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.

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

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I finally succumbed to a Kindle (e-book reader). I resisted buying one for a very long time even as every one around me was waving one in my face all the time. That made no difference to me because I love books – and particularly the smell of a newly published one. And that is why, inspired by Khushwant Singh who never allowed anyone to borrow his books, I never lent any one of mine to any friend, foe or relative, however close, feared or beloved. And since I did not lend, I never had the gumption to borrow—so I bought every book I read or wanted to read. Now this meant, over the years, with a small home such as mine, every table top surface in my home was soon crowded and piled high with books. Now, not every book I bought to read is worth keeping, so I have decided to give them away – and thank God for events like Literature Live which have introduced an annuak book swap – I am only too willing to donate them all without taking back one in return. Vut they still stand piled high in every corner of my home.

So, recently, when some seemingly very interesting books were launched in the market, I decided to buy myself a Kindle. With great longing I looked at the covers and could almost smell the fresh new glue of a just published book – I decided that I would buy a copy if I felt it was worth keeping on my shelf.

But the advantage of a Kindle is that I could acquaint myself with some ancient, perhaps out of print, classics which I had read as a child and quite forgotten. Among these were a collection of short stories of Rabindranath Tagore and I also bought his Gitanjali on my Kindle. And just then Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh started a controversy on the national anthem stating that Tagore had written the poem in praise of King George then visiting India and hence we must drop the words `adhinayaka, Bharatm Bhagya Vidhata’ from these verses.

Now where had I heard that before? At school! The theory that Tagore wrote that in praise of British royalty is as old as anything but I also remember our teacher disabusing us of the idea that Tagore could ever have written that poem in praise of the British monarch. Even at that time when politics in India was not so polarized and the RSS was a banned organization, the BJP not yet born, Kalyan Singh God alone knows where and journalism not even in our vocabulary, our teacher told us many things about Tagore. That he was a nationalist to the core and had returned his knighthood in protest against th e Jalianwala Bagh massacre. That he had given Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi the title of `Mahatma’ but that he had bitterly disagreed with the burning of British-made goods during the Swadeshi movement. Not because he thought these were good but because he thought that proved nothing about nationalism. When I read up on Tagore later, I discovered Tagore’s definition of nationalism, which has stayed with me forever and influenced my thinking on pluralism and equality of all. For, according to Tagore, nationalism did not mean rejection of anything (as, I might add, today saffronistas do with all, including minorities who do not agree with them and refusea to be Narendra Modi’s camp followers), but acceptance. Tagore believed accpetance of the best values and of even those not our own (in this context the British) and the acceptance of each other was true nationalism. How much relevant it is in today’s context and how well that proves that Tagore truly deserved his Nobel Prize which no other Indian has been able to win for literature.

But, above all, what I remember my teacher sayng – and wonder if that has influenced the way I practice journalism today by not writing before I have checked out every fact – is that there were some stupid British reporters around at a particular Congress meeting where the Jana Gana Mana had first been sung. They never understood Hindi, let alone Bengali and did not even bother to ask for a translation and make sure knew the meaning (if not the nuances too) of every word spoken. And they mixed up their facts. That, indeed, the British had wanted a laudatory poem on King George to be written since the Congress was a party set up by a British man (AO Hume), another poet had penned those verses. Of course, it did not matter to those British journalists that they neither understood one nor the other and they did not even bother to cross check the names of the poets and went with Tagore because he was the more famous. I do not now recall if my teacher mentioned the name of the laudatory poet but if he did, it is not surprising that he is eminently forgotten because which fiercely independent tnation as India is would hold a sycophantish writer in high esteem?

I remember my parents, too, had endorsed what my teacher had said – my father who had been working for the British government before Independence and my mother who was the daughter of a fierce freedom fighter who was all the in and out of demonstrations, rallies and meetings to gather support for Independence were both in full agreement on this, so I am sure no one who knew Tagore and the language he wrote in would ever mistake him to be anything but nationalist.
I guess Kalyan Singh and those Sangh supporters who believe otherwise should not fall into the trap that the British journalists of se times did . Unlike those reporters they should check out their facts and ask for a proper translation of `adhinayak’ which basically means God who alone is the writer of India’s destiny (Bharata Bhagya Vidhata ). Which is neither Modi nor the RSS. Neither the BJP nor the Congress which fought for Indeendence despite starting life as a congregation of Brown Sahibs in support of the British – while the RSS, supposedly a home grown organisation, influenced by Hitler his Brown Shirts in uniform and ethos begged the British not to quit India and leave her to her fate.

Well, the adhinayaka has not done too badly by India although there might be lots to complain still. And I can only again quote Tagore’s great lines –`Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high’. That is the India of all —Punjabis, Sindhis, Gujaratis, Marathas , Dravidas (south Indians), Utkalas (Oriyas) and Bangas (Bengalis). And, I may add, of Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists alike.

Meanwhile, I am dusting off my old hardcover volumes of Tagore’s collected works and placing them prominently at the front of my book shelf. They will not be given away.

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There was a time in the last decade of the 1990s when Bal Thackeray was ranting and screaming blue murder at the Atal Behari Vajpayee government at the Centre. Vajpayee had taken a bus to Lahore (and broght back some goats on it), had invited Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to Agra, had attempted to build bridges to the minority Muslim community and, at one time, even donned a typical green turban.

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Premchand. Raja Ram Mohun Roy. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. What do they all have in common? A Madarsa education, I shoud say. And that never stopped them from achieving greater heights that those opposed to Madarsas might presume. One became a great story teller, the other a social reformer ahead of his time and the third a great educationist. So what has gone wrong with Madarsas today – if at all?

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In the days when Rohini Salian was trying cases related to the involvement of Bollywood personalities with the underworld , notably the Bharat Shah case, she had sent a veiled warning to Sunil Dutt about how deep his son, Sanjay Dutt, was involved with various gangsters and could soon be in tremendous trouble with the authorities.
“He has given up nothing since his last incarceration,’’ the person who conveyed the warning said. “If the cops decide to present the evidence in court, he could be finished, twice over.’’
Some of that evidence related to taped conversations that Dutt had with noted gangster Abu Salem and they were indeed made public a few months later. That screwed Sanjay Dutt’s defence of innocence in the 1993 blasts case – he said he had acquired AK47s to protect his family and for no other sinister purpose. But his continuing fraternizing with those very same gangsters lost him the sympathy of even his father who then had said, “You cannot control wayward children when they have grown up and as adults should know right from wrong. Let him pay the consequences.’’
(I was privy to this entire episode.)
One of Salian’s siblings was connected to most of the Bollywood stars under question in the Bharat Shah case but that did not stop her in her tracks – she relentlessly pursued the cases to their conclusion,getting a conviction on behalf of the state.
Salian has always been a matter of fact professional, not prone to theatrics or gimmickry, unlike the other famous public prosecutor trying terrorist cases – Ujjwal Nikam who famously made up the story about 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab asking for mutton biryani in jail and then enjoyed the limelight as almost every television channel invited him to their studio to debate the issue. Nikam had also allegedly egged the Shakti Mills rape victim to take off her shoes – she had flimsy ones and he tried to get her some stronger boots – and beat up the rape accused in court. But the victim did not have the nerve to do so and Nikam lost that attempt at regaining the limelight.
But Salian is given to no such self-aggrandising drama. When she threw a bombshell at the year-old NDA government at the Centre by alleging that she had been under pressure to go soft against saffron terrorists under trial in the Malegaon blasts case, she was bound to become a national hero. She had nearly five dozen missed calls that morning from journalists wanting her to elaborate and dozens of cameras were parked outside her home and the court for that elusive sound byte from her. But she had nothing more to add and she did not want the unwelcome publicity that such an allegation was bound to invite.
Of course, her detractors are trying to make out that she has done this in a fit of sour grapes in order to pressure the National Investigation Agency to retain her as the Special Public Prosecutor on the case (her six year term ends this year) but I have to make a voluntary disclosure here – I know her Bollywood sibling well for many years and the home she shares with him has a huge idol of Lord Ganesha – one of the typical ebony coloured ones from Karnataka. She and her siblings live in a rented home and their Muslim landlord had once attempted to make that an issue by slapping unsavoury charges aganst her brother. Of course, their lawyer managed to defuse the case without any further involvement by the police or the courts through social shaming of the landlord but that should have put Salian off Mulims forever and made her extra sympathetic to Hindus.
But while a devout Hindu herself, nothing has swayed Salian from the trajectory of evidence and guilt – if there is evidence to support the police claims (as there was in the Sanjay Dutt case), nothing would stop her from prosecuting, not even a friendship with the accused’s family. And if there was no evidence, nothing would persuade her to argue for their false indictment.
So I well believe her when she says she is under pressure to get an unfavourable judgment in the Malegaon case. Of course, I do agree that she should make public the name of the officer from the NIA who approached her on behalf of the government to go soft on the case – that disclosure is in her best interest as also that of the nation for there should be no shielding of the guilty and, moreover, Salian owes it to the nation. We need to know who exactly approached this NIA officer to compromise Salian and how sinister are the dealings of the current government in power.
Needless to say, there is a real danger of saffron terrorists getting a free reign under this regime as was also made obvious by Swami Aseemananda, now cooling his heels in Tihar for this alleged involvement in the Samjhauta Express blasts, who had clearly stated in an interview to Caravan magazine a year ago that that activity had had the blessings of the RSS bigwigs.
Closer home, I have known many people connected to victims of the Nanded blasts a few years ago – people professing the saffron ideology were making bombs which went off by accident. Top cops then had privately marvelled at how clumsy they could have been and that thought returned to my mind when the Malegaon blasts accused were arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad for their involvement in the case – they had left a trail of evidence right back to themselves and it was obvious they were neitiher as good nor trained nor even as professional as Islamic terrorists who more often than not elude the cops unless given away by slips or accidents.
Saffron terrorism is a real thing in India and Rohini Salian cannot be accused of being anti-national. She is as devout a Hindu as they come but she is also a crack lawyer and a deadly professional, never losing a single case she has prosecuted so far. No wonder the government was afraid of her skills and devotion to her job – she has sounded the warning bell and this wake-up call could well be the one needed to save this country from plunging into anarchy.
The people of India must wake up and smell the coffee

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