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Politics by Blackmail: Eulalie syndrome in Indian public life – Comment

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Sonia Gandhi and Rahul

If the Gandhi trio stirred themselves into action as a serious opposition, is there a possibility that they would end up in jail? If they were spared despite this affront, it would imply that the Modi outfit has come to the conclusion that the Gandhis are now totally harmless.

Requirements of the media in this regard are helpful to the Narendra Modi establishment in a peculiar way. It keeps the Gandhis in frequent focus with the express purpose of sustaining the delusion that they are still the rallying point for a national opposition. This salience given to the Gandhis keeps them in the public eye and thereby a massive roadblock in the way of any opposition unity, particularly since the Gandhis and their limping cohorts constantly “emote” an urge to “revive”. They know that such a revival is impossible but the belief serves a purpose indicated above: it obstructs opposition unity. The media is content with the simplicity of the tweedledum versus tweedledee narrative. After all, coalitions and regional diversities are complexities impossible to contain in soundbytes.

In recent times, a story that has wafted out of the Gandhi enclosure is one of differences between them. Sonia Gandhi, with reliable retainers like Ahmad Patel is averse to rocking any boat. Status quo, uncomfortable though it be, is about the best she sees for the brood in the given circumstances. Her listless politics is also a function of her indifferent health.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s status quoism derives from her personal anxieties, family problems and an inability to cope with responsibilities. Ask Kishori Lal Sharma, appointed years ago to nurse the ‘family burroughs’ of Rae Bareli and Amethi and he will guardedly spill the beans. The poor fellow’s Stan Hardy (as in Laurel and Hardy) moustache greyed waiting for Priyanka to address the ‘Congress volunteers’. But Priyanka, like Godot, never showed up.

Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, is being more assertive about beliefs he has long held and which approximate to the line Rajiv Gandhi enunciated at the 1985 Congress Centenary in Mumbai chastising the ‘power brokers’. Is Rahul Gandhi looking for that kind of a platform?

In 1969, when his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, split the Congress away from the ‘power brokers’, the regional satraps, the capitalists, eventually joined up with the Socialists and the RSS in the Bihar movement of 1974 under the leadership of arch Gandhian, Jayaprakash Narayan.

The 1969 split had a Left-Right dimension to it because it was in the context of the Cold War. In the post Cold War world ‘Inequality’ has emerged as the principal affliction of democracies where people’s demands are dismissed as ‘populism’. Crony capitalism thrives but no political party is allowed to find its feet if it intends to harness the discontent of the people who have borne the brunt of, say, the extended lockdown in India. There is a huge Left-of-Centre space for the opposition to occupy. It does not have to be terribly ideological. All it has to do is to make available to the people social benefits such as health, education, housing etcetera. Surely Rahul is aware of this opening, even though Sonia Gandhi is averse to any politics that would incur the wrath of the state.

Politics these days is at a standstill because of the lockdown, of course, but also because of what I call the ‘Eulalie’ syndrome. This light hearted diversion comes from Wodehouse. The resourceful Jeeves has come to the assistance of his master, Bertie Wooster, at a particularly challenging moment. Spode, the Earl of Sidwik, has become a permanent social menace in a country house which is Bertie’s favourite haunt. How to cut down Spode’s bombast? That is Bertie’s challenge. Jeeves provides the panacea. Bertie has to sneak upto Spode and whisper, “I know all about Eulalie.” Bertie follows Jeeves’ advice. The result is electric. Spode becomes white as a sheet and collapses in the chair like a deflated balloon. It turns out that before Spode began to float in London’s high society, he owned a store called Eulalie which sold lingerie known for its bras with bold designs. Eulalie, then is harmless blackmail. But the blackmail which has become the staple in contemporary politics is brutal.

A whisper on the National Herald case or Robert Vadra’s land deals and Sonia Gandhi will begin to resemble Spode after the latter heard the threat made to him, “I know all about Eulalie.”

After the BJP’s stunning victory in UP in 2017, the opposition, armed with data on electoral fraud, sought Sonia Gandhi’s permission to hold a press conference. She refused to get involved in “controversies”.

Take a look at Lucknow. Jockeying has begun for the 10 Rajya Sabha seats from UP. Conventional wisdom concedes eight to the BJP and one to the SP. One would have expected the opposition to jointly keep the BJP out of the solitary remaining seat. But individual party leaders are in an almighty state of funk just in case the Enforcement Directorate comes knocking at their door.

Even though the opposition has a comfortable majority in the Upper House, the BJP rammed through nearly a hundred Bills without any vote. A petrified Akhilesh Yadav is hiding behind columns to avoid political leaders who are pressing him to approach the Supreme Court. What if Yogi Adityanath sets the dogs on him?

In uniformed cities like New Delhi these examples of the ruling party’s impunity, away from the media’s critical glare, enhance an impression of the BJP’s invincibility. Forgotten are dismal economic figures and the simple catalogue that the party is not in power in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, West Bengal, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Delhi. Just as your eye settles on these facts, India Today thrusts before you its poll results: Modi’s approval ratings are 78 per cent. Like the Priest in Kurosawa’s Rashomon, you walk away nodding your head, “What is the truth?”

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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Navaratri, other systems of dieting; but Persian maxim trumps them

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Navratri snacking

Corona has taken a toll of my discourses on elementary Hindu rituals, like Navratra, because my yoga guru from the Monghyr Ashram has placed himself under severe restrictions. Last year, between asanas, he was able to slip in the odd recipe centered around tapioca, water chestnut, without grain, meat and the amber stuff.

My man Friday, a Hindu of insufficient Hindutva, a gourmet cook of non-vegetarian delectations, is almost thrilled to forego his dietary excesses during Navaratri. What comes into play is his innate ‘aastha’ or faith: scratch any skin, and it is there.

Two categories of Indians, of any faith, tend to have a link with religion which over the years has become tenuous: those exposed to western education continuously for two generations or those who grew up in a ‘progressive’ household. The ‘progressives’ in my environment represented a confluence of two streams. Their anti-feudal, anti-imperial stance had certain Marxist antecedents. Otherwise, they derived from the Urdu poets of the 18th and 19th centuries with their innate abhorrence of religious orthodoxy, a caricature of the Mullah, an elegant irreverence towards traditionalism, committed to social justice — a modern outlook, way ahead of self-proclaimed liberals reared on John Stuart Mill.

In modern times, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Krishen Chander, Rajender Singh Bedi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Ismet Chugtai, Kaifi Azmi, Munish Narain Saxena, and Niaz Haidar have followed the tradition.

Multiple social malaise continued to haunt Muslims in the grip of the clergy to whom they had been subcontracted by the politician. Those being targeted as ‘urban naxals’ are precisely the sources of enlightenment for a community which would otherwise have sunk further into social backwardness.

By way of diversion, social backwardness has triggered an unrelated episode from my travels to the Connemara coast of Ireland where the great cricketer, Ranjit Singhji (Ranji) had bought Ballynahinch castle on a river known for the finest river salmon, a paradise for anglers. W.G. Grace and C.B. Fry stayed with him, but for his sister, he had made expensive arrangements in the nearby convent with some very strict conditions: she would not be converted to Christianity and she would only wear saris.

From childhood, participation in Diwali, Holi and Dussehra for Muslims and Eid, Bakr Eid and Moharram for Hindus was more or less compulsory among families and their circle of friends. Raksha Bandhan too was a beautiful occasion for cross religious participation. What has surprised me is my lack of acquaintance with, say, Navaratri, on which my yoga guru, absent because of Corona, has been my informal instructor. What I suspect has happened is that during my formative years’ observances like Navaratri, Ekadashi, pujas for change of seasons, elements, waxing and waning of the moon were either in a low key or confined to the mofussil who were marginal to Lucknow’s mainstream.

Ramzan, the month of fasting, was noticed by non-Muslims in a sensitive way: invitations for lunches or dinners were suspended. Only the closest of the errant friends made clandestine arrangements to imbibe prohibited beverages. There were eccentrics among the aristocracy in the vicinity of Lucknow who broke their fast with a shot of Scotch. One instance I am aware of where a family protested at the eccentricity of their elder relative. They were roundly rebuffed for standing between the old gentleman and his God.

Ghalib was the biggest advertiser of his mischievous indiscretions during Ramzan. He mentions in his letters how he snatched a bite of ‘roti’ (bread) here and gulped water there. Excuses he makes for not fasting were almost childish:

“Jis pas roza khol ke khane ko kuchh na ho

Roza agar na khaaye to lachaar kya karey?”

(If someone doesn’t have the means for an elaborate ‘Iftar’, or breaking of the fast:

He has only one choice: “swallow” the roza). Swallow here means “end the fast”.

His poor finances and rising costs after 1857 were forbidding. They caused him to write bitterly. “Life in Delhi is becoming impossible; Scotch is selling at Rs 16 per dozen bottles.”

There is a subsidiary group of Hazrat Ali’s admirers, among whom Ghalib counted himself, who fast only for three days of Ramzan, beginning 19th when Ali was struck by a poisoned sword in the mosque at Kufa and Ramzan the 21st when he died.

My grandfather’s fasting companion during these three days was Pundit Brij Mohan Nath Kachar, a regular at our village during Moharram. His sermons attracted full houses.

The speed with which Hindutva has in recent years transformed faith and practice of religion into religious assertion has left me a trifle shaken. Should my 50 years of commitment — films, books, columns on cultural commerce — be put away as a chronicle of wasted time? Or should I dismiss these as cow belt excesses exactly as the authors of the Constitution did.

After 1947, the UP Assembly grappled with a list of 20 alternative names for United Provinces. The matter could not be postponed indefinitely because the drafting of the new Constitution was nearing completion and the state’s new name had to be inserted. The Provincial Congress Committee met in Varanasi in November 1947. A majority of 106 members voted for ‘Aryavarta’ as the state’s new name, 22 members voted for ‘Hind’. Both names were shot down by Nehru.

I had started this column on Navaratri, as nine days of austere dieting. Faith was not an issue at all. Under the guru’s advice, I had been persuaded that it was a healthier way of giving the body a rest than total starvation for 10 to 14 hours which Ghalib found difficult to cope with.

In fact, the best I heard on this theme was from my uncle Syed Mohammad Mehdi. He used to recite a Persian maxim:

“Ba har hafta faaqa

Ba har maah qae

Ba har saal mushil

Ba har roz mai”

(Fast every week;

Drink litres of saline water and

Vomit it out every month;

Purgative every year;

Wine every evening)

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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Thinnest crowd, sans guest: Covid hurts RSS’ biggest event

Like other years, there were no ceremonial band playing or marches. Bhagwat simply offered his floral tribute to Hedgewar, RSS founder and did ‘Shastra puja’.

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Mohan Bhagwat RSS Chief

New Delhi: The foundation day of BJP’s ideological mentor, thee RSS on this Vijaya Dashami has been unique.

The Sangh’s single largest annual event that usually witnesses hundreds and thousands of cadres systematically assembling at the ground to listen to the Sarsanghchalak was missing.

In fact, to Bhagwta’s own admission, this year it was the thinnest crowd ever — apart from the day of its inception.

This time the RSS annual event that takes place on a sprawling ground in Nagpur, took place inside an auditorium where a handful of cadres were seated with adequate physical distancing, given the pandemic situation.

“This is probably the first time in Sangh’s history since its foundation day that a RSS Vijaya Dashami program has been organised with such a restricted low number. We have done this keeping in view the COVID protocol,” Bhagwat said at the outset.

While he paid tributes to the front line workers who lost their lives fighting the virus and urged all to be mindful of the persistent threat, one couldn’t help but notice that there was no Chief Guest this year. It was also done amid the pandemic in a stark departure from tradition.

Each year, some one of prominence is invited to lecture on this biggest annual RSS event. Former President Pranab Mukherjee created a row when he agreed to be the chief guest of this event in 2018. Last year, it was HCL’s Shiv Nadar. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari, Gen V.K. Singh were also among the other guests present at the address. However, 2020 was an odd one out when no one special was invited.

Meanwhile, given it was a small inside arrangement, the stage too was very small in comparison to the mammoth stage that is erected each year on the ground. Only 4 individuals, including Bhagwat were present on stage this time — all wearing a mask.

Only 50 volunteers were allowed inside the Maharshi Vyas auditorium this year. “We are all aware that this Vijayadashami the celebrations are restrained in terms of numbers. We are also aware of the cause. To prevent community spread of Coronavirus social gatherings are restricted,” Bhagwat said.

Like other years, there were no ceremonial band playing or marches. Bhagwat simply offered his floral tribute to Hedgewar, RSS founder and did ‘Shastra puja’.

Though, the event is being beamed live each year, it was the main source of dissemination of the Sangha’s message this year, given no media access was allowed.

The event was beamed live on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Above 42,000 viewed it through Youtube while nearly 23,000 saw it on the Twitter account of RSS. In fact, while beginning to address, Bhagwat also mentioned those who were joining online.

This is the Sangh’s biggest annual event where the Sarsanghchalak chalks out the broader agenda for the year to come. This time, Bhagwat spoke extensively on the pandemic, Chinese aggression and how India must counter it as well as push for ‘swadeshi’. He also spoke against pro-CAA protestors.

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Market Watch : FII’s inflows to help market register gains

Shares of Vedanta have gained in the past week post the announcement of the meeting for the interim dividend. They gained Rs 9.80, or 10.32% to close the week at Rs 104.80.

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Sensex Stock Market Update UP and Low

Markets continued to gain ground during the week gone by with gains registered on four of the five trading days. BSESENSEX gained 702.52 points or 1.76% to close at 40,685.50 points while NIFTY gained 167.90 points or 1.43% to close at 11,930.35 points. The broader market saw BSE100, BSE200 and BSE500 gain 1.51%, 1.58% and 1.64% respectively. BSEMIDCAP was up 2.43% while BSESMALLCAP was up 2.56%. The breadth of the market increasing as is apparent from the gains in midcap and Smallcap are the redeeming feature.

Indian rupee lost 28 paisa or 0.38% to close at Rs 73.62 to the US Dollar. Dow Jones was under pressure and lost 270.74 points or 0.95% to close at 28,335.57 points.

In primary market news, the fresh issue of Rs 280 crs and an offer for sale of 7.2 cr shares from Equitas Small Finance Bank Limited, was subscribed 1.95 times. The issue saw QIB portion subscribed 3.91 times, HNI portion undersubscribed at 0.22 times, Retail portion subscribed 2.08 times and Shareholder reservation undersubscribed 0.42 times. The price band of the issue was Rs 32-33.

Vedanta Limited has declared an interim dividend of Rs 9.50 for the current financial year 2020-2021. This is from the dividend which it has received from its subsidiary, Hindustan Zinc Limited of Rs 16.50 per share or Rs 6,972 crs. The dividend received by Vedanta against its holding of 64.92% was Rs 4,526 crs. Vedanta has distributed 77% or Rs 3,500 crs of this amount to shareholders of the company. The dividend by Hindustan Zinc was declared in May 2020. Probably Anil Agarwal was super confident that he would be able to pull of the delisting at the ridiculous price of Rs 87.25 and therefore used the proceeds of the dividend to fund his delisting war chest. Looking at it another way he felt that if he succeeds in delisting, the dividend would not have to be shared with minority shareholders. Failing in the exercise, he has distributed the same as per the company dividend policy after five months.

Incidentally, Hindustan Zinc has announced a second interim dividend of Rs 21.30 per share totalling Rs 9,000 crs on 20th October. Assuming that Vedanta would distribute the similar 77% of the dividend received, this would amount to Rs 12.25 per share. On a simple maths and assuming the price of Vedanta to be Rs 100, the two dividends, one proposed and one expected, total Rs 21.75, a dividend yield of 21.75%. Wonder how many companies if any, can boast of that record. Its high time that promoters stop taking their minority shareholders for a ride.

Incidentally, the government has proposed a strategic sale of Hindustan Copper and with Sterlite’s Tuticorin copper smelter plant shut, this becomes a must acquire proposition for Vedanta. Currently there are just two copper smelters in India and both are owned by state run Hindustan Copper Limited. The others like Birla Copper and Sterlite were importing copper concentrates to make cathodes. Its high time, the Anil Agarwal group mends its way and tries to becoming more investor friendly.

Shares of Vedanta have gained in the past week post the announcement of the meeting for the interim dividend. They gained Rs 9.80, or 10.32% to close the week at Rs 104.80.

The buoyancy in the markets has been helped by FII’s being buyers in the market. On a monthly basis they were net sellers of Rs 11,410 crore in September, which they have more than bought back with net purchases of Rs 13,565 crore in October so far. They had also bought Rs 15,749 crs in August of this year. As long as the inflow is so strong where 2 billion dollars are pumped in a month, it would be fair to say that markets cannot fall. If to this you add the fact that the breadth of the market is increasing you have a setting for the present optimist mood to continue.

On the Covid-19 front, the world saw 4,29,46,446 patients with 11,54,862 deaths and 3,16,73,006 people recovering. In India, the number of patients were 78,64,811 with 1,18,567 deaths and 70,78,123 people recovering. Compared to the previous week, there were 29,86,795 new patients, 40,221 deaths and 17,82,622 people recovering. In India there were 3,70,260 new patients, 4,503 deaths and 4,80,914 people recovering. The number of patients recovering has been consistently more than new patients and the same is a very positive sign. The successful launch of a vaccine is eagerly awaited while some countries have begun mass scale administering of dosages for the same.

The week ahead sees October futures expire on Thursday the 29th of October. The present level of NIFTY is higher by 1,124.80 points or 10.41% for the series. This double-digit gain is huge and quite unnatural. One must of course exclude the fall this year in March2020 when the pandemic broke out and the recovery which followed in April 2020. Expect the bulls to build on the same while the bears would try to claw some of it back. Results so far for the NIFTY pack have been good and are fuelling the rally.

With expiry just four days away, expect markets to be volatile and have larger intraday movement. As long as there is no major negative news flow it would be fair to assume that markets would continue to register gains no matter how much smaller. Positive inflows from FII’s would further help markets to gain ground. Continue using sharp dips to add to positions and rallies to sell.

–IANS

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