Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Baru's Book: A favor to Manmohan, not a stab in the back

Contrary to the perception, Sanjaya Baru may have done a great favor to his former boss, Dr Manmohan Singh, by writing the memoir on his years as the media adviser to the PM.

I finished reading the book late last night. It is unputdownable, and the Manmohan Singh that emerges from its pages is an intelligent, hard-working, upright man, who navigated the muddy waters of Delhi politics skillfully (with some significant help from Baru himself, the writer seems to suggest) and got India out of the nuclear isolation. He almost sealed a pragmatic and humane deal on Kashmir, but anybody who seeks to solve the K-problem would need enormous amount of luck which he didn't have. What he and Musharraf were proposing? One: borders can't be changed. Two: borders can be made irrelevant. Three: Pakistan and India should evolve a joint mechanism for governance in both parts of the Kashmir, without giving up the ghost of each country's suzerainty. Had this worked out, Singh and his Pakistani counterpart would have surely won the Nobel peace prize. But Musharraf was unseated by judiciary and lawyers in his country. Benazir Bhutto, who would have likely won the elections and succeeded him, was on board for this deal, but she was assassinated. 

The prime-ministership of Dr Singh unraveled in the second term. Baru says he urged Singh to contest the Lok Sabha election in 2009. He didn't, and according to Baru it was a great mistake. Dr Singh wanted Baru back in the PMO, but Congress didn't allow that. (The book suggests that during the first term Baru wasn't just a speech-writer and a spin doctor, he was Singh's Man Friday and a trusted adviser on many occasions; his counsel was taken by the PM on some important issues.)  He wanted C Rangarajan as the Finance Minister, but Pranab Mukherjee was foisted on him. Pranab didn't even inform the PM before introducing the controversial retrospective taxation in his budget speech. Congress ministers reported to Sonia Gandhi almost every day, but would forget to call on the PM even after returning from crucial visits to Washington. Singh didn't want A Raja in his cabinet in the second term, but he had to back down.  

Baru blames Dr Singh for not asserting himself post-2009: who hasn't? After reading the book, Manmohan remains an enigma. Why didn't the old man, who was ready to quit if Congress didn't back him on nuclear deal in 2007, show the same steel later on? Was there an overwhelming sense to gratitude towards Sonia? Baru offers no insight into the reversed evolution of his gentleman boss. May be nobody can. But he certainly repairs Dr Singh's crushed reputation by reminding us what kind of PM he was during the UPA 1, and how he came to be admired inside and outside the country.

If anybody should be furious with Baru, it is the Congress, because he exposes how the party-men never came to terms with the possibility that in Dr Singh they had an excellent alternative to untalented Gandhis. I loath the Gandhi dynasty, for I feel that barring Nehru,  the rest of them were petty and lacked talent. (Indira Gandhi was a good foreign minister material, though.) But I also feel that Congress, since Indira Gandhi made it her own courtyard, has never had any alternative. Narsimha Rao couldn't win it the election. Evolution of Dr Singh as a well-respected PM by 2009 was, therefore, a godsend for Congress, but the deity of 10-Janpath couldn't see it, or she was a plain selfish mother. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mission Impossible

The history of Muslim invasions leaves identity-conscious Hindus traumatized. As soon as Hindus started thinking of themselves as a distinct and homogeneous religious group, the Hindu nationalism began to grow. Vivekanand was one of the earliest Hindu nationalists, and Tilak exploited this new awareness deftly when he promoted public celebration Ganesh Chaturthi and the birth anniversary of Shivaji.

The trauma of Partition should have given a boost to the Hindu nationalism. This didn't happen. In the 1990s BJP launched itself in a big way through the Mandir agitation, but the dream of cent percent Hindu vote remains a fantasy. Now Modi is riding a Hindu wave (he seems to have the backing of upper castes as well as the OBC), but it is largely thanks to the political timidity of `Maun-Mohan Singh', and the leadership bankruptcy of Congress. (Modi's barbs are sometimes tasteless, but this was a good one.) 

The question is: why RSS, despite the passion and dedication of its cadre, has not been able to consolidate the Hindu vote to the extent it desired? 

Consider the two recent developments which involve Brahmans. The core of RSS is the Brahman middle class; though it has made a conscious attempt to drawn in other castes and the tribal communities and somewhat succeeded in this.
Kalyan-Dombivali, near Mumbai, is considered to be a Brahman-dominated constituency. Anand Paranjpe, the area's Shiv Sena MP, joined the Maratha-dominated NCP last year. NCP has given him the ticket this time. The opponent is a non-Brahman. And the NCP, I was told,  is banking on Paranjpe to attract the Brahman vote, which may nullify the resentment of loyal saffron voters about his deserting Shiv Sena-BJP. 

The second development is from Pune. The city has a sizable Brahman population. Therefore RSS and BJP have a considerable support-base in the city, which is otherwise a Congress bastion. BJP has fielded Brahman candidates there in the past. Vitthalrao Gadgil, the late Congress leader, a Brahman, represented it in Lok Sabha for many years.

This time, BJP has fielded Anil Shirole, a Maratha, though Girish Bapat, a Brahman MLA,  was also in the race. Shirole is an old-timer, a loyal party worker, and a known face. But this has had a section of Brahman community in Pune up in the arms. Moreshwar Ghaisas, a leader of a Brahman organisation, has now appealed the community to vote for Vishwajit Kadam, the son of a quintessential Maratha leader who is not even from the city!

 Here, some background must be provided: The anti-Brahman vitriol of Sambhaji Brigade, a loudmouth
and thuggish Maratha outfit, has led some Brahmans to feel under-attack. The Brigade is by and large a cipher, very few Marathas support it. But it revived a feeling among the Brahmans of Maharashtra that they have no political power, and thus being vulnerable, must unite and start to assert themselves. (Brahmans don't count politically in Maharashtra because they are barely a four per cent of the population.)

Why RSS's mission `Unite Hindus' was always impossible? That's why.   

Thursday, February 27, 2014


मराठी डेच्या निमित्ताने एक प्रश्नपत्रिका.  (गुण: प्रत्येकी दहा)

१. `लाभले आम्हाला भाग्य बोलतो मराठी' या कवितेचे कवि कोण?

अ: अमिताभ बच्चन 
ब : हरिवंशराय बच्चन 
क: अबू आझमी 
ड: सुरेश वाडकर 

२.  मराठी भाषेच्या विकासासाठी प्रयत्न करणे म्हणजे काय?

अ: साहित्य संमेलन आपल्या गावी भरवणे व स्वतः स्वागताध्यक्ष होणे 
ब: साहित्य संमेलन सिंगापूरला भरवणे व सर्व साहित्यिकांना फुकट विमानाने 
घेऊन जाणे
क: अर्थसंकल्पात केशवसुतांचे स्मारक फुल्ली एअर कंडीशन करण्यासाठी तरतूद करणे 
३.  मराठी डे  तुम्ही कसा साजरा करता?

अ: सकाळी सकाळी राज ठाकरे यांच्या भाषणाची टेप लावून 
ब:   सकाळी सकाळी उद्धव ठाकरे यांच्या भाषणाची टेप लावून 
क: इंटरनाशनल स्कूल मध्ये शिकणाऱ्या आपल्या मुलांना पु. ल. देशपांड्यांच्या कॅसेट भेट देऊन 
आणि  `हे मराठीतले खूप ग्रेट ऑथर होते बर का' असे सांगून 
ड: लोकलमध्ये शेजारी बसलेल्या माणसाला मराठीत `जरा जागा द्याना' हे दरडावून सांगून 

४. खालील मराठी शब्दांचा/ वाक्प्रचारांचा अर्थ सांगून वाक्यात उपयोग करा:
अ. खळ-खट्याक 
ब. सेटिंग  करणे 
क. फुल लाइन देणे
ड. दुनियादारी करणे 

५. महाराष्ट्र टाईम्सची कोणत्याही दिवशीची मुं. टा. हि पुरवणी वाचून त्यातील मराठी शब्द शोधून काढा. 

६. खालील पर्यायातून `समस्या' या शब्दाला मराठीतील समर्पक पर्याय निवडा:

अ.  प्रॉब्लेम
ब. झोल 
क. लोचा 

७. खालीलपैकी मराठीतील `बेस्ट सेलर' लेखक कोणते?

अ. जेफ्री आर्चर 
ब. सिडने शेल्डन 
क. शिव खेरा 
ड. भालचंद्र नेमाडे 

८. मराठी वृत्तपत्रांमध्ये मराठी शब्दांसाठी किमान ३३ टक्के आरक्षण असावे कि नाही यावर 
डीटेलमधे चर्चा करा 


साहित्य संमेलनात साहित्यिकांनी व्यासपीठावर बसावे कि नाही यावर सविस्तर चर्चा करा  

 ९. `मराठीत न बोलणार्या माणसाच्या कानाखाली आवाज काढण्याचा अनुभव' या विषयावर दोनशे शब्दांत निबंध लिहा. लिहिण्याआधी प्रात्यक्षिक करून पाहण्याची परवानगी आहे. परंतु समोरचा 
मनुष्य मराठी नाही व एकटाच आहे याची खात्री करून घ्या.  

 १०. हि प्रश्नपत्रिका वाचण्याइतपत मराठी आपणास येत असल्याने दहा मार्क आपणास बोनस देण्यात येतील.  



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Leader of Opposition

Pratap Bhanu Mehta points out here that Arvind Kejriwal has, or projects, two important qualities: sincerity and being a good communicator. The combo is rare, among the politicians in this country, or (I guess) even elsewhere. Modi and Raj Thackeray are fantastic communicators. But they appear politician-like, wily. 

Sharad Pawar, I felt after reading Mehta's piece, is an anti-thesis of Kejriwal. He  appears to be rational, pragmatic. At the same time, even he himself won't confess to being sincere in his public or private utterances, and his speeches are soporific. 

I am rooting for AAP at the moment. Kejriwal apparently doesn't care for norms and institutions. Which should make us wary of him, if we cherish the democracy. But it is not conceivable that his party would rule the country after the May elections; the Modi-led NDA is most likely to come to power. Congress and other self-proclaimed seculars have zero credibility. The nexuses of their leaders with the capitalist cronies or criminals won't go away overnight. Communists aren't expected to do well, and they speak the language of dinosaurs. So who is going to play the opposition? Who would be a check on Modi's fascist tendencies? AAP.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tender Flesh

I am riding back from hill. I stop for a coconut. I want coconut with tender flesh. The boy, Bihari it seems slashes and opens one. A muffled boom an electricity wire high up across the road crackles, a short circuit. `It burnt,' says the boy and lots of crows rise and circle around. It burnt the bird burnt, repeats the boy, a passer-by points excitedly. Carcass of a bird hangs upside down. I look at it I eat the flesh of coconut a muffled boom and crackling again. I begin to ride off. Boy says something. What I ask. Money: oh I forgot.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rocks in the River

 Hampi, the erstwhile capital of the great Vijayanagara empire, stands on the banks of Tungabhadra river. The ruins of the city are magnificent, because of the scale, the setting (hills strewn with giant granite boulders, yellow-brown dusty plain, banana plantations down in the valley, absence of big modern buildings) and the beauty of the sculptures.

It is a world heritage site, popular among the foreigners. Many of them live in a small village across the river.

We stayed in this village after seeing the sites on the other bank. On the way back to Hospet next day,  we had to cross the river by ferry boat again and come back to the ruins. 

The water had receded, so the ferry which was carrying three of my companions and their bicycles --loaded with luggage -- stopped a little way off the usual landing place. Here there were huge boulders, 3-4 ft high. We had to to haul the bicycles onto them  and take them to where concrete steps began. 

On these boulders were fresh or dried gobs of excreta. There were about a dozen foreigners in every ferry. As I stood there, waiting for my friends,  I saw a couple of white women clambering up a boulder. They seemed stoic, one of them only saying that her sandals were unsuitable for this. The filth and the inconvenience of India was taken for granted, I felt.

There was no jetty, or any kind of landing platform. After reaching the road at the top of the steps, I noticed the relic of what looked like a vestibule or a portico below, extending over the water a little way. Perhaps once there was a jetty here, in the time of the Empire. 

Our Republic hasn't thought of building another. Or it was built, and didn't last.

Friday, January 17, 2014



पूर्वी एके काळी जंगलाच्या 
वेशीवर पाय रोवून 
पॅंथरने वेदना आणि शिव्यांनी नटलेली डरकाळी फोडली, 
तेव्हा सारे जंगल उत्सुकतेने टकमका पाहू लागले 
किती सुंदर अर्वाच्यता ही, काहीजण म्हणाले.
अमेरिकेत राहणारे काळे चित्ते आणि आम्ही यांचे 
गोत्र एकच असे सांगणारा पॅंथर;
वाघाचे व त्याचे पूर्वी अजिबात जमत नसे 

पण अलीकडे तो वाघाच्या कळपात शिरला 
(खूप आजारी होता असे म्हणतात) 
वाघाच्या बापाने कधीकाळी
जंगलातील प्राचीन प्रस्थापितांची माय उद्धरली होती;
वाघ मात्र बाहेरचे विषारी हिरवे तण ठेचले नाही,
तर जंगल नष्ट होईल असे म्हणे   

वाघ उदार,
उदारमतवादी नव्हे,
पण दिलदार, 
`वाघशक्ती आणि पॅंथरशक्ती एकत्र आली,
तर जंगल मजबूत होईल' असे तो म्हणाला. 
पॅंथर यावर काही बोलला नाही 
एका कोपर्यात बसून स्वतःच्या 
काही पिढीजाद, काही नव्या 
जखमा चाटत बसला   

जंगलाला आग लावून कुंपण नसलेला मळा
फुलवण्याची भाषा करणारा तो,    
वाघाप्रमाणे जंगलातल्या एका कोपर्यात स्वतःचे 
अभयारण्य कसे थाटावे हे त्याला कधी कळले नाही. 
किंवा मळ्याला सहकाराचे कुंपण घालून 
उस कसा पिकवावा नद्या वळवून,

एकेकाळी जंगलात पॅंथरही होते. 
शेवटचा २०१४च्या जानेवारीत दिसला होता असे म्हणतात.