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FEAR AND LOATHING IN LUTYENS’ DELHI

RS 40 7 a p r i l 2 0 14

exclusive EM FORSTER’S SEXUAL CRISIS l i f e

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

Haima Deshpande (Mumbai) Mumbai bureau chief Madhavankutty Pillai associate editor Dhirendra Kumar Jha assistant editors

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

and East), Karl Mistry (West), Krishnanand Nair (South) Manager—Marketing Raghav Chandrasekhar

National Head—Distribution and Sales

Ajay Gupta regional heads—circulation D Charles

(South), Melvin George (West), Basab Ghosh (East) Head—production Maneesh Tyagi pre-press manager Sharad Tailang cfo Anil Bisht hEAD—it Hamendra Singh

KVS Krishna

Your cover story of the 24 March 2014 issue with a covering note on ‘10 bright ideas’ sounds good, but the most important idea, which we Indians have grossly neglected since 1947, is on how to contain the population. In 1951, India’s population was 351 million people, and now it is 1,210 million people according to the 2011 Census. It is projected to reach 1,823 million by 2051 with a density of 382 per square kilometre. The root cause of most if not all the problems the country faces is its very high population. So far, so many governments have come and gone. The most important Politicians are more idea, which we Indians interested in vote bank have grossly neglected politics. I would suggest from 1947 is on how to that Open magazine get contain the population experts to write on this important issue—how to contain future growth of the population and how to implement these policies. The problem is simply staggering, as another 600 million people will be added from 2011 to 2051—that is, 15 million people per year.  letter of the week

publisher

R Rajmohan

All rights reserved throughout the world. Reproduction in any manner is prohibited. Printed and published by R Rajmohan on behalf of the owner, Open Media Network Pvt Ltd. Printed at Thomson Press India Ltd., 18-35 Milestone, Delhi Mathura Road, Faridabad—121007, (Haryana). Published at 4, DDA Commercial Complex, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Ph: (011) 30934199; Fax: (011) 30934162 To subscribe, sms ‘openmagazine’ to 56070 or log on to www.openthemagazine.com Or call our Toll Free Number 1800 300 22 000 or email at: subscription@openmedianetwork.in For corporate sales, email ajay@openmedianetwork.in For marketing alliances, email alliances@openmedianetwork.in For advertising, email advt@openmedianetwork.in

Volume 6 Issue 13 For the week 1—7 April 2014 Total No. of pages 64 + Covers

7 april 2014

Without Malice

it is extremely saddening to hear of the passing away of Khushwant Singh (‘What a Tamasha!’, 31 March 2014). Known for his humour and an abiding love of poetry, he had a sense of fun that drew many aspiring and upcoming journalists to him. He enriched lives with his literary contribu-

tion through various novels, a memorable one being A train to Pakistan, which enthralled both the young and old. He lived a full and charmed life with amazing wit and intellect, and his style of storytelling will be long remembered. In short, a lively personality and a great novelist, editor and columnist endowed with rapid thinking

and serious reasoning on any subject under the sun. The country has lost a national treasure who knew the art of mixing sugar and spice.  KR Srinivasan

Kejriwal’s Fish to Fry

arvind kejriwal reminds me of an extremely intelligent but pompous professor I once had (‘The Amateur’s Day Out’, 31 March 2014). The man was very Indian—his stature, his honesty and his hard work made him impervious to courtesy and suggestions. Kejriwal has been so carried away by his own success that he forgot to get policy work started. There are many professionals who can help formulate an economic policy, and start at least figuring out how to implement police and law reforms. He should be preparing for the next election, not this one. And also let his colleagues know that governing a country is like cooking small fish. Too much poking and you end up ruining it.  Imli

Clarification In an interview published in Open (30 April 2012) titled, ‘The Mother of All Mistakes,’ Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman, Outlook Group, referred to a report in The Indian Express on Army troop movements towards Delhi (‘The January night Raisina Hill was spooked: Two key Army units moved towards Delhi without notifying Govt’, April 4, 2012) and called it a “mistake of Himalayan proportions”. The conversation claimed there was no “journalistic justification” for The Indian Express report and suggested that the newspaper had published a “plant” by

“mischief makers”. It added that a “mistake like this, and the failure to acknowledge it as one, puts Indian media at risk of losing its freedom.” This is to clarify that Open was aware, at the time of publication of that conversation, that The Indian Express had stood by its report. Open published Mehta’s description of the report as a “mistake” even though it had no independent confirmation of any factual error in it. Also, it did not contact The Indian Express for its version. Open regrets the hurt it may have caused The Indian Express. open www.openthemagazine.com 1


A Poll Twist in an Outrageous Tale sop

A traffic warden in Kerala who was assaulted and sacked gets her job back thanks to elections

I n G o d ’ s O w n C o u n t r y,

justice can take strange twists—a traffic warden who was beaten up by a vehicle owner and then got thrown out of her job, has found an odd saviour in the elections. Recruited by a private agency, D Padmini had been a traffic warden for seven years in Kochi. On the morning of 2 November last year, she was directing traffic at a busy junction when a scooter hit a car. “The car reversed and stopped next to me. The driver got out, caught hold of my shirt and 7 april 2014

hit me on my chest. He shouted that his car was hit because of my lack of attention. Two buttons of my shirt were ripped out. I noted his vehicle number and informed the control room.” Two policemen arrived. Padmini was told to lodge a complaint at the traffic police station under which she served. On the way, she was first directed to the traffic station closest to the incident, then redirected to a police station in Ernakulam north. Though the police registered

the case, they held that there had only been a minor ruckus. Padmini filed a fresh complaint against the policemen involved in the investigation, alleging that they were favouring the accused. It turned into a big media issue. Police sources allege that she had been talking on her phone when the car was hit by the scooter and that was the reason for the quarrel. “We are not sure whether any physical assault happened, there were hardly any witnesses,” says Sabu MG, the circle inspector

in charge of the investigation. The case was then handed over to another police officer whose investigation has not yet come to any conclusion. Meanwhile Padmini was asked to leave her job by the private agency recruiting traffic wardens. She staged a protest in front of the police commissioner’s office. Wanting to avoid adverse publicity, Kerala’s Home Minister told the police to instruct the agency to reinduct Padmini. She is now a traffic warden in the same station. n Shahina KK

open www.openthemagazine.com 3

SIVAPRASAD M.A.

small world


contents 8

10

14 cover story

35

maharashtra

open essay

Uddhav’s troubles

Fear and loathing in Lutyens’ Delhi

haryana

locomotif

6

38

Among the digital dissidents

28

A mix of caste and cult

mj akbar

angle

A philosopher in Modi’s durbar

Private sector reservations

person of the Week n. srinivasan

The ‘Nausea’ of Hanging On No matter who tells him he must go, BCCI President N Srinivasan refuses to let go of his cricket-industrial empire lhendup g bhutia

I

n the run up to the IPL, it is not cricket that is making news, but a Supreme Court proposal. The SC wants BCCI’s President N Srinivasan—arguably the strongest cricket administrator in the world—gone, and two IPL cricket teams, Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings (CSK), suspended. This proposal throws into disarray the future of the IPL, most certainly the tournament scheduled from 16 April onwards. The fault for this impasse lies squarely with Srinivasan. When the Supreme Court issued a two-day ultimatum to him on 24 March to resign voluntarily—‘Why is Mr Srinivasan sticking to his chair? It is nauseating’—anyone else would have heeded its authority. But not Srinivasan. He let the two days pass, and had his counsel suggest that he would temporarily step aside, but not step down as President. In many ways, this was typical Srinivasan—to ride roughshod over opposition and dismiss public sentiments. Last year, when the betting and spot-fixing scandal broke out and his son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan, among others, was arrested for involvement, Srinivasan refused to resign, despite ethical concerns and mounting pressure. Instead, he got a suspicious BCCIappointed probe panel—which the Bombay High Court later termed illegal—to investigate the matter, stepping aside temporarily to give the panel a veneer of fairness. Unsurprisingly, no evidence of foul play by Meiyappan was found, and 4 open

Dalmiya and Sharad Pawar. Muthiah, who got Srinivasan into cricket administration, is today his most vocal critic. And his empire has been built on a model of largesse and patronage. Commentators like Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have been given plum BCCI contracts, and if rumours are to be believed, they are disallowed from talking about team selection during India’s matches on air. He has also built a terrible culture within the BCCI, amending rules to suit his fancy, and employing cricketers in his private business. The SC has thus ruled that no employee of India Cements, a firm Srinivasan owns, can be associated with the BCCI or the IPL. Apart from roslan rahman/afp Srinivasan, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Indian bowler R Ashwin, both of whom play for CSK, and Sunder Raman, who runs the IPL, are India Cement employees. . He had so far refused to see any conflict of interest in India Cements owning an IPL team, CSK, while he governed the IPL tournament as BCCI President. But this time, not only will Srinivasan in all likelihood have to relinquish his post, his role, along with those close to him, in the IPL betting racket, will also be scrutinised. The SC is deliberating a report by the Mudgal panel, which according to media reports, indicts Meiyappan in the betting scandal, along with six unnamed cricketers playing in the national team. The details of the report prepared by this court-appointed panel have so far been held back from the public. n

Srinivasan was back at the helm. Despite all this, Srinivasan seemed to have gotten over the setbacks when, later that year, he was elected back to power in the BCCI and the TNCA (Tamil Nadu Cricket Association), which he has now won for a record 12th time in a row. He was even eyeing the post of ICC chief. Srinivasan has ruled the BCCI, and by extension Indian cricket, like an empire. He has risen from TNCA cricket administrator to BCCI President by embracing the powerful and dropping those who outlived their use. He has, at different times, curried favour with former BCCI Presidents AC Muthiah, Jagmohan

7 april 2014


50

p

a

NOT PEOPLE LIKE US

arts

56

The Body in Indian Art

63

Ranveer for condoms

r

books

1962: A Gandhian war

rough cut

59

Sunny Leone and the ‘porncom’

on able Pers Unreasotnhe Week of ■

Be

dev ■ li ti c ia n rned po

c to r tu n g a li a

f o r joking about rape

West Bengal topped the charts for crimes against women last year but that did not deter Trinamool Congress candidate Dipak Adhikari from making a ridiculously insensitive remark comparing the election frenzy to being raped. The popular actorturned politician is contesting the elections from West Midnapore district of West Bengal and made the

statement during an interview to Ebala, a Bengali tabloid. When asked by the tabloid whether he was enjoying his moment of political attention, he was quoted as saying, “Enjoy... it is like being raped here, either you can enjoy it or shout.” Following a political furore, Adhikari—or Dev, as he is popularly known—apologised on Twitter stating that he meant ‘no offence’. Several women’s groups have put pressure on the Election Commission to issue a notice to Dev. A statement by the National Federation of Indian Woman asserted that ‘the EC should not accept Dev’s candidature so that it will be the beginning of the end of all such sexist and anti-women comments by members of political parties.’ n

Criticised for pinning all of BJP’s Lok Sabha hopes on Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh tweeted an unknown poster of himself; 33 minutes later, after a media flutter, he tweeted a known poster of Modi modi first

“Ab ki baar, bhajapa ki sarkar (this time round, a BJP government)”

“Ab ki baar, Modi ki sarkar (this time round, a Modi government)”

—Rajnath Singh on Twitter, 1.17 pm, 24 March 2014

—Rajnath Singh on Twitter, 1.50 pm, 24 March 2014

turn

46

china

Damon Galgut tells the story behind A Passage to India

around

The Usual Fist-shaking at Switzerland concrete efforts towards recovering unaccounted money stashed away abroad, there is more talk than action. Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s recent outburst at the Swiss government proved just that. He lashed out at Switzerland for not sharing information on Indians hiding money in banks there, and threatened to drag the European nation to multilateral foras like G20. In a terse two-page letter, Chidambaram reminded his Swiss counterpart Eveline Widmer Schlumpf of

When it comes to

7 april 2014

the April 2009 declaration adopted by G20 leaders stating that the ‘era of bank secrecy was over’. He added that India might examine

further steps like declaring Switzerland a non-cooperative jurisdiction if non-cooperation continues. His contention: that Switzerland has not honoured the terms of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) between the two nations, under which information on Indians with accounts in Swiss banks has been sought by tax authorities. Meanwhile, the Congress manifesto proposes appointing a ‘special envoy’ to recover such money, offering perhaps yet another jet-setting opportunity. n open www.openthemagazine.com 5


angle

A Hurried Man’s Guide

On the Contrary

to Facebook’s Virtual Reality Acquisition

After acquiring WhatsApp, Facebook has recently made another interesting acquisition. It has bought Oculus VR, a company that has been making waves in the world of virtual reality. Oculus VR was acquired for $2 billion—$400 million in cash and 23.1 million equity shares of Facebook. Virtual reality technologies give people the illusion that they are physically present in a digital world. Oculus VR’s most talked about product is a headset known as the Oculus Rift. Meant to give gamers the most realistic possible experience of digital worlds, the headset’s immense capabilities are showcased in videos that simulate, among other things, the feeling of beFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ing decapitated by a guillotine to allowing a man and believes virtual woman to ‘gender swap’. reality will be the next big digital platform after mobile phones

jeff chiu/ap

The Oculus Rift had so far been seen as a niche technology aimed at hardcore gamers. According to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the deal reflects his belief that virtual reality will be the next big digital platform after mobile phones. Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post, ‘After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a

game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face—just by putting on goggles in your home. This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.’ According to media reports, Oculus VR has sold more than 75,000 headsets to game developers, but has not announced when it will release a version in the consumer market. n

Quota Unquote On the hazards of extending reservations to the private sector M a d h a v a n k u t t y P i l l a i

P

oliticians love reserva-

tions; businessmen don’t. The prime illustration of this is Nandan Nilekani. It’s a fair certainty that reservations would have been the last thing on his mind in his initial days as an entrepreneur building Infosys. And now, in his initial days as a politician, reservations in the private sector is something he speaks about a week before his party, the Congress, mentioned it in its manifesto on Wednesday. Business needs profits and politics needs votes and the two don’t merge when it comes to social engineering. There is a strong argument for reservations in employment and it stems from one of the fundamental characteristics of caste: it enforces fixed occupations. If you have reservations, that wall, which imprisons someone in a menial or degrading occupation, gets broken. But this is also an argument that would have been most valid in 1947 when India got independence and embraced reservations in government jobs. If there was a time to extend it to the private sector, it was then. By the year 2014, 66 years after Independence, the Bahujan Samaj Party, which represents Scheduled Castes, has come to power four times in Uttar Pradesh, the heart of India and one of its most volatile caste cauldrons. Politically, the dominance of ‘upper castes’ is over. Economically, not just those from Scheduled Castes are desperately poor. If there has been improvement in the social and political conditions of Scheduled Castes, then that change argues against extending reservations to private bodies. One of the ironies of reservation is that it helps correct historical wrongs but also perpetuates caste. At some point, we have to ask ourselves when the shift happens. Or is it already happening? India is fast turning urban. In a metropolis made up of migrants, everyone is a stranger to each other

and caste gets swallowed by the crowd. A Dalit from Bihar who comes to Mumbai looking for work is in the same position as a Brahmin or Yadav migrant if their education and wealth are equivalent. If Nilekani the businessman was looking to hire them at Infosys, he wouldn’t ask their caste. The only reason he would be interested is if there were a quota to fill. The bigger danger of private sector reservations is the certainty—and we know this from experience—that they inevitably expand to include more and more castes. Once the principle is established, politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav or Lalu Prasad will want it extended for the castes they patronise because it will get them votes. Imagine an India in which companies are forced to If there was have half their jobs reserved. ever a time Entrepreneurs to extend use their skills reservations and take risks in to the private the hope of sector, it was profits. They hire and pay in 1947 people to assist them in this. The Government can set elementary ethical and legal principles for them. For example, it is necessary to prohibit companies from refusing to hire someone because he or she is of a particular caste, community or gender. But to invert this ethic and force businesses to hire according to a quota limits the choices of an entrepreneur and increases his risks. If he is forced to do so at the insistence of the Government, the Government should also keep him afloat if the business fails or growth declines. But that is not something you will see political parties recommending. In fact, if reservations are to be expanded, political parties should begin with quotas in their own leadership. Then there will be something beyond populism to factor in. n 7 april 2014


business

BU L L SE ASO N Stockmarket indices at historical highs in times of economic gloom could seem paradoxical. Share price movements, however, often depend on expectations of the future. Right now, perceptions prevail of Narendra Modi as an answer to all that ails the Indian economy, and crystal-ball gazers see a strong possibility of the BJP leader taking charge of India. “So the rally that catapulted the BSE Sensex to a record level—an intra-day high of 22,307 on 27 March—is Modi driven and therefore looks very real,” says Basant Maheshwari, who runs an online forum called The Equity Desk. Foreign funds are playing a major role in the current rally. “One of the salient features of the recent rallies worldwide,” according to Vivek Sharma, executive director at Ernst & Young, “is that financial institutions have controlled benchmark indices by controlling the prices of its key constituents—those with high weightage in the indices—thereby creating an attraction for equities [in general].” But these institutions, he adds, are not investing too broadly in the market, which explains why indices are scaling record highs while most non-Sensex shares lack the same vibrancy. Maheshwari agrees that the current rally is selective and retail participation is low, but says, “Their turn would come too and people would get in later once they are convinced that the rally will not only sustain but also rhyme—a scenario that

Rajanish Kakade/ap

When a Candidate Leads a Market Rally

everyone loves a quick buck Perceptions of Modi’s ability to revive the economy have boosted share prices

Modi can effect.” Foreign investors see Modi as pro-development and expect his victory to revive the economy. Analysts who swear by numbers say that FIIs typically invest in a country’s stocks on the basis of a ‘macro’ view, and India has a bit of an edge among emerging economies. The country’s finances are now in better shape, inflation may finally be contained, and the rupee is looking up. What India needs, some add, is an

The ongoing Modi rally has many investors justifying it... and for diverse reasons

investment boom, Gujarat-style. So far, so good. But won’t such faith in Modi prove irrational? “It may,” admit some analysts. They argue that the Centre’s fiscal deficit of 4.6 per cent in 2013-14 was obtained by accounting jugglery—by advancing some revenues and pushing expenses forward to next year. El Nino could play havoc too. This may leave less fiscal freedom for the next government, and FIIs may be let down by a tardy turnaround. “But by that time,” says Maheshwari, “easy money would have been made.” n SHAILENDRA TYAGI

Foreign Investors as India’s Big Bulls 25,000 22,214

18,886

(27th March, 2014)

20,000 16,086

15,706 15,000

15,486 *

13,058

10,000

8,116

5,000

Sensex FII Investment in Shares (net)

1,404

714 0 -482 -5,000

The BSE Sensex has been buoyant since October last thanks to foreign institutional inflows, even as Indian mutual funds pull out

-2,801 Sept 13

-4,018 Oct 13

Source: SEBI & BSE

7 April 2014

-411 -2,515

Nov 13

Dec 13

Jan 14

compiled by Shailendra Tyagi

Mutual Fund investment in shares (Net)

-1,345 -3,198 # Feb 14

March 14

infographic tarun sehgal

(All figures are in Rs Crore)

* Data upto 25 March 2014 # Data upto 20 March 2014

“Infosys lost its ability to predict the market almost three years ago… Till then, whatever happened to the company tended to colour the market. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore” Partha Iyengar, vice-president and

head of research at Gartner India, on why Infosys is no longer a bellwether company for India’s infotech sector


lo co m ot i f

AMONG THE DIGITAL DISSIDENTS S PRASANNARAJAN

C

ensorship is the mother of meta-

phor, said Borges. When Stalinist jackboots controlled the street and the commissar demanded complete copyright over conscience, the smartest still outwitted the proofreaders of public taste in Eastern Europe and Soviet Russia. It has been said that, and justifiably so, communism, in spite of its terror or because of it, gave us some great novels and movies. It was an era when adversity enriched imagination, even if, more often than not, a one-way ticket to the Gulag was the price. In the post-Wall outbreak of freedom, it was a different story, and a serious existential trauma for the writer suddenly thrown into sunlight. The writer unsettled by the plain certainties of freedom, best illustrated by Waiting for the Dark, Waiting for the Light by Ivan Klima, himself a Velvet Revolutionary of 1989. The collapse of ideology, in retrospect, did not result in ideas of democracy—or in the repudiation of hate—everywhere. And elsewhere in the world, the terror of faith was getting as dehumanising as the terror of ideology in the last century. The only constant was the creativity of dissent. The Samizdat of the communist era was replaced by the Blogosphere of the twenty-first century. And I have not found a better narrative of this creativity than Emily Parker’s Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices from the Internet Underground (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). An expert in digital diplomacy, Ms Parker earlier worked as an oped editor at The New York Times and at The Wall Street Journal. This book is essentially her conversations with cyber dissenters from three countries with varying degrees of unfreedom— China, Cuba and Russia. Her argument, which is mostly a celebration of the virtual romance of resistance against paranoid tyrannies, has yesterday’s headlines as backdrop: the power of social media and the Arab Spring—and most poignantly, the Facebook page after a blogger-martyr, ‘We Are All Khaled Said’. Tahrir Square was sustained by the solidarity of internet revolutionaries, and their triumph, in spite of the Muslim Brotherhood, was historic: it brought to an end one of the most stable and seemingly infallible dictatorships of Arabia. Still, in places like Beijing, Havana and Moscow, freedom continues to be edited and abridged at the Headquarters, and these are the places where Ms Parker seeks her subversives. In Beijing, the story of Zhao Jing—known in the parallel republic of cyberia as Michael Anti—is the story of the other side of the Chinese miracle. The China of, to borrow a Cultural Revolution slang for rebels, counter-revolutionary bad eggs. They breach the Great 8 open

Firewall of China through proxy servers and the brotherhood of bloggers, and Anti is a hero here. He, once a Communist sympathiser, had his moment of epiphany when he saw first-person accounts of the Tiananmen crackdown and pictures of bodies crushed by tanks on a dissident website. He is a wangmin, a citizen of the internet, one of the most prominent among those who continue to defy the pinstriped mandarins of Zhongnanhai. “I no longer believe the propaganda, it is dog shit; I no longer believe any Chinese journalism textbooks, they are garbage,” Anti says, and it is the representative voice of a generation that is not mesmerised, as most Indians are, by the Great Mall of China. A country afraid of its own people can never be a global power, its rate of growth notwithstanding. That is why China is the most dreaded stealth power of our time. In Cuba, a make-believe of the Revolution, El Comandante may have retired from public life, but it is the spirit of Fidel Castro that drives his brother, the new ruler. As Ms Parker’s conversations—or, shall we say whispers?—with digital desperados reveal, Cuba is another Socialist Republic of Fear. ‘Nunca sabe quien es quien’ (you never know who is who) is a warning that the writer comes across very often in Cuba. There is always a third shadow, darker. A blogger rebel tells Ms Parker: “When I made the decision to write, I was aware that they would rummage around in my past, particularly for personal secrets that I might have,” she tells Ms Parker while narrating her life as “a laboratory rat” in the surveillance state which continues to be rhapsodised by purveyors of Che chic and Castro machismo. The dying dictator might have enjoyed the company—and the novels—of his friend Garcia Marquez, but his country is too fragile to be cracked by the onslaught of a few blogs. The blogger is never alone, and to know why, ask Laritza Diversent, who calls her blogs ‘the place where we give life to our land’. In such a land, the dissident alone lives in truth. The other such land where Ms Parker meets her blogger-blasphemers is Russia. “My laptop—that’s the only media resource I have,” one of them tells her. The blogger as evangelist even mobilises people against corruption in a Russia where street protestors have already lost their fight against the postSoviet autocracy. The three countries that Ms Parker visits, taken together, tell the larger story of the struggle against what she calls ‘isolation, fear and apathy’. This is a struggle as old as the lies of ideologies and the perversion of their keepers. The internet offers more than the frustrations of abusive neo-literates; some of the most influential counter-texts of freedom are found in the digital Samizdat. n 7 april 2014


open essay By Tavleen Singh

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LUTYENS’ DELHI Intimations of a New Establishment and the Return of Real India


A

s I begin this essay on the feudal nature of politithat has flourished in the past decade were laid. cal Delhi and why Narendra Modi is sending shivers Anyone who calls it ‘crony capitalism’ has not understood up the spines of those who constitute the Durbar, the the feudal nature of Indian politics. If we had even a first thing that comes to my mind is a conversation from long semblance of real capitalism, India’s economic growth rate ago. It was late summer in 1980 and Rajiv Gandhi had just anwould not have plummeted the way it has and you would not nounced his intention to enter politics. I was at a dinner party have had so many billionaire politicians who have never in a lavish Lutyens’ Delhi garden in which the scent of French built real businesses. It is true that crony socialism and perfume and expensive cigarettes mingled gently with the dynastic succession now flourish from Kashmir to scent of summer flowers. Kanyakumari, but it all began in Lutyens’ Delhi. Ladies in jewels and saris of muslin and chiffon languished As someone who has spent most of my growing years and on cane chairs, their men drank and chatted at a cane bar. I most of my career as a journalist in this socialist haven, I was drifting about as one does at these parties when a close should know. My grandfather was one of the contractors who friend of Rajiv pulled me into a corner to tell me in tones of helped Edwin Lutyens build his city, so to me this part of high excitement that a famous industrialist from Bombay Delhi was always home. In my childhood, it was a place of (not yet Mumbai) had apwide empty avenues and Peter Turnley/Corbis proached him. When I asked roundabouts with flowering what he meant, he said, “He trees, and really the only Delhi wants an introduction to Rajiv, there was. Sometimes we went to silly, and he hinted that I could Chandni Chowk to buy things benefit from the introduction, I like ittar, silk saris, trinkets and am trying to decide what I should silver but the only colonies that ask for.” existed were Golf Links and The details of what he asked for Sundar Nagar. They seemed like are irrelevant. What is relevant is faraway places. that when Rajiv Gandhi became When we came home from Prime Minister four years later, boarding school in the summer this friend acquired the reputaholidays, my mother would bring tion of being a gatekeeper to the us to stay a few days at her Prime Minister’s household. childhood home on Jantar And, like a lot of Rajiv’s other Mantar Road, where my grandfafriends became suddenly very ther lived with her five brothers rich. and their families.The older This conversation has come brothers lived in the main house, back to me often in the past a place of dark, high ceilinged decade. Not only because crony rooms that smelt of khus and that socialism has caused scandal were built around a large after scandal to fall out of sandstone courtyard in which we government closets, but because spent hot, uncomfortable I remember it as the first time summer nights. The younger that I became aware of the feudal brothers, and all sorts of other the dapper dynast Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi nature of political Delhi. I had people, lived in roomy cottages in known Rajiv by then for some years, and in all that time had a compound that seemed so big to me that you could get lost never heard him talk about public service or what he would in it. In the evenings we went with our ayahs to India Gate like to do to make India’s political future better. His brother where we ate Kwality ice cream while they ate spicy chana had not been motivated that came wrapped in cones made of old exercise books. by high ideals either, but had shown a taste for political Sometimes my sister, brother and I would be taken up to power while Rajiv had always been happy as a family man South Block where our grandfather’s name engraved in a and a pilot. So for him to suddenly be in a position to become stone plaque would be pointed out to us proudly. India’s future Prime Minister was reminiscent for me It was Lutyens’ Delhi’s age of innocence. No VIP enclaves, of feudal days of yore and a warning that Delhi, more no roads blocked off, no high security. So unimportant were specifically Lutyens’ Delhi, was now the capital of a new security concerns that the Prime Minister could be spotted socialist kingdom. driving around in an Ambassador car. And, because I had No sooner did Rajiv become a politician than a group of his friends who were in the same class as Sanjay Gandhi in The close friends became the most powerful people in India. In Doon School, I remember playing Holi with him in the those fully socialist times, they could hand out contracts, garden of a house in Teen Murti Lane. Rumours of his having appoint bureaucrats to high and low office and make a lot of a wild streak and a taste for pretty women abounded and he money for themselves through government contracts. It was could often be seen at dinner parties and in Delhi’s first in Rajiv’s time that the foundations of the crony socialism discotheque, the Cellar, that opened in the late 60s.

7 april 2014

open www.openthemagazine.com 11


state splendour Guards patrol the Rashtrapati Bhavan, designed by Edwin Lutyens; facing page: Narendra Modi portrays himself as a man of modest preferences

wallace kirkland/the life image collections/getty images

When during the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi became the second most powerful political leader in India, it came as a shock to those of us who had known him in his more louche years. It was in that long-ago summer of 1975 that Lutyens’ Delhi first became the centre of total political power in India. How could it be otherwise when Indira Gandhi became personally the centre of all political power? Drunk with how much power she had, she got rid of judges who did not kowtow and transferred disobedient bureaucrats to primitive outposts of the new empire. Journalists who dared to criticise her were locked up along with opposition leaders. No feudal ruler could have hoped for more power. When India’s first non-Congress government took power in 1977, things could have changed, and may have had the Janata Party Government lasted a full term and had there been a serious attempt to investigate the misuse of political power during the Emergency. But this did not happen and when Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay returned to power in 1980 with a huge majority, it was inevitable that democratic feudalism should become the most important and most toxic feature of Indian politics. Until her tragic death, Mrs Gandhi remained more powerful than the political party she led, and after her assassination her son was handed her job as if this was a normal democratic transition. By the time Rajiv was assassinated in 1991, India had totally accepted democratic feudalism, so it surprised nobody that the Congress Party’s Working 12 open

Committee announced that the only person worthy of taking Rajiv’s place was his apolitical Italian widow. There is no question that since then, she has more than proved her mettle. But for obvious reasons she needed to keep democratic feudalism alive. Under her leadership, more than 30 per cent of younger Congress MPs are those who come to the Lok Sabha for dynastic reasons. Mini-dynasties now flourish from Kashmir to Kanyakumari not just in the Congress, but in almost every other political party as well. The idea of feudal succession is now so acceptable that it has trickled down to the grassroots. No sarpanch likes to gives up his job these days, unless he can hand it to a relation. It is a disease that has spread from the tree-lined avenues of Lutyens’ Delhi, where it now thrives, bringing into electoral politics the usually unemployable children of major and minor political leaders. This trend that can be seen across party lines often happens only to keep possession of houses that if rented at market rates would fetch a minimum monthly rent of around Rs 50 lakh each. Those who live in this part of the city get so used to its salubrious surroundings that retiring bureaucrats and judges do their best to find a post retirement job to keep living in Lutyens’ Delhi. This has had a deleterious effect on public life in general and India’s tragedy is that it has become increasingly impossible to change things. A second chance to change a political culture that has done India immense harm came when the Bharatiya Janata Party 7 april 2014


amit dave

had its brief shot at ruling India under Atal Behari Vajpayee. Sadly, he behaved exactly like Congress Prime Ministers had done. So the socialites and courtiers merely moved from one court to the next, and fawned over the new prime minister’s daughter and son-in-law in the same way they once did over the Gandhi family. The high walls of Lutyens’ Delhi remained secure. Democratic feudalism has put down deeper and stronger roots in the past decade because Sonia Gandhi’s main political purpose appears to have been to ensure that her son is able to claim his heritage: India. It is no secret that the Prime Minister has acted mostly as a regent for the young prince and this became so obvious during his second tenure that it has felt in the past two or three years as if India has drifted leaderless in no clear economic or political direction. The worst consequences of democratic feudalism have been economic because when the economic boom began as a result of Dr Manmohan Singh’s reforms, political leaders, big and small, quickly realised that they could use their discretionary powers to make lots and lots of money. The political and economic infrastructure to do this is so vast and so unshakeable that perhaps not even Narendra Modi will be able to change anything if he becomes Prime Minister. But, behind the high walls of Lutyens’ Delhi, these days, I sense panic wherever I go. In government offices, I meet gloomy officials who admit without hesitation that things are going to change. By this, 7 april 2014

what they mean is that there is likely to be a prime minister who will not be from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty or from the political ethos to which they have become accustomed. Modi is seen as a brash outsider from another world and nobody is sure what he is likely to do, but there are fears that he could bring drastic changes like putting an end to the lavish lifestyle of the denizens of Lutyens’ Delhi. Ministers, high officials, judges and more privileged Members of Parliament live at taxpayers’ expense in a style to which they should never have been allowed to grow accustomed. No modern democratic country pays through its nose to accommodate its officials and elected representatives in homes that only billionaires can afford. Will Modi notice this? Will he notice that the only private citizens in Lutyens’ Delhi are billionaires who have paid between Rs 100 crore and Rs 150 crore to buy a bungalow on Amrita Shergil Marg or Aurangzeb Road? Will he notice that if the bungalows of Lutyens’ Delhi were sold to private citizens, it could bring in thousands of crores to the national exchequer? Will he notice that it is also time to end the socialist perks and privileges that we provide our officials like free airline tickets, cheap domestic gas and a long list of other things? These are questions being asked discreetly in Delhi’s corridors of power these days. And, not just in government circles even in the homes of senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who have become just as spoiled by the luxuries of Lutyens’ Delhi. One big reason why the veteran battalion in the BJP, led by Lal Krishan Advani, has been publicly opposed to the rise of Modi is that they would rather be in opposition than have someone like him break down the high walls that conceal the lifestyle of those who live in Lutyens’ Delhi. They fear him perhaps more than anyone else because he might start clearing deadwood in the BJP headquarters, and where would they go then? At a more frivolous level, there is another group that fears the advent of Modi and they are those who constitute the drawing room set. This includes socialites, English-speaking journalists, writers of Leftist persuasion and a motley group of secularists who consider themselves guardians of the last bastion of India’s pluralist traditions. What they all have in common is that almost not a single one of them speaks an Indian language, so how will they deal with a man who speaks almost no English? It is from this drawing room set that diplomats and foreign correspondents routinely get a description of India as a country that is in serious danger of breaking up if Modi becomes Prime Minister. It is a story I have heard often before. When I was very young I heard people talk of how India would be finished once Jawaharlal Nehru died. When the Babri Masjid came down, I heard once more that India was finished, and now once more I hear that India is finished. Personally, as someone who has spent most of my life in the most privileged enclave in the whole of India, I cannot wait for the walls of Lutyens’ Delhi to be torn down. If Modi can just bring with him a scent of the real India that lies beyond, more power to him. n Tavleen Singh is a political columnist and the author of Durbar open www.openthemagazine.com 13


illustration by anirban ghosh

HOLLOW MAN How Manmohan Singh wrecked his party— and defeated Rahul Gandhi even before Narendra Modi could


Manmohan Singh

by S PRASANNARAJAN

S

ome men don’t have to fight to win. They stand there in the shadow, invisible, inaudible, and their presence only felt by—what is it, destiny, luck or history? One summer evening in 2004, such a man stood there in the Central Hall of Parliament, as a bit player in a political melodrama. He was just one among the wailing legion who listened, holding their tears back, to the renunciation recital of Our Lady of Deliverance. She, fresh from the battlefield and victorious, said ‘No’, and that broke the heart of the wailers. That was Sonia Gandhi’s moment to regain the throne for the dynasty she was married into. It was the moment for India to get up close with the second edition of Mrs G. Even though the debris of the defeated— a cautionary tale for the Indian Right—was a heart warming sight for her, Sonia Gandhi chose to be led by her inner voice. Much early in her political career, she realised that she could be the most powerful person in the country without being in power. But the man she chose was the unlikeliest of them all. The bit player, a technocrat by profession, a politician by accident, the dutiful outsider who strayed into the Establishment, became the Select One. There was no freedom to whisper in protest against the usurper, and the veterans, the war-scarred horses from the Family stable, swallowed the snub.  Still, Dr Manmohan Singh was the right man India needed then. Perhaps, what a country assailed by the extreme passions of politics needed was an apolitical politician. Perhaps what a country impoverished by socialism and let down by the Right that took only five years to undo a historic mandate needed most was the reassuring hands of a moderniser and a moderate. Dr Singh was India’s calling card to the future, so it seemed. Ten years on, there he is, not as a bit player in a melodrama, not even as a character in a vaudeville, but as a hollow man, a lone man, in the corridor, isolated and abandoned in the evening of his career. The world he inhabits as prime minister is a cheerless world, where he stands, as blankness personified, surveying the wreckage around him, a testament of his inglorious legacy. The Government he heads— not controls—is the most discredited one India has ever had. As ministers fell by the wayside and scandals swirled outside the Prime Minister’s Office, he was elsewhere, and those disembodied monosyllables as defence were as unconvincing as almost everything else he said as prime minister. If Congress is today the unelectable ruling party, it is because of the ruler’s triangulations and opacity; if Rahul Gandhi looks like a man preordained for an impossible task, it has nothing to do with Narendra Modi but everything to do with Dr Singh. While in power—in office, to be apt—Dr Singh in inaction was equal to Congress in inter-

7 april 2014

cellular disintegration. As Dr Singh sank, the ground beneath Rahul too vanished. While repudiating his own legacy as liberator of the marketplace, he also brought India closer to the political ethos of a banana republic. The dutiful doctor of the beginning has become, in the dying days of the UPA, a pronoun for damnation. The Family deserved better than this from its biggest beneficiary. Between 2004 and 2014, it was a wasted decade. The man could have been on the front row of history. He pushed himself outside of history. Nothing worked, except perhaps that flash of adulthood as he called the Marxists’ bluff; the passage of the Nuclear Bill gave us glimpses of a conviction politician, though, it must be said, he was only building on the foundation laid by his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee, whose most defining achievement as prime minister was to liberate India from the Cold War mindset of Soviet vintage—and from anti-Americanism. That bravado made him political enough—and saleable enough—to be made the slogan of the Congress campaign in 2009. The ‘meek’ retained the mandate in spite of the ‘strong’ leader on the other side. Manmohan Singh Part Two was a pastiche, and in terms of national interest, an expensive one. In any other democracy, Dr Singh by now should have become an ex-prime minister. When India sought answers, he declared independence from his own cabinet, and when India desperately needed a leader, he retreated into a shell of irrelevance. No man, a good man like him particularly, failed as systematically as Dr Singh did. He didn’t even let his essential goodness come to his rescue. The script was meant to be different. In the division of powers, he was the State and his employer was the Church, or so it seemed as Dr Singh and Mrs Gandhi struck a fine balance between the Government and the party. In many ways, they were not two disparate characters. They were united by their own private struggles: Dr Singh was still trying to be steady in the political whirl; and for the Congress president, the struggle between Sonia and Gandhi was not yet over. As she grew in power as the Empress Dowager of 10 Janpath, Dr Singh did not keep pace with her in his political growth rate, but his government became the most effective detriment to the growth of the party. When Rahul Gandhi wanted to be the Gandhi with a difference, the stagnation of the UPA Government came in the way of his best intentions. The doctor was supposed to keep the seat warm for the princeling. Rahul is not even waiting, for his idea of India is incompatible with the India ruled by Dr Singh. The State has brought the Church down. Look how a family error has become a national calamity n open www.openthemagazine.com 15


Manmohan Singh

THE LONG ROAD The journey of a prime minister from promise to irrelevance PR Ramesh

O

n 29 February 2000, India’s then Finance Minister

Yashwant Sinha proposed a bold step in the Union Budget as part of his financial reforms: the dilution of equity in public sector banks to below 51 per cent. Sinha told Parliament that the Government had decided to accept the Narasimham Committee’s recommendations on banking reforms and reduce minimum government shareholding in nationalised banks to 33 per cent. Instantly, all hell broke loose. Sundry BJP members and various offshoots of the Sangh Parivar howled in protest. There were also the familiar cries of ‘sell-out’ from the CPM’s ideological bunker in the capital’s Gole Market. But Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was determined to back his Finance Minister. He summoned NK Singh, then secretary in the PMO. “Meet your former boss and enlist his support,” he told Singh. “My former boss?” Singh was not sure if the Prime Minister was referring to P Chidambaram or Manmohan Singh. His last stint was with Chidambaram. “No, I mean Manmohan Singh,” Vajpayee clarified. The career bureaucrat was in for a surprise when he met Dr Manmohan Singh to convey Vajpayee’s message. “Congress should support the move,” he told the Sardar. His head down, Manmohan Singh pleaded in a low voice, “Please spare me.” After a long pause, he added apologetically, “You know my position on this. But the Congress party will never support the proposal, inside Parliament or outside. Our leaders are nostalgic about Indira Gandhi’s nationalisation of banks …” he trailed off, with bent shoulders. Dr Singh’s pusillanimity would work to the detriment of his own integrity later. As Prime Minister, too, he showed a studied detachment, keeping his head down when India needed leadership. He remained as bland as the décor of his office. Singh’s choice of principal secretary was TKA Nair, a bureaucrat not known for any streak of bril-

16 open


TO PERDITION B Mathur/REUTERS


liance in his career as a civil servant. NK Singh remembers another meeting with Manmohan Singh after he settled down as Prime Minister in 2004. As the conversation progressed, NK Singh asked the Prime Minister who would be in charge of monitoring the implementation of projects, a key function of the PMO. The Prime Minister responded, “Won’t Montek do that?” Appalled by this reference to the Planning Commission’s deputy chairman, NK Singh said, “But Sir, he is in the Planning Commission,” before indicating that the PMO’s principal functions could not be assigned peremptorily to Yojana Bhavan. The Prime Minister fell silent. But for almost 10 years through the stint of UPA-I and II, it was the Planning Commission that functioned as the primary office for monitoring the implementation of key projects. It was only in the dying days of the UPA regime that the PMO was forced—under intense criticism for policy paralysis— to reclaim the assignment, which essentially required the Prime Minister to read out the riot act to non-performing members of his Cabinet, and to ensure that key decisions were taken in a transparent manner. The decline of the PMO on Dr Singh’s watch allowed an A Raja, the DMK’s telecom minister in his Cabinet, to indulge in chicanery on 2G spectrum allocations, ignoring the meek advice of the Prime Minister. It also allowed his successor Kapil Sibal, who has hubris as his calling card, to blithely claim that Raja’s decision resulted in ‘zero loss’ to

Praveen Jain/Express archive

As Advisor to Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar

The decline of the PMO on Dr Singh’s watch allowed an A Raja, the DMK’s telecom minister in his Cabinet, to indulge in chicanery on 2G spectrum allocations, ignoring the meek advice of the Prime Minister the Central exchequer. As head of the coal ministry, too, the Prime Minister’s inclination was to willy-nilly let colleagues and underlings in the ministry twist policy decisions to their own benefit. “For a man who is credited with boldly opening the doors to market reforms in the country, his guiding motto as Prime Minister, strangely enough, was to never light a candle against the wind, never to take a calculated risk in policy and planning. But the trademark of a good leader is not to ride on a concocted consensus, but to shape that consensus. As Prime Minister, his errors of omission were bigger than his errors of commission,” says a bureaucrat in the know. “The only issue on which he chose to come through as decisive during his entire stint as Prime

Prashant Panjiar/The India Today Group/Getty Images

As Finance Minister in PV Narasimha Rao’s cabinet


Minister of UPA-I was the Indo-US Nuclear Bill,” he says.

I

n 2013, one Manmohan watcher observed an interesting con-

trast in leadership styles between Singh and the then captain of the IPL team Rajasthan Royals. Three Royals players were arrested for alleged spot fixing. Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid, as understated a personality as Singh, stepped forth to assert that the captain would not countenance such behaviour. “I have to focus on ensuring that the team fulfills its enormous potential and continues to play the Rajasthan Royals way,” Dravid said at a press conference. That same evening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened a meeting to fill a vacancy in the National Human Rights Commission. Opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, on the panel of selectors, vetoed the Government’s nominee, Cyriac Joseph, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, on the grounds of a mediocre career record. The Government overruled the objections and circulated minutes of the meeting among participants. Swaraj, before putting in her dissent note, noticed that the minutes did not mention Cyriac Joseph. “Prime Minister, you have signed on blank paper,” she told Dr Manmohan Singh, according to a person privy to the details. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde quickly grabbed the paper back from Swaraj, put Joseph’s name on it and then passed it on to the Prime Minister. That was

Dr Manmohan Singh’s classic rubber stamp moment. If Dravid’s public appearance sent out a clear signal that he decided to take responsibility for the Royals and its players and assume control publicly despite the ignominy of spot fixing, Singh’s handling of the NHRC issue revealed the mindset of a man who was born to be led, not to lead. At his best, the Prime Minister was ‘a man who led from behind’. Throughout his Prime Ministership, he did his best to avert every possibility of the buck reaching anywhere near his desk. His first term in office may have ended with a flash of leadership after the passage of the Indo-US Nuclear Bill, but it took no time for darkness to descend in the early part of his second term. The CAG revelations on 2G Spectrum and the subsequent incarceration of former Telecom Minister Raja dealt a near fatal blow to a sector that was one of India’s biggest success stories, telecom. Another CAG report found similar lack of transparency in coalfield allocations. The Government’s woes were compounded after the CBI, which was investigating cases of corruption in the allocations, admitted that the Government tried to ‘change the status report on the probe’. That forced the Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, Singh’s own nominee, out of the Cabinet. Things turned from bad to worse after the CBI chief told the Supreme Court that the PMO too had vetted the status report. The impression that not all of Singh’s Cabinet colleagues played by the book was reinforced

ravi RAVEENDRAN/AFP

As Prime Minister, with Sonia Gandhi

NARINDER NANU/AFP

As the outgoing Prime Minister, with Rahul Gandhi


120

Real sector

The story of India’s economic slowdown

113.2

100

101.1 80

89.7

GDP at market prices (Rs trillion) Growth (%)

77.9

60

64.8 49.8

40

42.9

20

28.4 8.0%

32.4

36.9

56.3

4.9%

4.5%

6.7%

A

9.3%

8.6%

6.7%

9.3% 9.6%

9.5%

7.1%

(Source: CSO)

20

20

03 -0

4 04 -0 20 5 05 -0 20 6 06 -0 20 7 07 -0 20 8 08 -0 20 9 09 -10 20 10 -11 20 11 -12 20 12 -13 20 13 -14

0

fiscal Deficit

8

(as % of GDP) 7

cy toward India has gone from being quietly negative to being openly adversarial,” says geopolitical strategy analyst Brahma Chellaney, “It was in this period that China shortened the length of [its] border with India to dispute Indian sovereignty over the western and eastern sectors.” fflicted by this Manmohan malady, the Congress par-

ty was in a flap, with the ‘perfect’ timing for the elevation of a reluctant Rahul Gandhi to the Prime Minister’s post eluding its high command. Meanwhile, scepticism grew within the party over the so-called division of power between the head of government and the head of the party. The party even had to issue a clarification that Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh were on the same page over issues such as the sacking of Bansal and Kumar. By the time he began his last year in office, Dr Singh had already squandered much of the goodwill he commanded when he began his second term. As India stood on the threshold of another General Election, the ghost of 2G spectrum allocations would return to haunt him. Raja, the prime accused in the scam and DMK candidate from Nilgiris, alleged that the Prime Minister had sent him a note of demands forwarded by top telecom companies that he’d

6.5 6.0

6

5.7 5.2

5

4.3 3.9

4

4.8

4.0

4.6

3.3

3

As a policy wonk, there was not one important post that Dr Singh missed out on. Yet, Dr Singh, a child of opportunities, proved to be the very man who presided over a decade of national opportunities squandered

2.5 2013-14

2012-13

2011-12

2010-11

2009-10

2008-09

2007-08

2006-07

2005-06

2003-04

2004-05

2

(Source: RBI)

when the CBI unravelled the Railway Ministry’s cash-forjobs scandal. Although the Prime Minister reluctantly showed Rail Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal the door, the CBI is conducting a probe on whether the minister himself was involved. Bansal is now the Congress candidate for Chandigarh’s Lok Sabha seat. Singh’s track record on foreign policy in his second term was no less dismal. The beheading of Indian soldiers on India-Pakistan borders was just another moment in the life of Manmohan’s India taken for granted by Pakistan. “In the 10 years that Singh has been Prime Minister, China’s poli20 open

earlier rejected for violating the Centre’s telecom policy. Dr Singh formed the perfect image of a ruler in denial even as the world around him—his government, the party—was cracking up. In his third press conference in ten years, his defence was as feeble as ever: “As far as the charges of corruption are concerned, most of these charges relate to the period of UPA-1 (his government’s first stint in power between 2004 and 2009). Coal block allocations as well as 2G spectrum allocations were both in the era of UPA-1. We went to the electorate (in 2009) on the basis of our performance in that period, and the people of India gave us the mandate to govern for another five years.” He went on as a man who had retired from reality: “So, whether these issues, which have been raised from time to time by the media, sometimes by the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General), sometimes by the court, one must never forget that they belong to a period which was not the period of UPA-2, but the period relating to the previous five 7 april 2014


Sectoral shares in Gross Domestic Product Agriculture

20.3

19.0

52.4

53.1

27.2

18.3

17.4

53.7

27.9

Industry

54.0

28.0

16.8

Services

15.8

54.4

56.1

28.6

28.7

WPI inflation

14.7 57.1

28.1

14.4 57.3

28.3

14.1

13.7

58.4

58.8

28.2

27.5

27.23

2003-04

2004-05

2005-06

2006-07

2007-08

2008-09

2009-10

2010-11

2011-12

2012-13

5.5%

6.5%

4.3%

6.6%

4.7%

8.1%

3.8%

9.5%

8.9%

7.5%

(Source: RBI)

years, and the people of India entrusted us with new responsibilities. So the people of India do not seem to have paid heed to all these charges of corruption levelled against me or my party.” The underlying cynicism of his statement left most people stunned. Here was the head of a government that had been ushered into power, and which boasted, at least on paper, some of the finest public administrators of our times. Not only did UPA not deliver, it also let the economy slip. The UPA inherited an economy that was growing at 7 per cent in 2004-05; it will bequeath to the next government a growth rate that is likely to drop below 5 per cent.

D

ecades ago, Manmohan Singh’s entry to the country’s rul-

ing establishment was made possible by the then trade minister LN Mishra who, in April 1972, enlisted the bright economist from the United Nations as an advisor. Mishra stopped over at New York on his way to an UNCTAD meeting in Chile and was looking for someone to polish his speech on trade issues at the conference. LK Jha, India’s ambassador in the US at the time, suggested Manmohan

473

458

459

2011-2012

2009-2010

64.8%

Persons below poverty line

407.1 million 2004-05

Total fertility rate 2007

2.7

per woman

2004-2005

2001

400

73% 2011

Employed (million)

1999-2000

Literacy

Singh’s name. As luck would have it, Mishra was told on his return home that his economic advisor Kalyan Govind Vaidlya had been selected for an international assignment. Impressed with Manmohan Singh’s work, Mishra decided on the replacement instantly. He made a call to the then Principal Secretary to the PM, PN Haksar, and suggested Singh’s appointment. A few months later, Chief Economic Advisor VK Ramaswamy died of a cardiac arrest and the post fell vacant. Dr Singh applied and got selected. That was the beginning of a stellar career as a technocrat: Governor of the RBI, chairman of the UGC, advisor to the Prime Minister during the shortlived Chandra Shekhar Government in the early 90s. A senior ministerial colleague of the then PM says one of the last files that Chandra Shekhar signed before quitting office was to reinstate Dr Singh as UGC chairman. The technocrat’s big moment came in 1991 when PV Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister. HM Patel declined the offer to assume charge as Finance Minister. Rao then chose Manmohan, who would live up to his master’s expectations. He would go on to become the author of the country’s epic liberalisation saga. As a policy wonk, there was not one important government post that Dr Singh missed

2011-12

*269.3 million

2011

2.5

per woman

Child sex ratio 2001

927 girls 1,000 boys 2011

914 girls 1,000 boys

Sources: Reserve Bank of India Database, Planning Commission, Census of India, Finance Ministry, Sample Registration Survey Bulletins Compiled by: Ashwin Ramarathinam, Kirthi.V.Rao, Ravindra Sonavane, Remya Nair and Vidya Krishnan *Tendulkar Line

7 april 2014

open www.openthemagazine.com 21


M Zhazo/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

absymal performance In his autumnal isolation, Manmohan Singh himself has become the problem the party could not fix

Effectively, in eight of the 10 years in power for which data is available, the UPA has created 15 million jobs. The previous regime headed by the BJP had ushered in 58 million jobs between 1999-2000 and 2004-05 out on. Yet, Dr Singh, a child of opportunities, proved to be the very man who presided over a decade of national opportunities squandered. True, India today is better off than it was at the turn of the millennium: poverty dropped to a historic low of 22 per cent. But an entitlement regime was on the rise, and it happened at a time when a demographic revolution was underway: 65 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion citizens are under the age of 35. The best way to meet aspirations and guarantee growth would have been to provide skill development to the unemployed. The UPA failed on this. Its efforts to overhaul education through legislation got trapped in a parliamentary gridlock. The much acclaimed Right to 22 open

Education may have achieved enrolment, but failed to deliver on quality. But for a rebound over the last two years, the UPA would have gone out with perhaps the worst record of any government in job creation. In the two years ended 2011-12, the Indian economy, according to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), added on 14 million jobs. According to the earlier, 66th round survey of the NSSO, the economy added a mere 1 million jobs in the five years ended 2009-10. The jobless- growth charge has stuck. Effectively, in eight of the 10 years in power for which data is available, the UPA has created 15 million jobs. The previous regime headed by the BJP had ushered in 58 million jobs between 1999-2000 and 2004-05. The country adds 12 million people to the labour force every year. Leave alone absorbing new job claimants, the economy is growing nowhere close to clearing the backlog of unemployed. Countries such as the US routinely use quarter-by-quarter labour and employment numbers as criteria for gauging their economic health. But like the Prime Minister’s defensive response at his press conference, the UPA has spent a large chunk of its time and energy denying the abysmal employment numbers, instead of evolving a structural fix for the problem. In his autumnal isolation, Dr Manmohan Singh himself has become the problem the party could not fix. The country can, still. n 7 april 2014


manmohan singh

India’s First Non-Prime Minister New Delhi shrank on the world stage as he looked on BHARAT KARNAD office, many will be wondering if he could be any less active in retirement than he was in the ten years he resided at 7 Race Course Road! Going down in history as India’s first non-Prime Minister is opprobrium he sadly deserves, considering that his record is of such little distinction that the 2008 civilian nuclear deal with the United States—an unfolding disaster of epic proportions—is held up as its high point. The fault is Sonia Gandhi’s for putting at the helm of affairs a consummate apparatchik (‘technocrat’ would be too grand and flattering an appellation) who pulled time at the World Bank, and later, after a stint as professor at Delhi School of Economics, in various capacities in the Government of India. Alas, the very attributes—political cipherdom, status as unelected PM, uninspiring and recessive personality, and a past as loyal servant of the Nehru-Gandhi Family—that made the octogenarian Dr Singh attractive to the Congress president, also rendered him eminently unsuitable for the job of leading a young, restless and ambitious nation with 60 per cent of its population below the age of 30. Manmohan Singh once truthfully called himself an ‘accidental prime minister’, which about sums up his worth. That he hung around for ten years living up to this tag defines the opportunities India has missed to make a mark in the new millennium. A decade back, India showed some slight promise of finally rising to the occasion and occupying the great power position that has been there for the taking but 24 open

“hedge”, which he termed “a safe low-risk strategy”, (2) “surf or ride the wave of change” holding out hope for “greater gains” but also taking on heightened risk, or (3) it could “shape the future”, an option, he says, that is “obviously the best… as it offers the most gain [but] requires the greatest investment of effort and involves the highest risk”. It means shaping the international system, something only great powers do, and is an option, he implied, India cannot afford and is incapable of realising because there are too many “variables” to master and no guarantee of “easy or certain outcomes”. In the event, he recommended a mix of the three strategies: shaping the environment “domestically” and in the “immediate neighbourhood”, and “hedging or riding the wave in other cases”. It turns out this is what the Manmohan Singh Government was doing all these years. It is important to note that the NSA is comfortable thinking of India as a piece on the global chessboard rather than a power able to move the pieces. This is evident from the fact that neither Menon nor his boss, Dr Singh, has ever spelt out a strategic vision for the country or displayed the will to realise it during their long years in office. In any case, how does the UPA’s foreign policy measure up even against these low standards? Starting from inside out, the enabling domestic milieu simply did not materialise in the two terms of the UPA Government, what to speak of anything bigger. The supposed consensus for the nuclear deal with the United States, for instance, was a sham. It was proved by the shameful shenanigans in Parliament of Pete Souza/White House/Handout/CNP/Corbis

A

s Manmohan Singh demits

not as close as we thought Manmohan Singh with US President Barack Obama in 2009

for the diffidence and hesitant mindset of its rulers. After a decade of the Congressheaded United Progressive Alliance Government, however, that promise has been doused. The reason why this happened may be gleaned from the remarks National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon made to the Confederation of Indian Industry on 24 March in the waning days of this government. In dealing with the changes in the “global security environment”, he said, India has three options. It can do (1) what all countries do,

7 April 2014


multi-crore bribes on offer and Samajwadi Party doing a last-minute turnaround to support the Government that pushed the deal through on the basis of advocacy on its behalf by APJ Abdul Kalam, identified by Mulayam Singh as the “father of the [Indian] Bomb” (!); if Kalam parented anything, it was the satellite launch vehicle powering India’s Agni missiles. That the deal wasn’t the magic wand it was touted as by Manmohan Singh to obtain “20,000 megawatts by 2020” and gain international heft is evident in the fact that there’s not a single contract yet for an imported reactor, India’s entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group remains barred, and it does not enjoy the “rights and privileges” of a nuclear weapon state promised in the 5 July 2008 Joint Statement of Manmohan Singh and US President George W Bush in Washington. Showcasing its naivete, the Indian Government in this quid pro quo arrangement, instead of being in lockstep with benefits accruing to the country, speedily accepted international safeguards on the bulk of its dual-use Indian natural uranium fuelled reactors and thus curtailed the country’s surge capacity to produce weapon-grade plutonium and directly hurt India’s nuclear posture, and, with the ‘islanding’ of its weapons-related facilities, the integrity of its nuclear energy programme as well. Worse, it is diverting the country to the expensive enriched uranium-fuelled reactor regime that sustains the nuclear industries of France, America and Russia, while starving India’s indigenous programme for heavy-water moderated INDU reactors of much needed funds. To think that this deal is ballyhooed as a boon and bonanza by the departing Congress Government suggests it cannot differentiate gain from loss and liability. In line with this strategic nuclear myopia was Manmohan Singh’s undue enthusiasm for US President Barack Obama’s ‘nuclear summits’—the latest such event taking lace at the Hague on 2425 March—that aim to disarm weak nuclear weapon states, among them India! If the Congress government has dug a grave for homegrown nuclear reactor technology and potentially turned India towards nuclear energy dependency, its failure to get Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu to 7 April 2014

play ball has had adverse regional consequences. The issues of straightening of the border and signing of an accord for equitable sharing of the Teesta River waters with Bangladesh are hanging fire, frustrating the friendly Awami League regime of Sheikh Hasina. Likewise Jayalalithaa’s interventionist tilt towards Jaffna Tamils has alienated Colombo, pushing it into cultivating China as a counterweight. Meanwhile, with Kashmir a perennial irritant, good relations with Pakistan remain a dream only awaiting the next terror attack to turn into a nightmare. In each of these cases, Manmohan Singh showed no political foresight or will to ram the preferred solutions down resistant throats of the chief ministers of these border provinces. A string of unpacified countries on its periphery, as a result, has left India too preoccupied with its near abroad to think and act strategically against China elsewhere in Asia. Whence the repeated missed opportunities to firm up a front of like-minded states that feel uneasy about an aggressive China in the latter’s soft underbelly— Southeast Asia and on its exposed flank in the Far East. In 2007, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe articulated his concept of a ‘security diamond’ of Japan, India, United States and Australia to contain and ringfence China. Three years later, his speech to Indian Parliament entitled ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’, which pushed this security architecture, elicited little interest from a Manmohan Singh regime transfixed by the idea of peacefully resolving India’s border dispute with China. It was only after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army units made incursions into Ladakh’s Depsang Bulge in April 2013 that the Government woke up to the harsh reality that a powerful untrammelled China was more likely to resort to arms than a China tied down by countries on its rim militarily cooperating with one another to keep Beijing guessing, more so if it involved a bold and newly ‘militaristic’ Japan flexing its muscles and intent on fighting off Chinese bullying tactics on the disputed Senakaku Islands. Belatedly, New Delhi picked up its game and responded to the Japanese overtures. The visits to India by Emperor Akihito in late 2013, followed closely by

Abe’s as chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations this year, have given Beijing pause for thought. However, India’s deafness over the years to pleas by the governments of Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines to sell them Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles to keep the powerful Chinese South Sea Fleet home-ported in Hainan island quiet in the proximal seas has to various degrees soured these countries towards India. New Delhi has tried fleshing out an Indian ‘net security provider’ role in the Indian Ocean Region which the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had sketched out for India, without so far getting much traction. True, India did gird up its loins to deliberately retain a stake in an offshore oil block in the South China Sea claimed by China and Vietnam. But its unwillingness to commit more fully to the security of these small countries has led to Manila and Hanoi seeking a US role to dampen the Chinese ardour to use force, which ended in the past in the annexation of the Mischief Reef (in the Spratley Island chain) previously under Philippine control and of Vietnam’s Paracel Islands. And it prompted Jakarta to secure the all-Russian variant of the Brahmos, the Ramos, directly from Moscow. Similarly, while Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan would have liked India to extend its presence in the region beyond the air base in Ainee (in Tajikistan) to afford them a modicum of security and enable them to resist both Russia and China, the Indian Government’s lack of interest in doing so has compelled them to accept Moscow’s more forceful attempts at re-establishing its sphere of influence even as they plug into the burgeoning Chinese economy to get the best deal. In sum, the conservative economist in Manmohan Singh spawned an extremely risk-averse attitude in government that so affected Indian foreign policy that the world’s expectation of India as a player of consequence has taken a hit. For a country with all the attributes of great power, this is an unacceptable diminution of stature. n Bharat Karnad is Professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and blogs at www. securitywise.com open www.openthemagazine.com 25


manmohan singh

Terminal Illness Devendra Kumar

T

he Congress faces its toughest electoral battle since Independence. Only twice has the party displayed such electoral weakness before. The first was the post-Emergency election of 1977, when it got 154 seats in the Lok Sabha with 35.4 per cent of all votes, and the second, in 1999, when it secured its lowest tally of 114 seats with 28.3 per cent votes. But on both these occasions, expectations of its performance were higher than they are this time. Also, a few states, primarily in south India, came to the party’s rescue, allowing it to reach a three-figure tally. There were other factors, too. In 1977, Indira Gandhi used her government machinery and extra-constitutional means to gain an edge at the hustings. In 1999, Congress cadres were enlivened by Sonia Gandhi’s entry to electoral politics. The party also enjoyed a morale boost, thanks to Assembly election victories in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In contrast, 2014 looks bleak for the grand old party. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, riding on a ‘Singh is King’ crest in 2009, is only a shadow of his former self. The scamscarred United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is weighed down by a losing fight against inflation and poor implementation of its flagship populist schemes. Several key leaders of its 10-year regime have decided not to contest these polls in the face of what seem like insurmountable odds. Adding to its woes, many opinion polls predict a rout for the Congress party, suggesting that its tally may even fall below 100. Let us analyse the party’s prospects with its performance in 1999, its worst ever in recent years, and in 2009, its best in the past two decades, as reference points. North and central India send 166 MPs to Parliament, of which Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand account for 85. In 2009, the Congress won 26 seats in the region, up from 10 in 1999. If one goes by recent opinion polls 26 open

Congress performance in three milestone Lok Sabha elections

543

Total Seats

154 Grand Total

1977 LS Results

114

1999 LS Results

206

2009 LS Results

State/Regions

Total Seats

1977 LS Results

1999 LS Results

2009 LS Results

Gujarat

26

10

6

11

Maharashtra

48

20

10

17

Rajasthan

25

1

9

20

Total west

99

31

25

48

State/Regions

Total Seats

1977 LS Results

1999 LS Results

2009 LS Results

Karnataka

28

26

18

6

Kerala

20

11

8

13

Tamil Nadu

39

14

2

8

Andhra Pradesh

42

41

5

33

Total south

129

92

33

60


Total Seats

1977 LS Results

1999 LS Results

2009 LS Results

Haryana

10

0

0

9

Himachal Pradesh

4

0

0

1

State/Regions

J&K

6

3

0

2

40

1

11

13

Punjab

13

0

8

8

Uttar Pradesh + Uttarakhand

85

0

10

26

1

0

0

1

MP + Chhattisgarh

Chandigarh Delhi

7

0

0

7

166

4

30

67

Total Seats

1977 LS Results

1999 LS Results

2009 LS Results

Meghalaya

2

1

1

1

Manipur

2

2

0

2

Nagaland

1

0

1

0

Mizoram

1

0

0

1

Arunachal Pradesh

2

1

2

2

Tripura

1

1

0

0

Total north central

State/Regions

Sikkim

1

1

0

0

10

6

4

6

Total Seats

1977 LS Results

1999 LS Results

2009 LS Results

Assam

14

10

10

7

Bihar + Jharkhand

54

0

4

3

Odisha

21

4

2

6

West Bengal

42

3

3

6

Total east

131

17

19

22

State/Regions

Total Seats

1977 LS Results

1999 LS Results

2009 LS Results

Daman & Diu

1

0

1

0

Lakshwadeep

1

1

1

1

Puducherry

1

0

1

1

Andaman

1

1

0

0

Dadra and Nagar Haveli

1

1

0

0

Goa

2

1

0

1

Total UT

7

4

3

3

Total Northeast

State/Regions

and views of observers, the party will have a tough time matching its 1999 tally here. Going by the 2013 Assembly polls, the party’s tally is likely to see significant declines in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. Reports from Haryana, Punjab, and Jammu & Kashmir suggest similar trends. In Himachal, it could hope to retain its lone seat. Indeed, the party may not be able to match its 1999 tally of 30 seats from these eight states. In India’s eastern states, which account for 131 seats in Parilament, the Congress was not a major player even back in 2009. However, it did have some cause for cheer in Assam and Mamata Banerjee’s backing in West Bengal. This time, if minority-majority issues dominate voting patterns in Assam, the Congress may face major reverses in the state, where a local outfit called the AUDF may gain minority votes while the BJP and AGP garner a large chunk of majority votes. However, the battle for Assam is still open. In West Bengal, the Congress may find it hard to retain its six seats after its divorce with the Trinamool Congress. Similarly, in Bihar, the party’s hopes are rated as slim. The four western states account for 101 seats in the Lok Sabha. The party is likely to do poorly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and it faces both central and state level anti-incumbency in Maharashtra, which saw 17 of its candidates elected in 2009. Internal dissidence, wrangles with its alliance partner, the NCP, and graft issues are expected to cost the party dearly. Here too, it may not match its 1999 total of 10 MPs. The party will be hard put to win 25 seats in the western region, its 1999 tally. In 1977, the Congress had managed to bag 32 seats in these states. South India, which sends 129 representatives to Parliament, throws up an even bigger challenge to the Congress. In 2009, the party won 60 seats from the four states here. Multiple troubles await the party in Andhra Pradesh following the Telangana crisis and emergence of the YSR Congress; it is also likely to be hit hard by anti-incumbency in Kerala, lack of an alliance in Tamil Nadu and the return of Lingayat strongman Yeddyurappa to the BJP in Karnataka. The Congress would be hard pressed to win even 33 seats, as it did in 1999. Recall that south India had saved the Congress from a complete national rout in 1977 by giving it 92 seats. n Devendra Kumar is a number cruncher open www.openthemagazine.com 27


MJ AKBAR

Philosopher In Modi’s Durbar The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate acquires a great communicator Ullekh NP

N

ew entrants to the court of Mobashar Jawed Akbar are unlikely to accuse the scholar journalist of modesty. But then his achievements aren’t modest either. MJ, as he is popularly known, was in his early twenties when he became the editor of Sunday magazine. Sure of his su-

periority, he wore it on his sleeve. But hours before the BJP named him national spokesperson this Tuesday, the man with the shining moustache sounded humble—perhaps like the class 11 boy who had dropped in long years ago at a well-known columnist’s office at Junior Statesman in Calcutta to submit a short raul irani

reflection “Now, the most important thing is to live with my mirror and be true to myself,” says MJ Akbar


story for publication and addressed him as ‘sir’. The other man who could have offered some light on that now-recessive trait of MJ died last week—Khushwant Singh, who hired the Presidency College, Calcutta, alumnus as a trainee journalist at The Illustrated Weekly of India. In the House of Saffron, expectations are high that MJ, who no doubt has friends in high places, will play a pivotal role in hardselling Narendra Modi to the world. But the 63-year-old author of bestselling books such as Nehru: The Making of India and India: The Siege Within, says in a self-effacing tone, “That is very kind of you, but I know I am a small cog in a wheel.” Efforts are on to project Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant, as a visionary like former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, and the part ‘this new philosopher’ in the court of the BJP czar will play, party insiders say, is ‘crucial’. Seated in his spartan Maharani Bagh office, MJ dwells at length on development aimed at uplifting the poor. As a new member of the party where ideas are increasingly preferred over ideology, he comes across as focused, opinionated, sometimes dismissive and yet kind and humorous. Not inclined to tolerate “empty talk”, he wouldn’t hesitate to snap at you for what he feels are perfunctory questions. What particularly irks him are stereotypical questions hurled at him over his switching sides to the BJP from being a fellow traveller of the Congress. He was a spokesperson for the Congress some 24 years ago when his friend, the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was at the party’s helm. So MJ, one of Indian journalism’s greatest stylists, wants to focus on tangibles, not “boring” stuff. FIGHTING POVERTY

MJ Akbar, whose grandfather was a Hindu, was born in “a small basti near a jute mill” in West Bengal’s Hooghly district in 1951. Now, when he visits his birthplace, the impoverished and decrepit Telinipara, it hurts him deeply to see that nothing has changed for the poor. It is a forlorn locality where, they say, if a worker smiles once a fortnight he is considered lucky. Hard-nosed and quick-witted, MJ— who has broken out of the most trying of personal circumstances and set high pro7 April 2014

fessional standards—puts the blame for this abject poverty of the “other India”, that of the poorest of poor, on policies pursued by a party he once represented briefly in Parliament. The Congress party of 1989, the year MJ was elected MP, is no longer the same, he notes; it has degenerated. The UPA Government of Manmohan Singh, which was in power for the past 10 years, has dashed the hopes of the poor, he declares. “All aspirations have been kicked down a dark hole. We need a national recovery mission. And somebody has to lead that mission,” he notes, referring to the BJP campaign spearhead. He vows to work towards ensuring that the rewards of development go first to the poor. “I really believe that we are going to see a development decade ahead,” he says.  For MJ, the process of writing is very important. He sees every book as self education. Then it becomes another step in an eternal enquiry, he says. In the process,

Bhagwati, he is glad that Gujarat is now a “generator-free” state. MJ asks naysayers to question why Gujarat has no market for power generators. “Why? You can [also] take a look at the infrastructure of its cities. You can take a look at the spread of [Gujarat’s] education system. You can take a look at the status of jobs offered to minorities,” says this fan of Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood superstar who happens to be a brand ambassador for the state. MJ wants Modi-baiters to take a look at the “figures produced by the Government of India” to dispel their doubts. “Truth cannot become a convenient truth,” says MJ. WHY HE WAS WRONG ABOUT MODI

For someone who has founded and edited several publications such as The Telegraph, The Asian Age and others, MJ exudes an avuncular aura. And his columns and reports are mind-tinglingly good, yet he knows only too well that

“We need a national recovery mission. And somebody has to lead that mission. I really believe that we are going to see a development decade ahead,” says MJ Akbar over the years, the top-notch editor has also learnt to appreciate what he terms ‘visible reality’—and to understand what works and what doesn’t. Well-travelled within and outside India, he has been a regular visitor to Gujarat’s hinterland since the late 1970s. Road connectivity was poor and power supply erratic—infrastructure facilities in the state were as bad as they were in the rest of northern and eastern India. Lately though, MJ has seen some quick changes in the state. “I hope I have some common sense,” says MJ who has faith in the ‘Gujarat model of development’ championed by Modi, which has kicked up a storm with renowned economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya lapping it up as a ‘role model’ and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen trashing it. While he doesn’t pass judgment on either Professor Sen or

attributing finality to journalistic commentaries is a sin that deserves no mercy. Not that he ever condoned sloppy reporting. He was, on the other hand, a terror in the newsroom, a stickler for perfection and a conjurer of the snappiest of headlines. Shankarshan Thakur, one of his protégés at The Telegraph, remembers with grudging admiration, “Believe me, this man could bleed you from orifices you did not know existed—such was the daily tyranny of distinctions you lived under.” Like most editors, he too had attacked Modi over the Gujarat riots of 2002. In a profession where reacting to immediate circumstances is the name of the game, it is often easy to err. Such hazards are par for the course, because “while fiction is about contemporary life, journalism is about temporary life”, he says. open www.openthemagazine.com 29


Rajiv Gandhi’s former buddy wants to thank the UPA Government for exonerating Modi. “In 10 years they have answered every question raised by me and many others. The whole effort of the past 10 years was not to find the guilty, but to link one man called Narendra Modi to that guilt. That is the only objective for which the police, lawyers, courts and turncoats, bureaucrats—all of them were used,” he says angrily. “If this investigation [of the Gujarat riots] had been done by an NDA Government, you may not have found it credible,” he thunders. “So whatever I wrote [against Modi] was wrong. And time has proved it to be,” MJ explains with a guffaw intended at sweetening his outbursts. Cartoons may have appeared portraying him talking of Modi doing Jesus-like tricks such as walking on water, but MJ, who has authored books such as The Shade of Swords, Riot After Riot, Blood Brothers, says what struck him deeply about Modi are his rare leadership qualities—he says some of those were on full display at his 27 October Patna rally hit by serial blasts. When bombs were bursting in Patna at that rally, it was a threat to the audience, but there was also a threat to Modi. And at that moment it is not usually the “head” that takes charge of your senses, it is the “heart and the nerve”. Modi could have been emotional at that point. Instead, he was cool, focused and composed. He said something that resonates with MJ: Hindus must decide whether they want to fight Muslims or they want to fight poverty, and Muslims must decide whether they want to fight poverty or fight Hindus. MJ admits that it was the Patna address that blew his mind. He dismisses talk of him being a rank opportunist who veered towards the BJP, favourites to win this year’s polls, explaining that he prefers to “shrug and carry on” because in a democracy like India nobody can stop anyone from saying what they like. “Now, the most important thing is to live with my mirror and be true to myself,” he says raising the timbre of his voice as he speaks, stressing the words ‘mirror’ and ‘true’, and ending in a low growl.  Long ago, when MJ joined the Congress party, there was a similar outcry and he can’t forget the beast his announcement unleashed. How can a promising young 30 open

editor join a dispensation scarred by the Bofors scandal? So sceptics asked. There was stardom then. Now MJ seeks an opportunity to give back to society. Unlike the likes of the great writer and rhetorician Christopher Hitchens who shifted his loyalty from the Left to the Right overnight citing the 9/11 New York attacks, our own chronicler of the history and plight of minorities in the Subcontinent describes his transition as a gradual one. Not that he didn’t wish to be as blessed as St Paul on the road to Damascus (who was converted through divine intervention on his way), MJ says with a scholarly flourish. MJ’s journey has often been tough: he has won laurels for his sparkling prose but has also been stung by the actions of certain people whom his former mentor Kushwant Singh referred to as those “with less breeding and more money”. ABOUT FORGING AHEAD

As a Congress MP from Kishanganj in Bihar between 1989 and 1991, he had seen first-hand how welfare schemes work, and believes such “positive discrimination” is right and necessary. “Do you think the West survives without social-welfare schemes? If they didn’t have it, there would be insurrection on the streets. But what people need are jobs. Welfare schemes operate only as a social net. The primary objective therefore has to be on legitimate ways of creating employment,” states MJ. Having learnt Public Service 101 at the grassroots, MJ is profoundly excited about Modi’s plan to build 100 new cities. “It means jobs down the line and the priority of the next government should not be just jobs, but jobs for the poorest. The curse of poverty has to end in 10 years and that can be done by making the economy of the country meaningful for those at the bottom. And that is the great challenge,” says he. The man is also attracted by the idea of rebuilding India’s east—his home turf—which has fallen far behind in development as well as on human development indices. “It is in such areas that we need to focus on. Modi has many such great ideas. I am only giving an example of the imaginative thinking on the horizon,” MJ says, adding that the country should look at international relations with a fresh mind.

MJ’s last book was on Pakistan. He is a voracious reader too, and falls back on Mahatma Gandhi and various other leaders of the freedom struggle for intellectual inspiration. At his bedside, he keeps books by Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse; he reads Christie when he is happy and Wodehouse when he is pensive. In Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan, he concluded that Pakistan is a jelly state—which will not collapse, but will remain unstable. In the face of dynamic geopolitics, he has often warned against India’s stagnant foreign policy. MJ faults the Manmohan Singh Government for miscalculations on dealing with the neighbours, especially Pakistan. His policy was very much a part of a continuum and one of its underpinnings, regrettably, was emotional rather than practical, MJ points out. “I think we drifted along, propelled by a stagnant flow of understanding. We can’t afford it anymore,” says the author who says he has exhausted the sequence of books that dealt with the state of Muslims in the Subcontinent and the world. He adds, “We have to understand the nature of the adversary... tactical battles and strategic battles.” MJ is well-read, caustic, defiant and outspoken. He is also an ideasmith who loves books but finds James Joyce’s Ulysses unreadable. He is copy fiend who spikes clichés. He also has strong views on India’s foreign-policy front: India’s challenges are numerous, especially because “the war zone of tomorrow” lies between the Brahmaputra and the Nile. “Very much at our doorsteps,” says this music aficionado who enjoys songs in Hindi, Urdu and Bhojpuri when he is not gorging on books on history. A Dev Anand fan, he stopped “worshipping” actresses after he began to see them in real life, confides this father of two—Prayaag and Mukulika—and husband of former journalist Mallika Joseph whom he met at the Illustrated Weekly. “I can only go back to actresses I have never seen in real life. There is Madhubala. I also like Vyjayanthimala,” MJ says, gesturing with folded hands. For those familiar with the tessellated polish of his style, maybe the best of him is yet to emerge—as a public servant and an apostle of Modi’s development mantra. n 7 April 2014


on the road | Chinki Sinha

Is it a Wave or a Whirl?

In the hinterland of Haryana, it’s a mix of caste and cult

F

rom the aperture in the gate, a

man says entry to Rampura House is forbidden. Outside, a few men are waiting for an audience with Rao Ajit Singh, son of the late Rao Birender Singh who is from the family of Rao Tula Ram. He was an Indian National Lok Dal member, but quit the party last week. A bit of the palace can be seen: the columns rise above the trees. They say it is spread over 32 acres. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is said to have stayed here. Rao Birender Singh bailed her out during the Emergency, they say. There is the raja and the praja (subjects). That’s

how Haryana unfolds: dynastic, and almost impregnable. No flags flutter on the roof of Rampura House. It remains steeped in history, and its glory. Next to it, there is Bhagwat Bhakti Ashram built on 40 acres where Dalits and widows stay. There are other such things, gifts from kings. History comes in bits and pieces in random conversations. Beyond the glass and steel of Gurgaon city on the edge of the national capital, a rural landscape unfolds. There are palaces of erstwhile rulers and primordial systems. On the road, narratives

change depending on where you are, and among whom. Most of the land in this part belongs to three brothers—Rao Inderjit Singh, Rao Ajit Singh, and Yadvendra Singh, a Congress MLA. All of them are in politics. Rao Inderjit Singh, a two-time Congress MP from the Gurgaon constituency, switched over to the BJP last year. Rewari, part of Ahir land, is home to three candidates who are in the fray for the Lok Sabha seat. Yogendra Yadav, Captain Ajay Singh Yadav, a six-time Congress MLA, and Rao Inderjit Singh. All of them are Yadavs. Yogendra Yadav of Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

on home ground Yogendra Yadav of AAP addresses supporters in Gurgaon during a Jhadoo Yatra


the AAP and Captain Ajay Singh of the Congress belong to the same village— Saharwas. Further down the road, there is a farmhouse that bears the leader’s name. Here, the saffron and lotus are hard to miss. Some men are sitting on chairs, smoking a hookah. A brick building, by no means small in size, has a banner of the Haryana Insaf Manch with his photo and his daughter’s—Aarti Rao, a party member. The family lives in Gurgaon and Delhi. They say he doesn’t come here often. But he looks after his subjects. “There is a Modi wave,” says Abhay Singh, the former sarpanch of a cluster of villages in Rewari. “Here, it is about the personality. We trust Rao Inderjit Singh. He is Ahir. We are Ahirs. This is Ahir land,” Subbey Singh, a local, intervenes to say. They dismiss Yogendra Yadav of the AAP, saying he is a professor; he should leave politics to stalwarts. Politics in Haryana is a strange mix of old loyalties, caste affiliation, and allegiances. All inheritances of a sort. The three Lals of Haryana politics—Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal—are long gone, but their families are pitched in battle against one another. Once again. This, then becomes a challenge for the Aam Aadmi Party that announced its entry to Haryana politics with a rally in Rohtak. They sought the participation of khap panchayats, but were refused. Development matters, but only so much. Ambition, aspiration are misplaced in the context of the state. Poverty is not a pressing concern. Inflation is. But only if you are desperate for an explanation for shifts in loyalties.

B

eyond the Jindal and Accenture

buildings, and everything else that shimmers in this oasis, lies Mewat. About 35 km from the city that is home to professionals—those who speak about corruption and clean politics, and change. This is where AAP could matter. But Mewat is like a wasteland. Speeches and promises adjust themselves to the context. Yogendra Yadav speaks about development in Mewat, and in Gurgaon, about corruption and taxes. On 20 March, the INLD’s Chaudhary Zakir Hussain filed his nomination to 36 open

contest Gurgaon’s Lok Sabha seat. There is a rally in Nangli village in Nuh. On dusty roads, jeeps wrapped in INLD flags surge forward. The settlements that are submerged in darkness come to life when the headlights of cars, and jeeps, fall on them. Men and women and children line the streets, hailing their first Muslim candidate from the region since 1989. “Kisi ko to rahbar banana parta hai (One has to find a guide),” a woman says, and smiles.“I am a Meo Muslim from Mewat, and this election, I will matter,” says the woman, who refuses to give her name. “Jeetega bhai jeetega. Mewat ka baccha jeetega (He’ll win, he’ll win, the boy from Mewat will win),” they shout.

Politics in Haryana is a strange mix of old loyalties, caste affiliation and allegiances. All inheritances of a sort Meo Muslims feel vindicated. Chaudhary Zakir Hussain is former minister Tayyab Hussain’s son. Om Prakash Chautala’s government built the 40-km-long Benarasi canal in 2004, but the canal has seen water only once in 2005. It is an arid landscape, unlike the lush fields of Rewari. For years, the Congress denied a ticket to a Muslim candidate, they say in Firozpur Namak village. The last time, Muslims had voted for Rao Inderjit Singh. But they feel betrayed; Mewat remains a desolate landscape. “We will change parties, do whatever we can to get representation. We are in majority here. We need a ticket,” says Farooq Ahmed, 33, a school teacher. Nuh, Punhana and Ferozepur Jhirka have about 458,000 voters, of which Muslims account roughly for 350,000 voters. Mewat has a literacy rate of 54 per

cent, compared to the state average of 75.5 per cent as per the 2011 Census. There are no good schools, says Ahmed. They have to buy water. It is a living hell. There are rumours that the INLD will align with the BJP. But for now, Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of Bhajan Lal and leader of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), is its alliance partner. The BJP has announced that it will fight eight seats, leaving the rest to the HJC.

A

t dusk, two men are smoking hookah in an old house in Umra, one of the seven villages of the Saatvas Khap in Hisar district. Kartar Sarpanch, Umra’s pradhan (head), is a reluctant speaker. Ram Mehar, the former panch, is more forthcoming. “Modi is trying. But it is a party of traders. We are farmers—and Jats. Hindutva ideology also doesn’t matter here. The BJP doesn’t exist here. Nor does the AAP. Here, it is between the two Jat leaders— Hooda and Chautala,” he says. Previously, they had supported the Congress, but anti-incumbency is strong. “They have done a lot for us. But ten years is enough time. Change is automatic,” says Kartar Sarpanch. “Dushyant Chautala, Om Prakash Chautala’s grandson and Devi Lal’s great-grandson, is the INLD candidate. We will go with him.” He is only 27. Against him is the HJC’s Kuldeep Bishnoi, a non-Jat. As a khap panchayat, he says, they will shake up things a little bit. “We will wipe out the Congress,” he says. “When Chautala started making a lot of money, we got rid of him.” It doesn’t matter to them that the Chautalas are in prison. In fact, says Sarpanch, the Lok Sabha election will be like a semi-final. The battle for the state is due in October. Chautala has been wronged. At 78, they put him behind bars. Not very far from Hisar, in a village called Khera in Siwani district, which is also Arvind Kejriwal’s native village, a crowd of people is waiting for him. “People don’t know him yet,” says Sanjay Kumar, a 28-year-old. In fact, only if you ask about the AAP and BJP, do they talk about Modi or Kejriwal. They say ‘Modi is a good man’. They also say, ‘Kejriwal is an honest man.’ 7 april 2014


I

n Rohtak, there is a Congress ral-

ly. Bhupinder Singh Hooda asks the electorate to give his son a third chance. Deepender Singh Hooda is sick. The doctors, he says, told him to stay home. “I gave him to you. You decide,” he shouts from the stage. “Deepender is your son. Don’t look back. Who will fight his battle?” There is a reference to those who wear the party green. He is referring to Chautala’s INLD. “Don’t trust them. Look at the development,” he says. Haryana goes to polls on 10 April for its 10 Lok Sabha seats, and then in October for the Assembly election. When Deepender Hooda takes over, his voice is feeble. “Ram ji, Ram ji,” he says. “Let’s make the faisla (decision). Eight-and-a-half years ago, you gave me Rohtak. I did my best. BJP has written in its manifesto that Modi will get IIM, IIT, and AIIMS in all cities. BJP has learnt from Rohtak. We have all three here,” he says. The crowd cheers. Only if they promise their support will he file his nomination, he says. “I can’t go everywhere because I am unwell. I want to ask you: wasn’t I there for you? Lete, lete ji nahin lagta hai mera. Tumhara lagta hai kya (I don’t feel like myself lying down. Do you?)?” he asks. On 21 March, he filed his nomination late in the afternoon. The Congress is restless. It has suffered a debacle in Delhi. The AAP is contesting all seats in Haryana, and the BJP has allied with the HJC. Both father and son charge against the Gujarat development model of Modi, and say Haryana is way ahead. Consider old-age pension: Haryana gives Rs 1,000 against Gujarat’s Rs 400. At Maharishi Dayanand University in

Rohtak, a few students sit under a gazebo, drinking tea. Ankit Hooda, a 22-yearold student from Ambala, says the Congress government did a lot of work in Rohtak. It built this university and an auditorium here. It could have done more. There’s that anti-incumbency sentiment again. “AAP belongs nowhere. Why did they quit the stage in Delhi? See, Chautala will develop his area, and Hooda will do work in his. We have to vote, else we will slip into anarchy. We don’t have an urbanisation problem,” he says. “AAP’s rhetoric doesn’t matter here. Even the Congress’ NREGA and other things won’t swing votes to much extent.” He adds, however, that they will respect the decision of their elders.

A

t the home of 97-year-old Colonel

Risal Singh, leader of the Sangwan Khap, things begin to make some sense. Since 1973, Singh has been the pradhan of this khap panchayat that has under its control almost 61 villages in Charkhi Dadri, and around 20 in Sonepat, and a few more in UP and Rajasthan. It is one of the biggest khaps in Haryana. “We have a social role. We don’t tell anyone to vote for a particular party. But political parties always seek our support. Vote is independent,” says Singh in English. The grandson serves tea. His wife watches from the threshold, through a veil. “I haven’t seen a Modi wave here. Chautala was one of us. He would smoke hookah with us. He removed taxes on tobacco farming. The old-age pension Hooda talks about, Chautala started it in 1987. Haryana is 90 per cent rural. Khaps are misunderstood by the English press.

We built a girl’s college in Jhojhu. We are not a murderous bunch,” he says. Although Dalit and Brahmin and other such khaps exist, the Sarvajat Khap is binding on all, he says. Last week, Singh called a meeting and expressed his dissatisfaction over Pradeep Sangwan being denied a BJP ticket from Sonepat. “He is our brother. Kishan Singh Sangwan, his father, was an MP from Sonepat. We will throw our weight behind him,” he smiles. Meanwhile, Pradeep Sangwan has met Hooda and rumours say that he might join the Congress. Yet another defection. In Haryana, Jats are only 30 per cent. “But we dominate,” he says. “We have 36 biradaris (communities) with us.” There was a time when the khaps had got together. Back in those days, they had rallied behind the late Major Amir Singh Sangwan from Jhojhu Kalan who had represented the area in the joint PunjabHaryana Assembly, he says. “Congress had not given him a ticket then. We made him win,” he says. “In the end, it is about the idea of brotherhood.”

G

urgaon, the city, offers a break

from the Lals, and dynasties, and caste affiliations, and complex ticket calculations. There is also old Gurgaon. Much like Delhi’s urban villages with buildings jostling for space, and wires hanging overhead. A mall is being built. The urbanscape is expanding, taking over bit by bit. Beyond, there is the shining city. In its bars, and cafes, stories of dynasties are rubbished by the young, and the impatient, and the erudite. “Bizarre,” the elite say, looking out of their glass towers. n


legitimacy

The Cub’s Last Roar

To retain his army, Uddhav Thackeray must deliver. He is counting on a BJP wave Haima Deshpande

S

hiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray is an angry man. He is angry at the ambitions of his partymen, at his cousin Raj Thackeray for upstaging him, and at Maharashtra’s Deputy CM and NCP leader Ajit Pawar for masterminding a high-profile defection and whisking away one of his trusted lieutenants, Rahul Narvekar. As polls approach, Uddhav is fast running out of supporters within the Shiv Sena, the party founded by his late father, Bal Thackeray. As many as four current MPs have deserted the party: Gajanan Babar has switched to the MNS, Bhausaheb Waghchoure and Ganesh Dudhgaonkar to the Congress, and Anand Paranjpe—son of the late Prakash Paranjpe, a close aide of Bal Thackeray—to the NCP. Meanwhile, in Maval, a seat that Narvekar is set to contest on an NCP ticket, some 45 Sainik office-bearers have quit the Sena. Uddhav seems alarmed as much as angry about it. This is a fight between Sena ‘loyalists’ and ‘traitors’, he has said, urging Sainiks at a rally in Navi Mumbai to defeat the latter. According to sources, he has also been in touch with Narendra Modi, with observers wondering if the Sena chief wants the BJP leader to convince Raj Thackeray—who is said to share a certain cosiness with Modi—to withdraw candidates against the Sena. In a pointed move, Raj’s party, the MNS, has fielded candidates against the Sena in every constituency the latter is contesting. With seven stents implanted in his chest to clear artery blockages, anger is not an emotion Uddhav can afford. With

38 open

barely a fortnight left for the Lok Sabha polls, he needs to stay calm. In any case, it may be too late for him to do much. Uddhav’s emphasis on moderation, ever since he took charge, has long doused the fire in many a Sainik belly. In the old days, say Sena watchers, Narvekar would not have dared roam freely in Mumbai after his defection. In 1991, when Chhagan Bhujbal defected from the Shiv Sena to the Congress with 18 others, he needed police protection for several years, fearing a threat to his life. Under Bal Thackeray’s leadership, Sainiks had vowed to avenge Bhujbal’s ‘betrayal’; Narvekar may consider himself lucky that he needs no extra security cover. Uddhav Thackeray’s moderation has thrown a chunk of his party into an existential crisis. Under his father, the party thrived on aggressive street politics that played on identity issues; it grew into a formidable power partly because of the fear it evoked among those it labelled ‘outsiders’. Under Uddhav, the party has more or less abandoned its agitational methods, leaving large numbers of Sainiks looking to parties with fiery leaders, such the MNS and NCP, to keep their political careers going. For these Sainiks, Raj Thackeray and Ajit Pawar are the icons to look up to. Though Uddhav’s coterie—wife Rashmi, man Friday Milind Narvekar and some others—has always grated senior party leaders, the recent posturing of his son Aditya as his successor-in-turn has alienated them even further. “Aditya copies Rahul Gandhi, and, like him, wants only the youth in important roles. I have

helped shape this party along with his grandfather, and today I am told that there is no place for me. Raj will benefit sooner than later,” says a senior Sena leader who was refused a Lok Sabha ticket.

U

ddhav’s abilities and acumen

have been in question for many years now. Since the time he was installed as his father’s second-in-command, he was written off more by people within his party than by those outside it. Yet, as his father’s deputy, it was he who commanded the Sena to victory in Mumbai’s 2007 civic polls. Credit for it never came his way, with the victory attributed to the charisma of Bal Thackeray. What assured Uddhav of his leadership was the civic polls five years later. In January 2012, he steered his party to victory in local polls for control of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corp. Then too, the MNS was in play as a ‘spoiler’, but the Sena still romped home. For these Lok Sabha polls, the BJP-Sena saffron alliance wants to repeat that 2012 triumph. Since the Sena’s 2012 victory, Uddhav’s body language has gained a distinct confidence: his voice is now authoritative and his shoulders appear squared rather than droopy. Working only behind the scenes, he now realises, does not work in politics, where public postures make or break a party’s prospects. Party workers have also slowly begun to accept their new leader for what he is. “Shiv Sainiks have realised that Uddhavji cannot be Balasaheb. There can only be one Balasaheb. He is a very 7 April 2014


FOTOCORP

uneasy inheritor “Shiv Sainiks have realised that Uddhavji cannot be Balasaheb. He is a very good organiser. He is not interested in making a noise about what he does,� says an Uddhav aide


ritesh uttamchandani

family rift Uddhav’s failure to clarify the state of his relations with his cousin has created confusion within Sena ranks

good organiser. He is not interested in making a noise about what he does,” says an aide of Uddhav, “Politics is all about noise now and Uddhavji has to start connecting with Sainiks and taking a harder stand with the MNS and others.” Meanwhile, the Thackeray cousins’ tug-of-war for Sainik loyalty goes on. Raj is said to be aware that Uddhav’s faltering health is a worry for Sainiks. Two years ago, when Raj rushed to Uddhav’s bedside as he underwent his stent implant, it raised eyebrows across the city’s political spectrum. After that meeting, observers felt that the MNS chief would keep out of his cousin’s way. That display of fraternal affection now appears to have been part of an elaborate MNS plan to impress and lure Sainiks away. With no agitations to keep their fists clenched, many Sainiks are restless. The thwarted aspirations of senior leaders complicate matters for Uddhav as well. Former Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi and senior Thackeray’s confidant Subhash Desai find no role in the party under Uddhav. While Joshi has voiced his resentment, the sidelined Desai maintains a gloomy silence. The party’s women leaders are also chafing. “There is only Neelam Gorhe. Do you see any other woman leader in our party?” asks a woman leader who was a Lok Sabha aspirant. Several others feel let down by Uddhav. “We cannot let the MNS win,” says a party worker, “Either Uddhav saheb has to align with the MNS or take it on aggressively. Workers don’t know whether Uddhav saheb and Raj saheb are friends or enemies.” Uddhav failure to clarify the state of his relations with his cousin has created confusion within the ranks. 40 open

The leader also faces other family challenges. Uddhav’s elder brother Jaidev has initiated court proceedings against him, raising questions over Bal Thackeray’s will. The Sena founder passed away on 17 November 2012, and Jaidev has sought legal means to block Uddhav’s takeover of all the Thackeray properties, including Matoshree, the leader’s Bandra residence. Under the will, Uddhav inherits not just Matoshree, but also a plot of land in Bhandardara and a farmhouse at Karjat. In his defence, Uddhav has filed a probate petition at the Bombay High Court, which is being contested by Jaidev. In his petition, the Sena chief has stated that the properties and bank deposits willed by his father are worth Rs 14.85 crore. Jaidev contends that Matoshree alone is worth Rs 40 crore. He also believes there were several other properties, bank deposits, ornaments and so on, worth several crore, which find no mention in his brother’s probate petition. Under the will, Thackeray did not leave a paisa for either Jaidev or the family of his late third son Bindumadhav, who died in a car accident. Jaidev dubs the will in question—purportedly signed by Bal Thackeray on 13 December 2011 in the presence of Dr Jalil Parkar, a lung specialist who attended to the leader for several years, and lawyer Flanian D’Souza of Bandra—a ‘fake’. Jaidev argues that their father could not have signed the will, given his alleged ‘cognitive dysfunction’ caused by the multiple ailments he suffered before he passed away. Further, he says, it is unlikely that their father, who fought so vehemently all his life to promote Marathi, would have dictated his will in English and only signed it in Marathi.

Jaidev is not known for his verbal diplomacy and has been at loggerheads with his younger sibling for a long time. According to sources, he blames Uddhav’s wife Rashmi for the frosty state of fraternal relations in the family. The ongoing court battle will have an impact on the Shiv Sena beyond its leader’s public image, for Jaidev is also seeking a division of Sena Bhavan and the party mouthpiece, Saamna, both in control of Uddhav. This court battle could turn ugly.

D

espite Uddhav’s woes, the BJP—

the Sena’s ally in the state for over two decades—is confident of bagging at least 33 of Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats. Though the BJP is contesting 22 of them, four less than the Shiv Sena, it expects the latter to perform well, too. “The anti-incumbency factor is very strong. People want Modiji to become PM,” says Vinod Tawade, BJP leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council, “It will definitely be an advantage for the Shiv Sena-BJP-RPI combine.” According to Tawade, the Sena president’s personal woes will not disturb electoral outcomes, for the party’s vote bank is secure. Sainiks also know that this is probably their last shot at victory. The party has been out of power since 1999. A failure now could result in an exodus in the months before the state’s Assembly polls, slated for later this year. With the MNS having hijacked the Sena’s ‘Marathi manoos’ agenda, Sainiks are desperate to ride the BJP’s resurgence. In the past, the BJP owed its success to the Sena. This time, they hope, advantage BJP will spell advantage Shiv Sena. n 7 April 2014


photos ritesh uttamchandani

relic

Last Man Standing SV Raju keeps the flame alive of the long dead Swatantra Party Madhavankutty Pillai

I

t is 1959. SV Raju is 26 and look-

ing for a job in Mumbai. He has been working as a trainee with a journalist who knows Minoo Masani, the renowned parliamentarian. The statesman C Rajagopalachari and Masani have just launched the Swatantra Party on 1 August. Masani is looking for an office secretary for the party. The journalist suggests Raju, who is interviewed and then appointed an employee on 16 December. Raju does become a party member, but only after a year. That’s the time it takes for him to shed his socialism. It is 1974. Rajagopalachari is no more, Masani has withdrawn from the party’s leadership. As an outcome of intra-party machinations, party leaders present at its ‘last’ national convention in Delhi are 42 open

overseeing its dissolution. It is to merge with Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Kranti Dal, a desperate survival attempt by its leaders after the party’s decimation in the previous elections. Some state factions, however, walk out and continue functioning as the Swatantra Party. Three years later, the Janata Party comes into being, and these factions merge with it. The Swatantra Party’s Maharashtra unit, which has Masani and Raju, decides to retain its identity even though members are free to work for the Janata Party. It is 1996. Post-liberalisation, the Maharashtra unit still exists in some fashion—it has an office, a telephone, and holds occasional meetings. But it hardly has any members. Raju and its general secretary, LR Sampat, decide to

revive the Swatantra Party. For this, they need to register it again and reclaim the party symbol, the star. They approach the Election Commission for registration papers. But these demand that the party swears that it is ‘Socialist’, in accordance with a 1989 amendment of India’s Representation of People’s Act. They refuse. They cannot vow to uphold an ideology they have been fighting all their lives. They file a writ petition in the High Court challenging this provision. It is 2014. The party has not been reactivated. The High Court is yet to have even a single hearing on their petition. Sampat has passed away. Raju is 80 now. In a small office in Fort, Mumbai, he sits and says he is still hoping to revive the party. “I am the only member now. I have 7 April 2014


keen on a revival Raju sees space in India for a party that’s clearly liberal-right in its politics

kept it going because the idea is important. And now I am preparing a case of why we need to continue.”

I

n the brief period between 1959 and

1974 that the Swatantra Party came and went, it made an extraordinary journey. It began with Rajagopalachari emerging from retirement at the age of 80 to start it. He was a freedom fighter of the stature of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Also, the first Governor General of India and a Congressman who served as Madras Chief Minister before being eased out by the party. After bowing out of active politics, he began voicing the need for an effective opposition to the Congress. Long a critic of the Licence Raj and State overreach that crushed private enterprise, what drew him back to politics was a 1959 resolution passed in Nagpur by the Congress advocating cooperative farming. Rajagopalachari saw this as the end of private property for farmers. “The Government was taking away the right to own landed property, [while] on the other side private enterprise was [highly] restricted... When the Nagpur resolution came, he decided it was time for such a party,” says Raju. Independent politicians like Masani, who did not believe in the socialist route taken by Nehru, rallied around Rajagopalachari. In the General Election of 1962, within three years of its formation, the Swatantra Party won 22 Lok Sabha seats. The next election in 1967 was its highpoint. It got 44 Lok Sabha seats and was the largest opposition party. It got 9.6 per cent of all votes polled and won 256 assembly seats in various states. And then, just as abruptly, by the polls of 1971, it slipped to eight Lok Sabha seats with just 3.1 per cent of votes polled. By 1974, the main party had ceased to exist. What explains such a drastic reversal of fortunes? A combination of the Indira Gandhi wave after she split the Congress in 1969 and an implosion within the party itself. The old-guard Congress (O) made an alliance with the Swatantra Party and Jan Sangh for the 1971 polls. Masani insisted on a common minimum

7 April 2014

programme, but others wanted to contest only on the plank of ejecting Indira Gandhi. To his shock, Masani not only found Rajagopalachari going along with this, but also conceding a raw deal for the Swatantra Party in seat allotments. He thought Rajagopalachari, over 90 now and ailing, was “an old man in a hurry”. After Indira’s Congress swept the 1971 General Election, a bitter Masani resigned as party president. Raju remembers a letter Rajaji sent him at the time, asking him to persuade Masani to continue for at least two more years. “Rajaji was clever. He was already in bad shape. He knew he would be dead by then,” recalls Raju, who went with the letter to Masani, who said, ‘What’s going to happen after one year? Nothing.’ The last meeting Raju had with Rajagopalachari was six months before his death. He says, “Rajaji said ‘I want you to keep the old leaders together because I am afraid that they are all wanting to go away’.” Rajagopalachari died in 1972 and his prediction came true. With his moral authority missing and Masani sidelined, the party hurtled towards its end.

T

he Swatantra Party had a rath-

er ordinary end, but left an imprint on Indian politics. In his book, Makers of Modern India, the historian Ramachandra Guha has a section on Rajagopalachari’s writings. He writes in the foreword: ‘However, [the Swatantra Party’s] chief contribution to Indian democracy was intellectual and ideological, through its searching criticisms of the economic and foreign policies of the ruling party. It achieved a sort of posthumous success when key elements of its credo—outlined in the excerpts that follow—were, much later, adopted by the Congress Party itself.’ This credo is spelt out in the party’s first manifesto drafted by Rajagopalachari. It says that the party stands for ‘minimum government, minimum State interference, for minimum expenditure in administration and for minimum taxation, for minimum interference in the private and professional affairs of citizens and for minimum regulation in industry and trade.’ Many of its ideas, like encouraging private enterprise and free markets, became fashion-

able once the Congress Finance Minister Manmohan Singh adopted economic reforms in 1991. “We were saying everything then what was being said 30 years afterwards,” says Raju, “Rajaji and Masani [were] way ahead of their times. It required India facing bankruptcy for [then Prime Minister] Narasimha Rao to take a U-Turn.” The Swatantra Party was capitalist and liberal in thought, and, in an era dominated by socialism, unapologetic about it. “We were the first to advertise. [Our ad appeared] in the solus position (bottom right hand corner) in The Times of India,” says Raju. “In 1967, [we used] that position to appeal to children of rich businessmen to join us. Which party would have the courage to say that?” Also notable was its emphasis on propriety and democracy within the party. Party legislators did not stage walk-outs and refused to participate in no-confidence motions unless a better alternative was spelt out. The party kept away from horse trading even though it could have formed governments in Gujarat and Rajasthan this way, where it was only a few seats short. It had 21 written principles; the first 20 dealt with its political and economic policies. The 21st principle was unique. It stated that members were free to take their own position on anything that was not in the first 20. So, on issues like prohibition and a national language, party members were free to vote according to their conscience. “No party in India at that point of time had as much internal democracy as Swatantra Party did,” says Raju.

I

n an old stately building in the

Mumbai suburb of Matunga East, I meet four men who are all between the ages of 70 and 75. In the 1960s, S Ramachandran, Pramod Tejukaya, Dharmendra Nagda and Mahendra Oza were strapping young men in their twenties. They were foot soldiers of the Swatantra Party. Today, they relive their memories of the party. Tejukaya, who belongs to a family of builders, speaks of taking the only Fiat car in the area for campaigning with a microphone system rigged to it. The others speak of working on Masani’s election bid in Rajkot in 1971; of being open www.openthemagazine.com 43


part of a procession to welcome South Vietnam’s president at Mumbai airport during the Vietnam War and having Communist party members throw stones at them; of chalking out party strategies after work and going out for tea late at night with senior party leaders; of the split in the party and their decision to side with Masani even though they’d been friends with his opponents; and then working for the Janata Party after the Emergency even though they refused to merge with it; and finally, after the failed Janata experiment, getting out of active politics. I ask them how people in the 60s and

thought.” It was because of this, he says, that he kept speaking his mind fearlessly in other parties he joined later. Ramachandran remembers Raju being active all over the country in those days. “[Since his memory was failing], Rajaji would always check with Raju, ‘What did I say?’ Raju has been totally dedicated to the party all his life.” Tejukaya has an anecdote about going to Madras in an effort to meet Rajagopalachari. Raju organised the meeting. Tejukaya reached the house, but his daughter didn’t let him through because Rajaji was ill. “Rajaji asked ‘Who is there?’ She said ‘Raju has sent Pramod

good old days (L to R) Dharmendra Nagda, Pramod Tejukaya, Mahendra Oza and S Ramachandran

70s would respond to their advocacy of free enterprise. “The educated middleclass and lower middle-class could appreciate the philosophy,” says Nagda, “The tragedy was that socialist thinking was quite prevalent in the country. It was so strong that the Swatantra Party voice was drowned out by other voices. Trade unionism was at its peak. We never entered the trade union business.” “Freedom of expression was the main principle of our party,” says Oza, who is now in the Nationalist Congress Party, “No matter who was there, Rajaji or anyone, we were free to express what we 44 open

Tejukaya.’ Rajaji said ‘Send him in’.”

R

aju, whose party designation was

Executive Secretary, emphasises that he was an employee till its dissolution and never in any policy making position. “My function was very clear,” he says, “I was not to get into the press. I was not to make any statements. I implemented policy decisions [of the leadership]. I was very clearly told, ‘You are a backroom person, you have to take care of the organisation,’ with the result, more than Masani, more than Rajaji, more than anybody,

my reach within the membership was tremendous.” Even during the 1974 convention, Raju could point out who the fake delegates were because he knew just about everyone in the party. Financially, Raju’s role was unrewarding. “I was on a pitiful salary. But I did not resent that because I was enjoying every moment of it. I used to get enough to keep myself going. I had a small house which I still own and have been living in for 55 years. I could never think of a bigger house because the party taught me to be honest. The kind of education that I got from all the intellectuals that [the party] gathered together, I wouldn’t have got anywhere else.” In 1974, after the party was dissolved, Raju had to look for a job. Masani hired him at his consultancy firm and he worked there for seven years before going to the Middle East. He returned after four years and joined a company in Mumbai. But he kept the party’s remnants going. He got someone to stay in the party office and pay the monthly rent and bills. “I kept the office till we lost the tenancy three or four years ago in a court case,” he says. Masani was a difficult man to work with, he says, but his character more than made up for it. “He was very temperamental and wanted everything yesterday. But he was totally clean and his integrity was amazing.” Their 40-year association ended only on Masani’s death. Raju happened to be in the same room—on a visit to see how the ailing leader was doing. Now Raju runs a magazine, Freedom First, started by Masani 62 years ago at Sardar Patel’s request. “The Telangana agitation of the Communists was at its height then. The magazine was started to educate people on the real nature of Communism. [The ideology] went, but we kept bringing the magazine out because it is a small independent voice. It doesn’t take any sides. I have been editing it since 1985,” says Raju. Meanwhile, he says he is trying to get people interested in reviving the party he dedicated his life to. Many tell him this is the right time for a party in India that is unambiguously liberal-right. “I am too old to take this up,” he says, “but I’ll try and see if I can put the party back on its feet.” n 7 April 2014


stumped | Madhavankutty Pillai

A Bad Joke and a Holy Pledge W

hen was the last time anyone

heard Nationalist Congress Party Chief Sharad Pawar crack a joke? Now we know why. Because: a) no one can make out whether it is a joke or he is serious; and b) no matter which of the two it is, there is a strong possibility of his getting into a soup. On Sunday, while addressing a meeting of headload workers in Navi Mumbai, he coolly advised them how to make the most of their votes. Speaking in Marathi, he said: “Elections were held on the same day in Satara and Mumbai the previous election. This time, however, it is on 7 April at Satara and 24 April here. So cast your vote for the clock (the NCP symbol) there and then come here and cast it again. But remember to wipe off the ink to avoid getting into trouble.” He did have a smile on his face as he said this. He also took a moment for a muted chuckle. Could he have been not joking? Could he have forgotten that over the past two decades, the Election Commission has cleaned up what used to be a fairly common practice? The opposition thinks he was dead serious and has complained to the Election Commission. The message for Pawar from this episode is to go back to his old dour self. An election is not the time to let loose one’s sense of humour, especially if no one is certain that is what it is. There was no mirth in Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje as she twisted a dagger in Jaswant Singh’s wounds a day after he accused her of plotting to deny

7 April 2014

Prakash SINGH/AFP

him a BJP nomination for Barmer. At a rally in the constituency along with Colonel Sonaram Chaudhury, the man who got the ticket, all that Raje had to offer Singh was a lesson in stoicism and obedience. The New Indian Express reports her as saying, “One should try to accept whatever the party does and should not leave it… During assembly elections, we gave a ticket to (Jaswant Singh’s son) Manvendra Singh in place of Zalim Singh from Shiv constituency in Barmer and Zalim Singh never complained to us.... rather he wholeheartedly supported the party’s candidate. One should learn from this.” Sage advice, perhaps, but completely wasted on someone who has already packed his bags and left the party. If you are Mayawati, you hold the unique ability to not just call bandhs but also create a few out of thin air. On Wednesday, Mayawati was in her element in Haryana as she addressed two well-attended rallies, speaking on all the things she was expected to—attacking the Congress, attacking the BJP, portraying her party as the only voice of Dalits, rail-

ing against corruption, and so on. But a few days earlier, it was a different scene in Ranchi, Jharkhand, where she arrived expecting a 100,000-strong crowd eager to hear her. Instead, what lay before her were a few hundred men and women and wide empty carpets. Since there had to be a reason for such low numbers, Mayawati instantly deduced there must have been a bandh called by the opposition to prevent people from reaching the location. She duly informed the audience of this and congratulated them on defying the bandh. “You go back and tell those workers who could not come here that such antics [by the opposition] will continue,” she said. We don’t know what the audience thought of all this, but, as they say, repeat something often enough with a straight face and it becomes the truth. Arvind Kejriwal announced on Tuesday during a speech at Varanasi that he would run against Modi. His promised referendum to take the decision was exactly two sentences long. “Should I fight the election against Modiji ?” Chorus of ‘yes’ from audience. “Should I fight the election against Modiji ?” Chorus of ‘yes’ from audience. “I’ll fight the election against Modiji.” It was remarkably like a voice vote in Parliament, and had Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar been passing by, she would automatically have said, “The Ayes have it, the Ayes have it, the Ayes have it.” n A weekly column on election speeches open www.openthemagazine.com 45


afp

truth warriors Jawaharlal Nehru with MK Gandhi

COUNTERPOINT | Deep K Datta-Ray

1962: A Gandhian War Nehru’s Forward Policy was built on Satyagraha

N

eville Maxwell has struck again: in leaking the Henderson-

Brooks report, Maxwell’s assertion that Jawaharlal Nehru was responsible for the 1962 debacle is made incontrovertible. After all, a high-level Indian Army report backs Maxwell’s thesis. However, neither explains the awkward detail of why Nehru mounted the Forward Policy that unleashed the dogs of war when he knew full well India’s incapacity to defend itself. The question has become an enigma because the China war isn’t viewed in its appropriate intellectual context. That is the relationship between Nehru and his mentor Mahatma Gandhi, who invented the politics of satyagraha. Though its greatest success was India’s liberation, satyagraha’s first international application was the country’s Forward Policy. Its architect, 46 open

Nehru, began as a standard-issue modern–a product of a Western intellectual landscape–but under Gandhi, ended up incommensurable with modernity. As Nehru wrote in Towards Freedom, ‘Gandhiji was very difficult to understand; sometimes his language was almost incomprehensible to an average modern.’ Nevertheless, Nehru sought Gandhi because he ‘admired the moral and ethical side of our movement and of Satyagraha’ and ‘the belief grew upon me that, situated in India and with our traditions, [satyagraha] was the right policy for us… A worthy end should have worthy means leading up to it.’ As inheritor of Gandhi’s mantle and, hence, a satyagrahi, Nehru subscribed to the truth that is non-violence—insofar as non-violence is possible in a world where the very act of living is violent. To be truthful, Nehru, and by extension India, had to 7 april 2014


7 april 2014

Hobbes’ premise is that people were neither equal nor sensible and required a king to keep them in check. Though basally contrary to Locke, Hobbes’ Christianity shines through. He merely transfers the Christian morality tale, where Christ unites all, to a secularising world where the king fulfils Christ’s role. The intertwining of Western religion with the two strands of Western rationality and their disagreement about the very nature of man fatally undermines the notion of a Liberal realpolitiker. In any case, the claim is historically tendentious when applied to people overwhelmingly not Christian. Moreover, Nehru made non-violence an absolute while Hobbes and Locke operate on the basis of violence: Hobbes uses violence to control people, Locke relies on a delusive apparition to seduce people. Interlinked with this is another crucial difference: Nehru’s avowed aim was to match ends with means whereas for Europe means are sacrificed for ends. Furthermore, to assume Indians to be Liberal realpolitikers replays the supposed immaturity of Indians to rule themselves. Hence, the Anglo-Saxon overlord remained to teach the East how to be rational. Finally, there is a practical issue. To assume Indians to be larry burrows/the life picture collection/getty images

convert violence into non-violence in a truthful way, that is nonviolently. In doing so, he assumed what any satyagrahi does— that a unifying morality entwines all. It was a conduit to attack the violent, but in a manner and with a purpose so radically different that it is relatively non-violent. The difference lies in the violent inflicting violence to create irrevocable boundaries, while the satyagrahi maintained non-violence by refusing to cooperate in violence and absorbing the opponent’s violence to elicit sympathy from him. However, no satyagraha could tolerate death, for that both refutes truth and weakens it in the never-ending battle with the violent. This intellectual context meant Nehru’s China policy was driven by his commitment to truth. To accede to Chinese aggression would have betrayed truth. Moreover, Nehru had to refute untruth in a truthful manner. He, therefore, sought to elicit a moral response, hence the Forward Policy whose point was not to fight and win, but recklessly suffer, to elicit the response Gandhi provoked in the British who ultimately sympathised with Gandhi and retreated. To conduct the Forward Policy also meant that Nehru had to ensure that India was not extinguished by Chinese aggression, because then something far more significant would die: the truth. In short, not only did Nehru have to strike China, but had to do it from a position of weakness. This is why it called for the same ‘reckless courage’– Gandhi’s phrase–demonstrated by every satyagrahi during the fight for independence. Perplexingly, analysts have never contemplated this homespun explanation of the enigma of India’s Forward Policy. Gandhi, however, predicted Nehru’s actions when he wrote: ‘You cannot divide water by repeatedly striking it with a stick. It is just as difficult to divide us. I have always said... Jawaharlal will be my successor. He says whatever is uppermost in his mind, but he does what I want. When I am gone he will do what I am doing. Then he will speak my language too.’ Ignoring the Mahatma’s insight, our analysts instead seek to contain Nehru within the West’s intellectual landscape. In doing so, they judge a book by its cover and walk into an intellectual dead-end. As Henry Kissinger wrote, ‘India is a democracy, by far the best functioning and genuine free system of the nations achieving independence following the Second World War. Its ruling group speaks excellent English... Almost all of its leaders have studied in Western universities. Yet Americans have great difficulty in coming to grips with the way Indian leaders approach foreign policy.’ The reason why Americans have ‘great difficulty’ is the same as why Forward Policy remains an enigma. In both cases, India’s rationality is understood in a peculiarly Western manner because India’s leaders appear Western. Hence Nehru’s concern, inherited from Gandhi, and about means matching ends, is ruled out-of-court, because the West is limited to Liberalism or realpolitik. The a priori dismissal of Nehru’s concerns is why neither Liberalism nor realpolitik can account for Indian policy, and so the concoction: Liberal realpolitiker. However, this is an impossible fabrication because the premises of the inventors of the two schools of thought–John Locke and Thomas Hobbes–are contradictory and fundamentally irreconcilable. Moreover, Christianity animates both. For Locke, the premise is that the belief in Christ makes all people equal and sensible.

misunderstood war A file image of Indian soldiers training for the 1962 war

Liberal realpolitikers demands that our rationality was deleted and replaced by an import by a handful of Europeans in about 200 years. In combination then, to assume we operate in terms of Locke or Hobbes is a case of imperial overreach, which instead of convincing, defiles both. Evidently, the import of delusive categories and their careless application has deformed the study of Indian foreign policy. It is time our analysts develop the self-confidence to judge Indians as capable of formulating their own rationality. There is no logical alternative. The assumption that Nehru and his successors Westernised themselves has led analysts and foreign diplomats to unpack Indian foreign policy using Western concepts. But these have been unable to provide an intellectually coherent explanation for the war and Indian policy since then. What this points to is only one possibility—Indians possess a unique political culture. It began with Gandhi: satyagraha. n Deep K Datta-Ray is the author of the forthcoming book The Making of Indian Diplomacy: A Critique of Eurocentrism (OUP, New York) open www.openthemagazine.com 47


Books

mindspace The Afterlife of an Aircraft

63

O p e n s pa c e

Ranveer Singh Parineeti Chopra

62

n p lu

Lakshmi Ragini MMS 2

61 Cinema reviews

Astell & Kern AK240 Excalibur 42 Chronograph Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

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Tech & style

A Good Nose Plankton, Seabirds and Climate Impact of Violent Video Games

59

Science

Sunny Leone and ‘porncom’

56

roug h cu t

The Body in Indian Art

a rt

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut Thackeray Mansion by Shankar

50 64

kurt hutton/picture post/getty images

A Passage to Forster A biographical novel reconstructs the years it took to write A Passage to India 50


Books Forster in Love Damon Galgut’s biographical novel prises from EM Forster’s writings and relationships a portrait of a writer whose work was defined by his fraught sexuality Devika Bakshi

Arctic Summer

By Damon Galgut aleph book company | 352 pages | rs 595

W

hen he was 85, the writer EM

Forster wrote of ‘how annoyed I am with Society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal.’ Yet Forster’s fraught sexuality may have been the animating force behind his writing. Damon Galgut certainly seems to think so. Galgut’s biographical novel about Forster’s writing of his opus, A Passage to India, is a work of remarkable imaginative dexterity. A writer’s life is often read into his work, but in Arctic Summer, Galgut is able to write backwards from Forster’s novels to weave together a portrait of his internal life. Galgut’s Morgan becomes interested in India because of Syed Ross Masood, an Indian man for whom he nurtures a deep, unrequited love. The book he writes, Galgut holds, is ‘what was left over; what he had to make do with’. Yet even in Galgut’s own telling of the story behind the book, it becomes something more significant in Forster’s life. Morgan’s contempt for English middle-classness may have stemmed from his sexual alienation, but the sense, as Galgut writes, ‘that he did not belong, not quite, in the deadly properness around him’ flowed into a general fascination for the outsider, the subaltern, the other. It was a confrontation with India that converted this twin contempt and fascination into a rejection of empire. It was also arguably this confrontation that enabled Forster to write about the way in which the demands of the body politic came into conflict with interpersonal truth, and that allowed

50 open

him, finally, to articulate a worldview in which the latter was foremost—a worldview in which his own sexual truth could be accommodated as more than mere concession. An interview with the author, followed by an extract from the book:

What drew you to EM Forster’s life and work? How did you conceive of writing a biographical novel?

Simply, my love for and growing involvement with India. I have been returning almost yearly since my first visit in 1999 and by now have spent a fair bit of my life there. A couple of my earlier books were written in Goa. Amongst other things, this returned me to A Passage to India, a book I greatly admire, which in turn led me to Forster’s life. I became aware that the story of how Forster wrote his novel— which took him eleven years in total— was one that hadn’t been told before. More than that, it was a story that reflected my own in many ways. I’ve been wanting to write about what goes into the making of a novel, and this was a perfect way to approach that subject.

How did you reconstruct Forster’s life for Arctic Summer, particularly his internal life? How did you negotiate a balance between research and imagination? It was important to me to represent the established autobiographical facts as accurately as possible. I did an enormous amount of research in that regard. But between the facts, there are lots of open spaces where I was free to invent—or, more accurately, interpret. Forster was very secretive about two aspects of his life: namely, his intimate emotions and his writing. I realised that there were profound connections between these areas, and exploring

them was where the fiction occurred. All in all, I see the facts as the skeleton of my book, and the imagined parts as the tissue. It became a pleasurable game to join them together in as seamless a way as possible.

Do you know any more than what’s in your book about Forster’s unfinished project titled ‘Arctic Summer’?

No—it remains a fragment, and an unsatisfying one at that. He himself thought of it as a failure. I was only interested in it for its title, which seems to work as a metaphor for much of Forster’s emotional life: dead and frozen, but at the same time filled with light, open to the sky. For all his lack of intimacy, he wasn’t an unhappy man. It seemed important to me to emphasise that.

Wendy Moffat has suggested that homosexuality was ‘the central fact’ of Forster’s being, and that his sexuality was the animating force behind all his writing. Do you agree?

Yes, in many ways. It’s clear to me that it was his unrequited love for his Indian friend, Masood, which led him to the writing of his great novel. If his feelings had been reciprocated— if Masood had loved him in return—I doubt that Forster would ever have got down to writing. So in a sense, his book was what was left over; what he had to make do with. This is the central focus of my novel.

Forster appears to have had a very active, critical class consciousness. Where do you imagine that came from?

For one thing, his mother—whom he was very close to—came from a lower middle-class background, which caused conflict between her and her husband’s family. Forster’s aunt never 7 april 2014


entirely accepted her as an equal, and it was a source of great bitterness to her. That must have communicated itself to Forster, and stirred a defensive sympathy in him. I also believe that Forster’s homosexuality made him very sensitive to ‘otherness’, to difference. He never quite fitted in with his own class, because part of him was always held in reserve—a bit like a spy, watching from inside. I think that made him aware, even though he moved in the upper echelons of class, of how it felt to be at the receiving end of class prejudice.

Forster’s sense of urgency over ‘closing the gap’ of class had a distinctly erotic tenor. What do you make of Forster’s desire ‘to love a strong young man of the lower classes and

be loved by him and even hurt by him’?

It’s hard to say how sympathy becomes eroticised, in Forster or anybody else. He’s far from the first gay man to form attachments over the barrier of class. Perhaps it has to do with the longing— arguably very strong in the face of prejudice—not to be different. In other words, the desire to bond with a man of a different class may have been, psychologically speaking, an expression of Forster’s own longing to heal the divide he felt between himself and the world. But this is speculation, of course. Sexuality and desire are always a mystery, to some extent, and maybe should stay that way.

Forster’s ‘Only Connect’ motto (as DH

“The story of how Forster wrote his novel hadn’t been told before. It was a story that reflected my own in many ways. I’ve been wanting to write about what goes into the making of a novel, and this was the perfect way”

nigel maister

Lawrence is said to have called it) and his essay ‘What I Believe’, suggest a worldview arranged around relationships and the essential truth of friendship and attraction. How does the writing of Passage—and his visits to India—rearrange that worldview?

I’m not sure whether it ‘rearranges’ anything. But it’s important to remember that Forster’s first loyalty was to Masood and other Indian friends, as well as—during the years of the First World War—to his lover Mohammed in Egypt. Forster himself believed that it was an Indian trait he learned from Masood to place human affections before all other loyalties. In other words, he loved certain individual subjects of the Empire far more than the Empire itself. This could be seen as treachery and betrayal, certainly to members of Forster’s own class. But as Forster himself observed, if he had to choose between betraying a friend and betraying his country, he hoped he’d have the guts to betray his country. Not a popular view at the time, or now for that matter. And when A Passage to India was finally published, it caused a great stir amongst the British in India for the way it depicted them. It was clear that Forster’s loyalties had crossed all the lines of country and class and society. We could do with more of that thinking right now, in my opinion.

In your telling, the echo seems to be central to the way Forster thinks through his philosophical response to India. A Passage to India certainly invests the echo in the Marabar caves with a great deal of meaning. How did you think about the echo while you were writing your book?

I visited the Barabar Caves in Bihar to see them for myself, and I can report that at least one cave has a very impressive echo. It obviously made a big impression on Forster, but no doubt his imagination built it up afterward into something more significant. In fact, it became a symbol for Forster of a lack of meaning—the empty ‘bo-um’ at the heart of everything, around which other meanings are built. For me, writing a book that echoes another one, it’s taken on yet more resonance. Hopefully with meaning attached to it! n open www.openthemagazine.com 51


excerpts

‘Love was the longing across an insuperable barrier’

I

ndia had encroached on the edge of Morgan’s mind before now, not a place so much as an idea. It had become a tradition for Kingsmen to join the Indian Civil Service and many people he knew had gone out there to make their careers. It was spoken of at dinner parties, usually with extreme seriousness, as the vital cornerstone of the Empire. On the other side of the world, yet somehow part of England, it was not a place he had ever thought he might visit. Yet now, as he listened to Masood talk about his childhood, and sensed the homesickness in his voice, he began to imagine himself against the same background. Perhaps, yes, perhaps he would go there one day. In the meantime, however, England was very much with him. The suburbs especially, with their hateful self-righteousness, and where his life seemed to consist of an endless round of tea parties and amiable, empty conversations, mostly – it felt to him – with elderly women. One of these was his mother’s great friend, Maimie Aylward. When Lily mentioned Morgan’s new pupil to her, she put a hand up to her face. “Oh, dear,” she said. “I do hope he won’t steal the spoons.” Morgan laughed politely, though he didn’t feel like laughing. He had learned to feign enjoyment in conversations like these, and hated himself for the pretence. Although he was English all the way through, a great many English attitudes felt foreign to him. For this reason, what Morgan found most interesting in his new friend was the strangeness of him, the exoticism imported into his drawing room. The most familiar topic, seen through Masood’s eyes, became unpredictable, unusual. And what was ordinary to Masood seemed to Morgan remarkable. Such as the casual mention one day that he could trace his ancestry back to the Prophet Mohammed at the thirty52 open

seventh generation. “And to Adam at the hundred and twentieth,” he added. The world, in that moment, felt very old and beautiful. *** Masood was in Paris for a few weeks, in the hope of improving his French. When he extended a casual invitation to come over for a visit, Morgan wavered only briefly. Aside from anything else, it would be an escape from his mother. Masood came to meet him at the station. “It has been too frightful,” he announced. “I will never learn to speak this language with any finesse at all. And the French are ruder than the

“From the very first moment I met you, I knew that here was an Englishman who didn’t see the world like the rest of his countrymen. You have an Oriental sensibility. That is why the book you’ll write will be unique. It will be in English, but its secret view will be from inside” English, which I hadn’t thought possible. The white races are so damned ridiculous, it’s an embarrassment to have been colonised by them. Give me your bags immediately.” He had taken rooms nearby, to which he led Morgan, talking incessantly. And their conversation barely ceased for the following week, in which they were always together. Morgan had never been to Paris before and everything had the power of freshness and discovery. Wearing identical hats they had bought together in the Latin Quarter, they walked aimlessly through the streets, wandering in and out of galler-

ies and restaurants and theatres. The city became a vast set for their small, luminous drama. It was the first time that they’d lived together in such unbroken intimacy, without other visitors or family in attendance. Perhaps, Morgan reflected, marriage was like this: a kind of completeness between two people, like coloured shades closing off the rest of the world. He could live in this way, he thought, in a strange city with Masood, and never be bored or unhappy. At some point in that week, they spoke about being in India together. Masood would be returning there when his studies were done, and it seemed natural – like an extension of this Paris sojourn – that Morgan should join him. What was less natural, perhaps, was what Masood now off-handedly proposed. “Of course,” he said, “you will write a novel about it.” “What? India? That’s not very likely, is it?” “Why not? From the very first moment I met you, I knew that here was an Englishman who didn’t see the world like the rest of his countrymen. You don’t realise it, but you have an Oriental sensibility. That is why the book you’ll write will be unique. It will be written in English, it will seem to be from English eyes, but its secret view will be from inside.” “If my mind is so like yours, why do I still find you so peculiar?” But Masood was serious today. “You are offending me. If you can write about Italy, then why not about my country?” Morgan considered it. An interesting notion, perhaps, but so far outside his own experience that it seemed impossible. He had read a few novels set in India, but they were all of a breathless female variety. Doomed love on the Frontier, that sort of thing. And there was Kipling, of course – but Kipling 7 april 2014


kurt hutton/picture post/getty images

labour pains Forster at his desk in 1949, 25 years after A Passage to India was published

was always singing the virtues of the English and the inferiority of the natives, to say nothing of the gory glory of patriotic death. They were walking in the street, a light rain falling, but the dampness and the slippery cobbles disappeared as his mind travelled elsewhere, either deep inside or far away. “My Italian novels,” he said at last, “are really about the English. Italy was merely a backdrop.” “What of it? Write about the English in India, if it pleases you. Though I can tell you, they are a self-important, silly lot out there. Not the stuff of which heroes are made.” But then, a moment later, his tone changed to one of affected outrage. “I demand to be a character in your novel! Or are the English the only worthy subjects? Oh, I wish I had lived at the time of the great Oriental 7 april 2014

despotisms – I would have ordered you to write me endless books, with no English characters in them.” He went stalking ahead in pretended injury – or perhaps, for a moment, it was real. This conversation stayed with Morgan. A novel about the English in India, one in which Masood also featured: it wasn’t an unattractive idea. Though he would, of course, have to pay a visit to the East, and that seemed like a monumental endeavour, one to which his life wasn’t equal. On the morning of his departure from Paris, he woke early and lay for some time, looking across the room at the face of his sleeping friend. They had known one another for three years now, and yet it was only over the past few days that the final barrier had fallen. He had never felt closer to anybody. As he drifted back towards a doze, from

some subterranean recess an understanding came to him. Then he sat up, fully awake, in a flurry of panic. It was so obvious that he hadn’t seen it, or had managed to call it by other names. But once the true name had been uttered, it couldn’t be unsaid. Yet even now he wondered. He had been aware for some time of where his true inclinations lay, and Masood didn’t fit them. The previous year, through his friend Sydney Waterlow, he had been invited to dinner with Henry James in Rye, and an incident there had revealed his own appetites to him. The evening had been passably pleasant, though not for one moment had he felt truly at ease, truly in place. It had begun badly, with the Master emerging from his house, laying a plump hand on Morgan’s shoulder and open www.openthemagazine.com 53


telling him, “Your name’s Moore.” That misunderstanding had been cleared up, but it had been followed by another confusion between Weybridge and Wakefield, and this awkwardness had stamped itself into all the social intercourse that followed. It was only when he left Lamb House that something had become apparent. In the warm gloom, a labourer was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette, and the man’s indistinct form, the red glow of the coal, had moved something in Morgan that all the high talk inside could not. He remembered the working-class men who had stirred him in his life, and remembered too a glimpse he’d had from a train window of two naked brown bodies sunning themselves in a warehouse. He had understood then what drew him; what his ticket was. Not just the lean outline propped against the wall, but the larger world he belonged to – the darkness, the evening under the sky, the smell of smoke and fields. It was impossible, of course, because it was not his world. He belonged to what he’d just left behind: the polite, constricted ritual around the dining table, the buttoned-down conversation about books and travel and opera and architecture. Yet even there he could not keep his gaze from sliding sideways, to the figure of the servant who bent in to clear the plates. Although they brushed against each other, there was an immeasurable gulf between the two worlds, and something in him longed to close that gap. Only connect: he had set the yearning down in the book he was busy writing – yet it remained a yearning, an incurable ache. And Masood, for all his difference, his exotic pedigree, belonged to Morgan’s world. He had never for a moment been out of place in Oxford, or Paris, or at his mother’s dining table in Weybridge. It was a matter of class; it nearly always was in England. It was not unusual in the least that Morgan should spend a week on holiday with Masood, but a week like this with Ansell, the garden boy, or that labourer outside Lamb House? Unthinkable! All of this passed through Morgan’s mind in an incoherent tumble, while 54 open

Masood finally groaned and turned and yawned, coming to wakefulness. The realisation of love was important, but it also seemed improbable. They were too much alike, they fitted too closely together, for love to have taken hold. Love was what could never work; love was the longing across an insuperable barrier. So it was something else, then, a misplaced fondness, a brotherly closeness. He put on his social face again. Yet something of his earlier disquiet lingered, making him unsettled and cold. At the station, when the time came to say goodbye, England was already upon him. He held out his hand to be shaken. “Well,” he said. “I had better run for the train. Thank you so much for ev-

A labourer was leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette, and the man’s indistinct form had moved something in Morgan. He had understood then what drew him, what his ticket was. Not just the lean outline propped against the wall, but the larger world he belonged to erything – I have enjoyed myself enormously.” Masood stared at him, his handsome face becoming suffused with dismay. It took a moment for his voice to emerge. “What are you saying to me?” Morgan was genuinely confused. “I am saying goodbye.” “This is how you say goodbye? To me? After the wonderful few days we have spent together, the sort of days I have never shared with anyone—” He broke off in a sort of strangled wail. “Oh, what is the use, what is the use?” “If I miss my train, it will put my mother to great trouble. She and my grandmother—” “I don’t care about your grandmother!” Masood’s eyes flashed, as if he might become violent. So intense was this display that

Morgan thought his friend was putting on an act. It took a few moments for him to understand that the performance was real. “I’m seeing you again in a few days,” he said at last. “I didn’t think sentiment was necessary.” “You are saying goodbye like an Englishman.” “I am an Englishman.” “Yes, I wish I could forget it for just a moment, I wish you could forget it! Are emotions a sack of potatoes, to be measured out, so much the pound? Are we both machines? Will you use up your feelings if you express them? Can you not speak from the heart, just one time? Oh, Morgan, you bloody fool,” he cried fiercely, flinging his powerful arms around him and lifting him off the floor, “don’t you understand, we’re friends!” He made as if to throw Morgan onto the tracks, kissed him hard on the cheek, then set him down and strode off, a whole head higher than the crowds around him. Morgan was astonished, and disquieted, and pleased. On the journey home, he thought confusedly back to that conversation on the platform, and to his half-wakeful thoughts that same morning. It had long been a problem, this question of his formality against Masood’s natural extravagance. On his visits to Oxford he had been chastised for any gratitude, or for evaluating an experience in terms of how good or bad it was. These kinds of formality were cold, in Masood’s opinion; he was above such petty distinctions. All manners should be washed away in a balm of friendly emotion. For his part, Morgan had his doubts. Protocol and courtesy might be ritualised, but they had weight and significance too. And emotion could hide things as well as show them. They would probably never agree on this point. It was a matter of nationality, of course – but there was also the larger matter of character. Perhaps Masood was right to mistrust the English tendency to properness, but he, Morgan, hid a very real feeling behind his apparent coolness. If Masood could only hear the words he would like to speak, perhaps he would be less keen on sentiment. n 7 april 2014


Books The Young Man and the City Celebrated Bengali novelist Sankar’s Thackeray Mansion offers a mosaic of the peoples and cultures that make up Calcutta Sohini Chattopadhyay

Thackeray Mansion

By Sankar Translated by Sandipan Deb penguin India | 600 pages | Rs 599

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here is a young man, not exactly adrift, but looking to find a footing in the city. Not wide-eyed, nor yet hardened by knowingness, but still sensitive to the shape of experience. Amol Palekar might play him on screen, or Farooq Sheikh. And there is the restless, bad-tempered metropolis, not unkind really, only impatient in her hurry; she could be Calcutta or she could be Bombay. What does this city make of this young man? And how does he wrap and mould this great, irascible city around him? They are adversaries, comrades, partners—the young man and the city; neither is left unaffected by the other. This is, if I may enter the unsophisticated (but tempting) business of generalisation, the overarching narrative in the work of celebrated Bengali novelist Sankar. Thackeray Mansion (published as Gharer Moddhe Ghar in Bangla) begins with the protagonist, Shankar, left without a job and a place to stay, suddenly precarious in the great city. This is the third in the author’s somewhat autobiographical trilogy; the second and much-feted bestseller Chowringhee opens with Shankar looking for a job after his barrister boss dies. (He then finds a job as a receptionist with a grand hotel in central Calcutta, in the Chowringhee of the book’s title.) The first, The Great Unknown (Kato Ajanare in Bangla) is about this same Shankar finding work as a clerk with the abovementioned barrister. In this book, the youngish Shankar

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finds work as the manager of a crumbling block of flats called Thackeray Mansion. This volume recounts his delightful encounters with the residents, living and dead, and the staff of the apartment complex. There are all manner of characters: sly, shy, unpredictable, harassed, depressed, a couple of corpses even, and they walk in and out of chapters like people in a house. They render the mosaic of peoples and cultures that make up the city. It is a promising template that has been mined effectively later on by Farrukh Dhondy in Poona Company Jaitra Gillespie

calcuttan Sankar’s writing opens the city up

and Rohinton Mistry in Tales from Ferozeshah Bagh. Our hero Shankar has a terribly appealing stoicism and a marvelous gift for not judging people. When a resident he is fond of becomes reserved with him after he asks her for rent, he says: ‘Such was the way of the world. I suppose relationships change when you ask for arrears.’ The book’s back cover describes Shankar as ‘innocent’, but these are not the words of an innocent, I think. What he is, is open-hearted; he is open to the tides of life. A version of this young man appears in Sankar’s other work, too. In Seema Baddha, which was rendered on screen by Satyajit Ray, he is a promising exec-

utive who gives in to a compromise to keep his place on the slippery corporate ladder, but he is not so far gone that he is unashamed. In Jana Aranya, also filmed by Ray, he is closer to Shankar, an intelligent graduate who finds a job with a seedy Marwari businessman who nearly pimps his friend’s sister. Through all these stories, there is Calcutta, a sweaty, cheapskate, rentlagged version of which we see in Thackeray Mansion, and a suited, partying, genteel club version of which we see in Seema Baddha. I am, in the most important analysis, not a good Bengali after all: I read Bangla in translation. So I am grateful to the fine labour of Sandipan Deb (and the one-man industry of Arunava Sinha). But I have a word of censure: Deb’s work reads gauche and verbose in the opening pages of Thackeray Mansion. Sample this sentence for instance: ‘Invoking Ma Lakshmi, I sat down at the Remington and our twenty fingers began frolicking fast over the keytops.’ Perhaps it is intentional, this verbiage and tendency to stretch metaphors; it might be meant to convey the garrulous universe of the Bengali; I don’t think it works well. But for the most part, Deb manages a fine balance between Bengali figures of speech and tidy, elegant English. I am also not a very good Calcuttan. Like most of my generation, I live mostly through television, now the internet. I read food blogs to know the city’s lunch secrets. I have not inhabited the streets and corners of my city, in the way Shankar does. (Perhaps, girls never walk the city like boys do.) I did not know, for instance, till I read this that a sweet called ‘appealbhog’ is available in the High Court district of the city. In this way, my city opens up to me. n open www.openthemagazine.com 55


ashish sharma

arts


Body as Object A wide-ranging exhibition of sculpture at the National Museum in Delhi shows that wherever ancient Indian art takes you, you run into the human form—and it stands for both the sacred and the profane divya guha

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mystery can be felt in the cool air inside the National Museum in Delhi, attributable to the strange and ancient things it houses. The building’s entrance seems to have been designed with the same care an author writes the first sentence of a novel. It is meant to provide the visitor with a very particular experience. But a less competent person decided to place security gates to the entrance’s left, so you must walk in diagonally. This skews the intended view of two small but beautifully proportioned apsaras on display—one of stone, the other, marble. They stand in symmetry in this marble and granite hall. In their petite, curvy glory, they are the ancient equivalents of a Claudia Cardinale or a younger Sunny Leone. The large breasts on both statues are shinier and look smoother than the rest of their scantily clad bodies, suggesting a history of molestation by excited visitors. Now, though, they have been elevated to a safer spot that is out of reach. Art, or the reactions it provokes, obviously defines the society that inspires it, and like any ambitious classical exhibit, The Body in Indian Art emphasises a sense of national—one might even say nationalistic—pride. The first projection, a black-and-white clip from Satyajit Ray’s Aparajita, is of the river Ganga and the wholesomely Hindu politically fraught ghats of Varanasi, a curatorial choice that seems suffused with political implication, but isn’t. Wherever ancient Indian art takes you, you run into the body, which in its human form stands for both the sacred and profane—both seen in abundance at this show. Ancient Indian art also seems to spring from the innocently held idea that well-proportioned beauty was a requisite to draw spectators, which is a form of hedonism no longer

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identified with contemporary art. One sees the stark asceticism of the Tirthankaras, or the riotous physical pleasure implicit in the surasundaris. Birth is depicted as a joy whose struggle and potential for pollution and death is not forgotten. This exhibition brings these and many other maddeningly varied paradoxes together under one roof, spread across 18,000 square feet of gallery space. Naman Ahuja, who is curating this show, says that no single philosophy, chronology or ideology underlies this humungous project, the biggest assemblage of ancient Indian art recently. The last exhibition that might have competed in terms of scale was the

The breasts on the apsara statues at the entrance to the Museum are smoother and shinier than the rest of their bodies, suggesting a history of molestation by excited visitors Image of Man exhibition at the 1982 Festival of India in Britain, the curation of which was led by Kapila Vatsyayan.

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K magazine The Spectator recently

carried an article criticising philosopher and author Alain de Botton—and calling him a ‘moron’—for asserting the polemical view that art replace religion and that museums ought to be considered the new cathedrals where people go to find answers to questions about their lives and struggles. While de Botton may be attacked for his pleas to replace religion with art and to skip academic formulaic-

ness, this straddling of the two was never difficult for ancient Indian patrons. In fact, says Ahuja, an exhibition that brings together the full range of Indian art concerned with the teleology of the body would have been impossible if religion were excised from the proceedings altogether. Ahuja is of that ilk of conservative curators who are in short supply in this country, a deficit which has condemned exquisite artefacts to languish unattended and unseen in neglected museums across the country. The show includes loans from private collections that have rarely been seen before, and also a selection of modern pieces which are there to complement the ancient ones. Though he has relied on the rigorous research that has gone into his career as an Indian art historian specialising in the ancient period (spanning from the Mauryas to the Guptas), the ensemble in question was swept together only ten months ago when the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, an organisation funded by the Indian Government, handed him a contract. The exhibition first travelled to the Europalia International Arts Festival in Brussels last December. Although no retelling of a story or history is ever entirely objective, Ahuja insists that every gallery in the exhibition and the juxtapositions of the ancient and the modern are reflective of a single sensibility backed by rigorous historical research by him and his team. A curator like Ahuja might typically display a collection chronologically, but here, he avoided that order, catering, he says, to the needs of this show, which spans over 4,500 years— its oldest artefact dated to 2500 BCE. But as if the element of time were essential, the image of the flowing Ganga open www.openthemagazine.com 57


creeps in, suggesting the inevitable passage of time and times. It precedes the rest of the exhibit, which sprawls across eight differently themed galleries placed as in a mandala, representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. The opening gallery is dedicated to death but is anything but morbid. It displays the gay artwork of Durgas made for Bengali pujos, whose lives end with the immersion of their bodies in the holy waters of the mother river after 10 days of holy feasting. These portents of Hindu death aside, the facing gallery is allocated to the expression of supernatural beings that live forever. The gallery on birth—the only area of real mortal danger where death brushes against the perpetuation of life—is predicated on the profane business of desire and is divided into sections on fertility, creation and immaculate conception. There is even a depiction of the first ever caesarian section—done for baby Rustum, not baby Caesar, it turns out. In the same gallery is an example of a female figurine from the sixth century post-Gupta period, a fascinating sculpture of the mother goddess Lajjagauri (see image 1, above), a deity who mysteriously stopped being worshipped around the eighth century. Her obscenely squatting figure is in the act of giving birth, a pose celebrating fertility. She is clutching lotuses which grow in filth, implying the messy business of birth which is so essential for the perpetuation of life. This large gallery on birth is, in turn, exactly opposite the one on asceticism. The tenth century Chola bronze figure in a rather camp pose with a hip jutting sideways is Manikavacakar, a ninth century minister who was obsessed with the sexual desire to unite with Shiva, and for whom he wrote erotic poetry. Another sculpture, a particular favourite of the curators, is the Mallinatha (2), a stone sculpture of a twelfth century 58 open

bodies (Top to bottom) A sixth century figurine of the deity Lajjagauri; a rare female Tirthankara; an 11th century Khajuraho figure—all part of an exhibition curated by Naman Ahuja (previous page)

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Jain who is female, which is extremely rare as women were considered incapable of breaking their human bonds to achieve nirvana. She is one of the 24 Tirthankaras, a rare female depiction, with her head sadly missing. The next roomful of objects reflect the ancient Indian worldview that no mortal is an agent nor anyone a victim, and includes artefacts that once aided the understanding of human fate through astrology. A particularly beautiful piece is that of an Islamic talismanic folio. In quick and canny contrast, the facing gallery displays objects that reject divine agency and revel in heroism, or ‘individual agency’ as Ahuja terms it. Conspicuously absent among these depictions of demigods and heroes is a single dominant body type. The last two galleries show aniconism, or the resistance of any representation of the body. The aesthetic of minimalism in these galleries includes the projection of visitors’ shadows through a screen along a passage, the symbolic show of a person’s presence even when bodily absent. A crowd puller in the last gallery, which, titled ‘Rapture’, seeks to celebrate the human form, is a celestial seductress in a consciously provocative pose from 10th or 11th century Khajuraho (3). She is depicted writing a letter (or ancient erotica) after passionate lovemaking, evident from the nail marks on her back. This sculpture depicts the body as a means to a higher truth—which may be accessed through a lovers’ union or even demonic possession. The experience of the senses in ‘Rapture’ brings us back to the beginning of the Mandala, to ‘Death’, the first gallery, completing the cycle of life. The body may be everything, the show seems to suggest, but it is temporary. n The Body in Indian Art is open at the National Museum in Delhi till 7 June 7 april 2014


rough cut

Hello Sunny Bunny The inevitability of Hindi ‘porncom’ Mayank Shekhar

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n an anthropologically profound moment in the

film Ragini MMS 2, lead actress Sunny Leone moans in bed by herself. Gradually, the heaving and panting get louder as she fakes an orgasm, calling out a boy’s name before a large crew working on a film within the film. Right before this, a TV actor—proud of having a stock expression for every emotion—takes potshots at Leone’s acting skills. Try doing what I just did if you think it’s easy, Leone tells the guy. It’s hard enough to have sex with someone you’ve barely met. Most would freeze if made to do it in a room full of gawking strangers as a camera films every move. Leone is a porn star. The suffix ‘star’ distinguishes her from amateurs in porn videos who appear with titles like Girlfriend, MILF, Wife, Bhabi. Porn stars have a screen name and a following. They play themselves in every film. Leone’s genre is technically banned in India. But technology has made censorship redundant. Everybody knows Sunny Leone, even if they haven’t watched her major hits Female Gardener, Undress Me, Goddess… Porn flicks—what we called ‘blue flims’ when cigarettes were ‘fags’—surely distort sex, turning human anatomy into over-sized auto parts and lovemaking mechanical. Still, they serve a strong social purpose, besides providing a healthy outlet for the older male’s sexual frustration. Every guy I know experienced sex for the first time through a porn film. To cut the highfalutin crap about cinema, porn is the most important reason men have watched movies. (I don’t know about women. I suspect they are gifted with a nuanced, fanciful imagination.) More Indian sperm has been wasted on Pamela Anderson than would be needed to produce half the population of China. Several recipients of this flattery have followed—almost all with large breasts and fair skin. Brown skin actors have been around on the porn scene since the beginning of low-speed internet on sites such as Desibaba. But the disgruntled look on those battered faces made it evident that the gaunt, uninterested female leads under dark light were being forced into the act. Such unaesthetic videos could appeal only to a closet rapist.

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The few proper Indian porn stars now—Shanti Dynamite, Priya Anjali Rai, etcetera—are second or third generation immigrants in the US or UK. Leone was born Karenjit Kaur Vohra to a conservative Sikh family in Ontario. She didn’t inform her parents before joining the adult entertainment business. It’d be too tragic to know if her dad accidentally came across her videos during his ‘alone time’. Leone was offered her Bollywood debut by producer Mahesh Bhatt, who has had the pulse of India’s lowest common denominator for a long time. Mahesh signed Leone while she was on the reality show Bigg Boss. She’s done a couple of thrillers since—the Bhatts’ ‘commercially average’ Jism 2, and the ‘flop’ Jackpot, directed by Kaizad Gustad, who introduced the British Katrina Turquotte (Kaif) to Bollywood. I’m told Ragini MMS 2 is the first ‘universal’ hit of 2014, meaning a film with almost equal footfalls at metropolitan multiplexes and semi-urban single screens. The film stars newbies; Leone plays herself, making out with each male lead. Producer Ekta Kapoor, who has made a career of chronicling complex female kitchen politics, understands the simplicity of the male brain. This is the closest a Bollywood film has come to a proper Indian porn flick—with a lesbian kiss, shower sex, motorboating, skinny dipping… Theatre audiences are known to giggle during sex scenes in Hindi films. In Ragini MMS 2, the film within the film is ‘horrex’ (horror+sex), but the film itself is ‘porncom’ (porn+comedy), with enough intentional humour to ensure the giggles are bereft of any guilt or discomfort. It was the same with sex-com Grand Masti last year, the double entendres of which actually had only one meaning. Since the genre was comedy, audiences openly laughed, though they went to see something else. The late Vijay Anand was kicked out of the Censor Board in 2003 for suggesting there should be X-rated theatres in India. He needn’t have bothered. Bollywood finds it way. n Mayank Shekhar runs the pop-culture website TheW14.com open www.openthemagazine.com 59


sniff One can smell things better in the spring and summer due to additional moisture in the air. One’s sense of smell is also stronger after exercise, which increases the moisture in one’s nasal passage

A Good Nose Humans can tell apart as many as one trillion types of odour

Plankton, Seabirds and Climate

pauline st. denis/corbis

science

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nlike other animals, it has been believed that humans have a limited sense of smell. Humans, it has been estimated, can at most differentiate 10,000 different kinds of odour. However, according to a new study, humans can smell at least a trillion types of odour apart. According to the study, conducted by scientists from Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US and published in Science, humans’ sense of smell is much closer to that of animals, but we no longer pay attention to it. The researchers argue that our olfactory ability has evolved over time, with our ancestors probably using it, like other animals, as a tool to find food and avoid dangerous situations. But now it appears limited because we hold upright postures with our noses away from the ground, where most odours come from. They argue that usage of perfumes, air fresheners and deodorants, which mask other smells, confounds the nose further. The researchers write in the journal, ‘Humans can discriminate several million different colors and almost half a million different tones, but the number of discriminable olfac60 open

tory stimuli remains unknown. The lay and scientific literature typically claims that humans can discriminate 10,000 odors, but this number has never been empirically validated.’ For the study, the researchers conducted a series of exercises with 26 men and women of various racial and ethnic groups. Using 128 different odorant molecules, they made a number of complex mixtures and checked if the participants could tell them apart. The mixtures were such that individually a molecule might evoke a certain smell, but blended into random mixtures, they turn unfamiliar. Volunteers were given three vials of scents—two that matched, and one that was different—at a time, gauging if they could smell the odd one out. Through the results, they estimated that an average person can distinguish at least one trillion different smells. They write, ‘This is far more than previous estimates of distinguishable olfactory stimuli. It demonstrates that the human olfactory system, with its hundreds of different olfactory receptors, far outperforms the other senses in the number of physically different stimuli it can discriminate.’ n

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the top predators of the Southern Ocean, far-ranging seabirds, are tied both to the health of the ocean ecosystem and to global climate regulation. When phytoplankton are eaten by grazing crustaceans called krill, they release a chemical signal that calls in krill-eating seabirds. At the same time, this chemical signal—dimethyl sulfide, or DMS— forms sulphur compounds in the atmosphere that promote cloud formation and help cool the planet. Seabirds consume the grazers and fertilise the phytoplankton with iron, which is scarce in the vast Southern Ocean. n

Impact of Violent Video Games

Children who repeatedly play violent video games are picking up thought patterns that will stick with them and influence behaviour as they grow older, according to a new study by Iowa State University researchers. The effect is the same regardless of age, gender or culture. Researchers found that over time children start to think more aggressively. Repeated practice of aggressive ways of thinking appears to underlie the long-term effect of violent games on aggression. The study followed more than 3,000 children in third, fourth, seventh and eighth grades for three years. Researchers collected data each year to track the amount of time spent playing video games, the violent content of the games and changes in behaviour. n

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MQS An acronym for Mastering Quality Sound, this describes collective lossless & high-resolution audio source formats, typically in 24-bit/44 to 192kHz of bit/sampling rates. MQS delivers about 6.5 times more detail than a conventional CD format, so listeners can enjoy a more realistic sound quality

tech&style

Astell & Kern AK240 This high-end portable music player takes hi-fi to an altogether new level gagandeep Singh Sapra

$2,499

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f you adore music , then you

must have the AK240, the ultimate portable music player, which also doubles up as a high-quality digital audio converter to send music from your PC to headphones or speakers. The AK240 is made of aircraft grade duralumin in a gunmetal colour, and features a 3.31-inch WVGA (480x800) AMOLED touchscreen for navigation and control. Its built-in 256 GB memory can store about 2,500 MQS (Mastering Quality Sound) songs. You can expand the storage to 384 GB by using an additional 128 GB micro SD card. The AK240 features a dual DAC (Digital to Audio Convertor) setup, one dedicated each for the left and right channel; native DSD (Direct 7 april 2014

Stream Digital) playback; and also assures balanced output, which eliminates all noise sothat what you hear is pure music. The design of the AK240 may seem awkward to some, but once you have it in your hand, it holds well and feels luxurious. The player weighs 185 gm, and has a battery life of about 5 hours. You can listen to music on AK240 by using a pair of headphones, or by connecting it to your home stereo setup using an optical output. But if you want to use balanced output and get the best experience, you will need to plug in a 2.5 mm 4-pole headphone. This player supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so you can directly stream music from your PC to your player wirelessly. The AK240 supports a wide range of audio formats, so whether you have your music in WAV, FLAC, OGG, APE, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, WMA, or MP3 formats, this device will let you listen to pure music, an experience few other portable players can match. n

Excalibur 42 w Chronograph

Price on request

This chronograph from Roger Dubuis boasts of exceptional movements. Its pink gold case houses the new RD681—a selfwinding chronograph with semiinstant 30-minute counter and tungsten micro-rotor automatic chronograph movement with a micro-rotor. It displays the hours, minutes and small seconds in a dial at 9 o’clock and the date in a window at 6 o’clock. This watch has a power reserve of 52 hours. n

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact

Rs 36,990

Sony’s Xperia Z1 Compact is pocketfriendly without compromising on key features, and is also waterproof. Available in four vibrant colours—white, black, pink and lime, this compact smartphone features a 20.7 megapixel camera that has a 4.3inch high definition display that is sharp and bright, thanks to Sony’s Triluminos and X-Reality technologies. The camera can shoot 61 frames in just 2 seconds, and it also allows you to get information about an object that you photograph. The Z1 Compact runs on a 2.2 Ghz quad core processor from Qualcomm, which ensures you have the power and speed to run any application you like. It also has a battery that lasts you all day long. n Gagandeep Singh Sapra is The Big Geek at System3. He can be reached at gadgets@openmedianetwork.in

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CINEMA

From Idol to acting Lakshmi lead Monali Thakur began her Bollywood career in 2008 as a playback singer, voicing the radio hit Zara Zara Touch Me from the movie Race. Thakur was ranked ninth in the second edition of Indian Idol in 2008, and later dated Meiyang Chang, who was very popular on Indian Idol the following year and was ranked fifth

Lakshmi A film about child sex trafficking that will stun you with its emotional and intellectual clarity ajit duara

o n scr een

current

Ragini MMS 2 Director Bhushan Patel cast Sunny Leone, Parvin Dabas,

Divya Dutta, Sandhya Mridul Score ★★★★★

kapoor, thakur, ram Cast monali kunoor ku sh ge k, na satish kaushi or sh kukuno Director nage

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iewed as a film script, this mov-

ie shouldn’t work. It is a case study on child prostitution—the purchase of a 14-year-old girl from the countryside and her transfer to a brothel in a city. The slightest melodrama in the process of turning this story into fiction would have ruined it entirely, turning Lakshmi into a didactic film about the first case of child prostitution in Andhra Pradesh in which the perpetrators were actually convicted. Instead, the story is told from Lakshmi’s point of view—a literal autobiography of an intelligent and brave girl who is never cowed by her horrific circumstances. The director does not add any cinematic devices that take away from her graphic description. The background music is always low key, never intrusive. The villains—the brothel owner, the pimp, the madam—behave like tough individuals making a living, occasionally displaying their human side. Above all, the sex act is turned into

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a nightmare—with condoms and creams unable to protect a 14-yearold’s vagina; unable to ease the pain, the soreness and the bleeding caused by seven clients in a row. The child finally loses consciousness. Then there is the constant washing, the futile attempts to remove the stains. All of this is overlaid with an air of normality, the ‘business-as-usual’ ambience of a friendly whorehouse cleverly disguised as a girl’s hostel. The film maintains a fine balance between the objective description of child trafficking and prostitution and the subjective perspective of Lakshmi (Monali Thakur). With a fine supporting cast that includes a lawyer recovering from a mental breakdown (Ram Kapoor), an utterly convincing brothel owner (Satish Kaushik) and a despicable pimp (director Nagesh Kukunoor), the film holds you transfixed. Lakshmi says nothing new, but stuns you into silence with its emotional and intellectual clarity. n

This is a movie torn between exorcism and orgasm. It is poised on that thin blue line, with descriptions lifted entirely from mainstream Hollywood, as also the adult film industry there. At one point in the film, actress Sunny Leone, playing herself, simulates an orgasm for the entertainment of the film crew shooting her. Later, in the last sequence of the film, she plays out the exorcism scene in the 2013 Hollywood supernatural film, The Conjuring. If Italian director Sergio Leone could be said to be the pioneer of ‘The Spaghetti Western’, then Sunny Leone must be credited with inventing the ‘The Chappati Eastern’, a cross-over genre that conjures internet imagery of herself, plays it over in local Indian conditions and underlines her ethnic origins in this country. Part two of the Ragini MMS saga tells of how Ragini is now insane and in an asylum. A psychiatrist (Divya Dutta) is trying to figure out what happened to her, but by the time she finds out, a film crew has already reached the haunted house to make a movie on it. The demon correctly identifies Leone as the star and possesses her. The film has all the ‘vital’ ingredients, but the director’s treatment is average. n AD

7 april 2014


Not People Like Us

R aj e e v M asa n d

Roll First, Romance Second

When Yash Raj Films announced some months ago that Band Baaja Baaraat and Shuddh Desi Romance director Maneesh Sharma would direct Shah Rukh Khan in a new film titled Fan, both the industry and the media expected Maneesh’s go-to-leading lady (and rumoured love interest) Parineeti Chopra to be paired opposite SRK. When that announcement didn’t come even weeks later, there was speculation that perhaps Maneesh had been promised a bigger female star by his producers, YRF. Some snarky filmwalas even hinted that Maneesh and Parineeti had had a falling out. But turns out, there is no room for Parineeti Chopra in the movie at all. Or for any other heroine either. The actress has reportedly told friends that the reason she isn’t in Maneesh’s new movie is that SRK’s character has no romantic interest in the story. Currently filming Shaad Ali’s Kill Dil with Ranveer Singh and Govinda, and having wrapped principal photography on Habib Faisal’s Daawat-e-Ishq opposite Aditya Roy Kapoor, Parineeti doesn’t exactly have a choc-a-bloc date diary. But, sources close to her reveal, that’s because she’s now in search of a solid dramatic part that she can sink her teeth into. The actress wants something she’ll really have to flex her acting chops for, and is no mood to play second fiddle to a male co-star. Tired of being referred to as “the next Rani Mukherjee”, she now wants a film that can justify her bankability.

Ranveer Plugs Condoms

Coming off positive reviews for Lootera, and big box-office for both Ram-Leela and Gunday, Ranveer Singh is currently being touted as the only real competition to fellow young ’un Ranbir Kapoor. And you have to hand it to the 29-year-old star: he knows exactly how to stay in the news. He’s apparently turned down several offers to endorse leading brands, insisting he doesn’t want to “overexpose” himself. Yet the one endorsement he has said ‘yes’ to is a leading condom brand. In typical cheeky fashion, Ranveer has announced: “I’ve been saving my brand virginity for the right one. And now, finally, I’m popping my cherry with the world’s leading brand in Sexual Wellbeing—Durex!” The ad will be shot at a closed sound7 april 2014

stage in Mumbai’s Film City this weekend, and will be helmed by advertising filmmaker Karan Kapadia. Insiders tell me it won’t be a steamy shoot, and that the concept is “more meta”, involving Ranveer turning up at a film studio and participating in a “music video-like scenario”. Female models are currently being auditioned for the ad at Kapadia’s Juhu office. Ranveer himself reportedly insisted that his Ram-Leela cinematographer Ravi Varman—who has some experience shooting the star without his shirt on—be hired to film the ad.

Covergirl Calculus

A leading female star appears to have irked the staff of a popular fashion magazine last week. The diva, who has been travelling extensively on her film and music assignments, had reportedly committed to shoot for the cover of the magazine’s anniversary issue, but threw the team into a tailspin when she did show up on the appointed day. Despite repeated email confirmations from her manager that the actress would give the magazine roughly half a shift to shoot a bunch of costume changes for the cover and the accompanying feature on her, the leading lady left the team high and dry after shooting only one change. She was very professional when she arrived, quickly got into hair and make-up, then posed and pouted for the camera dutifully, before heading back into the van and changing back into her own clothes, ready to leave. When the editorial bigshots urged her manager to convince the actress to give them a little more time for a few more changes, they were told the actress had a busy day ahead. “Besides, we’ve realised that these magazine shoots don’t really help. In the amount of time we allocate to one shoot, she could be making Rs 3 crore,” the manager is believed to have told the horrified editor of the fashion glossy, who now had a cover shot, but not even a second change for inner-page pictures. In all, the actress didn’t spend more than 20 minutes posing for the cover shots. n Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and film critic at CNN-IBN open www.openthemagazine.com 63


open space

The Afterlife of an Aircraft

by r au l i r a n i

Rakesh Dixit, an Alipur-based businessman, bought this Airbus 310 model last year as he wanted to set up a Sai Baba museum where the aircraft is parked, along the Alipur GT Karnal Road. Dixit bought the model for Rs 18 lakh. The 1986 Airbus 310 model was grounded in 2006 after serving Air India for about 20 years. Its tail and wings have been sawn off, and the craft has been partitioned into six sections. “This would be a unique museum and temple in India. I am a follower of Sai Baba, and this would be the best gift to Baba’s followers. We are trying our best to finish the work, so that we can open the museum on 15 August,” says Dixit. n

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7 april 2014



OPEN Magazine 7 April 2014