The actor Sanjay Dutt has familiarised all of India with a very evocative Bombay-specific word — maamu. No, that does not mean maternal uncle as people in the north might presume but making a fool of someone very adeptly as Dutt’s character did in the blockbuster film ‘Munnabhai, MBBS’.

Now I do think that Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has made a ‘maamu’ of Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and might be laughing behind his sleeve. For, I refuse to believe that either Fadnavis, who is a lawyer, or officials of the government of Maharashtra did not know the law or even of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the turning of government bungalows into memorials for departed leaders.

But on November 17 this year, as the Shiv Sena was commemorating the third anniversary of Bal Thackeray’s passing, Fadnavis made a grand announcement that a memorial to Thackeray would come up at the Mayor’s bungalow adjunct to the beach at Shivaji Park. Now the Mayor’s bungalow is not private property and Thackeray had held no constitutional position in his lifetime ever to merit government property as a memorial. Even former president APJ Abdul Kalam’s retirement home in New Delhi could not be turned into his memorial precisely because the Supreme Court had decreed against such conversions of government bungalows into memorials.

So did Fadnavis not know all this or, if he did, why did he string Uddhav Thackeray along? I am inclined to think that Fadnavis was getting his back on the Shiv Sena, which has been proving a troublesome ally, constantly yapping at the BJP’s heels and that Fadnavis made the promise knowing full well nothing will come of it.

However, in the meantime, he could play the regretful ally who had tried and had been overruled by courts and procedures. It would help to cool the Shiv Sena down and the BJP could buy time until the crucial Bombay Municipal Corporation elections coming up in February 2017. I wonder how long it will take Uddhav to realise he had been had and resume hostilities with the BJP once more.

For it is not going to be easy to overcome the Supreme Court ruling and now even Raj Thackeray, Uddhav’s estranged cousin and his own brother Jaidev Thackeray have been growling about what they see as the Shiv Sena’s land-grabbing tactics.

Raj, in fact, has categorically said so soon after Fadnavis’s announcement but few have paid attention to Jaidev Thackeray — he asked why, when the Thackeray family has ample land and property across Bombay, do they not convert one of these into a memorial. Or if none of these suits, he said, the Shiv Sena owns enough money to buy a suitable property for a memorial.

But still the Shiv Sena has been after grabbing a corner of Shivaji Park for a memorial ever since Thackeray’s funeral was conducted there. But the Maharashtra government is itself in dispute with the Bombay high court about who owns Shivaji Park — the government or the citizenry — and has been steadily refusing the Shiv Sena on this count.

But the idea to turn the mayor’s bungalow into a memorial, to be fair, comes not from the Shiv Sena or the BJP but from Sharad Pawar — the original doyen of all land grabbers, if I might put it that way. Sometime in 2013, Pawar decided to intervene in the dispute between the then Congress-NCP government and the Shiv Sena to suggest that the mayor’s bungalow could be converted into a memorial.

At that time he was looking at anti-incumbency being faced by both the UPA government at the Centre in which he was a minister and the Congress-NCP government in the state, and was hoping the resolution of the memorial crisis would ingratiate Uddhav to him to such an extent that the Shiv Sena would extend support to his party in event of a hung assembly in Maharashtra, if not in Parliament at the centre.

But with then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan taking a tough stance, nothing came of it and the results to the Lok Sabha were such that Uddhav had no need to feel grateful to Pawar for anything.

Now Devendra Fadnavis seems to have taken a leaf out of Pawar’s book and is taking Uddhav Thackeray for a royal ride. How long before Uddhav catches on, one does not know but one thing is certain — the mayor’s bungalow will not be turned into a memorial anytime soon and certainly not for Bal Thackeray. How long the truce then lasts is a toss-up and a million dollar question that might have no answer.

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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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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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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.”
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Long before the Shiv Sena attempted to take ownership of Marathi food in Bombay, the vada-pau was a humble meal for workers and labourers –discovered, designed and manufactured by a private entrepreneur in Dadar, in the heart of the city. Read more

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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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I know I should be outraging about both the Aam Aadmi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party getting their flag codes wrong this Independence Day but I guess the laws are good enough to deal with such mistakes. Serves them both right, I would say, for they be always acting more holier than thou – and everybody else. The mistake only shows up how much attention they are really paying to the nation and its emblems.

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After the BJP wins nearly a hundred seats in the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it seems a bit much for BJP leader Vijay Goel to threaten migrants from these states with deportation/prevention of free movement into Delhi – it reminds me of the time when Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had made a similar statement soon after his party came to power in Maharashtra. Read more

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