Wednesday, 21 January 2015


The cuckoo is the proverbial opportunist of the avian world. Too lazy to apply itself to any hard work, and lacking the confidence to create anything itself, it does not build its own nest but instead takes over nests built by other birds. It thrives on the labour of others. On the 16th of this month two more cuckoos have joined our political firmament, much to the disappointment of their supporters and erstwhile admirers.
Kiran Bedi and Shazia Ilmi had for some time been chirping the implied message that they were badly in need of nests to feather and that they could not wait any longer to find one. The political jungle is an unforgiving place and life can be hard if you don't have a warm nest. And both these ladies were in a hurry: one had just lost two elections and needed to reassert her relevance; the other was 66 years old and was in grave danger of being forgotten by the news channels now that she could no longer piggy back on an old seer who had retreated to his distant village.
Ms. Bedi has always wanted to be the dominant leader but fate had denied her the opportunity to become one so far. In the IPS she could not make it to Commissioner of Police, Delhi. In the IAC she could at best be an advisor to Anna Hazare. Post Hazare she did not have the guts( or commitment) to plough the( then) lonely furrow that Kejriwal did and consequently could only glare from the margins as AAP became a force to reckon with. She did not build a nest of her own.
Ms Ilmi probably thought her looks and TV anchor background would keep her the focus of attention within the AAP. To her credit it must be conceded that, unlike Ms. Bedi, she slogged it out on the streets and slums of Delhi both for IAC and AAP and won herself many admirers for her sheer gutsiness. But then she lost two elections. She probably realised one day that, with the Modi juggernaut rolling on relentlessly, it might be a long time before she could enjoy the fruits of her labours. Not prepared to wait any longer, she invented the " lack of democracy in the AAP" chestnut and walked out of the party. But she still needed a nest of her own.
Their embracing the BJP at this crucial juncture is a betrayal of their supporters, and even more sadly, a betrayal of their own credo. How could they have done the chameleon act so blatantly? In May 2013 Ms. Bedi had grandly declared that " Neither (of the two main political parties-i.e Congress and BJP) deserves our vote. ". She had then gone on to attack Mr. Modi personally by predicting: " One day( NM) will have to respond with clarity about riot massacre. " Shazia Ilmi was no less critical. She constantly questioned the BJP's funding process and even waxed poetical on 21st Nov. 2013 when she intoned: " Hypocrisy, thy name is BJP. " No wonder Anna Hazare is not taking their calls!
Their attempts to put a gloss of vindication on their back stabbing of an emerging civil society is pathetic at best and unscrupulous at worst. Sound bytes on TV cannot hide the ugly face of mercenary opportunism that is visible through their charade. They are, we are told, "inspired" by Mr. Modi's leadership and " want to strengthen his hands". Ms. Bedi even did a Galileo like performance when she trilled that Modi was the sun around which stars like her revolved!  These hossannas to the Prime Minister are no doubt music to  BJP ears but there is a discordance in them which needs to be pointed out. 
The Anna Hazare campaign( which spawned the India Against Corruption movement, which brought these ladies to public notice in a big way) was never about performance or leadership or economic policies of governments. It was about corruption, transparency, sensitivity to civil society, communal harmony, accountability of political leaders. It was about cleansing the soul of Indian politics, of restoring to it an inner core of morality and ethics, of keeping at its centre the interests of the common man. Anna Hazare, Kejriwal, Bedi and Ilmi became the darlings of a new aspiring India because they espoused and struggled for these standard of behaviour in politics and governments.
Kejriwal has continued this desperate struggle over the last two years: he has been mocked, derided, slapped; he has committed more than his share of mistakes, he has got derailed at times. But like the needle of a compass he has always returned to his true pole, refused to compromise with entrenched interests and held fast to his dream of an India based on " sattvas " not "tamas ." We expected people like Bedi and Ilmi to keep him company in this struggle but they have stabbed him in the back for a few pieces of silver. Given their backgrounds as genuine social activists what, we are entitled to ask, could have induced them to join a party that has forgotten about the LokPal Bill, that has prevented the RTI Act from being applied to political parties, that will do nothing to stop its cohorts from intimidating the minority communities?
They claim, with a hypocrisy that can escape nobody, that they want to "strengthen Mr. Modi's hands ". Modi doesn't need his hands strengthened, thank you.
Mr. Modi is a strong Prime Minister who will become stronger in the next two years with more MPs in the Rajya Sabha as he wins more states. He is doing a fine job in a materialistic, IMF manner and has provided a much needed push to the economy and infrastructure. What the country needs is not a stronger Prime Minister, but a more accountable Prime Minister ; a Prime Minister who will rein in the venom-spouting dragons of the Sangh outfits; a Prime Minister whose undoubted oratory can assuage and assure, not just excite and animate. We need a Prime Minister who conveys the message of inclusiveness through actions, not just words; a Prime Minster whose government puts the interests of tribals and farmers at least on par with those of  of industrialists and tycoons, a Prime Minister more responsive to civil society and non governmental organisations, not all of whom are anti-national.
The BJP government does not lack for decisiveness, or talent, or will, or ideas. What it lacks is an underpinning of ethical values, an accommodative and inclusive spirit, a sense of the diversity of this country, a genuine willingness to confront the monster of corruption, a feeling for the man on the street. These are precisely the attributes and values that Kejriwal, in his admittedly imperfect and inadequate manner, has been trying to inject into our venal political system. He has faltered at many points, but at least he has not given up the struggle or compromised on his core belief.
Ms. Bedi and Ilmi, on the other hand, have capitulated totally and jumped on to the gravy train. The tragedy is that, had they stood with Kejriwal and AAP on this and fought alongside him, they could have made a real change in the way politics is played out in India. By bringing the AAP to power in Delhi they would have made the BJP and Mr. Modi reconsider their dogmatic positions on many divisive issues and perhaps persuaded them to deliver a more value based government.
That chance is now gone. Ms. Bedi may yet become Chief Minister of Delhi and Ms. Ilmi may perhaps become head of some Board or Corporation. But they have lost their moral legitimacy and distinct stature and are now just two more politicians, two more opportunistic cuckoos looking for nests to jump into. And India is the poorer for it. To tweak those famous lines by an Urdu poet:

Barbade chaman karne ko
Ek hi cuckoo kafi hai,
Har shakh per cuckoo baitha ho
To anjame gulistan kya hoga ?

Sunday, 11 January 2015


It has been truly said that there occasionally comes a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, can carry them to glory, and if not, can leave them regretting and ruing the missed opportunity. Such a moment has come for Mr. Modi in Kashmir. He now has an opportunity which was inconceivable even one year ago: to form a government representing a unique Hindu-Muslim alliance in a Muslim dominated state which remains an unfinished desiderata of Partition. The implications of this are so enormous for our country, and for both the BJP and  the parties in the Valley, that Mr. Modi MUST rise above the usual opportunism and considerations of vote bank politics, and not dictate an alliance on his conditions. Being the Prime Minister and leader of the ruling party whose credentials are suspect in the Valley, he has to go more than halfway to meet the PDP in forming the government in Kashmir. By doing so he will gain enormously, and the country will gain even more. 
It has long been alleged ( but by no means proven) that post-2002 Gujarat was the laboratory of Hindutva. That may or may not be true, but what cannot be denied is that today Kashmir has the opportunity of becoming the laboratory of genuine secularism, of synthesizing Hindu and Muslim politics, of bridging the divide between India's two dominant communities.
The PDP with its 28 seats and the BJP with 25 seats can form an unassailable government in Kashmir, and should. It would be for the first time that a professed party of the Hindu right would be allying in government with an equally professed Muslim grouping which till now have been sworn enemies. It would be for the first time that a very significant ( and Hindu) part of the state( Jammu) would genuinely feel that it is represented in government.
The implications of such an alliance for the rest of the country would be even more momentous. It would establish convincingly that there can be a common meeting ground between the politics of the two religions, that their relationship need not always be one of distrust and confrontation, and that the imperatives of sincere governance can bridge the divide between them as nothing else can. This can become a model for other states with substantial Muslim populations such as UP, Assam, West Bengal in due course of time and may even lead to the over-lapping of religion-based vote banks, if not their decimation. 
Once the BJP and the PDP start working together it is inevitable that the jagged and extreme positions of both parties would be modulated and tempered to accommodate the other's concerns and a culture of reasonableness and judiciousness( which both currently seem to be short of) would come to prevail. The PDP would have to give up its insistence on dialogue with Pakistan, move closer to the Indian Constitution when it talks of " autonomy ", cease its castigation of the security forces and veneration of terrorists, engage in a constructive dialogue with the Centre on AFSPA, Article 370 and the Uniform Civil Code, pay more than mere lip service for the rehabilitation of the Kashmiri pandits. There would be a corresponding paradigm shift within the ideology of the BJP because it cannot allow the Kashmir experiment to fail either. It would have to respect, and not summarily dismiss as Pakistan inspired, the genuine feelings and reservations of the citizens of the Valley; being part of the civilian power apparatus with the accountability that comes with it, it could no longer treat the Valley as a defacto occupied territory with the military calling the shots; it too would have to engage in a dialogue with the citizens on AFSPA, UCC and Article 370 instead of ramming it down their throats with its brute majority in Parliament; it would have to be more mindful of Kashmiri sentiments while taking decisions in Delhi that effect Kashmiris. 
There would be an international dimension also projected by this coalition. For one, the very ground would shift from under Pakistan's feet- it would no longer be able to spread the canard that the Muslim residents of the state are being suppressed by a Hindu dominated central government: there could not be a more emphatic demonstration of this lie if the two communities are seen to be together in government. Pakistan's support base among the more disaffected elements in Kashmir would inevitably erode over time as the PDP draws more and more of the latter into the mainstream with its demonstrated-and beneficial- partnership with the party that rules in Delhi. The global community and its governments cannot fail to note this change, this paradigm shift in relations between the state and the Centre, and whatever covert support Pakistan enjoys for its Kashmir  policy would also be considerably dessicated, and we would be that much closer to a permanent solution to this vexed legacy.
The most significant impact of this changed chemistry in Kashmir would, however, be on the politics in the rest of India. Having taken this bold step the BJP cannot allow this initiative to fail, for then it would have lost the Muslim community for ever, and would earn the odium of proven intolerance.  Having moderated some of its extreme positions and dogmas in Kashmir, the BJP cannot march to a different music in the rest of the country without losing credibility: it cannot speak with one voice to the Muslims in Kashmir and with another voice to their brethren in the other states. There would inevitably be a softening of the extreme ideology of the BJP and a shift away from its obsession with the minorities. The RSS would have to follow suit or risk its own marginalisation and loss of influence on the government. 
This could be the opportunity Mr. Modi needs, and perhaps has been waiting for, to purge his party of the more rabid and bigoted elements within it who have made it difficult for him to govern meaningfully. Having rid himself of such dinosaurs he could then forge more conducive working relationships with other states and parties, regain the trust of Parliament and apply himself to the job for which he was overwhelmingly voted to power seven months ago.
Kashmir in 2015 can become a watershed in the politics of India and in the relationship between its majority and minority communities. But for this to happen Mr. Modi has to show that he is a statesman and not just a politician.

Monday, 5 January 2015


  The unsavoury developments of the last few weeks bring to my mind a limerick from my school days. It goes like this:

                 There was a young lady from Riga

                 Who went for a ride on a tiger
                 They returned from the ride
                 With the lady inside
                 And a smile on the face of the tiger.

It appears to me that Mr. Modi is very much in that lady's shoes-or saddle, if you will- and it needs no great intelligence to figure out who the tiger is: its stripes are saffron and black.

The RSS and its Hindu majoritarian cohorts have played a role in bringing Modi to power, and they are now playing an even bigger role in alienating him from the very people who have reposed their trust in him by making it difficult for him to do anything positive with that power. Mr. Modi began with promise and unveiled ideas that struck a chord with the people, a chord that had gone slack for the last five years. But the discordant notes of the last couple of months have started alarming a lot of his supporters.
The list of provocative incidents is long: abusive comments by his Ministers targetting a specific community, Mr. Mohan Bhagwat's assertion that India is a Hindu rashtra, repeated directives by the HRD Minister to push education in a vedic direction, forcible conversions, usurpation of Christmas by a thinly disguised attempt to eclipse its importance, the Hindu Mahasabha's veneration of Godse, the utterly despicable statement by another worthy that Godse should have killed Nehru instead of Gandhi, the street agitations against the film PK. The agenda of the extreme right majoritarian forces is crystal clear: intimidate all other religions( notice how the Christians have been targetted for the first time) into submitting to a pan Hindu ecology, and rewrite history to authenticate this expropriation of a nation's history and soul.
The ignominous list above is not surprising-we can expect little else from these bodies and individuals that belong to the Jurassic period. What IS surprising, however, is the complete silence of a Prime Minister who is otherwise a great communicator and orator. Why is there not one word of public condemnation from one who came up with the hugely successful " chai pe charcha " and " man ki baat ?" A five minute statement in the Rajya Sabha could have saved two weeks of Parliament's time, but he did not consider it a good trade-off-- why?
The usual excuses trundled out by his acolytes won't wash anymore. Reported admonitions at a closed door party meeting cannot substitute for a declaration in Parliament. Statements by powerless Ministers in Parliament won't reassure a nation that is increasingly on the edge-the whole world by now knows that this is a one man show and that no one else counts. Moreover, when the ruling party's own affiliates openly indulge in socially divisive activities, it is incumbent for the leader himself to explain to, and reassure, the nation that all is well. Mr. Modi takes ( justifiable) pride in absolute control of his party and government, therefore he has to stand up and speak: he has sown the wind and he shall have to reap the whirlwind.
My initial assumption-and that of a lot of others who had reposed trust in him- was that Mr. Modi was not part of this regressive and disruptive brigade and that he would soon bring them to heel. But it has been eight months now, the vicious crescendo is only rising, and the Prime Minister has not uttered a syllable in public to condemn this rising tide of intolerance. One is left, therefore, with no other option but to conclude that all this has his tacit, if not explicit, approval.. Mr. Modi does  have a pronounced streak of hubris in him but he is also a shrewd politician and would not let his ego stand in the way of his development goals, which are being badly compromised by a resurgent opposition and a steady surge of adverse public opinion. If he has been silent all these months it can only be because he empathizes with these Hindu majoritarian sentiments and has not yet renounced his RSS roots. Therefore, while there is no doubting his vision of a modern, first-world India, it shall have to be an India cast in the image conceived by the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. He has not one, but two visions.
Mr. Modi's second vision casts him in the role of a Hindu Samrat-it appears that he wants to efface the last 1200 years of India's history and resurrect the hey days of the Guptas, the Mauryas and the Chauhans and relegate the Mughals, the British, the Nehrus and the Gandhis to that most modern of appliances- the shredder. But history is not just the past, it is also the present and its strands are so interwoven with the fabric of the contemporary India that they cannot be separated without destroying the whole.
We certainly did not vote for this second vision.
Mr. Modi has to comprehend this, he has to realise that this Icarus-like quality in his psyche will carve a hundred Radcliffe Lines across our landscape. It will also destroy his first vision of a modern India. The hardware is important but it will not work without a compatible software, and this is true of nations also. GDP, FDI, Smart cities, NITI Ayog,  Bullet trains,-all these are commendable objectives but they cannot be achieved without social harmony, religious and cultural tolerance, respect for dissent, cooperation with civil society and a functioning Parliament.
Mr. Modi has to realise that a country as vast and disparate as India cannot be ruled by ordinances, and that he has to at least make an honest attempt at bringing about a consensus on divisive issues. Industry-and foreign capital-will not bring in their billions of investment on the basis of ordinances that will lapse in a few months: to the contrary, an ordinance will only fuel their distrust in our political and legal systems. Far from furthering his goals by taking this route Mr. Modi is only erecting more road blocks.
And finally, Mr. Modi has to realise that winning elections is not the "summum bonum" of a democracy, that the hard work of governance is the true test of a statesman, that if he cannot work with Parliament then he cannot work at all. He should not lose sight of the fact that the Parliament where he did not deign to speak also represents those 69% of voters who DID NOT vote for him or his party!
However, Mr. Modi's primary realisation has to be that he can achieve nothing as long as he marches to the tune of the Sangh Parivar. He must realise-how can he not ?-that they are pushing an agenda different from his. He has to either tame them or jettison them. He may have won the elections because of them but he now has to govern in spite of them. This is one tiger Mr. Modi cannot ride. He has to dismount NOW- because already that smile on the tiger's face is beginning to resemble a " tilak".