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.

Writing on Children’s day, I cannot help but recall a childhood/teenage wish that will never be fulfilled, at least not in this life – I wish I had been born old enough to romance Jawaharlal Nehru. [Read more]

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I am sure Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a wonderful thing and not just the event management that it has been reduced to by many of his ministers and party men. But if the Clean India campaign has to succeed we do not just need politicians with brand new brooms making a show of sweeping and mopping up – it needs a seismic cultural and attitudinal change for it to have any effect at all, else it will remain a periodic photo-op for the mighty and the powerful while they continue to live in surroundings full of filth and muck.

Just last week, there were news reports that in a train in South India, normally perceived as the cleaner part of the country, a passenger using the toilet was asked by the railway attendant not to disturb the blocks of ice stored near the water closet. When she asked what the ice was meant for he said, without batting an eyelash, “To cool soft drinks and keep the meat fresh.” Eew! I immediately decided that the next time I travel by train I am carrying my own ice and fruit juices.

But after the first reaction when my hair stood on end, I wondered why I should have been surprised. For my sister’s TamBram, (and no offence meant to the community in general) in-laws are particularly piggish about their hygiene. They have no dustbins in their home – they take particular pride in thus keeping it clean. So what happens to their garbage? Well, they pick curry leaves and chillies out of their food and leave it beside their plates on the dining table. Then the matriarch sweeps it all together and throws it out of her kitchen window on to the roof of the neighours house! This caused a big strain on my sister’s marriage soon after her wedding –she solved the problem by going out and buying a dustbin. But everytime she returned home from work, she would discover her mother-in-law had washed and cleaned and polished that dustbin dry and put it in the store room Their home was too clean to need a dustbin, you see! It became a daily uphill task for my sister to keep that dustbin use.

But it is not just about one region or community. Years go as a school going kid, we had some very rich business people move opposite our home and, soon thereafter, my poor father who went out to wash his car each morning would discover pools of shit around the vehicle. The car was housed in an open shed with no doors and we had no way of securing it. So one day we set the alarm for four in the morning and all of us sat by the window to find out for ourselves who was messing up our environment. Imagine my morther’s horror when we discovered that the neighbour’s four young children arriving with a bucket of water and four mugs to take positioms around our car and happily leaving the mess to be cleaned up by the society sweeper who had begun to protest at this daily chore.

We did not know how to stop this, so on advice from our other neighbours we collected a lot of stones one day and when the children arrived the next morning for their ablutions, we began to stone them from our windows. That bought their enraged mother to our doorstep. When we reminded her that she had three toilets in her home, she said, “We keep our homes very clean. We do not soil it by using our toilet!’’ I have still not gotten over that logic.

They did not bathe in their baths either – instead they bathed on the doorstep leading to the kitchen corridor which ended up creating a lot of soapy mess at the entrance to their neighbour’s kitchens – that issue had to be resolved by beating at their kitchen door with sticks whenever neighbours spotted the beginning of the soapy overflow seeping out onto their doorsteps. A generation later, we have still not been forgiven for forcing them to use their toilets and bathrooms.

So, despite the controversy, I agreed with actor and BJP MP Paresh Rawal that Indian temples are the dirtiest of all places of religious worship anywhere in the world. It is not a general rule but even a temple like the Tirupati Devasthanam can get messy (while surprisingly Dharmasthala also in the South manages to be so clean). The mess is worse at temples where there might still be animal sacrifices (even if just of roosters or chickens) and the toilets at these places have to be both smelt and seen to understand how dirty Indians can really get.

And look at the toilets even at the posh plushy airports – only this week I have seen Twitter posts lamenting the state of the Ahmedabad airport loo as the filthiest in India and also on the poor state of the toilet the Chandigarh airport – so this has nothing to do with rich or poor, south or North Indian. It is just the state of the Indian mind to not clean up after oneself and leave a mess behind for the next user. Unless this mind set changes, the Swachch Bharat Ahbhiyan will remain just an event management exercise.

By the way, one needs reminding that Maharashtra ‘s Sant Gadge Maharaj had already instituted a cleanliness drive years ago and the state government had implemented the Nirmal Gram Yojana in his name in every village to some success. Actress Preity Zinta, too, had undertaken a cleanliness drive in Bombay some years ago – with much fanfare over brooms and garbage bins and all – but I guess even she had to give up in the face of the Indian transience over lack of cleanliness.

Then, again, I have seen several toilets in many of Maharashtra’s recently rehabilitated villages turned over to stowage while people continue to use the nearby fields for ablutions/ And in a city where the government built one room tenements for slum dwellers, with attached toilets, they still preferred to use the staircases for their daily routine.

How do we change these mind sets and go beyond the event management to actually implementing cleanliness and hygiene, personal and environmental? I guess that is a million rupee question for sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists to answer.

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Should history be rewritten? Well, you cannot mess with the facts can you? Mahatma Gandhi died on January 30, 1948 and nothing will change that. But was he assassinated or merely killed?

I have had many RSS ideologues describe the killing of Gandhi as `vadh’ (as in the killing of rakshasas) rather than `hatya’ as it really was but then it depends on who is writing that history.

Nowhere is this contradiction more apparent than in the historical accounts of the killing of Chhatrapati Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji Maharaj – seventeenth century Mughal historians believe he insulted both Islam and the Koran and so Aurangzeb put him to death in a most tortuous fashion. They do not deny that cruelty but justify the barbarism on grounds of religion. Maratha historians, on the other hand, held Sambhaji out to be a brave king standing firmly between Aurangzeb and the complete Islamisation of the Deccan. According to them, he was tortured to death because he – rightly – refused to compromise with his principles and all that he stood for by embracing Islam and Aurangzeb as his ruler.

So I could not agree more with HT Media advisor Vir Sanghvi at a live debate at the Tata Literature Live! Festival underway in Bombay this week, that, of course, history must be rewritten. For example do we go with the British interpretation of Indian history that Dravidians were all dark natives of the subcontinent who were pushed downward to the south by invading Aryans or do we update the historical facts in view of the discovery of Mohenjodaro and Harappa that proved we were a far civilised race long before the Brits and their fellow Europeans had climbed down the trees and come out of the caves they were living in when we already had advanced cities in India?

But when the likes of Dinanath Batra attempt to turn myth into history and the Prime Minister of a nation like India propagates that myth by stating that we had plastic surgery and test tube babies in the days of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which are great epics but just that – epics – what does one say?

But for once in my life, I agreed with both sides of the debate – with Kumar Ketkar and Dileep Padgaonkar, both senior journalists, opposing the rewriting of history as a dangerous game. Can we really afford to contaminate the minds of young children who have no way of distinguishing myth from history and fact from fiction?

In the course of the debate Ketkar raised the issue of Pakistani history books which begin with the creation of Pakistan and have no mention of India and its freedom struggle. No wonder, while I was at a mid-career course in Paris, my Pakistani colleague was desperate that I secure for him CDs of the Bhisham Sahni-Govind Nihalani Doordarshan drama series Tamas which is as chilling an indictment of the politics of partition as any. The serial had been banned in Pakistan and as my colleague told me his family and friends were eager to know what really preceded partition in visual terms. Even then I felt bad for Pakistani children growing up without a proper grounding of their, well, background and got him the CDs – I hope Tamas corrected the perspective for many of that country’s citizens.

Of course, people like Batra would love to expunge large portions of Indian history, particularly those relating to Muslim invasion of the country. But like Amish Tripathi arguing on the side of Sanghvi said, why must we conflate Indian Muslims with the conquerors when we do not equate Indian Christians with invading British?

After all, when Krishnadevaraya defeated five Muslim kingdoms surrounding his Vijayanagaram, he described himself not as the conqueror of Muslims but the conqueror of Turks because that is what the Muslim invaders then were. But left to the Batra types all references by Krishnadevaraya to himself as the vanquisher of Turks, without any reference to their religion, itself would be expunged or misinterpreted or worse.

So while one cannot take a rigid position against the rewriting of history, such rewriting is best left to scholars who are put through the wringer for purposes of substantiation and evidence on which they base their interpretations rather than perpetrate fantastic myths of Lord Rama flying in aeroplanes long before even the Wright brothers had invented the flying machine or plastic surgery being so advanced in mythological times that even a severed head could be transplanted and rejoined without any consequences to the brains of that individual!

However, as the current dispensation weighs in on the side of such fantastic interpretation and rewriting, I noticed that a full house at the debate was mostly queasy about allowing such historians to get away with wrong rewriting and called for politicians and their cohorts to keep away from such activities.

But like Padgaonka said, in the writing of history one must be conscious that those who control the past control the future and those who control the present control the past. I guess we are doomed to go round in circles on this one!

And I can only repeat the famous warning: those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it – again and again!

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Years ago after a rather scintillating interview with Bal Thackeray, I thought I had a sort of `scoop’ of the century. The Shiv Sena was ruling Maharashtra in alliance with the BJP and the 13 day government of Atal Behari Vajpayee had just reinstated the Srikrishna commission probing the 1992-93 Bombay riots, which had earlier been dismissed by the state government. Thackeray was livid. He sent for me when I called him for a reaction – it was worth every minute spent at Matoshree to watch him letting off steam. I recorded the entire interview. [Read more]

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If any one wishes to understand the meaning of the phrase `free for all’ in its full import, they need only look at Maharashtra since the break up of the two alliances, the Shiv Sena-BJP and the Congress-NCP. Everything has gone haywire since the two divorces and party lines are blurred. Caught unawares just less than 48 hours before nominations closed, no party bar the Congress seemed to have canidadtes of its own for all the 288 assembly seats. So all have been poaching right royally from the others – NCP men have moved to the Shiv Sena, BJP and MNS, in some places joined hands with the Congress. The BJP has borrowed liberally from the Congress, the MNS from the Shiv Sena, the Sena from the BJP and the NCP from the Congress, giving a new meaning to the term `import-export’. No one is now certain how it will all pan out and which party will lead the stakes at the end of the polls.

Analysts are confused and I wonder if the voters will finally be able to make sense. I had always advocated for long that the four political parties in Maharashtra should go it alone to test their respective strengths but even I had not accounted for the amount of bitterness that would entail. The BJP has the maximum at stake at these elections and so is cautious in its criticism of the Shiv Sena. The Congress has a weak leadership and is, moreover, led by a gentleman (Prithviraj Chavan) and so ignores the NCP. But the NCP and the Sena are at the throats of their former allies, calling them names and offering every insult under the sun to their former allies – I wonder where this will all stop.

But it is the Sena which is acting as the wounded tiger in his game. I wonder where its advice is coming from but am surprised to see the party mouthpiece with a new spin on the BJP every day. They have called the party pro-Gujarati (because both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are from the neighbouring state), tried to raise the 1960s bogey of Gujarati domination of Bombay, described the party as renegade and now denied that the BJP has any right to profess the Maharashtrian culture. I wonder if any one party can quite be entruted with the exclusive custody of any culture anywhere – if so that is a sure fire way of inviting cultural terrorism and moral policing and I do not thnk any one would appreciate that.

Yet the Sena is appropriating to itself the moral right to represent the people of Maharashtra and giving offence to the BJP on its inability to do so. But when party leaders make statements like that they should sit back and think if they represent all of Maharashtra or just Mahsrashtrians alone. For Maharashtra, over the past decades, has become a very cosmopolitan state and at least in Bombay, the state capital, local Marashtrians are in a minority — just about 40 per cent of the populations. At one time anti-Gujarati an anti-South Indian, the city has been taken over by Uttar Bharatiyas and its a toss up as to whether the north Indians, including large sections of Muslims, will vote for the Congress or the BJP – they will certainly not root for the Shiv Sena and the MNS which has been systematically targeting North Indians both Hindu and Muslim over the past few years.

Outside of Bombay the Sena has diminishing influence – in Marathwada it exists because a of an anti-Dalit sentiment, in Vidarbha it is sparse but mostly exists vecause of its fierce opposition to a separate Vidarbha from Maharashtra. I will do well in the Konkan but the BJP will override the Shiv Sena in the Khandesh and Western Maharashtra is essentially Congress-NCP turf. So how does the Shiv Sena become the custodian of all these people of Maharashtra?

It is my reasoned opinion that in this one-upmanship, neither the Sena nor the BJP know where they are going. The only leader of consequence on the campaign trial is Sharad Pawar but since he is not a candidate for chief minister, it is doubtful if his nephew Ajit Pawar will be able to enthuse the voters much. Uddhav Thackeray is not what his father used to be and his cousin Raj Thackeray makes some attractive noises but has essentially been reduced into a non-entity. The BJP has a star campaigner in Modi but he cannot be a chief minister of the state and the party has no worthies in that department, The only leader with a credible image then is Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress but he is a novice at the game and is battling his first election, quite all on his own. One does not know how well he has understood Maharashtra and if at all he will be able to combat the veterans in this game.

That is why I say the game is undecided till he end . It is now open season in Maharashtra.

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