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.

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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One New Year’s eve, I was caught travelling by train with a very down to earth politician for company. As I made his acquaintance, he came out with such gems that I have since given up on New Year’s resolutions forever.

“Rules – and resolutions are for pphools!” he told me in his typically Hindi-fied English. “One should set no rules for oneself and resolutions are merrily made with the knowledge that they will be shamelessly broken before 365 days are out.”

A New Year’s resolution is something like an electoral promise, he told me – you promise the moon to your voters knowing you are going to be doing nothing of the sort in the five years for which they might elect you. Still people are fools enough to fall for those false promises –just as your mind tries to block out the fact that you have broken every New Year’s resolution that you have made ever since you were conscious adult.

So I would suggest you do not spoil your karma by misleading yourself with lies and promises not intended to be kept,’’ he told me in a matter of fact manner.

I was young enough to be impressed by what he said and as a political reporter then began to take every promise any politician made with fistfuls of salt,. In 2016 that same politician reminds me of someone else who has made many promises that he perhaps mean t keep but has been unable to execute in nearly two years – I now know what my train friend meant by saying it might prove very dangerous to let down people – and more so yourself.

There is a home truth there for everyone – leaders as well as private citizens. But while failing to keep one’s private resolutions might harm only an individual or at best his or her family, failing at promises made to the people at large could be highly ruinous for the country as a whole.

This politcian – among many others from different spectrums – told me the secret of a successful political career is to make promises from behind the ramparts of your own party or its manifest. “Nothing personal should get into your promise. If you fail to deliver, you will always have the party to blame.”

Like, he said, even when you intend to build a little something like a school or a well (there was no talk of toilets in those days) for your constituency, do not say, `I will build this’. Use the third person or better still say ,”My party has promised to build this if we are elected to power.”

There was a tickling pink rider – you are relieved of all responsibility even if you win but your party loses and vice versa,.. And if the reverse happens, well then, it is the responsibility of the government or the winning candidate, In that cse either will deliver and you can sit backwith a smg smie and sy,`I told you so!’,”he added.

The rule applies to personal life as well, he said. If you do not make a new year’s resolution you are under no stress or pressure to deliver the goods to yourself. But you should always be in search of the opportunity to accomplish the change when it comes around and then you can take advantage and claim to self and friends and relatives that you have done a good thing – there will be less taunts and more applause for you through the year, he added.

Over the years I have seen many politicians from all political parties including the Congress, the NCP, the Shiv Sena and the BJP, breach that rule and fall flat on their noses. Yet either they do not learn the lessons or they continue to take people for fools but the existence of social media now proves that not all people are fooled all the time.

So this New Year’s I wonder what resolutions the politicians are making – for themselves an for the country and if they intend to keep them.

As for me, the only promise I am making myself today is that I am makingmyself no promises. In all these years, I have realised the folly of tall promises that do not come to fruition and make you so miserable on New Year’s eve that you have lost 365 days that you do not want to ring it out with hope and joy aad sit around home mournfully with a lot of regrets. I have begun to treat every New Year’s eve as just anther day – and the dawn of the next morning as just another sunrise. But, yes, I do hope to accomplish more every year than the previous one and I am hoping this new year, before it gets too old, will be kinder to me than the past one!

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When I retweeted my colleague Yogesh Joshi’s tweet on Sharad Pawar coming out in favour of Arun Jaitley on Kirti Azad’s allegations regarding a scam in the Delhi and District Cricket Association, I was startled by tens of responses asking me why they should believe Pawar.

I should not have been surprised. For when I first saw that message similar thoughts had run though my head. The Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI) was never a bigger scam than wen Pawar entered the fray. Before then, at least, Jagmohan Dalmia and others, whatever their shortcomings, had kept the game up and running. Despite the match fixing scandal, Indian cricket had thrown up some greats like Saurabh Ganguly and Rahul Dravid – at the height of the scam, a senior Bombay police officer involved in investigating the match fixing had told me these were the only two cricketers in the Indian team who could not be corrupte. “They send the bookies packing by threatening them with legal action. The only other team as a whole which cannot be fixed is the English team. They play for the country and not for self, just like Ganguly and Dravid. Everywhere else we have come across evidence of match fixing in some form or the other.”

This cop had a diary full of transcripts of conversations between bookies and cricketers an when I asked why they had been tapping phones of cricketers, he said, “We were not. We were listening in to the bookies. The cricketers got caught in the trap.”

That is when he told me that as journalists we were barkng up the wrong tree in holding only cricketers responsible for everything going wrong with the game. “You must look at the administrators first. They are the ones who fix the matches. When players realise what is happening, they begin to argue that if the administrators are in for some extra money, why should they be left behind and then go ahead and strijke their own deals.”

The sleaze was just beginning to come in then but he shared the names of the people who could be involved in huge financial irreguarities in cricket administration ad ti was like a Who’s Who of India. No one could touch them with even a twenty feet barge pole – they were the country’s top reigning celebrities, politicians, businessmen et al. “And they all take care of each other – like `you watch my back and I will watch yours’ So does not matter whether you are down or out or reigning at the top, you have some one or the other who will cover you for sure,” he said.

That conversation came back to me when I heard Pawar come down in support of Jaitley. It is very difficult from the series of exposes by Azad and Wikileaks-India to believe that such activities at the DDCA were happening at with complete lack of knowledge of the powers that be – but in this regard, I would like to take Pawar at this word and believe that Jaitley was not involved in the corrupt activities at the DDCA on his watch. But that brings about a sense of déjà vu . It is almost like supporters of the Congress rooting for former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the argument that in a highly corrupt cabinet he was the most honest of them all. I believe that too but then I wonder if there is a definition for a man who sees corruption all around him and allows it to happen unchecked, doing little to stem the rot in his administration. The closest I can get to such a description is from our epicc – such a person surely is a modern day Dhritrashta and somehow both Dr Manmohan Singh and Arun Jaitley seem to fit that bill.

As for Pawar, many havr wondrred why he has not come clean on his interests in cricket administration in his newly released memoirs, `On my terms’. Though he has promised a sequel to his autobiography to reveal the details, I I have been trying hard to understand why. I once made bold to ask him to explain to me his interest in cricket when he had never before exhibited any affiiation for the game. He snubbed me roundly saying I knew little about him or cricket and should stick to reporting on politics. “Then shouldn’t you limit yourself to politics?” I was brazen enogh to ask, whereupon he lost his temper and called off. But then asking around, as far as I can make out, his interest in cricket is definitely linked to his politics – as was his interest in kho-kho. kabbadi and other more home grown games. Hundreds of youth clubs for sportspersons proliferate at least in Maharashtra and Pawar who had also previously headed the kho kho and kabbadi federations meant to catch them young, But the overt interest in cricket definitely drew from the enormous amounts of money the game began to earn India – and the power hat brought to Indians over the rest of the cricketing world.

Pawar’s association with the Congress after splitting from the party in 1999 was not just a political need for governance in Maharashtra. The Congress also controlled many cricketing clubs and the party’s vote to him was crucial to enable him to get to the head of the BCCI and then the ICC. Of course, the non-politicians in the cricketing world like Dalmia and N Srinivasan outwitted Pawzr politically on many an occasion and he was not able to come to terms with his frequent sidelining by these stalwarts over the years.

But now with Dalmia gone and Srinivasan handicapped by a court ruling, I belive Pawar needs all the friends he can get. And what better way to attrsct Jaitlry, anothrt powerful cricket administrator, when he seems tob e down and out an and in need of being thrown a line to prevent him from drowning?

I do no claim to understand all the nuances of Pawar’s support to Jaitley. But I can be sure there is more seff interest and less altruism behnd that support anc perhaps it is as the top Bombay cop had told me – they are all watching out for each other. For cricket is surely the most secular game, every which way in India!

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During my travels all across Gujarat, there would always be a “store room” lurking behind the main dining room at the hotels I stayed at. I found that a very odd place to lodge a storeroom and wondered why so many men – sometimes foreigners – were spending so long in those storerooms. It was much later that I discovered these `store rooms’ were a euphemism for `bars’ – behind stacks of goods that made the godown look like a genuine store room, away from direct view there were set some tables and chairs and the drinkers were served in non-transparent coffee (or rather beer) mugs to escape notice in case of a sudden raid,

But those raids rarely ever happened because not only were the authorities kept rolling in bribes, many times cops were the basic source to secure liquor from. Prohibition is a bit of a joke in Gujarat as it was in Maharashtra for a brief while when it was in force during the Emergency era – even government clubs had their bars flowing though I do recall all the officers had to apply for licences before asking for a drink. That rule is even now in force in Maharashtra but no one enforces it – neither the liquor stores, nor the pubs and bars. But pubs do keep hundreds of licences handy – you can buy one for five rupees if you wish or not, for that is a stand by in case of raids. Names will be quickly entered and the permits (indeed many bars are known as `permit rooms’) handed out to drinkers at the bar. But, again, as in Gujarat, such raids hardly ever happen unless the establishment is running some other notorious activity like dancing girls or acting as a cover for criminals and their nefarious activities.

I notice Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s dilemma in banning alcohol throughout Bihar as part of his poll promise to women and the warnings that such prohibition will only end up enriching the law enforcers without necessarily stopping the men from drinking. But if Kumar wants to succeed and gain the confidence of the women at the same time, he has to look no further than Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar for a unique alcohol policy that will not only shut the liquor shops but also make the women feel – rather than just patronised by a chief minister attempting to make life easy for them.

The Maharashtra government is the only government anywhere in the world that has such a unique liquor policy and it is one of Sharad Pawar’s landmark achievements. In 1995, Pawar thought to attract the vote of women by giving them the power to shut down liquor stores and drinking joints in their villages. By this law, if more than fifty per cent of the women in any village are troubled by drunkard husbands and wish to get them off alcohol, they have the power to petition the Collector of the district to hold a referendum in that village. If more than fifty per cent of the women turn up to vote and the vote goes for the shutting of the bars and stores, the shutters are forcibly downed within 24 hours and stay down forever. There is no room for appeal.

The policy was slow to take off – women did not notice it in 1995 and Sharad Pawar’s government was voted out of power receiving a major drubbing at the assembly elections that year. But, by and by, women realised that they did not need an Anna Hazare to tie drunkards to a tree and beat them up until the transgressors fell in line. In the two decades since that policy became law village after village went in for a referendum and banned alcohol. There are whole talukas now which are alcohol free though this status has not come without inherent struggles. Women sarpanches, who have taken the lead in banning alcohol in these villages, have been under threat by the liquor mafia, the process does not come without the inherent bribery and corruption – attempts are made to influence officials to rig the results, women are threatened on voting day, sometimes tied to furniture in their own homes by their husbands, many of them go into hiding before surfacing minutes before voting commences, even Collectors are sometimes threatened from declaring the results. But the policy is succeeding on a grand scale — to such an extent that men from the villages have to travel to nearby towns to find their supply of alcohol. As a result, the Maharashtra government was in the process of considering extending the policy to areas governed by municipal councils to make it immensely difficult for the men to find liquor in a hurry.

All this is happening despite the fact that for the past 15 years during the Congress-NCP regime, largely run by sugar barons, many ministers were seeking ways and means to maximise not just revenues but even personal gains. Shutting down liquor stores meant huge losses in excise duties but the sugar barons also needed to find an end use for the molasses generated in their factories and they tried many a trick to overturn the policy but to no avail.

Sharad Pawar might be remembered for many things not too savoury or sweet but the rural women of Maharashtra largely associate him now with making their lives less miserable than before the liquor policy was introduced. It has given them a sense of empowerment – not just the Sarpanches or panchayat samiti members but even the ordinary housewife in the village feels she has a right to govern her own life and that she can make it happen.

Nitish Kumar should try this route to banning alcohol in Bihar. As such women voted for him in large numbers. He will never lose their vote again if he empowers them thus rather than just imposing a decision from above in a manner that is guaranteed to fail. Sharad Pawar is just a phone call away.

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