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! LEADER ! LEADER R A W E

G MA THE I

Behind the brand building frenzy in the political market


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The death of Arunachal student Nido Tania, molestation of two Manipuri women in the capital and earlier instances of racist remarks against students from the Northeast reinforce the fact that hate crimes and racist attacks are still prevalent in India despite 66 years of independence (‘A Brief History of the Other’, 24 February 2014). It is a sad If we practice racism commentary that the against our own people, Centre has failed to we Indians have no combat this menace that is not only endangering right to cry foul when the safety of students but we face the same in alienating them from other countries mainstream Indian society. As racism is unacceptable in a civilised society, what right do we have to badmouth Australia, America and European countries whenever racist comments are made against Indian students, tourists and settlers there? If we Indians practice racism against our own people, we have no right to cry foul when we face it in other countries .  letter of the week Form IV   Statement of ownership and other particulars about the publication, OPEN as per Rule 8 1.  Place of publication

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Volume 6 Issue 8 For the week 25 February—3 March 2014 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers

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The Kejriwal Question

holding the Government to ransom has been portrayed as the most tactical weapon of the Aam Aadmi Party, but this time it seems to have backfired miserably (‘The Paradox of Power’, 3 February 2014). Nothing concrete was achieved by the ‘dharna style politics’ practised by Arvind Kejriwal as Chief Minister of Delhi. But the very issue of a person holding a constitutional office calling for a public protest is of fundamental concern. There has been a furore among sections of society that saw Kejriwal’s action as plain ‘wrong’, but we must admit that change has always been followed by revolution, and never has revolution been welcomed by all. It is usually held invalid by some section of society or another.  R ohit Sachdeva

Why is Water Not Free?

i differ with Mukul Asher on the issue of free water (‘School for Politicians’, 17 February 2014). Water is a basic necessity and is found free in nature. So any government worth its name must ensure that this basic need is fulfilled at zero cost. The cost factor only comes in because after having polluted all fresh water sources, we need to purify the same for our consumption. Ultimately, if needed, there should be a cap on the use of water by each individual. It should not be that the rich use all the water that is available in this land simply because they can afford to pay for it.  PM Ravindran

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3 March 2014


small world

Jagjit Singh, Cough Syrup and Heartache row

A cough syrup ad featuring the ghazal singer airs after his death; his wife alleges he wasn’t paid in full

M o r e t h a n two years after the death of ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, a dispute has arisen between his wife, Chitra Singh, and Torque Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd, whose cough syrup, Torex, Jagjit Singh endorsed. Singh passed away on 10 October 2011. But the commercial for Torex continued to air on television till much later. As of Wednesday, the advertisements also appeared on the Torque Pharma website. Chitra Singh also alleges that Torque Pharma did not pay her husband in full. “Our records show that my 3 March 2014

husband received Rs 10 lakhplus in three cheques from Torque Pharmaceuticals,” Chitra Singh says. “But the agreement was for more. Unfortunately, I have no document to prove this. My husband was a lenient man who could not say ‘no’ and agreed to things without always putting them on paper. It is also inappropriate that the ads are still running.” Chitra Singh has tried to claim the amount she believes Torque Pharma owes her for the deal. Friends and lawyers known to the Singhs have met

with PS Chhatwal, Torque Pharma’s Managing Director. “He wanted to know how much money we expected,” Chitra Singh says. “We told him it was about Rs 60 lakh (since the advertisement had been used for many years). He was defiant, saying, ‘Let them go to court’. He also said he was under no obligation to show us any documents or contracts he may have signed with my husband.” When Open contacted Chhatwal, he said, “I do not want to make any comment on the matter. You can do

whatever you want.” The commercial shows an in-concert Singh being interrupted by a coughing fit, much to the concern of the audience. Singh motions them to not worry, gulps Torex and resumes singing. ‘Gaao Miya Malhar ya Bhimpalasi, Torex cough syrup hai, toh alvida khasi,’ is the punchline. (Sing Raga Miya Malhar or Bhimpalasi, if there’s Torex around, it’s bye bye cough.) In the wrangle with Torque Pharma, it is money that the Singhs seem to have kissed goodbye. n Akshay Sawai

open www.openthemagazine.com 3


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contents real india

cover story The image war

20 budget

Spent Force

10

Amma’s mercy is politically savvy

26 locomotif

AAP

After the Aapocalypse

Person of the Week rakesh maria

Kejriwal’s last day as chief minister

32

open essay

Marx, Mamata and Modi

Good Cop for a Bad City Mumbai’s new Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria is tough on crime. He needs to bust the city’s criminal-politician nexus for good haima deshpande

A

fter a fortnight of deliberations within the Congress-NCP-led Maharashtra government, 57-year-old Rakesh Maria was appointed Mumbai’s Police Commissioner. It is understood that a non-political cop like Maria—a basketball and football loving resident of Bandra—would be an inconvenience to the ruling parties this election season, and so his appointment speaks volumes of his reputation. If the city’s police force has celebrated the move, it is for this reason: he has been given the top post for his abilities and not any cosiness with politicians. Maria is a man in a hurry. With elections round the corner and the police doubly engaged, maintaining law-and-order on Mumbai’s streets may be a challenge. His first priority will be to rejuvenate the force to work in favour of people at large—instead of political leaders who have links with shady characters. As the big chief, Maria would have to tackle corruption within the police. In his favour is his enviable ability to solve cases of crime in times of peaking cynicism. Unlike many of his predecessors, he commands the respect of his men without having to demand it. “Maria sir is a hard taskmaster, but we know it is for the best as he has no political masters,” says an encounter specialist who has worked closely with him. “He is an officer who has earned his stripes.” As someone who likes to lead from the front, one of Maria’s abiding regrets is not being able to do this when 4 open

of the Mumbai serial blasts, it was Maria who helped unlock the identity of the conspirators. The case, particularly Maria’s sleuthing, was used as material for Anurag Kashyap’s film Black Friday, in which actor Kay Kay Menon played the cop’s character. “What I like about the man is that he is silently confident and does not boast about it,” says Menon. “Since I had never met him, my job became more challenging as it needed perfect portrayal. One way I saw Rakesh Maria was as a man with strong intuition.” SOLARIS IMAGES On the flip side, detractors within the force accuse Maria of ‘hijacking’ cases, a charge his supporters rubbish, saying that this story was floated after Maria ordered all cases of every Mumbai police station routed to his Crime Branch office. This may or may not have denied other cops credit, but it certainly had them on their toes. It was inevitable that Maria would earn the ire of some corrupt politicians. He has faced some heat from BJP and Shiv Sena politicians. His tracking down of terrorists has also had some Muslim outfits dubbing him ‘antiMuslim’. But with state Home Minister RR Patil steadfastly behind him, Maria had something of a free hand. It is interesting now to hear politicians express confidence in Maria’s capabilities. “He is a good officer,” according to Vinod Tawade, BJP’s leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council, “Crime will be contained in Mumbai.” n

Mumbai was under the attack of Pakistani terrorists on 26 November 2008. Though he was chief of the force’s Crime Branch then, he was asked by his boss to direct operations from the police headquarters, a decision he fought against. Later, Maria’s Punjabi roots were to prove helpful in the interrogation of the event’s lone captured terrorist, Ajmal Kasab. Maria is also credited with helping solve the cricket betting scandal involving South African captain Hansie Cronje. Before that, in 1993, within days

3 March 2014


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female condoms

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What a come down

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p

books

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Sam Miller’s new book

c life & letters

cinema

54

Hanif Kureishi’s fascination with writers

Jaaved Jaaferi: India’s first dance celebrity

f o r granting Sanjay Dutt yet

more time to tend to his wife Manyata. This means he will have spent 60 days home at a stretch The actor’s parole has been extended by another 30 days. Convicted of illegal possession of arms in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case and in prison since May last year, Dutt has been on parole since 21 December 2013. His wife Manyata has been ill, he says, and so he

needs to tend to her. Now another extension till 21 March would mean 60 days of being free at home. Dutt has made a habit of this. Before this, he had been released on furlough on 1 October 2013 for 15 days. That, too, was extended for another 15 days on Dutt’s request. His sister, Priya Dutt is a Congress MP and is considered close to Rahul Gandhi. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has said that there is nothing wrong in the decision to extend Dutt’s parole. The Shiv Sena and BJP, though, have protested against it for the precedent it would set. But neither Chavan nor the state’s Home minister RR Patil finds it odd that Dutt should be accorded special treatment by the criminal justice system. n

p r e m at u r e a r t i cu l at i o n

“Transparency International, in a report which hasn’t been released in India yet, says that in the past 45 days, corruption has gone down in Delhi. This is by itself an achievement of AAP”

‘...Since the information came from an employee at Transparency International, she assumed that it was a Transparency International survey... We regret the error’

—Ilmi, quoted in Hindustan Times, 17 February 2014

—Press statement released by AAP, 18 February 2014

turn

63

Hrithik’s gift to Ranveer

AAP leaders Shazia Ilmi and Arvind Kejriwal had to apologise for saying Transparency International had reported a drop in corruption in Delhi during its rule

ion able Decis Unreasof nthe Week o or f nsion e e xte ■ Parol tt u yD Sanja

NOT PEOPLE LIKE US

around

The House of Bad News KR Narayanan wanted blatant indiscipline by elected members to be treated as ‘infantile disorders’ or ‘measles of middle age’. Indiscipline by elected members has a long history worldwide, even inside British Parliament, often seen as the touchstone for parliamentary discipline. Winston Churchill stated in March 1931, “The House of Commons as a vehicle of the popular will has steadily declined in

late Pre sident

3 March 2014

public repute... and I am deeply anxious that its walls shall not be undermined by slow decay or overthrown by violent battering-rams.” Over the years, our Parliament and state Assemblies, in particular, have witnessed bedlam, extending to fisticuffs as well. But the use of pepper spray during the Telangana Bill proceedings in the Lok Sabha last week and the TV blackout this week have set the bar really low. The

TDP’s CM Ramesh decided to do an encore in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, snatching papers from the secretary-general and physically pushing him in a scuffle and dislodging his spectacles. Indecent conduct was also witnessed in the J&K Assembly, where a PDP member slapped a marshal who was trying to restrain him. In Uttar Pradesh, two RLD MLAs stripped to protest governmental inaction over a labour issue. n open www.openthemagazine.com 5


A Hurried Man’s Guide

angle

to Triple Centuries

India will struggle to get over the opportunity they missed in the Wellington Test against New Zealand. They had taken a 246-run lead and pinned the opponents on the mat in the second innings. But New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum and wicketkeeper BJ Watling stitched together a record sixth wicket partnership of 352 to rescue their team and win the series. McCullum, who benefitted from dropped catches by Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma, batted more than 12 hours to score 302. This is the highest Test score by a New Zealander, and only the second triple century ever to be made in the second innings. Though the knock wasn’t chanceless, it will be rated among the great fightbacks in the sport. England’s Andy Sandham is the first to score a triple century in Tests. He did this in 1929-30

McCullum became cricket’s 24th triple centurion, and his knock the 28th instance of a batsman scaling Mount 300. Only four batsmen have scored more than one triple century in Test cricket—Don Bradman, Chris Gayle, Virender Sehwag and Brian Lara. All of them reached the milestone on two occasions. Sehwag almost got a third when he made 293 against Sri Lanka in Mumbai in 2009-10.

ross setford/snpa/ap

England’s Andy Sandham was the first to score a triple century. He achieved this landmark against the West Indies in the fourth and final Test match in Kingston in the 1929-30 sea-

son. Since the tour was drawing to a close, Sandham had sold all his bats. The innings that immortalised him was actually scripted by a bat that he borrowed from his captain, Freddie Calthorpe. The statistics for some of the early triple hundreds are not available. But Sehwag’s 278-ball innings against South Africa in Chennai is widely considered the fastest triple century yet. Scoring a 300 demands not just cricketing ability, but also a hunger for runs and the stamina to bat long. McCullum will be proud that he accomplished something that even Sachin Tendulkar couldn’t. n

On the Contrary

A Tale of Two Shoe Throwers And a ready reckoner for all those who want to follow them M a d h ava n ku t t y P i l l a i

A

shoe can travel many hundred kilometres in its lifetime but one thrown against the most powerful man on earth will never stop its journey. The brand and the make might be different but what went hurtling in 2008 towards the then United States President George Bush in Iraq is still in motion today. On Sunday, the shoe came to a rally in Sirsa and took flight in the direction of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, thrown by a villager called Raja Ram. By itself, this event should not merit our attention. Hooda, after all, is used to it; in 2010 also a shoe had been thrown at him. What makes it interesting is that on Sunday itself, the Aam Aadmi Party came out with its first list of Lok Sabha contestants and one of the 20 was Jarnail Singh, the man who introduced the shoe throwing revolution in India. That fateful day in 2009, he had been a regular journalist covering a press conference of the then Home Minister P Chidambaram when, unsatisfied with an answer on inaction against Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 Sikh riots, Singh took off his shoe and flung it towards his host. Consider the irony in all this: a thrown shoe turns a common man into a public figure to the point that he gets a Lok Sabha ticket with decent odds of victory and, furthermore, on the day that he formally enters the electoral fray, a stranger from a village in Haryana performs the same act—it is as if the universe was conspiring to get a shoe thrown for Jarnail Singh. There are a couple of things to shoe throwing. The first is that the shoe will always miss. Over the last four years, shoes and chappals have been thrown at LK Advani, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Manmohan Singh. Never once have they found their mark. Sometimes it has landed

so far away that the target did not know that he had been attacked until the newspapers told him the next day. The shoe hurled at Hooda on Sunday did not even make it to the dais where he was standing. In its YouTube video you can see the black slip-on lying forlorn on the ground with a man— not Hooda—on a chair next to it shrugging his shoulders at the presence of this new neighbour. Another rule is that shoes will always be thrown in public functions when cameras and reporters are present. The dream of the shoe thrower is for the entire act to be captured on film, but given the surprise necessary he One of AAP’s can’t advertise his plan. Lok Sabha Usually, the candidates is footage is Jarnail Singh, therefore of the a journalist, man being who threw beaten up or led away by the a shoe at Chidambaram police. However, the purpose is in 2009 served; his name makes it to the front pages and reading it the next man with a shoe-throwing gene feels a tingle go up his spine. When Jarnail Singh threw that shoe, it was impulsive but still a genuine protest. He was clearly moved by pent-up anger over the absence of justice in Delhi’s anti-Sikh riots. Circumstances from then on dictated his journey to this point in politics. The shoe throwers in India who followed him are alas made of a different mettle. Raja Ram is a man with political ambitions; he stood as an Independent in the last Assembly polls. Singh became a politician because he threw a shoe. Raja Ram threw a shoe because he is a politician. The shoe is still travelling, but it is upside down now. n 3 March 2014


real

india

It Happens

Jayalalithaa’s Mercy is Politically Savvy The Tamil Nadu CM’s decision to free all convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case will boost the AIADMK’s fortunes in the Lok Sabha polls S h a h i n a K K brilliance, yes. Now let’s start the music,’ Tamil activist and poet Meena Kandasamy updated Facebook immediately after the Tamil Nadu government’s decision to release all seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case (a decision stayed by the Supreme Court two days later). This update epitomises Tamil sentiment on Tamil nationalism, an abiding passion for which has been a decisive factor throughout general elections in the state. Even hardcore DMK supporters tweeted and facebooked in favour of their political opponent, the AIADMK supremo and state Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, praising her for the decision to release the convicts. An emergency state cabinet meeting on 18 February took that decision to set all seven convicts free. These include the three on death row—Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan. The other four are convicts who were sentenced to life in jail— Robert Pious, Jayakumar, Ravichandran and Nalini, the last of whose death sentence was commuted in 2000. The apex court, in the verdict that commuted death for Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan, alias Arivu, had suggested that the government may use its power to remit sentences under CrPC 432 and set them free. Jayalalithaa did not take even 24 hours to make the most of what the court had suggested. Her government promptly sent its recommendation to the Centre. “If there is no reply from the Centre within three days, the government would use the power vested [in] it,” Jayalalithaa declared in the Assembly on 19 February. DMK chief Karunanidhi has also expressed hope that the Centre will respond positively to the state cabinet recommendation. MDMK general secretary Vaiko, PMK leader S Ramdoss and CPI state secretary D Pandian had also demanded the assassins’ release hours before the cabinet decision. The Congress seems the only party in Tamil Nadu that is unhappy about the decision. Of late, the AIADMK has been consistent on supporting the cause of Tamil 3 March 2014

express archive

‘J

ustice, yes. Sheer political

a time for clemency Death row convict Perarivalan’s mother with Jayalalithaa on 19 February

Eelam at every crucial moment. Its 2011 resolution in the Assembly demanding their death sentences be commuted, and its 2013 resolution demanding economic sanctions on Sri Lanka are among Jayalalithaa’s strongest moves in this direction. In 2009, she came down heavily on the Sri Lankan government for the genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils, and went so far as to term Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a ‘war criminal’. This is quite different from the AIADMK’s last term in government, from 2001 to 2006, when she showed little interest in the case of either the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi or the cause of Tamil Eelam. It was the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka that tipped the AIADMK to switch sides. The DMK, on the other hand, lost face in Tamil Nadu for being a UPA ally at the time of that civil war. This might have played a big part in its Assembly election loss in 2011. Indeed, it was ironical that the DMK, a party born of Dravidian politics, has not been as sharp as the AIADMK in tapping this Tamil undercurrent of intense identity politics.

The LTTE may be well known as a terrorist organisation, but to be an LTTE supporter is a natural state of political being for many Tamilians. This explains the mass support in favour of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case being released. This was also the reason for the ‘inordinate delay’ taken over their mercy petitions; no Government at the Centre wanted to invite the wrath of the powerful regional parties in Tamil Nadu by hanging the assassins. Political commentators expect the AIADMK to be rewarded richly for this decision in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, predicted to be a reversal of the 2009 results where the DMK won 27 of 39 seats. The convicts have been in prison for 22 years. The world is not what it was when they were jailed in 1992. The LTTE is no more; the war in Sri Lanka is over. A burning issue in Tamil Nadu politics—a vote mobiliser in every general election— has become history. But what human rights activists hailed as a triumph of clemency over retribution has been stayed by the Judiciary. n open www.openthemagazine.com 7


COMMENT revelation

The Guru Delusion What a book by Mata Amritanandamayi’s former personal assistant says about the pitfalls of faith

have not been aligning well nowadays for godmen. Or godwomen, for that matter. Think of a spiritual guru and the immediate accompanying image is that of a skeleton in ochre robes hiding in the closet of a swanky doublestoreyed ashram. Usually, it had the wisdom to stay there, but nowadays the skeleton is itching to jump out and write a book. In the case of Mata Amritanandamayi, the saint who made a career out of hugging, that is what Gail Tredwell, her long-standing personal assistant, did. In 1999, after 20 years beside her guru, Tredwell couldn’t take it anymore and fled. She kept a low profile for a while and then, in a Yahoo group of ex-Amritanandamayi followers, posted 40 reasons for her decision to leave. These included: ‘Horrible yelling and shrieking like a demon’, ‘Having to tell untrue miracles in talks, she (Amritanandamayi) herself would make them up for us’, ‘Worn out from heat and crowds and the culture of India, also the jail-like lifestyle in the Indian ashram’, ‘…hit and abused constantly by the swamis,’ ‘Constant accusing me of being a good for nothing and always angry at me which always would make my guts cringe and constantly putting me down’. This might sound familiarly like a person fed up with job conditions and a bad boss, but Tredwell’s book, Holy Hell, which was released recently, has more disturbing accounts of sexual assaults she suffered at the ashram. Taken in isolation, these charges are grave, but in the history of modern India’s spiritual empires, it is but a recurring regularity. A year ago, Osho’s long time personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, came out with a book in which she revealed how he manipulated and exploited those around him. Like telling 21 rich followers they were enlightened, so that they would buy more Rolls Royces for him. From a guru who showed the path to enlightenment, he had become a god who issued the certificate. Allegations of child molestation followed the late Satya Sai Baba for much of his life; Chandraswami, who swung

adam berry/getty images

madhavankutty pillai

The star s

8 open

hugging mother Mata Amritanandmayi, Tredwell’s former boss

governments, was accused of fraud; Asaram Bapu is in jail now accused of rape; Jayendra Saraswathi, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, has just got cleared of a murder charge; Swami Nithyananda was caught on camera cavorting with female disciples—it is an ever expanding list of controversies which now has Mata Amritanandmayi in it. And these are the blue-chip spiritual gurus in India. The second and third-tier would have even more questions around them. But, even as these controversies come into the public glare, there is an inexplicable concurrent phenomenon happening. In an industry that is based on reputation, a stigma seems to have no effect—the spiritual empires keep expanding. In Satya Sai Baba’s case, for example, he just kept getting more and more popular

The reasons Tredwell cites for leaving include her ‘Horrible yelling and shrieking like a demon’, ‘Having to tell untrue miracles in talks...’ and being ‘hit and abused by the swamis’

despite the allegations. Also consider that his reputation in the early days was built on miracles, but, once his brand was established, he said that the preordained period of doing them were over. Even without miracles, people kept flocking to him. You can take a safe bet that once Asaram Bapu gets bail, mammoth crowds will grace his discourses. The standing of a controversial godman is a bit like that of political leaders accused of corruption who are almost certain to win in their constituency because the bribes filter down to voters. The godman’s job is, however, easier; he doesn’t have to offer anything material. He holds out something even more necessary: hope to fill the emptiness inside a person. To accept that the guru is flawed or that liberation from all sorrow is impossible is to concede that there might be no meaning to life. Most followers can’t do that, and it is easier to just carry on with the delusion. It took Tredwell 20 years to get over it and the reason she could was that she was seeing the charade from the inside—until towards the end, when, as she writes in her book, ‘…my faith dangled like a loose tooth ready to give way to the slightest provocation.’ n 3 March 2014


lo co m ot i f

AFTER THE AAPOCALYPSE T

S PRASANNARAJAN

he death of the comic strip regime is a familiar sight in the history of resistance. The story always begins as a romance of the amateur in an arena dominated by calcified totems of power. Our story of revolution too comes with many adjectives, and all of them, invariably, are a celebration of ‘We the People’. And the people, on their part, find in the first tentative steps of the revolutionaries leaps of hope, the change they have been waiting for. Politics with a difference is all the more beguiling because the so-called mainstream is everything that the worst instincts of democracy can offer. Promises of power from below suddenly sound authentic in a country of ventriloquists, and politics ceases to be the privilege of professionals. For the perennial harrumphers of middle class drawing rooms, this is the kind of revolution that awakens their conscience—and makes them stakeholders in politics. The new debunker in the fray, the outsider untainted by politics as usual, is the one who will be doing the job for them, the job of civic cleansing. The stage for the new redeemer of a squandered system is set by disillusion, defeatism and desperation. Anger provides the extra ballast to the insurgency of the amateur. Arvind Kejriwal began in the depths of national impatience. The fall of Chief Minister Kejriwal is a parable of power and simulated martyrdom. You may argue that in politics, certain failures are grander than successes—those magnificent failures of leaders who refuse to give up their argument with the future. When the AAP government fell in Delhi, it was not exactly a fall for the believers; it was martyrdom of the noblest. For them, it was an inevitable end to the revolutionary who would not abandon the revolution for the rewards of office. He was, in the iconography of the AAP-struck, one of those rare dreamers for whom power was a permanent struggle, and the street was where destiny was decided. He was the lone man in the corridor, vulnerable and defenceless against his tormentors, statusquoists in starched cotton from both sides of the political aisle. Power did not break his conversation with the people—or his war against Authority. If the ideal was denied to him, he would rather quit the game than hang on. After all, Delhi was nothing more than the nearest way-station on the long road to Ruritania. Or 10 open

so went the lamentations of those who are still swayed by the Legend of Kejriwal. The untimely funeral in Delhi was too bathetic to fit such hosannas. The evolutionary story of Kejriwal in power was different from the usual script of the revolutionary passage in which the romance of liberation ends up as a horror show. The standard Third World despot’s biography—anti-colonialist, freedom fighter, liberator, tyrant—or Communism in power was its vindication on a historic scale. Kejriwal was different, and almost trivial. At the time of his fall, he was a bad joke—and an expensive one as well. It was swaraj, his credo, political scatology. For a while there was that sight of a Chief Minister as satyagrahi, and the return-to-the-struggle moment carried no conviction because it was circus as escapism. The hero of the earlier street fighting days suddenly looked like a badly-sketched comic character, and the road show was, in the end, an admission of his own redundancy as a responsible ruler. Even as Kejriwal descended into his comic strip existence, his Sancho Panza was defying civility as well as dignity in public life by playing the misplaced vigilante. The final retreat in the name of Lokpal was unavoidable because no man in power could have ruled a state on the strength of abstractions alone. Details terrified Chief Minister Kejriwal. The abstractions were beguiling, even lofty. Fantasists always use ‘people’ as a prefix to power. Kejriwal’s planetary system is built on an empowering soundbite: every man is a government. In its maddening possibilities, the line can be a Gandhian answer to India’s overstretched democracy. Or a Marxian alternative to the commodification of freedom. Or a libertarian rejoinder to the intrusive, hyperactive state. Or pretty anarchic. Kejriwal’s ‘swaraj’ is all of these and none of these. It is the faith of the righteous, unalterable, and quite granite in its certainties. In his own words, it is common sense: ‘It is now obvious that we have no control over the entire system. We cannot do anything against government employees. We have no say in government policies. There is no participation in lawmaking, little control over the Parliament or the vidhan sabhas. Our natural resources such as water, forest and land are being thoughtlessly sold off. We have no control over that either. Is this democracy? Is democracy all about casting your vote once in five years 3 march 2014


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hat said, Kejriwal’s a-plague-on-bothyour-houses is a lost moment of the Third Way. In the post-Thatcher, post-Reagan West, there was that period of less ideology and more ideas. In the US, there was no idea thief smarter than Bill Clinton, the New Democrat, who internalised the best of Reaganism and captured the vast middle between the traditional Left and Right. Across the Atlantic, Tony Blair’s New Labour was socialism with a dash of Thatcherism. Sociology gurus like Anthony Giddens, author of the influential The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, provided the intellectual framework for a centrist political alternative. Soon, in the talking shops of political ideas, society and community would become operative words. Amitai Etzioni, the highest apostle of communitarianism, even went to the extent of producing a global model 3 march 2014

Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times/ Getty Images

and then letting these parties and their leaders rule the roost? This cannot be a democracy. There is something wrong somewhere. The basic problem in our country is that there is no democracy. We want democracy. The politics of voting once in five years is no longer acceptable. The people want a direct participation in power. The people shall take decisions, and politicians and officials will have to implement them.’ The sheer banality of this passage from his book Swaraj should not be a reason for underestimating the power of trivia in a nation of disillusion. So his Republic of Eternal Bliss, where every citizen is the arbiter of his relationship with the State, appeals to the marginalised as well as the privileged—the natural constituency of AAP. His idea of decentralisation may be simplistic as a slogan, but it is a negation of constitutionalism—and of the institutional symmetry on which civil societies are built. In Kejriwal’s India, power multiplies from the village, and the empowered masses will have one Jehovah to look upon: the most righteous of them all, the most wisest of them all, the most purest of them all. The cult of the Infallible One is an inevitable outcome in a movement driven by the self-righteous. On Planet Kejriwal, martyrdom, no matter however stage-managed, is a prerequisite for further growth. That is why AAP’s parliamentary fight is the next stage of Kejriwal’s freedom struggle—and another step backward for India.

of governance based on the best of neo-conservatism and liberalism. His From Empire to Community became mandatory reading for every Third Way aspirant. But politics continued to be idea proof in India. It is still, though we are irredeemably caught between two imperfections. On the CentreLeft, the Congress is certainly not the party with India on its mind. It has already lost the political as well as the economic argument, which doesn’t mean that the BJP has won it, in spite of Narendra Modi. It is not the party that matters now but its prime ministerial candidate who has turned this election into a referendum on the Idea of Modi. His Gujarat Model may be a Dengist echo of ‘It is glorious to be rich’, but his party has not fully abandoned the virtues of cow-dung capitalism. The Right should be the ideal winner of the economic argument. Not yet here. There could be a third way, different from the one chosen by the provincialists from the heartland and the red fossils from Bengal and Kerala. It is not the way of Arvind Kejriwal either. Do we really need the alternative of a pre-modern moralist? n open www.openthemagazine.com 11

On Planet Kejriwal, martyrdom, no matter however stagemanaged, is a prerequisite for further growth


illustration anirban ghosh


SPIN

SALES PITCH ON

THE STUMP THE RAGING MULTI-MILLION BRAND WAR IS THE BIGGEST EVER IN INDIAN POLITICS Ullekh NP

A

group of smart young men are at work in a modest home at 15 Gurdwara Rakabganj Road in New Delhi. Last year, they had set up a website for the 129-year-old Congress party, inc.in. Sipping endless rounds of tea, they are now busy managing the poll campaign for the party on digital platforms, including social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. This isn’t just about updates and bulletins—it is, in fact, part of a strategic public relations operation. They are aware that they are outnumbered on the World Wide Web by their political rivals, the BJP. But surprisingly, there’s newfound enthusiasm after the resounding defeat of the Congress in the assembly elections late last year. “The focus has now shifted from the party and UPA Government to Rahul,” notes one of the members of this motley group, sponsored by Haryana Chief Minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Hooda and led by a former journalist. They coordinate with agencies hired by the party, PR firm Genesis Burson-Marsteller and Japanese ad agency Dentsu, to brush up the Gandhi scion’s image. The change of tack—from focusing on the ‘achievements’ of a scam-tainted Manmohan Singh Government to a ‘relatively young face’—makes sense, admits a senior Congress minister in the UPA. A campaign needs a face, especially when others have one, he emphasises, referring to the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal. “Our 10-year legacy is nothing to be proud of,” reasons this 30-something member of the Congress ‘war-room’, “And

3 march 2014

Modi and Kejriwal have pitched themselves as outliers or agents of change.” Now, how do they hardsell Rahul? Some of them have done global research. They have read up on the voice modulation classes taken by late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to reduce the screech in her tone. They have looked at last month’s viral images of Hillary Clinton’s new bangs (which frame her face in a way that make her appear younger), together with Twitter comments on them. They have even taken notes on how makeup artist Carl Ray made Michelle Obama go from looking ‘angry and arrogant’ to ‘warmer and softer’ by plucking her eyebrows differently. While all this may not be of immediate use in India’s political war over image projection in the run-up to the General Election due in about two months, a little grooming may not do Rahul Gandhi any harm, says a Congress worker involved in the leader’s image makeover to take on Modi’s media blitz and Kejriwal’s anti-graft appeal. He, however, doesn’t elaborate except to say that Gandhi has been advised not to roll up his sleeves so often or appear clean-shaven on TV. Another member of this group—who is often visited by ‘family’ members such as Congress President Sonia Gandhi and daughter Priyanka—agrees that Rahul’s televised interview with Arnab Goswami on Times Now was a disaster, but says he and his team have started putting up video clips of the 43-year-old leader interacting successfully and naturally with groups of 300-400 people at open www.openthemagazine.com 15


ajit solanki/ap

‘yuva josh’ Congress supporters listen to party Vice President Rahul Gandhi at a public rally in Bardoli, Gujarat, on 8 February 2014

a time. He is most comfortable with crowds of that size, confides another member of the group. Which explains the logic behind Gandhi’s series of interactions with groups of minorities, rural women, retired soldiers and others across the country of late.

Congress has hired Dentsu & Genesis to boost Rahul’s image for Rs 500 crore Hand in Hand

Congress leaders who visit the party’s war-room are excited about the livewire integration—especially in sharing content—between professional ad and PR firms and what they call their ‘in-house’ group. Rahul Gandhi’s home-cum-office at 12 Tughlak Lane is a frequent brainstorming venue for this group, which also drafts speeches that go through layers of clearances before delivery. There are pointsmen to coordinate action plans between these agencies and the group, says one of its members, a foodie who appreciates the sumptuous meals served at the 15 Gurdwara Rakabganj Road residence. Genesis Burson-Marsteller has a team posted at Jawahar Bhawan to engage the mass media, issuing press releases, sending out invitations and arranging TV link-ups. Meanwhile, the party has hired Dilip Cherian of Perfect 16 open

Relations to monitor social media. None of the members of the party’s ‘inner group’ want to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media. Prema Sagar of Genesis Burson-Marsteller declined to offer details of the PR campaign unleashed by her firm for the Congress, citing contractual terms. Dentsu executives didn’t respond to e-mailed queries. The brief to these agencies is crystal clear, says a senior Congress leader: “Focus on Rahul and his emphasis on giving voice to various disadvantaged groups, opportunities to them, transparency in doing things, and how he wants to empower them. The acronym for all that is ‘VOTE’.” Besides last-minute strategy tweaks, trial-and-error has done well, too, in reaching out to the masses, claims a member of the group. After testing various slogans, including the likes of ‘Mein Nahin, Hum’ (Not me, but us), the campaign team settled for the best-received tagline: ‘Har Haath Shakti, Har Haath Tarakki’ (Power in each hand, progress for all). According to the first member of the Congress’ internal poll campaign team, one of the videos that has clicked—that is, got millions of hits online and much appreciation across other media—is the one featuring Hasiba B Amin, Goa unit president of the Congress’ students wing National Student Union of India, shouting the slogan, ‘Kattar Soch Nahin, Yuva Josh’ (Not a fanatic mindset, but youthful passion). In an apparent effort to spite Modi, whom the Congress accuses of being divisive, and to connect with young women, this Congress ad even appears on WomanLog Calendar, a popular free ovulation and fertility app. 3 march 2014


But the Congress is not the only party aiming ads at specific audiences to draw the votes of young people. The BJP’s marketing mavens have also placed ads on sites such as Naukri.com; these pop-ups blame the Congress for not creating enough job opportunities in its 10-year rule. While the BJP may not spend as much on buying media space and airtime as the Congress is—some reports peg the GOP’s ad budget at Rs 500 crore this electoral season— it has in place a battalion of loyalists and in-house experts, many of who are on the party’s payroll. For a full-fledged campaign across all forms of media, the BJP is in talks with Concept and Rediffusion among other ad agencies, as party treasurer Piyush Goyal tells Open. Adman Prasoon Joshi, president, South Asia, McCann, who in 2009 had come up with slogans such as ‘Mazboot Neta, Nirnayak Sarkar’ (Strong leader, decisive government) to project LK Advani as Prime Minister, is expected to help the BJP with its high-octane poll campaign this time round too, though in his personal capacity as a creative mind. However, the party is yet to finalise the accounts, says Goyal, adding that the issues the party’s slogans will focus on will include inflation and jobs—two fronts on which he says the UPA has failed. One of the slogans he hopes these agencies will run as part of the BJP’s campaign is ‘Log Kehte Hain Modi Aa Raha Hai’ (People are saying Modi is coming). According to ad professionals who Open spoke to, this slogan, which was used ahead of a recent National Council meet of the BJP, would hold considerable appeal; it would portray Modi as an unstoppable juggernaut, even work as a roar announcing the arrival of a lion for a hunt. “More such slogans are in the offing. We’ll let the creative guys decide,” says Goyal, claiming that the BJP only has to “maintain a brand, that of brand Modi, not create it”. Sure, what the Congress fears most goes in favour of Modi: a call for change. The mood of the nation, opinion polls suggest, is for a change from the existing diarchy, where the Prime Minister’s actions are hobbled by his party’s chief and Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi. Renowned economist and globalisation buff Jagdish N Bhagwati compares this situation with that of the former Soviet Union, where the party was supreme and the chief of government was just a figurehead.

Prasoon Joshi, who had come up with slogans such as ‘Mazboot Neta, Nirnayak Sarkar’ for the BJP’s 2009 campaign, is expected to help the party this time round too diatribes against political opponents. Its headlines are about as catchy as those run by the Communist mouthpieces of erstwhile East Germany. Just when it appeared that Kejriwal would be a force to reckon with at least in Delhi, IBTL resorted to write-ups bordering on the frivolous. Some of them had headlines such as ‘Arvind Kejriwal took money and Left Anna on his own’ and ‘25 questions to Arvind Kejriwal and his fan boys’, clear attempts at spreading malicious rumours. Rahul Gandhi wasn’t spared either. Like the BJP, now the Congress also has troops of volunteers who comment on news stories and set online trends. Some of them, people close to the matter in both parties say, are paid by the respective parties. On normal days, such websites push their party agenda by hiring humorists and running joke series such as ‘CID versus Rajinikanth’, poking fun at various adversarial leaders. Goyal admits that the BJP has a lot of loyalists—techies and other proessionals—who work without pay to campaign for the party’s PM aspirant, Modi. Congress leaders accuse many of them of being trolls, web crawlers who post nasty comments against the Grand Old Party on social networking sites.

Why Spin Matters

Edward N Luttwak, US academic, cold warrior, military historian and a master of spin himself, argues that brand building is important in politics: “It is essential. First you have to create awareness of existence, convert the unknown into (the favourably) known. Then you have to induce positive feelings towards the object or person by

Guerilla Warfare

While the Congress war-room insider is glad about finally having “a face to the multi-million-rupee campaign”, he is worried about the upper hand the BJP has on the internet. This is evident on online platforms such as Centre Right India (CRI), where participants engage in subtle campaigns to push a centre-right agenda, discussing issues with remarkable fairness—at least as much as can be expected of the centre-right—and respect for divergent views. They offer nuanced arguments on a range of topics. Then there is also IBTL, short for India Behind The Lens, which churns out clever yet misleading articles and 3 march 2014

The Aam Aadmi Party has an in-house team of techies and admen to handle its campaign on digital platforms. The party is betting heavily on door-todoor vote canvassing as well open www.openthemagazine.com 17


sajjad hussain/afp

different strokes BJP workers distribute free tea in New Delhi in paper cups bearing the portrait of Narendra Modi; An AAP membership drive at the party office in Kaushambi, Uttar Pradesh

linking them to positive things: the flag, children, veterans, etcetera.” According to Ashutosh Varshney, professor of political science at Brown University in the US, modern politics is part ideas, part presentation, part coalition building. “Ideas alone do not drive politics. Images need to be imagined, constructed and propagated. The agencies that do it best will inevitably get involved in the process.” Agrees Robert Kaplan, the flamboyant travel writer and historian who has authored books as stellar as The Coming Anarchy and The Revenge of Geography, and has interviewed Modi in the past. The historian says he has no doubt that perceptions matter significantly in the game of one-upmanship in politics. “In an era of electronic media and public relations, perceptions are increasingly important, and thus ‘spin’ unfortunately matters more,” he notes. Similarly, philosopher-feminist and Chicago University professor Martha Nussbaum, a vehement Modi critic who has written extensively about atrocities on women during the Gujarat riots, concedes that the BJP candidate is an energetic and charismatic person, and has campaigned “tirelessly on his alleged development achievements, weak though these in reality are”. On his part, Sumantra Bose, London School of Economics professor and author of a recent work, Transforming India: Challenges to the World’s Largest Democracy, observes that the ‘branding’ of individuals, imitating the corporate branding of products, has been something of a fad in urban India for about a decade now. According to him, the huge branding budgets of Modi and Gandhi convey insecurity rather than confidence. It suggests that both these individuals have some sort of image ‘problem’ or ‘deficit’ that their respective parties hope to overcome through blitzkrieg-style ad campaigns devised and managed by professionals, he argues. True, the nature and magnitude of the problem or deficit is different in the two cases, Bose goes on. “In the case of Rahul, the problem is at once straightforward and immense—he has failed to build any kind of image that can appeal to the electorate over a decade as a politician, and 18 open

is therefore an obvious candidate for professional help. Modi’s problem is different and more complex. First, as his political and governance credentials are limited to Gujarat, a mega-advertising campaign is seen as essential by his party and his campaign managers to project him as the coming ‘saviour of the nation’. Second, this is but a natural extension of the image makeover that Modi has been attempting over the past few years in order to put the ghosts and accusations of 2002 behind him.” Bose does not expect Modi’s PR campaign to help him much, and Rahul Gandhi’s, not at all. “Modi,” he says, “does have a resume that can be tapped: he is a politician seasoned over several decades, a reasonably popular chief minister of a mid-sized state, and a self-made man of humble social origins. Rahul Gandhi’s resume is barren. Moreover, Modi has the obvious advantage of challenging a deeply discredited government, while Rahul Gandhi’s ship is floundering, to say the very least.” But then, the Congress isn’t ready to give up yet. “Modi’s PR machinery is extremely strong but we have revived our campaign,” claims the Congress minister, “and want to leave nothing to chance.”

‘Log Kehte Hain, Modi Aa Raha Hai’ could be a key BJP election slogan the Modi blitz

The Gujarat Chief Minister’s early breakthroughs were aided by Apco, a global PR firm hired for his ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ initiative to attract investment. Today, Modi’s PR apparatus is far more formidable than ever, and is managed largely by his die-hard supporters. Rajesh Jain, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur and founder of netCore Solutions, and BG Mahesh, founder of Greynium Information Technologies, are among those running an 3 march 2014


1,000 Tea stalls set up for Modi’s Chai Pe Charcha campaign, covering 300 cities across India, for the Lok Sabha polls. All of these are equipped with television sets and projectors

40,000+ Autorickshaws have been deployed by AAP for its poster campaign prem nath pandey/express archive

aggressive social media campaign for the BJP candidate. “He and his team have been able to project such a favourable image of him that even global agencies assume that if Modi comes to power in this year’s election, it is good for business,” rues the Congress minister. In fact, Modi’s painstaking efforts at positioning himself as a development leader seem to have paid off, says a PR professional who has worked closely with Modi for long. He remembers the day the Gujarat Chief Minister decided that he would interact with the media only selectively. It was nearly a decade ago, he recalls. Modi had gone to attend the annual dance festival at the Sun Temple in Modhera in Mehsana district of the state. A senior editor of a leading daily was with him in the car on the way to the festival on the banks of the Pushpavati river. Modi was impressed with the interaction, but the newspaper carried what he saw as a ‘negative’ report. “Soon, he started interacting directly with people through speeches and with industrialists through oneon-one meetings. And later, he began to use the social media to bypass the media,” says this executive who does not want to be named. Modi is a born-again politician, he avers, a man who has successfully wooed the very media whose wrath he incurred for Gujarat’s 2002 riots.

AAP plans to use crowdsourced and private funds for its Lok Sabha effort The ROAD SHOW

Former Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has often said that he has been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, whose faith in political symbolism was legendary. Gandhi’s use of symbols is not lost on Kejriwal’s supporters. An AAP activist says his party falls back on in-house talent and help from “well-wishers among techies and 3 march 2014

economists, journalists, writers, bureaucrats and others” to formulate its campaign strategy. The digital campaign is managed by a team of experts, he says, but doesn’t disclose details. The new party has not hired any agency for its poll campaign, but has meticulously used unconventional ways to reach out to people: through posters on 40,000-odd auto rickshaws, videos, social networking sites, through the media and door-to-door campaigning. AAP hopes to use a mix of crowdsourcing and private fundraising to collect close to Rs 300 crore ahead of the Lok Sabha polls; some of this will be spent on conventional mass media, and some of it outdoor and online. AAP plans to replicate what Obama’s team did in 2008 to raise funds from millions of his supporters across the US. AAP, says a party activist, has appealed to people worldwide to donate money via net-banking gateways and mobile banking apps. Getting small donors to contribute to the party is key, says the activist. Several other AAP volunteers Open spoke to are gung-ho about Kejriwal “winning hands down” in opinion polls as the best ‘honest face’ among politicians. The party expects to use the people and money at its command in select Lok Sabha constituencies across the country to maximise its electoral impact, even as it ups the volume of its anti-corruption and anti-crony capitalism rhetoric. Empowering the underclass would be another campaign theme. Many party leaders and marketing professionals, however, are sceptical of this expensive emphasis on image creation. Such campaigns, they argue, are no substitute for the real essentials of politics. Nothing can beat leadership credentials earned through hard work, a coherent political message, a grassroots machine, and, of course, genuine charisma, says Professor Bose. Indian voters, including the poor and uneducated, are too savvy to let their choices be determined by the hardsell of glitzy advertising, in Bose’s view For the time being, though, it is open season for such campaigns, and many PR and advertising professionals hope to hit pay dirt. n open www.openthemagazine.com 19


Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

fiscal juggler Chidambaram is unlikely to return as India’s Finance Minister, so he need not worry about working the arithmetic

bu d g e t

SPENT FORCE Economic growth will not revive until the Government starts investing instead of handing out subsidies DHIRAJ NAYYAR


‘N

either

the

Government

nor the economy can live beyond its means year after year.’ Finance Minister Manmohan Singh said that in his historic Budget of 1991, when he began to unshackle India’s economy from the worst excesses of State overreach. It’s ironic then that the wheel has come full circle under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The UPA has lived beyond its means. It is now left to the next Finance Minister to do an encore a la 1991. To be fair, Finance Minister P Chidambaram took extraordinary pain in his Interim Budget speech to pin the fiscal deficit for 2013-14 at 4.6 per cent of GDP, lower than his target of 4.8 per cent. He slashed expenditure.  He even juggled statistics. After all, he had to persuade creditors, investors and global rating agencies that the Government of India, despite its previous profligacy, was now committed to prudent spending. There are serious consequences for the economy when the Government spends beyond its means. In doing so, it takes away financial resources—through its borrowings—that would otherwise have been available to the private sector. When the Centre borrows big sums of money, interest rates are driven up, making loans more expensive for private borrowers. And for the aam aadmi, overspending fuels inflation, either because the Government is pumping money into the demand-side of the economy which supply cannot match, or because it is printing extra money to finance itself faster than extra goods and services can be produced and delivered. Often, the Centre allows inflation to fester so that its own debt burden is lightened. Remember, inflation is good for debtors—since every repaid rupee is worth less—and bad for creditors. Whichever way, a wide fiscal deficit weakens the economy’s fundamentals and deters investment, so crucial for economic growth. But there are ways and ways of slashing the fiscal deficit, just as there are ways and ways of spending money. Beyond the headline deficit figure, which attracts the most attention, the manner in which the deficit is cut and how the Government spends also has crucial implications for the economy’s future. One type of spending is known as Plan expenditure, which

3 March 2014

is largely money spent on productive projects—infrastructure, for example. This yields returns and helps the Centre raise revenues. And there is a second type, non-Plan expenditure, which is the consumption spending of the Government largely on subsidies, salaries, pensions and interest payments. This type yields no return and pushes the State to live beyond its means. What the UPA has done is perverse. It has cut productive expenditure while continuing to spend unproductively. No matter what Chidambaram says, the Government of India is still living beyond its means. Solving this problem will now be the next Finance Minister’s headache. Consider this. For 2013-14, Chidambaram slashed Plan expenditure by almost Rs 80,000 crore, a 14.4 per cent cut on the estimate he presented in his budget last year. Non-Plan expenditure has actually turned out Rs 5,000 crore in excess of last year’s estimate. And this does not include the Rs 35,000 crore in fuel subsidies that he pushed to the next financial year in a sleight of hand. He had to; he would not have attained his deficit target without doing that. This is not Chidambaram’s choice alone. The Congress-led UPA has decided that there is no way it is going to cut nonPlan expenditure. If the deficit has to be reined in, it must be done through cuts in government investment. The UPA Government had opportunities to signal its seriousness on curbing unproductive expenditure. On the credit side, it tried to deregulate diesel prices with some success. On the debit side, it failed to reduce LPG subsidies and was forced by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi to actually raise that subsidy weeks before the Interim Budget. It went ahead with the populist announcement of a pay commission for bureaucrats without any commitment to downsize the bloated government. Last year, it announced an expensive food security bill, which hasn’t been rolled out yet and has thus spared Chidambaram the blushes of allocating even more non-Plan expenditure to it. For the Congress, subsidies are indispensable, even if they are indiscriminate— how else can you describe an LPG subsidy for the middle-class and rich, a diesel subsidy for SUV owners and cheap wheat and rice for 67 per cent of the population?

They form the basis of the party’s political economy framework. If expenditure cuts need to be made, they can be made on roads, power, education and health, precisely the sectors that would yield returns in the future, not just for individuals but for the country as a whole. They would, in fact, enhance the economy’s growth. Yet, Chidambaram’s allocations for some of these important sectors have been ruthlessly reduced for the next financial year—figures that can of course be altered by the next Government in July—to gain credibility for his fiscal deficit target of 4.1 per cent. The only other way to finance the UPA’s Subsidy Raj would be to raise taxes. That would have been imprudent before a general election, as voters already angry with the UPA for its failure to curb inflation and clamp down on corruption would be furious. In the end, Chidambaram cut excise duties to appease the tax-paying classes. His numbers may not add up for next year—he is assuming an 18 per cent growth in tax revenues, higher than the 2013-14 target he could not achieve—but he is unlikely to be the Finance Minister who must rework the arithmetic. The Congress will almost certainly not return to form a UPA-3.

I

t will be the task of the next Government to consolidate India’s fiscal position. The NDA Government had passed a Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Bill in 2003, but the UPA violated it with abandon after 2008. A new dispensation will have to lay out a credible path towards the goals envisioned by that Act. This would mean reducing the fiscal deficit to no more than 3 per cent of GDP, ideally in three years. Perhaps more importantly, it needs to commit itself to a near-zero revenue deficit—so that no borrowing happens for unproductive expenditure—by the end of its term. If the revenue deficit is close to zero, the Government can run a reasonable fiscal deficit (up to 3 per cent) so long as that extra spending is invested in roads, ports, irrigation, education and health. For that to happen, the next Government needs to take a collective call on fertiliser, fuel and food subsidies. It is impossible to abolish all subsidies in a country where a quarter of the populaopen www.openthemagazine.com 21


Mansi Thapliyal/reuters

smart spending Expenditure on sectors such as education would yield returns in the future

tion still lives below the poverty line, but it’s certainly possible to curtail them significantly. There is no case at all for subsidies on diesel and LPG to continue. A system must be devised to aim all special benefits at the country’s poorest (with the aid of direct cash transfers), while petroleum products are retailed at market prices. The Food Security Act needs to be reexamined and amended at the very least. Two-thirds of the country does not need coverage. At the same time, there must be a renewed emphasis on implementation; a leaky Public Distribution System is simply money wasted. Even fertiliser subsidies can be rationalised. Over-subsidisation just enriches fertiliser producers and incentivises the indiscriminate use of these products, which damages the soil. Such decisions cannot be taken by a finance minister alone. They need wider political support—of the Cabinet, coalition partners and the people at large. It’s a pity that no political party talks explicitly about curbing expenditure on subsidies to invest that money in building infrastructure and generating jobs. Subsidies never generate jobs. They never make anyone genuinely prosperous. The people of India, even the poor, must demand much more than subsistence. The next Government could also help itself by reforming India’s archaic tax structures. That would generate more revenue, which could help the phase-out of subsidies and greater investment in productive assets. The Goods & Services Tax, which the UPA failed to forge a consensus on, should be on top of the next Government’s agenda, along with a revision of the Direct Taxes Code so that rates are lowered, the tax base widened (by ending exemptions—even on agricultural income) and compliance enhanced. Of course, the case for increasing expenditure on productive assets must be linked to positive outcomes. There is no point in pumping money into highways that are half-built, schools with no teachers, or hospitals without doctors. The UPA promised much on ‘outlays and outcomes’ but delivered little on the latter. Public-private partnerships, the one way 22 open

Of course, the case for increasing expenditure on productive assets must be linked to positive outcomes. There is no point in pumping money into highways that are half-built or schools with no teachers or hospitals without doctors to get things done using Government money and private efficiency, have degenerated into a morass of crony capitalism. Again, the Centre needs to take a call. Will it go back to financing and executing projects on its own? Or can it re-inject credibility into a ‘State financed-privately delivered’ model? China has used the latter extensively and very successfully. India needs to do the same but with a much greater emphasis on transparency than has been the case so far.

T

he real economic debate in India ought not to be whether the

Government has a role in economic development or not. It does. The real question is how it must play this role. Without going into the somewhat pointless binaries of Left and Right, it is amply clear that one school of thought believes that providing subsidies and spending on welfare are the primary role of the State. It is not clear if there is an alternative that doesn’t believe in subsidies and welfare spending. No political party speaks openly against that for fear of being labelled ‘anti-poor’. However, there is plenty of intellectual support for a government that spends minimally on consumption but significantly on investment. India needs both private and public investment to expand its economy by double digits year upon year, and needs to sustain such growth for three decades before it can lift its people out of poverty and assure them a reasonable standard of living. The economic reforms of the early 1990s and early 2000s did not resolve that debate. Each time the Government overextends itself, its simple response is to cut Plan expenditure while letting subsidies and other spending—particularly on the salaries and pensions of a bloated bureaucracy—run haywire. India needs its Government to contribute to enhancing its prosperity. This demands investment. There can be no second-generation reforms if the Government insists on spending money unproductively. If it carries on this way, history will only repeat itself—as crisis. n 3 March 2014


N o sta lg i a

Betrayed in the City Telangana and the tragedy of Hyderabad Deutsche Fotothek/dpa/Corbis

Anvar Alikhan

lost glory A view of the Charminar captured by Oswald Lubeck, one of the world’s earliest travel photographers. The photo is believed to be from the early 1910s

M

y family have long been Congress loyalists, from both sides. From my father’s side the connection goes back to the 1930s, when my grandmother joined the party. And from my mother’s side, it goes back to at least 1887, when her ancestor, Badruddin Tyabji,was elected the party’s President. I say this, not by way of disclosure, or boast, but to explain the prism through which I look at the happenings in Andhra Pradesh, and in Hyderabad. I grew up in the certainties of Jawaharlal Nehru’s and then Indira Gandhi’s India. Even as children, I remember, we were proud of our nationalism, of our country’s policies of self-reliance and socialism. I remember, for example, being taken by my grandmother—a minister in the Andhra Pradesh government—and shown the great newly constructed Nagarjuna-

3 march 2014

sagar dam, and told about the many benefits its waters would bring to the people. I remember her Congress party colleagues, patrician figures dressed in starched white dhotis, the colour of their attire seeming to radiate the values and virtues they stood for. I remember the time, for example, when a relative had come to my grandmother to use her political influence to get a small favour done; he was given a tongue-lashing for his presumption and shown the door. For many years after, whenever my grandmother saw that relative, she would cut him dead. Honesty had not only to be done, it had to be seen to be done. That was the kind of place our India was, and Andhra Pradesh seemed to be at the forefront of it. It was one of the staunchest bastions of the Congress party, headed by chief minsters like Brahmananda Reddy and Sanjeeva Reddy (later to become open www.openthemagazine.com 23


President of India), both icons of rectitude and broad-mindedness, we knew, like the other leaders of that idealistic nationbuilding generation. If Andhra Pradesh was a bastion of the Congress party, Hyderabad was, almost by corollary, a bastion of the public sector, with pioneering undertakings like HMT and IDPL, set up to produce indigenously-made machine tools and pharmaceuticals for the nation. One of our heroes, in fact, was an HMT engineer who used to set up turnkey projects in Africa and the Middle East, and regaled us with stories about how HMT’s unique ‘barefoot technology’ ran rings around American engineering giants, whose fancy engineers were completely clueless working in Third World environments. Our admiration was typical of the proud, prickly nationalism of those Indira Gandhi times.

W

hen the Telangana movement first began in 1968, therefore, we, as teenagers, saw it as basically an act of betrayal—a threat to the national edifice, with its construct of linguistic states, so carefully created by Nehruvian policymakers to meld a unity out of India’s diversities. Parochial interests, whatever they were, had necessarily to be subjugated to the larger national interests. We trusted the wisdom and integrity of our political class to safely steer those national interests. And we were prepared to lead the austere lives that were dictated by the socialist system they had charted out for us. That was the compact the Congress government had with us, the people. Or at least some of the people: those classmates of ours who, for example, finished their IIT degrees and went off to the US were seen as defectors, letting down the side in some way. It was, in hindsight, an impossibly idealistic time. But in the 1970s, the decline began—slowly at first, and then with increasing rapidity. The old guard of Congress leaders, with their freedom-fighting, nation-building vision were dying out, and being replaced by a new breed of petty political operators whose vision was no wider than their own self-interest. The new Chief Minister was a man whom my grandmother had known from the old days to be a rogue. She herself had by now been ousted from her constituency in the Old City, where she and her mother had been educationists and social reformers since the 1920s. The seat had now been captured by the nascent Majlis-eIttehadul Muslimeen, which, people whispered, was supported by the Congress party itself, as a strategic long-term partner. I grew up, left Hyderabad and went to Mumbai to make a career for myself; I would not return till the late 1990s. And the Hyderabad that I came back to was a city I could not recognise. In the intervening years, of course, the Congress party had been displaced by the Telugu Desam Party. The turning point had been the time Rajiv Gandhi had visited Hyderabad, and the Chief Minister, a lickspittle Congressman had, in an abject demonstration of fealty, rushed onto the airport runway at the head of a crowd, bearing garlands for his Prime Minister’s son. Rajiv, as a professional airline pilot, was aghast at this flouting of airport safety rules and had blasted the Chief Minister in public. This incident was shrewdly picked up by a coterie from the Kamma caste, who had apparently long resented the domination of the Reddy caste over the Congress party and, therefore, Andhra politics. They whipped this incident up into a supposed 24 open

‘insult to Telugu pride’ by the Prime Minister’s son, and created the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), with NT Rama Rao, a charismatic old film star who had specialised in mythological roles, at its head. It was a stroke of political genius, and it routed the Congress party totally. But, insidiously, it also brought caste politics to the forefront in Andhra Pradesh. And, galling to many in Hyderabad, the city was soon engulfed by a brash coastal Andhra culture, actively sponsored by the new Telugu Desam government. Local Telugu speakers began to feel marginalised, complaining about a variety of slights and disadvantages, ranging from the fact that the Telugu language that was now spoken in the city was a dialect they could barely understand, to the fact that Telugu movies depicted Telangana-ites as clowns or villains, and coastal Andhraites as the inevitable heroes. By 1998, when I returned to Hyderabad, Chandrababu Naidu had wrested control of the TDP, and was in the process of turning the city into a global infotech hub to rival Bangalore. In an ingenious touch of branding, he named the new infotech district Cyberabad, a name that immediately grabbed everybody’s imagination, creating a perception for the city’s software industry that was even greater than the reality. I had the feeling of being in exactly the right place at the right time. Thanks to Naidu’s mixture of aggressively business-friendly policies and media savvy, Hyderabad was seeing an unprecedented economic boom. A city, till now known mainly for its historical monuments and biryani, was suddenly splashed across the pages of business magazines Businessweek and Fortune. But there was a dark side to this story: the success was pow3 march 2014


back in the era of stately visitors A snapshot of the 1893 visit of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria to the Chowmahila Palace in Hyderabad

Lala Deen Dayal/Alinari/Getty Images

ered largely by a thrust of unabashed crony capitalism. Or perhaps one should say ‘caste capitalism’, for every businessman seemed to have the backing of a political godfather from his own caste—or, better still, his own family. As the saying went, the new business model was one brother runs the business, the second brother is in the ruling party, and if there’s a third brother, he’s in the opposition by way of insurance.

T

oday, as one looks back at what has happened in Andhra

Pradesh, and in Hyderabad, one is filled with dismay. In recent years, the state and the city seem to have gone from bad to worse, with a series of scams and political manipulations, fused together by the common glue of greed. Along with that, of course, there has been the slow-burning Telangana agitation. When one examines the facts about Telangana dispassionately, one realises that there is, indeed, a persuasive case for creating a separate state for the people of the region. But the way things have been happening, one can’t help getting the sense that what we’ve been seeing is not so much a struggle for Telangana as a tussle over who gets their hands on the city of Hyderabad. Once Chandrababu Naidu had demonstrated how much wealth there was to be derived from the city, all the players seem to have woken up to the idea of how to get a chunk of that for themselves. Now, as elections draw close, the question is who does one vote for? The Congress party I once knew, respected, and voted for every time, has evidently self-destructed. The other parties, I am not sure are worth voting for. The only alternative I can

3 march 2014

think of is the new Loksatta party, founded by Dr Jayaprakash Narayan, which seems, coincidentally, to uphold many of the visionary values that the Congress once stood for: honesty, governance, democracy, decency. But how it will be able to stand up to the forces of darkness remains to be seen. So where do we go from here? With the creation of Telangana, the era of linguistic states—created in the fragile 1950s to forge a unity out of India’s diversity—is officially over. It ended in the messiest possible way. But looking at things in a more positive light, the time for large language-based states has passed. India has moved on, and what we need now, arguably, is many more states, designed for more effective governance—more compact, closer to the people, more responsive to their needs. But the danger, of course, is that such states could so easily become fiefdoms, hijacked by groups with the narrowest and basest of interests. We could well end up in a scenario not unlike the end of the Mughal empire, when, in the political vacuum that followed, any petty warlord who could put together a hundred horsemen rode out and carved out a kingdom for himself. What we really need, therefore, is a coherent national policy to make sure that future states are the result of carefully coordinated economic, political and administrative logic, not merely political blackmail or public frenzy. For years, people have talked of a Second States Reorganisation Commission to relook at the work done by its predecessor in the 1950s and take it forward to meet the needs of our times. Clearly, one of the very highest priorities of the next Government in Delhi—whichever it may be—is to appoint such a commission. Meanwhile, the Hyderabad that I knew and loved has been vulgarised beyond recognition. The cosmopolitan and graceful city I knew as a teenager has been replaced by a dystopia of greed, corruption, vulgarity and lack of social conscience—to the point that a recent book written by journalist friend of mine presents Andhra Pradesh as a metaphor for what is rotten in Indian society today. It shamed me to read that, just as it shamed me to see a newsmagazine cover story, not long ago, labelling Hyderabad a ‘Scam City’. Let me end with an anecdote that seems to indicate, in some small way, what has been wrong with our city and state. Some time ago, I was invited to the house of a small-time businessman for dinner. The most expensive single-malt whiskies and cognacs were being poured, quite literally, like water. When I innocently asked my host where he obtained his stocks from, he said very casually that he and a ‘friend’ made a trip to Dubai every few weeks, and picked up duty free cases on the way back. When I foolishly persisted about ‘Duty Free’ quotas and so forth, he smiled patiently and informed me that his ‘friend’ was a minister. It was only later, when I thought back on that conversation, that I realised the many different layers of questions that it raised—questions that said so much about what was going on in the system, at its most basic, most mundane level, questions that were perhaps prudent not to ask. But now, of course, we have the new state of Telangana. It has been a long time in the coming. I look forward to its future with hope. But that hope, I must confess, is mixed with a realistic measure of cynicism. n The writer is an advertising professional and trend-watcher open www.openthemagazine.com 25


d e at h watc h

The Last Day in the Life of

the AAP Regime oinam anand/express archive

MIHIR SRIVASTAVA chronicles the last gasps of a government that promised to be different but ended up in a mess

I

t was Valentine’s Day and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was determined to prove he was not in love with power. He began his day at 9 am, not realising it would be his last in office. He was sure that the three finance bills listed in the Vidhan Sabha would be passed and that the fourth and fifth bills on the list, the Swaraj and Jan Lokpal bills, would at least be discussed. He was upbeat.   He reached the secretariat in the blue Wagon R that was donated to the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2013 by volun3 March 2014


teer Kundan Sharma, a London-based executive with Royal Bank of Scotland. Seated next to Kejriwal, at the wheel, was Rohit Pande, an engineering student and full-time volunteer with the party. On the back seat was his Man Friday, Bibhav Kumar, who guides him through his daily engagements. As usual, Kejriwal carried homecooked food with him—he follows a strict, non-greasy, non-spicy vegetarian diet and, because of his sore throat, prefers to drink lukewarm water. He also likes to snack on roasted chickpeas.

from former Cabinet Secretary TSR Subramanian, lawyer Kamini Jaiswal and two others that a doubling of gas prices would cost the country a minimum of Rs 54,500 crore every year and allow Ambani’s Reliance India Limited to make future windfall profits of Rs 120,000 crore. Kejriwal had forwarded the complaint to N Dilip Kumar, a retired police officer and Kejriwal’s advisor on anti-corruption matters. Four years ago, when Kumar was the head of Delhi’s AntiCorruption Branch, he used, for the first

In his office, Kejriwal contemplated how to deal with a hostile house. Some journalists had informed him over the phone of a likely walkout by both the Congress and BJP if the Jan Lokpal bill was tabled in the Assembly. He was not sure if that would happen. Only the previous day, the two parties had stalled Assembly proceedings, demanding the resignation of Kejriwal’s controversial law minister Somnath Bharti. Bharti had become difficult baggage for the AAP to carry.  Delhi Urban Development Minister ashish sharma

adnan abidi/reuters

clockwise (From left) Arvind Kejriwal enters the Delhi Assembly on 14 February; AAP supporters watch House3 proceedings at the party headquarters the same day; Kejriwal announces his resignation to supporters at the AAP headquarters

There was a box of it on the back seat. He spent an hour in the secretariat on routine matters. He also discussed corruption issues, including the FIRs against Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Veerappa Moily and industrialist Mukesh Ambani. He ordered another FIR into an alleged Rs 31-crore scam in street lights for the Commonwealth Games in 2010, implicating his predecessor Sheila Dikshit, for which he was later accused of a witch hunt. He was briefed about the progress of these cases. Two days earlier, an FIR had been filed against Ambani based on a complaint 3 March 2014

time, a sting operation to investigate and secure a conviction against corrupt government functionaries. Kumar read the complaint sitting in Kejriwal’s chamber and prepared a detailed note recommending an FIR by the Anti-Corruption Branch, which, like the Central Bureau of Investigation, has concurrent jurisdiction in these matters. In this two-page advisory note, Kumar refers to Ambani as ‘greedy’. Stumped by the FIR—which is legally valid even with Kejriwal demitting office—the UPA Government decided to approach the Supreme Court for a stay on the probe.

Manish Sisodia, Kejriwal’s number two in the AAP government, was also present at the secretariat. They decided to stay firm on the issue. Despite a testing first day in the Assembly, where speaker MS Dhir’s powers were curtailed by a majority vote, Kejriwal was confident that AAP’s Jan Lokpal bill would be tabled. While these weighty issues were being dealt with, Kejriwal’s parents, Gobind Ram and Gita Devi Kejriwal, visited him at his office. They had not been to the secretariat since Kejriwal took office “This visit,” says AAP spokesperson Aswathi Muralidharan, “had nothing to do with open www.openthemagazine.com 27


the fact that this would turn out to be [his] last day in office.”

A

round 12:30 pm, Kejriwal left the

secretariat with Sisodia. Soon after their arrival at the Vidhan Sabha, a meeting of AAP’s legislative party took place in which floor strategy was discussed. At this point, Somnath Bharti, the controversial law minister accused of vigilantism and racism, offered to resign. He had his resignation letter with him. Bharti reasoned that he didn’t want to

a surprise to AAP legislators. The opposition didn’t press for Bharti’s resignation that day; they had a much stronger issue to disrupt the House with. Kejriwal received a copy of a letter written by Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung to Assembly Speaker MS Dhir, advising him against allowing AAP’s Jan Lokpal bill to be tabled as it was a finance bill and the AAP government hadn’t followed proper procedure and got approval for its tabling. Thus, Jung indicated, tabling the bill without his concurrence would be unconstitutional.

Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MOPNG), where he played a crucial role in the privatisation of ONGC’s PannaMukta oilfield, which went to a consortium of Reliance-ONGC and British Gas. He later had a stint as director, energy research, in the Reliance-funded Observer Research Foundation. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Energy Economics from Oxford University. The AAP MLAs felt cheated. They decided to try and have the bill tabled despite Jung’s letter. Kejriwal was in touch with other AAP leaders such as Yogendra

ashish sharma

adnan abidi/reuters

become a hindrance to the passage of the Jan Lokpal bill. The previous day, the House could not function because the Congress and BJP joined hands demanding his resignation. Bharti’s proposal was accepted. The plan was that he would tender his resignation if the opposition stalled the house on the issue. Around this time, to add insult to injury, a popular news channel reported that the Jan Lokpal bill would tabled by none other than Somnath Bharti. This came as 28 open

There was no going back on it, however, as far as Kejriwal was concerned. The Political Affairs Committee of AAP had already decided that there would be no compromise on itsJan Lokpal bill. AAP MLAs blamed the Lieutenant Governor for playing politics and questioned his objectivity on the bill, especially after the FIR against Ambani. Jung had quit the Indian Administrative Service after his stint as Joint Secretary (Exploration) in the

Yadav. There was a growing understanding that this bill will not be allowed to be tabled. Yadav attacked Jung publicly. There was no question of the party backing down on the Lokpal bill, he told the media, questioning whether the Lieutenant Governor could block the legislation from being moved. “I don’t know if he has the authority to advise the speaker or not,” he stressed, demanding a probe against Oil & Gas Minister Veerappa Moily. “[Moily] is right [that 3 March 2014


there’s a political conspiracy behind the FIR]. There is a political conspiracy behind this and it should be probed,” Yadav said. He dismissed the Congress threat to withdraw support. Delhi Congress Chief Arvinder Singh Lovely, who had earlier called Kejriwal a liar, had written to him assuring Congress support on the condition that the bill be tabled in a constitutional manner. “I am very hurt by newspaper reports suggesting Kejriwalji believes the Congress is opposed to the Jan Lokpal Bill,” he told the media soon after, and advised Kejriwal to desist from making misleading statements.

ing the BJP and Congress together because of Ambani. “You cannot keep lying to the people, telling them that the BJP is blocking the Lokpal Bill,” he said. In fact, the Congress and BJP were singing the same tune: that they didn’t oppose the bill so long as due procedure was followed. They sought an adjournment so that the matter would be taken up only after the weekend. A minister in the Union Cabinet, a keen observer of Delhi politics, later said: “It was difficult to maintain the right balance. We didn’t want to be seen opposing the bill, but at the same time didn’t want to allow Kejriwal to bulldoze the bill in.”

Governor’s letter as an order, or hold a vote to decide whether it was an order or a recommendation. Kejriwal didn’t like the idea. It was unprecedented that a lieutenant governor’s letter was being turned into an issue to be voted upon. “The letter only says it should be read out, not that there needs to be a vote on it,” Kejriwal told fellow MLAs. He was shouted down again. Kejriwal knew that the tabling of the bill was going to be tough. His strategy was not to give in till it was done. MLAs continued to yell at each other. Around 3.45 pm, Kejriwal introduced the Jan Lokpal bill. Sisodia was seen shouting repeatedly that the government was in-

time trail (from left) Supporters listen to Kejriwal’s speech at the AAP headquarters; the former CM after announcing his resignation; Kejriwal leaves for the Lieutenant Governor’s residence

arvind yadav/hindustan times/getty images

B

y 2 pm, MLAs started moving into the

Assembly hall the way soccer teams arrive for a tournament final. Dhir took his place at the podium. The Jan Lokpal bill was listed as the fourth item on the House agenda, followed by the three money bills. The BJP MLA Ram Singh Bidhuri requested that the proceedings be suspended because it was Sant Ravidas’ birthday, and blamed Kejriwal for freezing the session. He was supported by Leader of the Opposition Harsh Vardhan. A furore ensued—sloganeering followed by calls for Kejriwal’s resignation. Manish Sisodia was seen laughing. Vardhan attacked Kejrwal for bracket-

3 March 2014

Amid the pandemonium, Kejriwal’s family—his parents, wife Sunita and son Pulkit—were waiting patiently in the visitor’s gallery in anticipation. They wanted to witness a ‘historic’ occasion. Initially, Speaker Dhir refused to read the Lieutenant Governor’s letter to the House, resulting in an uproar. When the house reconvened after a 20 minute break, it was already 3.00 pm. Dhir read the letter tamely and Kejriwal stood up to speak. He was not allowed to. Sisodia was seen offering a rebuttal to the Lieutenant Governor’s letter. The opposition gave the government two options: either accept the Lieutenant

troducing the Jan Lokpal Bill for discussion. But Congress and BJP MLAs were unrelenting in their demand for a vote on the Lieutenant Governor’s letter, and would not let the government introduce the bill. The thumping of desks by AAP MLAs in approval of the bill’s tabling was effectively drowned by the furore. The next 15 minutes were a holy mess. Sisodia walked out of the Assembly hall to inform reporters that the bill had been tabled and that the next step would be a discussion on it. He was hopeful that there would be a vote on the bill within the following few days. Kejriwal had been adamant that the open www.openthemagazine.com 29


ALl over Kejriwal at his residence on Friday prem nath pandey/express archive

Delhi Assembly session should discuss the Jan Lokpal bill in an open stadium. Two days earlier, Kejriwal’s cabinet had discussed Jung’s letter asking him to reconsider his decision to hold an assembly session at the Indira Gandhi indoor stadium (for security reasons). Now he and his government were facing a bigger reality check: even tabling the bill had become an insurmountable challenge. Within 15 minutes of Sisodia announcing that the bill had been tabled, the speaker announced it hadn’t been. That is when Bharti, surprised that the opposition hadn’t asked for his resignation, invited a discussion on AAP’s Jan Lokpal bill. The bill was tabled again. The BJP rejected any discussion of the bill as introduced by Kejriwal. The CM was outshouted again. The BJP was emphatic that the bill could not be introduced without a vote; BJP MLAs were on their feet again, insisting on it. Congress MLAs joined the protest. Arvinder Singh Lovely reminded the Speaker of his duties: “The bill can be introduced only with the permission of the House.” 30 open

A message was sent to the AAP headquarters to summon volunteers for a meeting in the evening, which was later fixed for 8 pm. The house was allowed to function for a vote to take place. In all, 42 of 70 MLAs voted against the introduction of the bill. Kejriwal stood bewildered. “Bill giraa diyaa (the bill has been toppled),” he said. Right away, both the BJP and Congress went back to their initial demand that Bharti resign rightaway. Lovely clarified that this shouldn’t be seen as withdrawal of support and added that the Congress would support the Jan Lokpal bill if it’s tabled in accordance with the rules. Kejriwal told the House that he had no personal animosity for anyone. He retired to his chamber, shocked. He had a chat with other leaders and soon made up his mind: he would quit. 

S

isodia was with him when he drove back to the secretariat to attend his last cabinet meeting. At 7.15 pm the meeting began. The party’s strategy was

discussed, and a course of action in case AAP was askedto run a caretaker government. The last 15 minutes of the meeting were devoted to the drafting of Kejriwal’s resignation letter. Around 8 pm, Kejriwal drove down to the party headquarters on Hanuman Road and announced his decision to quit. He declared that the next election was going to be between AAP and Ambani. “What BJP and Congress members did in the Assembly was a shame on democracy,” he said. Challenging the CongressBJP stand that introducing the bill without the Centre’s approval was unconstitutional, Kejriwal said breaking mics was not constitutional either. “We are fighting for the nation, Constitution and people of [this] country. We will teach them a lesson. I am ready to sacrifice my life for the constitution,” he said. Kejriwal then drove to Jung’s residence to hand in his resignation. Sisodia was with him; he told the media that Jung had asked Kejriwal to continue as Delhi’s caretaker Chief Minister. President’s Rule was imposed a day later.    n 3 March 2014


open essay BY SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY

An Extra M in Marx and Mamata Country A view from the Calcutta Club


Madam in Delhi. It’s Bangla Madam, flip-flopping in her Hawaii chappals towards the Holy Grail of an appropriate Third Front. The slippers slow her down. Sneakers might be faster. But look where sneakers got Rakhi Birla! Only 26 and already Minister for Women and Child, Social Welfare and Languages, and in the national capital too! But out after a mere 49 days. No, there’s no point getting there too soon. Netaji himself gave the “Delhi Chalo!” call 70 years ago, but Pranab Mukherjee is the only Bengali to have made it big in the capital. That was Memsahib Madam’s doing, of course, because—as Narendra Modi reminded Bengali listeners at his 5 February rally—she didn’t want her son to face the obstacle her husband once did. Actually, Pranabda is a son of the world, not of Bengal, as Madam once told CNN-IBN. Jyoti Basu was a son of Bengal who suffered because dyed-in-the-wool ideologues like Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Prakash Karat made historic mistakes. Left to himself, Jyoti Babu would never have blundered. He was more Bhadralok than Marxist. Mohammed Salim, a Marxist politician, adds ‘Marketing’ to Trinamool’s ‘Maa, Maati, Manush’ (Mother, Earth, Mankind) slogan. Other Ms cluster thickly—Modi, Marxists, Muslims, and Marwaris who are as Bengali as she is, Madam says expansively. But she can’t yet write off the Marxists who mustered more than a million supporters in a formidable show of strength on 9 February, their biggest rally in two decades. Having toiled for the Communist revolution that never was for the best years of his life, Jolly Mohan Kaul, 93, more Bengali than Kashmiri, thinks the Marxists are finished. His memoirs, In Search of a Better World, attributes their defeat after 34 years in power to ‘their volte face from being champions of the poor, the workers and the peasants, to becoming protectors and promoters of the interests of the richer sections of society’. But true Bengalis never abandon illusions, and the Lokniti-IBN National Tracker survey showed that 30 per cent—28 in the countryside and 36 in towns—feel the Left Front performed better than the Trinamool, which boasts of redeeming 90 per cent of its pledges in the first 20 months. A dwindling breed of Bengali intellectuals still dreams of the revolution to come.

Revolution’s perennial lure explains why Trinamool leaders were so wary as young Bengalis queued up to pay homage to Arvind Kejriwal’s rising star. They might joke in private about rechristening Mango Lane in Central Kolkata ‘Aam Aadmi Gali’, but Madam reportedly ordered her flunkeys never to publicly discuss the Aam Aadmi Party. Trinamool is the aam aadmi’s sole spokesman in Bengal, as the Marxists were for so many years. Another ostentatiously grassroots organisation threatening to contest several Bengal parliamentary seats might steal some of Madam’s thunder, especially in towns. A Kejriwal who resigns to fight another day from a stronger position would be her strategic match. It is a measure of her ability to juggle balls in the air that both the Marxist Karat and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the Minister of State for Railways who now heads the Bengal Congress, accuse her of playing footsie with Modi. It’s a natural suspicion, for Madam and Modi are not directly engaged this time. Despite the instinctive inclinations of settlers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, the BJP is still not a factor in Bengal politics. That’s why Modi could propose “friendly competition” between Madam in Calcutta and himself in Delhi (a laddoo in each hand, he joked) even while belittling the state’s Trinamool government. With an eye on the long term, his managers packed his impressively large rally with truckloads of Bengalis from the border districts on whose sentiments and grievances he played. Support for Modi as Prime Minister had already doubled from 9 to 18 per cent. While his propagandists trumpet Modi as the Messiah of Miraculous Growth, the Gujarat Chief Minister’s real appeal lies in being the Sturdy Custodian of Majority Community interests, as seen. Although 55 per cent of Bengalis profess satisfaction with the Trinamool’s performance, as the survey results show, and a high 60 per cent are delighted with the Chief Minister personally, middle-class Bengal blamed Madam when Ratan Tata drove away from Singur. The Nano’s new location in Gujarat was a tremendous PR victory for Modi. Bengalis also complain that jobs remain scarce because Madam hasn’t succeeded in attracting much investment of significance. Even the labouring classes have little scope for employment stilted welcome Dancers perform at Narendra Modi’s rally in Kolkata on 28 January

dibyangshu sarkar/afp

M

adam is shuffling forward. No, not Memsahib


in a state where the only visible economic activity is the construction of condominiums. Nevertheless, West Bengal’s Finance Minister Amit Mitra recently dazzled the elite audience of an awards ceremony at a five-star hotel with spectacular growth statistics. “Bengal is marching ahead,” he proclaimed. “Where are the naysayers?” he demanded, aggressively.

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he real reason for rooting for Modi is muttered only in pri-

vate, and then only in whispers. The feeling is growing that India is vulnerable to the machinations of a hostile Pakistan on its west and to floods of illegal immigrants from an unsettled Bangladesh in the east. They are believed to have altered the demographic balance in Bengal’s border districts. While Madam is a bulwark against the Left’s return, Modi is emerging as the only bulwark against being overwhelmed by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, a feeling he cleverly exploited in his rally address. Not that Modi is loved or even liked. There was hilarity in the café of a smart shopping mall over the blank he had left against ‘name of spouse’ in the halafnama (affidavit) for his last Vidhan Sabha election. Was it suppression or misrepresentation? Or did he really not know? A lawyer present was certain the Election Commissioner could be approached. Someone remarked that a Kolkata businessman had already done so. “I wonder if he saw the graffiti driving in from the airport?” was asked. “What did it say?” Several voices rattled off the answer: “Killer Modi go back!” But everyone knew that was the Left’s handiwork. The Left isn’t worried about being overwhelmed by Bangladeshis. Muslim support for the Trinamool is growing. Once staunch Congress supporters, Bengali Muslims began to move towards Left Front parties after the Babri Masjid was destroyed. Another transition began when they realised that despite secular professions, the Marxists and their allies were not doing much to tackle the inequalities that the Rajinder Sachar report exposed. It would be untrue to claim a dramatic improvement since Madam took over, although she boasts of meeting 90 per cent of Sachar’s recommendations. But Jyoti Basu never wore a burkha as Madam does on occasion. Buddhadev Bhattacharjee didn’t say namaaz like her. No Left Front government gave a special allowance to mullahs like Trinamool did. No wonder Muslim support for her has increased from last year’s 36 per cent to 54 per cent. The Congress party is the loser in all this. For a long time, Bengalis have suspected the Congress of being a Hindi heartland party rather than a national organisation. Gandhi’s resentment of Subhas Chandra Bose at the 1939 Tripuri Congress (which, too, Modi drummed home) isn’t forgotten. The humiliation of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Bengal’s last Congress Chief Minister, by Sanjay Gandhi during his mother’s Emergency worsened the alienation. The Congress recently lost nine civic bodies to the Trinamool; the stampede of defectors included three Vidhan Sabha members. Chowdhury, the Congress boss, is Madam’s pet hate. Way 34 open

back in 1996 when she was still in the Congress, she threatened to hang herself if he were nominated to the legislature. They are still deadly enemies. Chowdhury calls Trinamool “a one-person party” and mocks at Madam as Goddess Durga sandwiched between Lakshmi (Finance Minister Mitra) and Saraswati, goddess of learning (Education Minister Bratya Basu). Congress rallies are a pale shade of Modi’s or Madam’s mammoth jamborees. Some already compare Madam with Chandra Shekhar, HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral. Of the three minority party prime ministers, Chandra Shekhar, the ageing Young Turk who won the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award in 1995, is thought to provide the most apt parallel. But if she gets the award, it will be for tantrums in the well of the House and the vigour with which she used to lash out at opponents with her shawl. Chandra Shekhar had 64 MPs. Madam has only 19, but Trinamool is contesting all 42 Bengal seats and hopes to capture 36 of these—apart from some in other states with Anna Hazare’s help. Never before, chuckles Derek O’Brien, Madam’s loyal aide, has the sage of Ralegan Siddhi canvassed for a political party. He will do so this time because she is the best Prime Minister India has never had. Six reasons are cited. First, the room she lives in is only 10 ft by 12 ft. (Never mind if she presides over vast chambers in Writers Building, Nabanna, Uttarkanya and who knows how many other secretariats; in fact, as Bengal shrinks in size, the number of offices to administer it multiplies.) Second, she drapes herself in simple cotton. (What happened, one wonders, to the saris she was reported to be designing.) Third, she pads about in those famous slippers. Fourth, she doesn’t use an official car. (Her car is without a flag or beacon but needs neither since everyone knows who is inside). Fifth, Annaji says she takes no salary. Finally and most important, she has promised to quit if she doesn’t implement his 17-point charter. “I back her as a candidate for PM,” says Annaji. The domes and minarets of Madam’s Third Front haven’t yet emerged out of the mists of electoral calculations. She must contend with the Left parties and the ambitions of other regional satraps like Naveen Patnaik and Nitish Kumar. She must choose between a crumbling Congress and a rising Modi—provided he promises to respect her Bengali bastion. She must balance Muslim votes with Marwari funding, and reconcile Annaji’s support with a tacit alliance with the BJP. But whatever the combination, she’s been there before. She has been an insider in both the NDA and UPA. She can afford to hasten slowly. As Nizamuddin Auliya, who lived through the reigns of 13 sultans, told the impatiently threatening Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, “Dilli door ast ” (Delhi is far away). Madam knows that a laddoo in hand is worth three in the window. n Author and columnist Sunanda K Datta-Ray was born in Calcutta and still hopes politicians will restore some of the grandeur of the city he knew as a child 3 March 2014


Sunil Saxena/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images


L eg ac y

Man Out of Time The silent fall of Manmohan Singh || Simon Denyer ||

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hen he took office as Prime Minister back in 2004, Singh seemed to represent the best of Indian politics. Honest as the day is long, intellectually head-andshoulders above your average politician, he embodied the hope that India might write a new chapter in its democratic history. Those hopes were, in the long run, cruelly dashed. During the next nine years, Singh struggled and failed to impose his will on a government and a system that seemed irredeemably corrupt. The story of Singh’s dramatic fall from grace and the slow but steady tarnishing of his reputation played out in parallel with his country’s decline on his watch. As the economy slowed, and as India’s reputation for corruption reasserted itself, the idea that this nation was on an inexorable road to becoming a global power came increasingly into question. The irony is that Singh’s greatest selling points—his incorruptibility and economic experience—became the mirror image of his government’s greatest failings. This is the story of how an honest economist came to be running a corrupt government that threatened to ruin India’s economy. It is the story of how Singh’s humility and his loyalty, the very qualities for which he was chosen by Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi to lead the government, proved to be the undoing of his reputation and of his record as a leader. It is the story of how an honourable man was dragged down by the twin evils of corrupt campaign financing and dynastic rule lurking at the heart of India’s dysfunctional democracy... His humility was bound up in an immense shyness, which prevented him asserting himself when it really mattered for the future of his country. His loyalty to Sonia Gandhi was so strong that, in the words of Ramachandra Guha, it bordered on ‘obsequiousness’. It also prevented him doing anything to rock the boat—even when that boat of government was already sinking fast. Manmohan Singh’s beginnings were certainly humble. He was born in 1932 in what is now Pakistan, in a drought-prone village, he later recalled, ‘with no drinking water supply, no electricity, no hospital, no roads and nothing that we today associate with modern living’. His father was a dry fruits trader and the family was not well off. But Singh’s ambition and appetite for hard work was apparent even then: he walked miles to school every day and studied by the light of a kerosene lamp. The family moved to India shortly before the violent Partition of the subcontinent in 1947. The poor refugee boy won a series of scholarships that allowed him to continue those studies in India, then at Cambridge, where he took a first-class honours

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degree in Economics, and finally at Oxford, where he completed a PhD. His sense of public duty, perhaps, propelled him into the Indian bureaucracy, where his intellect and dedication marked him as a rising star. Singh went on to run India’s central bank, and later its Planning Commission, the government department reporting directly to the Prime Minister that is supposed to coordinate policy and set long-term goals. It may be that Singh was perfectly suited to a lifetime in India’s bureaucracy, and in many ways he remains a bureaucrat at heart. But India needed him elsewhere. In 1991, he was dragged into politics by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, and entrusted with the role of Finance Minister at a time of a deep crisis in the Indian economy. It was Singh’s moment, the one he later (modestly) hoped might earn him ‘a footnote in India’s long history’. Private-sector business in India had been tied down by a complex set of bureaucratic rules that restricted their operations, their investments and their imports, known as the LicencePermit Raj, but by 1991 the experiment in a centrally planned economy had run its course, as India ran out of foreign exchange. With his back to the wall, and with the encouragement and support of Prime Minister Rao, Singh abolished many of the vestiges of India’s socialist past, freeing up the economy from direct state control, pulling down many of the formidable barriers to starting a business, and cautiously welcoming in foreign investment. It was controversial at the time, but it was to prove to be gloriously successful, with profound and irreversible consequences. Presenting the budget to Parliament in July 1991, Singh quoted Victor Hugo to argue: ‘No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.’ The idea he had in mind was ‘the emergence of India as a major economic power’. India, he declared confidently, was ‘now wide awake’. As India embarked on a journey towards the centre of the world stage, those words came to symbolize a nation’s rise. But the man who was dragged into the cut-throat world of Indian politics was never quite at home there. In 1999 his one attempt to run for a parliamentary seat in the middle-class district of South Delhi ended in ignominious defeat. On paper, he was defeated by the BJP, who had held the seat for a decade, but in many ways Singh was defeated by his own party workers, who failed to mobilise the support, including the Muslim votes, that he needed. His campaign, one media report concluded, had been deliberately sabotaged by senior members of his own Congress paropen www.openthemagazine.com 37


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Sanjay, Indira’s anointed successor. When Sanjay died in a plane crash in 1980 at the age of 33, Sonia had, in her words, ‘fought like a tigress’ to prevent Rajiv being sucked into politics to replace him. It was a battle she lost. Rajiv was swept to power as prime minister when Indira was assassinated in 1984, only to be assassinated himself in 1991. There was no one left in the family but Sonia to keep the dynasty alive and unite the Congress Party; still, she resisted appeals to take over the Congress Party presidency for a further six years. In 2004, when she turned down the job of prime minister, there was a certain amount of sycophantic hype about Sonia’s classically Indian qualities of self-sacrifice and renunciation. But this was only part of the story; in reality, Sonia had no intention of completely surrendering the reins of power. Instead, the 2g blow Singh with former Telecom Minister A Raja, who has been indicted in the 2G spectrum scam she was to maintain a regal distance from the dirty and demanding world of politics, with ty, ironically because they were jealous of Singh’s closeness to Manmohan Singh the convenient mask to hide behind. From the start, it was obvious that Singh knew who was boss. Sonia Gandhi and feared—correctly as it turned out—that she might one day nominate him to the Prime Minister’s chair in In public, his instinct was always to walk behind Sonia Gandhi, her place. His wings, in other words, needed to be clipped, and so meek that she would often have to shoo him forward. In Parliament, at the end of an important debate, it was Singh who so they were. In the end, Singh lost by 30,000 votes, a margin of more than would walk up to Gandhi to pay his respects, with palms 10 per cent. It was a devastating blow to his political self-confi- pressed together in an obedient and respectful namaste. Loyalty, dence, and one that was to haunt him many years later when timidity and exaggerated deference: these were consistently to he became Prime Minister. In this episode, perhaps, lie the seeds prevent Singh from asserting himself with Gandhi in the years of his later failings as a political leader. His lack of political self- that followed. Indeed, watching them together in Parliament during imporconfidence was a major factor in his inability to impose his will on his own cabinet. Nor, as his career unfolded, was it the last tant debates was revealing—Sonia was regal but always entime that Singh’s rise was to incur jealous retribution from gaged, shepherding her Congress troops like a commander, diswithin the Congress Party. Nothing, perhaps, invites resent- patching ministers like lieutenants with messages for unruly backbenchers or coalition partners. Singh, by contrast, sat there ment quite like success. Still, he remained an important figure within the party, serv- like a cardboard cut-out, not even cracking a smile when the cut ing for six years as its leader in opposition in India’s upper house and thrust of parliamentary debate had everyone around him of parliament, the Rajya Sabha. When Congress won a surprise laughing. Many politicians sit in the House with headphones victory in the 2004 elections, Sonia Gandhi followed her ‘inner around their ears, which provide simultaneous translation of voice’, rejected her party’s pleadings and renounced the Prime debates in Hindi and English. During one crucial debate late in Minister’s role. Instead she nominated Singh, a loyal servant his second term, when the future of his government seemed to who would serve as a perfect figurehead for her new govern- be on the line, I wondered if Singh had switched the audio feed ment. He became, in his words, an ‘accidental prime minister’. and was listening to some particularly relaxing music. His eyes Yet there was a pleasant symmetry in Singh as PM. The archi- were open, but it did not look like anyone was at home. My own first engagement with Singh typified the man. It was tect of economic reforms that had laid the foundations for a sustained boom was now in the perfect place to carry that 2004, and dozens of foreign correspondents waited expectantly in the plush confines of his official residence. Singh’s media legacy forward. Sonia, born to a working-class family in Italy in December adviser, Sanjaya Baru, a suave, articulate and self-confident for1946 as Edvige Antonia Albina Maino, had been a reluctant en- mer newspaper editor, emerged to greet us. The Prime Minister, trant into the world of politics, but the pull of the Nehru- he said, had requested that our questions be directed solely toGandhi dynasty had proved hard to resist. She had met husband wards foreign policy issues. Singh, he added, did not want to Rajiv Gandhi while he was studying at Trinity College, speak about domestic politics. Oh, and yes, everything would Cambridge, and she was at a language school. The couple mar- be off the record anyway. ried and settled in India; he took a job as an airline pilot and they A few minutes later, Singh himself walked in, an elderly figlargely avoided the limelight, leaving the politics to his moth- ure with a neatly combed white beard, immaculately dressed er, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and his younger brother in his trademark light-blue turban, and wearing glasses. 38 open

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Nervously clearing his throat into the microphone, Singh began with a barely audible apology for having a sore throat. ‘I have been told,’ he said, ‘that I should only talk about foreign policy issues, and not about domestic politics.’ I had not long moved from Pakistan, where President General Pervez Musharraf only ever admitted to being ‘told’ to do one thing and by one person—that he should run the country, by God—because he was the only person suitable. Singh, it seemed, was not even master of his own press conference. What followed was no less disappointing: more than an hour of foreign policy platitudes, which consisted of a declaration of friendship and partnership with almost every nation under the sun. All uttered in Singh’s dull monotone. Even if it had been on the record, there would have been precious little here to report. In a world of self-promoting, self-satisfied and self-interested politicians, Singh’s meek and humble nature had seemed like an asset at the time. In the end, it was to prove more of a handicap. For a while, though, the Gandhi-Singh double act seemed to work, and the India success story seemed destined to continue as before. She was the glue that kept the Congress Party together; he kept the sun off her face. The economy surfed the waves of a global boom, and then deftly avoided the subsequent crash in 2008. World leaders flocked to Delhi to meet Singh and court business deals in what promised to be the new China. The cardboard-cut-out prime minister was trotted out to smile meekly next to everyone from Bush to Putin, from Hu Jintao to Sarkozy, in a long string of photo opportunities...

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espite the inexorable decline in his reputation,

Manmohan Singh decided not to resign. My story about him ran on 4 September 2012. Just ten days later, he finally woke from his long slumber. A decision to allow foreign investment in supermarkets and department stores had long been mooted; it was announced in 2011 only to be withdrawn as the government’s coalition allies kicked up a stink about the impact it could have on India’s legion of small shopkeepers. Then, on 14 September 2012, Manmohan Singh told a cabinet committee that the decision could no longer be delayed. ‘We have to bite the bullet,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘If we have to go down, let us go down fighting.’ Foreign investment from the likes of Wal-Mart and Britain’s Tesco would be allowed, albeit under strict conditions. The nation’s diesel prices, long heavily subsidised, were now also raised, and foreign investors were invited into India’s airline industry. A few weeks later, with the wind in its sails—with business leaders and to some extent the media swinging behind it—the government announced a revival of long-shelved plans to invite foreign investment into the insurance and pension sectors. Suddenly, wherever I went, whomever I spoke to, I was being congratulated for having helped goad Singh into action, for helping unleash a new round of reforms that would save India’s economy. Indian-American businessmen in California, academics in New York and Washington and senior editors thanked me for my supposed role. Everyone, that is, except the small store owners and their activist leaders, who worried that Wal-Mart would put them out of business. For them, the

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Washington Post was now part of an evil conspiracy with the American empire... Yet in Parliament, the opposition lawmakers continued to taunt Manmohan Singh, suggesting that he thank the Washington Post for the alarm call. But in truth, my article probably had little effect on finally waking the Prime Minister. The writing had been on the wall ever since Standard & Poor’s had warned a few months earlier that Indian debt was facing a possible downgrade to ‘junk’ status. The government was running out of money, and had had no choice but to act. Yet Singh’s valiant attempt to save his legacy was to prove ineffective. Walmart has yet to open a single supermarket in India, deterred by the strict conditions attached to the foreign investment in multi-brand retail (although it continues to operate twenty wholesale cash-and-carry stores under the Best Price Modern Wholesale brand). Global investor confidence continues to ebb. By the summer of 2013, Indian economic growth was slowing dramatically, the rupee was in free fall, and no one seemed to have a good word to say about the Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh will go down in history as India’s first Sikh prime minister and the country’s third-longest-serving premier, as the man who designed India’s economic reforms, and yet, in historian Ramachandra Guha’s words, also as something of a ‘tragic figure’. For me, that tragedy lies in his inability to live up to the hope that was vested in him, and his inability to overcome the dysfunctional nature of the democracy over which he presided. His attempts to portray himself as divorced from the conspiracy of corruption at the heart of his government, and above the dirty politics of coalition formation that had placed him in a position of power, ultimately failed to convince many Indians. If his cabinet was corrupt, and that corruption was dragging the economy down, the Prime Minister must take a large share of the blame. Throughout India, dedicated men and women with far less power at their command are struggling to invigorate Indian democracy, to clean up its politics and make its bureaucracy more accountable. As Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had more power than any of them, yet seemed reluctant to act, unwilling to stick his own neck out to take on the vested interests at the heart of his government. At times, as we shall see in the story of the Right to Information Act in chapter 5, he behaved more like an obstacle to progress. Singh was on the right side of history when he launched the economic reforms of 1991. Two decades later, those economic reforms have led to rising aspirations among the Indian people, and rising demands on what the state needs to provide – demands that have so far been met by paralysis and peevishness. Singh now seems like a man on the wrong side of history, in the words of an old Elvis Costello song, ‘A Man Out of Time’. n

Excerpts from Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy, by Simon Denyer (Bloomsbury, 440 pages, price Rs 599) open www.openthemagazine.com 39


ritesh uttamchandani

sex

What a Come Down R.I.P.

the female condom Lhendup G Bhutia

I

n a crumbling South Mumbai build-

ing, a thin man is cracking dirty jokes, egged on by two companions. “Meet our devis and devtaas (gods and goddesses),” says Praveen Bansal, executive director of Cupid Ltd, as he empties two large drawers onto a glass-top table. Sachets and packets of condoms with images of men and women embracing and kissing each other tumble and bounce about, leaving a small mound on the table. He digs into this heap of condoms with names like Stud, Bull and Black Cobra to extract what looks like a pack of lavatory freshener. “And this,” he says, holding the pink packet aloft, “is our rani.” Called Cupid, this ‘queen’ is a brand of female condoms. Marketed by Cupid Ltd, 3 March 2014


the anchor Praveen Bansal claims the circular sponge at the closed end of the Cupid condom eases insertion and enhances comfort

it is among a few recent innovations being looked up to with a giddy sense of expectation. It’s the great equaliser, hope its advocates, one that might touch off a contraceptive revolution that will place women’s condoms at par with men’s. According to Cupid Ltd’s founder Om Garg, the company has already started showing signs of success in its two years of existence. Last year, it produced and sold 2 million female condoms in various markets across the world. This year, given his bulging order book, he says he will have to escalate production to at least 10 million units. In 2010, while the product was still undergoing trials, Cupid fulfilled an order of half a million condoms from South Africa, where pharmacies needed to stock up for the FIFA World Cup. In India, however, sales have been extremely slow so far. Of the 2 million units sold last year, only 2,000 were bought in this country. People are unfamiliar with Cupid. This is something Bansal is keen to change. When a tea delivery boy turns up in his office, he tears open a sachet of Cupid for the fellow’s benefit. What emerges from the packet is something that looks like a cross between a male condom and some strange species of aquatic life. It is a large oily latex tube, thicker in girth than any male condom and at least seven inches in length, a rubber ring dangling on one end and a sponge on the other. Bansal holds the condom aloft and squeezes the sponge. “Do you know what this is, boy?” he asks the tea vendor. Puzzled and embarrassed by turn, the boy hurriedly leaves the room.

T

he original female condom, a lu-

bricated polyurethane tube designed to line the vagina, had a ring at either end: a closed inner ring for insertion (to guard the cervix) and an open outer one for penetration. Back in 1993, when it was invented and introduced by a US-based firm called Female Health Company (FHC), it was hailed as the greatest con-

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traceptive invention since the Pill. It was portrayed as something that empowered women, granting them easy control over pregnancy and infection risks. As it turned out, though, this first female condom—FC1 for short—was a miserable failure. Made of polyurethane, which is less pliable than latex, it was expensive, baggy and cumbersome. It was awkward in other ways too, with reports of it slipping out if not inserted properly, and worse, of an irritating noise—a crinkly rustle—during the act. It soon became an object of ridicule and was called all sorts of names: ‘garbage bag’, ‘water balloon’ and whatnot. There were, however, some practical things that worked in its favour. As a prophylactic, it was found to be as effective as the male condom. Also, it could be inserted up to eight hours before a sexual encounter, so it did

Marketers complain it is hard to convince pharmacies to stock female condoms. Some chalk this up to biases against women assuming control of their sexuality not necessarily have to be worn in the partner’s presence. A few years later, FHC launched an upgraded version of that condom, FC2. This condom was made of nitrile instead, and while it addressed the noise issue and was priced lower, it never recovered from the bad reputation of the polyurethane original. The nitrile FC2 has found some success in several emerging markets, particularly in Africa. In India, it was launched in 2007 under the brand Velvet by Hindustan Latex Ltd (now called HLL Lifecare Ltd), which had a tie-up with FHC, but failed to find takers despite all the buzz around its efficacy and ease of use. Velvet had a dual target audience; it was aimed at independent urban women at one level and sex workers at another. Over the chemist’s counter, it was

priced at Rs 100 per packet. For sex workers, it was subsidised and made available at just Rs 5. In 2012, it sold 38,000 units in the open market, and the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) procured some 280,000 pieces for sex workers. Last year, however, was a washout. According to Dr KRS Krishnan, director, technical and operations, HLL Lifecare Ltd, overthe-counter sales numbered “just a few thousand”, and red-light districts got no further supplies because NACO did not buy any of these condoms. The State-run organisation was awaiting a go-ahead for the fourth phase of its National Aids Control Programme, which finally happened only last week. HLL Lifecare Ltd has not given up hope, though. The company recently started making FC2 on its own at a plant in Kochi, Kerala. The bulk of the production would presumably be for sex workers, since independent urban women remain largely unimpressed by female condoms. The marketers of Cupid, which sells for Rs 25 a piece, complain that it is difficult convincing pharmacies to stock even a few female condoms. “It is not an easy product to sell,” admits Dr Krishnan. “We have to overcome our biases against women assuming control over their sexuality. And we have to get over its ‘unusualness’. We have so far failed, but we always knew this would take many years to find acceptance here.” Even among sex workers, it’s a tough sell. In 2003, Dr Rekha Davar, head of JJ Hospital’s gynaecology department in Mumbai, oversaw a NACO-WHO-funded feasibility study on the adoption of female condoms by the city’s sex professionals. “Even then, I could see that this would not work out in the long run,” she says. “The women found it difficult to use. They complained of unease, although perhaps this was more psychological than anything. And once they got the hang of it after a few attempts, their clients were shocked at its appearance. Some of them began to fear that the women suffered from some contagious illness. Moreover, here in India where women do not even touch themselves [down there], asking them to insert something—even though a contraceptive—would have few takers.” According to Dr Davar, despite the subsidy, many sex workers also found the product too open www.openthemagazine.com 41


A Chinese invention called the Woman’s Condom is partially enclosed in a soft capsule to aid insertion. The capsule dissolves after that, allowing the polyurethane pouch to expand. Dots of foam then appear, helping the pouch cling to the vaginal walls during sex

outreach idea (Facing page) In countries like Nigeria, Cameroon and Mozambique, female condom advocacy group UAFC promotes female condoms through hairdressers; (below) a pack of Cupid

ritesh uttamchandani

expensive. They could not afford it. Consider the observations of Sreenivasan Purvi, a team leader at the Maharashtra AIDS Control Society, which distributes female condoms with the help of NGOs. “Once a sex worker told us how her client used to tease her about it,” says Purvi, “When asked what he would say, she was too embarrassed to discuss it. Apparently when he’d see her opening a packet, he used to say, ‘Sabzi lene jaa rahi hai kya?’ (Are you going out to shop for vegetables?).” To its credit, FC2 comes in handy with obstinate sex clients who refuse to wear condoms themselves. Dr Anasua Bagchi, head of technical services at Hindustan Latex Family Planning Promotion Trust, which runs the company’s own female condom programme among sex workers, highlights the product’s role in ‘condom negotiation’. “A sex worker has around 15 to 20 sexual encounters in a day,” says Dr Bagchi. “Many clients refuse to wear condoms. In such a scenario, where the woman needs the client’s money, the female condom probably saves her life. We used to ask the woman to wear a female condom in advance, and the men are often too drunk to even notice it.” It’s meant mainly as a fallback safety device, she adds. “We never intended it to replace the male condom anyway, just to promote it along with the

male condom, so that anytime they’re unable to wear a male condom for whatever reason, they could use this one [for safety].” According to sexual health experts, one reason why the female condom finds so few takers among women in general is its association with sex workers. “It communicates to people the sense that it is not for everybody, that somehow it is just for high-risk groups like sex workers, when in fact it can act as a replacement for the male condom,” says Beatrijs Janssen, a Netherlands-based communications advisor with Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC), a female condom advocacy group. In some countries, like Nigeria, Cameroon and Mozambique, UAFC has sought to get around that stigma by promoting female condoms through hairdressers. “Hair salons are an ideal spot,” she says, “[Hairdressers] know all the gossip of the town, they chit-chat and banter. Their fe-


male patrons open up to them. And we get the hairdressers to talk to them about the female condom.” Instead of pharmacies, it is well-trained hairdressers who offer usage advice and sell female condoms—in lieu of a small commission— in those markets.

B

oth FC1 and FC2, which have long dominated the market of female condoms, have a double-ring design. For these products to gain popularity, however, they need the adrenaline of market competition—newer designs, lower prices, sales rivalry and everything else that goes with it. Thankfully, a number of new types of female condoms are currently under development. Some are already being tested. These include a Colombian female condom called The Panty Condom, which is tethered to a pair of underpants and thus does not require an outer ring, and an American

condom of moulded silicone called Origami that is transparent and ovalshaped; the outer ring of this condom doesn’t dangle on being worn, but instead sits flat against the labia. A recent article in the journal Lancet Global Health discusses the emergence and effectiveness of three new kinds of female condoms. A Chinese invention by a global healthcare organisation, Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, called the Woman’s Condom, still to be approved by the WHO, is a thin film polyurethane pouch that is partially enclosed in a soft capsule to aid insertion. The capsule dissolves after it is inserted into the vagina, allowing the pouch to expand. Dots of foam then appear, helping the pouch cling to the vaginal walls during sex. Two others, Cupid, which has been approved by the WHO, and VA Wow, contain a sponge to help users insert and anchor the condom inside the vagina. The study found the three as Ryan W Daniels

effective and safe as FC2. “This year could be the year for the female condom,” says Janssen, pointing out how all this innovation could energise the market. Back in Cupid Ltd’s office, Bansal is optimistic about making a success of his product in India. Squeezing the sponge of a Cupid condom with his thumb and forefinger, he says, “Women say female condoms are uncomfortable. They ask, ‘How do you insert a ring into a vagina?’ I say, ‘Try Cupid’.” According to him, what sets his brand apart from others is its sponge. “It can easily be inserted without discomfort. It’s like… it’s not there. It’s like skin on skin.” Cupid is available in plain, vanilla and chocolate flavours, and in two different sizes, but its Nashik factory is trying to come up with other variants as well. These include ribbed, dotted, multi-textured and what he calls ‘five-finger’ condoms. “There will be tiny latex fingers at the enclosed end which during penetration will increase sensation for the woman,” he explains, admitting though that he needs a better name for it. “We will make our female condoms as diverse as the male ones, maybe even better. If only we can improve our sales here.” Since the NACO programme mentions the promotion of female condoms as part of its fourth phase, both Cupid and HLL Lifecare Ltd are in negotiations with the organisation to supply female condoms to sex workers. “Globally, there’s a lot happening with female condoms,” says Garg, “It’s bound to gain some traction sooner or later. Along with that, if we are able to secure NACO’s order for sex workers, we can then push to popularise it among other women in India.” Cupid Ltd’s marketing campaign may be modest in its reach, but the company believes it is making headway. It sponsors theatre events, for example, and then uses the venue to hand out female condoms free. Since last year, it has been giving the 500-odd men employed at its Nashik factory five such condoms each along with their salaries every month. “When we started this practice, they would complain and ask why we don’t give them raises instead,” says Bansal, “But nowadays no one complains. They quietly accept and pocket it... I suppose some people at least have realised its worth.” n open www.openthemagazine.com 43


life and letters

mindspace Home Is Where the Art Is

63

O p e n s pa c e

Juhi Chawla Madhuri Dixit Hrithik Roshan Kareena Kapoor

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n p lu

Gunday Her

61 Cinema reviews

Fujifilm X-E2 Mademoiselle Privé Watch Coromandel Gigs 2 Go

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Tech & style

Sex and Fatherhood Aluminium and Alzheimer’s The Brain’s Sweet Spot for Love

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Science

Jaaved Jaaferi

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cinema

Sankarshan Thakur on Nitish Kumar and the State of Bihar Sam Miller Dilbert-creator Scott Adams

Books

Hanif Kureishi

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The lives of other writers Hanif Kureishi’s fascination with the writerly life 46

David Levenson/getty images


life & letters

Writer’s Bloc

Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Hanif Kureishi’s sharp new novel is not only a riff on the Naipaul-French saga, but also an exploration of his own fascination for writers and their habits Indrajit Hazra


A

s I write about Hanif Kureishi, one of the sharpest contemporary writers in the English language, what is the real intention of my writing about him? Is it to take stock of a writer I admire, something I do here by hanging a brief discussion about him on the peg of the publication of his latest novel, The Last Word? Or is it to engage in something more sinister, more self-serving? And if indeed I have enjoyed most of Kureishi’s works, how does my attempt to use Kureishi as a way to get a spotlight on me—through this article you’re reading now—diminish my task at hand: to put the subject, Hanif Kureishi, under the spotlight? In essence, that is what the story of The Last Word (Faber, 286 pages, £18.99) is about: an asymmetrical wrestling bout between a writer and a Writer, one man trying to suss out what makes the other extraordinary, while the other man, in the words of PG Wodehouse, ‘[quails] at the prospect of having the veil torn from his past, unless that past is one of exceptional purity’. This is a novel that hums with the energy of a chamber comedy as it investigates how writers look at other writers. Or, how the young biographer Harry Johnson and the literary giant Mamoon Azam deal with each other as the former goes about his task of writing the biography of the latter. Harry is commissioned to write the biography because his rakish, dipsomaniacal editor believes he’s the man for the job. He has published a well-received biography of Nehru ‘spiced with interracial copulation, buggery, alcoholism and anorexia’ which ‘even the Indians liked’. Harry can, with a biography of Mamoon, hit the big time and perhaps follow in the footsteps of star biographers like Brian Boyd (Nabokov), Ray Monk (Wittgenstein, Oppenheimer) or even the late Enid Starkie (Rimbaud). Except his task, unlike that of the other biographers mentioned above, is a bit different and more difficult as he deals with a Writer who is not dead. We know who the real hero of this novel is. Since if Harry doesn’t write the

3 March 2014

Kureishi makes no attempt

to hide the real-life template that he uses to paint his case study.

Kureishi’s hooded-eyed Mamoon, the literary giant of Indian origin with an overprotective

guard-dog of a second wife, is wearing a Vidia Naipaul Halloween costume throughout the novel

biography, he will be ‘so fucked you’ll have to get work as an academic. Or even worse... You’d have to teach creative writing.’ (That’s a wink at the reader from the author. Not only because at the 2008 Hay Festival Kureishi had slammed university creative writing courses by saying, “The writing courses, particularly when they have the word ‘creative’ in them, are the new mental hospitals,” but also because he himself is a professor of creative writing at Kingston University in London.) So Harry does go to live with Mamoon and his his trionic wife Liana in the English coun-

tryside to glean as much as he can about the great writer for what he hopes will be a great biography. But it is Mamoon, this literary Ozzy Osbourne, who, on being counselled by his clueless-about-all-things-writerly wife Liana, agrees that with his long and illustrious career flat-lining, and with his earnings fast dwindling, the best thing would be to have a ‘controversial new biography’. This biography would be an ‘event’, a ‘big bang’, ‘accompanied, of course, by a television documentary, interviews, a reading tour, and the reissuing of Mamoon’s books in forty languages’. It would finally turn Mamoon into a brand like ‘Picasso’ and ‘Roald Dahl’.’ Unlike most biographies in India, of literary figures or otherwise, Harry’s would not be a hagiography of course. As his editor unfurls the strategy to him, ‘...the Great Literary Satan is weak and woozy now like a lion hit with a monster tranquiliser. It’s his time to be taken. And it’s in his interest to cooperate. When he reads the book and learns what a bastard he’s been, it’ll be too late. You will have found out stuff that Mamoon doesn’t even know about himself. He’ll be dead meat on the skewer of your insight. That’s where the public like their artists—exposed, trousers down, arse up, doing a long stretch among serial killers, and shitting in front of strangers.’ Kureishi makes no attempt to hide the real-life template that he uses to paint his case study. Kureishi’s hooded-eyed Mamoon, the literary giant of Indian origin with an overprotective guard-dog of a second wife, is wearing a Vidia Naipaul Halloween costume throughout the novel. Mamoon’s love for cricket, especially for the 1963 West Indian cricket, gives you the broadest of hints. Mamoon’s declaration that Jean Rhys is the ‘only female writer in English you’d want to sleep with. Otherwise it’s just Brontës, Eliot, Woolf, Murdoch! Can you imagine cunnilingus with any of them?’ is a dead giveaway. And we pretty much see Naipaul’s face stretching out like a death mask from the page when we read Mamoon open www.openthemagazine.com 47


Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

exclaim while he and his wife are driving into town to pick up some local cheese, ‘Look at that ugly lazy black bastard.’ But as Kureishi points out, the great provocateur was now bored by this pose as he was by everything else. And in this ‘if A is C then E is F’ universe that Kureishi props up like a riff from another song, Naipaul doesn’t exist. In this alternate universe, Harry is a randier version of Patrick French who authored the warts-and-all ‘authorised’ biography The World is What It is. Kureishi, one can see, is having fun— and, going by the British reviews of The Last Word, he has managed to get extra mileage thanks to this running Naipaul-French Doppler effect. But the ‘riffing with the real’ is just a prop. Kureishi’s is a more serious, lasting and acute investigation—of his own fascination as a writer for writers. As a Pakistani-English youngster growing up in the 60s in Bromley, south east London, Kureishi was not only a voracious reader, but he was also curious about writers. When he began writing in the 70s—first as a pornographic writer and then as a playwright—he wanted ‘to find out what was going on in the literary arena, what other writers were thinking and doing—how they were symbolising the contemporary world, for instance— and what I, in turn, might be able to do.’ At the cost of being beholden to their writings, serious readers tend to discount the very presence of writers as they exist outside the terrain of their texts and book readings. The book and the writer are, however, not only inextricably bound, but the writer is at the source of everything that one values in a book. And yet, paradoxically, it is the writer in his flesh and blood, in his ordinariness as he exists, being more than just a writer, who breaks the spell. As Kureishi observes wryly, ‘A writer is loved by strangers and hated by his family.’ And here lies the other theme of The Last Word: how does one capture the extraordinariness of a great writer as one gathers details about his life that make him seem almost ordinary? 48 open

doppler effect VS Naipaul (top) and his biographer Patrick French

As many of us who have met writers at literary events or have watched them perform, there’s a dissonance between the writer as we know him through his book and the writer as we encounter him ‘over there’. But as Kureishi writes in his memoir-of-sorts, My Ear At His Heart, ‘...if I discovered a writer I liked, I’d look out for anything written about him. He or she, as well as the work, then became the subject, the source of the words. If he liked hats, I would think about getting a hat; reading about Scott Fitzgerald always inspired me to go to the pub. The fact is,

the place writers and artists hold in the public imagination exists beyond their work.’ And to join these two seemingly disparate worlds inhabited by the subject—writer, actor, sports person, politician, it doesn’t matter—is the job of the biographer. As Naipaul said in a 1994 speech, “The lives of writers are a legitimate subject of inquiry; and the truth should not be skimped. It may well be, in fact, that a full account of a writer’s life might in the end be more a work of literature and more illuminating—of a cultural or historical moment—than the writer’s books.” That Kureishi got his hands on the manuscript of an unpublished novel written by his father some 11 years after his death—this manuscript lies at the core of the 2004 My Ear At His Heart—may have played a role in his choice of a theme in The Last Word. By reading his father’s novel, An Indian Adolescence, Kureishi was keen to discover things about him. By remembering his father, Kureishi tried to make sense of his father’s (thinly-disguised autobiographical) work of fiction. Mamoon-Harry’s story is as much not the story of Naipaul-French as Kureishi Sr’s story was about Hanif’s father’s. As Kureishi makes Mamoon Azam tell Harry Johnson at one point, ‘I have lived this long and still cannot answer the unanswerable questions. People come and ask me for universal truths, but this is the wrong address. You’ll only get universal truths here, the ones that make literature.’ Mamoon here echoes what Naipaul once told Patrick French, which the latter quotes in his introduction to The World is What It Is: ‘I was not interested and I remain completely indifferent to how people think of me, because I was serving this thing called literature.’ But Harry does, in the end, get more than universal truths out of this Buddha of Literature for his biography. In the bargain, Kureishi gets a riveting work of literature out of this fictional exchange between two writers. n Indrajit Hazra is a writer and journalist. His latest book is Grand Delusions: A Short Biography of Kolkata 3 March 2014


Books The Place You Keep Going Back To Sankarshan Thakur’s biography of Nitish Kumar is also an intimate portrait of Bihar, a state you may be forced out of but cannot really ever leave Chinki Sinha Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar

By Sankarshan Thakur harpercollins | 324 pages | Rs 599

‘P

atna is not a nice place to be.’

It is not easy to write about a place you don’t want to live in anymore, yet return to. You describe its ugliness with fondness. You sought, forever, to escape it. Yet Sankarshan Thakur, roving editor with The Telegraph and author of Subaltern Saheb: Bihar and the Making of Laloo Yadav, returned to Bihar to profile Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Single Man and the change that everyone is talking about. And this is a richer book for the author’s decision to join that narrative and position himself within it. In this nonlinear narrative, much like the state it is about—disjointed and disrupted—he starts by describing Patna, the capital. Though he seems to dismiss it in the opening line, Thakur says it is home. This city, he writes, is ‘... an obliging showcase to a dire state, rowdy and irredeemably ramshackle’. Even Subodh Gupta’s 2012 memorial couldn’t escape Patna’s signature. ‘At the very bottom ... lies almost, always, a careless arrangement of empty plastic bottles, crumpled beer and beverage cans, the odd paper plate, like an abandoned attempt at origami ...’ With this, he then introduces Nitish Kumar, a loner, who took charge of a state that is ‘so punched and blown it is not even meant to feel pain ... a state so inured to wretchedness it refuses now to convey it or complain ...’ We had stopped telling its story. Bihar is a misunderstood place. It continues to be interesting. Elections are

3 March 2014

here. The book, then, is timely. It is important to know the man in charge. The book should be read for many reasons. It is about difficult conversations, and long silences. It is about a reporter, and a writer, trying to understand the change. But the man speaks few words. The writer is a wordsmith. There is meticulous research. There is history, and geography, and tales of rivers and roads and bridges and mafia dons and stalwart politicians, of the state’s fractured social engineering. As a story of homecoming, it is personal in tone. In that, lies its appeal. There is nostalgia, and love, and hope. And there is language. A language lost to the anarchy, and other things. It is the language that has so much of the state in it. In Bihar, the future is always tense. And the past hangs over it. It is there in everything you see, or don’t see. Nitish Kumar took charge of a state that had been written off as a ‘rogue country’ by scribes, and others. William Dalrymple visited the city for his travelogue The Age of Kali (1988); he wrote it is madness to be on the roads in Patna after dark. Thakur says this is patronising, perhaps even scaremongering. But he agrees that this was Bihar’s reputation in Lalu Prasad’s time. It wasn’t true, he says. But perceptions overrode the reality. In Thakur’s case, there are two memories of Bihar. One, of a young boy who interrupted a teacher in Delhi ‘expounding on the inalienability of the citizenry’s fundamental rights’ saying they were not inalienable during the Emergency, and the ‘unromantic one’ of a journalist who chose to return to his state to chronicle it. Objectivity is a matter of perception. Lalu Prasad is a character. Nitish

Kumar is reticent. When Thakur visited his elder brother Satish Kumar in Bakhtiyarpur, he was greeted with “Eat, please eat, let them come.” In this ‘fractured kaleidoscope’ he would have missed Nitish’s home. ‘It is so nondescript. Imagine a vertical slice of a ramshackle Bombay chawl transplanted betwixt a scrawl of more nondescript masonry,’ he writes. The writer goes looking for anecdote, and observation, a snippet or two, and fails. It is a book of effort, and of silences. The hesitant rebel, as Thakur describes Nitish Kumar, is a solitary man. Now, even more so. He has suffered for what he is. In politics, ideology is nobody’s virtue. Understanding Nitish Kumar’s silences are key to understanding the trajectory that Bihar will take. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are politically destructive states, the author argues. Where Lalu Prasad represented a huge ideological shift in Bihar, Nitish Kumar is more about waiting it out. Sometimes, this could be a problem, as the book reveals. He had the advantage of being compared to Lalu. That’s ebbing away now. There are unkept promises and broken alliances. How much bad would you attribute to Nitish? That is the question. Things were psychologically bad. There was resignation. That changed. But the change needs to be understood in the context of the man, too. The turnaround story of Bihar is not a straight narrative. The author isn’t a soothsayer. But he has a story to tell. It’s worth listening to and looking at. Life slaps you in the face in Bihar. But there is hope. That’s what the book does so well: it gives us hope. In politics and in writing about it. n open www.openthemagazine.com 49


Books The Notes and Footnotes of a Curious Foreigner Sam Miller’s joyful book weaves the stories of expats in India with his own trials and love story, interlacing memoir with a scholarly sense of history Divya Guha

T

he Penguin cover for Sam

ashish sharma

Miller’s third book, A Strange Kind of Paradise, India Through Foreign Eyes looks strangely, and possibly inappropriately, a bit washed out. Though pastel colours have been in use since the European Renaissance, and most notably in mid-century France by artists in Paris, one does not usually associate those colours with Indian things. Indian things don’t undulate quite so authentically in pale watercolours. The majority see India as the lady in red while everyone else wears tan, to borrow a phrase. But an image of a powderblue globe flanked by a man in a toga, sandals and a Spartan helmet, reaching for the hand of a sari-clad woman with a resemblance to Amrita Shergil is a bit of a surprise, no? This woman who has no shoes but picturesquely holds a scroll, no doubt suggestive of her industriousness, despite a cer-

tain downtroddenness. The picture on the cover is in fact taken from a midtwentieth century poster advertising an Anglo-Indian Company, East & West, based in Delhi that traded across ‘Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Karachi, Amritsar, Quetta, Cawnpore (if you please) and Hyderabad’. And interstingly, there is an omission—of an Islamic crescent moon and star—that adorned the top right hand corner of the original. Puzzling, unexpected and an image so obtuse, it makes you want to look it up, says Miller, which is why he loves it so much. There were many candidates who might have posed in the place of the Greek interloper—visitors, colonisers, those who got lost, settled, got rich, got famous, went native, or resolutely the other way. But the representation of the Greek on the cover is important because this book was first just an essay on Greeks in India, an idea that took root in 2008 and expanded to Arabs, the

Chinese, Portuguese, Danes, and so on. Random House has, perhaps more predictably, chosen a picture of the marigold-garlanded Beatles in Rishikesh with the Maharishi for its UK edition—a powerful image in the West. The book is replete with gems and truffles from Miller’s trove of trivia. He reminds us that the Beatles fell out with the holy man because he made a pass at the long-suffering Mia Farrow, who had joined the Fab Four at his ashram in 1967. This was something Lennon hated the bearded manipulator for, for the rest of his life, though the remaining Beatles did make their peace with him. In a touching description, Miller visits the ashram where the Beatles lived while in Rishikesh, ‘the valley of the saints’, now unkempt, ‘claimed’ by the forest, in ruins, where he listens for a sound from the past, a strummed guitar, or a plangent ‘Om’, or an irreverat home in India Sam Miller


ent giggle. This search for the residue of a glamorous past resonates with any traveller who has haunted their trail in Liverpool. That earliest of hippies, Jesus Christ, is believed to have lived and buried in Srinagar, a story Miller revisits in his generously agnostic way. And almost everything else that belongs to this fabulous subcontinent that is ancient, valuable, old or worth preserving and is now crumbling, mislaid, destroyed or in ruins, it seems. But even so, India, says Miller, is the place for the insatiably curious, a creature such as he is. As the narrator, he is likeable indeed, much as he is in real life. A large dark-haired European who is absent-minded, clumsy and accident-prone, slightly lobster-like, who inexplicably held a really serious job for more than two decades at the BBC, briefly as Country Director, no less. But he never learnt to drive, and yet sustained a happy marriage that resulted in two children. All jobs he no doubt did brilliantly because Miller is brilliant and given to humility, as shy people are wont to do. He is frequently awkward but funny, and has a goodnatured talent for self-ridicule which is disarming. He is decent without being priggish—nipples and breasts and shit come up frequently and entertainingly. The book has retellings of history as told by many—the bewildered and the confused but also the enlightened and the practical—stretching back to Scylax, Megasthenes and Alberuni to Steve Jobs and David Cameron. And though South Asia—split into India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, etcetera—boasted some important product and knowledge exports and fabulous wealth, each foreigner who finds mention in Miller’s book is fascinated to distraction by one thing consistently: the elephant. Though not comprehensive, the total period the book covers is impressively vast and spread over 3,000 years. If you look up the intriguing index (even the footnotes are accounted for) there are cross references from religion, history, art, architecture, literature and popular culture from the Beatles to New Age 3 March 2014

hippies (Jobs), and amusing references to mighty Naipaul, like in this passage: ‘In the spring of 1962, two of the most influential writers of the latter half of the twentieth century arrived in India. They were both born in the Americas, both misfits in the land of their birth; each of them now on a year-long voyage of discovery—a pilgrimage of sorts. But in other ways they could hardly be more different. The Beat poet Allen Ginsberg—gay, Jewish, a hero of the burgeoning counter-culture; and the young novelist VS Naipaul—obsessive, judgmental, a Trinidadan of Indian descent. Ginsberg would have a wild old time in India, hanging out happily with burning corpses and sadhus at cremation grounds, while a nauseated Naipaul appears to have spent most of his year in India trying to avoid any encounters with human faecal matter.’

The author has a talent for adding infinitely small details to pictures that often add up to much more than the parts, and reveals how much he has read He frequently brings in his adopted Indian family. Tony Mango, his wife Shireen’s stepfather, whom he affectionately refers to as the ‘Ancient Greek’ because he was a Greek married to an Indian woman, lived and died here. Mango willed him his complete 1887 Imperial Gazeteer of India, a rare volume of historical referenceworks which were valuable in the research for this book. For Miller, Mango is a very important inspiration who led to an essay about non-British visitors to India. That then led to this full-fledged work of non-fiction, his most ambitious so far. The book flows like a novel, but reads like a journal—well-researched with an abundant sediment of footnotes that march across your psyche like soldiers. They say, contentiously perhaps, that travel writers are frustrated novelists. But that means it is essential that a good travelogue has an emotionally-involved narrator. Miller wins over

the Indian reader with the benevolent way in which he observes, forgives, accepts and eventually embraces and defends India, his home, second or first— which, he is unclear about now. Helping him along the way, no doubt, is the delicious Parsi cuisine his wife’s family cooks. ‘Good thoughts, good words, good deeds’ he writes in the second chapter, ‘is the mantra all Parsis learn to describe their faith—to which ‘good food’ deserves to be added’. He also confesses to weeks of gluttony and dope-smoking, and then a chaste, short and incomprehensible Avestan wedding ceremony followed by a lot of eating: ‘Not only was the food transcendentally superb but it was also the main topic of conversation before, during and after the wedding.’ Of course, the impetus for Miller’s ‘travelogue’ is entirely personal—he fell in love with and married an Indian girl. The memories of the early days are painted affectionately—as good as any love story. Good writing is good writing whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and this book is proof. There is the adept characterisation of living and dead characters, use of direct speech, the ability to switch across the past and the present, the macro and the micro intermingling with ease. He travels inward and outward. The India we see is a vehicle for Miller that lets him satisfy his childlike curiosity and explore his creativity rooted in humour, scholarly diligence, riposte and introspection. He is perpetually interested in things; during this interview, he frequently turned to ask me questions with politeness and personability. Yet, the politeness never gets too much in the book. It is India, after all, and an irritant or a joke or absurdity emerges now and then to break the spell. He sees things as they are, but lets you make up your mind about it yourself. Paradise is hard to put down despite the lengthy but interesting footnotes. The author has a talent for adding infinitely small details to pictures that often add up to much more than the parts and reveals how much he has read and possibly re-read, remembered, connected and spun into this impossibly fascinating tale n open www.openthemagazine.com 51


Books The Advantages of Failure Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, on underachievement as a good thing MADHAVANKUTTY PILLAI

How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big

By Scott Adams Penguin | 248 pages | Rs 550

F

or the author of a cartoon legend-

ary for its debunking of modern office culture, Dilbert-creator Scott Adams’ recent book seems oddly conformist. There is a flourish of humour running through the pages of How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. But the trademark sarcasm of his characters is mostly reserved for himself. The book shuffles between memoir and self-help, uncertain of which space to occupy. You can always debate whether a self-help book is a placebo, but if you are a believer, the general rule of thumb should be to read the ones written by those who have lived the talk. For example, there are thousands of books on writing, but Stephen King’s On Writing is worthwhile because King, as one of the few writers who has successfully trod the difficult line between literary and genre fiction, is qualified to preach. This analogy falters a little with How to Fail because Adams is not talking about his creativity. The book is a manual for success and a map of failure. Adams is incredibly successful; Dilbert runs in more than 2,000 newspapers across the world. But what makes the book legitimate is that he has been equally spectacular at failure. Consider the summary in the second chapter—failing his first job interview; failing to market a software program to determine a person’s psychic ability; failing to sell two computer games he wrote; failing at a website for crackpot ideas; failing at a video-on-the-net service, years before YouTube; failing at a

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grocery delivery business; failing at selling a nutrition-packed burrito called ‘Dilberito’; failing at two restaurants he started; failing even at cartooning. When Adams first approached a syndication company to sell Dilbert, one editor found his artwork so unimpressive that he was asked to ‘find an actual artist to do the drawing’. When another syndication agency did pick Dilbert up, Adams, on his own, offered to be paired with an artist. The editor told him his skills were fine. “The psychological thing that happened [was] the minute somebody important and smart told me that my drawing was good enough, it improved overnight,” he says on the phone from California. How to Fail contains grand strategies, but also touches on things like sitting wiht the right posture and tips on grammar. Adams says there is a reason for such minutiae: “I included all that stuff because almost all of it refer to gaps that I had in my own knowledge,” he says. He said ‘brang’ instead of ‘brought’ for most of his life and thought it was a real word. The book, he says, comes from the need to pass on his experience to young men starting off as he once was. “I grew up in a small town and didn’t have access to successful people. It occurred to me a few years ago that I had accumulated a fairly large set of experiences because I had tried and failed at so many things. I wondered if I could simplify and distil the wisdom to what I would call a template, so that people have some kind of a starting point. It is not necessarily going to work for them the way it worked for me, but it still gives them a launchpad, something to compare with other ideas they have.”

I

n the Adams approach, goals are

‘for losers’ because those who have

them are living in a relentless state of failure until they are achieved. And even if they are achieved, after the initial elation, there is purposelessness. Successful people, he says, have systems thst invite luck. “A system is something you are doing on a regular basis, usually every day. The intention is to move yourself from a place of poor odds to a place of better odds,” he says. As an example, he talks about a new comic strip in his blog. The character is a news reading robot, borrowed from Dilbert. He has no goals for the strip and just works on it regularly. “I know that if I keep practising publicly, keep trying new things, look at the feedback, modify it—there is a range of potential good things that could happen,” he says. That is the system. The reward might be a call from a syndication agency, or someone wanting to put the character on a T-shirt. Some magazine or newspaper editor might like what he is saying and ask him to write a guest editorial without the comic. “There are an unlimited number of ways that can go. And I am practising in public, so I have created an opportunity for luck to find me,” he says. In the early 90s, the little finger of his right hand just refused to draw— it would spasm. This would only happen when drawing or writing; otherwise, the finger seemed absolutely fine. Even when he tried drawing with his left hand, the right little finger would spasm. It was not the finger but the wiring with the brain that had malfunctioned. Doctors diagnosed it as an incurable condition called focal dystonia. Adams was not willing to give up. His system was to fool his brain by constantly touching the pen to paper and then withdrawing it before the spasm started. ‘I tapped the page hundreds of 3 March 2014


The Art of Failing When Scott Adams first approached a syndicator to sell Dilbert, he was told to find an ‘actual artist’ to draw the strip

times per meeting under the table on the notepad on my lap. My idea was to rewire my brain gradually, to relearn that I can touch pen to paper and not spasm. I was literally trying to hack my brain,’ he writes. He managed to hold the pen for a second, then gradually for longer. One day, just as suddenly, he found that the ailment was gone—his brain had rewired itself. But in 2004, his dystonia came back. This time, he astutely guessed that the brain might not associate using a stylus on a computer screen with drawing. And he was right. A company called Wacom was making a special monitor for artists and Adams had no dystonia when he worked on it. “I was going to try everything,” Adams says. “I thought it was a possibility that I wouldn’t be able to draw cartoons again. But I don’t think in terms of absolutes; I think in terms of odds.” For someone who thought he had ‘bad art skills’, the use of a comput3 March 2014

er also turned him into a better artist. Adams’ ideas for success strongly emphasise basic things like exercise and diet. He feels all the parts, small and big, are connected. “If you don’t have an understanding of the architecture of success, then you could be doing one part of it without having a good foundation. All of science supports the fact that if you are fit, eating right and healthy, then your mental performance and the number of hours you can work are going to be substantially better,” he says. The book has tips on humour, business writing, voice training and so on—all of them fairly commonsensical. There are also amusing Dilbert stories to keep your interest up. One of them is how Dilbert’s popularity shot up because of the death of the syndication agency salesman who was supposed to sell it in the western United States. The man didn’t really like it and just didn’t show it to newspapers when he went on sales calls. After his

death, the new salesman liked it, noticed its potential and sold it to every newspaper he visited.

A

dams is still battling failure. He

has been trying to make a Dilbert movie for the past 15 years, but has always come up against unexpected obstacles. Once, lawyers couldn’t close the deal. Another time, the director walked out because of personal problems. But he doesn’t consider these failures wasted: “My next step will be to write a script sometime this year. One of the things I learnt from my failures is that people had a hard time imagining what a Dilbert movie could be. I have learned because I have a system and not a goal. I can write a script that will answer that question.” You could argue that the objective of making the movie sounds very much like a goal, even if the process is a system. But tying yourself up in semantics is not really conducive to success. n open www.openthemagazine.com 53


CINEMA

ritesh uttamchandani

The Boogie Man The enduring appeal of Jaaved Jaaferi, arguably India’s first celebrity dancer and standup comic, who is back with yet another season of Boogie Woogie SHAIKH AYAZ

greasing up Jaaved Jaaferi in his make-up van

J

aaved Jaaferi, the straight-faced bully of Boogie Woogie, decides, in one early episode of the popular dance show, to talk about water conservation. The audience is agog. Jaaved deadpans, and talks of a day when water will replace money as the currency for ransom: “Kidnappers will demand, ‘If you want to see your son/daughter alive, come behind Purana Mandir with ten buckets of water.’” Here’s JJ at INKtalks 2012, cracking a Lalu joke about rapidly rising inflation: “Rabri Devi: ‘Laluji, what ij inphlason?’ Lalu Prasad Yadav: ‘Suniye (Listen), let me explain. When you are married, you are 36-28-38. Now, you are 42-37-48. Everything is more. Still, your value is

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less. That ij the inphlason.’” The audience is in stitches. Jaaved— if you want to call him a veteran, do so at your own risk—makes comedy look like the easiest job in the world. Comedy and dance have served as the pillars of his work. He combined them in Boogie Woogie, that ultimate dance marathon of Indian TV which has kept him up and running. The show, the first dance reality show on Indian television before the glitzier and glossier Nach Baliye and Jhalak Dikhlaa Jaa came along, ran from 1995 to 2010. Now, it is back after a gap of three years with a version titled Boogie Woogie Kids’ Championship. “Jaaved is like the elder brother, an

elder statesman on Boogie Woogie,” says Ravi Behl, one of the three faces of the show along with Jaaved and his brother Naved. “People look forward to seeing him. If he’s there, it’s guaranteed fun,” he says. Jaaved’s appeal lies in his cosy versatility. “He can do a lot of stuff. But it’s kind of sad that he hasn’t yet got his proper due,” Ravi bemoans, adding, “I’m still waiting for that surprise film to come by and give him the boost he needs.”

W

hen Jaaved himself looks back at

the long slog of his career, he likes to believe that some things were just not meant to be. Hero roles, for one. He

3 March 2014


was convinced, early on, of his ‘hero material’ worth. He had all the talent— exceptional dancing skills, a booming baritone that recalled a young Big B, and not to mention, his deadpan comic timing. In 1985, Subhash Ghai sent word that he’d like him to play a villain in Meri Jung: ‘a villain who dances’. That was strange, because usually in a Hindi film, especially of those days, the hero got to sing and dance as an assertion of his heroism. “Anil Kapoor was the film’s hero,” says Jaaved. “I was the bad guy. But I had an item number of my own: Bol Baby Bol.” Agreeing to a villainous role—not the film, he makes it clear—was his biggest regret, a “bad decision”, as it were. The industry can be cruel. It loves nothing more than reducing you to brackets. His father, Jagdeep, came to Bollywood to be a hero but ended up as a comedian. The mystic in Jaaved also tells him to take whatever life throws at one and move on. “After that,” Jaaved goes on, “people started looking at me not as a hero, but as a villain. Today, it’s like: either he can do comedy or dance.” He offers various theories about why he couldn’t make it as a hero. “I looked okay, I think,” he says. “Govinda came one year after me but he came in as a lead—that’s the point. As a dancer, his style was massy. Mine was more Westernised, more athletic and aggressive. I was bluntly told: ‘Yeh sab nahin chalega yahan. Public ko simple mangta hai (This won’t work here. People want simple stuff).’” Those were the days of all-powerful secretaries. “Like Dad, I wasn’t good at selling myself,” he says. “Though Dad was in the industry, I couldn’t speak the language of ‘Darling, Sirji.’ I was a PR disaster. Dad did try to push me. He tried to find me a secretary—the wise men, you know. But as they say, some are wise, some otherwise.” Jaaved who was a choreographer, stand-up and theatre actor in his college days, went on a film-signing spree, including one in which a 60-plus Dev Anand greedily snagged the hero’s part for himself while offering the 26-yearold Jaaved a side role. “In that film, there were four young heroes,” he says 3 March 2014

of 1989’s Lashkar, “I had two solo songs. Dev saab had a family song. Nobody else had any songs.” After that, Jaaved complains, “I never again got a ‘solo lead.’ It was always, ‘One of the leads.” His “senses of humour”—to borrow a Binglish (Bihari-English) phrase from his Crocodile Dundee character in Salaam Namaste—is on full display when he says, “The only lead role I got was in Jajantaram Mamantaram (a children’s film inspired by Gulliver’s Travels) which did pretty well. Technically, I can claim that I gave a hit as a leading man. If not a 100 crore blockbuster, I can at least say that I’ve a 100 per cent success record as a hero.” But of late, offers have swelled. Salaam Namaste was definitely a motivator. He gave his character Feroz Khan’s style—a cowboy-gone-wrong swagger and wannabe outback Australian accent. “Eggjactly,” he says,

“Govinda came one year after me but he came in as a lead— that’s the point. As a dancer, his style was massy. Mine was more Westernised” mimicking the character that surprised everyone except Jaaved himself. For Indra Kumar’s Dhamaal, he dropped his baritone drawl to suit that of man-child Manav. Jaaved believes people with a strong voice take themselves too seriously and that very few experiment for fear of being mocked. “People with a good voice are basically very conscious. They want to use it to their maximum base potential. I, on the other hand, feel if you take your voice too seriously you lose out on the character,” he says. Jaaved acknowledges his mimicry skills. “But I’m a principal actor,” he says, without bothering to explain further. Let’s see who all he can impersonate with flourish: Sanjay Dutt, Dharmendra and Ajit, to name a few. But there are some he can’t seem to get a hang on. “Aamir Khan, I can’t do,

yet. Hrithik Roshan thoda aa jata hai (Hrithik Roshan, only to an extent). SRK and Akshay Kumar, I can do. But I don’t go out of my way. It’s not as if I sit down and do homework for it. It’s not my profession. I’m not out to be prove that I’m a better mimic than X, Y or Z.” Mimicry is a handy skill. “It’s like being a good sportsman. A sportsman can not only run well but he can also ride a horse and dance. Similarly, every actor has to be a mimic at heart. Bachchan saab changed his voice for Agneepath and Paa. Do you think he invented those voices? There must have been some reference point in his head and he simply followed it.” Jaaved has a separate following for the Hindi version of the Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle, in which he grafted Dilip Kumar’s voice on the show’s leader General Tani. “When I’m doing mimicry, I don’t disrespect anybody. I draw my lines,” he says. As a comedian, Javed sticks to Dad’s mantra: ‘Loud comedy works with the masses.’ “Dad says that in India subtlety doesn’t work. The uneducated don’t understand dialogue, so don’t play with language. They only understand and react to action. Groucho Marx was extremely witty, but how many people know him as opposed to, say, a Chaplin? You have to be educated to understand the Marx Brothers’ puns. There’s a Marx Brothers’ joke where a cop asks Groucho, “A hermit, eh? Then, why’s the table set for four?” Groucho replies, “That’s nothing. My alarm clock is set for eight.’ Unless you put your mind to it, you won’t get it.” Jaaferi, who speaks rather solemnly in person, says his public persona is misleading. “I’m much more of a thinking person than people think,” he says. Perhaps, that’s why he has been wanting to turn director for the past 15 years. “We’d announced a film called Dance Master in 1990. We had a location in mind in Worli. Sangeeth and Santosh Sivan were part of it. The financiers backed out.” When he saw the recent dance hit ABCD: Any Body Can Dance, he realised that was exactly the film he had envisioned. “But that’s gone now. I’ll think of something else,” he says. n open www.openthemagazine.com 55


theatre Sharp, Blunt and Interactive Acquiring a taste for theatre at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala AKSHAYA PILLAI

A

boy tugs his mother’s shawl

and puts forth his right hand. He is holding a toy, a Ben 10 with its head missing. He is standing ahead of me in the long queue for tickets to the puppet play Hilum at the 6th International Theatre Festival of Kerala. His mother pats his head and comforts him: “I promise you are going to see something better than cartoons.” In May 2013, when theatre and film artist Sanjana Kapoor expressed concern that theatre was a dying art in India, her concern was taken seriously. But as I stand staring at the swarm behind me, I beg to differ. Deepan Sivaram, artistic director of ITFOK, always breathless from flitting between open air auditorium, tent and dais, offers some figures. “The event was planned with a maximum capacity of 700. During registration, we increased the bar and made it 830. But look around: the crowd at any given time is more than 3,000.” He has no satisfying answer for why that is. In an essay on ‘The Future of Theater’ for Harvard Magazine, Craig Lambert makes a prediction: ‘The theater of the future will be one that actively engages its audiences and probably breaks not only the “fourth wall” (the imaginary “window” of the proscenium) but the other three as well.’ It strikes me that ITFOK is the theatre of the future. There is even a show where audience members are encouraged to keep their smart phones switched on: C Sharp C Blunt, a play about the making of a smart phone app called ‘She’, which explores what it means to be a professional woman in India’s entertainment business. “Why spend time and money on theatre when you have easier access to films? It is entertainment that matters,” a

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friend said when I invited her to the festival. As I watch C Sharp C Blunt, I mentally compose a reply: ‘Cinema cannot interact with you. You may dance to a movie song, but can you get on stage with Katrina? Here, you can.’ Bartosz Szydlowski, the Polish director of Bath New Theatre in Krakow, stood to make his point in the small colloquium at the Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi in Trichur: “Curators of contemporary theatre festivals should focus on making the audience a subject of their artwork rather than treating them as passive consumers of a particular product.” Oliver De Sagazan, a French theatre artist, is known for his unique combination of sculpture, painting and performance. Facing us under a spotlight, his smile disintegrates as he closes his eyes and, in a well-rehearsed way, moves his hands over his face and hair—his canvas. Though most of us are spellbound, somewhere in the front row a child throws his head back and lets out a stream of uncontrollable laughter. Every move Sagazan makes is accompanied by an annoying flash of a camera in the audience, but he doesn’t complain. He is amused. To him, the flash is evidence that the audience wants to

better than cartoons The puppet play Hilum

capture his transfiguration. Anuradha Kapoor, former director of the National School of Drama, agrees that enthusiasm matters more than ettiquette. “If they hoot or clap, that is because they enjoy the performance. I do not think we need a stiff audience [of people] who have to curb their instincts. There is nothing called an ideal audience.” Renu Nair is one among hundreds who could not see Sagazan’s show. She is disappointed. It is her first time at a theatre festival. Indeed, most of the Malayalees I spoke to at the festival hadn’t seen so much as a Kootiyattam performance since their childhoods. Kootiyattam is a 2,000-year-old form of theatre—the only surviving sample of the Sanskrit theatre in all of India. There was a time when every family in Kerala would carry straw mats and pillows to the temple grounds during festivals to watch Koottiyattam performances that ran into the early hours of the morning. I ask my mother whether she understood any of the Kootiyattam she saw as a child—it being in Sanskrit. Over the years, she said, she had learnt to comprehend and enjoy it. Perhaps theatre is an acquired taste. And a festival helps people acquire it. Hilum is performed in the garage. I am on the floor and it is dark. There is silence as everyone waits for the show to begin. I am reminded of the final lines of a Raymond Carver story: ‘I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.’ As I exit the festival, I notice something small and round near my feet. It’s a head—a Ben 10 toy head. I look around for the kid to whom it belongs, but I have a feeling he doesn’t need it anymore. n 3 March 2014


rough cut

Mayank Shekhar

H

The Viral Success of Online Parody Artists YouTube could kill TV and movie stars in upper class India, if that hasn’t happened already

popular Arnab Goswami’s Times Now show The Newshour, first ten minutes of meeting him? He tells you so. which has more opinion than news, and lasts for much lonArunabh Kumar went to IIT Kharagpur. After failing ger than an hour. The original Arnab would be flattered his first attempt at the Joint Entrance Exam, he took a year by his imitation on Kumar’s send-up. As would Arvind off in Kota— the national capital of IIT aspirants—before he Kejriwal. The smartly-written comic sketch, brilliantly engot in, and picked up an engineering degree. acted, draws striking parallels between Bollywood and At least among smokers outside Toto’s bar in Bandra Indian politics. (Mumbai) where we’re hanging out, Kumar doesn’t need Kumar had first approached MTV to produce his to play the IIT card. He is a filmmaker. Practically everyone Bollywood parodies. The gatekeepers at the channel didn’t around here has seen his latest film, which I’m sure cannot greenlight the concept. Qtiyapa’s channel The Viral Fever be said for most of the new Hollywood/Bollywood releases. I Videos now has a much stronger subscriber base on YouTube don’t know if he has groupies, but I can see he gets a lot of fethan MTV India or Channel [V]—the original curators of male attention when he mentions he’s desi cool from almost two decades ago. the guy who makes the ‘Qtiyapa’ videos Qtiyapa videos usually get over half a Kumar had first approached million views. Nation Wants To Know that play on YouTube. He’s a rockstar MTV to produce his of sorts. He’s currently sporting a slight at 16-minutes-plus became the lonbeard, preparing to play Prabhudheva in gest video to go viral in India. I suppose Bollywood parodies. The a forthcoming parody. gatekeepers at the channel Kumar didn’t expect this. Kumar’s last film was called Nation Nobody knows what goes viral on didn’t greenlight the Wants To Know—a spoof on the hyperthe web. Certainly not Alok Nath, who concept. Qtiyapa’s channel wakes up one morning to find himself bolic political drama that takes place evThe Viral Fever Videos ery night on prime time television while more famous than the sum of his work now has a much stronger the nation probably wants to know if because someone randomly tweeted a we really should be watching TV news subscriber base on YouTube joke on him, which led to more jokes, on the radio instead. Going by the ratmemes and a viral video. An FMCG than MTV or Channel [V] ings, these prime time panel discussions company asked me to host a web-based on major events of the day are well liked chat show, where its execs wondered if or at least well watched, even as they cost so little to proI could make the celebrity guests do something—‘Say someduce: no crew needs to travel too far to gather exclusive footthing, I don’t know, make them dance, sing, take their clothes age, reportage isn’t necessary, editors can stay home, reportoff’—so the interview could go viral. I don’t think you can ers have to do even less legwork for top ratings. plan this in a boardroom. The pressure is unnecessary. Last Roughly the same set of politicians—party spokesperchecked, there were 60 hours of footage being uploaded evsons—appearing on channel after channel couldn’t possibly ery minute on YouTube. I have no idea why a toddler saying be so impassioned about defending the indefensible every “Charlie bit my finger again” has had over 6.6 billion views. night. Eventually, they begin to sound slightly fake. A new Nation Wants To Know had over 2 million hits in less than outrage gets manufactured at 9 pm. The performances are a week. The figure is astounding even if you compare it to first-rate. That’s what cameras tend to do—turn us all into mainstream media, which is run by major conglomerates, posers and actors first. Entertainment is complete. No one I and whose reach is calculated through surveys with relaknow unfortunately watches these shows for the substance. tively low sample sizes—200,000 plus readers for newspaKumar’s spoof video is centred on the peppy and hugely pers; about 8,000 homes for television. The results are ow can you tell somebody’s an IITian within the

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3 March 2014


extrapolated to arrive at numbers that run into millions. You don’t guesstimate viewership on the internet. It’s a genuine census. I hear corporates can make anything trend, which is such a waste. Everybody can tell the difference between what’s really popular and what’s a plant. There are very few people I know who are 35 and under who do any kind of appointment viewing on TV, nobody I know under 30 reads a physical newspaper. The demographic I speak of comprises upper middle-class consumers. Yet, almost all advertising spends go to print and television. Even The Guardian in London, which has most aggressively embraced the internet, gets 75 per cent of its revenues from the printed newspaper. This could be because most decision makers for ad spends are still immigrants to the web, unable to appreciate how the young natives have totally immersed themselves online. The problem with the internet is also the reason for its global appeal: it is practically free. This shows up in the quality. The bulk of it is piss-poor. The majority of popular stuff is a takeoff on mainstream media. But the access is instant. You don’t have to order a copy from a vendor, go to the mall, or sit around with family to watch a show. It’s on your cellphone, and chiefly on the office computer, which is where, I’m told, most of the consumption takes place during breaks at work. There is the added pleasure of making a discovery. This has finally begun to create ‘new media’ stars, whose fame could rival those from television and even blockbuster films. 3 March 2014

Kumar’s main competitors are a group of comedians who call their YouTube channel All India Bakchod. I used to see them do free stand-up shows at ‘Open Mic Nights’ in Bandra. They are now celebrities in their own right. From anecdotal evidence, the most popular film review in India could well be the blog Vigil Idiot—that spoofs latest Bollywood releases with stick figure doodles—and KRK, a rabid maverick, and Deshdrohi actor, who trashes big budget flicks on YouTube. Technically, they are not film critics. But then, since we’re on technicalities, some of the films they refer to aren’t films either. Miss Malini is the go-to person for gossip, and News Laundry the ideal platform to discuss mainstream news. Songs like Mere gand mein danda and Mein kaatil sardar are a much bigger rage than we realise. These are homegrown creations of the internet. Twitter has its own range of celebrities. Pardon the shameless immodesty, but in over a decade of writing for popular publications, being a guest on news programmes and hosting film-based shows on various national TV stations, over the past week or so, I haven’t been to a party or a random bar where someone or the other hasn’t given me a confused but knowing stare. Before they can finish murmuring, “I think I’ve seen you somewhere…,” I warmly help them out, “Yeah, I’m the same guy who did that 10 second cameo in that Qtiyapa Aurnob video.” So be it. I just didn’t know it. That’s the power of YouTube, I guess. n Mayank Shekhar runs the pop-culture website TheW14.com open www.openthemagazine.com 59


science

cell death In human neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, proteins ‘misfold’ in different ways, resulting in the build up of misshapen proteins, an occurence linked with brain cell death

Why Fatherhood Means Less Sex A new study finds that becoming a dad lowers one’s testosterone level

Aluminium and Alzheimer’s

I

s there any truth in the be-

lief that couples have less sex after the birth of a baby? Does the female partner become less attractive to the male, as is often suggested, or does parenthood have a biological impact on the father, just like the mother? A new study has found that when men become fathers, they experience a sharp decline—usually about onethird—in their testosterone levels. But if the male is an involved parent, actively participating in childcare, it plummets by another 20 per cent. For the research, 433 young men in the Philippines were studied. Their testosterone levels were first tested when they were 21 years old and single. Five years later, they were retested when they had turned 26 and become fathers. They found that these men were having less sex. There was also at least a one-third decline in their testosterone levels. The researchers argue that this drastic dip in testosterone levels is caused by a natural impulse to protect and care for the newborn. Less testosterone, they say, ensures that the male is less aggressive and more caring. Arguing that men are biolog60 open

ically hardwired to focus on childcare at the expense of their sex drive, Lee Gettler, the lead researcher from University of Notre Dame in Indiana, UK, told The Guardian, “If their testosterone goes down, the men might be more oriented towards their family’s needs and not getting into conflicts with other men or looking for new mates.” The researchers also found an increase in the hormone prolactin in new fathers, especially among those actively participating in childcare. This hormone is usually associated with breastfeeding, and, according to the researchers, this also causes men to be more responsive to their children’s needs. Gettler told The Telegraph, “We found that men who became new fathers had a decline of testosterone of between 33-34 per cent. Men who were most involved in day-to-day hands-on childcare had the lowest testosterone levels. If you think about fathers in other mammalian species, they don’t really help taking care of the children. So it seems that natural selection has stepped up men’s hormone systems to respond to the needs of their offspring.” n

Research at Keele University in Staffordshire, UK, has shown for the first time that an individual who was exposed to aluminum at work and died of Alzheimer’s disease had high levels of aluminium in the brain. Results of a comprehensive investigation showed that the deceased’s frontal lobe contained an average aluminium content at least four times higher than might be expected of an age-matched control brain. Researchers say that it’s likely air-borne aluminium dust entered his body and brain through the nose and lungs. “Overall, these results suggest very strongly that occupational exposure to aluminium contributed significantly to the untimely death of this individual with Alzheimer’s disease,” says Professor Chris Exley of Keele University. n

Brain’s Sweet Spot for Love

According to a new study at University of Chicago, an area of the brain called the anterior insula controls how quickly people make decisions about love. In the study, researchers examined a 48-year-old heterosexual male in Argentina who had suffered a stroke that damaged his anterior insula. He was matched with a control group of seven Argentinian heterosexual men of the same age who had healthy anterior insula. The patient and the control group were shown 40 photos of attractive women dressed in appealing dresses and asked whether they saw these women as objects of sexual desire or love. The patient had a much slower response when asked if the women in the photos could be objects of love. n

3 March 2014


tech&style

Fujifilm X-E2 Fuji’s fastest autofocus camera in a slim body delivers some great images gagandeep Singh Sapra

cob Chip-on-Board, or COB, refers to the semiconductor assembly technology wherein the microchip or die is directly mounted on and electrically interconnected to its final circuit board, instead of undergoing traditional assembly or packaging as an individual IC (integrated circuit)

Mademoiselle Privé w Watch Coromandel

Price on request

Rs 76,999

Chanel’s Mademoiselle Privé Watch with Coromandel decoration is inspired by Coromandel lacquered screens. The motifs on Coromandel screens are reproduced in miniature on the dial in Grand Feu enamel using a ‘Geneva technique’. It features an 18K white gold case with 524 snow-set diamonds, a self-winding mechanical movement, 42-hour power reserve, and is water resistant up to 30 metres. n

Gigs 2 Go

A

16.3 megapixel camera with its body alone costing Rs 76,999 makes one hesitate, especially when an entry-level digital SLR is available for roughly Rs 35,000. But if you are particular about high picture quality and a camera that is quick on its heels, then the brand new X-E2 demands a serious look. A new avatar nearly a year after the X-E1 came out, the X-E2 delivers stunning pictures with its brand new APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor and a whole lot of other improvements. I spent a couple of weeks with the X-E2 shooting under various lighting conditions, outdoors and indoors, and the results were great all across. The first thing you notice about the X-E2 is its similarity even as you see subtle differences in the layout of the buttons from the X-E1, confirming that Fuji really listens to customer feedback. The exposure compensation has gone up to ÷3 EV, with steps of 1/3. Also, the screen is of much 3 March 2014

higher resolution, much sharper, and is slightly bigger than X--E1’s, at 3 inches. The X-E2 has more film simulation modes, including ASTIA for a faithful smooth tone reproduction. The Creative Black and White mode captures some great details, and if you want you can also capture images in RAW format. The X-E2 can shoot videos at 30 frames per second in full HD resolution, and capturing panoramic shot with the X-E2 is as easy as it is with an iPhone. The X-E2, like the X-E1, has an electronic viewfinder, but its 2.36 million dots OLED screen electronic viewfinder gives you a view similar to that of an optical viewfinder. The camera’s battery lasts all day and manages to squeeze in more than 300 shots in a single charge. The X-E2 is another great camera from Fuji, though if you already have an X-E1, there may not be enough reasons to upgrade. n

$29.95

Remember how many times you have wanted to share data on a pen drive and don’t have one that you just want to give away? Help is at hand now with this tear-and-share-thumbdrive-pack. Each pack holds four tabs; each tab is loaded with a chip-on-board (COB) flash memory stick with capacities ranging from 4 GB to 16 GB. The electronics is encased in a recycled paper pulp jacket, and the pack is sized exactly like a credit card so that you can keep one in your wallet all the time. It is inexpensive, good on the environment and good on the go. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at gadgets@openmedianetwork.in

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CINEMA

Arjun and Ranveer together again Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, co-stars in Gunday, are both billed in the acting credits of Homi Adjania’s 2014 release, Finding Fanny Fernandes. Kapoor has a substantial role in the film, while Singh is believed to be playing a cameo

Gunday A movie that is rather too loud but still watchable—mostly for Priyanka Chopra’s sizzler of a turn ajit duara

o n scr een

current

Her Director Spike Jonze cast Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams,

Scarlett Johannson Score ★★★★★

nveer a chopra , ra Cast priyank or po ka singh, arjun bas zafar Director ali ab

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unday is a male-bonding, crossborder, train-robber film. It was the US and Bolivia in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and it is Bangladesh and West Bengal in this movie. But since this is a Hindi film, there is a childhood back-story here. Two kids become gun runners in East Pakistan at a time when the Mukti Bahini and the occupying Pakistani army were in civil conflict, and then, during the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, cross over as refugees to Calcutta. Struggling as migrants, they take to stealing coal from goods trains, just like another refugee on the other side of the country in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. But that film was biography, and this is not very credible fiction. That’s one of the problems with the film. The transition of the duo from daring but otherwise pretty ordinary robbers to the mafia rulers of the city of Calcutta in the 1980s is not explained at all. A film clip of Anil Kapoor and Sridevi in Mr India, shots of the Howrah Bridge

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and the docks, the nightlife on Park Street—all this is presented as evidence of how Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) ascended the crime hierarchy of Calcutta. The truth, of course, is that at this historical juncture, it wasn’t the mafia but the CPM that ruled Calcutta. Anyway, two Bengali police officers, one ACP Satyajit Sarkar (Irfan Khan) and the police chief (Victor Banerjee), turn on the heat. They get the duo trapped in a chakravyuha, using the sexy Cabaret dancer Nandita Sengupta (Priyanka Chopra) as bait to divide and ensnare them. Priyanka really turns it on, wearing a sari like a halter top dress, sashaying down to buy hilsa. In truth, she steals the movie from the ‘gundays’. We saw Rekha in a cameo in Parineeta (2005), doing a sizzler at the Calcutta restaurant Moulin Rouge. Priyanka comes close here. As for the ‘gundays’, they have their gun days. A movie that is rather too loud, but still watchable. n

Her is a pretty creepy film about a guy making out with a computer operating system. The OS is the ‘her’ in the movie. It is set in the future, and so the operating system is a talking one, a form of artificial intelligence imbued with a personality. Since the central character is a lonely man going through a painful divorce, he chooses a female identity for his OS. She introduces herself and says her name is ‘Samantha’ (the incredibly sexy voice of Scarlett Johansson). Samantha reads him his emails, reminds him of his appointments, and guides Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) through his day. Theo is a professional love letter writer, a man who compiles beautiful hand-written letters, obsolete in this digital age. Ironically, in his personal life, he has difficulty communicating with people. The idea is that the virtual world of relationships is as fragile and deceptive as the real one and that cyberspace ‘cheating’ may not have the physicality of the real thing, but can be as painful. Only one scene in this painfully slow movie stands out. This is when ‘Samantha’ mysteriously goes offline for a few minutes. Theo panics insanely and then we understand where she’s ‘been’. An unusual film, but a bit boring and ultimately empty. n AD

3 March 2014


Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

An Old Rivalry

Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla, who’ve been putting on their best smiling faces while promoting their new movie together Gulab Gang, will accidentally let slip every now and then the reality of their relationship. While chatting with the actresses last week, it became clear to me that they’re still as different as chalk and cheese. Revealing candidly that she turned down Yash Chopra’s offer to star with Madhuri and Shah Rukh Khan in Dil To Paagal Hai, Juhi said: “In those days the film’s heroine was the one who gets the hero, and in that script Madhuri’s character walked away with Shah Rukh. So I became the supporting actress, which I didn’t want to play, having played the lead in Yashji’s last film, Darr.” Offering none of the politically correct or guarded responses that heroines of the 90s generally dole out, Juhi admitted that she viewed Madhuri as a rival back in the day. Her admissions felt particularly honest and refreshing in an industry where actors seldom share their insecurities. Which is why it was a little odd to hear Madhuri respond to Juhi’s revelations. The dhak dhak star insisted she’s never felt competitive towards other actresses, and has never cared about another heroine’s role in a movie. “To me, it’s always been about my own role. If I’m convinced about that, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else in the film is doing,” she said matter-of-factly, practically sandbagging poor Juhi, who looked as if she regretted having opened her heart.

Hrithik’s Gift to Ranveer

Hrithik Roshan’s departure from Shuddhi— the actor left the project recently, only days after Kareena Kapoor dropped out— appears to have upset the folks at Dharma Productions, who’d tailored the film around him. The film’s director Karan Malhotra, who directed Hrithik in Agneepath two years ago, is reportedly disappointed by the star’s exit, as is producer Karan Johar who has known Hrithik since childhood. The actor’s reason for ditching the project is being attributed to his work schedule that went haywire after his brain surgery last year. Hrithik jumped back into Bang Bang!, which remained incomplete since he took unwell, thereby pushing 3 March 2014

forth his commitment to Shuddhi indefinitely. Kareena, who was looking forward to working with Hrithik again for the first time since Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, walked out when she couldn’t wait any longer for the film to begin. Unable to commit a fresh set of dates to the project till Bang Bang! is out of the way, Hrithik, too, eventually decided it was best to bow out of Shuddhi. Determined not to trash the project, Johar has decided to recast the film, thereby sending out a message that he will not be enslaved to any actor’s dates and whims. The buzz doing the rounds is that the makers have their hearts set on Ranveer Singh to replace Hrithik as the film’s leading man. Ranveer, who entered the Rs 100 crore club with Ram Leela last November, also delivered a robust opening for Gunday last week. Opposite him, they’d reportedly like to cast flavour of the season (and Ranveer’s girlfriend) Deepika Padukone. Negotiations with both stars are said to be currently underway.

One is Not Enough

A reasonably prominent film director, currently shooting his latest movie, is rumoured to be romantically involved with not one but two of the starlets he’s cast in the project. One of the ladies is a southern siren who appeared in his last film too, the other is a former model with a killer body, who’s so far displayed no acting skills whatsoever in her previous film outings. There’s a third actress in the film too, the only bonafide star among the three, and she’s not exactly thrilled that she’s ended up with the least prominent of the three female parts. Heroine No 3 was apparently not at all interested in doing this movie, but was seduced by the fat paycheck that was dangled in front of her nose and the opportunity to feature opposite an A-lister. Turns out all the three ladies have been cast opposite the same male lead, and, more than likely because of their ‘closeness’ to the director, the other two have got meatier roles than the third. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63


open space

Home Is Where the Art Is

The work Folding House by Zarina Hashmi is a set of 25 collages on Indian handmade paper stained with Sumi ink and mounted on Arches Cover Buff paper. An essay on the artist by Devika Singh notes that the 1937-born Hashmi grew up in Aligarh and left India in the late 1950s with her diplomat husband. In 1959, her family left for Pakistan. Hashmi lived in Bangkok, Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz before settling in New York. In her work too, Hashmi is a nomad: she is influenced by the Urdu and calligraphy of her childhood, Japanese printmaking and Zen Buddhism

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OPEN Magazine 3 March 2014