Sunday, March 22, 2009

Varun and the Ghost of Sanjay Gandhi

A United Gandhi Family: Varun Gandhi on Indira Gandhi's left

What happens when the ghosts of a powerful past return to haunt a man whose father was the de facto prime minister of India in the 70s? Varun Gandhi could have learned a lesson history taught his father but instead he chose venom over the history. Varun Gandhi could have become the Rahul Gandhi of today had history been on his side. But alas, history is not a narration of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. History does not allow anybody to remain permanently powerful. Sanjay Gandhi, Varun’s father, was an extremely powerful politician and Indira Gandhi’s “favoured son.” He was a man in great hurry. On the fateful day of June 23, 1980, Sanjay was flying a single-engine plane for fun. He did three loops in the air but probably was not satisfied. He tried a fourth but lost control. The young dream came crashing down; so did the aspirations of his wife Maneka and son Varun Gandhi.

The fate of Sanjay Gandhi’s family can be summed up in one line: Power followed by powerlessness.

Indira Gandhi’s elevation of her son has been described as ‘feudal’. Eminent historian Ramchandra Guha has rightly remarked, “And just as sons of Mughal emperors were once given a suba (province) to run before taking over the kingdom itself, Sanjay was asked to look after affairs in India’s capital city.”

29-year old Varun Gandhi’s life journey has been characteristically marked by a steep decline of his family. Varun Gandhi was barely three months old when Sanjay Gandhi died in the accident. Sanjay’s death marked the beginning of an era dominated by Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv’s miraculous rise eclipsed Maneka and Varun Gandhi. A feeling of loss must be etched in the memory of Varun Gandhi.

So what was Varun Gandhi thinking when he spew venom against Indian Muslims and Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation? How can a man – who studied in the liberal tradition of London School of Economics and Political Science – be communal? Perhaps he was following in his father’s footsteps whose obsessive preference was to be always in the news.

Sanjay Gandhi was the darling of Indian media in the 70s. Sanjay’s “chief cheerleader and trumpeter” was none other than Khushwant Singh himself who devoted pages and pages of photographs accompanied by flattering text in the famous The Illustrated Weekly of India. All India Radio (AIR) and the state-run television channel Doordharshan also used to pay much more attention to Sanjay. Facts would put AIR and Doordharshan to shame. In a single year alone, 192 “news items” were broadcast about Sanjay from the Delhi station of AIR. In the same period, Doordharshan telecast 265 bulletins about Sanjay’s activities. What more when Sanjay made a 24-hour-trip to Andhra Pradesh, the Films Division made a full-length documentary called A Day to Remember whose commentary ran in three languages!

Which media organisation will provide such coverage to Varun Gandhi today? Of course, none. Varun was trying to imitate his father in order to create news around himself. Varun had forgotten that the days of a golden bygone era are over.

Varun Gandhi’s only claim to fame is that he belongs to the Gandhi family. He joined BJP following in his mother’s footsteps in a mad race for power. His five years in BJP has been frustrating. In 2004, he could not contest elections since he was not 25; now he is eligible. Varun wanted to make sure that his debut electoral entry was akin to big bang theory. This is precisely for this reason that he intentionally opted for a provocative poll speech. Varun wants to be like his powerful father who was the centre of attention as well as attraction for even union ministers. It is a well-known fact that Bansi Lal, the then Defence minister, took the two candidates for admiral to be questioned by Sanjay. And When Sanjay Gandhi visited Jaipur; on his way 501 arches were erected in his honour! And at Lucknow airport when Sanjay stumbled on the tarmac and lost the sleeper, it was picked up by UP chief minister. He very reverentially handed it back to Sanjay. Today, Varun is trapped in such a political quagmire that his sleeper will not handed back to him even by an airhostess of a third class airline!

Varun Gandhi’s plight and stature is exactly opposite of Sanjay Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi wielded so much influence in Indian politics that anybody opposing his diktat was doomed. When Kishore Kumar refused to sing for programmes organised to raise money for Sanjay Gandhi’s notorious family planning, coercion and force were used by Sanjay’s men to boycott Kishore Kumar. Kishore’s songs were banned from Vividh Bharati, AIR channel that used to broadcast film music. The Film Censor Board was instructed to hold up release of movies in which Kishore acted or sang! Sanjay’s supporters also warned record companies against selling Kishore’s songs!

Sanjay Gandhi was a man of obsession: ‘The Man Who Used to Get Things Done’ by hook or by crook. Varun Gandhi is following the same path in order to carve out a niche for himself. There is a fundamental difference between the two: The father was arrogant and haughty but he had at least apologised once on the instructions of his mother, Indira Gandhi. In an interview, Sanjay had lambasted the Marxists and accused them of being corrupt. He later retracted his statement and said that leaders in Jana Sangh and Swatantra parties were even more ‘corrupt’ and that CPI must be saluted for its support to “progressive policies, especially those affecting the poor people.”

Varun’s unapologetic mood conveys that he is being backed by his mother Maneka and the BJP. Chief Election Commission must ban him from contesting the upcoming general election from Pilbhit.

In his press conference, Varun claimed to be a ‘Gandhi’ but he has forgotten the ideals of his own family, at least of his grandmother. “All my father’s works”, said Indira Gandhi in 1962, “have been written in prison. I recommend prison life not only for aspiring writers but for aspiring politicians too.”

Is there any message for Varun? Yes, prison is the only place where he can wear the mantle of political maturity.

Sunday Inquilab, March 22, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gandhi's Hate Speech Angers Muslims

Varun Gandhi: Venom runs in my veins!

NEW DELHI — Indian Muslims are outraged by a communally charged-up hate speech made by Varun Gandhi, the grandson of the late premier Indira Gandhi, who reportedly made derogatory remarks against Muslims.

"The blood of Gandhi family has been contaminated. Varun Gandhi has proved that it is the right-wing blood that is running in his veins," advocate S.S. Shaikh told on Wednesday, March 18.

Varun, 29, made offensive remarks against Muslims at campaign speech in Pilibhit, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), on Sunday.

"If someone thinks Hindus are weak or leaderless, if anyone raises a finger towards Hindus, then I swear on Gita that I will cut that hand," he threatened in the video-recorded speech.

Communal violence has flared between Hindus and Muslims in Pilibhit, where the young Gandhi is making his political debut in next month's general election on the ticket of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Varun also reportedly compared a Muslim politician to Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda.

The Election commission has pressed charges against him under Section 153 (a) of the Penal Code on "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony."

He is also facing charges under Section 125 of the People’s Representative Act which addresses "offence of promoting enmity between classes in connection with the elections."

If convicted, Varun, the great grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first premier, could be disqualified from contesting the election and face imprisonment.

Although he is a descendant of the influential Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Varun belongs to a side of the family that has disowned them.

Three out of India's 14 premier belong to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Election Tactic

Some Muslims have played down the issue.

"It is the most stupid and childish outburst of a young bright man," says Hasan Kamaal, a noted columnist and lyricist.

He said that it was the arrogance and political inexperience that prompted Varun to make such a statement.

"Varun has inherited the same arrogance of his late father Sanjay Gandhi. He is a political naiveté and the controversial statement is going to cost his political career."

But many others see this episode as part of a larger political game.

"This is an attempt to win votes and instill a sense of insecurity and fear among Hindus. And this can be only done by attacking soft targets," Professor Mustafa Khan told IOL.

"BJP will get votes only by communalizing the situation," he believes.

"BJP doesn’t have hopes of winning the election because of self-division and like the old tiger they will go for soft targets."

Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy agrees.

"On all available indications, prospects of a return of NDA (National Democratic Alliance headed by BJP) rule are quite dim," he believes.

"So the BJP and its individual candidates have to think of desperate measures. Varun Gandhi’s case looks like one such ‘cynical’ move.

"This could well be Varun’s sick strategy of endearing himself with the Hindu voters and hopefully ensure victory. What better way to create news around yourself."

Muslims want Varun disqualified from contesting the upcoming general election, scheduled to take place in April-May.

"He must be banned from contesting the election," says Shehla Masood.

"I am a Muslim and proud to be one. I thank my ancestors and God that they did not choose Pakistan and chose to stay back in India," she added, referring to the creation of India and Pakistan 60 years ago after the end of the British mandate.

"India is my country more than that of Varun Gandhi." March 19, 2009

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Cricket and cocktail terrorism

Pakistan's cocktail terrorism: Can Pak look into the mirror?

Murray Walker, the renowned British sports commentator who had once said – you can cut the tension with a cricket stump – should be thinking to retract his verbatim. Murray had probably said this in a South Asian context knowing well that cricket, the white man’s British burden, can unburden South Asian tension especially between India and Pakistan. Till March 3, his statement was considered a witty and convincing idiom in the dictionary of cricket commentary. The Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team will change the language of cricket commentary forever.

The audacious broad daylight attack on Sri Lankan cricketers marks the beginning of cocktail terrorism in South Asia. The so-called ‘Jihad’ merged with modern day accessories popularised by Hollywood culture: sneakers, backpacks, big guns etc. The attack was the Pakistan’s Mumbai moment. The Mumbai syndrome has finally travelled to the place from where it had actually originated. The syndrome has spread like epidemic among a few home-grown bedbugs that have begun the task of eating up Pakistan; making it hollow from the inside.

Pakistan has suffered the fate of United States of America. It has been struck by the men with whom it had mushroomed and sympathised for years. The bad boys in the backyard have gone out of control. The parallel with United States is strikingly similar. The world’s lone superpower has a history of sympathising with ‘bad boys’ all across the world.

In 1970s and 80s, United States, armed and funded Muslim militants fighting against 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan; popularly known as Afghan Jihad. The American money and arms were directed and channalised through Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency ISI. Osama bin Laden is the American product of Afghan Jihad. The concept of jihad was legitimised and widely propagated as long as it suited America’s foreign policy. Afghan jihad was merely an extended exercise to contain America’s only rival: Russia. America’s love for mujahideen diminished the moment Russia withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. The point worth-noting here is this: Muslims still call this war as jihad while in American lexicon this was merely a cold-war exercise!

America’s understanding of the word ‘jihad’ improved with the 9/11. The men who allegedly flew planes into World Trade Centre followed a tradition long supported by the America. This was the first time that Americans experienced the biting of the feeding hand. Pakistan is undergoing the same phase for quite sometime now.

Cricket is a unifying game; the antithesis of the word ‘Partition’, an Afro-Asian phenomenon. Pakistan was always famous for the two things: Cricket and hospitality. These two assets were some of the positive elements that bound Pakistan to the rest of the world. A single attack has eroded the credibility of both. Jinnah (the Qaud-e-Azam) would have wept over this; Asif Ali Zardari does not even have tears. Pakistan is not a failed state; it has been paralysed by its leaders. It neither became an ideal Islamic state nor a model secular nation. Isn’t it a classical paradox of the Indian subcontinent? Pakistan has always dangled between autocratic theocracy and corrupt democracy.

Pakistan was born on the basis of a divisive idea called Partition. Partition has been the fate of this Indian blood brother separated at birth. 1947 was merely the beginning whose end is not in sight. 1971 saw the second partition of Pakistan which resulted into the birth of a new nation called Bangladesh. Pakistan has witnessed many partitions after the creation of Bangladesh. The third quite partition took place in North West Frontier Post where tribalism is the order of the day. The fourth partition began among murmur and metamorphosed into an uproar when Pakistan entered into an agreement with Taliban in Swat valley. If the first four partitions were physical, the fifth partition is ideological in nature. It is taking place inside Pakistan; implemented by the men carrying Kalashnikovs on their shoulders.

The crisis of failed leadership has plagued Pakistan for years. Pakistanis are fed up of new promises of the old faces. Corrupt leaders have provided vacuum for not only fundamentalists but also Army Generals. General Pervez Musharraf was tolerated for 8 long years because patriotism comes easily to army uniforms. The current political dispensation is not led by pious men. Pakistan is the world’s only country headed by “two former convicts.” It was the crisis of failed leadership that forced Fatima Bhutto to remark that “Pakistan remains a rich and diverse country held hostage to a government chock full of ill-equipped and unqualified carpetbaggers.”

The Lahore attack will have far-reaching consequences notably in South Asia which is witnessing a stream of violence. A cursory glance on the map of South Asia will make one’s blood freeze. Sri Lanka is engaged in a dangerous war against LTTE; an organisation dubbed as “terrorist” by United States but yet long supported by India. Bangladesh has just awakened to the horrors of an army rebellion unparalleled in the history of South Asia. Nepal has been a victim of Maoist violence. India faces a real threat to its internal security from Naxals who control at least 140 Indian districts. Pakistan – which should have become a land of the pure – has become a nightmare for men of purity. It has become “an international migraine” to borrow Madeline Albright’s words.

The body of South Asian does not merely suffer from a minor injury. It suffers from the cancer of violence which threatens to paralyse the entire body. The US and UN – famous for administering injection of reform – have done very little to restore the confidence of people in South Asia.

Coming back to cricket, one question that has baffled security experts and analysts is this: why did terrorists choose Sri Lankan cricket team which took a bold initiative of touring Pakistan amidst grave threat? Sri Lankan cricket team had gone to Pakistan perhaps to prove that law and order still reign supreme in a feudal country. They have been permanently proved wrong by a bunch of ‘bad boys’.

So why did terrorists target a cricket team?

The answer is truly European. The terrorists were perhaps inspired by the 18th century Irish poet called Oscar Wilde who breathed his last in the year 1900. Oscar Wilde didn’t like the idea of playing cricket because of the “indecent” cricket postures. He had once said,

“I never play cricket. It requires one to assume such indecent postures.”

Both Oscar Wilde and the terrorists who fired at the Sri Lankan cricket team shared the same point of view. The former employed his wit to express it while the latter believed in the weapon.

Sunday Inquilab, March 8, 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Lucid Dream and Reality

Congress-BJP Alliance? Political mating of strange bed-fellows! Picture Courtesy: Associated Press

The 2009 general election is going to witness a dawn of professional politics where political parties will be marketed as commodities to lure potential voters. It will not be merely a traditional competition between Congress and BJP but a plethora of small parties with regional interest will compete to get a share of people’s sympathy. Isn’t it good news for the general voter? The potential voter will get to choose from a variety of political parties thus making an end to the politics of ‘either or’ (read Congress or BJP). Welcome to the era of coalition politics where the interests of two mainstream political parties will be subject to strict scrutiny of smaller parties. The threat from smaller parties is so strong that some politicians are flouting the idea of a Congress-BJP alliance! The days of political monopoly are over!

The five years of UPA rule was supposed to benefit Aam Aadmi (Common Man) but it has only served the interests of Khaas Aadmi. UPA’s Common Minimum Programme was replaced by Uncommon Minimum Programme based on four ‘achievements’: Indo-US nuclear deal, Chandrayaan moon mission, 9% growth and Slumdog Millionaire Oscar win! None of this is directly related to the common man.

Indo-US nuclear deal is still no-clear deal to many; it will take at least 8 years to generate nuclear power. Chandrayaan moon mission is part of a satellite programme which any government would have followed it. The “9% growth rate” is indeed related to the fellow Indians but nobody is asking this: what percentage of Indians have benefited from the 9% growth rate? Merely 10%! This figure sums up the economic policy of the UPA government which is ironically headed by an economist and has the “dream economic team.”

The government of “Aam Aadmi” has shown remarkable generosity in subsidising big business houses and SEZs (Special Economic Zones). UPA has tacitly ignored small and medium enterprises which constitute the majority of Indians. The rich-poor divide has widened but yet UPA is singing a tune of good times! In the last five years India has not witnessed economic prosperity but economic regression. This fact can be gauged from Human Development Index of United Nations Development Programme where India’s rank has slipped from 124 to 132 in 2008. Even countries like Bhutan, Algeria, Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Iran have performed better than India!

What is the role of UPA government in a British movie with Indian actors? The euphoria over Slumdog Millionaire at best can be described as an act of individual creativity. The movie depicts the story of India’s poor and the bottom-line is the survival spirit of Mumbai. The movie must remind our shameless politicians a fact that gathers dust in government files that at least 30% of India’s population still leaves below the poverty line. There are at least 260 million Indians who still go to bed hungry every night.

The UPA, very subtly, is doing an NDA. It is building a momentum similar to NDA’s India Shining campaign. NDA had pumped 4000 million rupees of Indian taxpayer’s money in the form of advertisement just to communicate Indians how good they are feeling! P. Sainath, rural editor of The Hindu had commented then, “The fastest growing sector in India Shinning is not IT or software, textiles or automobiles. It is inequality.” His comment still holds relevance.

If Congress has miserably failed in its economic policy then BJP has floundered in making it a real issue which affects fellow Indians irrespective of their caste and religion. BJP is still trapped in its stone-age politics despite the fact that its allies have made it abundantly clear that they don’t support BJP’s Ram Janambhoomi movement. The BJP’s poll strategists have forgotten a fact that Indian economy was performing better in NDA’s rule.

None of the political parties have a slogan to communicate what they stand for. Congress does not have a stand to stand on. It is in self-congratulatory mode. BJP reeks of infighting and its Prime Ministerial candidate is behaving like Alice in Wonderland! Mayawati, the touchable politician of India’s untouchables, is doing a Hillary Clinton. Mulayam and Amar Singh Company do not belong to anyone; they only understand the politics of selfishness. Sharad Pawar is a man of vested interests. He can go to any extent to save his party’s interests; even an alliance with Shiv Sena can not be ruled out. Shiv Sena, which used to be like a family managed business has suffered partition. Raj Thackeray, the “stray cub” has begun to bite in order to save Marathi interests.

Slogans have altered the course of history but our political parties are indulging in mud-slinging. None of the parties have a slogan to define themselves and their party’s ideology. In the recent history, two slogans had a profound impact on people all across the world. George Bush Senior, a strong contender for retaining American presidency in 1992, was defeated by a young and charismatic Bill Clinton who coined the famous slogan ‘it’s the economy stupid!’ It highlighted a deteriorating economy which had undergone recession. Bush senior had emerged successful in Cold War and first Gulf war against Iraq but yet it was only on the basis of a powerful slogan his government was brought down.

The second slogan consumed Republican Party of George Bush Junior. Obama’s slogan ‘We need change’ captured the imagination of ordinary Americans who were fed up with a war-infested President and an economy that was on the verge of collapse.

Indira Gandhi knew her party’s slogan; Sonia Gandhi does not have a slogan. L.K. Advani does not know the art of sloganeering! Leftist parties have an old slogan which Prakash Karat is not very keen to modify. Mulayam Singh has fresh slogan for fellow politicians: Hum Saath Saath Hain!

Isn’t it slightly confusing for the fellow Indian voters? The voters want to identify with political parties but not a single party is willing to identify itself with a cause! Each political party is trying to shine its old and rusty ideology but as P. Sainath wrote, “All the shine we work up will not conceal the darkness.”

Is a new light in the form of Third National Front needed to illuminate a new India?

That remains a lucid dream.

Sunday Inquilab, March 1, 2009