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Revolution or Ruin? The Jaw-Dropping Events of ‘The Politician Redux’

Ever wondered what politics looked like in India during the 1970s and 1980s? The Politician Redux by Devesh Verma has all the answers. Join Ram Mohan’s journey as he lands on the UP Public Service Commission, having been denied a cabinet position. Against the backdrop of the JP movement shaking up the Congress regime, Ram Mohan’s story unfolds amidst significant changes in Indian history.​

 

Read this excerpt to experience the political intrigue, societal upheaval, and relentless pursuit of power in this thrilling sequel to The Politician.

The Politician Redux
The Politician Redux || Devesh Verma

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There had been signs of popular unrest and political turmoil across an enormous chunk of India, and the way it came to grow in scope and intensity was staggering. Ram Mohan was thankful to Saansadji, the Chief Minister, for sending him to the Commission. Handpicked by Indira Gandhi, no Congress CM had the resources of his own to handle a crisis of this nature. It had all begun in the state of Gujarat, this flaring up of popular rage at inflation, where, incensed at their increased mess bill, students at an engineering college assaulted a college official, and put the canteen to the torch, following it up with another bout of destruction of college property. The trouble metastasized to other educational institutions Students were baying for the sacking of the state government led by one of the most corrupt Congress leaders, Chimanbhai Patel, who had procured massive funds for the party through questionable means. That inflamed the situation on the price rise front. Then, Jayprakash Narayan, an esteemed socialist figure, decided to lend his support to the agitation in Gujarat. Having been associated with the freedom struggle, he had once been invited by Nehru to join his cabinet. He had declined and quietly settled down in his home state, Bihar, emerging now and again from his retirement to pick up odd causes. Soon to be known as JP, he hailed the Gujarat students’ angst, seeing it as a force that could bring about the redemption of the country from corruption infesting the Indian polity.

 

With the students’ anger winning public endorsement, the situation in Gujarat became one of pandemonium. Violence and vandalism were rampant. The opposition latched on to the agitation, and Indira Gandhi had had to remove the Chief Minister placing the state under President’s rule while the opposition clamoured for the dissolution of the assembly and fresh polls. She was unwilling. Forcing her hand was a fast unto death to which her old foe Desai, the tallest leader of Gujarat, had resorted. Meanwhile, students in the lawless Bihar had put together their own movement with the opposition in tow, the grievances being the same as in Gujarat: corruption, price rise unemployment.

 

With rioting, arson vandalism becoming the order of the day, Bihar was thrown into anarchy. There was also this strike by railway workers when hundreds of thousands of them stopped work, demanding pay parity with other government employees. A little prior to this twenty-day-long, debilitating strike that had to be broken up by the government, JP had agreed to take up the reins of the Movement. Sensing general discontent, he resurrected his old idea of ‘total revolution’ and, with the opposition rooting for him, took the Movement beyond his home state, appealing to people, chiefly the youth, to rise against the misrule of Indira Gandhi. In the meantime, Saansad-ji’s reputation took a knock when the Congress lost a by-election for Allahabad, the parliamentary seat from which he had resigned to become member of the state legislature.

 

It was against this backdrop of growing bitterness of the Congress rule that Ram Mohan went to see Saansad-ji in Lucknow. He wanted to thank him for the Commission that had inaugurated a delightful chapter in his life ‘This was the best I could do in the circumstances and take my word, it’s one of the most coveted non-political positions. As Member Public Service Commission, you’ll have a term of sixyears during which nobody can touch you, whereas no political
office can be immune to instability.’ ‘Yes, I have a large family to provide for. I need stability. But whenever I’m needed in active politics, you’ll find me standing right behind you.’ Saansad-ji laughed. A listless laugh. His heart wasn’t in it.

 

You’d remember that within four months of my taking over as CM, Jayprakash ji came to UP to campaign for his total revolution. I didn’t try to stop him. I declared him our state’s guest, arguing that not only was he a renowned freedom fighter but a crusader for the good of the common man. This, I did, to restrain the rabble-rouser in him. Look at the response he’s getting wherever he goes! But Indira-ji listens to Shukla-ji’s wily Uncle Uma Kant Shukla and the like. These two things the way Congress was licked in Allahabad by-poll and the welcome extended to JP by my government didn’t go down well with her. There’s something else. She hasn’t taken kindly to my style of functioning . . . No Congress CM is supposed to govern in a manner that casts him as a leader under his own steam. Your only objective as minister or chief minister should be to keep the masses glued to the thought of her person,’ Saansad-ji paused to sip his tea. ‘JP is heading a movement out to undermine the Congress regime, and my action was nothing but a calculated move, a gambit. That’s what I tried to explain to her coterie. Some agreed. What I should worry about most, Ram Mohan, is the misgiving she might have about my motive. That’s why somebody advised me to avoid the trap of going after personal popularity.’

 

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Get your copy of The Politician Redux by Devesh Verma wherever books are sold.

Kannur: Inside India's Bloodiest Revenge Politics by Ullekh N.P. – An Excerpt

Kannur, a sleepy coastal district in the scenic south Indian state of Kerala, has metamorphosed into a hotbed of political bloodshed in the past few decades. Even as India heaves into the age of technology and economic growth, the town has been making it to the national news for horrific crimes and brutal murders with sickening regularity. Ullekh N.P.’s latest book, Kannur: Inside India’s Bloodiest Revenge Politics draws a modern-day graph that charts out the reasons, motivations and the local lore behind the turmoil. 
As Sumantra Bose, Professor of international and comparative politics, London School of Economics and Political Science, mentions in his foreword for the book, “Ullekh N.P. is uniquely placed to write this chronicle of Kannur, both as a native of the place and as the son of the late Marxist leader Pattiam Gopalan. Being an ‘insider’— and a politically connected insider…Ullekh tells the story of unending horror with deadpan factuality, tinged with compassion in his latest book, Kannur: Inside India’s Bloodiest Revenge Politics.
Let’s read an excerpt from the book-
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The news that hits headlines from Kannur these days is mostly about its law-and-order situation. TV scrolls announce items such as these with great frequency: ‘One killed in Muslim League–CPI(M) clashes’; ‘Two hurt in RSS–CPI(M) fracas’; ‘CPI(M) man killed, RSS men nabbed’; ‘RSS youth hacked, 7 CPI(M) men held’; ‘PFI [Popular Front of India] activists attacked’; ‘District Collector calls all-party peace meeting’, and so on.
The crime bureau statistics, as of November 2016, show that forty-five CPI(M) activists, forty-four BJP–RSS workers, fifteen Congressmen and four Muslim League followers have been killed since 1991 in Kannur, besides a few other murders of the cadres of parties such as the PFI. Between November 2000 and 2016, the number of party workers killed in Kannur was thirty-one from the RSS and BJP, and thirty from the CPI(M), according to data obtained from the police by the independent news website 101reporters.com through a right-to-information request. While the RSS leaders claim that the CPI(M) are now doing to them what the Congress had done to the communists in the past, the CPI(M) leaders contest it, reeling off stats, and claiming that they have been forced to resist because the Hindu nationalists are hoping to effect a religious polarization through the politics of violence in order to reap electoral gains that have eluded them for long.
The latest numbers do not endorse the RSS’s claims of being a victim in this Left stronghold. Regardless, the Sangh has actively pursued a campaign, spiffily titled Redtrocity(short for Red Atrocity, referring to the reported high-handedness by the Marxists), as a counterweight to the series of accusations hurled against it for allegedly sowing religious hatred, perpetuating violence against non-conformists, triggering riots and deliberately aiding a mission to heighten communal hostilities.
Police records show that the RSS and the BJP have been at loggerheads not with the CPI(M)alone, but also with other parties, including the PFI and the Congress. Yet, equally laughable is the contention by the CPI(M) that it is portrayed as a villain without reason because it has only been engaging in acts of resistance and seldom in violent aggression.
Recent data show that from 1972 to December 2017, of  the 200 who died in political violence in Kannur district—which accounted for the highest number of political crimes
in the state during the period, far ahead of other districts—seventy-eight were from the CPI(M), sixty-eight from the RSS–BJP, thirty-six from the Congress, eight from the Indian
Union Muslim League (IUML), two each from the CPI and the National Development Front (now called the PFI), while the rest were from other parties. Notably, of the total 193 political murder cases that took place in Kannur during the period, 112 of the accused were from the Sangh Parivar and 110 from the CPI(M).
The RSS–BJP argue that the escalation of hostilities started with the killing of an RSS worker on 28 April 1969, but the Marxists aver that the death was a denouement to a series of clashes stemming from the RSS’s support to a beedi baron who refused his workers a justified hike in salary and shut his business before floating two new companies. Media reports often show that more communist workers have died in Kannur than those belonging to any other party. The greatest irony in the RSS–CPI(M) fights is that the pro-Hindu Sangh Parivar has had no qualms about targeting CPI(M)-dependent Hindus, while the Marxists, the much-touted saviours of the proletariat, vehemently, so the story goes, go after the working classes who happen to be aligned with the Hindu nationalists.
Along Payyambalam beach, not far from the grave of K.G. Marar, one of the RSS’s topmost leaders in the state, is a grave of a twenty-one-year old man. Too young to die, that’s what visitors to the place would say. Sachin Gopalan died from sword injuries in July 2012. Allegedly, he was hacked by members of the radical Islamist Campus Front, a feeder organization of the PFI against which the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has now sought a ban for its anti-India activities. Gopal died at a hospital in Mangalore where he had arrived after shifting from one hospital to another in Kannur for want of better facilities. A student of a technical institute in the district, he was attacked when he had gone to a school for political work.
In the darkness of a late windswept evening, standing alone in the forbidding graveyard at Payyambalam, one is filled with evocative visions from the region’s chequered past and a violent present caught in the vortex of vendetta politics.
When I studied in a boarding school in Thiruvananthapuram, my classmates looked down on my hometown as Kerala’s Naples, a thuggish backwater; but then the district had
contributed two chief ministers (and one more later) as well as several luminaries to the state’s cultural, social, professional and political spheres.
I also came to be known as someone from the ‘Bihar of Kerala’. Later, I invented a rather self-deprecating phrase of my own: ‘the Sicily of Kerala’, factoring in the local omertà-
like code the Italian region was once known for. Poking fun at oneself does make sense, as it’s an effort to tide over the mental fatigue that sets in on being judged as a violent people, who are puritanical and foolish. Deep within, however, it hurts like a migraine.
The waves keep breaking hard on the shore like smooth knives on raw flesh.
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The Untold Vajpayee: An Excerpt

Something Is Afoot

15 May 1996. A man in his seventies alighted from an Ambassador car, paused to steel himself against a spasm of vertigo, wiped his broad forehead in the sweltering heat of summertime Delhi with a handkerchief, and began walking towards the office of the President of India.
Raisina Hill, which houses the stately, imposing offices of the federal government, simmered in the sun. For want of shade, even the pigeons had receded into roof voids. The old man’s baggy dhoti didn’t conceal his slightly faltering gait, and though he was panting mildly, his face had the relaxed composure of a man just about to break into laughter, his eyes half closed. Affecting restraint, the clean-shaven man with oiled grey hair muttered to his companion in a soft, conspiratorial tone that was quite uncharacteristic of his oratorical self: ‘Bhai, maamla gadbad hai (something is afoot).’
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was fond of such Orwellian doublespeak, which very often left people perplexed and scurrying to decipher the meaning. Since he knew through experience that no such effort made any good sense, his son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya— Vajpayee’s companion on this hot May afternoon—didn’t bother to inquire further. He preferred to wait and see.
Vajpayee and his humble entourage had left his Raisina Road home just after lunch to meet President Shankar Dayal Sharma, who had invited him to discuss the formalities of forming the next government. The just-concluded national elections had thrown up a fractured verdict with no party in a position to create a government on its own or with its prepoll allies. The Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Vajpayee, had emerged as the single biggest constituent in the 543-member Lok Sabha, or Lower House of the Indian Parliament, winning 161 seats. In the run-up to the polls, the BJP had said that it wouldn’t stake any claim to form the government unless it had 220–225 seats in the Lok Sabha. But now, it had a new agenda: to keep the Third Front, a loose term for a grouping of non-BJP, nonCongress parties, out.
The Congress party, the incumbent that had ruled India for several decades, had won only 140 seats and the rest of the seats were divided among a constellation of political outfits, several of which saw the BJP as a pariah. This was why Vajpayee had no inkling of the responsibility that would befall him when he drove to the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan, home to the viceroys in the days of the British Raj. The idea was to offer a perfunctory gesture of claiming to form the next government. The BJP was not exactly confident of getting the numbers to ensure a simple majority in the Lok Sabha, 272 seats, with the help of non-Congress, non-Left parties. Still, there was a flicker of hope that in politics, there was always a way to turn adversities into advantages. The BJP, for its part, was ready to reelect Congressman Shivraj Patil as the Speaker if the Congress agreed to abstain from a trust vote of Vajpayee’s government. It also didn’t expect various allies to come together—as they would soon, to form what later came to be known as the United Front (UF) government.
Vajpayee’s car was driven by Majeed, who has been the BJP heavyweight’s chauffeur for a while. Also in the car was a peon of Vajpayee’s. Ranjan Bhattacharya, still an unfamiliar name in Delhi’s power circles, had begun showing signs that he would be the seventy-two-year-old politician’s eyes and ears in the years to come. Vajpayee trusted him, but still called the thirteen-year-long husband of his adopted daughter, Namita (also known as ‘Gunnu’),  ‘Bengali babu’ or ‘Mukherjee bhai’. The BJP veteran was terrible with remembering people’s names, unless they were his buddies from his younger days. He even called his daughter ‘Namrita’ at times and had to be reminded her name was ‘Namita’. But neither Gunnu nor Ranjan minded.
Vajpayee returned less than half an hour later after his meeting with Sharma with a file in his hand. He stayed silent for several minutes. Then he told Bhattacharya that he was carrying a letter from the President requesting him to take the oath of office as the next prime minister of India. Sharma, who was fond of Vajpayee, had even specified the time of the swearing-in, after consulting priests for the auspicious moment. Vajpayee had sensed that his visit was more than just a ceremonial one from the reception he got as soon as he arrived at the presidential palace. He guessed that ‘something was afoot’ and the reverence on display at the gates was confirmation that the President was on his side.
From the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Vajpayee drove back to announce the presidential nod to his party and the public. What followed was disbelief among rival politicians who were busy cobbling a post-poll alliance to secure a simple majority in the House. The walls along the corridors of power clamoured with whispers of shock and gossip.
The next day, Vajpayee became the tenth prime minister of India, a watershed moment for his party, which had the ignominy of winning a mere two seats in the Lok Sabha twelve years earlier. Back then, Congress Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had poked fun at the BJP members in the Lok Sabha using the famous family planning slogan of the time: ‘Hum Do, Humare Do (We Two, Our Two).’ Pundits would later attribute the BJP’s 1996 victory partly to the soaring popularity of its prime ministerial candidate, Vajpayee.
Hoping to attract support from other parties, Vajpayee made a speech to the nation, outlining the BJP’s priorities. He argued that inviting the party that had the maximum number of seats to create the next government was the most constitutionally correct decision. He also stressed that the post-election camaraderie between several parties in the Opposition had a single-point agenda: to stop the BJP at any cost.
His speech was powerfully evocative and was meant to establish his credentials as a level-headed leader of the country, someone who was a breakaway from the usual mould of Hindu nationalist BJP leaders, someone who was more secular in his thinking:
India is an ancient civilisation. It has always had different sects and religious practices. We do not limit ourselves to one God or one Prophet or a single book. We are a multi-religious country, and we believe in the equality of all religious faiths. It is because of this that we have never had any tension, leave alone a violent struggle, on the correct path to achieve a realisation of God. ‘Sarva panth samabhav’, or equal respect to all faiths, is part of our lives. India never was, and never will be, a theocratic state . . . what happened in Ayodhya on 6th December 1992 was not the result of any pre-planned conspiracy. If problems related with religion are not resolved for long periods of time, then the result is what happened at Ayodhya . . . It is hardly necessary to recall that immediately after the advent of Islam in West Asia, the first mosque was built in Kerala, then ruled by a Hindu Raja. In like manner, soon after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the first Church was established in India. These manifestations of different faiths are living symbols of our secular traditions. We will maintain these traditions.
The reactions to his speech in the media were largely sympathetic. An editorial in the Indian Express soon after suggested that ‘Vajpayee appears to have successfully diluted BJP’s untouchability among the people, even if he has not been able to translate that mood for the political classes’. It also added, ‘Even if he loses the battle, he may end up winning the war.’
Vajpayee’s speeches in the last week of May, delivered on the floor of the Lok Sabha during the trust vote on his government, were even more riveting. In his opening note, he recalled how he used to sit in the opposition benches when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was prime minister (he entered Parliament for the first time in the second Lok Sabha in 1957) and how his party (earlier called the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, or BJS) had grown in strength and popularity to become the biggest constituent in the House while the Congress had diminished in electoral prowess over the years. Extolling the transformation under way in the political dynamics of the country, he said he was glad that winds of change were sweeping across the country.

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Thoroughly researched, supported by hard facts and accompanied by inside stories and anecdotes, insightful interviews and archival photographs, The Untold Vajpayee will open a window to the life and times of a poet-politician.

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