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
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.
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.
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?
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
Chhagan Bhujbal, the rather pugnacious leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, first hit the limelight in 1985 when he attempted to stop Rajiv Gandhi from entering the city of his birth.
Bhujbal was then the Mayor of Bombay and belonged to the Shiv Sena. Rajiv had just been elected Prime Minister. The Congress was heading for its centenary in December that year and which better place to hold the celebrations in than the city of both his (Rajiv’s) and the Congress’s birth?
But Bhujbal was not having any of that. “What has the Prime Minister or his party done for the city?” Bhujbal queried. “Why should we allow the invasion of lakhs of Congress workers into the city only for them to leave behind a lot of dirt and mess?”
It seemed touch and go for a while and, in a way, that brought about the first major Central grant for infrastructure in the city – Rs 100 crore announced by Rajiv ahead of the centenary celebrations. That pacified the Shiv Sena and the Congress celebrations went ahead on schedule.
The next time Bhujbal made the headlines was a few months later during his continuing stint as Mayor when he “purified” the martyrs memorial at Flora Fountain (Hutatma Chowk) after Dalit groups had allegedly soiled it with their presence during a huge rally in support of the Maharashtra government’s publication of `Riddles of Hinduism’ from the collected works of Dr B R Ambedkar during the latter’s birth centenary. Bhujbal belongs to the Other Backward Classes and it came as a surprise to many that he should have used gallons of `holy water’ to purify the monument. But as he later told me, “I took the water from the Pyrkes restaurant (now defunct) nearby to clean up the mess. Now Pyrkes is an Irani restaurant, so if I was seeking to purify the memorial why should I be asking them for water? I would have brought it from Banaras. It was just a statement for public hygiene.”
Over the years he kept making the headlines — like being the first saffron leader, even ahead of any from the BJP, to publicly praise Nathuram Godse and call into question Mahatma Gandhi. But when I questioned him again he shrugged it off saying it was not his conviction. But that Shiv Sena leaders had to say such things that went against their grain to satisfy their supreme leader (Bal Thackeray).
Thackeray, at the time, was a formidable politician and ran terror through the masses of his supporters for even daring to defy him on any count. So Bhujbal was indeed brave to exit the Shiv Sena with a big bang in 1991. He had justification – the Sena was largely a party limited to Bombay and Bhujbal claimed that its leaders did not even know the roads leading out of the metropolis to other parts of Maharashtra until he built up the party to the grassroots in other cities. Even the Sena’s saffron standard was designed by him. “They did not even know how to cut the flag, they destroyed yards of saffron silk by just cutting triangles. I taught them the reverse cut that made the standard the Shiv Sena’s own.”
Moreover, the Shiv Sena was never able to win more than one seat in the Maharashtra assembly at a time upto the 1990s. Even while he was Mayor, Bhujbal was the lone member of the Shiv Sena in the assembly between 1985 and 1990. He again made the headlines when during an expose of then chief minister Sharad Pawar’s alleged involvement in a land dereservation scandal, he brought a banner into the House with a black band on his arm and tape across his mouth. The banner read simply,“Bhookhandache Shrikhand’’. Bhookhand, meaning plots of land. And by shrikhand he meant Pawar had swallowed up all those plots. He was thrown out of the House for that day.
So it was but natural that when the Shiv Sena, in alliance with the BJP, got 85 seats in 1990, Bhujbal should expect to be rewarded for keeping the Sena standard flying through those lonesome years and be named leader of the opposition. But, then, his arch rival Manohar Joshi, who had until then failed to win even a single grassroots election and been only a nominated member of the legislative council, arm twisted Thackeray into giving him that job. Bhujbal was pacified by Thackeray with the promise that the post of leader of the opposition would be rotated among many notables for five years – just as Thackeray had rotated the mayor’s office among various of his close supporters.
When Thackeray reneged on his promise, Bhujbal decided enough was enough and called it quits. But the Shiv Sena was a much feared wild animal in those days and Bhujbal’s decision was made at great risk to his life. He went underground and nothing Thackeray did – including post lookouts at all airports, railway stations and bus stops in Maharashtra – could smoke him out. Sharad Pawar offered him complete protection and days after Bhujbal defected to the Congress with his supporters during the winter session of the assembly in Nagpur, Bhujbal was sworn in as minister and safely ensconced behind a security wall.
Trouble came calling at his door a few years later when he lost the assembly election from his traditional Mazgaon constituency to the Shiv Sena in 1995 and was reduced to mere leader of the opposition in the legislative council, with a Sena government in Mantralaya. Thackeray decided to exact his revenge and sent his goons to allegedly kill Bhujbal. When the killers arrived, Bhujbal darted into a dark corner of his house and stood against the wall, trembling until the attackers left after breaking all the furniture and glass on failing to find him.
‘’Every morning that I leave home, I tell my wife be prepared for a strange knock on the door — I might return in a janaza (hearse) that evening. Today could be my last sunrise or sunset,’’ he said after the attack. “But now that I have survived, I know what I must do with my second birth.’’
And that was to demystify Bal Thackeray and expose him for the coward that he really was. Bhujbal revealed many inside stories to the public which showed Thackeray up to be essentially a bully with no courage to follow up on his diktats that could cause risk to his life or liberty. ‘’If I do not expose him, there will soon be temples to Bal Thackeray and it will be very difficult to combat the goondaism of the Shiv Sena,’’ he said. Today, the beginning of the downfall of the Shiv Sena can be traced to Bhujbal’s personalized campaign against Bal Thackeray.
Bhujbal’s entire political career, however, has been about hopeless options –: he always found himself between a rock and a very hard place. When Pawar split the Congress in 1999, he went into hiding for a few days to think out his options. He had been making an emotional pitch for Sonia Gandhi, painting her as a grieving widow raising her ‘kachcha bachchas’ (little kids) under trying circumstances and now Pawar wanted to split the Congress on the basis of her foreign origins. He thought it would ve immoral to attack Sonia Gandhi on these grounds and under her extreme circumstances.But he knew the local Congress leaders hated him for ursurping their positions of authority (like leader of the opposition and housing minister in the Pawar cabinet). He would once again be at risk from attacks by the Shiv Sena and may not get the protection that Pawar offered him. So he reluctantly sided with Pawar and even became the president of the Maharashtra unit of the NCP.
When the Congress and the NCP came together to form a government later that year, he ended up as deputy chief minister and home minister – the pinnacle of his success to date. At the time it suited Pawar to bestow such high office on Bhujbsl. He was OBC and not expected to get above his station in life. Moreover, Pawar feared other leaders in his own party, most of who were Maratha and could have used this dual authority to grow their own roots and entrench themselves in positions of power as Marathas have always been the ruling class of Maharashtra — most chief ministers have been from this community.
But Bhujbal became a very strong home minister nonetheless, so Pawar cut him down to size by taking away the home department from him the next time though reinstating him as deputy chief minister. Bhujbal now held the public works department – and he continued to hold it through his stints in government which , seemingly, has now got him into trouble.
Despite not belonging to the ruling class, Bhujbal began to appear larger than life and in subsequent years Pawar was left with no option but to put him down again and again in order to protect the turf for his own nephew Ajit Pawar. Although, in the meantime, Bhujbal made up with Thackeray, politics in Maharashra had changed beyond
recognition by then and he could not have rejoined the Shiv Sena or any other political party, including the Congress. With the NCP his only option, he swallowed his pride and accepted all his `demotions’ without protest. When in 2014 Pawar, facing a dearth of suitable candidates, decreed that all his ministers must contest the Lok Sabha polls, most Marathas defied Pawar and laughed in his face. Bhujbal was the only minister, apart from one other person, who meekly accepted . Of course, he lost the Lok Sabha seat from Nasik previously held by his nephew Sameer Bhujbal. The highlight of his campaign then was a ridicule of Narendra Modi’s exaggerated claims – imitating Modi’s nasal twang Bhujbal invoked the by now famous `mitron’ and informed them that in Gujarat you could even extract milk from not just the `bhains’ but also the bhainsa (male buffaloe), among other things. That video went viral during the polls and is not something Modi is likely to forget in a hurry.
Bhujbal did win back his own assembly seat in October that year but the writing was on the wall in capital letters, clear to him when the NCP announced that it would be supporting the BJP in Maharashtra. Modi had declared the NCP to be the “Naturally Corrupt Party’’ of India and the BJP cannot be seen as cohorting with corrupt politicians. The new Maharashtra government has already announced a series of investigations against ministers in the previous government and among them is Pawar’s nephew. It would be disastrous to the Pawar dynasty should that investigation go forward and Ajit be indicted. But the BJP will not be satisfied with no action at all on this front.
This is where Bhujbal now has to offer himself up once again as the sacrificial goat – he is enough of a big fish to satisfy both Modi and the BJP and make it look determined to root out corruption. Then he did make fun of Modi recently and of Pawar years ago and both do not forgive slights easily. If Ajit pawar’s case is lost amid the duly diverted attention, the BJP gets to keep its image intact and at the same time balance the Shiv Sena off against the NCP, given that Uddhav Thackeray too is proving to be a troublesome ally.
Now under investigation not just for his role in the scam relating to the new Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi but also various land deals over the years, Bhujbal, a vegetable vendor who rose to great heights and a multi million rupee fortune, may have nowhere to run. “Where will I go at this age and point in my career?’’ he had said when asked if he woud be rejoining the Shiv Sena. But he may have to tell his wife again to expect another strange knock at the door — this time from sleuths of the Anti Corruption Bureau, come to arrest him and throw him into the slammer.
It could be sometime before he could see a sunrise or a sunset again.
I may be wrong but I have a fair idea of who has been trolling journalists not supportive of Narendra Modi – a fellow journalist and a female one at that, masked behind an anonymous handle. By and large it is paid trolls of saffron parties who operate behind anonymous identities, liberals, generally, have the courage to not hide their identities. Read more
Recently a BJP ideologue from Gujarat, Hemant Fitter, called me to express his anguish. “I will never vote for the BJP again in my life. It will be ghor paap (a cardinal sin) if I do so and I will have to burn in hell.”
Soon after the 1992-93 Bombay riots, my good friend Muzaffar Hussain, a top notch Congress leader in the metropolis, thought he would like to head out of the suburban ghetto of Mira-Bhayandar and drop anchor in Juhu, a posh upmarket suburb. He was rich enough to afford the best, had the political clout, was at the time married to a non-Muslim and all his businesses were named after his wife – Asmita. Read more
In the early 1990s, when I had made tracks to Paris to pursue a mid-career course for journalists, I discovered that my colleagues from Latin American, African and even t Read more