Tittle-tattle as Tribute

It’s a good thing that in a wired world we connect with information we might not have had access to so easily. But, together with that, there is also an excess of ‘uber facts’ that pass for knowledge. And then there is the surfeit of tributes – to coupling, to uncoupling, to botched-up cosmetic surgeries, to products, to people as brands, to débutantes, to the retired, to the living, to the rumoured dead. To the dead.

It does not matter whether you know anything about the deceased, or of the others, but it has become mandatory to add to the info pool.

Today as I signed in to access my mail, I saw a caricature of a man playing the table. But my eyes were riveted by the second ‘g’ and ‘l’ of google. They reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi’s glasses and walking stick. The link, of course, takes you to Ustad Alla Rakha. It is to celebrate his 95th birth anniversary. Who decides which year is worth commemorating? How many people who do not know him or about him would be enthused enough to read up or listen to his music?

Here is a short documentary on him:

What we end up with is over-the-top ‘connoisseurs’ who seem to know all, or the jejune attempts at keeping up with the Joneses that sometimes takes the form of distasteful parody.

On Monday, Zohra Sehgal turned 102. It is a remarkable moment for a remarkable lady. But the photograph that made it to most newspapers and websites was of her holding the knife high and, as one media outlet said, “attacking the cake”. She is an effervescent woman, but somehow her stance and the onlookers seemed to be at odds. Who were they? Family? Neighbours? Close friends? Where were the celebrities who keep throwing sound bytes about her achievements, about how lovable she is? I found the cake-cutting and the observers incongruous.

The picture I have chosen is gentler. There are personal moments when people end up as performers for an audience that only seeks certain characteristics, and thereby reduces them.

On her hundredth birthday, I had written:

There are times she acts as a link between generations, between spaces, between ideas, like a sutradhar, the perennial story-teller who weaves the chains together.

We don’t seem to care for stories anymore. The whispering gallery is where we stand and assume to understand life.


Here is the piece on her 100th: A hundred seas: Zohra Sehgal


The Artful Dodgers

If a celebrity sells a refrigerator to an Eskimo, it will be sold. We see this often in our society pages. So, why is it surprising if a painting by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee goes for Rs. 1.8 crore?

Narendra Modi landed up in Kolkata for the BJP campaign and alleged:

"Your (Mamata) paintings used to be sold for Rs. 4 lakh, Rs. 8 lakh or Rs. 15 lakh, but what is the reason that one of your paintings sold for Rs. 1.80 crore. I respect art. But who was the person who bought the painting for Rs. 1.80 crore?"

The reason for his interest in art is, of course, to score political points. In this case, "the multi-crore Saradha ponzi scam". Sudipta Sen, the key accused, said, "I didn't buy the Chief Minister's painting."

A couple of points:

  • Is there also a check on those who act as decoys for such deals? Does the reputation of a buyer matter?
  • If it is alleged that this is illegal money, then all parties take donations that are not all above-board.
  • The Trinamool Congress (TMC) maintains that all payments for the paintings are taken by cheque, and used for social service activities.
The entire amount which will be raised from this exhibition will be used to run campaign of the Trinamool Congress for the ensuing panchayat elections.

The Election Commission is being called upon to intervene in such cases now and is wasting its time. If there was indeed such a transaction, it is not possible to keep tabs if some of the money was paid in cash. And certainly no party can take a moral position on this.

The TMC's Derek O'Brien repeated his bluster, seeing how his 'bravery' is appreciated by social media activists:

"Blood is still fresh in the hands of the butcher of Gujarat. If he makes personal attacks against (TMC chief) Mamata Banerjee, we can also ask tough questions."

Why is it a quid pro quo? Why hasn't the party asked those questions before their leader was the target of personal attacks? This personality cult stinks. The riots and killings are well-documented. A bunch of people capitalise on them only when it suits their politics.

Memories are evanescent. Or, perhaps, agenda-driven. If you hate Modi, forget Mamata Banerjee's track record in Singur, in rape cases, in dislocating villagers, in censoring, in not permitting any criticism of her?

This is what passes for liberal analysis.

© Farzana Versey


Sunday ka Funda

What’s going on here under the garb of promoting the idea of voting as a right?

Young man stands before visa officer at the US consulate. She is impressed that he has got admission into Boston University. He tells her the date of travel. “Isn’t that the voting day?” He does not know. “Is it?” Then he shrugs that one vote won’t make a difference. To which the stern lady says:

“If you cannot make a difference to your own country, how can you make a difference to another? Why should they have you?”

Fool. The US is ‘having’ him because of his grades, and not because he is voting. And voting does not translate into making a difference. He is projected as some sort of dimwit, which is a bit strange. How did he get into a big university? He is going there with the hope that they make a difference to his life, add to his education. After which, in all likelihood, they will use his brain for their technological benefit, among others. If not, they will not suffer him.

The last thing we need is for Indian democracy to be upheld via the American route.


Ramdev, Dalits and Our Mindset

Many of us have at some time or the other made a reference to Rahul Gandhi's visits to Dalit homes, much of it not complimentary.

Baba Ramdev took it a step further, and in some ways a bit too far:

"Rahul doesn't want to marry a 'desi' girl, however, he likes going to Dalits places for picnic and honeymoon," the yoga guru said, adding, "if the Congress vice president had married a girl from the particular community, not only the girl would have become rich, but Rahul would have become the PM."

We know he not only supports Narendra Modi, but is an active participant in the BJP's campaign. The party has not responded.

The Congress members have reacted, but it is quite obvious that this has to do with who he targeted. However, it just sounds more appropriate to express concern for a social issue.

The general anger is over the remarks being anti-Dalit and anti-woman, for it assumes that Dalit women are available and all they are interested in is benefiting from the interactions with a powerful man.

This is a fairly straight interpretation. However, how many people have bothered to question where this attitude stems from?

Krishna says:

"The fourfold varna has been created by Me according to the differentiation of guna (qualities)." (Bhagavada Gita, 4.13)

There is much in Vedic literature too that is complex and not static. However, the ritual of 'purification' is intrinsic to become a Brahmin.

The Manu Smriti says:

"The brahmin acquires his status by his knowledge, the ksatriya by his martial vigor, the vaisya by wealth; and the sudra by birth alone."

Does it not mean that the sudra has no way to prove her/himself?

Temple devadasis are always from the 'lower' caste. What "qualities" make them so? Is it not due to the community they were born into?

The fact that even today there is discrimination against Dalits — although we must remember that many among the Scheduled castes/tribes do not have the benefit of such nomenclature — should awaken us to it as a huge social problem.

After a controversial statement and resultant outrage, how many are willing to engage in the larger debate? If the BJP is silent because it does not wish to antagonise its Brahmin constituency, what does it say about the society we live in? If Modi has kept quiet, after projecting himself as a chaiwaala and capitalising on poverty, what does it convey? The questions will be laid to rest.

Will the FIR against Ramdev achieve anything? We have recent examples of such action taken against those who make hate speeches, and they get away.

While on Dalit matters, what about the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, who had said in October last year:

"If you want to take this (Dalit) movement forward, then one Dalit leader or two Dalit leaders would not be enough. Lakhs of Dalit leaders are needed....the leadership of the movement has been captured by Mayawati. She doesn't allow others to rise."

It is clear he was talking about power politics, but we do know that a good deal of reaction to Mayawati is also casteist and misogynistic.

On the Newshour debate last night, Dalit activist Kancha Ilaiiah was angry, and rightly so. When Ramdev appeared on the show, he asked him, "Do you know what honeymoon means?" And then went on to state that it is when a man and woman have sex.

If the connotation was lost, this made it sound like a parody. I have much respect for his writings on Dalit issues and understand where he is coming from, but how do such words make amends for the general tone of the abusive content that was being debated?

When Ramdev publicly withdrew his comments, whatever be his motive for doing so, there was a demand by Ranjana Kumari that he apologise to Dalit women. I do not know how many Dalit women were watching the show. The ones who are paraded in the public square and have no recourse to legal action? The ones who are killed for marrying someone from an upper caste? The ones who are treated as chattel?

Mr. Ilaiah said he should wash their feet and drink the water. Isn't this playing the same game that they accuse the 'high-born' of? Ramdev is a shrewd man; he immediately said that he had done so often. There are probably some sadhus who perform rituals that include Dalits.

There are other rituals too. Isn't there a Brahmin practice of taking soil from a prostitute's house to mix with the clay for Durga puja sculptures? Aren't eunuchs considered auspicious for certain occasions? All of these obfuscate the problems that they face.

We do not help matters by only using an incident and forgetting about how it manifests itself in daily life.

Instead of merely calling Ramdev anti-Dalit, why not flip his ridiculous statement and throw it back at him — that, yes, marrying a Dalit would be a normal and regular thing to do, provided the woman has a choice in the matter?

Instead of the National Commission for Women calling Ramdev's remarks anti-women, why not go all out and condemn the general perception that women are gold-diggers, or the more polite assertion that they look for security?

All these are about mindsets. Do we have the time and patience for them?

© Farzana Versey


Images: 1) Ramdev with Sunita Poddar, a devout disciple who invested in his Scottish island; 2) With Uma Bharti; 3) A devadasi


When Mumbai was boothed

Everything is not about cynicism. We have a tendency to applaud only acceptable forms of protest. Now that 54 per cent have voted, Mumbai seems to have reclaimed itself.

There was much carping about the low turnout in the city until late afternoon on poll day. As the celebrities from Page 3, Bollywood, industry have been photographed, it is obvious that the others who didn’t go out and vote do not fall into the ‘luxury’ category. Not everybody is holidaying, not everybody is at kitty parties or watching movies, not everybody is smug.

It is for these not everybodys that I still laud my city. Whether they say so or not, refraining is dissent. I do have a problem about showing the middle finger though, because it insults the Indian Constitution and is churlish. But, for those who made a conscious decision, it is time to feel empowered. As residents of the financial capital, this sends out a strong signal to the complacent establishment.

There is the usual noise about how you can therefore not criticise the government. You can. If you pay taxes, don't throw garbage in the street, don't clog drains, don't incite people to anti-social activities. You can and you must.
This option is visible. For all those with inked fingers, nobody knows where their affiliations lie and therefore it would be interesting how willing they would be to stick their necks out for the party of choice, irrespective of the results.

This brings me to the idea of ‘privacy’ of choice. It appears to contradict the process of 'assembly'. If people voted en masse with a specific ideology/manifesto in mind, then it would be active participation. I am beginning to respect those who vote for freebies because they are not those insufferable ones voicing their tosh about rights. They seem more selfish than politicians, who are often upfront about their ruthless ambitions and even their lies. You can see through them.

My constant refrain is that the candidate or party you vote for is not going to be answerable. They might change alliances anytime.


How prudent was it to carry this story about 28,000 safai kaamgaars from the sweeper’s colony and their voting choice on the eve of the polls in Mumbai?

We have spent over 100 years here but we do not own these rooms. Several generations of our family have been in this profession and even the educated members of the community have been forced to take up this job as we do not have any other accommodation. No party takes active interest in our upliftment. So, we have unanimously decided to use the None of the Above (NOTA) option in the Lok Sabha elections," says Devendra Makwana, a resident of the BMC sweepers' colony near Arthur Road Jail, Byculla. 

This was uploaded on the website at 11.30 pm. The Congress MP or his supporters, of the rival parties’ candidates could easily approach them for what is essentially a municipal issue. They could make promises, offer sops, anything. In fact, members of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Aam Aadmi Party have been quoted in the report.


This picture in the social media was touted as evidence of democratic power:

Is it applause-worthy? It is shameful and distressing that in this city, this country, the poor, the elderly, and the disabled do not have the means to live with dignity. Unless, somebody decided to deliberately stage this for a photo-op.


So this is exercising franchise - go vote and get discounts, and fatten the purses of those who will benefit the most anyway?

Or this:

“Share your inked selfie using #dnaVoteGuru to encourage your friends & stand to win movie vouchers.”


Then there was the Election Commission doing its bit from secularism. Or, was it the media?


How do people vote?

The poor with their helplessness.

The middle class with the belief that their version of right and wrong are supreme.

The very rich by calculating who will give them the best deals and pass their lolly dreams.

Therefore, voting is all about getting returns.

And it is only one part of democracy. The whole of India waits in long queues for every little thing. No one applauds them for standing for hours to get their rations, their buses and trains, their seats in schools and colleges, and water dripping into dirty buckets from slowly drying taps.

Will those who did go to the booths accept whatever be the verdict and stop cribbing from now? Unlikely.

I have retained my right to rant. I am the alpha satvik voter.

© Farzana Versey


Shazia Ilmi's secularism

There is much, much more to call out Shazia Ilmi on. Not this:

“Don't be much secular. Muslims are too secular and they should become communal. They are not communal and do not vote for themselves. Arvind Kejriwal is ours. Muslims have remained secular for long...have voted for the Congress and helped them win. Don't be so secular and look at your house (community) this time. Other parties have their votebank intact and Muslim votes split. This is a controversial statement, but we should look at our own interest.”

Ilmi, the Aam Aadmi Party candidate from Ghaziabad was talking to some members of the community, including clerics. As is expected, there has been a reaction. Her own party members believe she should not have said it. She herself has clarified:

"I said it half sarcastically. Somebody was saying Muslims are very communal. I am saying Muslims are not communal, infact they are very secular. They need to be communal. This does not mean to incite hatred. They must think of themselves and must not be political slaves. What have the political parties done for Muslims in terms of political empowerment and representation in either government or private jobs, education... in terms of economic and political opportunities."

I figured the sarcasm bit out immediately and I am sure her audience did too. The only ones who did not are her party cadres, the opposition, and the media.

Their reason is obvious – to extend the show. For long the BJP has accused AAP of covertly working to benefit the Congress. But, then, why would they want the votes that would probably go to the party? Will AAP divide the votes against the BJP, and then see how it goes?

Besides that, there is Ilmi’s ‘be communal’ suggestion. Everybody is using the communal card or offering sops based on it, every group wants to protect its own. Why is this so surprising? I suppose wanting to build a Ram Mandir in the BJP manifesto is about the development module the party talks about.

If you look at Ilmi in this picture, she was not even trying to be non-communal. She was reaching out to a group of Muslims, and with her head covered was trying not to disrespect sentiments, although it is unlikely a non-Muslim would have tried to do so, and whether the people there might have been offended at all.

From some responses, it is rather amusing that those who have often been abusive towards the community and slandered its members for divisiveness now believe one newbie politician is spreading the message of communalism. Will they take back their insults, then, considering that Muslims are not communal? Interesting to see how they get trapped in their own arguments.


PS: Narendra Modi is trying hard to drop his communal stance. This magazine cover takes him right back to the days that his party wants erased. How will he build a temple with this image?!

© Farzana Versey


Bread and Wine

The Last Supper is not just Resurrection. It seems a challenge to authority, to the haters, to those who kill, and who cannot stand dissent. It is rebirth, not of oneself but of those who stand by you. It is a lesson to face the traitor head-on, but also to keep people guessing about the identity of the one who betrays — in that way, everyone is on their toes.

Jesus was a sharp man. He went through tribulations, yet he also knew he was destined to be much more than one nailed to the Cross. There has been much analysis of the famous eponymous painting of the event by Leonardo da Vinci, including the sort of food displayed. The salt-shaker in repose as bad omen; the plate before Judas being empty; the choice of fish - did Christ get his apostles from among the fishermen?

Bread and wine, of course, mean what has been said:

"For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

Would remembrance imply rejuvenation of those who remember? Are they the only chosen ones?

I am not qualified enough to discuss the symbolism in religious terms, or even in detail. Also, I was quite intrigued by this other painting by Jacopo Tintoretto:

It is darker, has more happening, and except for the light near Jesus, the rest is almost mundane. Does it need the routine to show up brilliance or does brilliance put everything and everybody else in the shade?

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. (John 6:53-58)

Was this spiritual barter? Or, is it the submergence of flesh to live in another (off another?)? If the eternal is based on the temporal, then is it really eternal?

PS: It took a Mad takeoff, with cellphones playing an important role, to suggest that, indeed, the temporal is eternal, connecting, staying in 'touch' with others and, therefore oneself.

© Farzana Versey


Márquez in his Labyrinth

I decided not to read any obit pieces on him. One landed in my inbox and, unfortunately, with more than a link. The prose was so heavy with its own purpose in life that I decided to let it rest. Only Gabriel Garcia Márquez could do a Márquez.

It is a bit sad that he was labelled as a magic realist, although it is not a genre. He pioneered the technique, which again I find simplistic and limiting. A technique in literature is something you deliberately use, and he did, especially creating and uncreating things and giving them a character. In fact, making them into characters. For me, this is not much different from stream of consciousness, except that it is an externalised monologue addressed to an image outside – a place suspended, bleeding carcasses, illness, recovery.

You can have a lot of fun with Márquez’s works because nothing is static. It is a maze that you do not want to get out of. The challenge is in staying there. In some ways he is a difficult read because you are likely to deceive yourself. You mark a page, and you might never return to it with the same story in your head.

Not too different from this in ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’:

“To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else's heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.”

How delicate and yet imagine not being able to approach the one so desired.

I am not particularly keen on tedious explanations about the process of writing, but occasionally it can be quite revealing. As in his interview that appeared in The Art of Fiction. No. 69, 1981. Márquez’s earlier role as journalist is of particular interest.

“In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That's the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.”

This is so true to the bone. The novelist has the advantage of not being responsible towards any reality. We believe in the cocoon.

A Columbian who needed a special visa to enter the United States, something that bothered him a great deal, he was deeply, if not overtly, political.

“I would have liked for my books to have been recognized posthumously, at least in capitalist countries, where you turn into a kind of merchandise.”

It happened during his lifetime, but sometimes it is wise not to dismiss all merchandise when you chance upon the rare piece of stone from a bottomless ocean on a glittery shelf.

And then to reach out...

“Leaf Storm was written for my friends who were helping me and lending me their books and were very enthusiastic about my work. In general, I think you usually do write for someone.”

It is so much more intimate than talking about reader profile and audience expectations. How precious to write for somebody, an ode that when made public becomes an expression of timeless feelings and acknowledgement.

One hundred years of solitude...reflected in another.

© Farzana Versey


The time when there were objections to his work being made into a film: Marquez's Whores and a Porn Sta

The Accidental Prima Donna

Published in CounterPunch, April 18-20

She spoke for three minutes. It was enough to make the rightwing Hindutva groups desperate and unleash abuses. Sonia Gandhi’s biggest political weapon has been silence. Every word she utters gains that much more weight by comparison. Behind the mystery and enigma is a canny political mind. She has understood the Indian pulse better than many, and positioned herself as a matriarch monarch.

“What are these values that are the very heart and soul of our motherland?” she said in a TV clip on the Congress website. They are love and respect, harmony and brotherhood. In a word, non-violence...Today, our society stands at a crossroads. Their (BJP's) vision, clouded with hatred and falsehood, their ideology, divisive and autocratic, will drive us to the ruination of our Bharatiyata, our Hindustaniyat.”

Although others have expressed such sentiments, the response reveals that she has touched the BJP’s raw spot, something it has not been able to live down. They fall into the trap, some even emphasising that Hindustaniyat is Hindutva. They stand exposed. Predictably, they question a foreigner’s right to discuss Indianness. Sonia Gandhi ceased to be Italian when she took Indian citizenship in 1983, a year after the family returned from abroad, where they lived after the Emergency, and her husband Rajiv Gandhi joined politics. The 30-year period ought to qualify her as a naturalised citizen.

However, alienation has worked well for her.

Inheritance of loss

While her slain husband and two children were hesitant to enter the fray, Sonia Gandhi was never a reluctant politician. Her refusal to be the prime minister was also a political act that stood her in good stead. Indians connect emotionally with detachment. She came across as one not ambitious for herself.

For a moment, let us pause with British historian David Starkey who upon noticing Queen Elizabeth II’s desultory interest in the exhibits at the National Maritime Museum, except for one that she recognised as her ancestor and exclaimed “mine”, said: “I don’t think she’s at all comfortable with anybody intellectual. I think she’s got elements a bit like Goebbels in her attitude – you remember, he said. ‘Every time I hear the word culture I reach for my revolver’.”

This is not to compare the comment with Sonia Gandhi, but to note the proprietorial and ghettoised tone of “mine”. In a sense, the aura we see around her is the burden of a few reputations: 

“My family has always been the target of the opposition – be it Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi -- each one was targeted with equal vehemence. They were not merely prime ministers but great leaders, therefore unmindful of the opposition they continued to serve the nation."

It helps that she and Rajiv were not tainted by the Emergency, and despite Rajiv Gandhi’s kneejerk reaction after his mother’s assassination – “The earth shakes when a big tree falls” – one remembers her as the daughter-in-law who rushed out to the lawn when Indira Gandhi’s security guards shot her. 

It is a Pieta-like image, repeated tragically on May 21, 1991 with her standing near the ambulance that carried her husband’s remains after a suicide bomb attack by the LTTE. In 1999, she wrote to the President to commute the death sentence of the convicts. “My children suffered at the death of my beloved husband Rajiv Gandhi to a great extent and therefore we do not favour that another child in the world should lose mother and father.” (sic) It was a humane gesture; it was also politically astute.
Most women in subcontinent politics tend to adopt a maternal role. It is a commonsensical route to deal with inherent patriarchy – either you mimic men or deities. Indira Gandhi became Goddess Durga. Sonia Gandhi has managed without a titular title. It is surprising that people are surprised she called the shots in the government. However, it would have been only at the macro level. For one who is dismissed for being not well-educated, she is given too much credit.

A recent book on Dr. Manmohan Singh, The Accidental Prime Minister, is seen as a hatchet job released during the election season. Its author Sanjaya Baru, the former media advisor to the PM, explained his intent: “He has become an object of ridicule, not admiration. I am showing him as a human being, I want there to be empathy for him.”

The BJP is gloating over “two centres of power” and the Congress is on the defensive. There are also whispers that this work might please the PM. In a CounterPunch piece five years ago, I raised this point: “He is in the enviable position to get away with anything and attribute it to helplessness, because he is not considered rabid, rigid, or regressive. And he is answerable to the dynasty. It would be no revelation to state that Sonia Gandhi is propping up Dr. Manmohan Singh; the more pertinent point is that he chooses to be propped up.”

She is the longest serving president of the Congress and also heads the coalition United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the Lok Sabha. Sharad Pawar, who had challenged her on the foreigner issue and formed the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), is one of the allies. She went out and contested elections and won from Rae Bareilly in 2004 and 2009, her margin increasing from 59 to 72 per cent.  It was senior leaders who anointed her. There was nothing democratic about it.

Managing contradictions

Helming a political party as the divine right of kings, she has not been answerable to anyone. It is a position and role difficult for anyone to play well. How has she managed it?

She thundered, “Today every stone is being thrown at me, every arrow shot at me and every bullet fired at me.” This was during the assembly elections of 2006 in her constituency. The crowd chorused: “Sonia tumhara yeh balidaan, yaad karega Hindustan (Hindustan will remember your sacrifice).”

She did not marry into a dynasty; she married an airline pilot. There is much to question about dynastic politics, but is the Nehru-Gandhi clan the only one? From Jammu-Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, politics has become the fiefdom of families, not unlike industrialists who are the backroom boys in government. There are also the residue royals who want to maintain their polished silver and indeed enjoy the fealty of a junta that believes pomp and pageantry will imbue them with grace and ensure old-fashioned justice.

One reason Sonia Gandhi does not dismiss the loyalists is because it helps to bolster what is really an empty throne. The Gandhi children have not been able to sustain, or capitalise on, the heritage link. In a way, this would be seen as striking out on their own without any baggage, and it is not always a pretty baggage.

Where does Priyanka Gandhi figure in this? It is decidedly uncomfortable to watch Congress leaders call upon her for cosmetic reasons – she has charisma and looks like her grandmother. Unlike Indira Gandhi who was initially dubbed “goongi gudiya” (dumb doll) when she was known only as her father’s daughter, Priyanka is lucid. Her cheerleader act is not of a mute bystander, but a vocal one. She publicly ticks off her cousin Varun, who is a BJP candidate, for letting down the family; she publicly states it is not a family tea party. No one cares about such contradictions. She is a bit of Mother India – a complete woman, standing by her husband despite questions raised about his role in land scams, looking after her children, tending to her home and taking an ostensibly independent stand, even if that means not to be a part of politics. At best, she can be another Sonia Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi has to live up to a name and also stay away from the smears on it. India is not just his constituency, and poverty is not about a hutment tour. He was taken off the cradle and asked to complete a marathon. It is not possible. Therefore, the relay race came in handy. Sonia Gandhi passed the baton to Manmohan Singh who passed it to Rahul who passed it back to the PM and then it all goes back to Ms. Gandhi, which is how the chain has been sustained. In the past year, he has shown that he wants to change the system. He has spoken for a federal structure. These are idealistic ideas and rather uncomfortably go against what Ms. Gandhi has had to manoeuvre to keep a legacy alive and herself relevant.

She has not only survived slurs but thrived due to them. The Congress losing in the polls will not be an issue for her; she has been the leader of the opposition before. She stayed away from the limelight for seven years after Rajiv Gandhi’s death. When she accepted the post of party president, it was seen as another sacrifice as she was called upon to sew together warring factions. At some point, she became the fabric and later the pennant. That is unlikely to change.

The dynasty is now essentially about one woman’s battle to keep alive inherited beliefs. Redux is just another way of looking at history.

© Farzana Versey 

Also Part I of India Elects: Modi as Hindutva's Marionette


Images: NDTV, Times of India, India Today, The Hindu


Politics is Bollywood's Business

Should Bollywood interfere in the elections? Asking such a question is not only disingenuous and ignorant, it also reveals the nature of hierarchy.

If activists, academics, even mohalla groups, not to speak of the media, can take sides, why should the Indian film fraternity be denied the right to exercise its choice and promote it?

The yawn-worthy assertion that Bollywood has always been secular makes no sense, for it comes at a time when a group of film folks have decided to sign up for secularism. Bollywood stars have always campaigned for candidates, either out of choice or compulsion. They contest elections. They are called upon to join various causes – be it to promote tourism in Gujarat or for AIDS, against drugs, for the girl child, for eye donation, for toilets, for cleaning up the streets (where they even land up with brooms), and by the election commission too. The armed forces conscript them in the Territorial Army, and decades ago the Ajanta troupe run by Nargis and Sunil Dutt would go to the border areas to perform for the jawans.

3 parties, 3 Bollywood canditaes

We have discussions about how films impact society. Can they influence us and yet be apolitical? What, then, is wrong if a group of them decides to appeal to the public, when they are as much citizens as the goon who can knock on your door or the college punk who has suddenly transformed into a common man?

Here is the complete text:

Dear Fellow-Indians,

The best thing about our country is its cultural diversity, its pluralism - the co-existence of a number of religions and ethnicities over centuries, and hence the blooming of multiple streams of intellectual and artistic thought. And, this has been possible only because Indian society has prided itself on being essentially secular in character, rejecting communal hatred, embracing tolerance.

Today, that very sense of India is vulnerable. The need of the hour is to protect our country's secular foundation. Undoubtedly, corruption and governance are important issues, but we will have to vigilantly work out ways of holding our government accountable to that. However, one thing is clear: India's secular character is not negotiable! Not now, not ever.

As Indian citizens who love our motherland, we appeal to you to vote for the secular party, which is most likely to win in your constituency.

Jai Hind!

While there are a few well-known names, the biggies are missing. It is of course their choice, but these same biggies will promote anything that gets them attention, whether it is Salman Khan flying a kite with Narendra Modi or Aamir Khan getting cosy with the Congress (or is it AAP)?

I watched the segment of The News Hour last night discussing the issue. Why was Arnab Goswami demanding that some of the panellists who had signed the appeal should name names? Why did one person from the other side ask, “Why are you scared?” My point is all they want to hear is Modi’s name and add to his cult status. Hansal Mehta did concede that he personally did not support Modi. The show was all about bulldozing. Has anybody bothered to ask why the Bollywood stars perform for cops, even when so many cases are not filed, crimes are committed in broad daylight?

I ask these channels that want one man to be ‘targeted’ (many of who will then play up his victimisation): will you agree then that he and the BJP are not considered secular openly? Will you promote the cause of heavily censored if not banned films?

Ashoke Pandit was screeching about Anand Patwardhan’s stand. The latter said at one point – obviously you can’t talk about the Gujarat riots without somebody raking it up – that in 1984 it was not only the Congress that was responsible; there were Hindutva goons involved too. 

Here, I do take exception. Goons are goons, but one party was in power. I expect Modi to take responsibility for Gujarat, and I expect the Congress party to do so for the anti-Sikh pogrom. The leaders of the latter have apologised. (Just read a report that Modi in one more TV interview said that he will not apologise; instead, if it is proved that he is guilty, he should be hanged in public. Bollywood should hire him. He dramatically announces that he is now in the people’s court. Strange, for the Supreme Court has not found any evidence against him, so why is he still feeling guilty? Well, people’s court means only one thing: get me elected first. Smart man. He will project himself in any manner.)

Anupam Kher asked Patwardhan, “What is more important – secularism or nationalism?” A question like this is so divisive. I mean, is there competition between the two? That if you are secular you cannot be a nationalist? Ergo, the latter belongs to one section of society that flaunts its unapologetic non-secularism? Patwardhan said, “I only believe in humanism.” For a moment, I was put off, until I heard Kher state, “We are all human beings.” If we are animalistic that would make us animals? Capiche! 

Patwardhan became the focal point also because he is not mainstream Bollywood, and has made what are considered anti-rightwing films. I do not agree with some of his views and the way in which he chooses to highlight a few aspects, but he has been vocal against any establishment politics. A studio anchor with a limited agenda, and a panel comprising of at least two hardcore Sangh supporters, is not likely to comprehend nuance.

By the same token, I do not believe that we have any business to object when writer Salim Khan chooses to inaugurate the Urdu edition of Modi’s website. However, has the Hindutva lobby made a noise against this Bollywood intervention, although he did endorse Modi’s leadership?

When politicians censor films, those films are dragged into the political sphere. This is apart from movies with obvious socio-political messages. It includes mainstream films. The recent Youngistan was obviously political, as were Rajneeti, Sarkar, Rang De Basanti. Films with messages have a long history, and one can easily include Mother India, Bandini and Do Ankhein, Baarah Haath even though they were made when art house cinema was in its infancy.

Speaking of which, why is it assumed that cinema of conscience is essentially left-wing? Were Mehboob Khan, Bimal Roy, V. Shantaram Communists? Is Gulzar who directed Aandhi leftwing? What about Mahesh Bhatt for making Zakhm on the Bombay riots? Are Ramgopal Verma’s films on the underworld Marxist? Think about the wonderful spin on Mahabharata by Shyam Benegal in Kalyug. I know Madhur Bhandarkar supports a rightwing party, and so does Mahesh Manjrekar, but both have made films about contemporary ‘political’ reality, about the underbelly, be it Vaastav (which I thought was better than Satya) or Chandni Bar, Page 3, Fashion. There is much to disagree about the subtexts in the last three films but they did expose some facets that are brushed under the carpet. We also have Vishal Bhardwaj who takes Shakespeare and transforms his works into Indian political statements. Is he leftwing? What about Gangs of Wasseypur or the two series on Sahib, Biwi aur Gangster? Or the dry humour of Tere Bin Laden, Khosla ka Ghosla, Jolly LLB?

Bollywood is right there, and while we can question the artistic or cultural merit of how it projects reality, we cannot demand that some of the filmmakers stay away from active participation as citizens.

In the end all fiction is what we expect reality to be. Ask some politicians!

© Farzana Versey


Note: A couple of points have been added since I posted this.

Images: Tripadvisor, NDTV, Zee Films


On caps, Vajpayee and the Modi Trial

There is competition over who meets Muslim clerics among the two top political parties, and then both accuse each other of appeasement.

When Sonia Gandhi met the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Ahmed Bukhari, she apparently got an assurance from him regarding her plea that Muslims should not divide the secular vote. The BJP accused her of vote-bank politics. It was as though they had captured the Muslim votes already in that little meeting that has nothing to do with Muslims at all.

Days later, BJP president Rajnath Singh met a whole bunch of clerics – vice-president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, Maulana Hameeudul Hassan, Maulana Yasoob Abbas and Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahali. The Congress hit back.

Both described these as courtesy calls, but when pushed the BJP said

“Rajnath Singh is a candidate and it's his duty to go door to door to everyone's house. Not be selective. All prominent persons in Lucknow are close to each other. So we have to call on everyone and reach out to people of all sections.”

These politicians talk about wanting to improve the lot of common people, so why are they meeting “prominent persons”? One of the clerics later told a TV channel: “We are scared of Narendra Modi, but Rajnath Singh has the acceptability of Mr. Vajpayee.”

Acceptability of Mr. Vajpayee?

Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha got into a bit of trouble over his statement

“The weakest PM ever was AB Vajpayee, who wanted to sack Mr Modi for the ghastly Gujarat massacre, but succumbed to BJP bullying.”

Does anybody recall Vajpayee’s support of Modi post Gujarat riots, his speech in Goa at the time? Does anyone recall that he was famously called a ‘mukhauta’ (mask) by his own party man? He was positioned as the nice face and knew about it. Jha further stated: 

“The weakest PM India ever had was AB Vajpayee who despite the treachery of Kargil, gave Musharraf a red carpet welcome at Agra. The weakest PM India ever had was AB Vajpayee who was hugging PM Nawaz Sharif, even as 50 soldiers...”

Hindutva parties are so against Pakistan and would oppose any red carpet welcome, but now they have nowhere to look. So they call out the change in the earlier Congress stand where the former PM was praised. This is so churlish. I do not agree with Jha about using Pakistan as a touchstone to decide strength and weakness of our national leaders, but it is no big deal. The Sangh has been critical of Jawaharlal Nehru for years as well as Mahatma Gandhi.

Most of them are in a twist. No politician can keep religion out of politics because they themselves are blind worshippers of anything that will get them power.

Vajpayee’s photograph with a skull cap and Rajnath Singh’s recent one are making some kind of statement to transpose with Narendra Modi’s refusal to do so. In the by-now hyped-up interview he gave India TV, the loop on the skull cap was played in the promos and given prominence. My stand on it has been clear. I do not think it is important, nor is it evidence of secularism. However, if he talks about it, there will be some counter argument. This question should have been irrelevant, considering this was a major interview.

In a mock courtroom, he sat in the witness box. This effectively made it appear as though he was taking justice head-on. Nothing of the kind happened, and it was a horribly creepy show, where the audience clapped after every sentence. It lacked dignity and probity. It was a sham. The interviewer Rajat Sharma helped Modi sail through, not only with planned queries but his whole demeanour of agreeableness. 

The cap question was designed to give Modi an opportunity to softly peddle his views about a community. He gave it a lot of importance, and spoke about how he would respect all cultures, but not do what was against his “parampara” (tradition). I have an issue with this.

He positioned himself against one community, showing that they were outside his parampara, which I assume is Hindu. It better be, for India is not a Hindu nation and Indian Muslims, with or without skull caps, have a stake in it. Indian parampara is as much ours. To transpose this cap against the others makes for an interesting discussion when one is given the argument that he wears other caps because those are regional. How is the Sikh turban regional? Are the khasis not Christian? I won’t even get into his Buddhist outings, for he has cravenly started even using Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, who would find him an untouchable (pardon the use of the term).

When people get competitive about who is wearing what, then we need to shut up about secularism. These are ritualistic and gimmicky. However, if political leaders go to the Ajmer dargah to beg for favours from a dead saint, then they have no right to make distinctions about parampara. Modi knows that there are a few influential and rich Muslims in Gujarat or of Gujarati origin who contribute to development, his presence being absolutely incidental. Why, then, does he meet Muslim religious leaders? Why does he not go to the relief camps, instead?

One person in the audience asked in a pained voice how he coped with the aftermath of 2002. Seriously, nothing could be worse than asking a man who uses the “puppy” analogy for Muslims about how he coped during the period. He said it was “Satya ka saath, desh ka pyaar” – The side of truth and love of the nation. Such delusions.

I obviously did not expect any counter-questioning, but he was clear about his position as a grand mufti of sorts.

Pictures were shared of the big moment. People sitting out in the open on plastic chairs before huge screens when even slums have TV sets. This cannot be spontaneous; they were herded there to create a buzz. After all, this cleric was going to give his devotees a sermon.

© Farzana Versey

Also: Modi reads from The Satanic Verses


Sunday ka Funda

Gulzar to receive the Dadasaheb Phalke award seems like a redundancy. The accolade will not change a thing, but it does draw attention to the fact that this poet-lyricist-scriptwriter-director is one of the more subtle minds to embellish the Indian film industry.

I have often uploaded his songs, and gone into sometimes long explanations. Of Tere bina zindagi se shikwa tau nahin.... Of Mera kuchch samaan padaa hai aapke paas

This time, let us just listen. This is not one of my favourite ones, but it captures a certain mood. A tribute to tears?

Fill the eyes
Empty sleep...

Pani pani re khaare paani re
Pani pani re khaare paani re
Nainon mein bhar jaaye
Neendein khaali kar jaaye


Rape through the politician's prism

Where is Mulayam Yadav's son, CM Akhilesh?

Let us not dismiss these as merely sexist remarks. They are criminal. Let us also, for the sake of the female population we claim to support, look at these comments in totality. They are as bad, if not worse, but it will give us a better perspective.

Why are we shocked? Because these statements have been made during the elections? What about all the rest that are made throughout the year? Is the outrage we feel not pandering to political parties, each more disgusting than the other?

At a rally in Moradabad, UP, the Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said: “Ladkon se aisi galtiyan ho jaati hain, to iska ye matlab nahin ki phaansi de di jaye (Boys do make such mistakes, but that does not mean that they should be sent to the gallows).” 
Referring to the Shakti Mills rape case, Mulayam Singh, whose party is in power in Uttar Pradesh, said: “Two or three accused have been given the death sentence in Mumbai. We will change such laws when we come to power ... we will also ensure punishment of those who report false cases.”

The first bit clearly reveals patriarchal notions that consider rape and women their property, and men will be boys. (It needs to be noted here that Mamata Banerjee’s attitude is not much different towards rape victims, so misogyny is not the only issue here.) Now, reprehensible as this is, everybody has latched on to it and forgotten their own pleas against capital punishment, including for rape. There is also a group that supports men’s rights against false cases, not to forget the support Tarun Tejpal has got from his friends.

Yadav has put us in an awkward position, for many human rights activists would want a law where people are not given the death punishment. I am not so sure about false cases, because it is rare for women to expose themselves and their bodies to such scrutiny only to wreak vengeance or get some rewards by implicating a man. Rape is a crime and like all crimes there will be evidence. Why is it so difficult to understand?

Have you heard discussions about these following his comment? No.

Soon after, his party’s Mumbai chief Abu Azmi added to it in this conversation quoted in Mid-day. This man is a serial offender where making outrageous comments are concerned. He has brought in Islam, and there is the kneejerk reaction that it is to get the Muslim vote. How pathetic is this. Muslim women get raped too, and they suffer as much. Was Mulayam Singh appealing to the Hindu vote, or do his ‘secular’ credentials make him a quasi-Muslim who was taking up for Muslim rapists? The Congress Party’s Nitish Rane posted this: ‏”All potential Rapists plz contact Samajwadi party female members n family members as its ok to rape them! Green signal mil gaya hai! Enjoy!” (sic) What votebank was he catering to?

Is Abu Azmi's son Farhan
serious about opposing his father?

Why did the reporter think it important to get Abu Azmi’s views on solution to rape, knowing what kind of a man he is? He repeated Yadav’s concern about false cases and a few other aspects:

  • “These days, the number of such cases has increased where girls go and complain whenever they want. If one touches them, they complain, and if no one touches them, they still complain. Then, the problem starts, and the man’s honour, which he has earned throughout his life, is destroyed. Rape with or without consent should be punishable as per Islam.”

  • “If a woman is caught, then both she and the boy should be punished. As per Islam, if someone has (sex) with consent, it’s the death penalty even then. In India, there’s death penalty for rape, but when there’s consent, there’s no death penalty...If you agree to be with someone, it’s okay. But the moment something goes wrong, and one gets angry and starts blackmailing, then the other person would be hanged; this is a serious issue.”

  • “As per Islam, rape deserves death penalty. If someone rapes a woman, she shouldn't be punished, ladki to bechari hai (the girl is helpless). The whole country should stand with her.

The last part has not been brought up in any discussions, which are a repeat of the sensational headline: ‘SHOCKING! Women having sex should be hanged, says Abu’.

He should have been hauled up for bringing in Islam in a secular country, if any of this can be used in any nation at all. Besides this, he is expressing typical power politics of gender where the woman who ‘consents’ is assumed to be loose or vengeful. It reveals some gumption and I wonder just how these political leaders do not give a damn for the 49 per cent women voters that have become sound bites.

The mainstream and social media have a free run, too. Abu Azmi’s son Farhan is being hailed as the sensitive guy who has taken on his father by publicly dissociating with the comments. His wife, actress Ayesha Takia, also spoke about being “deeply embarrassed”. All well, except that the son is contesting these elections. Is he doing this to assure his constituents? Superficially. The area knows him for his high-end restaurants and glamorous life. They are the ones who sniff into lace handkerchiefs during plays on ‘Nirbhaya’, a victim of the media after the rape. They are bothered about their safety from the pub to home. One is not reducing their concerns, which are legitimate too, but this is what the young Azmi is playing on.

At a time when everybody has a forum to express, we are inundated with the most venal form of support for victims. From bragging about boycotting Azmi’s restaurants to sexual innuendos about the characters in this sorry episode, it is open season. If they wish to express anger, then how does this fit in: “I wish Ayesha Takia would chest bump Abu Azmi?” Is this respect for women?

Those who have a problem with feminism as an “over-reaction” want to join the gravy cart of ‘women’s issues’.

The media is playing the statements on loop. Panellists are talking about all sorts of punishment for the rapists. Some are obviously playing politics. No one can sit on a high moral ground. Unfortunately, not even those who are yapping about misogyny.


On a different note, is Narendra Modi declaring for the first time that he has a wife in his nomination papers. It proves that he has withheld the truth until now under oath. The marriage took place when he was 17, and she a year younger. Again, the matter should be about bringing this to the notice of the Election Commission, or file a case. Get senior party leaders to explain. Has this happened? I hear a complaint has been filed, but not by any political leader or human rights organisation.

The lady becomes an object. By the BJP – they are crooning that she has gone on a pilgrimage to pray for him because he has finally acknowledged her publicly (even if this could be a hostage situation). By the Opposition – they are feeling sorry for her being abandoned by this big man (even if he was not a big man when he did so). And by the concerned – they feel sympathy for her plight, or give her a certificate for managing so well on her own. All of this reeks of such a patronising attitude. She should be left alone.

In fact, just leave women alone - in so many ways.

© Farzana Versey


One incident, two versions

Nobody in India can be in denial about communal clashes, but should the media play them up? Or, jump the gun? On Ram Navami, violence erupted in Kanpur. It happened to be the eve of the polls in Uttar Pradesh. These things can be engineered.

What is disturbing is the manner in which media reports give differing versions. Hindustan Times stated:

Eight people were injured when members of two communities fought a pitched battle over taking out of Ram Navmi procession in Sayed Nagar of Kalyanpur area in Kanpur late Tuesday evening.
Panic spread in the area after the rival groups resorted to indiscriminate firing and lobbed hand-made bombs during the clash. Police had to resort to cane charge to control the mobs after they tried to manhandle them.

Others had something else to say. Take this in Mid-day:

The incident was triggered when the district administration did not allow some people to take out a Ram Navami procession through a certain route in Sundernagar area of Kalyanpur.

HT starts by talking about two communities; Mid-day (The Freepress Journal and IBN too) mention that the administration did not grant permission.

In one the implication is that members of a certain community that is not referred to by name could have created mayhem. In the other, it seems to be a dispute with the administration.

Which one is true?

As I said, communal clashes do take place and it is easy to manufacture them, especially for political parties. Should this mere raw material for a news story? Has there been any interview where the police has blamed any group? What makes some in the media decide on these matters? People were injured, property destroyed. We have our priorities all wrong.

On the other hand, while HT specified that eight people were injured, the rest used an obscure “many”. Even one person is important, and eight are many. But eight is not eighty. It alters how the government and police act upon it.

If the media is concerned about how these issues affect the polls, then they should be the first to maintain some sense of proportion.

"My life is rolling on..."

They weren't really the mop-tops, the rubber lips, another brick in the wall; they didn't just call to say hello or get into orgasmic ecstasy over love to love you baby. And yet, 40 years later music lovers are celebrating the start of their journey.

I had written my reminiscences, mainly about Donna Summer, here. ABBA was mentioned, yet it is most of their songs I recall. I mucked up the lyrics, but they filled up pauses in my sentences. Or even explained what I was too shy to state...”Mother said I began to sing long before I could talk...”...or a note of hope... “Chiquitita, you and I cry/But the sun is still in the sky and shining above you”... or just to express angst...“Where is the spring and the summer/That once was yours and mine?”... And of course “gimme, gimme, gimme” for things one did not even want.

The best fun was the “ahan” after ‘Voulez-vous’. Such permutations were discovered!

Then there was ‘Chiquitita’... “Now I see you've broken a feather/I hope we can patch it up together...”

And, to end, these words that do not end:

“Even if we had to lose, there’s no regret. If I had to do the same again, I would my friend...”


Lighting up the dark

There are scenes that stay with you. They don't leap out but slowly touch your skin, your eyes; you can smell the pain, the pining; taste the slivers of light. Kaaghaz ke Phool remains one of my favourite films, and a lot of it has to do with how it could be seen. Guru Dutt's magnificent paean to angst was to a large extent realised by his cinematographer V.K.Murthy, who is now gone to another world of lights.

The only tribute I can pay is with a few images from just one film. He has many more that he lit up...with shadows...

Modi as Hindutva’s Marionette: India Elects

Published in CounterPunch and Countercurrents

Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?
“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
“No, I give it up,” Alice replied: “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
(From ‘Alice in Wonderland’)

Think about Narendra Modi as loser. Almost everybody, including his detractors, has been talking about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate in terms of victory. The reason is the so-called ‘wave’, which ought to be a cue for the ebb. Why, then, are the experts not conceding even the possibility of such a scenario?

Poll watchers in India are clutching at straws. It might seem like a spontaneous, even kneejerk, response to the countdown to the general elections that begin on April 7 and conclude on May 12 with the democracy anointing one privileged autocrat over another. But, much of new thought is regurgitation of stodgy ideas about cults.

Modi is the face, body and soul of the BJP, and several masks. These masks are not self-created, but given to him at regular intervals to suit a particular point of view. Somebody pulls the strings and he dances to it. When we watch a puppet show we look at the suspended character or a shadow figure, not the string-puller or the hands. Modi is getting a taste of his own stunts. During and soon after the Gujarat riots, he made sure that no mud stuck to him. The deaths in the riots, the encounter killings, the transfer of police officers and a huge spy network to keep tabs on his own people should have made him a criminal at least for the sin of omission, if not abetment. If he walks free today, it is because the courts say so. Courts depend on evidence. He knew that, and left no traces that would pin him down. In fact, he cooperated with the judiciary. He showed off that there was communal harmony in Gujarat, which he transformed into his personal fiefdom. He spoke for five crore Gujaratis, including those who continue to live in relief camps.

What was clearly an example of what was wrong became a test case for the BJP to propagate its idea of right. Modi is not the General, but a foot soldier, a facsimile of those he pushed in front to shield himself in 2002. The danger in making such a statement is that it might be construed as indicative of his helplessness. It was implied as such by senior journalist M.J.Akbar, who flirted with Congress politics 25 years ago and joined the BJP recently, and is now its spokespersons: "In ten years, no other politician has gone through so much scrutiny as Modi has gone through. He was scrutinised by police, central government, CBI, court-appointed institution...”

For all his spontaneity and brusqueness, Modi is a shrewd tactician. He does not mind being used. On his own, he is at sea, whether it is regarding foreign policy, history, the economy, and of late wildlife protection (he said there was poaching of rhinos in Assam to create space for Bangladeshi immigrants). He resorts to homilies because facts would expose him. This works for his audience – and he is primarily a performer – because facts lack sex appeal. They are mundane obstacles to reach the goal post. He gets on a magic carpet, instead. The remote control of this ‘magician’ is in the hands of the Sangh Parivar, a motley backroom group of rightwing organisations that decode India for the BJP.

This is the India that sees the ‘dev’ (god) in development, the one word chant of Modi. How would it play itself out? 

Astrology, singing of Vande Mataram, vegetarianism, cow protection, cleaning the Ganga are essentially social issues, and challenge mores at the most. They cannot cause paranoia.

Who is keeping the fear industry alive? 

  • The BJP campaign manager in Uttar Pradesh Amit Shah said, “In Uttar Pradesh, especially western UP, it is an election for honour. It is an election to take revenge for the insult. It is an election to teach a lesson to those who have committed injustice....A man can live without food or sleep. He can live when he is thirsty and hungry but when he is insulted, he cannot live. The insult has to be avenged.” 61 people have been killed in the Muzzafarnagar riots and 50,000 are living in refugee camps.