Thursday, April 10, 2014


Over the last four decades, Tamil Nadu’s electoral pendulum has swung smoothly and decisively between All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Despite the state’s polity fragmented by several small caste based parties, one of the two main parties has always forged a strong alliance to win a clear mandate.

In 2014, Narendra Modi led BJP, in an alliance with Tamil action hero turned politician Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam and other smaller parties, hopes to disrupt the Dravidian pendulum. Can they?

Since 1967, when the Congress lost power to the DMK, it has played a junior partner to one of the two main Dravidian parties. Vote share of the Congress added to vote share of one side and ensured a clear result. Smaller caste based parties, like OBC Vanniyar caste party Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) which has joined the BJP alliance now, piggy backed on the side with better arithmetic and won a few seats.

In 2006, Vijayakanth entered politics and has since established his party as a third force in the state. The DMDK has maintained a vote share of 8 to 10 percent but, on its own it could win only one assembly seat and drew a blank in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. It is only in an alliance with Jayalalithaa in the 2011 assembly polls that the DMDK won 29 assembly seats. This is because the DMDK’s vote share does not even come close to what the big two hold. 

In their worst elections, the DMK and AIADMK have polled around 23 to 25 percent votes and the best a third force has polled is around 10 percent. This is why, in Tamil Nadu, smaller players are decisive only if they take sides and tip the balance in a head on battle between the two biggies.

Despite this history, BJP leaders claim that a ‘Modi Factor’ in addition to caste arithmetic in select seats could make them winners. For instance, both PMK and DMDK have concentrated pockets of presence in northern Tamil Nadu but, the trouble is that even their combined vote share does not take them to second place in most constituencies.

The BJP as a party has only a marginal presence. It polled less than three percent vote in a vast majority of the 39 seats in the 2009 polls, it came second only in one seat – Kanyakaumari. This leaves the third alliance almost entirely dependent on claims of a ‘Modi factor’.

But, how much can Modi matter amongst voters who have neither seen him before nor understand Hindi, the language he speaks in? His oratory is a crowd puller elsewhere but, not here. Ironically, his biggest advantage is a virtual walkover given by the Congress.

Some of the party’s tallest leaders, like finance minister P.Chidambaram, refused to contest elections and this has demoralized the party further. Even in a state dominated by regional parties, voters, in a general election, are keen to understand the national picture and in this picture there seems to be no one else.

AIADMK General Secretary and Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa, has positioned herself as a possible Prime Ministerial aspirant but, that is not seen as a realistic possibility, at least not at the moment. Ironically, her campaign is focused on “throwing the UPA out”, the same as Modi’s! M.Karunanidhi led DMK’s campaign is focused on “poor governance in the state by Jayalalithaa”. This has left the third alliance and its claims of a ‘Modi factor’ virtually unchallenged.   

 These are reasons why a Modi factor exsits here but, the magnitude of it is anybody’s guess. At the moment, the battle remains firmly between Jayalalithaa and KArunanidhi, their individual strengths will be tested. There are around 3 or 4 seats where the BJP alliance has strong candidates and the fight is expected to be close. But, in the broader picture, the pendulum does not do a three way swing, at least not yet!  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The curious case of Karnataka - Southern Right!

Since 1985, the party that has won a larger share of the 28 seats in the state has sat in the opposition in Delhi! Don’t ask why. Nobody can explain it and an attempt to do so could result in hugely faulty and dangerous political analysis. It must just suffice to know that this has been the trend so far.  It is best not to forecast on the basis of this trend but, the Congress fancies its chances here.

In fact, senior Congress leaders openly admit that if there is one state, with a bipolar BJP congress fight, where the party has an edge, it is here. In 1977, then Congress CM Devraj Urs forged a remarkable combination of OBCs, Dalit and minorities to give the party a victory here, defying even a huge anti-emergency national trend. Congress hopes Siddaramiah can do the same.   

Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramiah rose from the ranks of a fiercely anti Congress Janata movement. He served with Janata Party stalwarts like the late Ramakrishna Hegde and shifted to the Congress as recently as 2005. He walked out of former Prime Minister H.D.Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) after Gowda chose his son H.D.Kumaraswamy as the leader.

Siddaramiah belongs to the OBC Kuruba community and under his leadership the Congress forged an alliance of OBCs, Dalit and Muslims to defeat a corruption struck and split BJP in the 2013 assembly elections. IT must be re iterated that this was similar to the alliance made by Devraj Urs in 1997.

This is important because politics in the state has been dominated by two major blocks. The Lingayat sect which as one block form a majority and the Vokkaliga caste that forms the second largest caste block.  There has to be a conglomeration of all the rest to beat these two. The BJP has consolidated amongst the Lingayats and Janata Dal(S) has a stranglehold over the Vokkaliga vote.

The fact that Siddaramiah was chosen as Chief Minister was a departure from Congress culture where “Long term loyalty matters and outsiders remain outsiders”. It is probably the first time that such a politician has been chosen to head a Congress government.

It is believed that he was given the Chief Minister’s post with a mandate to deliver at least 20 of the 28 seats from Karnataka in the Lok Sabha election. But, can he?

Sandeep Shastri says “You have to extend the southern regional party feeling to Karnataka and Kerala. Here national parties matter because of strong regional faces they have. That is what makes Siddaramiah important”.

Congress had beaten the JD(S) in its stronghold the Old Mysore region in the 2013 polls. The Gowdas have dominated politics here (geographically areas around Mysore and Bangalore) with their hold over the Vokkaliga  vote. This region accounts for nearly 14 of the state’s 28 seats and the caste base is consolidated here.

In this region, apart from the four seats in urban Bangalore, the BJP has minimal presence and the battle is between the JD(S) and Congress.  The BJP’s strongholds are in the rest of Karnataka, especially northern parts of the state.

Unlike Siddaramiah who shifted from a regional party to a national one, B.S.Yeddyurappa grew from the ranks of the RSS. He led the BJP to its first victory in a southern state in 2008 but, had to step down as Chief Minister after serious allegations of corruption.

He was a belligerent regional satrap who rebelled and walked out, splitting the party. Yeddyurappa belongs to the Lingayat sect. He had consolidated the Lingayat vote for the BJP and his departure split that vote resulting in a defeat to the Congress in the assembly polls of 2013.

This is why Narendra Modi ensured that Yeddyurappa returned to the BJP. Despite pressures from within, Yeddyurapp returned and will now contest the Shimoga seat. He is considered a formidable force and these elections in effect will be a huge test.  A loss this time could send him into serious trouble. He has to prove one simple point- For the BJP to win here the party needs him!

In the 7 to 10 seats in Northern and Central Karnataka, Yedyyurappa’s return would make the BJP favourites. In Dakshin Kannada the battle will be close and this could prove which of these two parties will get more of the 28 seats in the state.  

 It must be mentioned that if there is one southern state where Modi himself has an appeal and electoral power it is in Karnataka, specifically in urban middle class pockets of Bangalore with the stereotype IT population.

This is why it will be interesting to see how Nandan Nilekanai performs as the Congress candidate for the Banagalore south seat. The Chairman of the UID initiative and one of the founders of IT giant Infosys, Nandan will battle out BJP’s five time MP(last two times from Bangalore South) H.N.Ananth Kumar. It is expected to be the most interesting battle in the state from a national point of view.

Many have wondered why Nandan actually wanted to fight a tough election. He could have chosen the Rajya Sabha route. After speaking with those close to him the impression is that he wanted a “reality check” for himself. He also strongly feels “being with a big party and fighting elections is the only way to change things and does not believe in the AAP route”

The point now though is can he win?

Sandeep Shastri says “Nandan’s campaign is focused on his persona and that could negate a Modi effect in urban pockets”. This will determine if the Congress finally has at least local answer to Modi!

Ananth Kumar himself is a tough cookie but, faces local level anti-incumbency but, that’s not enough. Nandan will have to evolve a campaign that gets him the basic Congress vote and then add to that with a vote for his image. In effect it would be something like getting the Congress vote plus an Aam Aadmi party vote. If he does it then victory would be achievable but, doing it is not easy.

The Aam Aadmi Party too has a presence in this same urban space. Another Infosys biggie V.Balakrishnan joined the party after he quit as CFO and will contest the Bangalore central seat. Their campaign though, is not even close to what was seen in Delhi but, the overall Kejriwal impact may get them some votes making them factors in a close battle.

In the end the Karnataka verdict may actually add to both the Congress and the BJP but, may not make a significant change in the final tally for either.

Going back to the fundamental thesis I started with on how South India will affect stability at the Centre. The analysis is simple. If the Congress wins more than the BJP and does not become the ruling force in Delhi, then numbers from Karnataka will not add to stability at the centre. The BJP does not seem likely to win even close to the 18 they won in 2009 and they seem likely to be the ruling force in Delhi – if true this would mean that Karnataka will be another southern state adding to instability in Delhi – read as not contributing to increasing the numbers of a central force in a national coalition!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Weekend Politics, why a divided state will add to instability in 2014.


The division of Andhra Pradesh, despite administrative formalities yet to be completed and the state voting as one block, brings about a fundamental difference in Peninsular India. For the first time, since the linguistic division of states in 1956, south India will be a conglomeration of a union territory and five states, not four.

Each of these states have starkly different political realities. They are divided by language and dominated by regional forces or regional faces representing National political parties. The BJP has never had a hold in these states, except Karnataka and the Congress has a mixed bag.

In effect 130 parliamentary seats will be accounted for and the results here will reflect the character and stability of a coalition in Delhi. 

In this context, it is important to remember one simple fact. The more the number of seats a central force in a ruling coalition gets, the more stable the government in Delhi. In effect if regional parties are more powerful in terms of numbers the less stable a coalition. 

So, it is important to understand what is happening in the 130 seats of peninsular India. To do that we need to understand the politics in each of these states. In that effort, I will be putting out piece on each of these states starting over the coming week. starting with erstwhile A.P


The two, yet to be born entities from a united Andhra Pradesh, are distinctly different from each other. Political choices that dominate the electorate in the two sides are different and so are the issues on which they would vote. Even if they vote as one administrative block, they are voting as two states.

In 2004 and 2009 united A.P contributed largely to the Congress’s final tally. The party won 29 of the 42 seats in 2004 and 33 in 2009. This added to stability at the centre but, this time it is a field wide open for regional parties.

Late Chief Minister Y.S.Rajashekar Reddy delivered victories for the Congress in 2004 and 2009. He acted as a strong “regional satrap” in a party that does not traditionally encourage such faces. He held factions within the party with an “authoritarian grip” but, he died in a helicopter crash in 2009 and with him seems to have died the Congress’s Telugu plot.

Soon after YSR Reddy’s death, his son Y.S.Jaganmohan Reddy demanded that he be appointed Chief Minister. The party high command refused and eventually Jagan broke away to form the YSR Congress (YSRCP). Jaganmohan Reddy, represents what has been Congress’s core caste vote base in the state- the Reddy community. He hails from the Rayalseema region where politics acquires a strong feudal character.

The Congress party in an effort to prevent alienation of that core caste base appointed Kirankumar Reddy, who also hails from Rayalseema, as Chief Minister. This could not curb Jagan’s political platform, which was being built on the basis of sympathy for his father’s sudden death.  

He was later arrested on serious allegations of corruption by the CBI. He countered Corruption charges and alleged it was “Vendetta Politics by the Congress”

Jaganmohan’s bastion was the Rayalseema and Coastal Andhra regions of the state. They are together what is called ‘Seemandhra’ and account for 25 Lok Sabha seats. The third region is Telengana which accounts for 17 seats. All three were merged together in 1956 to form India’s first linguistic state. 

Before independence, Telengana was ruled by the erstwhile Nawab of Hyderabad and the rest of Andhra Pradesh was largely administered by British India. Telengana was economically backward compared to coastal Andhra Pradesh and fierce movements for bifurcation and creation of a separate Telengana had erupted in the 1960s and 80s.

The Telengana agitation was re-ignited in 2009 and was led by K.Chandrashekar Rao, popularly called KCR, who launched the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) on the slogan for a separate state. Disturbing protests and a “fast unto death” by K.C.R  saw the Congress buckling under pressure to announce a Telengana in December 2009 but, it faced even greater pressure from its party’s “united Andhra” lobby and decided to backtrack.

Dharma Raju Kakani, a professional manager who hails from Vijayawada in coastal Andhra, says “All of us knew for the last four years that they will announce a Telengana before elections. The way it happened in the end is just not acceptable and left people even more angry”.

It is a sentiment shared across coastal Andhra and Rayalseema where the anti-bifurcation movement was at its peak. The anger and disgust was accentuated by “acrimonious” scenes witnessed in parliament during passage of the bill.

Faced with a Jagan onslaught, the Congress hoped to consolidate its position in the 17 seats of Telengana and went ahead with the bill. In doing so, it has virtually lost all ground in the 25 seats of Seemandhra. In effect, it would be a battle between YSRCP which had taken a strong anti-division stand and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

The TDP had supported division initially but, in the last days leading up to the passage of the bill it took a stand against it. It was a desperate attempt to save face on the ground in Seemandhra where it has traditionally had a strong base amongst the numerically powerful Khamma caste.

Both TDP and YSRCP have hit the election on the bifurcation issue and have called it a “betrayal”. “The main villain is the congress but, number two villain is BJP in the division of A.P” says a Hyderabad based journalist. 

The BJP is a marginal player in the state. They had taken a categorical stand in favour of Telengana which was consistent with the party’s stand on formation of smaller states.
Even in this context, the YSRCP and TDP have been making statements expressing openness to an alliance. Naidu and Jagan have clearly declared they are not “anti-Modi”. 

The TDP has been a traditional Congress rival to the Congress in a united A.P which was bi polar. An alliance with the Congress has not been in its list of possibilities. Jagan’s foundation plank is “betrayal by the Congress” and he cannot go with the party, at least not in this election.
In this scenario, with anti-congress being the platform, the two regional parties have no choice but to be reaching out to Modi. Lok Sabhha M.P from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi says “This is despite the fact that they are aware that minorities still see Modi as a polarizing figure and the BJP supported the division of Andhra Pradesh”.

A backroom manager for Chandrababu Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh says “The story is not over for Seemandhra and we will justify an alliance with BJP, if it works out, by projecting Modi as a central figure who could do justice to the people in terms of allocation of resources”.  Interestingly Modi as the political figure goes beyond BJP as the party which supported the division.

 “We will justify it on the plank that a new state will need the centre’s help and it is important to choose a leader who will be in power in Delhi” said a senior leader.  
But, there is uncertainty over whether the BJP will seal a pre-poll pact or rather wait to see which regional player has greater numbers in a post-poll situation.

The irony is that, to two regional players, Congress is the untouchable and Modi is more acceptable than even the BJP even as a pre-poll ally and this in a state dominated by the Congress in 2009.

Congress's last C.M, Kirankuma Reddy has decided to form his own party and contest, this was expected but, may not be of any significant electoral consequences. 

It also brings to fore the point that the debate is not over Modi’s politics or economics. The “Gujarat Model” is heard but not understood or even questioned. In effect Modi exists as a personality here because the Congress ceases to be an option.  

Owaisi suggests that “with focus on the division and an anti-congress feeling Modi’s politics is not the prime focus. However it will cost parties who ally with him”

Another Congress irony is in Telengana where the party hoped to sweep. They have hit a road block. K.C.R had told this writer in August 2012 that “I will merge the TRS with the Congress the day they announce a Telengana”. Now that the deed is done he has decided “no merger, an alliance if it works out else we will go alone”.

This means there will be a battle between the Congress and the TRS for the 17 seats. The BJP could be delighted at the prospect of potential allies taking away a majority of the 42 seats that in 2009 went to their rival. It is difficult to fathom and has amused analysts that the Congress could create a situation so terrible for itself.

In the ultimate analysis, A.P contributed to stability at the center in 2009, it will not do so in 2014. The fact that the BJP has only a marginal presence will accentuate coalition pressures in Delhi (This is because if they had a presence they would be important to win seats in an assembly election and regional parties always eye power at the state level, making it more difficult for them to walk out of an alliance). 

Saturday, February 22, 2014


A more readable and abridged version of this article is published on  

The first political reaction that played out on T.V screens, after the Supreme Court commutated death sentences of three convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case on Wednesday, was from MDMK General Secretary Vaiko. The former Member of Parliament and well known Tamil Nadu politician has been closely involved in the legal case of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins. His reaction was “This is a great victory and we now appeal for the release of those in jail”. The almost immediate demand for the release of those, whose death penalty was commuted only because of an ‘inordinate delay’ in carrying out the execution, seemed to portray the verdict as an exoneration of sorts.

The very next morning, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalithaa made an announcement that all seven convicts serving a life term in the case would be released and asked the center to respond within 3 days. The political agenda is obvious for Jayalalithaa, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, Vaiko or every other Tamil politician, aspiring to be the ‘champion of the Tamil cause’. In that quest, it does not seem to matter that these are seven people, who had direct and indirect links to the LTTE and were convicted in a monstrous crime. It was also as if their crime was lesser than those committed by 96 other convicts serving life sentences for over 20 years in jails across the state.

The jubilation with which the commutation was received and the vigor with which the demand for their release is being pursued, has been described as “insensitive” to both the families of those who died with the former Prime Minister and the fact that it was in every way a crime against India.  The simple question is what has happened in Tamil Nadu over the last five or six years that such demands are seen as the ‘unanimous wish’ of the state’s political forces? Why is carrying out an execution in such an enormous case so difficult and why should this be any different from the case of let us say an Afzal Guru?

A decade ago, in 2002, Jayalalithaa’s government arrested Vaiko under POTA for making pro LTTE speeches and he spent over a year in Jail. He was later arrested on charges of sedition in 2008 by the DMK government. Several others who sympathized or supported the LTTE, like Pazha Nedumaran, were arrested repeatedly and kept in prison for prolonged periods of time. Ruling forces in Tamil Nadu acted against those who offered support to the L.T.T.E and this was despite their ostensible commitment to the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. The point is that there was a line separating support for a terrorist outfit and sympathy for the Tamil cause. It did not matter that the LTTE was the principal voice of the Sri Lankan Tamils, it was a terrorist outfit and support to it was illegal in India.
That distinction was alsothe corner stone of India’s foreign policy in Sri Lanka. While extending humanitarian assistance and support for a political solution to the conflict, India was categorically against the LTTE. Several Sri Lankan diplomats, on condition of anonymity, have repeatedly insisted that “India’s categorical support was of great importance to Colombo in eliminating the LTTE”. It is also a documented fact that India abetted and aided the creation of the LTTE in the late 1970s and 80s and there is a convoluted and intricate history before and after 1991.There are many hardline activists in Tamil Nadu who shared a deep emotional connect with the LTTE and despite the assassination continued to do so. But, they neither dictated mainstream politics nor foreign policy.

Politics and political decisions in Tamil Nadu had to be both cautious and circumspect while deciding on issues relating to the LTTE or the Rajiv Gandhi case. In the year 2000, the D.M.K government recommended the commutation of death sentence for Nalini Sriharan. She was convicted on charges of providing logistical support to the suicide squad. She was also pregnant at that time and it was after Sonia Gandhi agreed to the commutation on humanitarian grounds that it was given. At that time, the DMK did not take up the case of Santhan, Murugan or Perarivalan, three others who were handed the death sentence.  A well know journalist in Chennai added with a touch of humour that “the wounds from the DMK’s indictment in the Jain commission report on the Rajiv assassination case were still fresh and made them more circumspect”.  

Things began to change in 2009 and the distinction between support for LTTE and support for Sri Lankan Tamils became one in the state’s political theater. As India was battling out a general election, in Sri Lanka the LTTE was in the last stages of a bloody annihilation by the Sri Lankan army. The DMK was a firm part of the UPA and its chief M. Karunanidhi, on the eve of an election, was under pressure to show that he is not a ‘mute spectator’ to the war in Sri Lanka.

In this backdrop, in an interview to NDTV, Karunanidhi called Prabhakaran a “Good Friend”.  It raised several eye brows as Karunanidhi was in an alliance with the Congress. He also went on a sudden fast in Chennai which achieved little. Since 1991 the DMK had maintained a dubious impression of sympathy for the LTTE but, were constrained by the fact that it was unacceptable to Delhi, Indian law and main stream political forces to be seen as sympathizing with a  ‘terrorist group’.

Almost as soon as the Indian election results were declared on May 15th, in Sri Lanka news of LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran’s death began emerging.  Since then, all that one has seen in Tamil Nadu is repeated reiterations of the serious allegations of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Ethnic cleansing’ by Sri Lankan forces. Pictures of the LTTE chief's son Balachandran being shot in cold blood or those of atrocities committed by Sri Lankan forces became huge rallying points.

As the sentiment grew strong and horrible pictures from the war became clearer, there was genuine disgust and sympathy for the Tamil plight and those mobilizing that sympathy were groups that were pro-LTTE. One of the known activists, Thirumurugan Gandhi even challenged a TV anchor during a debate and made an outrageous claim that“if you call them terrorists then it is contempt of supreme court”. In their narrative “The LTTE were martyrs and Prabhakaran was the ‘hamlet’”

  Jayalalithaa, who had taken a strong anti- LTTE stand till 2009, decided to enter the Tamil cause bandwagon. She challenged Karunanidhi’s position as the tallest figure in that political space and has played that agenda ever since she came to power in 2011. She ensured that Sri Lankan players could not play in Chennai during the IPL, ensured the film Madras CafĂ© was not release in Tamil Nadu and now played along in the demand for the release of the seven convicts. An AIADMK leader says “It is a wise political move by Amma, if she did not do it immediately the DMK would have galvanized a campaign for the release and would have taken advantage”.

With the two main Dravidian parties engaged in a race, what was once a fringe group agenda has become dangerous and loud. The DMK was part of the UPA and began exerting pressure on India’s foreign policy.  India’s vote against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC and subsequent cancellation of the PM’s visit to Colombo for the CHOGM summit were all Indications of domestic political pressure on India’s foreign policy. The irony is, in many ways, all these demands were dictated by “pro –LTTE elements in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora”.  

 While there is genuine anger against the plight of Tamils, experts point out that the narrative has made it “impossible to distinguish between the Sri Lankan Tamil cause and holding a brief for a terrorist group or those convicted in a monstrous crime”. Unfortunately, the main two political forces in Tamil Nadu are happy to play along.

Political parties can dramatize and play along with irrational hard-line voices in their political interest but, the deeper and more dangerous repercussions must not be ignored. There is an attempt at distorting facts and history.  It is the responsibility of the two main parties in Tamil Nadu and the central government to dictate the levels of acceptability. While commutation of death penalty shows the humanitarian side and upholds the spirit of the law, making that the platform for the release of the convicts is unacceptable.  The onus is on the principal political parties in Tamil Nadu to define and re iterate the line between supporting Sri Lankan Tamils and idolizing a terrorist act.

Monday, February 17, 2014

“20 Rupee Pepper Spray for a 2 Lakh vote victory”

A pepper sprayed parliament, with an allegedly tabled bill, will now attempt to deliberate on how to tear up one of India’s large states! We have successfully reduced a decision on the division of A.P to something like a last over clobbering in a T-20 match! Trust me, we will get lower. We have that great ability to show that we can fall deeper, just when everyone thought this is as low as it gets. As we wait to define another new low, the question now is why did the division of one of India’s large states become fodder for such atrocious moments?

Calculative and cold businessmen turned MPs, like Lagadapatti Rajagopal, do not ‘gas’ parliament out of emotion. Soon after his pathetic behaviour and almost comical interviews on national television, he called several journalists and suggested that the’ 20 rupee pepper spray act’ would give him a “2 lakh vote victory in Vijayawada”! That was the cold calculation and it is a reflection of the nature of politics the congress party has pursued on the Telengana issue

Pepper spray was just one more act in a long list of absurdities that Congress politicians from Telengana and Seemandhra have enacted. Each one of them claimed to have submitted a resignation, but none of it was ever accepted. This drama ensured that congress lasted a full term in Hyderabad and can now attempt to salvage, as much as possible, from the 42 seats that are on offer. The mere fact that a congress chief minister openly defied the party’s decision, even launched a public revolt and yet remained C.M is proof enough that Kiran Kumar Reddy’s moves have had the approval of his bosses in Delhi.

A former congress leader from Telengana who shifted to the TRS said “The strategy seems to be to table the bill knowing fully well in the last few days it will not be passed and then go in an alliance with the TRS to try and sweep the 17 seats”.  He argues that “If the congress was genuine about Telengana, they could have done it a year ago. The reason they do it now is because they would be routed in the 17 seats if they did not table the bill”.

 If true, that strategy would have a benefit in Seemandhra as well. If the bill is not passed by parliament, then Kiran Kumar Reddy who has been leading the charge against bifurcation, could go to the polls on a plank that he ensured the state was not divided. That would make the party at least relevant in what is increasingly being seen as a Chandrababu Naidu versus Jaganmohan Reddy battle for the 25 seats in Seemandhra. 

Congress’s Nizamabad M.P and a strong supporter of bifurcation Madhu Goud Yaskhi rubbished that analysis. He says “The congress party is deeply committed to a separate Telengana and will ensure that the bill is passed.  If the BJP does not do a U turn then bifurcation will be a reality”. That stand puts the onus on the BJP.

 The BJP has taken a categorical stand in favour of bifurcation, but is under pressure from potential ally Chandrababu Naidu to defeat the bill. In fact a leading businessman in touch with Jaganmohan Reddy told me “Jagan offered to go in a pre-poll alliance with the BJP if they took a stand against Telengana”. But, the party did not want to be seen as shifting sides in the last minute. A senior journalist in Delhi says “The party does not want to let the congress blame them for going against Telengana. But they will not make it easy”. In the end it seems like everyone wants to show they want a Telengana, but it goes against their electoral calculations to make it a reality.

 The other possibility that is being suggested is this. The Congress takes the risk and pushes through with the bill. Kiran Kumar Reddy breaks away and forms his own outfit. They see what they can scrounge in 2014 and then come back together post the elections. I wonder if that could happen because if that was the case then Kiran should have quit by now. He had said ‘the moment the bill is tabled I will quit’ and when asked why he didn’t he said “But the BJP has said the bill is not even tabled”! I believe he has sent a message that he is likely to resign now, I am still waiting for him to do so as I write.

 Far away from parliamentary politics, in the dry confines of Vijayawada, an old friend of mine made an interesting argument. Ram Pulla Reddy told me “People in Vijayawada or Visakhapatnam would actually benefit from a division. Their cities would come under greater focus and everything will not be centered on Hyderabad. The problem is that this whole thing has been portrayed as a betrayal”. He says the narrative left a feeling of “Hyderabad being snatched away and people from Seemandhra have no stake there”. That narrative is a direct result of the jingoistic politics we have seen.

The entire Telengana dispute is over Hyderabad. Geographically, it is in the heart of Telengana and simply cannot be shared. As per the present proposal, the city would serve as a ‘common capital’. Practically, that would mean that Seemandhra is headquartered inside another state! Given the acrimony that has played out, there is a genuine fear amongst those in Coastal Andhra and Rayalseema over how this will work out.

Interesting proposals for a phased division, sharing of Hyderabad for a limited period of time and building another capital city before dividing, have fallen on deaf years. At the moment, it seems the whole exercise has reduced to ‘politics of posturing and dramatics’ that could re write electoral realities.  The final proof of the congress pudding is in its eating. If the bill is not passed then it will further prove that this was all a drama. If, by some miracle, it is passed then it would be the worst time for a state to be divided. Either way A.P will suffer.  My only fear is that ‘Pepper spray’ may not be the last act in this drama for a Telugu vote that is deeply divided on sub regional sentiments!

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Ever since I decided to involve myself in the pursuit of learning a bit of ‘Organic’ farming, I have often been asked two questions. What is Organic Food? And what is GM food? Before I set out to give a lay man explanation and add my two bit on why you should be concerned about what you eat, let me say, that I find it absurd that people would have more knowledge about stock markets and politics than the food they eat.  Think about where we are as a society, if we spend a lot of time understanding health insurance policies but, do not spend any, in knowing how and where what we eat was grown or comes from.  So, as you read this rumbling from an extinct journalist, find some time to research further on the food you eat.

‘Organic’ products are any product which is grown ‘Organically’. By ‘Organic’, what we mean is using what has been given by nature and hence it would mean ‘Natural’. Every crop or soil needs some form of nourishment and in ‘Organic’ farming the manure used is natural without ‘factory produced chemicals’ or what is commonly known as ‘pesticides and insecticides’. I draw the distinction because everything, even organic manure, is made of chemicals. The difference is whether it is made naturally or made in a factory with levels that are ‘unnatural’ and hence ‘hazardous’.  As I write further I will be using ‘Pesticides’ and ‘Factory produced chemicals’ interchangeably. For the reader the two should mean the same.  Remember, there are ‘organic pesticides and insecticides’ as well.

 How do they make manure that is ‘Organic’? Simple, from cow dung, wet and dry waste and water. But, using this manure does not necessarily mean that there will be no ‘pesticide’ in the food that is produced. This is because the land in which the food was grown could already have been exposed to pesticides. Let us say you start an ‘Organic’ farm and grow your crop of carrots without pesticides but, the farmer who owned the land before may have extensively used ‘pesticides’ and ‘contaminated’ the soil. So, even though you do not use ‘pesticide’, your crop will have traces of it. This is just one factor, there are many others, like ‘pesticide’ content in the seed you sow, ‘pesticide’ use in the farm next to you or ‘pesticide’ levels in ground water.

The bottom line is, no matter how ‘Organic’ a farm may be, there are extraneous factors that may result in its produce being ‘contaminated’ by ‘pesticides and insecticides’. In effect, the farming is process ‘factory chemical’ free but, the produce may not be. So, when you buy a brand of ‘Organic’ food do not be certain that it has absolutely zero contamination. Here’s the thing, when you grow something ‘organically’ then you slowly and surely reduce the amount of that ‘factory produced chemical’ in the food that is produced. Take for example a sack of rice in your house. Let us say you have a cockroach problem and so you spray one of those sprays available in the market. The question is simple. Would you spray a whole bottle of it on the rice sack and then wash it and eat it? I suspect if you are sane, you would not.  But, you may not be averse to eating the sack of rice if it was stored in a room which has been sprayed.  Again, if the rice was to be fed for a new born baby, I am sure you would ensure that it was kept as far away from the spray as possible.

The fundamental point here is -we all know that pesticide and insecticides are harmful. Now, do we ignore it in our food or do we try and find food that has lesser and lesser ‘contamination’.  I am not suggesting that we all change what we eat from the next meal or that we all begin farming. What I am saying is, at least spend the time in knowing what you eat. I believe nature and the body will find a cure and recuperate and so, I hate those doomsday ‘organic’ thinkers. It is important to know that we have limited knowledge of life and then decide on the basis of that limited knowledge and then trust that the decision is right. Simple, find out and try to know more about the food you eat and then trust that you will make the right choice. Trust me, I still eat food that’s been grown for the ‘mass market’ but, I also try and find food that is grown ‘organically’. There are times when I say ‘I’ll take my chances’. But, the point is that I am not being careless about the food I eat and I am thinking about it as much as I think about taking a health insurance policy or buying a house.

Now, we get to the other issue, GM foods. When I grow a crop of Carrots I am absolutely not sure about which bees, birds, butterfly or insects are pollinating on it. Yes, my crop of carrot is grown ‘Organically’ but, my neighbouring farmer or the one after him may be growing a completely different crop of carrot. When the bees and birds travel from his crop to my crop they do what is known as ‘Cross pollination’. This means that my carrot and my neighbour’s carrot have had sex and are going to produce a new variety of carrot. This is a natural process and seed breeders have used this to make ‘Hybrid seeds’.  The idea is if my neighbours carrot is more resisted to disease A and mine deals with disease B better, then the chances are that some of their offspring would deal with both A and B better. This is a process of ‘Natural sex’ between the crops to make a new one which is healthier and they are called ‘Hybrids’.

GM on the other hand means Genetic Modification. This means that I will take the DNA of my carrot and ‘mutate’ it with the DNA of a cabbage. Then I call it GM Carrot or GM cabbage depending on the more dominant traits.  The farmer and seed conservator who taught me a lot about elementary farming Sangeetha Sharma of 'Annadhana' calls this ‘Unsafe Sex’.  The fundamental difference according to experts is that in ‘Hybrids’ we produce a new variety and in GM we produce a new species. This is like when a dog and a horse are forced to have intercourse and then you claim the offspring is a GM Dog or a GM Horse. The truth is the off spring is neither a horse nor a dog. It is something new.

I do not, for a moment, say that the new species is going to be bad. It may well be better than the existing ones. It may be better than a carrot and a cabbage, it may be better than a dog and a horse, BUT, it is neither a carrot nor a cabbage or a horse or a dog. It is a new species. You and I may eat it as carrots, but, we need to know it is not.  I do not want to even go near the debate over whether GM foods are good or bad. I only want people to be aware that this is what it means.

 At some level, I feel sad that we have relegated issues about food as a mere policy issue. This piece that I have written is purely an expression of frustration and a request to the reader to start finding out about the food he or she eats. I must declare that I do not have the knowledge to tell the reader what is right and what is wrong.  The decision on what you eat must be made by you, but, just remember you need to make a decision and make it with as much prudence and diligence that you show while you investing money or when you cast a vote.  After all it is you who is eating. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Madras Cafe - Just another film.

Film makers have a great role in making history relevant to the masses. Especially, in the times we live, when not many have the time to read about events that shape our today. The film maker has an added edge, the power to give a visual element, recreate an event and leave it etched in the minds of the audience. So, when they decide to make a film, on an event that has played an emotional part in a nation’s conscience, it is important for them to recognise the enormous responsibility they are signing up for.  Putting out a disclaimer “That all characters in the film are fictitious” does not absolve the film maker of this responsibility.

Yes, not all film makers take that responsibility seriously. But, the point is simple – they have the right to make a film and the audience has a right to judge their effort. The trouble is when I am refused even the right to watch a film and make that judgement. The trouble is when a few irrational, incompetent, ill informed propagandists can stop me from making my own judgement. The trouble is when I do not even know if the film is worth so much thought.

Since, I do not live within the geographical confines of the ‘Tamil Nadu’ I did have the right to see ‘Madras Cafe’.  I started writing this review because a fellow journalist suggested I should. But, I also want to write it because those who could not watch the film must know that the fuss around it is not worth it. The irony is that the film says nothing, nothing at all, that is either contrarian or converse to history as it has been told to us. In fact, my only objection is that it does not say anything controversial and it could and should have been much better and said much more. It is just another film. I was disappointed but, that’s just me.

Before I make a brief review of the film, may I just remind all the protesting propagandists, that the LTTE had admitted its role in the Rajiv assassination and their chief was convicted by Indian courts and was declared a proclaimed offender. Anton Balasingham even made a desperate effort at expressing regret for that dastardly act. So, two decades later, when a film is made stating this very fact you have no reason to object.  In fact the film says nothing against the ‘Tamil Cause’ it even tracks its genesis to the 83 riots. It simply reiterates a widely accepted version of events.  

Kevin Costner starrer ‘JFK’ is one of the finest films made on the conspiracy theories behind the Kennedy assassination. I hope, someday, we make something as powerful on the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. As for ‘Madras Cafe’ it is nowhere near a master piece or a memorable film I would want in my collection. Unfortunately, it was based on a topic that deserved much better. There were moments when I thought it was a tragic joke and there were moments when it was gripping.

To start with, John Abraham just did not fit the part of a RAW agent in the first half.  In fact, I thought the whole portrayal of a RAW agent in a war zone was pathetic. That a journalist (Nargis Fakhri) would be aware of his activities made it even more hilarious. I mean, we can't be so raw while portraying the RAW. It would not have taken too much hard work to find out the real nature of the operations of the LTTE, the RAW and the Sri Lankan forces. The fact that the research was superficial was proven by the omission of portrayal of important events like Pirabhakaran’s visit to Delhi and a failed attempt on Rajiv Gandhi's life in Colombo. The refusal to make the plot more complex by studying details of the investigations also reflected in the final script. None of this was even touched upon and would have only added to the script. The trouble is that the film made the plot, the issue, superficial and simple. 

Staying with the first half, I must mention that the most hilarious part was when the RAW chief has a meeting with the number 2 in the ‘tigers’ hierarchy.  The conversation that unfolds is hilarious and it was as if the director just needed a small link to get to the next bit of the story. Here again the director decided to add his imagination to history. But, at the end of the day it is a piece of fiction which comes with a disclaimer and so we forgive the confusion between fact, fiction and the marriage between the two.

In the second half the movie does get better. Here you have the chatter between Jaffna, London, Singapore, Bangkok and Chennai. The assassination conspiracy begins to unfold and as the plot grips the actors lose their grip. Laboured acting by those playing key roles like a source in Bangkok (Dibang), RAW Chief (Siddaratha Basu) proved costly. Our very own RAW agent was better in the second half and a worthy mention in the acting department was Prakash Belawadi’s performance as the RAW Chennai station chief. The conspiracy plot left me wanting more. The technical side had done their job well. The editing and cinematography were particularly commendable. I just wish the director had worked as hard on the conspiracy and history as he did on making it into a film. Even the actors who played the role of SL Tamils, who facilitate the assassins, were not true to the Tamil accent. 

The trouble is that I am comparing it with a JFK or a Valkyrie and that is extremely unfair. Net -net it was high time we had someone attempt a film on the assassination. I just wish it was a better attempt. I may wish it was more fact than fiction but, the bottom line is simple – there is nothing wrong about the film and something wrong, terribly wrong, with those who are protesting against its release.  History has many versions and Madras Cafe is just a film maker’s imagination of partial facts from widely accepted versions of a tragic event. Let it pass.