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.

Over the years, the Maharashtra Bhushan award has been given by the state government to a galaxy of writers, poets, journalists, even singers, among them Lata Mangeshkar. Just about anybody who has done Maharashtra proud, in fact.

This year it was awarded to Babasaheb Purandare and his nomination has once again upset the political equations in the state. There were bitter objections to his name by everybody to the left of the government – even the Nationalist Congress Party which is professing support to the BJP-led government in the state. In fact, the NCP was more bitterly opposed than even the Congress but there was a common thread to the objections that was not immediately apparent. A lot of young journalists called to ask me if the award was meant only for historians – that is the only feasible reason they saw for the objections.

But neither is the award meant only for historians, nor is Purandare strictly a historian, he is simply a balladeer who in the past decades has popularised the legend of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj through his poems and plays. But it is therein that lies the conflict. Purandare is not only accused of characterising Shivaji as anti-Muslim, focussing on just four incidents in the latter’s reign, among them his escape from Aurangzeb’s Agra jail and his killing of Afzal Khan which make him seem like an anti-Muslim king — which he was not.

Had he been anti-Muslim, former Maharashtra chief minister A R Antulay would never have ordered the writing of a 12 volume history of Shivaji in the 1980s which was, sadly, abandoned by a succession of Maratha chief ministers, among them Shivaji’s descendants, through the 1980s and 1990s and even this century. Nor would Antulay have attempted to bring back Shivaji’s legendary sword of Bhavani – he never went to wr without it — from Buckingham palace where it still sits proudly in the Queen’s collection. When I quizzed Antulay about his love for Shivaji, he had told me Shivaji was against the Moghuls and their subedars. That is not the same thing as being anti-Muslim, he said.

“In fact, more than a third of his army and half his most trusted generals were Muslim and he had also adopted the Moghul court dress as his own. He was against their expansionism, not against their religion.”

So was the opposition of the NCP and to some extent of the Congress to Purandare’s award on account of his portrayal of Shivaji as anti-Muslim? I do not think so. I think it was a caste battle at its ugliest – a fight for the OBC vote that has shifted towards the BJP after one of their own, Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre.

Only Sharad Pawar’s convoluted thinking in formulating an opposition to a Brahminical order (the RSS) through targeting a balladeer and playwright, albeit one who wrote on a popular historical figure and one who is, conveniently, a member of the RSS, which could bring such ferocity to the campaign.

But why it has also ben convenient to raise the rhetoric on Purandare is because his ballads make out Shahaji to be an absentee father and hint at an unusual friendship between his mother Jijabai and Dada Kondadeo, Shivaji’s tutor, who had a lasting influence on the Maratha warrior king. Purandare not only projects Shivaji as a protector of the Brahminical order (which may not be true, considering the Peshwas refused to recognise him and boycotted his coronation – he had to bring in priests from Benaras to do the honours). But, as emerges from American professor James Laine’s book, which has heavily relied upon Purandare’s interpretations of Shivaji’s life and times, Shahaji might not have been Shivaji’s biological father. For that one line, Laine’s book has been banned in India and, moreover, the Sambhaji Brigade (Sambhaji was Shivaji’s son) which ta draws its sustenance from the NCP, had ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute for its help to James Laine in the writing of the book – that controversy and the successful campaign against Laine propelled both the Congress and the NCP, in alliance with each other, to power and kept them in government for 15 years.

Lately both the Congress and the NCP have been losing their OBC base, including the support of Marathas to the Shiv Sena and the BJP and this was too opportune an occasion to let go of – I am sure Pawar knew he would accomplish nothing by opposing the award to Purandare – the government was not likely to cow down. But that was not the intention which was more to once again drive a wedge between Brahmins and others. And the fact that Purandare is a member of the RSS while the state’s chief minister belongs to its political wing and is a Brahmin besides were convenient tools in this game of consolidating the anti-Brahmin votes in the state.

The government, of course, determinedly went ahead and awarded the honour to the 93 year old balladeer and the ceremony itself went off rather well despite all the noise preceding it. It is worth reminding readers that, while in power, the NCP organs had raised objections to a state government sports award – the equivalent of the Arjuna awards – named after Kondadeo. The award had been given out annually for three decades through several term of Pawar as chief minister with no one bothered about it. It is only when the NCP began to feel the ground slipping from under its feet that the Sambhaji Brigade came forward with similar noises and ultimatum. The Congress gave in. But neither that nor a 11th hour reservation for Marathas and Muslims ahead of the assembly elections in Maharashtra in October 2014 did much to salvage the parties’ electoral prospects. But now obviously the NCP realises that it cannot afford to be in the saffron space for too long and must consolidate its vote bank before it is too late. The award to Purandare was just tailor made for the purpose and it is not surprising that the agitation ceased abruptly after the awards ceremony.

In Maharashtra, I have noticed, there is almost a controversy a day with regard to Shivaji, even over matters as innocuous as the date of his birth. The government believes he was born in the month of Phalgun and so declare s a holiday in February-March, the Shiv Sena believes he was born in the month of Chaitra (two separate sets of historians have established both facts) and there are major celebrations around April-May as well. The next controversy is likely to be over the building of the 300 feet high statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea –a project started by the Congress but now being continued by the BJP and the Shiv Sena who are currently in power. They have appointed Purandare as consultant and there are already noises that his appointment will distort Shivaji’s image. How? I fail to understand. In writing his ballads he may have interpreted Shivaji’s life differently but how does a Brahminical mindset distort a physical image of Shivaji?

Only the NCP which claims a long line of his descendants have the answers.

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I am getting rather tired of venting steam against trolls but I have to do this again – not for myself but for friends and fellow female journalists who think alike. There are many journalists who quickly switched sides once Narendra Modi came to power but I am glad to note that there are an equal number of people who did not. And I do not see why any of us should be apologetic about not believing in Modi or believing in the philosophy of the Congress party and by extension in Rahul Gandhi, its vice president.

It stands to reason that the BJP which was earlier making fun of Rahul for not taking off successfully, is today stung by some of his actions – most notably the `suit boot ki Sarkar’ comment which derailed Modi’s land bill and lately by his attack on the government for shielding corrupt ministers. And whether one agrees or disagrees with his views, it has to have hurt the BJP for Arun Jaitley to say something like ‘the more he ages, the more he immatures’.

As quips go, that’s a pretty remarkable one-liner and even if Rahul may have come off the worse against Sushma Swaraj in the debate on her alleged `humanitarian’ help to a fugitive from the law (Lalit Modi), there are enough of us who think she really had no answers to the questions asked by Rahul Gandhi and so was raking up the past instead of speaking in the present.

Many of us who dislike Modi do not necessarily adore Rahul Gandhi but there might be some who do. Fellow journalist Neeta Kolhatkar is one of them – but even if she does think well of Rahul, she has enough neutrality to write a tongue-in-cheek piece on the Congress vice president, advising him what he must and must not do to revive the Congress party.

Now what has upset me and other women journalists is that that piece brought forth a rather pre-pubescent kind of commentary from a blogger who calls himself `Chaiwala’ and who accuses Neeta of ‘orgasming for real’ over Rahul Gandhi.

It once again reminded me of how senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi was targeted for her charitable comments about Rahul Gandhi in virtually the same terms. Chaturvedi filed an FIR, Kolhatkar has complained to the Mumbai police’s cyber cell to locate this blogger who has been harassing female journalists in particular and to block the website and IP address he is using to post his blogs.

I do hope the Mumbai police will take some action against such anonymous trolls who have got away for far too long with attempting to cow down particularly female political commentators who refuse to go gaga over Narendra Modi. I must say even if many of us are non-believers in the supreme leader none of us resort to abuse, obscenities or unmentionable words to describe Modi or his supporters– not even when it comes to allegations of his affections for a certain woman when he was chief minister of Gujarat. And I may point out that while his own BJP party men make snide remarks and smirk about his affections for Smriti Irani, it was Rana Ayub, a fellow female journalist, bitterly opposed to the BJP and Modi, who took up the cudgels on her behalf and in a scathing attack on these BJP men said she would not tolerate any nonsense from them about Smriti unless it related to her work as HRD minister.

For all they call us `sickular’ and paid journalists, it is a fact that it is the BJP which pays an army of trolls to target those opposed to Modi and his policies and when General V K Singh called Arnab Goswami a `presstitute’ he did not even bother to look up the dictionary meaning of the term. In fact, it is the pro-Modi supporters who might be legitimately called that because a presstitute is someone who swallows the government, well, hook, line and sinker and does not even bother to investigate the facts. If those supporting Rahul Gandhi are not buying Modi’s rhetoric, then they are the exact opposite of presstitutes, even if they be on the Congress payrolls – which I doubt greatly. Because as was seen from the fiasco in parliament, the Congress had no intelligence and to manage its case and absolutely no ideas on how to manage the media – if they had they would have done better with their government for ten years and not lost the plot and the battle of perception to Modi so miserably.

But sometimes I believe these trolls are actually the Congress’s best friends – because the more they attack those not with them, they drive the dissenters closer to Modi’s rival.

I, too, began with a lot of scepticism about Rahul Gandhi’s ability to take the reins in his hands firmly. I did not ridicule him the way the trolls did but I wished he could do better than just that interview with Arnab Goswami. But now that he has begun talking and formulating his own witticisms, the trolls don’t seem to like it one bit and such is their lack of understanding that they are not even able to differentiate genuine admiration from tongue in cheek comments.

But I have learnt a thing or two from Neeta Kolhatkar – she told me she did not want to accord these trolls with more publicity by lodging criminal complaints against them. She has learnt to laugh off their comments – and, in fact, she knows she is doing something right when they go so wrong. On second thoughts, I suppose this is the best way to deal with trolls like Chaiwala. But I wonder, in the privacy of their homes, alone with their own thoughts do these trolls realise the kind of despicable human beings they might be? I seriously doubt they do.

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Every time I come across some devastatingly bad human nature, I am surprised by the generosity of the people who have been wronged by that. It happens in the real world all the time but now more and more often the digital world is prone to such incidents.

Some months ago I read the story of a Jewish American journalist who had been receiving many anti-Semitic threats on his Twitter account and the stalker seemed to have many details of his private life. His wife’s Twitter handle had a nom de plume and she was spared of those abuses until she identified herself as the long suffering wife of this journalist. Soon they began to receive packages at their doorstep that had not too savoury contents and their stalker seemed to know every last emotion that went into their reaction.

That is when they called in the authorities and eventually were horrified to discover the identity of their tormentor – the 17 year old son of their good neighbour and friends with whom they dined at least twice a week, went on picnics and shopping together and were considered the best of friends by the entire community,

They informed the shocked parents and took the boy out to dinner. They began to speak of their harassmeant and all the while the boy acted sympathetic and played the innocent. They gave him ample opportunity to own up to his crime but when he didn’t they let him know they had his measure. Then the boy broke down as his furious father permitted his friends to take any action against their son as they wished – he could have got thirty years in prison for racism and anti-Semitism at the least. But they let him off with a stern warning even as he burst in tears – he was a bright student and his entire life and career could have been ruined had they brought a case against him.

I was reminded of the story when this week former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan faced a similar situation – though not one of cyber threat but one of impersonation. A young college boy from Shirur in the interiors of Maharashtra with professors for parents had started a faux Facebook page in his name and had been happily chatting away with all Chavan’s friends and supporters for months. Chavan had been flummoxed when those chats were mentioned to him but thought it was a case of mistaken identity. However, when he and former MLA Krishna Hegde were travelling together to New Delhi this week, Hegde mentioned to him a chat they had had just the previous day. Chavan denied all knowledge of it and when Hegde logged on and started the chat again both were horrified to discover the impersonator merrily pretending to be Ashok Chavan even as Chavan was sitting with dropping jaws beside Hegde looking into his phone and supposed statements he was making.

Chavan soon lodged a police complaint and the boy was picked up from his home and brought to Bombay along with his father. I was amazed that Chavan, like the American journalist, should have let this boy go too – with a stern warning that he would never do it again, even as the boy’s father was in tears in both shame and embarrassment and relief that his son would not have to go to jail. Chavan’s reasoning was the same – the case would unnecessarily ruin the boy’s career and future prospects.

I guess both Chavan and the American journalist are better human beings than I could ever be for I would have found it difficult to forgive anyone, young or old, under the circumstances.

I find many of my colleagues equally generous, if not forgiving, when they are abused by trolls and sometimes genuine handles on Twitter. I generally block them and move on but lately I am getting less tolerant of such transgressions and am seriously considering taking leaf out of senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi’s book – I have promised troublesome trolls that one word of abuse against my parents, my family, my friends or even my colleagues and I shall go to the police.

Generosity is good in its own place but we need sterner action against people who think they have the right to threaten, abusea or impersonate (except when they identify themselves as parody accounts) with impunity just because the anonymity of the net gives them good cover.

The government could find the resources to block more than 800 porn sites of which some were just ribald humour sites. While child porn is definitely to be acted against, I wonder if the government has in itself to stop the abuse against people who disagree with them because much of the abuse in is in the name of Narendra Modi who even seems to think nothing of felicitating these abusive trolls.

Generosity does not always come out of weakness, one needs to be a nobler spirited individual to act like Chavan and the Jewish American journalist did. It is sad that not many recognise that generosity for what it is and seem to mistake it as a license for more abuse and impersonation.

I wonder if the American boy actually had a change of heart about Jews with that forgiveness and if our own lad from Shirur will truly desist. Perhaps not.

But I salute both Chavan and the Amercan journalist and hope I can be as forgiving.

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This is not a plug for my year-old book, `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever’. However, just two days before Yakub Memon’s hanging a literary agent mentioned to me how chilling he had found the chapter where I compared the stories of a Shiv Sainik who had participated in the 1992-93 Bombay riots and a young Muslim who had been caught in those riots and lost practically everything.

Then, on the day of Yakub’s hanging, my former editor called to ask me to find him a blast victim and a riot victim for a similar comparison of their stories for a popular television show. It was very easy to talk to survivors of the blasts who are only too willing to tell their tale – embittered or magnanimous in their suffering, they are not shackled by any concerns in recounting their stories.

But when I called Mansoor Ali Khan, the man mentioned in my book, I had to take a reality check. I had had to search long and hard while I was writing my book to find a riot victim who did not fit the typical mould of a ghettoised Muslim with a story that might be similar to that of many others of his or her kind. I was quite excited to discover Mansoor – he was not living in a ghetto at the time of the riots, he was studying at a prestigious south Bombay college, wanted to become a pilot in the Indian Air Force and was the captain of his club’s cricket team where all other members were Hindu.

The riots changed his life overnight – his family was lucky enough to escape with their lives in the nick of time. He went from being a fellow Indian to his cricket team to being just a Muslim and had to leave everything behind including his old life to find shelter in a Muslim ghetto. I was apprehensive about approaching him, wondering if he would agree to go on record but he had no qualms in inviting me to his home — he had moved from a mixed locality to an exclusively Muslim housing colony but everyone in his family, including his mother, were willing to tell me their story, hoping someone would hear their tale and offer them compensation that was long due and thus far not forthcoming.

So when I called him that evening, I thought he would be 0nly too willing to go on television and let the world know. But I was very wrong. Now he did not want to draw attention to himself. “When you came to my house and we spoke for hours together, India was a different country. There was hope and there was confidence – in the government and the people. We thought that sooner or later someone will cut through the red tape and hear us out. Now it is different. The country has changed. There is no one who will hear our voices. They will instead single us out and hound us to go to Pakistan.’’

“Oh, but they hound me too,” I protested.

“There is a difference,” he said. “And I don’t think I need to explain that to you, sister.”

Then he sent me a message in apology for turning down my request. I found it heart rending – main sirf ek baat kehna chahta hoon ke ALLAH (capitals his) jise log BHAGWAAN bhi kehte hain woh hamesha HAQ yaane SACH ke saath hota hai. Usko kisi daleel ya saboot ki zarurat nahin woh sab jaanta hai. God bless u, sister — ek baat aur, Hamare Hindustan ko kisi ki buri nazar lag gayi hai.

I was speechless and teary eyed for hours afterward.

It was the same story as I made call after call to locate riot victims for my former editor who might be willing to talk. At last I succeeded but even this survivor agreed to do the interview after a few caveats.

The experience has only confirmed my belief in the travesty of justice offered to riot victims, not by the courts but by successive governments and investigative agencies. I remember the officer in charge of investigating the Bombay riots was himself an accused and even then as a young reporter I knew the investigation would go no further. It is only the Srikrishna Commission which came as a safety valve for the affected victims to vent their feelings of injustice against the state and it was a great relief that Justice Srikrishna could nail the guilt of the perpetrator of the riots – Bal Thackeray. I have recounted the story of the journalist who mounted an unknowing sting on Thackeray during the riots at his home in Matoshree and brought to us how Thackeray provoked his Shiv Sainiks to burn Bombay and kill Muslims in large numbers from the safety of his home, and then later tried to shift the blame on then union defence minister Sharad Pawar. Had it not been for Yuvraj Mohite’s affidavit before the Srikrishna Commission, the truth would never have been known – and it is just as well that Mohite loved to tell the tale. For the Sena left no stone unturned to ferret him out from his hiding and kill him to prevent him from turning up in court.

But no government took action against Thackeray. The Srikrishna Commission was dismissed by Chief Minister Manohar Joshi when the Shiv Sena came to power in 1995 but was reinstated by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his thirteen day tenure in the hope that that would reduce the BJP’s untouchability, even as it was in search of allies to make up its numbers in parliament. Justice Srikrishna submitted the report to the Joshi government in 1998 and while it was not expected that that government would act against its own supremo, even the Congress and the NCP which came to power a year later did not think it worth taking action against the perpetrators of the riots.

Nine hundred people were killed in the riots (less than 300 in the blasts which were a retaliatian for the riots). Thousands of FIRs were launched yet only one man was ever punished – former Shiv Sena MP Madhukar Sarpotdar who got a year in jail for possessing arms and ammunitions in a notified area during the riots. For the same crime Sanjay Dutt has gone to jail for five years – where is the notion of justice for all and injustice to none enshrined in our Constitution?

I do not blame the Courts for any of this, the judges have done their jobs to the best of their capacity, But in this country now you are a terrorist if you are Muslim and a patriot if you are a Hindu committing the same acts of killing innocents and bombing mosques and shrines and trains and buses.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is way off the mark when he complains that the UPA coined the term `Hindu terrorist’ and destroyed the reputation of the country. In fact, I believe the emergence of saffron terrorism, though not to be condoned was a great safety valve which came out of the blue to the rescue of the minorities who were otherwise all dismissed as terrorists, negating LK Advani’s earlier very arrogant statement – all Muslims may not be terrorists but why are all terrorists Muslims?

That no longer holds valid but now it is high time that the scale of justice are tilted to the balanced position once again from the heavy tilt in favour of rioters and home-grown terrorists from the majority community. A terrorist is a terrorist, a victim is a victim, his or her religion does not matter. What’s sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. Otherwise people like Mansoor will suffer silently until the faultlines explode and all of us be imperilled by the lava of that volcano just waiting to burst sooner rather than later. We will all be scorched.

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Some years ago, when my phone rang and I answered, Vir Sanghvi, then my editor-in-chief, said without preamble, “Spell Palkhivala!”

Startled at the sh [Read more]

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