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Forgiveness is in the air. Or so it seems.

First it was the multi-millionaire Ambani brothers who kind of declared an end to their cold war without doing the kissing act. Literally, thankfully! The warring brothers, estranged for eight years after their father’s death, have had a bitter public partnership, marked by animosities and legal disputes. Even as the country’s apex court ruled that the public-private partnership between the brothers was not greater than the country’s good (as the brothers-in-arms fought over the distribution of gas in the KG basin), family watchers and Dalal St watchers alike, were looking with renewed hope toward an amicable rapprochement. So, while the Vimal Family bonded in the wilderness of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, stakeholders finally heaved a sigh of relief. And thanked the matriarch for her role as the peacekeeper.

Last week, the peacemaking, rather forget all-animosity-and-let’s-be-friends angle shifted to 11, Ashoka Road in the national Capital as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s headquarters became a scene of high drama and political action. Jaswant Singh was returning to the party fold after a pregnant pause of nine months. Expelled in September last year for his controversial book on Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Darjeeling MP washed away his tears and angst of the proverbial nine months of separation, sharing dais with party chief Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj.

Public memory, surely, is short, and in India a politician’s memory is even shorter. Call it selective amnesia if you please! The dictum that ‘there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics’ is not applicable to Amar Singh alone – it’s a different story that wearing his heart on his political sleeve has earned him the patent for that in recent times! And he has somehow lived up to his reputation, flitting between allies and partners.

Seeing Jaswant Singh in attendance with the party’s “young leadership” comprising Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari was like a perfect “all is forgiven” scene. The moment of political blunder was gone, distance and time having healed all open wounds even as the scars remained etched. The heavy, marigold garlands and the presence of L K Advani by his side, a picture-perfect frame – a frame that didn’t exactly exude any promise of long-lastin ties. But, what the heck, it’s politics, after all! And politics is no stranger to the fact that it does make for strange bedfellows! And time only acts as a healer, and our political mavericks and seasoned tribe alike, would vouch for.

If the week that was had the BJP climaxing over the return of its prodigal officer, the weekend had its ally and not-always-partner-in-crime the Shiv Sena missing the belligerent nephew of the Tiger. An editorial in the Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamna’ on Sunday advises the bickering Thackeray cousins Uddhav and Raj to take a cue from the Ambani rapprochement and bury the hatchet. Mature, eh? Hardly, considering that Raj Thackeray’s breakaway outfit of MNS has not really enhanced the cause of the Marathi manoos. Instead, it has split the Sena vote bank and how, giving a leg up to the Congress and the NCP as the Assembly polls of October 2009 showed. Convenience and compulsion often combined together are politically combustible! If the colonial cousins were to bury the past, move on and come together, what happens to Mrs Smita Thackeray? And her political ambitions, if they still persist? Does she, too, go back to Tiger’s den or continue striking a sense of camaraderie with Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi? Maybe, she could just continue making movies like ‘Haseena Maan Jayegi’, in ways more than one!

Between Jaswant Singh’s homecoming and the Sena wanting Mumbai’s colonial cousins to kiss and make up, there’s emerged another potential peacemaking session. Uma Bharti, the maverick, firebrand leader who was expelled and left the fold to float her own unit, is also waiting, in the wings, to come back. The Madhya Pradesh leader who has never refrained from calling a spade a spade is now looking for a new lease of political life, back in her home turf where she feels the most comfortable. Whether she will encounter the old familiarity and warmth is anybody’s guess!

This summer, forgiveness has been the leitmotif of political and non-political life. Compassion, like charity, does begin at home. Or so it seems. Let’s see how long it lasts.

He is now a shadow of his former self. Tough to imagine that the booming voice that brought spinning in the machines across Mumbai to a standstill, can now hardly his own echo. Silence, not socialism, now surrounds India’s foremost socialist leader George Fernandes. An illustrious-but-embittered political career — the ghosts of Tehelka and Coffingate — is what this former Defence Minister has now pushed to the back of his mind. Memory is a pause.

As the firebrand leader turned 80 on Thursday, one couldn’t help go back in time recalling the famous image of Fernandes flanked by the Army officials at Siachen.

George of The Jungle

A different life!

Circa 2010.

The same trade unionist, who at one point was the most shrill anti-imperialist voices, is now caught in a warp as the two women of his life — his political confidante Jaya Jaitly and his estranged wife Leila Kabir — court external legal intervention to own bits of his (living) memory.

Even as the two women who have been his closest partners — in politics and otherwise — fight between themselves, it’s nothingness for the leader himself.

Life!

As a child growing up in the Calcutta of 90’s, I so so (as they say it in 2010!) liked Mamata Banerjee. And I had my reasons.

My child-like, pre-liberalised faculties followed simple reasoning before arriving at the conclusion: She was, after all, a source of unlimited joy for kids like me as her hectic political work would ensure that we would be blessed with at least 2, if not more, unaccounted holidays in the school monthly almanac. Many intimidating physics/chemistry class tests would get caught in a time warp, thanks to her sudden mood swings which included calling at-the-drop-of-a-hat bandhs, disrupting road and rail traffic, making sure her cronies tried to bring life to a standstill. Unfinished homework would get a breather of a day (at least!) before they saw completion. Beat that! In pre-Internet days, a Friday bandh call was all that was required to make a quick dash to Digha or Mukundapur. And I am sure that even state government employees, with their allegiance to the powers-that-be, secretly blessed her for her ‘good’ deed.

More than a decade has gone by.

A lot of water has passed under the (political) bridge. Didi split from the Undivided Congress Family and went solo even as she invoked the spirit of Indira, Rajiv and Sonia. Weaning away from the tutelage of the Congress in 1997, Didi set up her own shop with a motive of ‘providing an alternative’ to the wrongdoings of the Left and the general incapacity of the Congress in Bengal. But there has never been any ambiguity about the ends that Ms Banerjee wants or has in mind: Of sitting pretty on the throne of all that jazz they call Bengal. And it is no secret that she has had her priorities in place for a fairly long time, one must say. Too long, is what others (read: political pundits) feel.

Public memory is short. And Ms Banerjee knows that very well. She also knows that Gen-Y living in the Buddha’s Calcutta won’t be able to recall the infamous Hazra attack or the numerous other episodes that she’s gone through along with her party colleagues — some from the Congress and others from her present outfit, Trinamool Congress. They would require prodding, their grey cells would need to be familiarised with Bengal’s recent political history before they can see what she has tried to achieve for their state. And has failed to do.

Nothing much has changed for the temperamental Didi – the way she functions/performs or rather doesn’t. An actor playing to the gallery, Ms Banerjee’s mood swings have always kind of preceded her. She flirted with the Vajpayee-led NDA government in 1999, became the Railway Minster, and then walked out when the infamous Tehelka expose of corruption started tailing the government. Even if she was angsty over being out of power, hence public recall, she camouflaged it. When the NDA didn’t return to power in 2004, she didn’t bother to kiss and make up with the grand old man of Indian politics. Instead, she went full throttle and the results were for all to see- from a single Lok Sabha win in 2004, Ms Banerjee had gone up to 19 in the 2009 polls. And the prodigal-but-rebellious daughter decided to join the Congress fold, albeit on her own terms. And what better portfolio than the Railways to welcome the belligerent child back home!

What both 10, Janpath (Sonia Gandhi) and 7, RCR (Manmohan Singh) failed to envisage was Ms Banerjee’s divorce from the politics of greater good. If tyranny of distance exists anywhere, it is right here – in Ms Banerjee’s constituency, with the Union minister and her entourage spending all their available time in West Bengal in the run-up to the Assembly polls next year. Attending cabinet meetings ain’t quite her cup of tea – for she is missing in action in the Capital and can be spotted miles away in Calcutta and its suburbs, mobilising public support for the 2011 elections – an election where Ms Banerjee will score well simply because the people of Bengal will be strapped for choice.

Indian Railways is the lifeline of the Indian janta – it may not be aspirational but it sure is utilitarian, and highly so. It is a ministry that requires undivided attention and ministerial intervention from time-to-time. It also needs a pan-India vision (a trait which has been historically missing in most Railway ministers, each guarding their own territory) and can definitely not function without that.

This in Jhargram, yet again, has brought to fore that there is problem of plenty that is plaguing Didi. She has too much on her plate at the moment as the civic polls are slated to happen on Sunday. For Ms Banerjee, all roads in Bengal now have only one destination.

And she’s leaving no stone unturned as the state, (literally) takes over the nation.

Good for her, I say. But then do make way for someone who could cart the wheels of the Railways without such indifference short-term vision and perhaps, with a little more passion.

Is that a lot to ask for?

(P.S.: For me, the city is still Calcutta. Hence, the title and mention in the post :-)Apologies if I have offended neo-converts…)

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. A day when almost all communication across print, visual and social media screamed that Woman Power needed to be feted. That the female ego needed to be massaged. And that the second sex needed to feel good about themselves – at least this is what most retail brands also felt. Hence they all rushed in to offer huge discounts, happy buys and other feel-good thing-a-me.

Yesterday was also supposed to be a historic Monday in the making with the Women’s Reservation Bill being passed in Parliament. But what ensued was high drama, histrionics and (display of) horrible behaviour in the misnomer of House of Elders. Action in the Rajya Sabha was anything but what is deemed fit of elderly citizens. And in this case, elderly nominated citizens.

But it’s yesterday no more.

The day after, retail brands have gone back to doing their usual stuff — targeting Rahul, Deepak & Hari. And not women per se. The plethora of status updates across social media show no signs of nursing a hangover. “More woman power”, “HWD” and their ilk have remained Monday-only icons, I guess.

The day after, there was also unfinished business in Parliament. Deliberations were supposed to be carried forward from a Manic Monday. Decorum was supposed to be reinstated after yesterday’s shameful show by our Elders in the House as they harassed the Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari who, incidentally, also happens to be the country’s Vice-President. After numerous adjournments, the House finally decided to put itself in order. Literally.

As I write, the voices of (in)sanity in Parliament, cutting across party ranks – Arun Jaitley, Brinda Karat and Jayanti Natarajan – have, for once, agreed to agree. Almost disconcertingly, the trio, individually, have just finished espousing the cause of Nari-cracy, about why this democracy now needs a Mis(s) Mandalisation of politics.

The darkest hour is before the dawn, they say. For modern India, the darkest hour is here, with no promise of sunshine anywhere on the horizon. An hour of prolonged regressive gender politics that will, eventually, not do any thing for the cause of woman empowerment or emancipation. Remember Mandal.

Reservation of all sorts is dangerous, especially in a society like ours where it mostly ends up becoming an instrument of electoral politics. Even as the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has taken the cause of this Bill much like a personal (ego-tinted) agenda of sorts, it’s amusing to see sudden unity among our politicos, some agreeing to disagree (Mulayam, Lalu) while others doing the opposite.

Inclusive politics, fair gender representation, victory for womenfolk – these are some of the phrases that have been in circulation ad nauseum over the past few days. And I don’t agree with either. Call me a cynic who is missing the bigger picture. But I fail to fathom how reserving 33 per cent seats for women can ensure good, non-corrupt leadership that will deliver on promises made? Women, the world over, have proved to be astute politicians and kudos to them for that. But more often than not, women in power have also misused their positions to seek favours. And history is witness to that.

More importantly, what happens to merit, excellence, hard work? What is the guarantee that a (reserved) woman representative would be more deserving meritorious than her male counterpart? What is the assurance that a candidate from a political dynasty won’t get preference over her non-politically networked woman competitor? Doesn’t that, in itself, qualify for double reservation?

For all our shouting from the rooftops that education has been an equaliser and has brought Bharat and India closer, the passage of this Bill has been an education in itself. It has shown yet again that our elected representatives don’t know how to conduct themselves in the public sphere.

Caught in a time warp, this Bill takes us back by a couple of years. It questions strides taken by women in various spheres. It almost belittles the achievements that so many women have managed and continue to do so in their day-to-day and not-so-ordinary lives.

And like all things Indian, this Bill has now assumed more than a political tinge. And sadly, that will be the colour in time to come.

By now, it’s no secret that Amar Singh makes for some real good entertainment. Whatever he does, he does in style. Be it a weekday or a weekend, Mr Singh sure knows how to keep the media busy. And in a tizzy.

With his pearls of wisdom, political and otherwise, here’s a man who says things, straight from the heart. And more often than not, that heart of his seems to have been his cause of hurt.

The Happy Family

How else do you explain the angst-ridden behaviour Mr Singh has displayed over the past few weeks? His tiff with Ram Gopal Yadav, brother of Mulayam Singh Yadav, his resignation from the Samajwadi Party posts and his subsequent statement that “physically invalid people like me are ready to be dumped” with a not-so-subtle reference to his mentor.

Dumped, did you say? But dumped, I thought, only happens in literary and real-life ‘boy-does-not-get-girl’ romances. And dumped happens in movies. And dumped happens to people like you and me in real life when the man says he’s got “issues” or the woman says she’s “not sure”.

But, ji, “dumped” doesn’t happen to folks like Amar Singh.

“Dumped” doesn’t happen to people who have the who’s who of Bollywood at their beck and call and themselves are on their speed dials. “Dumped” doesn’t happen to folks who are seen hobnobbing with the powers-that-be and the powers-that-will-be in the cold corridors of New Delhi.

But then, separation has never been easy – the world over. For friends. For lovers. For spouses. And for political mentors and their protégés.

For Monsieur Singh, the breaking away from Mulayam has not been easy. And it is showing. From a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, he has become a man who has worn his hurt on his sleeve in this winter of discontent. Like a cross between a lover spurned and a petulant child, he is now pointing fingers at his mentor’s coterie, conveniently seeking refuge in Short-Term-Memory-Loss and obliterating the fact that many a finger was raised at him during his kinship with Mulayam in happier times. Shifting sands, eh?

Last weekend, as a dejected Amar Singh poured his heart out, as only he can, one could sense a change. The histrionics were understated. Gone was the ferocious cry. Instead, it was replaced by plea and longing, much like a lost sheep wanting to be taken into the fold – any bosom will do for now. The angst was palpable, the hurt and betrayal peeping from the corners. And, above it all, the accompanying message remained: time to know my friends, seek new partners and make new resolutions (read: revive my political career).

For his friends Jaya (Bachchan) & Jaya (Prada), the sight of an almost-vanquished Singh is not happening. Which explains why the latter has lashed out at his detractors and asked them to back off. She also urged Mulayam to stop personal attacks on Singh, whom she sees as friend. And what is (political) friendship if you can’t quit together! Sanjay Dutt is a good friend, surely.

Crisis, it is often said, is a great unifier. Which is what explains his peace overture toward his once-upon-a-time sworn enemy, Mayawati. On hindsight, he may now attribute the enmity to being more a shared one (courtesy Mulayam) than an actual one. Since the separation, he has also been particularly kind to the lady at 10 Janpath. But then, there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics after all!

For some, moving on is not easy. The baggage of history, coupled with expectations, can be a killer combo. Ze Man knows zat — which is why he’s probably wondering if a known devil is better than an unknown one! Till the time he actually decides to pick the chosen one, no one quite knows what’s going on in his head. Or rather, in this case, his heart.

‘Cause, if you’re Amar Singh, then dil to definitely bachcha hai ji…

That’s what his sonny boy Ishaan has to say…”He is an idealist, but also likely the most well-read man in the Indian parliament—his lack of political experience is handily made up by all his worldly knowledge and years mingling with—and charming—world leaders. He can be pragmatic when he must, and will certainly get things done… “

Wonder what 10, Janpath and our technocrat PM have to say to that? “Fear not, the child doth not know what he speaks…”!