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.

A couple of years ago, when there was a leadership struggle within the Shiv Sena, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi who wanted control of the party just as he had exercised his authority over its founder Bal Thackeray and manipulated the Sena tiger all his life, had taunted Uddhav Thackeray in the most demeaning terms. In the context of a memorial to Thackeray, he had said, “Had it been Balasaheb wanting a memorial for his father and the government had been playing fast and loose with him over grant of land for the purpose, he would have created a ruckus and flooded the streets with Shiv Sainiks. The government would have been unnerved into promptly granting him the land he wanted… That kind of courage is lacking in today’s leadership.’’

Uddhav had not reacted at all – unlike his father who would have roared and raged and threatened Joshi with dire consequences for virtually calling him a coward. But some months later he responded by denying Joshi a ticket to the Lok Sabha that he had wanted and completely marginalised him giving Joshi no role in the party functioning and virtually rendering him unwanted and undesired by anyone in the party.

But as the Shiv Sena completes fifty yes of its existence today (June 19), I cannot help but note that Bal Thackeray seems to have shrunk not just in spirit but also in size – on the posters that the party has put up on the occasion. While earlier he was always larger than life, now he occupies equal room as his son and political heir and Uddhav seems to have finally completely taken over the party and molded it in his own image.

Of course, there is no flooding the streets with Shiv Sainiks as Joshi would have wished but that toning down is not necessarily a bad thing for the party – and mor particularly for the people. But the worrying issue for the party is that while it may now be a watered down version of what Balasaheb’s party was, it has few ideas beyond what its founder had had at the establishment of the party in 1966 and it is thrashing about for a raison d’etre in the 21st century.

In the absence of such ideas, however, the party continues to do what it does best – oppose the government. But now it is no longer the question of opposing an ideologically opposite party. It is strange that the Shiv Sena is getting away with calling Narendra Modi names and trashing every policy of the government both at the Centre and in the state. The party took particular delight in declaring that the Modi magic does not work any more when the BJP lost a series of elections every where except in Assam, it poked fun at the BJP’s self-congratulation at its Assam win, it trashed Modi’s Pakistan policy and, in the state, it is constantly needling Devendra Fadnavis at his inability to control the drought situation in Marathwada, bitterly opposing his alleged attempt to reduce the influence of Marathi speaking people by breaking up the state into several parts including Vidarbha (which would then become largely Hindi speaking) and Marathwada (which would then be Dakhani or Urdu speaking). It is strange to say the least because all the time the Shiv Sena is an equal partner in both governments and while one understands the dependence of the Fadnavis government on the party, one wonders why Modi stands for such nonsense – more fun is poked at his government by the Shiv Sena than by the Congress or other parties on the left.

However, I believe the turning point in both the alliance and the Shiv Sena’s existentialist crisis will come only after elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The Sena does not care about ruling at the Centre or in the state but control of the civic body is all important to the party which has not grown beyond four or five urban centres, the most important of them being Bombay which continues to be it core constituency.

But even if the Sena were to win the BMC — and it has a fair chance considering that its closest rival is the Congress which is so ridden with factions that it might be unable to put up a concerted fight despite the best efforts of its city president Sanjay Nirupam, there is nothing the Sena will be left with at the next elections to the parliament or the assembly if the BJP goes ahead with its determined effort to marginalise the party so that it ceases its dependence on the whims and fancies of the Thackerays and is able to pursue its own policies and agendas without the Sena becoming a stumbling block – like in the separation of Vidarbha from Maharashtra. But even though the party has now taken on the personality of its president Uddhav Thackeray and may have reduced Balasaheb in size and spirit, I notice in substance it continues to follow the outdated policies of it founder. The question the party must ask , however, is if in a half century, the Marathi manoos has not evolved at all and is still fighting for Class 3 and Class 4 jobs or has sunk even lower. For while Bal Thackeray was fighting for clerical jobs for his supporters, today’s Sena is in conflict with north Indian taxi drivers and peanut vendors – jobs that no self-respecting Maharashtrian wants as they take their place alongside the best across a globalised economy.

The fight of the Shiv Sena continues to be the fights of the 1960s and 1970s, shorn of violence and bloodshed and that has contributed to a sense of ennui and lack of conviction among the people that the Sena has their best interests at heart.

I believe, therefore, that despite its possible victory at the BMC elections, the Shiv Sena’s GenNext leaders will have to think fast on their feet and evolve into a party of governance if they do not wish to be left behind in the next half century. Meanwhile the ghost of Bal Thackeray will continue to haunt the Sena even if it wishes to reduce the tiger in both size and plasma.

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If one goes backward in history by just a century, one would discover that nineteenth century Maharashtra and the first two decades of the 20th century saw bitter battles between Brahmins and upper castes fighting for the emancipation of the deprived classes and the equalisation of society. Notable reformists like M G Ranade, Vishnu Shastri Pandit, Gopal Hari Deshmukh, Bal Krishna Gokhale and many others of their ilk fought throughout their lives for the abolition of the caste system, the end to child marriages, the introduction of widow remarriages, et al amid bitter opposition from other upper castes like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, N C Kelkar and others who were equally opposed to the social reforms and advocted political independence from the British ahead of reforms in Hindu society. Joining battle with them in later years were Shahu Maharaj, the Maratha king of Kolhapur, a descendant of Chhatarpati Shivaji Maharaj and then Dr B R Ambedkar who was influenced by both Shahu Maharaj and M G Ranade. Shahu Maharaj even set up a radical political party to oppose thr orthodoxy of Congress then led by people like Tilak and Motilal Nehru and introduced affirmative action in his administration, employing Dr Ambedkar among others – his example influenced Ambedkar in later years to write reservations into the Constitution because by then he had realised that Hinduism was not designed for liberty, fraternity and equality and hence he also wrote those values into the Preamble of the Indian Constitution.

Not until the advent of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1920s did the Congress change its orthodox nature and become inclusive involving both lower castes and Muslims in large measure into the mainstream and it was this inclusiveness that promptdth RSS’s GuruGolwalkar to quit th Congress and set up the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Gandhi’s advent also spouted many other orthodox organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha which bitterly disagreed with Gandhi’s philosophies and wished for a return to the old order that was fast being upset by the enactment of laws by the British (like banning sati and another law to severely punish those who might ostracise people supporting widow remarriages or opposing child marriages for example) and the headlong rush towards Independence which they knew would not uphold the old order of yore. But these organisations we formed after the deaths of Tilak and Shahu Maharaj who, while bitterly opposed to each other used newspapers to bring their views to the people and engaged in fierce public debates to overturn opinion. Assassination of unarmed, defenceless old men for their views was not an option until after Independence.

A century later, the battle for equalisation of society continues and there is a sense of déjà vu – those persistently making a case for equalisation of society continue to be upper castes, bitterly opposed in their ideals by the orthodox among their own fraternity. Reformists and rationalists like Narayan Dabholkar and Govind Pansare who were shot down in cold blood also belonged to the upper castes and it is now becoming increasingly obvious with the arrest of Dr Virendra Tawde of the Sanatan Sanstha by the CBI last week that their opponents too belong to the upper strata of society and are still troubled by the efforts to secure entry into temples to Dalits, to obliterate the differences between castes and relgions and to make Indian society more homogenous as a whole. But now the physical elimination of old men with progressive ideas has become the norm rather than the exception – no engagement in intelledua battles for this kind of pope this century.

The Sanatnis involved in these assassinations might lean towards the right wing but my experience as a journalist reporting on Maharashtrian society over the past three decades tells me that there are enough upper castes among the Congress and like minded partiee like the Nationalist Congress Party who still look down upon the lower castes and would want to keep them crushed and in their place to make sure they do not get above themselvee and threaten the hegemony of these upper castes. That is why in the land of Ambedkar, whose followers converted to Buddhism to escape the inequalities of Hindu society, we continue to see atrocities against these people – they are still denied entry into temples, social mixing is quite the minimum and in the villages there are still attempts to grab the Inaam lands (gifted to Dalits by the British) by Marathas and Brahmins under the guise of industrial development and enterprise. It goes without saying that this enterprise is denied to the Dalits – if anyone has the gumption to stand up to them or even dream of setting up his own enterprise there is a kind of covert social boycott – they may not get seeds to sow in case they opt for agriculture, in case they manage to procure seeds somehow, they may not find labour for their farms, they may not find buyers for their produce, etc. Similar hardships are faced in terms of loans, equipment et al in case they wish to set up an industry. The message is clear – previous slaves and bonded labour have no right to rise above themselves or indeed above their former masters, even if generations have moved on since then and the Constitution has guaranteed equal rights to a citizens.

I am glad that after months of investigation, the CBI has finally identified the killers – both the hands and the brains behind the assassinations. The sanatanis had only to look back in time to realise that the 19th and 20th century reformists were only following in Chhatrapati Shivaji’s footsteps – the Maratha warrior king was the first to work for equalisation of society under his rule. Even Shivaji at the time had enough opponents – local Brahmins would not agree to perform his abhishek, he had to bring in pandits from Benares to do the honours. But ultimately his progressive policies won the day and Maharashtra has always had a socialist ethos ever since. There is no way a few killers and assassin can overturn that basic philosophy of the state.

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On Rajiv Gandhi’s 25th death anniversary, I recall the devastation I felt when I was recalled for duty past my dinner time. I stayed closest to my place of work – a news agency – and there were no mobile phones at the time. All my colleagues were on trains on their way back home in the distant suburbs and by the time they got the message and started back, much time would have elapsed. So I was startled when some stones began to hit my third floor window and some one came tearing upstairs to inform me that two of my colleagues (peons) were at the gates, desperately asking for me. I rushed down in my night clothes and when they informed me about the emergency, my mind just went blank. I charged upstairs in tears and changed back into street clothes and got into the waiting cab to be driven back to office.

That night, I single-handedly operated the photo-fax machine and uploaded the pictures to all subscribers. Soon there were photographers from all newspapers in the city making a beeline to my office to look at pictures that I might not have sent across to them. We were the earliest to have got that technology in the city and the papers were eager for some ‘exclusive’ pictures that all would not publish the next morning. I was the first, perhaps, to see the devastating photo of Rajiv lying on the ground with clothes torn off his back and Tamil Nadu Congress leader GK Moopanar sorrowfully spreading a blanket across him – that was a picture never released and I do not know if any one ever published that in so many years. I kept up the transmissions till other colleagues arrived at four in the morning after a bath and change of clothes and then stretched out on a desk, in complete exhaustion.

Today as I see hash tags on social media avowing that Rajiv Gandhi was the one who first launched digital India and changed the way a nation came into the 21st century from the 19th century we were stuck in. I am also reminded about how my career graph shaped up parallel to India’s communication revolution. In 1984, I was assigned to cover the Lok Sabha elections in remote towns and districts – I remember strap hanging in the buses to reach the villages and then having to locate the nearest post office from where I could send either a telegram or a teleprinter message. It was a very painful exercise and there was no guarantee that the report would reach my head office the same day – some reports took three days between writing and publication.

The next election, in 1989, after covering Rajiv’s election rally in Solapur on April 14, after he flew to Mhau to commemorate Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, I trotted off to the nearest post office, again looking for another teleprinter machine and operator. The post master of that village post office was surprised. “Why do you want to send your message through teleprinter?” he asked. “We have a fax machine, Madam. If there is a supporting machine on the other side, your report will be there in minutes.”

We did have one and all I needed to do was make a long distance call to the news editor to make sure my report had not arrived garbled at the other end. In 1991, fax machines were everywhere and made use of with ease but by 1996, I was using a laptop – though I had to go looking for a working telephone to connect. By 1998, though, I had the luxury of e-mails but they might still take hours to reach the recipients. The situation improved through the elections of 1999 but by 2004, there was no doubt that my reports would be on the desk of my editor within minutes. In 2009, I was still using a lapop but now with the ease of a data card and in 2014, I did not have to tug along heavy computer bags. A tablet sat snugly in my handbag and the policemen checking me for security as I entered meetings of Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi knew exactly what it was. “Just switch on the tablet in front of us and switch on and off your mobile phone so that we are sure they are not wired for bombs,” they said. I obliged and they waved me through.

I agree the ease of communication today is entirely owing to Rajiv Gandhi – I still remember a visit to Russia in 1992 where foreign correspondents working for British and American newspapers told me India was an important transit point for their messages – the former Soviet Union had still not improved their communication facilities and only the lines to India worked. So they sent their reports to their New Delhi bureaus which faxed them onwards to their native countries. That was not just lack of development or backwardness – Soviet bosses believed in not giving too much freedom to communicate to their people lest information become a weapon in their hands against governments. Rajiv Gandhi, though, never thought of anything as bizarre as that. I remember attending one of his events where he earnestly and passionately told listeners, “The industrial revolution bypassed India. We cannot afford the information revolution to do the same.’’

There is much that I admired about Rajiv Gandhi but what I am very greatful to him for is this – I had to book fixed time calls to communicate with my parents when he first became Prime Minister. Gradually, I could get to a STD booth and wait in a long line to call my parents. Then one of these booth owners offered me the facility of the conference call so that I could sit at home and immediately connect with my parents. Then I got my first mobile phone in 1996 and suddenly I could talk with them whenever I wished.

Can anyone in the younger generation even imagine a life without that mobile phone? He/she has only Rajiv Gandhi to thank for that.

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As a non-resident Keralite who will not be voting at next week’s elections in that state (I am a registered voter elsewhere), I was more amused than outraged by Narendra Modi’s comparison of the state of my origin to Somalia. Only someone who has absolutely no idea of what Kerala means to its residents and diaspora would make such a bizarre comparison and perpetrate the perhaps not misplaced belief among South Indians that those north of the Vindhyas have little or no idea of what constitutes their culture and civilisation beyond dismissing them as all `Madrasis’ and dark-skinned Dravidians.

I have barely visited Kerala on a handful of occasions but even if many of us are born out of the state, live and make our homes in other parts of the country and the
world (and we are all across both), marry much into other communities and assimilate ourselves into other cultures, we continue to remain immensely proud of God’s Own
Country to which we belong. Driving down from the plains of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu towards Kerala brings home the beauty of its land and the simplicity of its people.

Kerala was always lush with the green of its vegetation, the red of its earth and the blue of its lagoons and, perhaps, to set off these rich colours the people, both men and women, are always dressed in simple whites and creams. I have always remarked on this contrast with Rajasthan where people dress in rich colours perhaps to offset the dreary uniform grey of the desert sands of that state.

But what makes us most proud, however, is the uniform culture of our communities – though I am no expert or social scientist, I have always believed that nothing distinguishes a Hindu from a Christian or both from a Muslim except their places of religious worship. They dress the same and eat the same unlike in Gujarat where even names of Muslims might be similar to that of Hindus (there will be Patels and Shahs among them) but food habits give them away – Hindus are strictly vegetarian and Muslims eat meat, of course. All communities in Kerala eat all sorts of meats – except the Namboodiri Brahmins who, I must admit, in past centuries, were much worse than Brahmins elsewhere in the country in terms of discrimination against other castes and communities. But then they discriminated against all castes and communities uniformly – there was not just untouchability in Kerala but also unseeability and unpproachability, which meant the Brahmins would be soiled even if they came within sight and distance of a non-Brahmin and had to jump into a pond to wash off that defilement. That is one of the main reasons why communism took root in Kerala and has stayed for decades, like in West Bengal where communism was a response to the equally discriminatory zamindari system in that state. Therefore, every Keralite, even if not a card- carrying leftist leans left of centre and perhaps that is why the BJP is finding it so difficult to make inroads into that state.

Of course, no one can claim that Kerala, despite being God’s own country, is as perfect as paradise but we are all reasonably proud of the literacy rates in the state (a lack of basic education is incomprehensible), the awareness among women that makes them equal partners in society and the clannishness that runs through all communities and religions. “Never employ a Malayalee,’’ a joke used to run through offices in Bombay. “You give a job to one and within a few months every vacancy will be filled by his friend, brother or village man and before you know it your company will be a mini-Kerala.”

I realised the truth of that when I was admitted to a hospital in Bombay one year and all around me the nurses and ward boys were speaking Malayalam rather than Hindi or Marathi. Even the doctors were driven crazy by their incessant chatter in Malayaam through their attendance on patients and although I did not seem as one of them (I dhto not speak the language too well) the moment they got to know of my origins, I had some extra attention and care from them.

One could be critical of that clannishness but such ganging together is limited not just to Malayalees but that is also something that makes Kerala a state where there has been no communal tension for decades. The last time a riot happened was more than 30 years ago and later it was proved that it was real estate and commercial interests that had set off the conflagration – my uncle then had complained that Gulf money which was being remitted to Kerala in huge numbers had been driving up costs and competition. But that fight had been equal between all communities and was soon quelled by firm government action. It is not a coincidence that there has not been a riot ever since.

So Keralites are quite unlikely to fall for the divisive tactics of parties which might want to drive a wedge between the various communities. And so their reaction to Modi’s equation of them with Somalia was typical. They all united and responded with humour – as my cousin admonished me, tongue in cheek, “Why do you call the Prime Minister divisive? He is a unifier – he brought Lalu and Nitish together in Bihar. The Left and Congress together in Bengal and now in Kerala!” Even their hashtag on Twitter was very polite in its dismissal — #PoMoneModi which does not bear literal translation any which way. It is a rather indulgent way of saying, “Son ,don’t mess with things you don’t know. So just go away.”

One has to wait and see if the same message will be given to the BJP at the hustings.

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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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