Dhrupada is a style of Indian music which is a stuti (homage, reverence) to Lord Shiva. Usually it is a vocal rendition or through pakhavage or mridangam. It’s the dance of Shiva, the voice of the Creator and the Destroyer. It is based on Nada Yoga and the singer sings not just through his vocal chords but through his entire being. It is as if the sound comes from the stomach or the naval. It is an amazing experience. I have seen singers sweating profusely in the cold of the winter singing under a shamiana taking off their jacket because their body heated up singing the Dhrupada.
The ragas are the same but it is the style of rendition that is unique. The sudden dips in tenor to the non-stop calling out to Narayana takes you places you have never been. It may seem incredulous but yes, it is incredible the way they make this ancient Indian form of music.
It is the sound of the Cosmos. It is passage through Time. It is a voyage through the Universe – passing the stars, passing the suns. How else can you describe the music that has at its core just one word – Narayana – calling out to Lord Shiva?
It is the complete being of the singer that goes into the incessant rhythmic chant of Narayana that makes it the sound of the Universe. It is like an Odyssey through the Universe. The simplicity of the chant is captivating and the intricacy of the music with patters and sudden dips in sound that makes you go in a trance and into the space and beyond. You begin to understand yourself better – you can relate with Nature just a bit more. That chant and the myriad notes and tenors give you an awareness that is indescribable. It’s an existential experience. To some it might appear as cacophonous noise, but to others it is peace Divine.
Dhrupad rendition to me seems to be the sound of the Creator. It is how the Universe began. This is beyond any scientific explanation. But then Science cannot go beyond a point. There are things that you can only experience, and can’t explain. Dhrupad is the art form that explains a lot without explaining anything. The music itself is an explanation if one is ready to understand. It is Shiva and his dance that is the Natraja. The beats of the Mridangam or the Pakhavajja that make you imagine the Lord and his grace over us all. You bow down in humility. You are at one with the Creator. You are in bliss.
There is a reason why Dhrupada form is like an Odyssey through the Universe. The philosophy of Dvaita and Advaita are at the core of this. Dvaita is the Lord and you while Advaita is Lord within you. When the Lord is within, you have the universe inside of you. The human body is a Cosmos by itself. And when you sing the Dhurupada using all your faculties you embody the Universe. And the music that the singer creates is Cosmic in nature. The incessant rhythmic chants of Narayana making you wonder where you are and where you have been.
Political pundits including yours truly had expected this all along. This has not come as a surprise at all. That it took so long to happen is the only thing that has surprised many. BJP and Modi baiters had been using all tricks in the book to run down the man and the party. The 2002 Gujarat riots were milked for political brinkmanship ad nauseum. People got fed up of the rant and many got irritated as well. Most of the media outrage was generated and stage managed as it were.
Congress and the UPA quoted growth figures that were specious and useless – for two reasons. One, it ignored the simple fact that double digit inflation negated any such growth. Secondly, the growth figures came largely from BJP ruled states and did not represent the whole of India. The one huge achievement that Rahul Gandhi gloated about was the ‘power’ that he and his party had given to the people with bills such as the RTI (Right to Information) and Lokpal Bill. The other great achievement was the ‘jobs’ (read doles) that the government gave to the people through MANREGA. People cared two hoots for RTI and MANREGA was more a right to easy money for the Sarpanches than real devolution of resources to the common man. Rahul Gandhi even now claims that he wants to give power to the people. But never does he elaborate as to how he will do so. And so the question of devolution of power to the people – to women and tribal and the weaker sections hangs in the air. I am told Rahul Gandhi is Harvard educated. I am sure he must have heard about creation of jobs. US and Europe and other parts of the world give weekly jobless figures. UPA and Mr. Gandhi do not realize that it is jobs that are the crux of the matter. And jobs are not created by devolution of power – that is clearly of no use to the common man. What they need is a steady income. And that can happen only when investments are made welcome and industries and business prosper creating jobs.
The disenchantment of the people is so acute that they have thronged to Modi rallies. There is a Modi wave. I have written about his rally in Varanasi in one of my earlier articles. Clearly there is a paradigm shift in the political climate in the past few months. There has emerged a so-called Third Front which has been woven around the Left Brotherhood, but that is a non-serious outfit – a conglomeration of 11 parties hoping that neither the NDA nor the UPA does well and they manage to bring around another 11 parties to form a government. There is an outside chance but one that is very unlikely to happen.
The real game changer is Narendra Modi and his BJP led NDA coalition. Other political parties are sensing the mood of the people and converging towards NDA. Those who are with the UPA or had promised to align or assimilate with the Congress are running shy. Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP (Telugu Desam Party) has joined the NDA again. Jagan Mohan Reddy is so peeved with the Congress that he is ready to support any party that manages to keep the Congress out of power. Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP has aligned again with the BJP and is now a part of the NDA after a hiatus of 12 years. Athawale’s RPI is also back in the NDA. The sad anecdote of the unceremonious eviction of Ramnath Athawale from his residence by Congress government is the reason why he joined the NDA again.
Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal United has seen a revolt when Shivanand Tiwari and four other MP’s were ousted from the party. Tiwari had criticised Nitish and his style of functioning. On an earlier occasion he had praised Modi and had been heckled by Nitish supporters. I will not be surprised if he joins the BJP.
Telangana Rashtriya Samiti had announced that they would go with whosoever forms Telangana. Congress made Telangana happen. Chandrashekhar Rao then announced the merger of TRS with the Congress. Later he withdrew. I am not sure he will be a part of even the UPA. He has got Telangana and he knows he will have to deal with BJP led NDA government in the years to come. It makes no political sense in merging his political outfit with a declining Congress. The rats are jumping off a sinking ship that is the Congress.
There is a background to Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party joining the NDA. It appears that Paswan was not too comfortable with the rightist posture of the NDA. It could well be that he urged Rajnath Singh to issue some kind of regret or ‘apology’ for the 2002 Gujarat riots. Rajnath Singh did so with the caveat that if there has been any wrong doing against any minorities by his government in Gujarat then he apologizes. That was good enough for Paswan. With Paswan on the NDA bandwagon the Dalit and backward votes should come NDA way and the threat from overtly backward and Dalit parties like the BSP will be marginalized.
The icing on the cake was however the longest serving chief minister from Arunachal Pradesh, Geogong Apang’s decision to leave the Congress and join the BJP. The man has been CM for 22 years. The man understands the mood of his people and knows that the shift is decisively against the Congress. There is a background to such political developments in the North East. BJP fielded Purno Sangma as their presidential candidate against Pranab Mukherjee. They knew Sangma would not make it. But it was a shrewd political move. Many within the BJP wanted Pranabda to enter the Rashtrapati Bhavan. But by fielding Sangma, a Christian and a tribal they made three statements. One that they are secular by backing a Christian. Second, that they were pro-tribal. And thirdly and most importantly they were friends of the people of North East, which again was true. Modi rallies in the North East have had a tumultuous response. Apang joining the BJP therefore does not come as a surprise. The media has played this down but this is perhaps a body blow to the Congress.
Power has a magnetism of its own. I am sure the BJP will do very well in the coming general elections. It is veritably a walkover by the Congress and the UPA. World media is talking about the change of guard. The US ambassador Nancy Powell met Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar. The man is being wooed by those who matter not only within India but globally.
It is 1998 revisited when more than 20 parties came together under the leadership of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government. The apology of sorts for Gujarat riots by Rajnathji has rattled the UPA like nothing has. The secular media is trying to make is sound as an empty rhetoric for political gains. But then wasn’t Telangana formed for political gains too? It is amazing how far politicians will go to secure power. Telangana was an out and out a political move to ensure 15 odd seats for the UPA. The bad news for them is that TRS has deserted them and have had their cake and eaten it too. Its too late for the Congress to unleash the CBI against Chandrashekhar Rao. Rao is no Lalu who can be cowed down by graft cases.
There were talks of Sharad Pawar’s NCP joining hands with the BJP in Maharashtra. Udhav Thakre’s Shiv Sena put their foot down and told the BJP in no uncertain terms that NCP joining the NDA was untenable. Shiv Sena and the BJP have managed to rope in many smaller parties in Maharashtra who are from the Vidarbha region and should undercut Pawar’s NCP. By the way, Sharad pawar is not fighting the Lok Sabha elections this time and his daughter Supriya Sule will fight from their home constituency of Baramati.
As I write the news is that DMK Supremo Karunanidhi has called Modi a hardworking man and a friend. Indian politics and politicians leave me breathless.
There is a clamour to be a part of the NDA bandwagon. Teesta Setalvad and other activists unleashed by the UPA have vanished. Modi and the NDA are the flavour of the political grapevine in Lutyen’s Delhi. Its time Modi got a bungalow in Delhi, where he belongs.
The Aam Aadmi Party government fell inexplicably on the 49th day in office. Looking back it seems it was a pre-meditated step. Those in the know felt Arvind Kejriwal had made up his mind to resign at least a week before the Lokayukta Bill was tabled in the Vidhan Sabha. The reasons for the fall of the AAP government were as weird as the Bill for which they made such a hue and cry. They refused to send the Lokayukta Bill to the Lt. Governor which would have then been forwarded to the Centre before it came back to the Speaker of the House to be formally tabled for consideration. Kejriwal and his men said that this was unacceptable and that since they were elected representatives of the people of Delhi therefore they were answerable to none except the citizens of Delhi. They went on to quote the eminent lawyer and jurist Soli Sorabjee and claimed that he seconded their stand, only to be repudiated by him.
The amazing part was that both Congress and the BJP were ready to support the Lokayukta Bill. It is said that Dr. Harshvardhan of the BJP received a copy of the proposed bill at the dead of the night before it was tabled in the House the next day. AAP claimed that the Bill was on the lines of the Lokayukta Bill passed in Uttarakhand Assembly. The AAP government was not too keen to give time to Legislators to go through the Bill. Their haste in getting the Bill tabled was surprising. If they were really serious about the Lokayukta Bill they should have followed the precedent. They said that nowhere has it been written in the Constitution that the Bill needs to be sent to the Centre through the Lt. Governor. What they fail to understand is that in stable democracies there are customs and traditions and those are followed without anyone questioning them.
The few weeks that AAP was in office they did not crown themselves with glory. One of their ministers Mr. Somnath Bharti was found using abusive language with police officers and exhorting them to raid a house without any warrant, where some African nationals lived. This behaviour by a Minister became a flashpoint in Indo-African relations. It was unnecessary and unprecedented.
AAP government had promised that electricity rates would be halved, but what really happened was that they were increased. The joke was that they waived 50% of the tariff for those who had not paid for a particular period of time. It was clear that they were rewarding those who were AAP supporters. This would have cost the exchequer a neat Rs 6 crores.
The people of Delhi found their Chief Minister squatting on the streets for some frivolous demand, I am forgetting what. The 26th January celebrations were due and the Defence Forces put their foot down and the CM and his rabble rousers were unceremoniously evicted from the Raisena Hills. Kejriwal then ordered an audit of the power companies. The CAG it seems seconded the idea. The matter reached a flashpoint and Delhi was in for a major outage.
The piece de resistance however was Delhi government filing an FIR against Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani, Cabinet Minister Veerappa Moily and others claiming that increase in gas prices was theft of the exchequer. I have never heard of any government filing an FIR against ministers and industrialists. Can this really be done? AAP claimed that both their allies the Congress and the opposition, the BJP were at the beck and call of Mr. Ambani! Before they could pursue the FIR they quit. It is said that the AAP government benefitted Reliance Industries to the tune of Rs 370 cr. before they quit. The nuances of the sweetener need to be explored, if at all.
The one common thread that runs through the brief AAP saga at the helm in Delhi is one of charges being levelled and not being pursued. They never got down to really auditing the power companies, nor did they pursue the case against Reliance and the Cabinet Ministers. Spit and run was their policy. Perhaps they knew about their own shortcomings enough not to pursue what they proposed.
Some are calling Kejriwal’s decision to quit as a political master stroke. He would be seen as a martyr for a cause close to the hearts of the people of Delhi – corruption. AAP has tried to paint everyone black calling them all corrupt. That may not be quiet true. People had given AAP the mandate to give a clean government – to clean the rot. They decided to run away from the responsibility. People of Delhi and of the nation do not see Kejriwal and AAP as martyrs but as one who showed little respect for the mandate given to them. The mandate was for governance and to turn Delhi into a truly world class city. They did not see it thus. Perhaps they were fearful of being found out, of being exposed. Kejriwal and AAP have never defined clearly their economic policies, their views on foreign policy, defence and world affairs. They only talk of fighting corruption. They do not even talk about fighting poverty. Kejriwal is never asked these questions by journalists who interview him for extended periods of time. Are they told not to ask these questions?
AAP government and Kejriwal are no martyrs. If at all, they have shown disrespect to the wishes of the people of Delhi. They asked the people of Delhi whether they should form the government but they never asked them whether they should quit. The House supported them for the Lokayukta Bill and yet they resigned on some technicality. Their credibility is at an all time low. AAP has called for fresh polls in Delhi assuming that they will sweep the polls next time around. I am not sure that is going to happen. Congress is playing it safe and there is going to be President’s rule with Lt. Governor Najeeb Jung as his representative. The people of Delhi feel cheated and let down. Arun Jaitley of the BJP has called the brief AAP stint as a sham and ‘worst government’ in recent past. For the people of Delhi it is nightmare that is over. This maybe posturing by the AAP before the Lok Sabha polls, but this is a wake- up call for the people of India.
The announcement of an alliance between Jayalalitha’s AIADMK and Left parties took many by surprise. Jayalalitha, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister is supposed to be a friend of Narendra Modi, the PM candidate of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance). Most political watchers were expecting an expansion of the NDA with Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and AIADMK formally joining the Modi bandwagon. Jaya’s decision to go with the Left can be seen as a blow to Narendra Modi’s aspirations. But politics is the art of the possible and nothing can be ruled out.
Looking at the political situation as it appears as of now Jaya’s decision to join hands with the Left is really pragmatic and if one may say, an obvious one. It would be foolish to say that the BJP is cruising to power in 2014. While it is true that pre-election surveys have given a very positive picture of NDA’s chances in 2014 it is also true that BJP and allies do not have any presence in many important states including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, the whole of NE and Kashmir Valley. This is a huge chunk of seats. It is true that in Andhra TDP and YSR Congress have shown inclination to join NDA in their overt anti-Congress stance. But even then NDA has its task cut out to cobble a government in case they do not reach the magical 272 mark.
The position of the Congress led UPA is even worse. They do not have a presence in two of the most important states in the country – UP and Bihar. In Bihar they have managed to arm twist Lalu and Paswan to align with them. They are trying the same with Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu by slapping early 90’s tax cases against her and her friend Sasikala. Jayalalitha’s decision to go with the Left has its moorings in these cases too. Congress led UPA has veritably lost the 2014 elections even before the bugle for the polls has been sounded.
There is then an outside chance that a Third Front might form the government in 2014. I mean, if the NDA falls short and the UPA does not cross the three figure mark what are the possibilities? A Third Front – a rag tag of some 20plus parties might cobble a government. No one would want to go to the polls again – unless absolutely necessary. A Third Front might be the answer. In such a scenario even some of the possible NDA allies like TDP, Jagan Reddy and Sharad Pawar’s NCP might join hands. Naveen Patnaik will of course welcome any such development as he claims he wants to be equi-distant from both BJP and Congress. Remember, Naveen Patnaik is also close to the Left. There is another little fact that many may not be aware of – Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalitha are very good friends. Did Naveen Patnaik nudge Jaya into the lap of the Left parties? It could well be.
Friends can help one decide but in politics it is cold numbers that count. Jayalalitha’s arithmetic is very clear. She understands that Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party is slipping in UP and that for her may have been the tipping point in going with the Left. Mamata’s Trinamool Congress is also not the force it was when she stormed to power a couple of years ago. Comparatively Jaya’s political situation is much stronger. Infighting within the Karunanidhi clan helps Jaya’s AIADMK. SP cannot win more than 20 odd seats in UP, if even that. Mamata too might not be able to manage more than 15 seats. If AIADMK wins anywhere around 35 seats in Tamil Nadu and with Left’s help that might be possible, then Jaya may be the Queen who will have a very real chance of entering 7 Race Course Road in style. Yes, India could well have a PM from a regional party with less than 50 seats to credit. This is a real possibility.
The other reason why Jayalalitha may have shunned the Rightist NDA and gone with the Left is because last time she aligned with the Rightists she was routed. The vocal minorities of Tamil Nadu scripted her defeat and Jaya is loath to take the risk another time. She would much rather play it safe and align with the Left than take the risk of have truck with the BJP. The good news for her is that Prakash Karat and his Comrades are content with a couple of seats in Tamil Nadu and do not hanker for much.
There is another less known facet of the BJP- AIADMK equation that many political analysts do not realize, Narendra Modi received a tumultuous response in Tamil Nadu especially in Trichy. Modi experimented with the use of a translator and the crowds appreciated his gesture of reaching out to them. People appreciated that someone not conversant with their language was making efforts to communicate with them through an interpreter. Besides more and more people understand Hindi now than ever before. Also, the development plank of Narendra Modi has caught the imagination of the nation and Tamil Nadu has not remained untouched. Tamilians want development and are fed up with the political nitpicking of the AIADMK and DMK. In BJP and NaMo Jaya sees a greater threat than the Congress. She wants to nip any political expansion of the BJP in Tamil Nadu, in the bud. Having an alliance with a possible future foe would be political naivety for the Queen of Poes Gardens.
Aligning with the Left for Jayalalitha was a pragmatic move and one that could catapult her to the PM’s gaddi. In politics anything is possible. If Deve Gauda and Indra Kumar Gujaral can be the PM of India, why can’t Jayalalitha? NDA will be forced to join hands with MDMK of Vaika. I hope they are more sensitive to his views this time around. BJP could try and breach the AIADMK bastions in Tamil Nadu with some more Modi rallies. The question is –do they have the time and will it be worth the effort.
Can’t help but wonder – when Jayalalitha becomes the Chief Minister her followers roll on the floor and stark obeisance. What will they do if she becomes the PM – one can only imagine!!
What I do know is that if Jaya does become the PM she will make a good one. She is intelligent and knows how to administer. She is also fluent in Hindi and will have no problems working in New Delhi environs. If she does get the top post she might want to turn AIADMK into a pan-India outfit. But that is sometime in the future. She is a better prospect than many other possible PM aspirants. Aligning with the Left? Of course!
The most likely post poll scenario should be a massive win for the Rightist, well near the half-way mark and Jayalalitha stepping in to ensure a NDA government supporting them from outside. She will not join the government. However she will be present at the swearing-in-ceremony with a big bouquet for her friend Narendra Modi. Jaya values friendship and loyalty and that is the way she has lived her life and done her politics. NaMo can bank on the Lady from the South!
It is like setting the chess pieces to ones liking before a match. But then in politics such liberties are what political parties and personalities reckon they can get away with. What they fail to realize is that the man on the street is watching their every move. Be as it may, there is a frenetic political activity and I must say for those who are keen watchers of politics these are very interesting times. The road to Delhi is not an easy one. The ones who have captured Delhi believe they can get to the ultimate throne. Those occupying the throne believe that by refurbishing their scion’s image they can retain it. And for those who have done remarkably well and won all of four states believe that their prime ministerial candidate will get them to the throne. With a wilting Samajwad the Queen from Dravida fancies her chances and decides to fight the Lok Sabha elections though she heads the state. Cousins from Maharashtra fight it out to be the one to align with the party that they reckon will beat everyone to reach Delhi. If only to put a spanner in their plans and perhaps to arm twist the Grand Other Dame the younger firebrand cousin of the scion of the Sena questions the Dame’s prime ministerial candidate. Everyone is meeting everyone else and everyone else is scampering around to ensure a Lutyen’s Bungalow. It’s a mad race and for most it is a mad race to nowhere.
The bull in the China Shop is an upstart that has turned everything on its head. All and sundry are trying to hop on to their bandwagon. They have little idea what this fledgling Frankenstein stands for. What they know is that this is one party that came a close second in the Delhi elections and is now in government there. Technocrats and businesswomen are joining the party and all and sundry seem to know what they are doing. They have opened offices in most of the politically important states. They say they will fight more than 200 seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections. I believe that they may end up fighting more than 400 seats. They believe that the national mood is in their favour. That could well be true. But Lok Sabha elections are a different cup of tea. I am talking about the Aam Aadmi Party.
The brazenness of the AAP is what is most astounding. That they have an unparalleled hold over the media is clear to everyone. Even the party in power, the Indian National Congress is finding it hard to check the media blitzkrieg that has been unleashed by the AAP. TV anchor, Ashutosh kicking his job and joining the AAP came as no surprise. One of their leaders, a Hindi poet and a teacher by profession Kumar Vishwas has declared that he will fight Rahul Gandhi in the Lok Sabha elections from Amethi. Their chutzpah amazing, their audacity unlike anything anyone has seen in a long, long time. The media is playing them up and there is a euphoric air in the AAP ranks. It helps when personalities like Balakrishnan of Infosys, Meera Sanyal of Royal Scottish Bank, Sameer Nair of Star TV, Captain Gopinath and Remo Fernandez decide to join their ranks. Mallika Sarabhai and Medha Patekar joining AAP is no great news as their political leanings are well known.
RSS has declared that BJP will ignore the rise of the AAP at its own peril. At least one Congress leader has joined AAP – Alka Lamba. Others might follow. People like Mani Shankar Aiyer have publicly offered the AAP help in its quest to forming mohalla sabhas and local bodies. That they have national ambitions was clear when Prashant Bhushan went to Thiruvananthapuram and met Achyutanandan and then to Chennai and met with Uday Kumar who has been protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear plant.
Clearly, the party in power, the Indian National Congress is not in the best of shapes. Rahul Gandhi paraded all his chief ministers barring one just to announce that they will pass the Lokpal Bill and will try and bring down prices of essentials. It was more of self reassurance than a public display of strength. But it was a comical sight to see all the chief ministers trooping in and then filing out without uttering a word. The other big Congress push is a whopping Rs 30,000 cr investment plan in Congress ruled states including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The message is that if the people vote for Congress they will be rewarded and if they don’t they will be the sufferers.
Congress realizes that for them the best bet is to have elections at the last minute. They want to give AAP a chance to perform. They know that the tall promises made by the AAP are difficult if not impossible to fulfil. They can then point out the lacunae. They also want to have time to implement some of the developmental projects that they have envisaged. Congress knows that they are on a sticky wicket. The media has been hijacked by the AAP. They also know that holding the elections at the last minute will give AAP time to consolidate and build in other states. Therein lie their dilemma. Their desperation can be gauged from the fact that Priyanka Gandhi had been invited to a meeting of top party functionaries.
For the BJP, the Narendra Modi factor is their trump card and they are playing it to the hilt. Courts have given the man a clean chit and that has come as a great boost to the party. BJP is still targeting the Congress and they reckon that their fight is with the Grand Old Party, which is true. But Narendra Modi speeches are interspersed with anecdotes of his humble moorings clearly to underscore his claim as a man from a modest family – an aam admi!
BJP is not relying solely on the charisma of Narendra Modi. They have persuaded BS Yeddyurappa to come back to the fold. He is supposed to be fighting from Shimoga. A Cabinet berth will be his for the asking if BJP forms the government. Chandrababu Naidu will be back in the NDA after a long hiatus. Viako too will be a part of the NDA again after Jayalalitha spurned their overtures. Jaya is banking on a Third Front forming a government and with a waning Samajwadi Party her chances become that much brighter. BJP has hitched their wagon to Shiv Sena which has irked Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and its supremo Raj Thackrey no ends. Modi and Raj had good personal equation but political compulsions made them part ways.
Congress too is looking for allies. Lalu Yadav will be their ally in Bihar and his bail means that the man can be politically active again. They may coax Telangana Rashtriya Samiti to join hands with them. TRS may want to join post elections, keeping their options open. Sharad Pawar has been edging closer to the NDA but may stick with Congress. Pawar is known to keep close to the party in power. He is a keen analyst of political situation and it will be interesting to watch where he decides to bat from.
BJP and Narendra Modi are looking for support from wherever they can find. It came as no surprise when they were guests of honour at the Patanjali Yogpeeth function. Baba Ramdev has a substantial following, besides their ideologies are similar. Kiran Bedi endorsing Narendra Modi was an unexpected gift for the BJP. BJP is also trying to rope in Saurav Ganguly to fight from Bengal and take the BJP forward there. If Dada decides to take up the challenge BJP will be in reckoning in Bengal. Virender Sehwag and General VK Singh will fight from Haryana on a BJP ticket if the grapevine has got it right.
It’s a mad house, the run up to the elections of 2014. Posturing, alignments, political deals and deals within deal – there is everything and more. Somewhere along the line slapping of cases against anti-Modi brigade of Teesta Setalvad and her husband and friends is lost in the din of the elections that are due. But then these are small addendums to a battle that will decide the future of the nation that is India.
I had to search Google map to be sure where the non-descript village Khajuri lay in Rajatalab, a small hamlet on the outskirts of Varanasi. The ride to the venue I thought would be uneventful. I was in for a surprise. It was like a celebration. Youngsters on bikes were riding to Rajatalab to listen to Narendra Modi.
There were others on jeeps and SUV and then there were mini buses and buses heading towards Khajuri. It was a spectacle. The buses would stop to pick up people who wanted to be a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party rally where Narendra Modi was the star speaker. The lads would stop in the middle of the road and begin slogans like ‘Har Har Modi – Ghar Ghar Modi’! (Modi in every heart, Modi in every house)! They would clap and dance and then move on. I have never seen anything like this before. They were coming from all parts of Eastern Uttar Pradesh – from as far as Sonebhadra and adjoining places. They had coined the BJP rally as ‘Vijay Shankhnad rally’ (Bugle of Victory Rally) There were BJP flags everywhere.
On reaching the venue I thought the security would be tight. The police personnel were doing their job well. I was frisked before being allowed in. I had thought it would be some college sports stadium where the rally would have been organized. To my surprise it was in the middle of nowhere. I was in a village where some fields of the farmers had been hired (I am told they were paid handsomely) and that was it. There was a stage set like a temple with a photo of Lord Shiva and barricades had been erected all around. And then there were crowds all around. People were streaming in.
I found it impossible to get anywhere near where the chairs were and I stood around in the fields, and found it immensely soothing. Living in a concrete jungle that is our cities, feeling the soil and the freshness of rustic air was such a respite.
And then there were more people streaming in. Some of the BJP leaders were speaking. Among them were Lalji Tandon, OmPrakash Singh, Kusum Rai, Kalyan Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and others. These were fillers to the main event that was the Modi speech. We were told that Modi’s chopper had been delayed.
The surge of the crowds was relentless. The quips from the people around me were also funny at times. Someone remarked that even Akhilesh Yadav and his party cannot command such crowds. I guess he was right. The crowds were unmatched and everyone agreed they had never been to a rally where so many people had gathered. And this was in a non-descript village some 20km from Varanasi! The mood among the crowds was one of disenchantment from the present dispensation both at the Centre and the State. Another thing that I noticed was that the myth that BJP is largely an upper caste party is well, just a myth. I found more so-called ‘backward’ caste local leaders having garnered their supporters than the so-called ‘upper caste’. I also found that local leadership had responded very well to the call for a rally. They had invested in vehicles and supporters to the venue and it was rather well organized. BJP has gained roots in the hinterland of Eastern Uttar Pradesh and it showed.
The other thing that struck me was that people really want change. But not change for change sake but for the one word that everyone is looking for – development. I also realized that people in rural India are much more informed
and aware than we think they are. They could relate to the idea of more jobs and development. People want leadership to perform. They have seen what Modi has done in Gujarat and they want that to be replicated in other parts of the country.
It was when the chopper started hovering that people realized that Modi had arrived. There was a surge of excitement. The BJP chief Rajnath Singh began in the local dialect and that got down well with the crowds. He promised crop insurance if BJP came to power. Rajnath Singh is a good speaker but what impressed me more was the fact that he realized that Modi was the star speaker and BJP’s prime ministerial candidate so he should keep it short. He let Modi take the stage and that was remarkable thoughtfulness.
Modi, like Obama understands the importance of touching the pulse of the people and therefore local issues and nuances find mention. Modi talked about cleaning the Ganges, the importance of developing Eastern UP or Purvanchal, as it is called so that young men don’t have to go to far off places leaving their kith and kin behind, the lack of power, the importance of developing local industries like the saree industry etc. He talked about fighting corruption which Rajnathji had also mentioned. It was a masterful
performance by a consummate orator. The crowds were thrilled. It was the reaction of the crowds that astonished me most. They were as responsive to national issues, like security, as they were about the local issues. My respect for the intelligence of the common Indian grew manifold.
The Modi rally in Rajatalab was an experience. The milling crowds all around me found me at a loss as to where I was and what was going on around me. I was so far away from the dais that I could hardly see the speakers. The photos speak for themselves. The LCD screens were what we could relate to!
It was on my way back that I realized what a humungous gathering the BJP rally was. There were miles upon miles of vehicles parked bumper to bumper! How many people must have been there? Well, it could be anywhere between 500,000 to 700,000. No one really knows. It was an ordeal navigating through the traffic jam. And then there are still some who claim there is no Modi ‘wave’. They are drawing room critics who know little of the ground reality. No wonder Congress got decimated so completely in four states. If the present trends continue, BJP should reach very near the majority mark.
Gautama, Siddhartha, Tathagata, Lokvid, Sugata, Bhagvata or the one we all know as Buddha gave his first sermon at the deer park in Sarnath. There is still a deer park there as a salute to the Enlightened One. The place has a serenity that is hard to describe. I have been visiting Sarnath since my childhood. The place has not changed much. It used to be quiet and peaceful at one time but ‘development’ has made the area around Sarnath cacophonous and crowded. The precincts still have a serenity. Buddham sharanam gachchami. The Lord’s spirit resides here and it shows.
On the way to Sarnath there is a stupa on a small hill. It is a beautiful structure and one needs to climb quite a few steps to get there. As kids we were told that this was ‘Sitaji ki rasoi’ or Sita’s kitchen.
But that was folklore and just another story that you get to hear as a child.
As you enter precincts of Sarnath there is this beautiful temple where sits a mammoth statue of Buddha. A Japanese architect designed this temple and the architecture has pronounced Far Eastern look.
There are wall paintings depicting the life of Buddha. On the side is the holy tree where Buddha gave his first sermon to five of his companions. It is said that after the sermon they also became enlightened and spread Buddha’s words.
Gautama or Siddhartha or Buddha must have been a very persuasive man.
His words found resonance in many hearts and kings and emperors became his followers.
That Siddhartha himself was from a royal family must have helped too. That he renounced worldly life must have been quite a momentous news at that time (this was during the 6th century BC) and therefore his word spread far and wide.
Emperor Ashok became Buddhist after the bloody war of Kalinga (modern day Odisha), it is said.
He then spent his time and energy in spreading the word of Buddha. It appears that Sarnath had a thriving community of Buddhists and there were monasteries and viharas here. The famous Ashoka column with four lions was excavated in Sarnath. Ashoka emblem with four lions which is the government of India seal finds a pride of place in the Sarnath museum.
The columns are still there in the site and have been covered by a cemented canopy.
There were these viharas or monasteries and then there were stupas near or within these viharas where they prayed.
There is this beautiful Dharmarajika stupa that has vertical pillars beautifully adorned with carvings. The ruins of Sarnath take you back into times past and it is indeed amazing how faith inspired people to live as a community. There is a well in one of the monasteries (monastery VII) and I was told that it was still functional after all these centuries.
The Dhamekh stupa is the attraction.
It is some 33m high and some 28 m in width. Buddhists from all over the world come here to pray and meditate. As I walked along the ruins of Sarnath I found a group of Buddhist monks from SE Asia praying and chanting with incense sticks.
It was indeed a moving sight. Praying in a group has an effect of its own. Their faith and regimen was infectious.
Pictures speak for themselves. I used a Nikon P520 for the purpose.
The nearest airport is Babatpur, also known as Varanasi airport. There are direct flights from Delhi.
There are many hotels in Varanasi. Some of them are:
Taj gateway, Varanasi http://www.thegatewayhotels.com/gangesvaranasi/overview.aspx
Hindustan International, Maldahiya, Varanasi http://www.hhihotels.com/hotel-varanasi/
Regular trains from Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkota also ply.
One last observation before I close down. The rampant ‘development’ is an eyesore but more importantly it means that any future excavations are just not on the cards. I refuse to believe what is there is all there is. There is more to be found, but it seems we are just not keen to explore any more, which is sad.
The roads and infrastructure to Sarnath is woeful. Hawkers as big a menace as they have ever been.