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  • 2006: A year of revolutions and resolutions in India

    first_img2006 EssaysYou have heard it before: for a country that takes great pride in its ancestral antiquity, what can the passage of another year mean? Quite a lot, considering our collective calendar fetish. For cultural sustenance, we return to the colour-coded texts of yesterday. It is not necessarily a learning,2006 EssaysYou have heard it before: for a country that takes great pride in its ancestral antiquity, what can the passage of another year mean? Quite a lot, considering our collective calendar fetish. For cultural sustenance, we return to the colour-coded texts of yesterday. It is not necessarily a learning experience. Often, we come back armed with one-dimensional wisdom. That is the thing about sites of history: resourceful tourists can collect enough items to accessorise their most outrageous ideas. We look back before we take the next tentative step forward, and not always nostalgically, but more likely with a sigh of the one who has survived. Mercifully, when we re-read India in the last glow of 2006, we realise it has been an admirable story of survival. Being an Indian story, it must be reasonably loud, rich in exaggerations and contradictions, with the right mix of morality and kitsch. Don’t expect any originality of plot, though. There is virtue in creative imitation. At least it kills the monotony of sameness.So, there they go: the politician who peddles repetition as re-invention; the sloganeer who borrows old lines to make a new point; the artist who modifies the safest formula and presents it as the alternative; and the dissenter-the over-familiar conscience keeper-who turns his combat with Power into street theatre. We have seen them all before. They never go away, and that is the advantage of being a paradoxical type. That is why we have comrades who achieve a perfect balance between Soviet rhetoric and Chinese attitude-between Delhi and Kolkata. That is why we have a prime minister who can be both a neo-Nehruvian dogmatist in matters of social justice and an open-minded pragmatist in his internationalism. And that is why we have a leader representing tribal power with blood on his hands. This variety in dramatis personae is matched by thematic diversity as well. The year 2006 has given justice a new resonance, populist and redeeming. The politician, with his eyes set on the ghettos of minority votes, turns justice into secularism’s worst pretence- maybe we should call it benevolent communalism. The media, mining middle class frustration, turns it into a relentless crusade. In the end, there is relief in the drawing room: this is not a land without justice, and let it rhyme with Jessica. Hang on for a sec, the cause junkie, outraged by the sham of the attack on Parliament, reminds us with italicised shrillness how justice can turn subversive as well. The canonisation of Afzal Guru has already begun. Nothing is ever boring in this country. Welcome to the land of crafty improvisers. They have made 2006 the year of remix, which, after all, is the art of variation. In music, it has been legitimised by the originality of the imitators themselves. In politics, practitioners of remix are not necessarily apostles of change, although there have been honourable exceptions. Bill Clinton, the New Democrat, was a master. Remember how he made a New Deal for the new times. In the process, he himself became an original-and an inspiration for the Blairs and Schroeders of this world. Now, see how Wilsonian idealism has become a moral force of the 21st century during the presidency of George W. Bush. At home, some old ghosts in fancy dress are staging a comeback; or rather they have been dragged into the arena by the politics of desperation. Our own Grand Old Party is currently engaged in the craft of remix. Garibi Hatao-ah well, we have been there before, but no Congressman worth his starched khadi would ever say “it is so last century”. Garibi, after all, is an Indian constant, no matter how sprawling the market is. And politics, at its idealistic best, is all about reaching out to the people. A “shining” slogan won’t work, and BJP will tell you how suicidal it can be. A new slogan for the new India requires too much thinking, and in Congress, it is the singular prerogative of the Leader, this business of thinking. Maybe the Leader, at her best, could only think of returning to the original Mrs G.Congress’ return to Garibi Hatao is, at the most obvious level, a tribute to the original Mrs G. In packaging poverty, she was there before Jeffrey Sachs and Bono. Sonia Gandhi may be the new Mrs G in the making. And unlike the original, the journey to that iconic summit is effortless for her. She doesn’t need to invent a slogan; she doesn’t need to outsmart a syndicate; and no socialist will dismiss her as goongi gudiya (the dumb doll). All that she has to do is invoke the family mystique. The starched cotton power dressing and the borrowed gait will do the rest. For the Gandhi-driven Congress, future lies in the great yesterday. The new Mrs G, venerated by the party as Our Lady of Salvation, is remix personified with minimum creative input but with a maximum power quotient. In 2006, the Sonia iconography had its defining moment when she resigned from the Lok Sabha over the office-of profit controversy. It was a simple act of high symbolism, and she knew it would yield huge moral profit-and that she would be back without much of a fight. The Gandhi remix was easy. This was not the case for the prime minister who was still learning to grow up in politics, that too without ceasing to be politic.In 2006, Manmohan Singh, the “chosen” prime minister, the apolitical, matter-of-factly gentleman, did a bit of remixing in his own quiet way. He wanted to be a statesman. He had the credentials, but political expertise was not one of them. He was determined to change the public’s perception; he had to do it without denigrating himself into an Arjun Singh. It was an ambitious project-and pretty adventurous too. The nuclear deal was his big moment. In retrospect, it was not entirely an achievement of the UPA Government. The groundwork was already done by the Vajpayee regime, whose finest hour in power arrived when India began to shed the shibboleth of Third Worldism and catch up with the post-Berlin Wall world. It was Vajpayee, with Jaswant Singh as his lieutenant, who realised that America was not an imperialist bogeyman but our natural ally, that India’s place was on the right side of history. Manmohan took this agenda to its logical conclusion as BJP, repudiating its own legacy in foreign policy, failed to see the difference between nationalism and national interest. Manmohan, like any other remix artist, owes a great deal to his predecessor. Being Manmohan, he might even say Vajpayee should have the first claim on India’s nuclear glasnost.Manmohan did not say it. What he did say was not shocking at all: Muslims must have the first claim on resources. He was bound to say it one day. What was really shocking was: how come Arjun Singh missed the line? He is, after all, the patron saint of divide-and-reform. He is the one who has given a communal tag to the wretched and the dispossessed. In 2006, he brought genetically modified Mandal back onto the campus. For a while his India looked so different from Manmohan’s India-competitive, market-driven, meritocratic. An India rhapsodised by Davos. In Arjun’s India, merit is a social privilege of the few. He took complete copyright over secularism, which, in practice, meant minority-ism. He set the agenda-social, cultural and political. Still, he didn’t have the last word. The vision thing had to be stated by the prime minister. He began with the M-word. It is the word that sustains the politics of social justice, which, in India, has always been divisive. Under the UPA raj, it is secularism at its fanatical worst. The Nehruvian New Man of scientific temper was an ideal, a role model who existed beyond the sway of cultural exceptionalism or religious belief. Arjun Singh wants to reclaim him; Manmohan wants to reinvent him. Those desperate remix artists who aspire to be contemporary Nehruvians lack the intellectual elegance of the original. Remixing can be pretty jarring in clumsy hands.Artists were at work on the right side of Indian politics too. BJP travels back into civilisation’s vandalised provinces and mythologies’ deepest recesses whenever it requires raw ideological material for reconstruction. And Advani was its finest explorer. As 2006 began, the party was still struggling to control the damage done by his deviation the year before: the trip to Jinnah’s mausoleum across the border was his shortest journey in history-and the most problematic one in his career as a political yatri. The year 2006, though, didn’t mark the end of the road for him: the yatra continues in his mind. The year, though, belonged to the leader of the New Generation Right. Rajnath Singh, the heartland veteran, is the new face. Is he the new voice as well? At his formal coronation in Lucknow last week, there was no new vocabulary of change; there was only the emphasis of the familiar. It was not exactly the art of remixing as such. The Ayodhya rhetoric was pure repetition. What was notable was the spirit of combat. Rajnath, a hardcore realist, has to now come out with some new ideas-or at least reworked old ideas to suit the times. There is no other way to reclaim the space lost by the Right in Indian politics. For BJP, it is an idea, not a surname, which galvanises. The idea of Vajpayee is on the retreat. If there was any trace of remixing in the House of Saffron in 2006, it was in Rajnath’s own style: a dash of Vajpayee without the lyricism.Remix, at its best, celebrates the triumph of the derivative. And it brings out the urge for change. In mainstream politics in 2006, the Left alone defied the temptation. Bengal’s McMarxist was not really remixing. By introducing an Indian version of social capitalism, the Bangla Deng was repudiating the orthodoxy of the apparatchik at Headquarters. He had the people who elected him; the occupants of AKG Bhawan in Delhi had nothing at stake except the book. His counterpart in Thiruvananthapuram, another winner in 2006, tells a different story in Marxist morality. He won the election single handedly as the people’s comrade, as a street fighter, not as a market-friendly Marxist. The Indian market, anyway, has acquired an independence that allows little space for ideological intervention, in spite of the customary red alerts from comrades, permanently aware of their indispensability in Delhi’s power structure. Bangalore may aspire to be the digital capital of the “flat world”, but India Inc is no longer a soft power. It has already learned to conquer. In 2006, the Indian Business Model was a global story, and it was a story of renewal and change. We have come a long way from mixed economy to remixed economy.Still, as the year of the remix nation passes, spare a thought for the originals, even if you are not in a movie hall. It is the spirit of the originals that makes the experiments in change such an engrossing affair. We are indebted.IDEAS REDUXFLASHBACK: Sonia Gandhi’s conscious effort to model herself along the lines of her mother-in-law extended to her agendaIndira GandhiAt the end of 2006, the Congress found itself trying to soothe irate coalition members with one hand, while appeasing a fidgety Opposition with the other. The Government advertised the booming economy and the Indo-US nuclear deal as its showpieces, but didn’t get a chance to celebrate. The party and its leader, Sonia Gandhi, went to the masses with ideas tried and tested, albeit in another time and place. Sonia, who has often invited more than a passing reference to her similarity with Indira Gandhi because of her trademark saris and court shoes, put all doubts to rest when the Government, in a flashback to Indira’s 1971 election campaign, decided to relaunch the 20-point garibi hatao programme on the back of which the former prime minister had ridden to power. The Government decided to bring back garibi hatao (eradicate poverty) on its agenda as the term garibi unmoolan (alleviate poverty) used so far was not adequate. While garibi, no doubt, still needs to be hataoed, the fact that the new slogan has only a rehash of existing schemes to back it shows a lack of new ideas-something not many missed. The Government’s agenda on OBC reservations was an agonisingly real replay of the 1990 Mandal Commission protests, with the Government mouthing words jaded with overuse, and students on both sides of the debate shouting back in the same age-old refrain. November saw the Sachar Committee Report on the status of Indian Muslims being tabled in the Lok Sabha. But it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s comment that minorities, especially Muslims, should have first claim on the country’s resources that literally brought the roof down. Many have never been quite convinced that the Congress had washed off its tag of minority appeasement, and this relapse from the days of the Shah Bano affair only convinced them that the taint was no paint, but a tattoo. 2006 was the year of old wine in a new bottle, but it never really got anybody even half-way high on enthusiasm.by Gaurav RajkhowaLEFT SULKS, STALLSRED POWER: Left-backed trade union workers at a May Day rally in BangaloreThe Left’s uninterrupted reign for 28 years in West Bengal was extended by five years through a landslide victory in the assembly polls in April. It simultaneously seized Kerala from Congress in the volley between the two fronts. Positive vote shares in Tamil Nadu and Assam added to its power quotient at the Centre. Congress, a poor performer in the polls, had to surrender its desire to divest small amounts of public equity in Nalco and Neyveli Lignite. High on its victory in Tamil Nadu, DMK threatened to withdraw support to the UPA if Neyveli was touched. The Left’s political understanding with DMK helped as trade unions affiliated to both swung into action. Outside the “third” (non-Congress, non-BJP) alternative platform, the Left parties tried to embarrass the UPA Government even before the assembly polls took off. While US President George W. Bush was in the Capital drawing out the nuclear agreement with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Left leaders burnt effigies of Bush and took to the streets. Sensing anti-Bush sentiments growing among Muslims, Samajwadi Party (SP) backed the Left, frequenting CPI(M) headquarters and threatening (on TV) Congress. Inside Parliament, Left and SP members warned the Government of dire consequences if the nuclear deal went through without incorporating their concerns. The prime minister finally explained himself in Parliament in an emotional speech which somewhat mollified the Left. After hollering at Congress for proliferating SEZs, the Left got trapped in its own design of Singur and in the process facilitated the emergence of Mamata Banerjee from oblivion. Justifying reforms in Bengal and condemning the same elsewhere marked the year’s end for the Left. The rug remained firm below Congress.by Satarupa BhattacharjyaHARD BATTLEBUBBLING UP: The cola controversy became an emotive political issueCola controversyIn a year of remixes, the cola controversy was a tune that stayed true to its original from three years ago. In August, the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) put out a report that claimed to have found toxic levels of pesticides-lindane, chlorpyrifos, heptachlor, malathion and DDT-in 11 soft drink brands of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The CSE, while releasing the findings, said the situation was even worse than it was three years ago. But for the major part, the reactions all around were much the same as in 2003.The cola companies, bitter rivals in the market place, became the best of friends, hosting joint press conferences refuting the CSE findings and asserting their commitment to international standards of quality. This time around, the companies went one step further than the newspaper advertisements and poster campaigns of 2003, roping in their brand ambassadors for testimonial ads on TV. Pepsi’s new head Indra Nooyi even made India her first destination outside the US since she took over in October in an attempt to smooth ruffled feathers. The cries for banning the multinationals from India found their voice again, as they do periodically, and a series of court cases followed. Left bastions Kerala and West Bengal filed high court cases to ban the soft drink makers in their markets, as did Karnataka. The Health Ministry set up an expert committee to look into “the methodology of sampling, methodology of testing and validity as well as the consistency of results derived by the CSE in its report”. It was only here that the subtle loops of the remix became audible-the committee rubbished the organisation’s findings which had an echo in the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee set up after the 2003 controversy. Bombarded with other-worldly nomenclatures and subdecimal contamination levels, the consumer was hardly any more aware of the issues at hand than she was three years ago. So 2006 saw the soft drink controversy turn into an even harder battle. Even though the Government gave them a clean chit, the cola companies have now agreed to comply with any standard established by it, setting a precedent for the entire food processing industry.by Gaurav RajkhowaDADA STRIKES BACKGreg Chappell – Saurav Ganguly: After their tiffGreg Chappell with Saurav GangulyTheir names will forever be linked but not like Rodgers and Hammerstein or Haynes and Greenidge. Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell are more like Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi. What was said and who delivered the head butt are now foggy in the memory but we all know the score. At the end of 2005 and an accelerating run of one-day victories, it read Chappell-1 Ganguly-0. At the end of 2006, the Indian team was in the throes of the worst 15-ODI slump of all teams barring Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and blanked 4-0 by South Africa. Promises about multi-dimensional players were premature, platitudes about processes worn thin and total cricket was in tatters. Re-enter, courtesy a new selection chief, the prince of rough tides. Since his return, the Bengal left-hander has shown enormous composure and more than reasonable return in a low-scoring Test and the team’s tide has turned. A first-ever Test win in South Africa, and no eggshells on the dressing room floor. After the win, Chappell spoke in glowing terms about the comeback. Ganguly has said nothing, other than his reception from the coach was “very good”, in sporting clich, a statement now on par with “we are not underestimating the opposition”. Baffled South Africans like Darryll Cullinan wondered whether Ganguly’s return was not an embarrassment for Chappell, after repeated public and private Dada dumpings. India’s finest TV pundits like Ravi Shastri (relentlessly cheerleading for the coach) spun it differently. In a biblical metaphor, they call this Chappell’s vindication- the unseemly shakeups needed to send Ganguly to the grindstone so he could return like a prodigal. But just like The Godfather didn’t end with a handshake, this fraught episode is unlikely to end in an easy ‘moral of the story’. Indian’s emotional public of course believes “Dada” has brought India’s edge back. Either way, India’s most formidable middle order ever has, by accident or design, been reunited and has delivered a Test result to drool over. For every victory crafted by Rahul Dravid that bolstered Ganguly’s captaincy record, the Bengal bat has played a vital part in what could be the turnaround moment for the Bangalore man’s leadership. Chappell-1 Ganguly-1. And it ain’t over yet.by Sharda UgraFAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENTREMAKE SEASON: Bollywood copied entire films as in Umrao Jaan, 1981Aishwariya Rai in Umrao Jaan, 2006It was called Bollywood’s best year ever. Yes, but only if one looked at the overseas box office receipts. Never did Bollywood ransack itself, clichs and all, as flagrantly as it did this year. Whether it was remakes or sequels, the Mumbai film industry finally declared what it had covertly been doing all these years. Copy outrageously. It borrowed entire films (Don and Umrao Jaan), characters (Krrish, Lage Raho Munnabhai and Dhoom 2) and sometimes even ideas (adultery in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna-so very Silsila?-and Shakespeare in Omkara). Some results were spectacular, as in Lage Raho Munnabhai, easily the best film of the year, for its unabashed simplicity and its breathtaking courage. If Munnabhai proved the importance of content, leading everyone to rejoice at the widespread acceptance of sensible cinema, there was also a Dhoom 2 which showed that pouting and preening worked as well. With marketing becoming the real star in Bollywood, it was only natural that familiarity would breed content. Successful concepts, sequels and remakes are easier to sell. They guarantee box office openings when a handful of stars alone cannot be trusted to deliver bottoms on seats. Expect a lot more of the same in 2007. On the anvil is Ram Gopal Varma ke Sholay, Sarkar 2, Don 2 perhaps, and now it is being said, Dhoom 3 as well. Where will it all end? In franchise movie-making and more popcorn, making us forget the slender but subtle successes of Dor (ah well, that was a remake of a Malayalam film) and Khosla ka Ghosla. Perhaps it was time for Bollywood to invest in writers instead of expecting good music, pretty people and prettier locations to do the job. It would be cheaper, for sure.by Kaveree Bamzaiadvertisementadvertisementadvertisementlast_img read more

  • Indian government informed about BCCI decision to isolate Pakistan: Vinod Rai

    first_imgThe Committee of Administrators chairman Vinod Rai has confirmed that the Indian government has been informed about the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s stand on Pakistan and how it is planning to isolate the country from the cricketing community.India Today has learnt that Vinod Rai has spoken to Sports Ministry, the external affairs secretary as well as the home ministry about a possible boycott of Pakistan from international cricket and not just in the upcoming World Cup.Rai also confirmed that the government is also in sync with the strategy to isolate and ostracize Pakistan from the sports fraternity.India Today had earlier learnt that the BCCI CEO Rahul Johri left for Dubai at 8pm on Saturday night and will start informal dialogues with the member boards by Sunday evening.BCCI will first seek to align England with India because England is the World Cup hosting board. England also don’t travel to Pakistan for bilateral cricket and that’s what the BCCI will use.They feel if they get 2-3 boards on their side to express the same sentiment, the process to isolate Pakistan would have begun in earnest.Rai had a detailed chat with Johri and he has been instructed to flag this issue at every opportunity.Rai had earlier directed Rahul Johri to write a letter to the International Cricket Council to convey the message that the Indian board was against Pakistan’s participation in the upcoming World Cup following the terror attacks in Pulwama last week, which killed 40 CRPF jawans.advertisementThe BCCI’s letter had also expressed concerns over the safety of Indian players, support staff and the fans, among other points. BCCI also in the letter, urged the cricketing community to sever ties with countries from where “terror emanates”.”We must try to isolate Pakistan from cricket community. That’s what we are trying to do. We want other ICC members to realise that terror emanates from Pakistan,” Rai told India Today on Saturday.”Long term plan, we want to declare Pakistan as the apartheid of cricket. “Just the way South Africa at one point, no team was playing them. Similar plan we need to do with Pakistan where no team should play them,” he added.Also Read | Want to declare Pakistan as the apartheid of cricket: CoA chief Vinod Rai to India TodayAlso Read | BCCI will be shown security plans for World Cup, says ICC chairman Shashank ManoharAlso Read | Virat Kohli on World Cup clash vs Pakistan: We will go by what government and BCCI decideAlso Read | Unfortunate that politics and cricket are mixing: PCB chief Ehsan Manilast_img read more