains, after all, the most riveting ecclesiastical narrative in the world. n AD

12 May 2014


Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

What They Did on V-Day

The Bollywood contingent at Tampa, Florida, managed to have a characteristically good time last weekend, despite heavy criticism from the media over having skipped voting duties to attend the IIFA awards. “We’d made this commitment months ago,” most of them echoed in defence, shrewdly making no mention of the fact that they were all paid handsomely to show up. Some were cheekier. Like Abhay Deol, who flat out refused to speak to journos, demanding that they switch off their cameras so viewers in India wouldn’t know he’d passed up voting for a weekend of song-and-dance. The awards show itself, a traditionally bloated affair, went on till three in the morning and—whether you were embarrassed or tickled by the sight—included two-time Oscarwinning actor (and artistic director of the Old Vic Theatre in London) Kevin Spacey wrapping on a lungi and shaking a leg with Deepika Padukone to her musical hit Lungi Dance. Way more entertaining than hosts Shahid Kapoor and Farhan Akhtar’s on-stage jokes was Riteish Deshmukh’s running commentary—acidic and plain funny in equal measure—that Boman Irani and others seated beside him in the front row were privy to. Riteish’s snide remarks on the long and boring acceptance speeches, over-made-up actresses, and more than one tipsy presenter made the unending ceremony that much easier to get through, his buddies insist. Earlier in the day during a luncheon for Hollywood guests Spacey and John Travolta, Main Tera Hero director David Dhawan sidled up to Ritesh and asked, pointing to Travolta, “Isko pooch, Face/Off dega kya? (Will he let us have the remake rights to Face/Off?)” Without blinking, Ritesh responded cattily to an amused David: “Kaunsa pehle poochha tha, ki ab poochh rahe hain? (Did you ever request remake rights all the times in the past that you plagiarised Hollywood films? Why bother now?)”

Noble Tantrum

Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, in typical nawab and begum fashion, reportedly threw a fit on being asked to stay at the Hilton Downtown Hotel in Tampa, which had been chosen as the official hotel for IIFA guests. Nevermind that everyone from Anil Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan to Deepika 12 may 2014

Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh happily took rooms at the Hilton, Mr & Mrs Khan just didn’t think it was good enough for them. Arrangements were promptly made for the couple to be accommodated at the Marriott Riverside, a considerable distance away. But the first star to literally pack up and leave was Hrithik Roshan—once the curtains came down on the big show. The Krrish 3 star said he’d finally realised his childhood dream when he was able to convince a pasty faced John Travolta to join him in recreating Saturday Night Fever at the awards ceremony. Hours later, at the crack of dawn, Hrithik was headed for the airport on his way back to Mumbai.

Our Man of Fuss

And now for the bit where we take no names… The head chef at the host hotel in Tampa was heard complaining bitterly to a group of filmwalas who’d befriended him about one particular young star who’d been giving his staff a hard time over the past five days. The notoriously difficult actor ordered room service throughout the day but wanted all his meals customised to his diet, often demanding food items that weren’t on the menu. The chef explained that the kitchen had been expecting unusual star demands, and had tried to meet most of the actor’s specific food requests, but was very disappointed in his lack of courtesy. According to the chef, the actor never once uttered the words ‘Thank You’ or ‘Please’ while insisting that he be served what he wanted when he wanted it, and never once tipped the staff during his stay. He did, however, make it a point to specifically call the kitchen back and complain each time a meal didn’t meet his standards. The actor flew in to Tampa two days before the rest of the contingent and demanded “the best room in the house” while checking into the hotel, justifying his demand with the explanation that he was staying longer than the others, and that he was going to be performing at the show, thereby somehow making himself sound more important than the rest. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63


open space

Autumn of the Nawab

by As h i s h s h a r m a

Nawab of Dehta and Dhaurera Jafar Mir Abdullah at his ancestral residence, the Sheesh Mahal Husainabad, in Lucknow. Construction of the palace started in 1779 under the fourth nawab of Awadh, Asaf-ud Daula. Abdullah, 64, who lives on the premises—an estate that sprawls over 24 acres—with his extended family, has tried to maintain the regalia and customs of an era long gone

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OPEN Magazine 12 May 2014  

OPEN Magazine 12 May 2014