Monday, March 20, 2017

Why I (a posh, iconoclast) have come around to supporting Yogi Adityanath?

Ewww…is the first reaction that a lot of folks in my class when they hear this name “Yogi Adityanath”. To only hear the name causes this reaction, to see him coronated as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has been earth shattering to a lot of educated people.  It is an event that causes one to question their own belief system, especially so to many PM Modi supporters who have been completely bowled over by his development agenda for the last 3 years.
 It was my first reaction to this news as well and I spent the next 48 hours agonizing, questioning, reading, watching (his interviews/speeches) and analyzing. What I have come around to is supporting the Yogi in his role as the CM. This is an especially difficult call for me considering the kind of person I am…posh and iconoclast as I said in the title.
I grew up in Mumbai, an extremely cosmopolitan city, in a family that was extremely modern and irreligious and with a temperament that was extremely inquisitive and scientific. I hated religion, questioned foolish rituals, laughed at pilgrimages and people fasting etc. I also had a healthy distaste for our festivals which I thought were noisy and a nuisance. My education and job kept polishing me more and more into the Western ways and now I am a Brit living in London for many years. I wear Hugo Boss or Armani suits, an Armani watch, Ferragamo ties and Dolce perfumes in my day job. I speak English in the posh British accent with rolled “Rs” and “Ts”. In short, I am the least likely person to support a saffron clad Yogi, so why…why indeed?
After the initial shock, I began to read up on the Yogi in detail. Many folks have now written down about his life. He took diksha at the age of 22 and joined Mahant Avidyanath in the Gorakhnath muth. This is a big religious institution from the “Nath” tradition of monks, dedicated to Gorakhnath (descendants of Datta Guru), the most prominent one with temples all over India. The Nath tradition is responsible for keeping the Yoga traditions alive through the centuries; this order is also active in opposition to the caste system and its social work for the masses. After Mahant Avaidyanath’s death, Adityanath became the Head of the Muth. This Muth with the temple is the mainstay of Gorakhpur city and the Yogi is a very popular figure with almost God like status in the area.
Through the years, the Yogi has served people of the town and expanded his influence over the entire Lok Sabha constituency through his work. The Yogi has been winning elections as a MP since 5 terms and every time the margin of win has grown (the latest one being close to 300,000 votes). The Yogi has eradicated gang wars in this area, has undertaken projects like schools, hospitals through the Temple’s trust and has now got an AIIMS approved for Gorakhpur.
The Yogi has been active in exposing the criminal nexus that existed on Nepal border in child trafficking, fake currency and such aspects for which he was slapped with cases by the SP government in the past. He is a tough cookie, known administrator with no apparent bias towards anyone when providing munificence from his activities. Obviously, we cannot ignore the comments he has been infamous for which have been made in a specific context or against reactions to certain events.
So why am I deciding on supporting the Yogi despite all my prejudices and inclinations, here are the reasons, and these are very simple and practical and completely geared towards what UP needs right now:
·         1. He is a “Yogi”. A lot of us deracinated, English medium learnt people don’t know the real meaning of this word. If you do some yoga, you will know the inner peace and strength you derive but for a while. True Yogis have left all attachments and then spend years in meditation and Yoga which gives them tremendous inner strength and fortitude. I would trust such a person to be single minded and devoted to the goal he has undertaken.
·         2. Though his record in terms of speeches made (or selectively quoted) raise concerns on his approach to Muslims, his actions and facts on the ground suggest something totally different. His Head of Staff at the Muth is a Muslim, so are many of the staff members in the temple. Every year, a month long fair is held at the temple called “Khichadi ka mela”. This has shops out of which 95% are run by Muslims. He runs a daily “Jan Sabha”  everyday for 2 hours where he meets people from his constituency and solves their problems irrespective of what caste/religion they belong to. I saw a lot of Muslims from his constituency celebrating his coronation when the news was announced.
·         3. His parliamentary record is also exemplary (for a saffron clad Yogi), he has 80% attendance and has asked 250 questions so far on varied subjects like sports, foreign broadcasting in border areas, farmer debts, electronic manufacturing clusters, inland water ways, immunization, uniform minimum wages etc. (source - For a saffron, uncouth brute – this record doesn’t quite fit the image built of him.
·         4. He has been at the forefront in maintaining communal peace in Eastern UP, the most backward area in UP which had a history of communal violence before he rose. This is in contrast to Western UP where the Muzzafarnagar riots created havoc.
·         5. He is a karmath (martinet) person and a hard task master, wakes up at 4 am and works very hard. UP is a state in shambles, the bureaucracy and police are thoroughly politicized and used to oppressing the common populace. Criminals have been given a totally free run in the SP regime, it needs a tough cookie like the Yogi who can drive fear into the hearts of miscreants and officialdom – a true “nirmohi” who has no attachments or desires but the task at hand.
·         6. One word on the slaughterhouse issue – a lot of mechanical slaughterhouses are going to be closed down. This is a long standing demand of the people in UP and a long festering problem for people. The meat produced in these factories is invariably from cattle which are stolen from farmers across the state by well financed and run gangs. The meat is exported across the border and to Muslim countries and has made many folks rich. This was the underlying issue behind the Akhlad-Dadri incident. These will be shut down and it will generate a lot of noise in the media on the supposed “intolerance” and “job losses” but this is a real problem that exists.
·         7. Even if the Yogi does try and slip into “naughty” behavior, he has two Deputy CMs to “help” him and a very strong cabinet full of heavy hitters plus special focus from the Centre as they want to ensure UP is in fast track to visible development before the 2019 elections which are crucial.
·         8. A final word – I was taught and read lot of Indic stories while growing up (my thirst for knowledge stops at nothing) and have heard of heroes who are also Yogis – those who have divine powers through years of “tapasya” and are “vighnahartas” and achieve “jan-kalyan”….when I look at the Yogi and his demeanor, his actions and his track record…I am tempted to disregard all his malicious “statements” and more inclined to believe his passion for a balanced narrative, same treatment to all (rather than appeasement of a certain section), progress of all and a healthy society.
I believe it is this kind of strongman who can pull UP out of the current morass and is the need of the hour – it does not fit in our sensibilities since we are city bred folks from outside of these areas who are not at all exposed to the realities of this realm. For all we know, this will work and we will see a great, developed UP which is really one of the last standing BIMARU states. God speed to the Yogi and hope the neck I have stuck out in his support is not guillotined. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Delhi Hi Ast (It is only Delhi)

“Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam” (literal meaning “the kingdom of Shah Alam, is from Delhi to Palam”).
After almost 175 years, we see history repeating. History is a fascinating subject which has always interested me simply because as you scan world history across centuries, you see the same pattern repeating again and again. I am about to report a similar observation in the current political context. It is a tale of two glorious dynasties and what they got reduced to. And the similarity of situations in their dying gasps. We often get dazzled by the noise and light of the news media but look underneath and we notice that all that remains is “Delhi Hi Ast”. Let us look at both stories and enjoy the similarity in histories.
The two dynasties in question are the “Great” Mughal dynasty and the “Greater” Nehru-Gandhi dynasty both incidentally centered around Delhi (Agra for a while for the Mughals but the same vicinity).
Both dynasties were founded by self made charismatic men – Babur for the Mughals who left the rather dry and sour Samarkand to the rich and prosperous lands of Hindustan. He was brave, strong and innovative and founded the Mughal empire after duly defeating Ibrahim Lodi in the First Battle of Panipat.
The Nehru Gandhi clan was founded by Motilal Nehru who was a self made lawyer who made it big and earned so many riches that young Jawahar could be sent to UK for study (in addition to getting the family’s laundry done in the UK).
Humayun and Akbar took the Mughal clan further and expanded to greater glory across India. These were the expansionists, the Mukesh and Anil to the earlier generations’ Dhirubhai (Babar). Akbar expanded the empire to half of India and made smart alliances to spread the Mughal influence through the rest.
For the Nehru clan, we had Jawaharlal who became the top freedom fighter, right hand man of Gandhi Bapu and the left hand man of Lord Mountbatten till landing the Prime Minister’s post of India. He won elections after elections, made the Congress the top and only party across states in India in addition to setting up the modern institutions in the country – this was the time of unbridled expansion of the dynasty but in a very “deserving and able” mode.
Then we had the Jahangir and Shahjahan phase where the empire was consolidated, high noon of the dynasty when there was no challenge, the whole atmosphere and ecosystem was of and for the Mughals. The times were relatively peaceful and the Mughal mansabdari system created a powerful nobility which ran the empire for the Emperor while the bosses partied.   
This can correspond with the Indira Gandhi phase of the Nehru Gandhi clan where the dynasty was at it’s most powerful. Indira Gandhi was the zenith of her power and set up the modern day “dynasty fronting armies” that fight battles for the dynasty i.e. the media, intellectuals, the universities like JNU, the literary awards and academies which constituted the “Durbar”.  
We then have Aurangzeb who laid the seeds of downfall of the dynasty even at the height of it’s power. Despite being very able, Aurangzeb pursued intolerant policies like destroying temples, re-introducing the jazia tax on Hindus and waging endless wars with “infidels” (primarily the Marathas) which started bankrupting the empire.
For the Gandhi clan, Rajiv Gandhi played a similar role – at the height of power (400+ seats) with a strong mandate, charisma and popularity, he took gross missteps like Shah Bano, Ram temple and Bofors that started the decline. The institutions that his mother nurtured during her time started maturing and began to exert complete control on the discourse of the country  that were going to give great dividends to the dynasty despite the decline.
It took the Mughal empire 150 years to come down to the terminal state. It all started with ineffectual descendants of Aurangzeb who became more and more disconnected from the ground and started ceding control to powerful regional leaders like the Nizam, Farrukhsiyar, Sayyid brothers who started carving out their own domains. They were also beaten down by the Marathas (modern day BJP?) who rose from the West and expanded their kingdom across India. There were added troubles due to invasions by Nadir Shah (who took away the Koh-i-noor) and Ahmad Shah Abdali.
The Nehru Gandhi clan had their own share of troubles as they lost power, had non dynasts occupy power, NDA come to power (1998 to 2004) before grabbing power through Manmohan Singh but never being in power themselves because of the ineffectual nature of the descendants (Rahul and Priyanka).
In the end, with the advent of the British, the realm of the last Mughal “Emperor” remained to that of Delhi – hence the saying “Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli ta Palam” which means the kingdom of Sultan Shah Alam is from Delhi to Palam. Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last king who had scores of relatives and hangers on who used to praise him every day and raise his ego to the sky as he stayed busy with poetry and arts while his kingdom was snatched from him.
The Nehru Gandhi clan is now in a similar predicament. It did not take 150 years for this situation to arise for them since this is democracy and the people do have a say in matters now as against the monarchical ages where the sword could be wielded. We are witnessing the last ineffectual dynast who is not capable at all. The adversaries have taken over most of the states in the country and the main adversary (BJP) has captured most of the country from them. The situation is dire…yet, one light shines brightly (and with a last gasp) for them…Delhi.
Delhi stands with the Gandhi clan – the Lutyens media, the star journalists, the academics and intellectuals and the elite universities are part of this Delhi. They dominate the airwaves, they project images to the world that magnify the message 20 fold and thus give a projection of invincibility to the dynasty. As we have noticed in the last few years – every story emanates from the Delhi ecosystem – JNU, Rohith Vemula, Una, Dadri, award wapasi, Gurmeher and many more.
The Delhi  ecosystem picks an issue and spins it into a big yarn projecting it as if these are national issues. Viewers within the country and outside think that is the nation and it’s concern – it worked initially but over a period, the common folk have seen through the game. The dynasty has also begun to believe that these are the main issues that matter (hence the folly of standing with the Azaadi gang) while the ground beneath their feet has completely shifted. The dynasty is in power in a handful of states while majority of the states are either ruled by the BJP or regional parties.
In the end, what remains with the Nehru Gandhi dynasty is Delhi and it’s own echo chamber just like it was for Bahadur Shah Zafar. Of course there will be noise in the coming few years as the dynasty fades away since their loyalists still remain in Delhi – recent example being the EVM tampering issue. However – make no mistake – this will be noise only with lot of flash – the ground has shifted and the end is coming.

To conclude, history repeats itself – sometimes as tragedy and sometimes as farce. Patterns are always the same and for the dynasty…what remains is “Delhi Hi Ast”….

Saturday, March 11, 2017

New series starting - Lassi with Lola Liberal

Hello all,
     We start a new series shortly. Meet Lola Liberal - she was my college mate. Highly intelligent, beautiful, confident and modern. Also very successful and jet setting. She had a soft corner for me back then (in my more handsome avataar) and has since kept in touch. We have been meeting ever since and have engaging conversations over lassi (which she loves for some quaint reason - unlike the usual mojitos and tequilas she is used to). She is a "liberal" and has a natural angst against the "cow guys" (as she calls them) i.e. RSS/BJP and that makes for some great debates. She was also a Barkha fan like everyone else but is slowly developing doubts due to my persistent "Bhakt" arguments. She gets agitated over the latest NDTV+ attack on PM Modi and invariably calls me for a lassi. The series is about our conversation on the "outrage of the day" - hope you will enjoy it and follow it on my blog.

- A