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Commentary/Varsha Bhosle

Mutinous March, Trifecta, Kesri's Gate, and Apoplectic April

Mutinous: traitorous -– a concept that bounces off politicians.

Trifecta: a form of betting in which the first three places in a race must be predicted in correct order – all stakes are on the third runner to reach 7, Race Course Road.

Kesri's Gate: bizarre comedy that has set the Congress stock nose-diving.

Apoplectic April: the month of Bakr-Id -– the day when not enough old goats are led to the slaughter.

They call it Spring Fever, our frisky friends in Delhi Centre. In March, the Budget of the year's first greenbacks appears, spring showers turn dry dust to slush funds, but the Mad March Hare of government leap about, drunk with power and the joy of skipping over the saffron lotus flower. There is a bounce in one's step, a jingle in the armour. For in the spring, even an old man's fancy turns to defiance, or so Sitaram Kesri has declared.

In Neither Bloody, Nor Unbowed, Dorothy Parker waxes eloquent about Defiance: But I, despite expert advice Keep doing things I think are nice, And though to good I never come – Inseparable are my nose and thumb.

Here in Bombay, the gulmohur, in stuck-out-tongue pink, is threatening to appear around the few remaining trees at the Gateway of India. Maybe for the Congress, "cherry blossom" is not yet what I think it will turn out to be – the desi brand of shoe-polish preferred for blackening countenances. We have celebrated here the ancient festival of Veronal Up-the-Sensex, and the newly-canonised St Chidambaram's Day, and the now-familiar Easter Eggs on Secular Face. The days were just about seeming to get pleasant. But alas, 'twas not be, now that spring was in the air! Who could have believed that if all's well at the Golden Gate, little could be bright around the Unknown Soldier's Flame at India Gate?

But of course, a glance at the headlines tells me that India is quite within its inscrutable reason, and keeping time with the silly season: Indo-Pak talks suffer Kashmir hiccup; CPI-M sponsors Hindutva course for doctors (?!); Truckers' strike paralyses city-life; 13 killed, 57 injured in Jammu blasts; Mayawati retains 30 portfolios; V P Singh tries to rearrange debris of collapse. Ah! A glimmer of hope: Andhra Pradesh relaxes prohibition… But then comes the one after which I took up heroin: Kesri places his cap before Sonia Gandhi.

Oh to hell with it; I can't keep up in the Srinivasanian literary strain. Let me muck about in the sodden dirt of my vulgar grain. For after all the crystalline skies and celestial comets, I can't help but drag you down to earthy essentials: specifically, baniyaans – that's what we desis call vests. And now that India's in the midst of an administrative apoplexy, there's something I, er… gotta get offa my chest:

Actually, it's all the media's frailty. If it hadn't been for the quick clicks of our lensmen and the evil wits of our eds, I wouldn't have to it been led. But within just two months of his having become the Congress foreman, I gathered Kesri snaps into a mean little pile, which I now call The Gene X Files:

  • Mr Kesri in a baniyaan, sprawled on a cot at MLA hostel;

  • Mr Kesri in a baniyaan, joyously petting his white Pomeranian;

  • Mr Kesri in a baniyaan, seeing off visitors at the gate;

  • Mr Kesri in a dunce-cap-like ethnic headdress. (And a ROTFL Laxman cartoon of the same)

  • Mr Kesri smooching a startled Madhavrao Scindia;

  • Mr Kesri hugging a visibly mortified Mr Scindia… And even as I'd be clipping out the damn things, I'd furiously be praying: O Lord, please let the cultural attaches of various embassies miss today's front page.

    The last time I felt so kaato to khoon nahi was when the late Giani Zail Singh -– he of the strangely protruding achkan and perpetually glazed expression -– clung to Ronald Reagan's hand, with the entire international media recording the event. 'Twas not a handshake. While walking down the red carpet, Gianiji, god bless his affectionate soul, just slipped his hand into Mr Reagan's like Nancy would have. I'll tell you one thing: None of his Hollywood background came to the Prez's rescue that day.

    Decades ago, my dear old grandmother (who had this thing for Jawaharlal Nehru) had threatened to leave Hindustan for good if Jagjivan Ram ever became PM; she claimed that her stomach heaved at the sight of all that abundant down. It's not my fault that I've inherited her imperious aesthetics: at the vision of Laloo Prasad Yadav, I, too, feel critically queasy.

    Then there's the dhoti, and as with all things Indian, there are ways and ways of wearing it and carrying it. On the one hand, we have the impeccable babu-moshai style of Jyoti Basu and the upper-crust draping by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On the other, we have Mulayam Singh Yadav's ultra-dehaati insouciance -– part of the attire hiked high in hand, with one leg exposed, and in one memorable photograph, even the thigh. OK, so I'm an elitist, so beat me up. But why do I have to view such skin-flicks with magnanimity?

    Do you think I've digressed from my, umm, underlying point? No, no... With the frightening prospect of Mr Kesri leading India, I hope to impress upon you the dire need for explaining to India's leaders what the term "public figure" entails. Fact is, or so says The Asian Age, 76% of Mumbaikars and I simply cannot bear the thought of the baniyaan-flaunting Mr Kesri representing India in any diplomatic capacity anywhere. As for domestic affairs, with Shailendra Mahato naming Mr Kesri in his confessional statement on the JMM bribery case, what's left to say?

    Too, what Mr Kesri has accomplished by rudely jolting our roly-poly, Karnataki Sleeping Beauty, counts as high treason in my right-wing book. Whether one agrees with the logistics of it all or not, the Kashmir talks were on, a popular Budget was underway, stock-brokers had a song on the lips, Russia was playing ball -– and Mr Deve Gowda hadn't done quite enough harm to warrant this extreme step. It's as plain as those ubiquitous warts: with the UF consolidating at the Centre, and the BJP veritably beefing up in the states, Sitaram Kesri could see the throne quietly slipping away.

    Among the reasons cited for the withdrawal of support were: the UF government's a) determined efforts to marginalise the Congress; b) failure to consolidate forces of secularism; c) failure to confront communal forces; and, d) lack of serious attempt to arrest the communal, divisive and separatist forces. Since I have tears of mirth rolling down my cheeks at this moment, I shall restrict myself to saying that the Congress, poor old thing, now seems to be fated to stick around like a big bag of cement on the floor of India's political ocean.

    But let me be kindly and suggest a leader for it. Ever since I saw an old picture of a dashing Rajesh Pilot in his Air Force uniform, I've been feeling benevolent towards him (if Saisuresh Sivaswamy can hold a flame for Madhavrao Scindia, don't you dare make a sexist remark about me). In Pilot, the Congress has a commodity rare in its members – i e, provable patriotism. After all, none can deny that he has faced for his country a possible death. Or there's Sharad Pawar -– I simply adore a man with a sense of humour. Once upon a rally, Sharadrao, with a deadpan face, said, "Under the name of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the (Bal) Thackeray family is instituting a dynastic rule over Maharashtra." All that was missing was Sonia Gandhi's presence on the dais to turn it into a Buster Keaton farce. Any Congressman who can talk so conscientiously about the sins of dynastic rule, needs to be shown tremendous respect…

    But hark, the Srinivasanian muse is upon me again… Speaking of the commandment to not chafe at others, I fear I do fail that test. It is well recorded what the gladiators in Arena think, and catches the fancies of this feisty old girl in the spring -– a case of Medusa hissing while the virtuous lie writhing, atangle in the diffused Net. Lowering the ideals of writing, emasculating secularist thinking, does do much for one's brazen morale as a whole. For baniyaan or no baniyaan,one uses what arms one finds in the interparietal battles on the moral dimensions of rank usurpations.

    In the end, I rather feel envious of the man who would be king. All things considered, things have progressed rather better than gloomy pundits's predictions on the destiny of the old guards's wing. Watching all the approving Azads and Dhawans and Naiks going through a form of ritual suicide, Sitaram Kesri will probably agree with Noel Coward when that wit, in a flush of awareness of a certain reporter did say: "I see him as one great stampede of lips directed at the nearest derrière." For surely, this April, that will be the, er… bottom-line, indeed.

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  • Varsha Bhosle

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