Category: Politics (page 1 of 2)

Season of kiss and make up: Ambanis to Jaswant

Forgiveness is in the air. Or so it seems.

First it was the multi-millionaire Ambani brothers who kind of declared an end to their cold war without doing the kissing act. Literally, thankfully! The warring brothers, estranged for eight years after their father’s death, have had a bitter public partnership, marked by animosities and legal disputes. Even as the country’s apex court ruled that the public-private partnership between the brothers was not greater than the country’s good (as the brothers-in-arms fought over the distribution of gas in the KG basin), family watchers and Dalal St watchers alike, were looking with renewed hope toward an amicable rapprochement. So, while the Vimal Family bonded in the wilderness of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, stakeholders finally heaved a sigh of relief. And thanked the matriarch for her role as the peacekeeper.

Last week, the peacemaking, rather forget all-animosity-and-let’s-be-friends angle shifted to 11, Ashoka Road in the national Capital as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s headquarters became a scene of high drama and political action. Jaswant Singh was returning to the party fold after a pregnant pause of nine months. Expelled in September last year for his controversial book on Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Darjeeling MP washed away his tears and angst of the proverbial nine months of separation, sharing dais with party chief Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj.

Public memory, surely, is short, and in India a politician’s memory is even shorter. Call it selective amnesia if you please! The dictum that ‘there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics’ is not applicable to Amar Singh alone – it’s a different story that wearing his heart on his political sleeve has earned him the patent for that in recent times! And he has somehow lived up to his reputation, flitting between allies and partners.

Seeing Jaswant Singh in attendance with the party’s “young leadership” comprising Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari was like a perfect “all is forgiven” scene. The moment of political blunder was gone, distance and time having healed all open wounds even as the scars remained etched. The heavy, marigold garlands and the presence of L K Advani by his side, a picture-perfect frame – a frame that didn’t exactly exude any promise of long-lastin ties. But, what the heck, it’s politics, after all! And politics is no stranger to the fact that it does make for strange bedfellows! And time only acts as a healer, and our political mavericks and seasoned tribe alike, would vouch for.

If the week that was had the BJP climaxing over the return of its prodigal officer, the weekend had its ally and not-always-partner-in-crime the Shiv Sena missing the belligerent nephew of the Tiger. An editorial in the Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamna’ on Sunday advises the bickering Thackeray cousins Uddhav and Raj to take a cue from the Ambani rapprochement and bury the hatchet. Mature, eh? Hardly, considering that Raj Thackeray’s breakaway outfit of MNS has not really enhanced the cause of the Marathi manoos. Instead, it has split the Sena vote bank and how, giving a leg up to the Congress and the NCP as the Assembly polls of October 2009 showed. Convenience and compulsion often combined together are politically combustible! If the colonial cousins were to bury the past, move on and come together, what happens to Mrs Smita Thackeray? And her political ambitions, if they still persist? Does she, too, go back to Tiger’s den or continue striking a sense of camaraderie with Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi? Maybe, she could just continue making movies like ‘Haseena Maan Jayegi’, in ways more than one!

Between Jaswant Singh’s homecoming and the Sena wanting Mumbai’s colonial cousins to kiss and make up, there’s emerged another potential peacemaking session. Uma Bharti, the maverick, firebrand leader who was expelled and left the fold to float her own unit, is also waiting, in the wings, to come back. The Madhya Pradesh leader who has never refrained from calling a spade a spade is now looking for a new lease of political life, back in her home turf where she feels the most comfortable. Whether she will encounter the old familiarity and warmth is anybody’s guess!

This summer, forgiveness has been the leitmotif of political and non-political life. Compassion, like charity, does begin at home. Or so it seems. Let’s see how long it lasts.

This post originally appeared here

Bhopal Express

December 1984 was supposed to be happy family time. A wedding in the family meant relatives from all over would be congregating in Calcutta. Joy, mirth and unlimited fun – life couldn’t have been better. School became a distant memory as winter vacations were advanced for me!

With just a week to go for the December 9 wedding, the household was in a state of organised chaos as is wont to be in most Indian weddings with everybody running around the house to set the motion. I still recall my grandmother being a bundle of nerves – excitement, tension, joy, sadness, angst – predictable emotions when the youngest daughter in the family is tying the knot. And remember these were times when the now omni-present mobile phone hadn’t yet appeared – Sam Pitroda was yet to convince Rajiv Gandhi to unleash the telecom idea – most event coordination required human intervention. And it was also the times when news didn’t travel at the speed of sound, like it does now and the big, black, dial-a-phone was a rare commodity.

Most outstation guests were expected around the 5th or the 6th, and those who couldn’t attend had already expressed their regret via snail mail much in advance. However, my grandmother was expecting her sister-in-law from Bhopal with whom she was very close to make it for the wedding. And I, personally, was looking forward to having her around – purely for vested interest – as it ensured that no one could admonish me for even the most serious offence. And the numerous goodies that she would always get for me from coloured hair clips and rubber-bands to handmade dolls and story books…what more could a kid, all of six, ask for?

One phone call in the afternoon of December 4 changed that. And more, as we realised, although much later. The grand-aunt was never able to make it for the wedding as she had consumed the deadly methyl isocyanate gas leak from the Union Carbide plant. A vivacious and affable person, she was one of the numerous statistics among those 15,000 who were victims of the world’s greatest gas tragedy.

A pall of gloom descended upon the household. Sadness and silence now became twin partners in this wedding. I remember the elders of the house endlessly discussing the episode. Too young to participate, I only listened. And silently prayed that, by a stroke of fate, somehow she would appear (along with my goodies). But that was not to be.

Soon after, the wedding got over, without any other horrific development. And we got back to our regular lives. Warren Anderson, Union Carbide and Arjun Singh – he was the CM – became a part of the family lexicon, dominating drawing-room, dining-table conversations. Family gatherings remained sombre and quiet for a long time to come.

Over the years, my grand-aunt deteriorated. Her husband and two children ran from pillar to post seeking justice — fighting bureaucracy, lack of infrastructure and the appalling condition of healthcare (which unfortunately still persists) in the country in their pursuit. She shrunk and became a frail little thing. Immobility struck her. She had to be lifted around for the remaining part of her life. Her earlier radiant skin turned black, symbolic of the tragedy. Appetite became a foreigner for her.

And this is how she lived or died. For almost a decade-and-a-half after the tragedy struck her. I had seen her one last time in 1996 at my grandfather’s funeral. Tears swelled my eyes. Childhood visions flashed across my mind – her effervescent, radiant personality now replaced by a shrunk frame, shrivelled skin, and her being was carrying the burden of an American corporation’s lack of liability. At that moment, an idealistic, college-going girl like me also realised what dying a slow death meant.

She passed away in her sleep in 1998. For the pain that she underwent in life, a “peaceful” death was the least that Dame Fate could have given her.

P.S.: A court in Bhopal today has convicted all the eight accused. It has taken more than 25 years for the wheels of justice to set in motion. Are accountability and corporate liability only text-book fundas?

This post originally appeared here

Boy George!

He is now a shadow of his former self. Tough to imagine that the booming voice that brought spinning in the machines across Mumbai to a standstill, can now hardly his own echo. Silence, not socialism, now surrounds India’s foremost socialist leader George Fernandes. An illustrious-but-embittered political career — the ghosts of Tehelka and Coffingate — is what this former Defence Minister has now pushed to the back of his mind. Memory is a pause.

As the firebrand leader turned 80 on Thursday, one couldn’t help go back in time recalling the famous image of Fernandes flanked by the Army officials at Siachen.

George of The Jungle

A different life!

Circa 2010.

The same trade unionist, who at one point was the most shrill anti-imperialist voices, is now caught in a warp as the two women of his life — his political confidante Jaya Jaitly and his estranged wife Leila Kabir — court external legal intervention to own bits of his (living) memory.

Even as the two women who have been his closest partners — in politics and otherwise — fight between themselves, it’s nothingness for the leader himself.


Why Mamata Banerjee should stay put in Calcutta

As a child growing up in the Calcutta of 90’s, I so so (as they say it in 2010!) liked Mamata Banerjee. And I had my reasons.

My child-like, pre-liberalised faculties followed simple reasoning before arriving at the conclusion: She was, after all, a source of unlimited joy for kids like me as her hectic political work would ensure that we would be blessed with at least 2, if not more, unaccounted holidays in the school monthly almanac. Many intimidating physics/chemistry class tests would get caught in a time warp, thanks to her sudden mood swings which included calling at-the-drop-of-a-hat bandhs, disrupting road and rail traffic, making sure her cronies tried to bring life to a standstill. Unfinished homework would get a breather of a day (at least!) before they saw completion. Beat that! In pre-Internet days, a Friday bandh call was all that was required to make a quick dash to Digha or Mukundapur. And I am sure that even state government employees, with their allegiance to the powers-that-be, secretly blessed her for her ‘good’ deed.

More than a decade has gone by.

A lot of water has passed under the (political) bridge. Didi split from the Undivided Congress Family and went solo even as she invoked the spirit of Indira, Rajiv and Sonia. Weaning away from the tutelage of the Congress in 1997, Didi set up her own shop with a motive of ‘providing an alternative’ to the wrongdoings of the Left and the general incapacity of the Congress in Bengal. But there has never been any ambiguity about the ends that Ms Banerjee wants or has in mind: Of sitting pretty on the throne of all that jazz they call Bengal. And it is no secret that she has had her priorities in place for a fairly long time, one must say. Too long, is what others (read: political pundits) feel.

Public memory is short. And Ms Banerjee knows that very well. She also knows that Gen-Y living in the Buddha’s Calcutta won’t be able to recall the infamous Hazra attack or the numerous other episodes that she’s gone through along with her party colleagues — some from the Congress and others from her present outfit, Trinamool Congress. They would require prodding, their grey cells would need to be familiarised with Bengal’s recent political history before they can see what she has tried to achieve for their state. And has failed to do.

Nothing much has changed for the temperamental Didi – the way she functions/performs or rather doesn’t. An actor playing to the gallery, Ms Banerjee’s mood swings have always kind of preceded her. She flirted with the Vajpayee-led NDA government in 1999, became the Railway Minster, and then walked out when the infamous Tehelka expose of corruption started tailing the government. Even if she was angsty over being out of power, hence public recall, she camouflaged it. When the NDA didn’t return to power in 2004, she didn’t bother to kiss and make up with the grand old man of Indian politics. Instead, she went full throttle and the results were for all to see- from a single Lok Sabha win in 2004, Ms Banerjee had gone up to 19 in the 2009 polls. And the prodigal-but-rebellious daughter decided to join the Congress fold, albeit on her own terms. And what better portfolio than the Railways to welcome the belligerent child back home!

What both 10, Janpath (Sonia Gandhi) and 7, RCR (Manmohan Singh) failed to envisage was Ms Banerjee’s divorce from the politics of greater good. If tyranny of distance exists anywhere, it is right here – in Ms Banerjee’s constituency, with the Union minister and her entourage spending all their available time in West Bengal in the run-up to the Assembly polls next year. Attending cabinet meetings ain’t quite her cup of tea – for she is missing in action in the Capital and can be spotted miles away in Calcutta and its suburbs, mobilising public support for the 2011 elections – an election where Ms Banerjee will score well simply because the people of Bengal will be strapped for choice.

Indian Railways is the lifeline of the Indian janta – it may not be aspirational but it sure is utilitarian, and highly so. It is a ministry that requires undivided attention and ministerial intervention from time-to-time. It also needs a pan-India vision (a trait which has been historically missing in most Railway ministers, each guarding their own territory) and can definitely not function without that.

This in Jhargram, yet again, has brought to fore that there is problem of plenty that is plaguing Didi. She has too much on her plate at the moment as the civic polls are slated to happen on Sunday. For Ms Banerjee, all roads in Bengal now have only one destination.

And she’s leaving no stone unturned as the state, (literally) takes over the nation.

Good for her, I say. But then do make way for someone who could cart the wheels of the Railways without such indifference short-term vision and perhaps, with a little more passion.

Is that a lot to ask for?

(P.S.: For me, the city is still Calcutta. Hence, the title and mention in the post :-)Apologies if I have offended neo-converts…)

Women’s Bill: Equally Unequal

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. A day when almost all communication across print, visual and social media screamed that Woman Power needed to be feted. That the female ego needed to be massaged. And that the second sex needed to feel good about themselves – at least this is what most retail brands also felt. Hence they all rushed in to offer huge discounts, happy buys and other feel-good thing-a-me.

Yesterday was also supposed to be a historic Monday in the making with the Women’s Reservation Bill being passed in Parliament. But what ensued was high drama, histrionics and (display of) horrible behaviour in the misnomer of House of Elders. Action in the Rajya Sabha was anything but what is deemed fit of elderly citizens. And in this case, elderly nominated citizens.

But it’s yesterday no more.

The day after, retail brands have gone back to doing their usual stuff — targeting Rahul, Deepak & Hari. And not women per se. The plethora of status updates across social media show no signs of nursing a hangover. “More woman power”, “HWD” and their ilk have remained Monday-only icons, I guess.

The day after, there was also unfinished business in Parliament. Deliberations were supposed to be carried forward from a Manic Monday. Decorum was supposed to be reinstated after yesterday’s shameful show by our Elders in the House as they harassed the Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari who, incidentally, also happens to be the country’s Vice-President. After numerous adjournments, the House finally decided to put itself in order. Literally.

As I write, the voices of (in)sanity in Parliament, cutting across party ranks – Arun Jaitley, Brinda Karat and Jayanti Natarajan – have, for once, agreed to agree. Almost disconcertingly, the trio, individually, have just finished espousing the cause of Nari-cracy, about why this democracy now needs a Mis(s) Mandalisation of politics.

The darkest hour is before the dawn, they say. For modern India, the darkest hour is here, with no promise of sunshine anywhere on the horizon. An hour of prolonged regressive gender politics that will, eventually, not do any thing for the cause of woman empowerment or emancipation. Remember Mandal.

Reservation of all sorts is dangerous, especially in a society like ours where it mostly ends up becoming an instrument of electoral politics. Even as the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has taken the cause of this Bill much like a personal (ego-tinted) agenda of sorts, it’s amusing to see sudden unity among our politicos, some agreeing to disagree (Mulayam, Lalu) while others doing the opposite.

Inclusive politics, fair gender representation, victory for womenfolk – these are some of the phrases that have been in circulation ad nauseum over the past few days. And I don’t agree with either. Call me a cynic who is missing the bigger picture. But I fail to fathom how reserving 33 per cent seats for women can ensure good, non-corrupt leadership that will deliver on promises made? Women, the world over, have proved to be astute politicians and kudos to them for that. But more often than not, women in power have also misused their positions to seek favours. And history is witness to that.

More importantly, what happens to merit, excellence, hard work? What is the guarantee that a (reserved) woman representative would be more deserving meritorious than her male counterpart? What is the assurance that a candidate from a political dynasty won’t get preference over her non-politically networked woman competitor? Doesn’t that, in itself, qualify for double reservation?

For all our shouting from the rooftops that education has been an equaliser and has brought Bharat and India closer, the passage of this Bill has been an education in itself. It has shown yet again that our elected representatives don’t know how to conduct themselves in the public sphere.

Caught in a time warp, this Bill takes us back by a couple of years. It questions strides taken by women in various spheres. It almost belittles the achievements that so many women have managed and continue to do so in their day-to-day and not-so-ordinary lives.

And like all things Indian, this Bill has now assumed more than a political tinge. And sadly, that will be the colour in time to come.


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