As the monsoon session of the Maharashtra assembly gets underway from Monday, and the combined opposition gheraoes the government over corruption in the state cabinet, I am reminded more and more of Animal Farm – nothing ever changes, only the characters do.
When the BJP first ascended to power in Maharashtra 18 months ago, they came with a promise of fresh hope and clean governance. Less than two years later, the party and the government lie battered with allegations of administrative improprieties and corruption – and not just against the ministers who were sworn into government in October 2014. At least four of the nine new ministers inducted into the state cabinet last week have criminal cases filed against them, at least one was arrested by the police and released on bail just days before he was picked as a minister by Uddhav Thackeray, president of the Shiv Sena which is an ally of the BJP in government.
Right from Day One, Fadnavis, with a personally clean image, has had a troubled existence in government. A greenhorn, who had never had the experience of governance unlike many ministers in his cabinet, he was resented by these veterans in the BJP for being in the right place at the right time. That gives me a sense of déjà vu. Prithviraj Chavan, his predecessor, had a clean image too. He was in the right place at the right time as well – in the good books of his party president Sonia Gandhi and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as was Fadnavis vis-à-vis Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. And he was resented by all veterans in the Congress and NCP for becoming chief minister, as was Fadnavis by seniors in the BJP. When Fadnavis became the state BJP president, it was a job none of these veterans in the BJP, now opposing him, wanted because at the time it did not look like the BJP would get even close to seizing power from the deeply entrenched Congress-NCP alliance in the state. Fadnavis, however, took the thankless job and took on the two ruling parties in right earnest, pointing out their various transgressions and constantly demanding the resignations and arrests of the corrupt in the government, including former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.
But as senior journalist Sukrut Khandekar says, it took a decade or more for cases of corruption against the Congress and the NCP to come to the fore. The BJP has got caught in scam after scam in less than a year of its existence in government. Starting with Women and Child Welfare minister Pankaja Munde who was accused of violating all government norms in clearing tenders worth more than Rs 200 crore in just a day for the supply of chikkis to children in anganwadis for their mid-day meal — the chikkis turned out to be substandard and were supplied by the very same contractors who had been indicted during the previous regime for a similar transgression – to accusations against minister for education Vinod Tawde, who had not just lied on affidavit about his educational qualifications but actually involved in similarly tendering wrongly (for fire hydrants) and even a conflict of interest case wherein he was on the board of the company (Tarun Bharat) whose director he appointed to a government committee. The list has been long. “If you look closely at least ten ministers before the expansion had scam allegations against them,” Nawab Malik, the chief spokesperson of the NCP told me. “Now there are four more.”
Fadnavis who was earlier always on the ball, demanding the resignations of everybody in the government with allegations of scams emerging against them is now on the back foot, having no choice but to defend every minister in his cabinet, including Eknath Khadse who had to eventually resign when it became impossible to defend the conflict of interest that had emerged in a case of land grab against him when he was revenue minister. But as Khandekar points out, “Khadse till now does not have a police case registered against him. The new ministers do.”
Adds Malik, “During our regime, Fadnavis was in the forefront of demanding amendments to the Lokayukta act to arm that authority with powers equal to the police to arrest the corrupt. So why has he not brought in that amendment despite 18 months as head of the government? He knows the moment he does that half his cabinet would be behind bars. He cannot afford to acknowledge the corruption in his government.”
Among the new ministers inducted by Fadnavis, Ravindra Chavan had referred to Dalits as ‘pigs’ and has had several women’s groups register cases against him for the same. Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar, the estranged grandson of former chief minister Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar (who was with the Congress but his family defected to the BJP a few years ago) is considered close to Fadnavis and has been inducted into the cabinet as a Maratha who would ward off the challenge to Fadnavis from the current state BJP president Raosaheb Danve. Sambhaji, however, has cases registered against him for duping three banks of Rs 40 crore. Then, again, the grandson of former co-operative doyen Dadasaheb Rawal, Jaykumar Rawal, according to Malik, has cases filed against him for misappropriation and grabbing of government land. Gulabrao Patil, who is from the Shiv Sena, was also arrested days before his induction into the cabinet in a land grab case. Of the ministers inducted in 2014, Chandrashekhar Bawkule has a case of irregularities in the purchase of solar pumps, Girish Bapat has allegations of irregularities in the purchase of pulses (daal) for which he has been questioned by the Lokayukta, Ravindra Waikar is accused of indulging in irregularities in slum rehabilitation, Vishnu Savra is accused of irregularities in purchases of material supplies to Adivasi students, Girish Mahajan is accused in another land scam, Babanrao Lonikar is accused of filing a bogus election affidavit, Ranjit Patil is accused, again, of land grab.
Adding to the government’s woes the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has just ruled against the award of tenders worth more than 6000 crore rupees for the provision of take home rations for children and lactating mothers awarded by Pankaja Munde’s child and women welfare department to dubious contractors.
Munde was also involved in a public spat with the chief minister when he took away the water resources department from her and allocated it to another minister Ram Shinde who has, equally publicly, refused to take charge until Pankaja willingly hands it over to him on her return from Singapore (she has returned now and Shinde has taken charge).
All this raises the question – is the BJP as clean as it projects itself and does Fadnavis really have the authority to command the respect of his cabinet? That was a question we were constantly asking of Prithviraj Chavan too.
A couple of years ago, when there was a leadership struggle within the Shiv Sena, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi who wanted control of the party just as he had exercised his authority over its founder Bal Thackeray and manipulated the Sena tiger all his life, had taunted Uddhav Thackeray in the most demeaning terms. In the context of a memorial to Thackeray, he had said, “Had it been Balasaheb wanting a memorial for his father and the government had been playing fast and loose with him over grant of land for the purpose, he would have created a ruckus and flooded the streets with Shiv Sainiks. The government would have been unnerved into promptly granting him the land he wanted… That kind of courage is lacking in today’s leadership.’’
Uddhav had not reacted at all – unlike his father who would have roared and raged and threatened Joshi with dire consequences for virtually calling him a coward. But some months later he responded by denying Joshi a ticket to the Lok Sabha that he had wanted and completely marginalised him giving Joshi no role in the party functioning and virtually rendering him unwanted and undesired by anyone in the party.
But as the Shiv Sena completes fifty yes of its existence today (June 19), I cannot help but note that Bal Thackeray seems to have shrunk not just in spirit but also in size – on the posters that the party has put up on the occasion. While earlier he was always larger than life, now he occupies equal room as his son and political heir and Uddhav seems to have finally completely taken over the party and molded it in his own image.
Of course, there is no flooding the streets with Shiv Sainiks as Joshi would have wished but that toning down is not necessarily a bad thing for the party – and mor particularly for the people. But the worrying issue for the party is that while it may now be a watered down version of what Balasaheb’s party was, it has few ideas beyond what its founder had had at the establishment of the party in 1966 and it is thrashing about for a raison d’etre in the 21st century.
In the absence of such ideas, however, the party continues to do what it does best – oppose the government. But now it is no longer the question of opposing an ideologically opposite party. It is strange that the Shiv Sena is getting away with calling Narendra Modi names and trashing every policy of the government both at the Centre and in the state. The party took particular delight in declaring that the Modi magic does not work any more when the BJP lost a series of elections every where except in Assam, it poked fun at the BJP’s self-congratulation at its Assam win, it trashed Modi’s Pakistan policy and, in the state, it is constantly needling Devendra Fadnavis at his inability to control the drought situation in Marathwada, bitterly opposing his alleged attempt to reduce the influence of Marathi speaking people by breaking up the state into several parts including Vidarbha (which would then become largely Hindi speaking) and Marathwada (which would then be Dakhani or Urdu speaking). It is strange to say the least because all the time the Shiv Sena is an equal partner in both governments and while one understands the dependence of the Fadnavis government on the party, one wonders why Modi stands for such nonsense – more fun is poked at his government by the Shiv Sena than by the Congress or other parties on the left.
However, I believe the turning point in both the alliance and the Shiv Sena’s existentialist crisis will come only after elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The Sena does not care about ruling at the Centre or in the state but control of the civic body is all important to the party which has not grown beyond four or five urban centres, the most important of them being Bombay which continues to be it core constituency.
But even if the Sena were to win the BMC — and it has a fair chance considering that its closest rival is the Congress which is so ridden with factions that it might be unable to put up a concerted fight despite the best efforts of its city president Sanjay Nirupam, there is nothing the Sena will be left with at the next elections to the parliament or the assembly if the BJP goes ahead with its determined effort to marginalise the party so that it ceases its dependence on the whims and fancies of the Thackerays and is able to pursue its own policies and agendas without the Sena becoming a stumbling block – like in the separation of Vidarbha from Maharashtra. But even though the party has now taken on the personality of its president Uddhav Thackeray and may have reduced Balasaheb in size and spirit, I notice in substance it continues to follow the outdated policies of it founder. The question the party must ask , however, is if in a half century, the Marathi manoos has not evolved at all and is still fighting for Class 3 and Class 4 jobs or has sunk even lower. For while Bal Thackeray was fighting for clerical jobs for his supporters, today’s Sena is in conflict with north Indian taxi drivers and peanut vendors – jobs that no self-respecting Maharashtrian wants as they take their place alongside the best across a globalised economy.
The fight of the Shiv Sena continues to be the fights of the 1960s and 1970s, shorn of violence and bloodshed and that has contributed to a sense of ennui and lack of conviction among the people that the Sena has their best interests at heart.
I believe, therefore, that despite its possible victory at the BMC elections, the Shiv Sena’s GenNext leaders will have to think fast on their feet and evolve into a party of governance if they do not wish to be left behind in the next half century. Meanwhile the ghost of Bal Thackeray will continue to haunt the Sena even if it wishes to reduce the tiger in both size and plasma.
At the tenth anniversary celebrations of his party, Raj Thackeray tried to gloss over his growing irrelevance in the nation’s polity by saying that everyone in the world – except perhaps Lata Mangeshkar – has been through bad patches and setbacks.
“Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee, greater leaders than me also had downfalls and went through bad patches,” so he was no exception.
While he is right about bad patches coming into the lives of almost all individuals or leaders, his is an exceptional case in the sense that he has brought about his own setback.
When, just before the Lok Sabha elections, Thackeray had a meeting with Nitin Gadkari and very few people noticed that at the time, Gadkari had had no locus standi to ask Raj to refrain from contesting against the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra.
That is an appeal that should have come from either Narendra Modi, who was then the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate or at best from Rajnath Singh, the then BJP party president.
Gadkari had not been authorised by either and, indeed, he had not been overstepping his brief. He was actually meeting Raj merely to appeal to him to withdraw his agitation against the toll nakas in the state, which had been causing damage to a lot of vested interests including the Indian Roads Bureau and Gadkari even then had interests in the IRB.
Raj did halt the agitation but went ahead to contest the Lok Sabha polls against both the BJP and the Sena for that is a promise he had not made to Gadkari or any one else.
But the public perception that he was running with the hares and hunting with the hounds caused him lasting damage and he was unable to recover from that duplicitous image even during the assembly elections six months later.
Raj’s politics has always been reactionary, he derives his strengths from opposing various governments than from implementing or formulating policies of his own and that is something now even his supporters are able to see quite clearly. In the intervening period, he found little to oppose the new government’s policies unless it was to point out the flaws in the policy regarding smart cities but that hardly made for a street agitation.
Then he found a burning issue in the government’s decision to give 70,000 permits to new auto-rickshaws in Mumbai and decided that these will be reduced to cinders. But like the toll agitation, this was not so much about concern for the common people or even the Marathi-speaking people of the state as an opportunity to make good again. For those auto-rickshaws were all coming from the Bajaj factory in Pune and now Raj had someone to target.
Rahul Bajaj, however, has his measure and when he said, “We know where he is coming from and where to send him back.”
I knew the agitation would not last long. But even I was surprised at the speed with which Raj Thackeray withdrew this particular agitation. He modified his statement within just two days to say that no new auto-rickshaws were being seen on the streets and if the government was issuing these permits to old ones, those vehicles should be spared from burning.
There was, indeed, a clamour to slap sedition charges on Raj Thackeray for inciting violence but I do not believe that is what frightened or persuaded him to retreat.
I believe Rahul Bajaj knew exactly how to turn the screws on the MNS chief and I must doff my cap to the government – for all that the Congress was clamouring for his arrest, I am glad the state did not fall into that trap and turn him into a martyr.
The Congress, when in power, had been unable to take much action against him except after things went terribly out of hand. But, perhaps, with some good advice from Bajaj, this government did not even have to wait that long to defang this crouching tiger.
As a result, Raj Thackeray seems to have made himself even more of a laughing stock than he was before and many of his workers and supporters are sorely disappointed with him for not just withdrawing the agitation with lightning speed but for having started something, in the first place, that could only have ended up endangering their lives and liberties.
Raj Thackeray ought not to lose sight of two facts — he is no Bal Thackeray who could ask his Shiv Sainiks to jump from the 17th floor of a building for no good reason and they would do it for him eyes shut, no questions asked.
Secondly, no political party is ever built on blackmail, bargaining or setting one group of people against another. Bal Thackeray built the Shiv Sena on the plank of Mumbai for Maharashtrians. At the time, most Maharashtrians were a deprived lot and poor in their own city whereas the rich were almost always non-Maharashtrian and exploitative of the locals.
That is no longer true and the Maharashtrian youth is as aspirational as the rest of India.
They do not want to get stuck in jobs like auto-rickshaw drivers or peanut vendors. If he does not evolve a programme in keeping with the name of his party — navnirman – I am afraid, the temporary setback he talks about will become permanent and the downfall will be everlasting.
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).
There is a bulbul on the clothesline in my window. She sings, or rather whistles, me awake every morning at 6.03 by my digital clock. Not a minute before, not a minute later. How does she know the exact time? I haven’t been able to work that out for the month that she has been nestling on my socks and Turkish towel that I leave out on the line each night – they do not dry indoors during the monsoon, which comes and goes on and off eventoday, and by early morning enclosed between an iron grill and a glass pane, they are probably warmer than the fresh cold mountain air outside.
Yes. I can see the Parsik hills in the distance beyond which are the Western Ghats. Opposite, the power house of the Maharashtra State Electricity Board has been planted with a dense jungle of trees of all varieties, and all types of birds, predatory or otherwise, screeching parrots, mynahs among them fly in between those trees with squirrels racing up and down and cats perching themselves up those trees quite frequently. The bulbul probably finds safety in the angle between the window ledge and a pipe where she has laid a nest – I soon discover the reason for her happiness: she has hatched three chicks and she is bringing up a family. She is wiser than the poor pigeon who laid a single egg on the extension outside the kitchen window and then had to guard it from all sorts of predators, We fobbed them, including cats, off with a stick every time one tried to steal her egg but then one crow proved too much even for the stick. Just for a second, when we were not looking and she had gone out for food perhaps, he swooped before we could shoo him off and was gone with the egg. The pigeon sat for days looking sadly inside the kitchen window and accusingly at us every time we came in and that has made us feel awful. We have not allowed her or another pigeon to nest there again but this bulbul quite escaped our attention until she began to call me awake. Her chicks are growing, she is teaching them to fly and they will all soon be gone.
No, this is not about a farmhouse.This is in the middle of a growing city where my sister has a small studio apartment which I have been sharing with her for a few months. My own home is in the middle of the highly polluted Mumbai, in an upcoming posh area of the ever expanding city and I used to think my sister lived in the back of the beyond.
But I look at her environs now with new respect — ever since Navi Mumbai got certified as the third cleanest city in the country last month following the government of India’s Swachch Bharat campaign (the first is Mysore) and the bulbul has brought me a fresh appreciation of what this means.
Actually, it is not surprising that Navi Mumbai has come up cleaner than Mumbai or New Delhi. It is a satellite town of Mumbai which was first envisioned in the 1980s by legendary architect, the late Charles Correa and the government of then chief minister A R Antulay which was into reclaiming a lot of land from the sea, which was proving still not enough. Urban planners had wanted to relieve the pressure on south Mumbai and they had come up with the idea of setting up five commercial business districts (CBDs) across the city, including one in Bandra-Kurla, Kanjurmarg, Vasai-Virar and, of course, Navi Mumbai, apart from the then sole existing CBD in south Mumbai. Correa had planned a lot of open spaces and the first homes that came up here were row houses built by the City Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO). In fact, CIDCO has been in charge of all the construction (and not the municipal corporation as usually happens with other towns and cities) and that is why Navi Mumbai is still clean and green with potentially corrupt politicians not allowed to grab all the open spaces and no unplanned development sanctioned. Roads are wider, green lungs are plenty even while industries and factories come up with ease and frequency. It already has one port (the Jawaharlal Nehru Port at Nhava Sheva) with another planned at Mansarovar were the CIDCO is building mostly housing and commercial spaces. Large areas of Navi Mumbai are still just overgrown villages.
Living in the midst of nature is a far cry from the years I spent living a few kilometres from a chemical zone with factories packed into dark, dank buildings and all I could see was a piece of dirty sky each morning – the chemical fumes from those factories would rise above my window and I was never urged to press my nose against the glass pane as I now do while the bulbul whistles on my clothes line.
In my salad days as a reporter, I had spoken to a lot of urban planners and the bureaucrat who had thought up the multiple CBDs had told me regretfully that they could not, unfortunately, achieve what they had envisioned when they decided to set up Navi Mumbai along with the other three CBDs. “We had wanted people to buy homes in Navi Mumbai and stay in. So we planned for schools, hospitals, factories all around the same housing complexes. But only people who could not afford homes in Mumbai bought there and still took the trains and buses to south Mumbai every morning. The idea was to facilitate amenities, like in other western countries – people move home along with jobs to make it easier for themselves and their families. But we did not reckon with the Indian mentality – our home is our universe and once we buy, we never sell unless compelled by circumstances to do so. The same with jobs — they prefer travelling miles and retiring in the same job than risking new ones. Thus living spaces do not get liberated unlike in London or New York and the pressure continues to build on public amenities.”
Years later I could not understand if I was a victim of the same mentality or if I had done what the bureaucrat had envisioned – I had the opportunity to buy an independent home in Navi Mumbai at the same price that I got a small poky flat in south Mumbai. I chose the latter because of proximity to my work place but now I see that is nothing to be happy about. I breathe in highly polluted air each morning, the stink from the garbage wafts into my home if I throw open the windows too early in the morning – I have to keep them shut until almost mid-day on the days I am home and open them only at night when I get home late from work. If I leave too early in the morning the garbage is spilling onto the roads because the municipal trucks haven’t yet found the time to collect. By contrast, practically every building in Navi Mumbai has huge wet and dry garbage bins neatly placed at the gates. They are shut tight against marauding cats ad crows and fumigation against mosquitoes is almost a weekly activity unlike Mumbai where they fumigate only when the insects reach epidemic threatening proportions.
Dinesh Waghmare, the city’s commissioner, is suitably proud about these measures and also about the 24 hour water supply and waste water management at Navi Mumbai’s state of the art sewage treatment plants and landfills, one of which (at Koparkhairne) has been scientifically closed and converted into a green space… one does not hear of such things in Mumbai or Pune or even other smaller, more manageable cities. Soon after the award was made pub[ic, he said at present levels Navi Mumbai has resources for the next 30 years which you cannot claim about Nagpur, Pune, Nasik and certainly not about Mumbai.
But it is not as though Navi Mumbai is perfect.
Nilesh Salunkhe is a driver by profession whose father bought a row house in Nerul in 1985 when no one was willing to move to New Bombay as it was then known. He has seen the city grow and highways and bridges come past his home raising a lot of dust and fumes from the tar and heavy traffic over the years. I have been complaining about long stretches of roads that are potholed and he tells me that this is a routine affair. “Even if it is the CIDCO, there are people who wish that there be no permanent job done because, he is blunt, “how else will they keep making money?” He is not so thrilled, either, about the clean green spaces and tells me rather cynically, ‘This Wonder Park you see? They will try it out for a few years. If they ae not able to turn it into a real tourist attraction and rake in enough money there will soon be high rises coming up here. You wait and watch. I have seen that happen all around my home.”
I hope not. And that hope may hold for some years because, as Samuel Verghese, a real estate agent from Kharghar tells me, the market is sluggish and no one has been buying here for months on end. “Each morning I come to my office and sit at my desk, hoping for a couple of rentals at least. For days even that does not happen.”
He does not know why that should be so. Distances from Navi Mumbai to Mumbai city have been cut short by the Eastern Freeway and you can reach south Mumbai in less than an hour now compared to the two hours it might have taken on a bad traffic day before the freeway came up But, Verghese thinks, the freeway which could be a precursor to the new airport proposed here, does not really help because most offices have now shifted to Bandra-Kurla or Lower Parel and negotiating the traffic to these CBDs is still a nightmare. “Who then wants to breathe in the fresh air of Navi Mumbai if they have to sit half a day in traffic jams or change trains and routes at least thrice to get to work?”
He hopes this new certificate of the city being the cleanest city for miles around will generate new interest and his sluggish business will pick But he will not begin to hope as yet. Why ever not, I ask. “Look at your own attitude,” he tells me, “You are here for rest and recuperation after your severe bout of illness. If you hadn’t almost died, you would still have been thinking of your sister’s home as the back of the beyond. And despite your love for the birds and the bees, you don’t want to buy here – you are moving back to Mumbai, aren’t you? Just like your bulbul will soon abandon that nest, you will fly away too.”
He is almost poetic in his hopelessness. But he is right.
Last Sunday, I was charmed to have been confronted by a slice of my childhood again. I woke up in the morning to see bowls full of chocolates, toffees and other goodies resting on the dining table, there were colourful ribbons and some scarves and handkerchiefs also neatly folded beside the goodies.
For several years now I have been eggitarian (that is to say, I eat eggs occasionally when I have a protein deficiency). But that is not to say I have not tasted different meats ever – during my frequent travels abroad, I have eaten it all –foie gras, caviar, octopus (didn’t like any of them), duck, turkey, partridge, chicken (the fowl were okay), bacon, lamb, venison and, of course, streak – beef as well as reindeer (in Finland). For having beef steaks, I excuse myself with Veer Savarkar’s argument –he had had the same in the UK and wrote in one of his articles later that a British cow was not the same, or even holy, as an Indian one so he could be forgiven for having consumed cow’s meat away from Indian shores. My cow (indeed, if it was a cow and not a bull or a buffalo) was French and German though I stuck to fish and reindeer when I travelled closer to Santa Claus’s home near the northern lights (may Santa fogive me for having consumed a bit of his beloved Rudolf’s kin).
I now have no passion for meat, red or white, though for health reasons I am compelled from time to time to consume egg and occasionally fish. The Maharashtra government’s meat ban thus affects me in no way for they have excluded fish and eggs from their enforced restriction, so I should have no problem should I face a health issue in the fortnight of the ban and have to consume one or the other.
So why am I outraged by the ban? I think it is because this could be the start of invasion of all sorts of privacies – I still remember a visit to Romania where I learnt about a `bedroom police’ during dictator Ceausescu’s regime – they would make sure couples were not using contraceptives because the Big Leader wanted to increase the population of his country to make it as significantly big as India’s and China’s. With RSS ideologues already talking about going Indian in every aspect of life, I am afraid their invasion will not be limited to just our kitchens – I have heard whispers that toilets ae next because they believe commodes are British and the squatting type is more nationalist (I am not joking – there are published reports on this for there were some attempts during Atal Behar Vajpayee’s regime but they found no takers). So are we failing to read the signs of what is really happening to our polity and society in time? For there was a precedent to the meat ban several weeks ago when Gujaratis in a housing society in a western suburb of Bombay had picked a fight with a fish eating Maharashtrian family and that had polarised all Maharashtrians against Gujaratis. The matter was defused after a police complaint following fisticuffs between the Gujarati residents and the Maharashtrian family but there were enough of the Shiv Sainik types who had taken even to social media to express their outrage and avow that they will not be crushed by vegetarians, Gujarati or otherwise.
When I wrote about the history of a traditional warfare between the two communities which went back to the days of Mahatma Jyotiba Phule who had abhorred the sahukars from these communities for exploiting farmers of Maharashtra, I was told that I was deliberately trying to drive a wedge between the two communities and that they all loved each other so well.
Barely two months later, it is obvious that the Maharashtrians are not going to take Gujarati (or Jain) diktats lying down in their own state and cities – significant is the fact that both the Shiv Sena and the Maharshtra Navnirman Sena at last found common cause in this meat issue and took to defying the ban by selling meat openly on the streets. That the Sena should be an ally in the government with the BJP and fiercely resist the ban even in the municipal corporation of Mira-Bhayandar where they failed to block the move only because they had corporators missing durng the vote, is very telling.
The fact that serious fault lines have opened up between Gujaratis and Maharashtrians is made obvious by this food issue – it is not as if the BJP has introduced the ban. It has been in existence for years and was kept under wraps for a quarter century essentially because the BJP had allied with the Shiv Sena and wished to obliterate those fault lines in electoral interest. Now that they have broken away from the Shiv Sena, they are attempting to make a vote bank of not just Gujarati and Jains but of vegetarians per se and have completely failed to understand that more than sixty per cent of this nation is non-vegetarian and those include people who voted for the BJP at the last election.
But what surprises me now is that the government of Devendra Fadnavis, which is as Maharashtrian as it could get, somehow seems to be working against its own constituency and is kowtowing to a line set for it by its leaders from outside the state without taking time to understand the local sentiment and how badly such moves might go down with its own voters.
Maharashtra is a state where even sections of its Brahmins are routinely non-vegetarian, eating mutton and fish, if not beef, which on occasion is also offered as prasad after some ritualistic events. In this they are no different from Bengalis or even Kashmiri Pandits whose Shivratri celebrations have a lot of meats thrown into the fare at their feasts or even sections of Rajasthanis who make sacrificial offerings of, well, the lamb to appease the divine powers from time to time. But now so fierce has been the resistance, not just from the Sena and the MNS but all Maharashtrians and other communities living in cosmopolitan Bombay that the government has had to beat a hasty retreat – they wanted an eight day ban, they got four because of the Sena’s resistance. Now they have limited themselves to two days which is what previous governments had done to appease the filthy rich Jain community without whose funds no political party might be able to survive the rough and tumble of politics.
But it is not just the election funds why in this meat ban what is sauce for the goose is obviously not sauce for the gander – meat and chicken are banned but not fish and eggs. I do not understand the logic of letting eggs be but fish has been exempted for the same reason that they banned meat – the votes of Kolis, Bombay’s traditional fishing community whose livelihoods will be affected by the ban and who would be more than willing to take to the streets to protest. That exemption was a silly move given that they have had to chicken out within days because of the same reason – the millions of votes of Maharashtrians and other meat eaters compared to a few lakh Jain and Koli votes that they might lose to the ban. The government excuse is that fish is not slaughtered. Whoever thinks that has probably never visited a fish market to see how the huge fish are cut into pieces and the floor of the market left slimy with blood. The government obviously believed that abattoirs affect the livelihoods of only the minority they abhor — the Muslim minority which need not be appeased, But the appeasement of Jains, of course, is no big deal, I am sure.
Over the years, the Maharashtra Bhushan award has been given by the state government to a galaxy of writers, poets, journalists, even singers, among them Lata Mangeshkar. Just about anybody who has done Maharashtra proud, in fact.
This year it was awarded to Babasaheb Purandare and his nomination has once again upset the political equations in the state. There were bitter objections to his name by everybody to the left of the government – even the Nationalist Congress Party which is professing support to the BJP-led government in the state. In fact, the NCP was more bitterly opposed than even the Congress but there was a common thread to the objections that was not immediately apparent. A lot of young journalists called to ask me if the award was meant only for historians – that is the only feasible reason they saw for the objections.
But neither is the award meant only for historians, nor is Purandare strictly a historian, he is simply a balladeer who in the past decades has popularised the legend of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj through his poems and plays. But it is therein that lies the conflict. Purandare is not only accused of characterising Shivaji as anti-Muslim, focussing on just four incidents in the latter’s reign, among them his escape from Aurangzeb’s Agra jail and his killing of Afzal Khan which make him seem like an anti-Muslim king — which he was not.
Had he been anti-Muslim, former Maharashtra chief minister A R Antulay would never have ordered the writing of a 12 volume history of Shivaji in the 1980s which was, sadly, abandoned by a succession of Maratha chief ministers, among them Shivaji’s descendants, through the 1980s and 1990s and even this century. Nor would Antulay have attempted to bring back Shivaji’s legendary sword of Bhavani – he never went to wr without it — from Buckingham palace where it still sits proudly in the Queen’s collection. When I quizzed Antulay about his love for Shivaji, he had told me Shivaji was against the Moghuls and their subedars. That is not the same thing as being anti-Muslim, he said.
“In fact, more than a third of his army and half his most trusted generals were Muslim and he had also adopted the Moghul court dress as his own. He was against their expansionism, not against their religion.”
So was the opposition of the NCP and to some extent of the Congress to Purandare’s award on account of his portrayal of Shivaji as anti-Muslim? I do not think so. I think it was a caste battle at its ugliest – a fight for the OBC vote that has shifted towards the BJP after one of their own, Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre.
Only Sharad Pawar’s convoluted thinking in formulating an opposition to a Brahminical order (the RSS) through targeting a balladeer and playwright, albeit one who wrote on a popular historical figure and one who is, conveniently, a member of the RSS, which could bring such ferocity to the campaign.
But why it has also ben convenient to raise the rhetoric on Purandare is because his ballads make out Shahaji to be an absentee father and hint at an unusual friendship between his mother Jijabai and Dada Kondadeo, Shivaji’s tutor, who had a lasting influence on the Maratha warrior king. Purandare not only projects Shivaji as a protector of the Brahminical order (which may not be true, considering the Peshwas refused to recognise him and boycotted his coronation – he had to bring in priests from Benaras to do the honours). But, as emerges from American professor James Laine’s book, which has heavily relied upon Purandare’s interpretations of Shivaji’s life and times, Shahaji might not have been Shivaji’s biological father. For that one line, Laine’s book has been banned in India and, moreover, the Sambhaji Brigade (Sambhaji was Shivaji’s son) which ta draws its sustenance from the NCP, had ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute for its help to James Laine in the writing of the book – that controversy and the successful campaign against Laine propelled both the Congress and the NCP, in alliance with each other, to power and kept them in government for 15 years.
Lately both the Congress and the NCP have been losing their OBC base, including the support of Marathas to the Shiv Sena and the BJP and this was too opportune an occasion to let go of – I am sure Pawar knew he would accomplish nothing by opposing the award to Purandare – the government was not likely to cow down. But that was not the intention which was more to once again drive a wedge between Brahmins and others. And the fact that Purandare is a member of the RSS while the state’s chief minister belongs to its political wing and is a Brahmin besides were convenient tools in this game of consolidating the anti-Brahmin votes in the state.
The government, of course, determinedly went ahead and awarded the honour to the 93 year old balladeer and the ceremony itself went off rather well despite all the noise preceding it. It is worth reminding readers that, while in power, the NCP organs had raised objections to a state government sports award – the equivalent of the Arjuna awards – named after Kondadeo. The award had been given out annually for three decades through several term of Pawar as chief minister with no one bothered about it. It is only when the NCP began to feel the ground slipping from under its feet that the Sambhaji Brigade came forward with similar noises and ultimatum. The Congress gave in. But neither that nor a 11th hour reservation for Marathas and Muslims ahead of the assembly elections in Maharashtra in October 2014 did much to salvage the parties’ electoral prospects. But now obviously the NCP realises that it cannot afford to be in the saffron space for too long and must consolidate its vote bank before it is too late. The award to Purandare was just tailor made for the purpose and it is not surprising that the agitation ceased abruptly after the awards ceremony.
In Maharashtra, I have noticed, there is almost a controversy a day with regard to Shivaji, even over matters as innocuous as the date of his birth. The government believes he was born in the month of Phalgun and so declare s a holiday in February-March, the Shiv Sena believes he was born in the month of Chaitra (two separate sets of historians have established both facts) and there are major celebrations around April-May as well. The next controversy is likely to be over the building of the 300 feet high statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea –a project started by the Congress but now being continued by the BJP and the Shiv Sena who are currently in power. They have appointed Purandare as consultant and there are already noises that his appointment will distort Shivaji’s image. How? I fail to understand. In writing his ballads he may have interpreted Shivaji’s life differently but how does a Brahminical mindset distort a physical image of Shivaji?
Only the NCP which claims a long line of his descendants have the answers.
Every time I come across some devastatingly bad human nature, I am surprised by the generosity of the people who have been wronged by that. It happens in the real world all the time but now more and more often the digital world is prone to such incidents.
Some months ago I read the story of a Jewish American journalist who had been receiving many anti-Semitic threats on his Twitter account and the stalker seemed to have many details of his private life. His wife’s Twitter handle had a nom de plume and she was spared of those abuses until she identified herself as the long suffering wife of this journalist. Soon they began to receive packages at their doorstep that had not too savoury contents and their stalker seemed to know every last emotion that went into their reaction.
That is when they called in the authorities and eventually were horrified to discover the identity of their tormentor – the 17 year old son of their good neighbour and friends with whom they dined at least twice a week, went on picnics and shopping together and were considered the best of friends by the entire community,
They informed the shocked parents and took the boy out to dinner. They began to speak of their harassmeant and all the while the boy acted sympathetic and played the innocent. They gave him ample opportunity to own up to his crime but when he didn’t they let him know they had his measure. Then the boy broke down as his furious father permitted his friends to take any action against their son as they wished – he could have got thirty years in prison for racism and anti-Semitism at the least. But they let him off with a stern warning even as he burst in tears – he was a bright student and his entire life and career could have been ruined had they brought a case against him.
I was reminded of the story when this week former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan faced a similar situation – though not one of cyber threat but one of impersonation. A young college boy from Shirur in the interiors of Maharashtra with professors for parents had started a faux Facebook page in his name and had been happily chatting away with all Chavan’s friends and supporters for months. Chavan had been flummoxed when those chats were mentioned to him but thought it was a case of mistaken identity. However, when he and former MLA Krishna Hegde were travelling together to New Delhi this week, Hegde mentioned to him a chat they had had just the previous day. Chavan denied all knowledge of it and when Hegde logged on and started the chat again both were horrified to discover the impersonator merrily pretending to be Ashok Chavan even as Chavan was sitting with dropping jaws beside Hegde looking into his phone and supposed statements he was making.
Chavan soon lodged a police complaint and the boy was picked up from his home and brought to Bombay along with his father. I was amazed that Chavan, like the American journalist, should have let this boy go too – with a stern warning that he would never do it again, even as the boy’s father was in tears in both shame and embarrassment and relief that his son would not have to go to jail. Chavan’s reasoning was the same – the case would unnecessarily ruin the boy’s career and future prospects.
I guess both Chavan and the American journalist are better human beings than I could ever be for I would have found it difficult to forgive anyone, young or old, under the circumstances.
I find many of my colleagues equally generous, if not forgiving, when they are abused by trolls and sometimes genuine handles on Twitter. I generally block them and move on but lately I am getting less tolerant of such transgressions and am seriously considering taking leaf out of senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi’s book – I have promised troublesome trolls that one word of abuse against my parents, my family, my friends or even my colleagues and I shall go to the police.
Generosity is good in its own place but we need sterner action against people who think they have the right to threaten, abusea or impersonate (except when they identify themselves as parody accounts) with impunity just because the anonymity of the net gives them good cover.
The government could find the resources to block more than 800 porn sites of which some were just ribald humour sites. While child porn is definitely to be acted against, I wonder if the government has in itself to stop the abuse against people who disagree with them because much of the abuse in is in the name of Narendra Modi who even seems to think nothing of felicitating these abusive trolls.
Generosity does not always come out of weakness, one needs to be a nobler spirited individual to act like Chavan and the Jewish American journalist did. It is sad that not many recognise that generosity for what it is and seem to mistake it as a license for more abuse and impersonation.
I wonder if the American boy actually had a change of heart about Jews with that forgiveness and if our own lad from Shirur will truly desist. Perhaps not.
But I salute both Chavan and the Amercan journalist and hope I can be as forgiving.
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?