Monday, December 14, 2009

In the worst case scenario I could still fail

“I know you did some malpractice, both for theory and practical,” that was the reaction of my physics teacher when he came to know that I managed to scrape through my higher secondary exams. He cannot be blamed for making a defamatory statement. For somebody, who scored 18/100 for the half yearly exams, who rarely got his practicals right, who was 54th in a class of 60 (many shared same place, so 54 would mean really at the bottom!), scoring 47/100 for theory and getting a difficult practical experiment like P.O.Box right were something improbable if not impossible.

As he had once caught me for counterfeiting his signature for a practical experiment, he was convinced that it was not just that i was completely out of place but had also resorted to malpractices. But the fact was I sort of realised with my goofed-up counterfeiting attempt that malpractice was something not my cup of tea and it would just add to my troubles. Thankfully, fairly early in life.

My physics teacher considered me wood-headed and useless. For him, I am the one who lagged behind in terminal exams, fumbled in practicals and had no clue about what was going on in classroom and lab.

I think for that he has to at least partly blame himself. I was a student who came with 84 per cent marks for physics for the 10th exams. In fact, it was one of my most favourite subjects. His intimidating style of teaching, his constant threatening, his partiality for high-ranking ones had long put me off. And in fact, I developed this habit of siesta during the post-lunch physics classes in my higher secondary days.
And for somebody who was used to lot of pampering, acclamation and affection till tenth, this relegation to a non-entity was something too much to take. But it was a period when I realised for myself that if things could possibly go wrong by any minute chance it would surely go that way....

Probably, such bad times revisited me only after 12 years, that is this year, when things were again going wrong in every possible ways..

1997. The ignominy of revenue recovery procedures including auction ads for our property in the local columns, humiliatingly high levels of debt after father’s wild goose chases, the crumbling house, familial was a drowning feeling. As if these were not enough, i defaulted on assignment submissions on a permanent basis, physics and maths classes went over my head, completely lost out to the rival in school politics, best friends crossed over to enemy camp or turned indifferent, scored historically low marks and most painfully, was completely let down by my beloved.....

Perhaps, more than all that was crumbling around me what consumed my unslept nights was her let down. I wrote poems one after other every night, mostly about the pain of rejection. I ran away from text books and read about art, literature, culture and politics. I read the most contemporary poems. I spent the cash awards I got for essay competitions on buying books and set up a small home library – to which I used to keep looking at with excessive amount of pride.

My mom was extremely hurt when she once visited the school when progress report was out. “He will always have some company around him and is least bothered about studies,” maths teacher’s words, her expression of strong disapproval and dislike left mom in tears. For she, in two years it was things turned upside down.

She had seen her son being everyone’s favourite in school when she came for anniversary when he was in tenth, proudly heard a special mention about his achievements in annual school report, seen him addressing the gathering as school leader..

But here, in another school, in another two years, he has become a pariah, a failure, a nuisance, a left-out. “I was the one who taught him to read and write. That too in 15 days...”before she completed her sentences she was in tears and a lump was formed in her throat. As she broke down in the awkwardly emotional moment the entire staffroom wore an embarrassed look.

So things were moving from bad to worse. It didn’t seem to find a halt till I finally told myself something needs to be done. Given 26/150 for maths and 18/100 for physics, my chances to pass higher secondary are pretty slim, I told myself. I thought of bunking those exams which were really difficult. But finally made up my mind to appear for all papers.

I told myself this is the most difficult test, once i pass through this, things will be easier. I can join for arts subjects for degree and fair well. I must face the challenge of attending exams rather than running away from them. I was prepared to face the ignominy of a failure if that was what it was supposed to be.

I found that except for maths and physics, I could handle other subjects such as chemistry, zoology, botony and languages. So all I need to do is to give special attention to maths and physics. I started reading physics text books for the first time! To his credit, the physics teacher gave excellent class notes. Not only that the text book made sense to me but also I found it quite interesting! Then for practicals, although a little late, I understood the diagrums could help one connect things in order and byhearted them. Although I never understood what they meant to be I was able to make PO Box or whatever little instruments work. Thus I ensured I wouldn’t fail!

Then comes maths where matrix, vector and a little understanding of differentiation is not just enough to cross the pass mark. Here came Joyichan, my dad’s younger brother a maths guru. An unslept night over differention and integration just a day before the exams – he said I picked up fast and actually would have done better - I survived the maths problem.

But, in worst case scenario you can still fail. So I was preparing for it when the results were approaching. That day when I got the newspaper, I was looking from the bottom to see my hall ticket number. Although my mind said I am through I had a slight fear when my number was not found in the third class list. Ooops I am there in the second class!

Unlike my physics teacher who chose not to believe I passed through merit, my maths teacher was particularly happy to see that I passed. The happiness was there in her eyes when she said “Manu, I honestly thought you would fail. But here you won. And when the ‘just-passed ones’ usually barely make it to 53 at the mercy of examiners here you have 64 marks! Quite an achievement and a hard-earned one. I am happy for you”.

Although it still remains to be an outstandingly low score in my academic record, the 57 per cent for higher secondary reminds me of a tumultuous time, a survival struggle and finally a big relief!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 Goa

When Venu proposed this idea of ‘unwinding’ I didn’t know that it would goad me into a Goa-bound train just 45 minutes later. That’s exactly what happened. After a quick last minute read I filed the interview copy, lied to my marketing colleagues with whom I were supposed to go for a Sunday outing and hurriedly backpacked.

* * * ** * * * * *

The people along the Western cost, be it Keralites, Mangaloreans, Goans or Konkanees should thank Western Ghat and Arabean Sea. The sea sends water vapour winds which are stopped by the mountain, leading to an abundant splash all over the region. Thus we have rain-fed richly green mountains with dark deep forests, midlands with bountiful farm fields and awesome beaches. The midlands of Goa and Kerala are identical. The type of vegetation, laterite stones, tiled roofs and of course crosses remind one of Kerala. It was a breather for somebody who was missing it for many a month.

In all fairness, Goa’s greenery is richer and it maintained many of its traditional tiled roof buildings. In an ugly display of opulence, monstrous concrete houses stacked with petro dollars displaced most of the simple houses along the waysides of Kerala. Goa outrivals Kerala in density of Churches as well, which forced priests posted there to complain Portuguese King “Our bell and their bell. Our choir and their choir. There is cacophony here”.

* * * * ** * * * * *

When in Goa be Goans. When a small bottle of Carlsburg ejected that rough edged calcium stone from my bladder last year mom told me “that’s fine, but don’t make it a habit”. But, it might be the fear of its recurring tendency and beer’s digestive property that made me an occasional beer drinker. One bottle of KF is a given. About fenny, it is after all a country liquor brewed from the juice of cashew apple. You know, I am all for local inventions and organic products. But the danger was I had three unmixed fenny shots (the last one was an accident, I mistook fenny for water). It’s only then I realised how much I love my brother, how well I can engage my father in a conversation and how funny the chat with mom can be.

I talked about house construction and finance with brother, then discussed stories and career with father and chatted about all that happened in the day with mom (including the virtues of fenny). Anyway, mom didn’t call me the next day. May be she didn’t want to hear my fenny-inspired ‘gunavathikaaram’ (blah-blah) for the second day. All said, I still consider myself a teetotaller, just like fish-eating Bongs consider themselves vegetarians.

* * * * ** * * * * *

A little intoxication can sometimes bring out your hidden faculties. Venu found it hard to open the door and applied further pressure. The key broke into two pieces. The rest was a drama. ‘Hurt’ by a bizarre incident, an enraged tourist – that is me - rushes to the reception and complains about the ‘subquality’ key. Only later that everyone realised we tried entering the wrong room! But by the time we successfully put the blame on the management who procured fragile keys for the hotel doors. But in the absence of a spare key, I had to climb over the balcony and do a spiderman to unbolt the backdoor.

The next morning when we checked out, wisdom dawned on the hotel people. They demanded penalty for breaking their key by trying it on the wrong door. We stuck on the ‘subquality’ argument. Now we had additional points; the security of the hotel. Someone could easily sneak in through the backdoor. What if a thief adopts the same way, just as the tourist with the misplaced key did the previous day? No fines, nothing, only thank you!

* * * * ** * * * * *

Each time I enjoy the soft and not-so-soft beatings of sea waves, which come one after the other, I remember one of my earlier visits to seashore. That was when I was in seventh, I guess. Just before V.P.Singh’s rally, we – father and me - along with the fellow party workers from our hilly village had a sea bath. When he took me to the shores father reminded me of those popular lyrics: kadalile olavum karalile mohavum adangukillomane adangukilla…(the waves in the sea and desires in the heart will never stop).

And that day I saw how drunk and crazy he can be which made me threaten a sudden return. This time in Goa, I was perhaps five times less drunk and crazy. But I was at least slightly drunk and slightly crazy. I think once in a while it is good to have a sea bath and to be a little crazy. Preferably, at Kolva beach.

* * * * ** * * * * *

Having left Goa, one thing I miss the most is fish curry rice. The Goan fish fry with coarse rice flour will make you all the more joyous. We had a repeat of the same for the second day lunch. From an unimpressive wayside eating place in Old Goa, each of us had two bowls of rice and half a dozen fish pieces, along with other side dishes. All for 80 bucks! Oh forgot to add, the boy took two clicks of us enjoying lunch. By the time I returned, the stomach has become a small aquarium.

* * * * ** * * * * *

The third and last day was not meant to be fully fun. We were in the village town Koodal where Maharashtra politician and onetime chief minister Narayan Rane is contesting elections from. Two and a half hours away from the Goan town of Mapusa, this Konkan village town has narrow roads, old buildings and Malvadi-speaking unambitious farmers. If he gets elected yet again, Rane should ensure one thing that many more banks will open their ATMs there. It was scary to walk pennyless for about one k.m. only to find the omni-present SBI ATM is shut. The 12th person we asked did help; there was an Indian Bank ATM on the other part of the town. Thank God.

Talking about money, I don’t know how we can plan out an austere trip. Perhaps, a totally unplanned one would be better. The three-day Goa trip cost each of us in the region of Rs 2500!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What happens in BJP

Caught in a busy week I thought the topicality of the issue would fade by the time I sit down to write. But thankfully, the BJP leaders have kept the issue alive till I am finally ready to attempt typing down my thoughts on the current crisis.

A book analysing the moderate facet of Jinnah showed the way out for an already alienated Jaswant Singh. Yaswant Sinha, another leader who does not find much scope for himself in the generational shift that is taking place in the party, put in an angry resignation. The third one, Arun Shourie who has been a key figure in the saffron intelligentsia, provokes party leadership with his characteristic verbal attack. And Sudheendra Kulkarni, a political professional timed his VRS with these high profile departures.

The exit of these leaders who have no mass base may not have immediate electoral impacts in states where the Party is facing elections. However, given the profile of these leaders what the BJP lost was its remaining moderate trappings.

In my view, two forces have led to the present situation. One, the retreat of the BJP into its original hardline position. That is, a conscious decision to harden its hindutwa postures by shunning all secular cosmetics. These leaders with non-RSS background would naturally find it hard to earn a place in the current scheme of things guided, designed and perfected by the Sangh.

In fact, they are part of the Vajpayee era, a master tactician who successfully balanced the core Hindutwa agenda of RSS and mainstream democratic politics. As Jyotirmaya Sharma once pointed out the arrangement between Vajpayee and RSS was mutually beneficial. RSS got a moderate mascot and in return Vajpayee enjoyed power and position.

Demolition man Advani could never grow to this space no matter how hard he tried. Having found that moderate pretensions to reach out beyond the core hindutwa constituency is not working, RSS has decided to consolidate and expand its core. In the process, it inadvertently or otherwise, underscored the fact that BJP is mere a political outfit of RSS and weeded out ‘alien elements’ in the party. (Muktar Naqvi and Shanavas Husain better watch out).

Another force that paved way for the exit of these leaders was the desperation and internal contradictions within them. By learning, experience and personal convictions, all of them are not fully in sync with the annihilation-driven ideology of RSS. In spite of Babri, Bombay and Gujarat, what glued them to the BJP were crumbs of power.

Jaswant, Sinha and Shourie were key ministers in the Vajpayee cabinet while Kulkarni enjoyed considerable media glare. Now the positions of power are increasingly few and far between. The association with a party with aggressive rightist character is not paying commensurate political benefit while its solidifying hindutwa postures discomfort them. So, at least Jaswant might have thought that this is time to escape the wrath of history and save some honour for himself professing syncretic culture and Hindu-Muslim unity.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In loving memory of Kuttoos

I don’t know where he inherited that greatness, graciousness and intelligence from, but I am quite sure that he possessed all that and left an indelible mark on all our hearts, even long years after his passing away. I was in church, after Sunday mass and meetings, when someone told me Kuttu had a very tragic death. My heart sank and I couldn’t believe what I heard. After a few moments, I regained my composure and told myself: “he was after all a dog, however close he was with us, shouldn’t be so upset over the loss of a dog”. But given the fact that his gentle presence is so alive in memories, it becomes clear that he was so important for us. He was and is, inerasable, irreplaceable…

We first met him, a little puppy who is hardly two-weeks old, during our way back from school. We kids, out from the school, were running all the way to our homes. The noisy ‘independence march’ irked those two puppies who came out barking from a house on the way. We, brothers, were instantly attracted to the shorter one whose bark was shriller. He looked very cute, active and amusing.

Familiarity with that family made it quite easy for us to ask for a puppy. They told us to come a few days later. Another day, on our way back from school, we went to the same house, this time to collect one. We were not sure if we can pick and choose one. Luckily, this time also he, the shorter one we liked, came out barking with much shriller voice. They gave us him!

We hurried to home carrying him all along in our hands. We were so eager to present him before mom. When we reached home mom was not there. She had gone to farm field with evening tea for the workers. We called her aloud. Once she rushed back, we gleefully showed her the calm brown puppy lying on the front yard.

She had an instant rage seeing white spots on his legs and tail. The popular belief is that dogs with white spots on legs and tail will never stick to their masters but wander around. We were not aware of that.

“Who told you to bring this creature here? See what foolishness you have done, bringing a puppy with white spots on its legs and tail!” she ranted. Our proud possession has suddenly become an unwanted object. Mom had unequivocally said that she wouldn’t accept this dirty creature and it would be our responsibility to dispose it of.

But within no time, the small puppy became so friendly with us. We, children, were so puzzled if we should accept this lavish friendship as he was already rendered a pariah.

We left him at one corner of our farm field and ran back home, but little puppy took it just as a hide-and-seek game. He followed us gleefully and within no time reached back. As pressure mounted on one side, the disposal of pup became a headache for us. Much to the amusement of elders – the whole neighbourhood who joined the chorus of ridiculing us for this foolish act – my brother suggested “Manottai, what if we bury it alive?”

We finally opted for the traditional ‘pup-disposal’ method; we abandoned him in the junction; a clutch of shops where people gather. This time we succeeded to leave him there and run away.

As fate would have it, some children spotted him wandering in the junction and recognised that the puppy belonged to us. They so responsibly took him back to us. With this incident, mom has almost resigned to accepting him.

By the way, she had a rich livestock. A hen called Parukkutty and her chickens, a herd of cows and calves including Ponni, Nandini, Sundari, Karuthamma and Muthulakshmi, besides her goat Pappi and her three sons Charli, Chapli and Kambli. The young dog, with his unsolicited friendliness somehow found space among those farm animals. For his sheer uselessness, he was rather hated. But young puppy didn’t seem to care for all this.

He examined everything, he ran around the entire house compound, farm field, cattle shed. He never complained, never growled for food, didn’t defecate on the house compound (we understood these are uncommon virtues for a dog only much later when we tried to domesticate a few other ones after his death).

An incident during the following summer vacation when we were away at mom’s home shot the puppy into instant popularity. The delivery of Muthulakshmy, a Brownswiss variety on which mom had loads of hope, was due. (Muthu’s long-awaited pregnancy, after treatment for infertility, was a huge relief for the entire family).

Muthu, who is known for her lack of commonsense, was tied to a coconut tree somewhere near the house as the expectant cow needed special attention. After the summer showers soil turned muddy and Muthu who felt some unease struck her horns on the ground. It stuck in the sticky soil and she fell on the ground. She was gasping for breath. Mom and dad were a little away with the workers who were planting ginger and didn’t see this. Ginger is planted after the first spell of summer showers.

Little puppy felt that something was wrong and barked at the top of his voice. This attracted some of those workers who passed by. They ran to the spot only to see Muthulakshmi, the pregnant cow, gasping for breath in a near-death situation. They immediately cut the rope and freed the cow from its self-created entanglement.

Little puppy saved the life of Muthulakshmi, mom’s proud possession the Brownswisss breed! It became news in the immediate neighbourhood. And mother shared her joy in her letter to us who were holidaying with cousins at the ancestral home.

When we returned home after that summer what we could see was puppy enjoying a new-found love, attention and care for his heroic act. Hitherto, he was just ‘Patti’ (the Malayalam word for dog), without a name, identity and status. Apparently, everyone realised that he deserves much higher consideration.

Now the search for a good name: at a post-dinner discussion, as we failed to find an interesting name for our interesting puppy, the caretaker of our dairy, Chandranchettai proposed ‘Kuttoosan’ – no sooner did he utter this in his high-pitched voice than all four of us erupted in joy accepting this. Thus Kuttoosan, the evil sorcerer in a Malayalam children’s comic, turned out to be a pet puppy name, perhaps for the first time in history.

We called him Kuttu or Kuttoos as we felt like. When we call out Kuttoos, he will come running from wherever he is…no matter how distant he was. He knew the boundaries of our farm. He rarely crossed those boundaries, without any instruction. If our neighbour’s farm animals crossed the boundary and come to our field, you would see the rare flash of rage on his face. He would ran after them and chase them away till the boundary and return. His sense of boundary and belongingness amazed everyone. On many occasions he had bitten the alien calves, hens, goats and pigs. Among our flock of chicken, if there happened to be one from the neighbouring households, he would single out it and chase it away. Boy, it would be an uproarious scene.

When we wanted to catch one of our chickens to cook, we needn’t run after them. We would just call Kuttu and throw a stone at the chicken; he will chase it and finally keep it under his hold until some of us catch the hen/cock. Much of the credit for Kuttu’s playfulness and responsiveness would go to my brother and his friend Unni, who spent lot of their time playing with him. We used to throw objects and compete with Kuttu to catch it. We used to give him jumping practice.

When, many of the neighbourhood dogs, be it his darling Rosy or his arch rivals Jimmy and Appoos, had to contend with leftovers which are often cold, rotten or sub-quality, Kuttoos gently refused to eat anything that is a day old. Mom used to say, “Kuttu seems to be asking me, ‘why are you giving me the stuff only dogs would eat’?”

When Rosy calls him out for a date, it is a bit difficult for him to resist that. However, he always wanted to keep it a secret as we never approved him wandering around. He had found his way out through a simple trick. He would bark at certain direction as if he found something/somebody curious and chase it. Later we would see him going around with Rosy who was waiting for him hiding in some corner.

With Jimmy, he had a running feud. No matter how larger and older he was, most of the time Kuttu used to beat him in their direct duels. Jimmy’s brother Appoos was his friend but when Jimmy took on Kuttu, Appoos used to side with his big brother. The combined force of both was often something difficult to handle for Kuttu. Although he had occasional victories, he was at times badly bitten. But he never ran away from the battle scene.

We, dad, brother and me, were so close to him that we found it difficult to scold him when it was required. But one big shout would be good enough to keep him under control. The one whom he was really afraid of was mom. It was a mix of fear, respect and love. When he committed something wrong, just as staying away for longer hours, staying overnight at certain other place, Kuttu’s sense of guilt would be writ large on his face. When mother calls him, his hanging ears will be further droopy, eyes will be downward looking, tail will be tucked between his rear legs and back will bend like ‘n’.

But very rarely did he commit such mistakes. Nothing would make him so joyous than mom’s rare show of affection. If dad, I and brother were away, he would skip his short nocturnal round through the immediate neighbourhood and would stay calmly in the front yard, taking over mom’s guardianship. This post-supper trip was a routine for him. As he grew up, his avarice for food was considerably reducing. Apart from non-veg, what he loved the most were sweet items and tapioca. He liked plantain and banana also, something not so common among dogs.

When the chickens make unusual voice, when something happen at cattle shed Kuttoos would instantly reach the spot. He would suddenly assume an air of responsibility at any problem situation.

Although, at one point of time he created some headache with biting children who came to our house, forcing us to chain him for a while, he rarely attacked our visitors.

But the agile, always active and handsome Kuttoos with long hairs on the top of his neck was respected within the neighbourhood so much as he was feared. The tiger nails on his forelegs were said to be the sign of dogs with extra ordinary intelligence. I don’t know if there is any academic backing for this theory. Anyway, he defied a local myth that dogs with white spots on legs and tail would wander away.

Even when he was 10 years old he looked young and smart, much like Mammooty. In a way, both of us, my kid brother and me, who were away at church was fortunate not to see his half-eaten body. Kuttu seemed to have engaged in a fight with a tiger dog (a variety of wild dog which looks like both dog and tiger) which came from nearby forest.

Mom says Kuttu’s habit – his refusal to withdraw – might have perhaps led to his death. He might have picked up a fight with tiger dog which ultimately cost his life.

His tragic death still remains a poignant memory. He was our companion for 10 long years, for me from sixth standard to PG first year. Kuttu was a local legend. During his lifetime and posthumously also, many pet dogs in the neighbourhood were named after Kuttu, which bore testimony to his goodwill.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A rathyatra to the wrong side of history

A rathyatra on the road of hatred may lead you up to the gate of 7 Race Course, but not beyond that. Having lost his prime ministerial dreams once and forever, Advani is learning this hard way. Given the long-drawn out bloody strategy he so skilfully charted way back in 70s, nurtured through 80s, pursued in 90s and bolstered in the new millennium, his disappointment is understandable. Evidently, Advani finds it hard to come to terms with the crumbling of his grand project.

His reluctance to address the public for the first two days post the counting of votes is but pitiable. Perhaps, at least for me who developed a negative image of this man when his 1992-rathyatra climaxed in the demolition of centuries-old mosque and massacres, his absolute disappearance from the public seen following the election results confirms the deep upset it has inflicted upon him.

A retrospect of Advani’s political life for the last 20 years after he rose to national prominence would never reveal any instance of this man seriously engaging with the basic development question – poverty, lack of infrastructure, educational backwardness – nothing influenced the agenda of national debates initiated by this man.

He was so aggressively harping on the theme of wrongs committed by medieval Muslim invaders which finally led him to demolish the 500-year old mosque. The agenda was all too clear – create a false sense that Hindus in India are victimized by Muslims and mobilise a vote-base on the basis of majoritarianism. It was actually ridiculous to suggest that a community intimidates another one which is numerically six times bigger than that.

After the evolution of this nation as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural society which was historically influenced by various streams of people, the idea of holding the Indian society hostage to the ‘magnified medieval wrong-doings’ was not only absurd but also reactionary.

The orchestrated communal killings across the country, be it Bombay riot or Gujrat carnage, offered some political mileage to Advani’s brand of politics.

But, the underlying wisdom of Indian public could sustain the communalisation efforts, thanks to the powerful stream of liberal thoughts, which put spoke on communal juggernaut. BJP ridiculed the liberal elite of the country as ‘pseudo secular’ and their activities as‘minority appeasement’.

Advani’s ideological dishonesty was unravelled when he staged a sentimental drama in Pakistan calling Jinnah secular. In his desperate bid to occupy the moderate space within the BJP in the post-Vajpayee era which suited his prime ministerial project backfired because his ideological patrons in the RSS did not pardon him, neither the liberal elites of the country got carried away by his new-found love for secularism. It just turned out a political opportunism that did not pay off.

BJP has been professing the philosophy of hate (under the garb of self pride) with absolute conviction that the people of India can be taken for granted, they would be swayed by their communal agenda. But the one billion plus nation stunted them several times.

The same conviction that the people of India is gullible to the concocted reality presented by them was evident in the utterly counter-productive brash India Shining electoral campaign in the past. This time it was all the more ridiculous as the 81-year old ‘prime minister in waiting’ was shamelessly aping 47-year old US president Barack Obama.

Obama for America campaign was imitated by similarly sounding Advani for PM campaign. There were attempts to bring in subtle messages of ‘change’ as well as ‘youthness’ which were ironically lacking in the campaign of octogenarian who is a prisoner of medieval hatred. While Obama transcended race and professed harmony the imitator believed in garnering political capital out of divisiveness.

Advani’s desperation was reaching new levels in the 2009 campaign as we could see in several occasions. His refusal to disown Varun Gandhi’s vitriol just suggested he fell back on appealing to the extremist sentiments. Having perceived that the party could not catch up with the Congress, the BJP changed tack midway; they prematurely announced Modi as 2014 prime ministerial candidate. The idea was to cash in on the perceived popularity of rabblerousing Gujarat Chief Minister who remains unrepentant over the genocide of 1000 plus Muslims.

Even his autobiography which was published well in advance to the election 2009 did its share of damage to Advani’s campaign. The then Home Minister pleading ignorance over the decision to release dreaded terrorists in exchange of Kandahar hostages revealed nothing but dishonesty and cowardice.
If Advani had owned up that move, since it anyway has a justification since lives of hundreds of Indians were under risk, it would have been much more straitforward.

Besides all his vicious projects, Advani finally earned notoriety for denigrating the election campaign to such a low by calling Manmohan Singh, a weak prime minister. People of India who have seen both of them on prime-time TV had the right assessment.

A man and a movement blinded by its quest for power always ended up in the wrong side of the history.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bharat Mahan

The resounding electoral victory for the UPA underscores that the policy shift of the Congress towards left-of-the centre position has struck a chord with the Indian masses. The surprise victory of the Congress in 2004 which was out of power for eight long years was in the context of a ravaged rural India languishing under agriculture crisis and collective impoverishment. The Congress returned to power as the masses voted out BJP.

In 2004, the ruling BJP, the so called ‘Hindu nationalist party’ (courtesy to Reuters for the usage), so firmly believed that the post-liberalisation, prosperous urban middleclass would endorse their ‘India Shining’ campaign. They seem to have taken for granted the rural masses, the 70 per cent of Indians, that a vast majority of them would support the party for its extreme Hindutwa postures.

But they miserably failed as evidenced by the two subsequent national elections – 2004 and 2009. The ruthless violence, demagoguery and vicious use of emotional issues were completely rejected by the masses. This is where the Congress entered the scene.

The Congress, which is often criticised for neo liberal approach, which is broadly defined as the withdrawal of state from its welfare responsibilities, downsizing of government and hijacking of resources by capitalist forces, knowingly or unknowingly underwent a policy correction.

The government initiated a creative job guarantee scheme for the rural poor which ensured 100 days of employment. This has two-way benefit that it addresses the basic development question in those interior areas. In other words, these labourers are employed in projects such as road construction, water harvesting initiatives and collective farming. This should be viewed in the context of the historic problem of rural unemployment in India.

When the corrupt bureaucratic mechanism manipulated the wage distribution to those labourers, the government came out with the Right to Information Act to ensure transparency in government affairs. This coupled with distribution of smart cards, at least in some parts, helped reduce corruption and manipulation to a certain extent.

This was followed by farm-loan waiver which saved millions of farmers from perennial indebtedness. Remember, the agrarian regions were ridden by the series of farmer suicides as a result of successive years of drought, crop loss, price crash and mounting debt.

The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, Bharat Nirman Rural Infrastructure Project and Rural Health Mission are among other achievements of the UPA Government which critics would dub as populist measures. In the absence of a vociferous propaganda mechanism as its political opponent RSS-backed BJP has, one was doubtful about the Congress’s ability to convert those populist measures into public support.

However, the Indian electorate surprised everyone with its discretion which once again withstood the propaganda onslaught of a haughty, majoritarian, divisive movement. The outcome of 2009 national election conclusively proves that the people of India have rejected the politics of partisanship. This reinforces the faith in India as a country which upholds the values of peace, harmony and tolerance.

The simple, learned, modest Manmohan Singh appealed to the masses and they dismissed insinuations that he is weak and submissive for the dishonesty and arrogance behind such propaganda.

However, will the shrinking space of the Left in our national debate, its much reduced influence on the policy making be an opportunity for the Congress for aggressive pursuance of neo-liberal agenda?

Will we see more corporate hijacking of resources? Will we see profit-making navaratna public sector undertakings being put up for sale? Will we see the basic functions such as power distribution being left to private players? Will we see further de-regulation of stock markets which will make it vulnerable to the manipulations of international players?

If the increased numerical strength marks a departure from pro-people policies of the government, the masses would not take much time to go back to the days of anti-Congressism.