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Two brick laying ceremonies for Ram: Which one was kosher?

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Modi in Ayodhya

It reflects on the civilizational power of Lord Rama in this ancient land that independent India’s five Prime Ministers involved themselves in the affairs of his birthplace at Ayodhya. Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Narendra Modi and, tangentially, V.P. Singh in between.

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, learnt his early lessons about the limits to his power when the Rama idols “mysteriously” appeared on the night of December 22, 1949 at the spot where the Lord was supposed to have been born and UP Chief Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, refused to have the idols removed despite Nehru’s insistence. Secularism was a fine concept but not at the cost of Hindu faith. In the different approaches to Ayodhya are embedded serious divergences within the Congress on the centrality of Hinduism in national life. Not only was Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, President of the Congress for a record four terms, but he was also a founder of the Hindu Mahasabha. One may quibble on proportions, but there is Hindu Mahasabha in the Congress DNA just as there is the RSS in the BJP.

Nehru was a proud “Pandit” but there was a clear mismatch between his elitist tolerance of Hinduism and the all-pervasive Hindu faith in the make-up of most of his colleagues. It turns out, in retrospect, that Nehru’s secularism was a huge gamble. It would be thrilling if the secular experiment succeeded to a point where my brother Shanney could revisit relatives in Karachi and regale friends in JNU with the observation which became a classic in the 70s: “Nice place”, he said returning from Pakistan, “but too full of Muslims.” Today, this gregarious raconteur finds himself fixed in the pitying gaze of relatives from across the border. I called him in Lucknow on August 5, the day of the Shilanyas. He didn’t say much. It is instructive that the top-down secularism of Nehru and Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk faced eclipse within weeks of each other.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra must be commended for having endorsed the beginning of a Ram temple, but in doing so she may have slighted her father’s memory. Rajiv Gandhi may not have been present at Ram’s birthplace for the first bricklaying ceremony on November 9, 1989, but a foundation stone was laid, at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi’s government under official supervision of the District Magistrate of Faizabad, Ram Sharan Srivastava, a more harassed officer I shall never see. Since I was seated next to him, I could virtually peep into the pit where the brick was to be laid, under instructions from Rajiv Gandhi, his cousin Arun Nehru and UP Chief Minister Narayan Dutt Tewari. It was an underhand, duplicitous operation, totally violative of the Allahabad High Court order which prohibited any construction on “disputed” land. In a show of force, Ashok Singhal of the VHP, the Hindu body leading the agitation for a temple, threatened “rivers of blood”: he would lay the foundation stone on exactly the spot which the temple plan dictated, namely the “disputed” land. Clandestinely, the VHP was allowed to have its say. But Srivastava was to put out a press note that the brick was laid a 100 feet away from the disputed site.

Rajiv was fighting for his life against his once favoured Finance Minister, V.P. Singh’s rebellion, in the 1989 General Elections. He struck a desperate deal with the VHP. The VHP was to press the BJP to pull back its horses in a seat at Faizabad and three in Kerala. The VHP will claim that it had done the Shilanyas where it wanted, in the first place. This double cross too was part of the secret deal. With all these machinations, Rajiv lost the General Elections.

Pranab Mukherjee in his memoirs, The Turbulent Years, has confirmed a gem of a story. A week before the Shilanyas, Rajiv escorted by Home Minister Buta Singh, visited Godman Devrahwa Baba who had a delightful way of blessing his devotees. He dangled his legs from a thatched roof and thumped on the head those he chose to bless, in this case the renaissance Prime Minister of India, eager to know if he should allow the Shilanyas. The Baba, networked in the interstellar spaces, transmitted his message: “Bachcha, ho jane do” (child, let it happen).

The soft saffron that Rajiv adopted by way of electoral tactics came to him from two sources: Indira Gandhi donned this shade during the 1982 Jammu election, this being her gut response to the Khalistan movement. Two years later, the unprecedented majority with which Rajiv Gandhi came to power after Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 was not attributed to a sympathy wave but a massive Hindu consolidation against “minority” communalism.

This conventional wisdom among Congress senior leaders caused him to open the temple locks in May 1986. Since then the Congress is wasting away, wearing soft saffron, selling its family heirlooms, even as the BJP acquires a shade of saffron as hard as was on show at the Shilanyas in Ayodhya.

Since it is accepted by everybody except perhaps Randeep Surjewala that the Congress is now beyond redemption, the best the Gandhi siblings can do is to recover as a priceless memento that brick which was laid in their father’s name in Ayodhya to start a temple for Lord Rama.

(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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Obituary – Ex-Aus batsman Dean Jones had a love affair with India

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Dean Jones

For some strange reason, a 51-second video clip of Dean Jones being bowled neck and crop for a duck by the legendary Kapil Dev in a Test against Australia went viral on Wednesday, with a commentator uttering the words “that’s the end of Dean Jones”. And, on Thursday Jones died of a cardiac arrest, aged 59 years and 184 days, in Mumbai.

Jones, who was in India to honour his contract with a broadcaster for the IPL, was close to many Indian players, like Kapil Dev and Dilip Vengsarkar, and was a regular visitor to India for cricket-related work.

A top order batsman, Jones, who was part of the second Tied Test in which he scored his maiden double century in 1986 in Madras, played 52 Tests and 164 ODIs between 1984 and 1994. He was a gutsy batsman and wasn’t scared of stepping out to play speedsters. His running between the wickets was very brisk. Jones is perhaps best known for his 210 in the Tied Test, his maiden double century at that level — an innings after which he was taken to a hospital and was put on a saline drip after he was dehydrated during his eight-and-a-half hours at the crease in hot and humid Madras, as Chennai was then called.”

A day that changed my life forever,” Jones tweeted on September 19, on the 34th anniversary of the Tied Test. Another tweet of his that day read:

“This Test was the Renaissance for Australian cricket. It was our Mt Everest moment. Under AB [Border] we started to believe that we can compete against the best. Great friendships started with the Indians. Our Journey had just begun!” Indeed, Jones’s friendship with Indians had well and truly begun in 1987, and some of his friends, like Kapil Dev, were in the team that played at Chepauk. India proved lucky for Jones as he was part of Allan Border’s team that won Australia their first ever World Cup, in 1987 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. After retirement, Jones started getting TV work in India and was nicknamed ‘Professor Deano’. He even named his twitter handle @ProfDeano. Jones’s love affair with India continued both on and off the field. In Test cricket, although he played only three matches on Indian soil, his average here — 92.

75 — was the highest of the six countries he had played in. He played 18 ODIs in India and tallied 719 runs at 44.

94. The Aussie once also played alongside Indians in unofficial cricket. When a World XI gathered in England to celebrate the bicentenary of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1987, former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar partnered Jones in a game against Gloucestershire in Bristol.”

He was a very nice, jovial person. I was shocked when I heard this news today. I was absolutely devastated. Of course, we played against each other, representing India and Australia. We also played together once. It was one of the three matches played before the main five-day game between the MCC and Rest of the World XI at Lord’s in London. Dean and I had a 200-odd-run partnership. I scored 171 and he scored 70-odd in that match,” Vengsarkar told IANS. “Of course, I knew him very well. When he used to come to Mumbai for commentary etc, sometimes we used to meet. He was a good friend. And he used to play golf also. So, I was surprised that he collapsed and died today. It’s absolutely shocking,” he said. In mid-2000s, Jones also applied for the India coach’s job. Although he didn’t get the job, he became coach of the Islamabad franchise in the maiden Pakistan Super League in 2016 and guided the team to the title.

Jones played a prominent role in the revival of Australian cricket in late 1980s, especially during the 1987 World Cup and the 1989 Ashes Test series.

He went on to captain Victoria and Derbyshire. At times, Jones was too outspoken. As a commentator, he slipped a couple of times. In 2006, he called South Africa cricketer Hashim Amla a “terrorist”, a comment for which he had to pay a penalty. But he was accepted back into the commentary box while Amla forgave him. On Thursday morning, Jones reportedly greeted everyone when he was at the breakfast table in the hotel where he was staying in Mumbai. “When he went for breakfast, he was jovial and said ‘good morning boys, hope everything is fine’ to people present there,” a hotel source told IANS.

By Qaiser Mohammad Ali

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Obituary – MoS Railway Angadi will be remembered for warm gesture, smile

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Suresh Angadi,

New Delhi, Sep 23 : Minister of State for Railways Suresh Angadi, who passed away on Wednesday evening at a hospital here where he was being treated for Covid-19 will always be known for a big smile and warm gestures by his colleagues and friends.

Angadi was made the Minister of State for Railways in May last year by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Soon after his appointment as MoS for Railways, he knew that he has to meet the expectations of PM Modi to improve the train services.

During the inaugural run of second Vande Bharat Express train between New Delhi to Katra on October 4 last year, just two months after the abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, he travelled in train with media persons to give a message that the government is standing with the people of J&K for the overall development of the region.

There were around 80 media persons along including the camerapersons to cover the inaugural run of the Vande Bharat Express.

During the trip, Angadi kept on interacting with the media about the plans of the Railway Ministry to bring development in erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

He gave interviews for four consecutive hours without any break and assured that he answered all the tough questions posed to him.

Speaking to IANS on the same trip, Angadi had said, the Indian Railways, which has witnessed delays in completion of several important projects, was aiming to finish all of them by 2022, on the occasion of 75th Independence Day.

He had also said that the national transporter sees the option of allowing private operators to run trains as an opportunity to provide world class services.

Angadi had said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed that all the pending projects and works be completed by 2022. We are focusing on completing pending works, like doubling and tripling of tracks, electrification, installation of CCTVs and signalling system upgrade.”

“New projects will be taken up only after completing them,” Angadi said.

He also favoured giving trains to private operators, and cited the example of private TV channels and said, “The entry of private players will generate more jobs and investment opportunities. In the long run, a lot of development will follow due to the competition.”

In countries like China trains run at 400 kmph. But in India trains were not running even at 160 kmph, he said.

“To compete with the world, we have to opt for investment from many sources. When a private company or people comes and invests in railways, it will create opportunities to develop economy,” he had said.

The railways had last year proposed to corporatise Rae Bareli Modern Rail Coach factory in UP.

On opposition of the Congress and other parties to corporatisation and privatisation of railways’ manufacturing units, the Minister said, “The Congress never thought about development. It has always opposed development.”

“We have not got to think of the Congress, but development and competition, and let the economy grow and create employment opportunities,” Angadi said.

Citing examples, he had said, the national highways remained undeveloped till the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government took it up and today even foreign countries were appreciating them.

Angadi in the railway ministry was also known as one of the most punctual minister. He always came to the ministry on time and ensured that the press briefing started on time.

Angadi represented Belagavi constituency of Karnataka in Lok Sabha.

He first won from the seat in 2004 and remained undefeated from the seat till 2019.

He was also known as a media man, who always remained responsive to the queries of media even late in night.

Following the news of gis death, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said, “Deeply anguished at the unfortunate demise of Suresh Angadiji. He was like my brother. Words fall short to describe his commitment and dedication towards the people. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends in this hour of need. Om Shanti.”

Angadi Angadi admitted at AIIMS on September 11 after testing positive for Covid-19. He breathed his last on Wednesday evening.

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It was all about being ruthless: MI skipper Rohit Sharma

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Rohit Sharma

Abu Dhabi, Sep 24 : Rohit Sharma, on Wednesday, returned to his usual, elegant self with a masterful innings to lead Mumbai Indians to a 49-run win over Kolkata Knight Riders at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Rohit scored 80 off 54 as MI scored 195/5. In reply, KKR managed to score 146/9.

Interestingly, this marked MI’s first ever victory in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), having lost all of their matches in 2014 when a part of the group stage was played in the UAE.

“It was only two players from the 2014 squad. It was all about how we executed our plans today, we never let it go. We were in good position throughout the game but it was all about being ruthless, getting as many (runs) as possible. We knew the wicket was good and dew was coming down,” said Rohit in the post-match presentation ceremony in which he was declared Player of the Match.

As the KKR bowlers fumbled with their line and length and gave Rohit short deliveries, the MI captain replied with his trade mark pull shots to deposit the ball over the boundary.

“I back myself to play (the pull shots), love playing it and practiced it quite a bit. Pretty glad it came out well, they were all good (laughs), can’t pick one. I haven’t played a lot of cricket in the last six months time and was looking to spend some time in the middle; it didn’t come out well in the first innings but glad to have done it tonight,” he said.

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