Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why it's in Chetan Bhagat's interest Mod-Bhakts don't improve their English

Chetan Bhagat's dissection of “Bhakts’’ – albeit mildly amusing – is superficial and simplistic, as one has  generally come to expect of him.  Abuse or insults in any form can’t be condoned – but the Freudian explanation of Bhagat (whom the ‘’adarsh liberal’’ twitterati have gleefully welcomed back to their fold as ‘’a reformed Bhakt’’)  – ignoring its deeper socio-political roots - is specious at best.
In 1967, when the first United Front Government came to power in West Bengal by dislodging Congress  - Ram Chatterjee, a Minister from one of the alliance partners (Forward Block, Marxist) stormed the Calcutta Swimming Club (till then an exclusive preserve of expatriates and foreigners – as the Breach Candy Club in Mumbai still is)  with a truck-load of Santhal Adivasis. While the Santhals jumped into the pool - Chatterjee and his cronies raided the bar - exhausted the entire stock of imported liquor. This was Calcutta’s Bastille moment of sorts and soon the Club was forced to open its doors to Indians (read 'natives').

When Twitter arrived on the Indian scene, it began largely as a parlour for the ‘’English Speaking’’ elite. At one level it was the Social Media equivalent of IIC for the Lutyens’ liberals, at another it was a hang-out for the yuppies and the social parvenus discussing Bollywood, Restaurants and Cricket (or MUFC and Arsenal at night). Narendra Modi unleashed his army of followers into this sacred land - much like Ram Chatterjee did at the Calcutta Swimming Club – starting a cultural Kurukshetra as it were. It may be argued – this was a democratisation of Twitter – a reality that was quickly recognised by the new-kid-on-the block AAP and later also grudgingly accepted (with limited success so far) by a stodgy Congress.

Contrary to Bhagat’s assertion - that the Bhakt-brigade suffers from deep-seated inferiority complex – it is, in fact, the Boston Brahmins of MSM who viewed this as an invasion into their inherited territory and felt threatened  and insecure at the prospect of the political and social narrative was being hijacked from their control. This led to the disparaging coinage of terms like ‘’Bhakts’’ and ‘’Internet Hindus’’ – which invited counter invectives like ‘’Adarsh Liberals’’.  (Later we shall see a similar action replay from the ‘’Bhakts’’ at the intrusion of ‘’AAPtards’’ into what they considered, by now, their well-won space). The same attitude is visible in the hostile and condescending attitude of the talking heads on English TV Channels.

It may be true, many ‘Bhakts’ lack the ‘’intellectual wherewithal’’ (to borrow a phrase from the highly cerebral Hartosh Singh Bal) – but there is no reason for them to feel apologetic about it. They can’t be blamed for their lack of sophistication and social skills – as they are a product of the educational system and social structure the country provided them all these years and they are not as privileged as the few Oxbridge, Stephen’s or JNU educated self-appointed custodians of secularism and democracy.

Unlike in MSM –opinions can’t be blocked en-masse editorially on Social Media – despite any amount of “gate-keeping’’. Through Twitter the so called “Bhakts’’  think they have found their rightful voice and feel empowered to participate in the national discourse, which has so far been a monopoly of the “Macaulay-Putras’’.

Whether his detractors like it or not Narendra Modi is a phenomenon - that represents the hopes and aspirations of a huge section of the population who feel they were not adequately represented in the national polity so far. Therefore, any attack on Narendra Modi is seen by this section as an assault on their constituency. One may argue, if supporters of Jayalalitha or Mamata were on Twitter in equally large numbers – they would have behaved quite similarly. ‘’Modi as a man’’ may fail – and could well turn out to be a God with feet of Clay. But, the idea of India which he has unleashed is here to stay.

Interestingly, since Twitter remains a largely English dominated medium - there are not too many multi-lingual intellectuals who engage on Twitter. But, it may not be very inaccurate to say our “Bhasha” intellectuals – whether on Social Media or MSM are far more tolerant of Right-Wing views than their English brotherhood. Not sure, if it would be correct to draw any correlation between this perceived difference in attitude and the now clich├ęd distinction between India Vs Bharat.

So people like Rana Ayyub may celebrate the ‘Ghar-wapasi’ of prodigal members of the English speaking elite like Chetan Bhagat. But, she would be well advised to recognise – that this motley group of  PLU’s (People Like Us) will have very limited influence over the future discourse – which is likely to be dominated by PLTs (People Like Them). Therefore, baiting them with supercilious barbs is only going to beget vituperative outburst and define the battle lines much more sharply.

No amount of Social Media Policing or “Bhakt-Hunt’’ can cure this malady. But, accepting the reality that –  PLTs are here to stay and allowing them adequate space and time to mature  in what is a new medium for all - will pave the way for more civil interaction in the times to come at any forum.

And, as far as Chetan Bhagat is concerned – he should be thankful that so few Indians are good in English otherwise Amitav Ghosh’ novels would have sold more than his own.

Article first published in @DailyO_ on 12th July 2015 Click here for link

Monday, July 13, 2015

Heritage Clubs - the last bastion of ''gentlemen''

Dolphin Bar at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club

I won't get into the time  worn argument about clubs being a colonial hang-over and the last refuge for the dying elite who still pine for the Raj. I am an unapologetic Clubby (if there is such a term, like the now ubiquitous Foodie). Friends and family tease me — saying my hobby is to ‘collect’ Club Memberships. But, I leave that for pop-psychologists.  While travelling — both within the country and abroad — I try to take time off to check-out clubs of that city.  

Clubs provide a unique insight into the local gentry. The best dip-stick of a club’s culture is the bar. A good barman has a Jeeves-like quality. He not only knows the favourite tipple of the regulars but is also able to guess the likely preferences of an outstation guest and remember the choice even on the guest's next visit, several months later.

The best way to befriend people is to stand or sit at the bar counter perched on a high stool. Do this even if you are with a companion, especially a lady — it’s the surest way to get people talking to you. All clubs have groups and cliques  — who are standard fixtures in the coffee room or the verandah — but  they  sometime tend to be snooty, incestuous and insular — therefore, better left alone.
The Men's Bar at The Calcutta Club

All about Men

Call me a pig or take me to the gallows of social media, but clubs were conceived for men — or to be more precise, gentlemen. So the character of a pedigreed club is essentially male (quite distinct from masculine — male being a mental attribute whereas masculinity is a function of muscles and hormones). Even if many clubs have opened their doors to women and the “Men’s Bar” is becoming progressively extinct (at  last count, the Bangalore Club, Calcutta Club and Ooty Club were a few remaining with exclusive “Men Only” bars) they are far from gender agnostic. And, “real” social clubs generally do not have sports facilities (best ones don’t even have a gym) — those are meant for Gymkhanas or Sports Clubs — like golf, cricket, football, swimming or tennis.

But, surely like all institutions, clubs need to evolve — without compromising their unique character — otherwise, they go into decay. Many clubs have been ruined by indiscriminately increasing the membership base — in the name of commercial viability — yet some have changed beautifully with the times. The Royal Bombay Yacht Club (RBYC) is one of them.

Bar Night at RBYC

I am 'Royal' and I'm a Club

Until a few years ago it stood like a beauty well past her prime peering over Apollo Bunder (Colaba)  into the Arabian Sea  pining for the good ol’ times. The dining room had a forlorn look with very ordinary fare and the dimly lit Dolphin Bar had a few committed old drinkers. The residential floors seemed haunted at night with cats running amok and the rooms were depressing. But, over the last couple of years RBYC has not only undergone a physical transformation — by restoration experts (not “renovation’’ — as most clubs tend to do) but has also been able to attract young professionals as members, who have made the place “happening’’.  The F&B has improved dramatically with a vastly enlarged menu and even on a regular evening the bar — now emboldened with the finest wines and spirits from the world over (including imported ales and craft beers) is throbbing with life. The refurbished residential rooms appointed with modern amenities, have the feel of a heritage hotel in a prime location at one-fourth the price. To see the sunrise over the Gateway of India — the sea dotted with fishing boats and anchored yachts makes for a truly great start to the day. With increased footfalls the service has also improved, one feels a new energy among the old staff who are always unfailingly courteous and friendly without being over familiar. Yet, with a relatively small membership base (of just around 1400) it still retains a cosy atmosphere with  an appropriate air of exclusivity.

Another Universe

Far away — in another part of the universe — is the Bankipore Club in Patna. The BCP established in 1865, originally called the "European Club’’ in Bankipore (then Civil Station of Patna District) was out of bounds for Indians. Even now, some say in jest it is ‘out of bounds’ for NBIs (Non-Bihari-Indians). But, that’s just a joke. On any evening it has a mela like atmosphere — with litti-wallahs, kebab, chaat corners and the bar resembling an upscale version of a TASMAC outlet down south or Bara-duari in Calcutta’s Jaan-Bazar, for those who know.

The Ranchi Club

In contrast, the Ranchi Club, a wee bit younger, established in 1886 is a pleasure to visit. They have been able to maintain standards not only by restricting membership through discreet screening but also informally discouraging non-member local residents from coming in as guests. The food is good — generally a mix of Indian and desi-Chinese — with some local specialities thrown in like hara mattar (green peas) with roasted chivda in winter. Apart from a daily needs store, there is also a small organic vegetable counter at the entrance — least expected in a small town like Ranchi.

The new Pool Bar at CCFC

A Cricket Field with a Bar attached

Calcutta was the original ‘club’ city of the Raj. Here, the club that has transformed over time (much  for the better) is The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC) — allegedly the oldest Cricket Club outside the British Isles set up in 1792 (just five years after the Marylebone Cricket Club). Once known as the club of tea company executives and often jokingly described as “a bar with a cricket field attached”, CCFC is now everything a nice club ought to be, with the old and the new co-existing beautifully. The mahogany-panelled bar with the old staff is an entirely different world from the boisterous sports arena outside where football, cricket, rugby tournaments are held according to the season.  Now that it has a swimming pool in addition to the tennis courts, CCFC has the feel of a gymkhana in the heart of the city. There is also a multi-cuisine restaurant and glass-panelled bar overlooking the sports field on the upper-deck. Members’ Nights and Ladies Evenings with live music in the old Club House are as much of a tradition as the series of musical soirees and concerts on the open grounds through the festive winter season running up to Christmas and New Year.

The future is in the past

So do clubs have a place in today’s world — where leisure is at a premium and tradition at a discount? A club they say is a state of mind between work and home. The President of an iconic club — that still carries the “Royal” insignia — told me that only those clubs will survive the test of time that realise “the future lies in the past” — meaning they have to build on their heritage and tradition to move forward.  Otherwise, they will fade away over time becoming undistinguished and indistinguishable. 

Article originally published in Businessworld India (click here for link)

Also read my earlier blog on clubs Raj Redux

Friday, May 22, 2015

India after AAP

The year 2014 was, perhaps, the second major watershed in post-independence India’s political history after 1977. For many political scribes of the current generation it will probably remain as the most memorable year of their career. That many of them would, therefore,  feel the urge to chronicle it as ‘instant history’ – spawning a new “Read My Book’’ genre of Indian journalism – is quite understandable. Both Ashutosh’ and Saba Naqvi’s books can be broadly classified under this category.

The first, by Ashutosh – the journalist turned activist-politician and AAP leader - has a wider sweep covering Narendra Modi’s incredible run to the Prime Minister’s office and the parallel narrative on the rise of AAP and Arvind Kejriwal. It is a flash-back or recap of events as they unfolded over 15 odd months – filling in the missing bits from his reporter’s diary supplemented with insights of an experienced political journalist.

Ashutosh is candid in admitting, he conceived the book as a journalist but by the time he finished it he had became a politician. Not surprisingly, the lines do get blurred in-between.  Thus, in a way, it is also Ashutosh’ own journey from the sets of TV Studios to the amphitheatre of politics. To his credit, Ashutosh doesn’t try to hide his political leanings and the fact that he became personally close to Arvind Kejriwal and some of his colleagues much before he joined AAP. On occasions he would even advise them on how to tackle tricky media issues (revealing Kejriwal’s high degree of dependence on and feeling of vulnerability to media). This, of course, raises the question of how Ashutosh was able to maintain his objectivity and the troubling issue of journalists consciously or unconsciously crossing the professional line and becoming a part of the political game.
Ashutosh’ description and analysis of the transformation Chief Minister Modi to Prime Minister Modi is riveting. Of course, it would be unrealistic to expect a totally balanced perspective once he takes the plunge into real politics – but it is for us readers to take it with, as they say in recipe books, a measure of salt as per one’s (political) taste.

Ashutosh clearly believes the outcome of the 2014 elections could have been very different hadn’t Kejriwal scored a ‘self-goal’ by resigning as Chief Minister. Indeed, as Ashutosh points out, many thought had Kejriwal continued as CM of Delhi – AAP might have garnered enough seats in the Lok Sabha to play ‘King-Maker’ after the elections.
Ashutosh’ explanation of why he chose to leave journalism to join AAP is not very convincing, He too repeats AAP’s favourite allegation about Modi’s nexus with big business. But, by his own admission, there was no overt pressure from the owners of the network he worked for to toe any particular political line. Therefore, one cannot quite fathom why he was apprehensive about loss of editorial freedom (any more or less than what he enjoyed through his career till then).

If Ashutosh’ was an ‘inside-out’ account of how AAP evolved within the larger political churn in the country - Saba Naqvi could have easily named her book “The Short Official History of AAP” or, by a stretch ‘’The Authorised Political Biography of Arvind Kejriwal’’.  Right from the start it is abundantly clear that the ‘idea of AAP’ had captured her imagination as did the charismatic (what some others may have found ‘enigmatic’’) leadership of Arvind Kejriwal. At the same time, she makes no secret of her deep distaste for whatever BJP under Narendra Modi stood for. The Congress in any case had lost steam and direction. Even fringe parties like BSP no longer had even a marginal utility in Delhi circa 2015. Therefore, for her AAP was not just the best choice – but, perhaps, the only choice. Therein lies the rub.

Ms Naqvi calls it a ‘’Reporter’s Book’’ and no doubt she assiduously followed AAP’s evolution at every stage and each step – right from the days of Anna and IAC (Indian Against Corruption)  Rally in Jantar Mantar.  Through this journey she developed strong links with members of AAP’s core-team –  from whom she could glean intimate details of the party’s inner workings.  But, in doing so it might appear – she dropped her guard and has been too uncritical and unquestioning in her assessment. Outside, of AAP she plays-back very few voices of other political denominations – certainly none which are critical of AAP or Kejriwal. She does quote a few anonymous sources (mostly) of BJP but only to buttress her own views.

Ms Naqvi’s original proposition at the beginning of the book is ‘’AAP...moved on principle of income groups, its focus clearly on class and not castes or communities’’. Such a strategy is not borne out by AAP’s subsequent electoral tactics. She attributes BJP’s success to getting ‘’first past the post’’ – appealing to the middle class, richer sections of society and ‘’then getting a small section of the poor’’ to vote for it – while AAP worked with a bottom up the pyramid approach. However, many analysts felt AAP’s resounding success in the 2015 Delhi Polls – at least partly - came from their mastering the electoral arithmetic well.

Like many – Ms Naqvi was impressed by AAP’s initial promise of ‘’No Lal Batti (VIP)’’ culture. However, she doesn’t comment on the subtle change in position - in their second term – when AAP Ministers are not averse to accepting the frills and perks of office. She is easily touched by tokenism such as Kejriwal breaking out into a song at his ‘swearing in’ or bringing his wife to the AAP HQ, but is silent about Arvind Kejriwal’s perceived shift in style from being ‘’consultative’’ and ‘first among equals’ to the unquestioned leader (perhaps, not ‘autocratic’ or a ‘supremo’ as some of his detractors accuse him of) leader. In talking of AAP’s various innovative ideas of governance – such as ‘Participative Budget’ she doesn’t mention how Kejriwal went through the motions of ‘Moholla Referendums’ before forming government in Delhi but forgot to have similar public consultations before resigning.

Ms Naqvi is happy to accept AAP is a ‘volunteer’ based party (not very different from the cadres of Left parties or RSS Pracharaks) but workers also need to be paid. One would have expected a conscientious reporter to dig a little deeper into the controversies surrounding the funding of AAP. Equally, like Ashutosh, her  accusations of collusion between big business (alleged to own half of India media) and BJP/Modi are a bit sweeping. She talks about Kejriwal taking on the rich and the powerful (read Ambani and Adani) but is silent about the lack of follow-through, which gives the impression of a ‘shoot and scoot’ strategy.

Ms Naqvi very discerning in observing how Kejriwal changed the backdrop from Bharat Mata to Gandhi between Jantar Mantar and Ram Lila Maidan – as he began to distance himself from Anna. However, does not see a pattern (of using people as props and then discarding them) in which Kejriwal jettisons Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan as dead-weight. On the latter show-down, Ms Naqvi clearly sides with Kejriwal, though to be fair she produces verbatim the exchange of correspondence between the 2 camps. In her judgement – “Kejriwal’s critics within the party would have been comfortable with..” a narrower win or even a defeat as ‘’that would have given them greater leverage’. Ms Naqvi believes it will be a minor blip in the history of AAP. She may well be correct.
Though a tad bit too generous in saying Kejriwal combines ‘Gandhian piety’ with ‘pragmatic solutions’, she concludes - not having an ideological baggage (and intellectual arrogance) liberates Arvind Kejriwal. She reminds us of the dialogue from Sholay - ‘Loha lohe ko kaatta hai’ Only time will tell if AAP, which she says is still ‘Work in Progress’ can redeem its promise of alternative politics. – just like Ashutosh’ question, with a little bit of temerity, which very few would dare ask – ‘how long will Modi last in his Chair ?’

PS: The review would be incomplete without commenting about the brilliant writing style of both the authors and excellent editing. In particular, Ashutosh’ book makes a very gripping and racy read – showing he’s perhaps more comfortable with long-form writing than 140 character tweets.

#Kejriwal #Aam Aadmi party #AAP #Saba Naqvi #Ashutosh #Modi #Narendra Modi

 First Published in Business Today India @BT_India *

Thursday, April 30, 2015

TMC Sweeps Kolkata: Tale of Didi, Dada and Bhai

Didi Rules Bengal

The results of Kolkata and other Municipality Elections shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone. This columnist may be tempted to say "I told you so" (Read previous DailyO article  BJP needs a new gardener in West Bengal) but truth be said, the results were a forgone conclusion. What may come as a jolt to many is BJP's total rout - which the Trinamool spokesperson rather unkindly - but not entirely without justification - called "a balloon gone Phoos !!".

That Congress couldn't put up a respectable show will not bother many. More significant is the total decimation of the Left with no signs of the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes.

Trinamool didn't need to indulge in any rigging or violence to achieve these results. Many political observers believe - the violence happened either out of local rivalries among lumpen elements or an "over-kill" following Mukul Roy's disengagement and fear of internal sabotage.The slogan #DidiRules, therefore, is meant as much for the opposition as it is for inner party constituents.

Congress is all but a spent force in Bengal. Even assuming the new improved RaGa 2.0 is able to breathe fresh life into the party - it will be a long time before it touches Bengal. In the coming Assembly Elections - therefore, it'll desperately seek alliance with either the Left or Trinamool - but both have little reason or incentive to grant it space. The coming months will no doubt see a a queue of dejected Congressmen outside Mamata Banerjee's Kalighat residence. In the longer term,  it would be reasonable to expect - the Left of Centre space in Bengal will be occupied by Trinamool or one of its off-shoots if it were to arise.

The just elected CPIM supremo Sitaram Yechury - who knows Bengal (and Bengali) well - has rightly placed the finger on the pulse - when he said the main challenge of the Left is get back the youth to its fold. But, he doesn't spell out what does the Left have to offer today's youth - who are looking for jobs and gainful employment - given Left's dismal track record on that economic front in Bengal. At least to that extent - though the jury is still out - Mamata Banerjee still holds out the promise of getting industry to invest in Bengal, create jobs and development of the state. Any such claims by CPIM  is bound to sound hollow.

The bigger issue for CPIM is it has lost its cadre base entirely. The dividends of Land Reform and Operation Barga have been milked dry. With fragmented land- holdings villagers prefer to move out to cities or other states for employment and the actual work of tilling the land left for non-agricultural farm-labourers.  With hardly any industries left in the state - the trade unions have also moved out of its ranks. The educated youth no longer want to stay back in the state - and the chatter of latest movies and TV serials dominate the air of Coffee Houses and College Canteens rather than talk of Marx and Lenin.

BJP's failure in these elections is not only that it could not mobilise even a "work in progress" organisation - losing the plot even before it got started with infighting and anarchy -  but the way it frittered away in less than a year the goodwill generated at the time of the Lok Sabha elections. It also can't be denied - however much one may argue local body elections are decided on local issues - the NDA governments performance so far has failed to inspire the Bengalis. It is, perhaps, also a commentary on people's increasing agnosticism towards scams and coruuption - that all the noise over Saradha and other Ponzi frauds didn't have any visible impact on the poll outcome. While it is certainly true - Mamata Banerjee and TrInamool have mastered the art of "election management" first perfected by the Left (perhaps, better than even her own "art") - it would be futile for BJP to seek an excuse in that - as some of their national leaders have already begun to do. instead, it is time for the party to look for a new leader and a central manager who can build the organisation from the grassroots and re engineer its image.

Till then - probably - the best bet for Bengal would be to live by the formula which Narendra Modi had suggested in his first election rally in Kolkata in February 2014 - "Didi in the State, Dada (Pranab Mukherjee) in Rashtrapati Bhavan and (Narendra) Bhai at the PMO.  It could well be a winning formula - at least in the short term - if Didi and Bhai can establish a working relationship may be with a little help from the Dada.

#BengalVerdict #Trinamool #DidiRules #BJPBengal #KolkataMunicipalCorporation #WestBengal

Article first published in DailyO_ Click here to read 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

This Lotus will not wilt as it hasn’t bloomed

BJP needs a new gardener in Bengal

Today Kolkatans are voting for their Municipal Elections. One needn’t be a political pundit or pollster to predict – it’ll be a clean sweep for Trinamool Congress – probably as impressive as AAP’s win in Delhi Assembly elections. BJP would be lucky to finish a distant (and, most probably, insignificant) second.

This is surprising since only a few months ago ‘Saffron’ was being hailed as the new ‘Red’ in Bengal and BJP was seen as a serious threat to ‘Didi’ (Mamata Banerjee). BJP’s membership in the state crossed the 10 lakh mark. Simultaneously, trouble was brewing within Trinamool – caught on a sticky wicket over ‘Saradha-Scam’ - there was also talk of internal dissension within the party, with a section ready to jump the boat  with Mukul Roy -  the General Secretary, ‘Master Strategist’ and organisation strong-man of TMC  (whom many, including this columnist, referred to as Mamata’s Amit Shah).

Buoyed by the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections – when BJP increased its vote-share to 16.8 % (from a measly 6.2 % in 2009) in the state and whopping 25% in Kolkata proper -  winning 2 and securing second position in 3 seats (and a clear lead in 23 assembly segments including Mamata Banerjee own  constituency, second in 40 others) the party’s state leadership declared Mission 150 + for 2016 Assembly Elections. At the famous – ‘Utthan Divas’ Rally in Kolkata on November 30th – held after a major tussle with the state government – Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP’s National Secretary – in charge of West Bengal – made that audacious call of ‘Bhaag Mamata Bhaag’.

The momentum continued for another 3 months or so giving people an impression that at last a credible challenger to Mamata was emerging. But, a sudden denouement followed Amit Shah’s Burdwan Rally on January 20th. First, there was an announcement of number of top TMC leaders crossing over to BJP on that day – which didn’t happen. Claims were made that around 40 TMC MLAs were ready to join BJP and simply waiting for a call. By way of explanation of the  “no show”, BJP functionaries said they had postponed the ‘welcome ceremony’’ to a later date as they didn’t wish to divert attention from the main purpose of the event. But, a certain loss of steam was apparent even in the bye-elections that followed in February – which TMC won with ease.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee – the street-smart fighter that she is – started to put her house in order. Making truce with some disgruntled elements – who were wielding veiled threats of en-masse defection – and craftily isolating Mukul Roy without expelling him from the party. Once again proving the old adage – a party is bigger than an individual.
Simultaneously, there were a few other developments – which many people refuse to dismiss as mere coincidence. One couldn’t but notice a slow-down in the pace of the Saradha Scam probe by CBI. 3 of the 4 main protagonists arrested were let out on bail – including a young Rajya Sabha MP (from a well known Stevedoring family also owning a pro-TMC media group) – who resigned from the party as well as his parliament seat the very next day. Mukul Roy – though called for interrogation after allowing him a long leash – was not taken into custody unlike the others who had been summoned before him by CBI. Thereafter, the spotlight of the investigation seemed to shift to another accused – political wheeler-dealer - Matang Sinh.

Perhaps, the most significant event was Mamata Benerjee’s meeting with Narendra Modi – the first in nearly 10 months after his assuming office as Prime Minister. Though the body language on camera was distinctly stiff – one doesn’t know what exactly transpired in the one-on-one interaction or subsequent off-line engagements with key members of Modi cabinet like Arun Jaitley and Nitin Gadkari. While the shenanigans continued in Parliament and Trinamool refused to budge on the Land Acquisition Bill – some other Bills were quietly allowed passage by tactical ‘walk-out’ by TMC MPs during voting. The Centre too showed a great deal of grace and generosity in the budgetary allocations for West Bengal – keeping aside political differences.

But, the biggest challenge facing BJP in Bengal’s is the quality and calibre of State level leadership. There is not a single leader of stature, charisma or mass-base. Since the elections in May 2014 – all the leaders who had been para-dropped  from Delhi to contest like Chandan Mitra or even an S. S. Ahluwalia who won from Darjeeling – have been missing in action – with the sole exception of Babul Supriyo, who has little political standing or appeal beyond his Bollywood Rock-Star image. The few others – who are considered to be men of substance like Tathagata Toy or Dr Subhash Sarkar of Bankura have been sidelined and maintain a low profile. Siddharth Nath Singh – who was supposed to be the Central “Prabhari” of the state ( whose claim to fame is he is a ‘son-in-law’’ of Bengal by virtue of  having his ‘sasural’ in Kolkata) has become scarce – one doesn’t know whether due to party or –in-law issues. It was reported that – Nirmala Sitharaman has been given charge of looking after West Bengal affairs. But, perhaps, she too has been busy organising the Hannover Messe.

With the result – the ticket distribution for the KMC election turned out to be an embarrassing  mess – with in-fighting breaking out in public – seriously denting the party’s image. Rahul Sinha – the State Secretary appeared totally out of depth and control. In any case, he does not inspire either confidence or respect. People question his political credentials and even integrity. There are also insinuations of clandestine side-deals struck by the senior local leadership with TMC – hinting at possibilities of deliberate sabotage.  But, all this is here say – what is clear: BJP in Bengal is rudderless and leaderless. By frittering away the chances of scoring an impressive tally in Kolkata – where probably the anti-incumbency of Trinamool was the highest – they have dashed the hopes raised after the Lok-Sabha elections.

Now, only a strong leader can salvage the party from the dump it has dug for itself in less than a year, but none can be seen on the horizon. If Modi’s really wants to expand BJP’s presence in the East – he and Amit Shah might be better off going shopping outside the party and for that Mukul Roy is a prime prospect in waiting 

A party without a leader is as ineffective as a leader without a part. That probably makes a good – even if expedient – fit for Roy and BJP. But, will Modi-Shah bite the bullet ?

Artcle first published in the @DailyO_  Click here to read

#Bengal #BJP #BengalBJP #Trinamool #MamataBanerjee #MukulRoy #Kolkata Municipal Election #WestBengal #AmitShah #NarendraModi