Tavleen Singh in her very interesting book Durbar recounts one of her earliest reporting experiences in Delhi. The year was 1977 and the state of internal emergency declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was still in effect. The opposition leaders had come together to address a rally at the Ram Lila maidan in Delhi.
The leaders started to arrive in their white Ambassador cars by around six pm in the evening. The ground was full. And the boring speeches started one after the other. As Singh writes in Durbar “I thought people might start to leave unless somebody said something more inspirational. It was past 9 p.m. and the night had got colder although the rain had stopped.”
But nobody had left. They were all waiting for a certain man called Atal Bihari Vajpayee to speak. By the time Vajpayee rose to speak it was well past 9.30 pm. The crowds clapped chanting ‘Indira Gandhi murdabad, Atal Bihari zindabad‘. As Singh puts it “He acknowledged the slogans with hands joined in a namaste and a faint smile. Then, raising both arms to silence the crowd and closing his eyes in the manner of a practiced actor, he said, ‘Baad muddat ke mile hain deewane.’(It has been an age since we whom they call mad have had the courage to meet) He paused. The crowd went wild. When the applause died he closed his eyes again and allowed himself another long pause before saying, ‘Kehne sunne ko bahut hain afsane.’ (There are tales to tell and tales to hear). The cheering was more prolonged, the last line of a verse that he told me later he had composed on the spur of the moment. ‘Khuli hawa mein zara saans to le lein, kab tak rahegi aazadi kaun jaane.’ (But first let us breathe deeply of the free air for we know not how long our freedom will last). The crowd was now hysterical.”
Such was the connect Vajpayee had with the masses. Having heard him give speeches to a large audience of over a lakh, I can safely say his pauses which became a butt of jokes later when people saw him make speeches on television, would mesmerise the entire audience when he spoke to them live.
In the Lok Sabha election that followed the leading opposition parties came together to form the Janata party. Vajpayee’s party Jan Sangh was also a part of it. The Janata experience was soon over and by the 1984 Lok Sabha elections Jan Sangh in its new avatar as the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was down to two seats.
From there on Lal Krishna Advani built the party on the ideology of hardcore Hindutva, taking the number of seats that the party had in the Lok Sabha to 88 in 1989 and 120 in the 1991. This fast rise of the party was built on slogans and ideas like “saugandh Ram ki khaate hain mandir wohin (i.e. Ayodhya) banayenge” and “ye to kewal jhanki hai Kashi Mathura baaki hai”. Vajpayee took a backseat for a while. It is one thing to instantly connect with the masses when you address them and entirely another thing trying to build a political party from scratch. And this is where Advani flourished.
In the 1980s and the early 1990s the BJP espoused causes like making temples in Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura. It talked about banning cow slaughter, having a uniform civil code, and doing away with the Article 370, that gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. All this was music to the ears of voters across Northern and Western India and the party catapulted from being a political front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to having some identity of its own.
In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections the BJP won 187 seats in the Lok Sabha and was invited to form the government. At that point of time it was Vajpayee and not Advani who had played larger role in reinvigorating the party, who became the Prime Minister of the country.
While Vajpayee may have been a taller leader there was practical considerations at play as well. The BJP on its own did not have the strength to form the government. It needed other parties to support it either by joining the government or supporting it from the outside. And the chances of that happening were better with a moderate Vajpayee at the helm of things than a hardcore Advani who by then was looked upon as a man who had played an important part in bringing down the Babri Masjid. At least, that was the perception among a host of political parties.
So Advani had to make way for Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. BJP’s first tryst with power lasted less than three weeks and even with Vajpayee leading, it could not attract the support required to prove its majority in the Lok Sabha. But things changed in the years to come and Vajpayee was the Prime Minister from March 1998 to May 2004.
His moderate image and larger than life persona helped him rule the country with a rag-tag coalition of more than 20 political parties.
Narendra Modi is now trying to convert his image from that of a hardcore Advani of the 1990s to that of a more moderate Vajpayee who ruled the country. At least, that is the conclusion that one can draw from the speech he made at the Shriram College of Commerce in Delhi, yesterday.
In the speech he said several things that tried to project an image of a moderate ‘Modi’. Lets sample a few lines.
– The youth of the nation has its finger on the mouse of computers and is changing the world. India’s journey has gone from snake charmers to mouse charmers
– The ambassador of a nation asked me what major challenges India faces and I said the biggest one is that how we use opportunity. When asked what the opportunity was, I said the youth. Europe buddha ho chuka hai, China budha ho chuka hai.
– This nation is being ruined by vote bank politics. This nation requires development politics. If we switch to politics of development, we will soon be in a position to bring about lasting change and progress
– We need P2G2. Pro-People Good governance
– Why shouldn’t we make the ‘Made in India’ tag a statement of quality for our manufactured products?
If the above statements are viewed in isolation Modi does not come across as a hardliner that he is typically made out to be. He comes across as a man who has some vision for India.
Politically this makes sense for both BJP as well Modi. If Modi is able to soften his hardcore image in the days to come he might start to appeal to people beyond his home state of Gujarat and votaries of hardcore Hindutva. He might also start to appeal to political parties who currently won’t touch him with a bargepole given his hardcore pro Hindutva image.
This is very important in this era of coalition politics where no single political party can form a government on its own and sticking to any ideology becomes a burden beyond a point. If this strategy of projecting a softer Modi does work, it would mean that the BJP would be going back to its soft Hindutva strategy that it followed during the reign of Vajpayee. As we all know this strategy worked wonders for the BJP till it was abandoned in favour of the India Shining strategy.
A softer Modi will continue to appeal to the traditional supporters of the BJP and at the same time appeal to those who currently have doubts about him. That seems to be the idea behind the new Modi that India saw for the first time in Delhi, yesterday.
Whether that happens remains to be seen. As marketing guru Seth Godin writes in All Marketers are Liars “Great stories happen fast. They engage the consumer the moment the story clicks into place. First impressions are more powerful than we give them credit for.”
Given this getting rid of first impressions in the minds of the voter is very difficult unless you are the Congress party, and do not stand for anything. So it remains to be seen whether people of India will buy the new story that Modi is trying to project at the national level. But then we all have to start somewhere.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on February 7, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])
Babri Masjid: 20 saal baad, what has changed, what hasn't!
My standard tenth exams got over on March 12, 1993. It was late evening, around 6pm, and I was having a vanilla ice-cream (or was it chocolate I don’t remember) in a cone along with some of my friends standing outside Firayalal, the premier shopping destination for clothes in the city of Ranchi, where I grew up.
A small kid started pestering me to buy a copy of Sandhya Ranchi Express, an evening newspaper that had been recently launched. I tried to shoo him away. He wouldn’t go and was determined to sell the last copy that he had.
The trouble was I did not have a single rupee in my pocket. My parents never came around to the idea of giving me pocket money, being forever bothered that I would use it to buy the music cassette of the latest Hindi film, which was one of the two interests I had at that point of time. The other one being religiously listening to Cibaca Sangeet Mala, a countdown show of Hindi film songs hosted by the one and only Ameen Sayani every Monday on the government owned radio channel Vividh Bharti (He started with Radio Ceylon and during the later years moved to Vividh Bharti).
My friend Anshuman, who had also paid for the ice-cream (if I remember correctly), first gave me a stare and then a one rupee coin. I bought the newspaper. A small piece of news which seemed to have been inserted at the last moment as the paper went to press talked about bomb blasts in Bombay (now Mumbai).
Those were the days when evening newspapers were not meant to be taken seriously. They usually had their share of masala and gossip. I thought the news about the blast was not true and would have just been put in to hopefully sell a few copies more.
In fact I was sure of this primarily because all kinds of news that appeared in the local newspapers. A few days after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, a local newspaper had even gone to the extent of reporting that he was alive, living in the United States of America (USA) and having fun there.
The news about the blasts in Bombay turned out to be true. By the time I reached home, people had tuned into BBC Radio on the short wave and confirmed the same. Those were the days when people did not believe in anything unless they had heard it on the BBC (and if not them, someone else they knew had because it was not always easy to tune into the right frequency).
The evening news on Doordarshan, first in Hindi and then in English, also reported on the blasts. I went to sleep peacefully that night, the first time since January 29, when I had started preparing for my tenth standard exams, on the day Vinod Ganpat Kambli made his test debut and batted ahead of his schoolmate Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. The blasts in what was a ‘far away’ Bombay did not effect a small town boy who was just happy that his exams were done and out of the way.
Investigations soon revealed that the blasts were carried out on the orders of the much feared Dawood Ibrahim, the mafia don who ruled what was then Bombay. By the time the news of his involvement came out, Ibrahim had left the country , never to come back. It is said that Ibrahim carried out the blasts to revenge the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the riots that followed against the Muslim population in the city of Bombay.
Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished on December 6, 1992, twenty years to this day. I clearly remember that rumours were abuzz in the colony that we lived in, about the Masjid having been brought down. The rumour mongers used the usual ploy of saying “BBC par bol diya hai (they have said it on the BBC)” to give a kind of an authenticity to what they were trying to spread.
But cable television had already arrived by then. We had got a connection on February 22, 1992, on the day India lost to England in Benson and Hedges cricket World Cup being played in Australia and New Zealand.
Earlier on the same day the New Zealand captain Martin Crowe had surprised the entire cricket fraternity by asking the off spinner Dipak Patel to open the bowling in the match against Australia. Something like this had never happened before.
And it was on cable TV we got some confirmation of the Babri Masjid having been brought down. The BBC (television and not radio) showed some kar sevaks getting on the dome of the Babri Masjid and starting to hit it with rods and hammers.
Lal Krishna Advani of the Bhartiya Janata Party and Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad could be seen rushing towards the disputed structure and asking kar sevaks to stop what they were doing. Whether they really meant it or not is something even they won’t be able to tell.
Those were the only visuals of that were broadcast on the BBC. In fact from what I remember it was not BBC’s original footage and they were broadcasting a tape that was put together by news agency ANI. The media was thrown out soon after the kar sevaks starting demolishing the Masjid and those are the only visuals that anyone ever got of the Masjid being brought down.
The only other news show was on Doordarshan and nobody of course believed what they were reporting. So people would tune into BBC on their cable television and waited with a baited breath to hear something being reported on the scene in Ayodhya and the riots that had broken out in different parts of the country in the aftermath of the Masjid being brought down. Given that a lot of people did not have cable television, they waited with a baited breath in homes of people who had it.
Schools, colleges and offices had been closed down and a curfew had been imposed on the city of Ranchi. Shoot at sight orders had also been given. But we were safe inside the confines of the CMPDI colony. I was advised to start preparing for my tenth standard exams which were due in less than three months time. I remember studying some Chemistry or at least pretending to, just to ensure that my mother did not bother me too much. And I was really kicked to know that the word Oxygen is an oxymoron. But being the news junkie that I was, I was more interested in all the rumours that were going around rather than studying for my tenth standard exams.
Most of the people around me were happy at what had happened. “Advani ji ne kar dikhaya (Advani ji has got it done),” was an oft repeated phrase. People also talked about the time when Advani had come visiting us in October 1990.
Advani was on his Rath Yatra across the country starting from the Somnath Temple in Gujarat on September 25, 1990. He arrived late one night to stay “overnight” in the guest house in our colony primarily because there wasn’t a hotel good enough for him in the city of Ranchi. At least, that’s what the rumour was.
In fact, in the years to come I saw a spate of BJP leaders from Atal Behari Vajpayee (who was sitting in the front seat of a Maruti Omni), Murli Manohar Joshi and the late Pramod Mahajan, all stopping overnight at the guest house.
Early next morning, before Advani was supposed to leave, a small crowd, which included me, had gathered in front of the guest house. He came out and was requested to speak a few words. I don’t remember anything of what he said except the last line, which was “Saugandh Ram ki khaate hain, mandir wohin banayenge”.
He was out of the place in five minutes. But the crowd that had gathered continued to mingle. Some were happy to have seen him. Some were amazed to know that his so called rath wasn’t actually one. Some women spoke about the glow Advani ji had on his face. Some others said “kam bole par bahut acha bole. (he spoke less but spoke very well).”
And some others who thought they were worried about the state of the nation asked “mandir banega ki nahi? (Will the temple be made or not?)”. With the Babri Masjid out of the way the first step towards the making of the temple had been made.
The slogan going around was “ye to kewal jhanki hai, kaashi mathura baaki hai (This was a just a trailer, Kashi and Mathura are still remaining).” Ranchi was a hardcore BJP constituency returning its candidate Ram Tahal Choudhary to the Lok Sabha four times in a row between 1991 and 2004.
People who had gone to Ayodhya from Ranchi as kar sevaks became minor celebrities once they came back. One of my older friends claimed to have met one such person who had told him “ke masjidwa ekbak hi gir gaya (The masjid fell rather suddenly with ekbak being the Ranchi lingo for suddenly)”.
So those were the days.
Its late in the night as I sit writing this and wonder about all that has changed since December 6, 1992.
Vinod Kambli now sports a weird hairstyle and recently had an angioplasty. He never fulfilled all the potential he showed in the early 1990s. He is probably the only test player to have played just 18 tests with a batting average of 54.
Captains now regularly use spin bowlers to open the bowling in T20s, one day internationals as well as test cricket. Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s latest spinning sensation is regarded as the best new ball spinner in the world. Talk about oxymorons!
Ranchi now has much better hotels. And it no longer votes for the BJP. Since 2004 its turned to the Congress and voted for Subodh Kant Sahay, who till very recently was a minister in the Union government but has since been dropped due to his role in the coalgate scam.
Nobody listens to the BBC Radio in India any more. Very few watch its World News Service on cable television. And Cibaca Sangeet Mala has been long gone.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee went onto become the Prime Minister of India and started travelling in bullet proof BMWs, with the days when a small town boy could catch a glimpse of him sitting in the front seat of a Maruti Omni being over.
Pramod Mahajan was murdered by his younger brother.
Ameen Sayani’s voice still continues to be strong. On the two occasions I have heard him live in the last two years I went back to the time two decades back when life was fun and simple.
The internet hindus who are highly educated, well paid and normally upper caste, have replaced the kar sevaks who largely belonged to the middle class and the lower classes.
Today we have mobile phones and the internet unlike two decades back. If an incident like this were to happen, the media would cover it in a more detailed manner. If they are thrown out like they had been 20 years back, the kar sevaks (or should we be saying the internet Hindus) would be recording the event on their mobile phones and uploading pictures on Facebook with messages like “I was there.”
But some things are still the same.
Dawood Ibrahim continues to be a free man.
Lal Krishna Advani still goes on rath yatras whenever he does get the time and still hopes to become the Prime Minister of this country some day.
Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar ironically continues to look like the best batsman we have.
And Rahul Gandhi is still a bachelor!
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on December 6, 2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])