About Sujata Anandan

Sujata Anandan was brought to political reporting by an old-time editor, kicking and screaming. She soon began to have fun, though. Today that kicking and screaming is mostly directed at her — by the politicians she writes about, with rarely a good word for anyone (there could be exceptions).  But she is never meaner or nastier than the subjects themselves and so lives to see another day, every day. Otherwise, she enjoys her job as the Political Editor of the Mumbai edition of Hindustan Times.

As Maharashtra , as we know it today, completes 66 years of its existence, we must wonder whether it will eventually break up into as many parts as made it whole in 1960.

There are those demanding statehood for Vidarbha who have always observed May 1 – which is both Maharashtra and Gujarat day because the two states were bifurcated from Bombay province on this day – as a `Black day’. But for a major part no one has noticed or bothered about these demonstrations because the people of all regions of Maharashtra are by and large happy with the integration of their regions into the larger state.

Maharashtra was formed out of three parts – Bombay state (which included Western Maharashtra), Marathwada which was part of the Nizam’s Hyderabad stam Provinces and Berar. At the time of their integration into Maharashtra, the eight districts (now 11) of Vidarbha were by and large upset at the scant attention being paid to them by the rulers of the Mahakaushal region who allocated funds mostly for the development of the Hindi speaking regions of CP&Berar. That was the identical complaint of leaders of Western Maharashtra from the Bombay state who felt most funds from their state were going towards Kutch and Saurashtra and that native Maharashtrians could never get justice under a mixed state. Marathwada was less troubled by such favouritism for the Nizam was universally unjust to all the regions under his rule, including his native Telangana, but wanted their fortunes to be determined by Maharashtra and not the Nizam.

After they came together as a whole, there have always been complaints that politicians of Western Maharashtra have been unjust to both Vidarbha and Marathwada by ensuring development in their region and ignoring the other parts of the state. There is some truth to that allegation but the fact remains that the longest serving chief minister of Maharashtra – Vasantrao Naik – hailed from Vidarbha and yet did not do much for his region. Marathwada had several chief ministers ruling from Mantralaya and yet continues to remain backward. Hence it is the laid back attitudes of leaders from these regions that are responsible for their backwardness, so would it be completely fair to hold just politicians from Western Maharashtra fully responsible for this travesty?

Now, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is in a bit of a bind over a separate Vidarbha. Generally, it is only those politicians who have been sidelined by their parties who are seen in the forefront of an agitation for statehood and over the past years these included many in the BJP. Now, however, both the party and the region have it as never before. Vidarbha elected the maximum number of BJP candidates to the assembly which helped the party to install a chief minister in Bombay. The region thus has a chief minister along with a high performing minister in Nitin Gadkari and the people believe they need no more than these two to see them through the backlog in development projects and catch up with the rest of the state.

The BJP, then, cannot work towards a separate Vidarbha for losing its grip over Maharashtra – in any case Bombay, as the commercial capital of India, is more important to any political party than Nagpur or Aurangabad. Now the Shiv Sena which, along with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, is the only party in Maharashtra with no divided views over unified Maharashtra, has put the BJP on the mat with a resolution moved in the state legislature seeking its commitment to an undivided state. The BJP is thus damned if it does and damned if it does not for it has the issue of statehood written into its manifesto. This is the advantage that the separatists are taking advantage of now and threatening to burn copies of the manifesto on May 1 to focus attention on the party’s alleged duplicity.

Knowing the Shiv Sena, I can say they will once again flood the streets with blood and gore at the slightest breath of their ally attempting to bifurcate the state again. This issue, of integrti0n of all Marathi speaking areas into one unit was, after all, what defined them in 1969 when they first turned violent – that time the fight was to annex Belgaum and Karwar with Maharashtra. This time it will be to keep Nagpur from seceding.

It will not be easy for the BJP to enforce the separation while it might be a lesser evil to allow those demanding statehood to burn as many copies of their manifesto as they wish and then allow the agitation to die down as it always has from year to year. People from the rest of Maharashtra are beginning to ask if the BJP even has the right to celebrate Maharashtra Day with its flip-flops over breaking up the state. Buthe demand for a separate Vidarbha has always left a majority of the people of even Vidarbha cold.

Why then unnecessarily should they wake up the sleeping tiger?

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At the tenth anniversary celebrations of his party, Raj Thackeray tried to gloss over his growing irrelevance in the nation’s polity by saying that everyone in the world – except perhaps Lata Mangeshkar – has been through bad patches and setbacks.

“Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee, greater leaders than me also had downfalls and went through bad patches,” so he was no exception.

While he is right about bad patches coming into the lives of almost all individuals or leaders, his is an exceptional case in the sense that he has brought about his own setback.

When, just before the Lok Sabha elections, Thackeray had a meeting with Nitin Gadkari and very few people noticed that at the time, Gadkari had had no locus standi to ask Raj to refrain from contesting against the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra.

That is an appeal that should have come from either Narendra Modi, who was then the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate or at best from Rajnath Singh, the then BJP party president.

Gadkari had not been authorised by either and, indeed, he had not been overstepping his brief. He was actually meeting Raj merely to appeal to him to withdraw his agitation against the toll nakas in the state, which had been causing damage to a lot of vested interests including the Indian Roads Bureau and Gadkari even then had interests in the IRB.

Raj did halt the agitation but went ahead to contest the Lok Sabha polls against both the BJP and the Sena for that is a promise he had not made to Gadkari or any one else.

But the public perception that he was running with the hares and hunting with the hounds caused him lasting damage and he was unable to recover from that duplicitous image even during the assembly elections six months later.

Raj’s politics has always been reactionary, he derives his strengths from opposing various governments than from implementing or formulating policies of his own and that is something now even his supporters are able to see quite clearly. In the intervening period, he found little to oppose the new government’s policies unless it was to point out the flaws in the policy regarding smart cities but that hardly made for a street agitation.

Then he found a burning issue in the government’s decision to give 70,000 permits to new auto-rickshaws in Mumbai and decided that these will be reduced to cinders. But like the toll agitation, this was not so much about concern for the common people or even the Marathi-speaking people of the state as an opportunity to make good again. For those auto-rickshaws were all coming from the Bajaj factory in Pune and now Raj had someone to target.

Rahul Bajaj, however, has his measure and when he said, “We know where he is coming from and where to send him back.”

I knew the agitation would not last long. But even I was surprised at the speed with which Raj Thackeray withdrew this particular agitation. He modified his statement within just two days to say that no new auto-rickshaws were being seen on the streets and if the government was issuing these permits to old ones, those vehicles should be spared from burning.

There was, indeed, a clamour to slap sedition charges on Raj Thackeray for inciting violence but I do not believe that is what frightened or persuaded him to retreat.

I believe Rahul Bajaj knew exactly how to turn the screws on the MNS chief and I must doff my cap to the government – for all that the Congress was clamouring for his arrest, I am glad the state did not fall into that trap and turn him into a martyr.

The Congress, when in power, had been unable to take much action against him except after things went terribly out of hand. But, perhaps, with some good advice from Bajaj, this government did not even have to wait that long to defang this crouching tiger.

As a result, Raj Thackeray seems to have made himself even more of a laughing stock than he was before and many of his workers and supporters are sorely disappointed with him for not just withdrawing the agitation with lightning speed but for having started something, in the first place, that could only have ended up endangering their lives and liberties.

Raj Thackeray ought not to lose sight of two facts — he is no Bal Thackeray who could ask his Shiv Sainiks to jump from the 17th floor of a building for no good reason and they would do it for him eyes shut, no questions asked.

Secondly, no political party is ever built on blackmail, bargaining or setting one group of people against another. Bal Thackeray built the Shiv Sena on the plank of Mumbai for Maharashtrians. At the time, most Maharashtrians were a deprived lot and poor in their own city whereas the rich were almost always non-Maharashtrian and exploitative of the locals.

That is no longer true and the Maharashtrian youth is as aspirational as the rest of India.

They do not want to get stuck in jobs like auto-rickshaw drivers or peanut vendors. If he does not evolve a programme in keeping with the name of his party — navnirman – I am afraid, the temporary setback he talks about will become permanent and the downfall will be everlasting.

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I wrote the following article for ‘Femina’, a few years ago when hey wanted a debate on why one loves India – or not. I chose to `love’ India – another senior colleague had very valid reasons to make the contrary arguments for many of the things happening today that were happening even then on a smaller scale.

But many of my arguments would be seen as anti-national today. Eunuchs will be spat upon, anybody throwing even a barb at Narendra Modi would be slapped with sedition, sitting in dharna against the government to protest your rights would be a strict no-no. But do you know? I thought hard about it and decided I still love India, her warts and all, and will fight hard to keep her spirit and chaotic freedoms alive.

What is happening today is an aberration, civil society and fellow journalists are finally sanding up to the government and I have hope.

Here is the text in full:

Why I love India

I don’t have any big notions about why I love India – I just do. India is my one big love affair and I think that affair began several years ago on the edges of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in the middle of a group of transvestites who had tripped me up, one frosty winter night, with a stocking tied between two trees.

They were mostly Latin American and they hated women – that’s all they saw me as, a threat to their business. Paris was then the world capital of transvestite prostitution and that morning on my way to work, I came across the police hauling up a magnificent sample of a sex change operation: High cheek bones so beautifully coloured, mascara running down his/her teary cheeks, such long endless legs, sheer stockings, all dressed in black. Her only colour — the red slash of a mouth.

Curiosity led me to look for a story in the woods of Paris where these transvestites hung out but they didn’t want me around. I thought it might be my skin or the fact that I was Asian but it was just that I was born a woman.

As I picked myself up resentfully and ran for my life amid their screeching threats, I could not help but recall how a few years earlier back home in India, on a train from Bombay to Howrah (enroute to Nagpur), I found myself in a `Ladies’ compartment full of eunuchs, dressed in saris and calling themselves “srimatis”.

The sight of them gave me the fright of my life (I was the only woman in that six-berth compartment) and then it was I who was screeching – at the ticket checker. When my hysteria subsided, I realised they were no threat. Far from wanting to molest or murder me, they had decided to ‘adopt’ me. They gave up a lower berth for my upper one to help me avoid trouble climbing up and down going to the toilet at night, one of them woke with me every time to hold the latchless toilet door for me against the men lolling in the aisles, did not allow me to get down even once to fetch water, shared their dinner with me – and all they wanted in return was that I read to them from their colourful film magazines (they were all unlettered) stories about their favourite heroes and heroines!

“That is my country,” I told myself even as I ran through the woods for the nearest metro station. “So what am I doing here?”

I had a five-year residence permit and I gave it all up in less than two years to return to India. As I told my African and other Asian colleagues who thought I was a fool to give up the joys of the West for the troubles of the East, “I think it is more worth my while writing about eunuchs of my own country than about the transvestites of Paris!”

They did not understand, nor did I expect them to. I just could not explain to them the innumerable freedoms of a democracy that India provides which other countries don’t.

I can squat anywhere in India with a placard to protest for my rights; in Japan, that’s just not possible. As part of Sunil Dutt’s team during his anti-nuclear walkathon in the 1980s from Nagasaki to Hiroshima, we were denied permission for even a maun vrat in the parks of Japanese cities en route. We can throw a stone at our Prime Minister and break her nose (remember Indira Gandhi’s bleeding nose in the eighties?) and the world will soon forget who did that (I don’t remember, does anyone?). But why is an Indian scientist who dared to voice criticism against then President George Bush still rotting in a US jail today?

We can walk through the streets of India in large groups, shouting slogans, singing, dancing. It would not be a crime. I and my Pakistani colleague were hauled up (thankfully, not arrested) by the Paris cops for singing Bollywood songs at the top of our voice on our way home one night because they could not understand the words and thought we were indulging in some unique kind of protest!

And, yes, no beggar in my country would tell me, “Me today, you tomorrow,” as one in London did, trying to bully me into parting with my money.

So with all the real and intractable problems that India may have, that’s why I love her, warts and all!

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If you are born a South Indian, you grow up with stories of Lord Ayyappa who, at one time, was not known to many North Indians as a God, the result of the consort between Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. It is from learning about Ayyappa that I discovered the story of the Samudra Manthan and Vishnu’s Mohini avatar that so fascinated Shiva that a child was born out of that attraction.

Ayyappa’s eternal dilemma, I was told, was a query he was never able to resolve – is Vishnu my father or my mother?

Elders used to say rather jokingly, “Perhaps that’s why women are not allowed in the Ayyappa temple – until he resolves this issue of who really is his mother!’’

But although I saw men around me throughout childhood head towards the Ayyappa temple in December-January after a month or more of austerities, I was never tempted to discover this God for myself.

Gods should not discriminate, so if you are a Keralite you might be more tempted to look out for Muthappan, said to be the living avatar of both Vishnu and Shiva and as powerful as Ayyappa – you never know when either God might enter a worshipper’s being but when they do, it is fascinating to observe that living avatar.

Muthappan is a less discriminating God and more democratic. Most of his priests belong to the non-Brahmin classes – it is into their bodies that the gods are said to enter once every month. And when that happens even high class Brahmins bend down to touch the feet of these lower castes and host them in their homes.

“Ordinarily, they would not let a man like me cross their threshold any time of the day,’’ one such priest once told a friend of mine. “But if they believe I am Vishnu avatar or Shiva avatar, they are all fighting with each other to invite me home and feed me with their own hands that day.’’

Muthappan will even hold hands with women, without caring whether or not they are menstruating that day, and read their futures – believers swear every word comes true. So most women down south don’t bother about Ayyappa at all and I think,despite the antiquated views of the Sabarimala administrator, South India has to be rather more evolved in this matter of temple entry to all and sundry.

For I recall an aunt of mine taking me to a Shani Mandir in Hyderabad where I stepped in rather gingerly, aware of the fact that women were banned from worshipping that god in his sanctum sanctorum. But I was startled when I was allowed to come close and even pour a cup of oil onto the God’s crown in Abhishek as well as light a lamp before his idol.

No priest fussed or bothered though we were hurried from the sanctum sanctorum because there was a long line of worshippers behind us – mostly men but you could also spot a handful of women among them.

Ever since I have wondered if Lord Shani could accept a woman’s prayers in one temple why could he not at another?

The tradition of banning women from the sanctum sanctorum at the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra has been ages old but I do not believe it has any religious sanction. But it is ironical and a travesty of justice that men who would worship Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga as the epitomes of wealth, knowledge and power, should deny women the right to pray at the temple of a male god who never at any time said or even decreed in the scriptures that women should be banned from his worship.

I wonder why this happens but to a large extent I believe women are banned from praying to these gods like Shani and Ayyappa because they have no female consorts. But then neither do Hanuman or Ganesh and I never heard of anyone stopping women from entering temples to these Gods.

So I believe the rules are largely man-made coming out of medieval prejudices when women were confined indoors and were discouraged from public participation and social,activities. I appreciate activists of the Bhumata Ranragini Samiti for having made an attempt to storm the Shani Shingnaput temple but for me a prayer to or a conversation with god is a private affair. I would not like to enter any premises where I am not wanted – including a temple – on the basis of any prejudice, gender, religious or even caste based. I would also not pray at the temple at Ayodhya whenever it is buillt for I do not believe any God will be able to hear any prayers drowning in the din of the screams of the innocent souls who lost their lives to the political agitation to have the temple erected.

Moreover, to me as a devout Hindu, the site of a former mosque can never be the siite for a temple.

So I will return to Hyderabad if I want to seek a prayer from Lord Shani again and I must advise people of my gender to try Muthappan instead of Ayyappa. He is a more democratic god – prayed to in Kerala (there is now a temple in Bombay too, discovered by all its cosmopolitan communities to which they make a beeline every month) by people of all castes, creeds, religions and genders and, yes, economic status – some put thousand rupee notes in his palm, others only ten or five rupee coins but he treats them all with equal attention.

As one cousin who gave up Ayyappa, the family deity, for Muthappan told me, “Tirupati is a place for crorepatis. Guruvayoor for lakhpatis. Muthappan is the god of the common man.’’

Or, I must say after a visit to his temple, even woman.

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I never had the good fortune to work closely with Dr Aroon Tikekar. I first met him when he was working as the chief librarian at the Times of India archives and there was almost a daily interaction with the man who then seemed to me stern and rather impatient with the lack of knowledge or a sense of history among budding journalists.

He carried that impatience with the younger lot of journalists to the end of his days, lamenting to me frequently that there were just a couple of journalists left among the existing lot in the country who could be expected to understand the issues and contexts thoroughly. I never dared to ask him if he counted me among those with knowledge and understanding. But, I must say, when I came across him again at the Indian Express building, he was the editor-in-chief at the Loksatta and despite my earlier fright of him, my daily contacts with him resumed — this time of my own volition.

The Shiv Sena was on the ascendant at the time and Loksatta was the singular newspaper that had not caved in to the demands of the Sena tiger Bal Thackeray. At one of my numerous interviews with him, Thackeray had once threatened to crush editors like Tikekar (and of some other Marathi newspapers) like an insect under his thumb.

Bombay then had just come through the worst riots of the century (in 1992-93) following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya which had been incited in no small measure by his incendiary writings in the Saamna.

But Thackeray was sore at the fact that while his Shiv Sainiks continued to buy the Saamna dutifully, they were more interested in what the Loksatta had to say each morning, and took Tikekar rather more seriously than their own editor and party leader. And Loksatta never had many flattering things to say about the Sena tiger.

Thackeray then emerged as the original troll of all times. Every morning without fail, Saamna would carry some or the other libelous piece about Dr Aroon Tikekar. Thackeray did not stop at anything, even compounding the Goebbelsian principle that a lie repeated a hundred times becomes the truth. So one day the Saamna carried an editorial about Tikekar, saying that every evening after he left work for home, he stopped by Kamathipura, which is Bombay’s notorious red light district.

We were outraged. So was the newspaper’chairperson Vivek Goenka. But Tikekar was only laughing through our rage and anger. He dissuaded Goenka from filing a defamation suit against Thackeray. “That is what he wants. The case will drag on in court for years. Besides that would be giving him the importance and legitimacy he craves. Unnecessarily we will be blowing it big. If we do not pay it any attention, we will deny him that legitimacy.”

That attitude taught me a thing two about dealing with my own Twitter trolls these days.

Dr Tikekar’s public reponse to Thackeray was, “If I really visit the red light areas after work, then only one human being should be hurt by it — my wife. Since she is not bothered, why should you care?”
Thackeray was left gnashing his teeth but I do recall the attacks on Tikekar did not go away and, at one time, there was a security blanket at the building we worked out of to prevent Shiv Sainiks from entering and assaulting the Loksatta editor.

Dr Tikekar’s courage and success was apparent from the fact that the Shiv Sena was ruling Maharashtra, then in an alliance with the BJP, and Thackeray’s writ ran all over the state at the time. The Maharashtra government had to provide security to a man against its own party leader because chief minister Manohar Joshi recognised the constitutional demands on his office and could not allow a state that he governed to become a law and order issue created by his own party leader.

That so-called betrayal annoyed Thackeray to no end and in many ways contributed to his growing disenchantment with the tallest leader in his party. It eventually led to Joshi’s marginalisation by Thackeray’s son, Uddhav Thackeray, in later years.

When I was writing my book on Bal Thackeray, there was no one better who I could have approached than Dr Aroon Tikekar. He was then heading the Asiatic Library and I still treasure the hours I spent there over many sessions, discussing the shape my book would eventually take. I have no hesitation in admitting that ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat – How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever’ was entirely guided in spirit and content by Dr Tikekar. I could not have written the book, which is now being billed as the best-ever written on the subject so far by many critics, without the rich resource material, published as well as unpublished, provided to me by Dr Tikekar.

In one of my Wednesday columns after one of these conversations with Dr Tikekar I had reproduced a very telling point he had made about the Shiv Sena –- that it had pushed the entire Maharashtrian community back by a generation.

“We received two setbacks in the past –- first when we lost the third war of Panipat to the Afghans and second when Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. In the 18th century, the Panipat loss restricted the growth of Maharashtrians by a generation and Godse’s act created a trust deficit between Maharashtrians and the rest of India. We were just beginning to overcome that set back when Thackeray arrived on the scene and with his extreme fundamentalism reinforced the impression that Maharashtrians were all violent and extremist. Even his own supporters suffered setbacks because he kept them from education and progress. It will take a long time for the Maharashtrian society to recover.”

“That comment should actually be part of a book,” Dr Tikekar then called to tell me. “Not just in a column whose currency might be over after the week.”

“I have already included it in my book.” I told him. And Tikekar laughed delightedly, though he might not have been very happy with the way my book eventually turned out — “Racy, like a thriller,” he said, rather disapprovingly. He would have wanted it to be more intellectual and academic but as I told him then, not all of us can bring intellectualism to bear upon our writings.

Dr Tikekar was the epitome of erudition and intellectualism. There was never a day when I did not learn something new from the man who was never my editor. I shall miss him sorely (Dr Tikekar passed away in Mumbai on January 19, 2015).

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