Political battle by military man

First Print 25 Nov 18



The days’s programme for Jaswant Singh, the BJP candidate from Chhittorgarh, Rajasthan, began with a numeric ‘0755 hours’.

At the appointed hour Singh, dressed in trademark safari suit, came out of his room at Chittor’s government circuit house to start the days’s election campaign.

In the veranda only five of us were there. Me, a photographer, a driver and two party workers.

“Where are others”, asked Singh.

“They are on their way,” mumbled the embarrassed workers.

“But we were supposed to start at 7.55. Let us go,” said the candidate.

Jaswant Singh, who would later become India’s Defence, Foreign and Finance Minister, had left Army a quarter century ago. But the Army never left him.  He used to fight his political battles with military precision. Continue reading “Political battle by military man”

Each farmer gets Rs 50K, yet suffers

DB Post 24 November 2018


Baihar Baiga is a differently-abled man of uncertain years. The tribal from Shahdol district is lame, to use the politically incorrect term.

In the courtyard of his mud-thatched house in the Baiga quarters of the Singhpur village, he is surveying with resignation the crop that his two school-going grandsons have just brought in from the fields.

The paddy plants are shrivelled, with few grains to be seen. It can be, at best, used as a fodder. The crop has failed.

A member of one of the most impoverished primitive aboriginal tribes in India, Baihar Baiga owns one acre of land, a gift from the State.

But he is not a member of any agricultural credit cooperative society. Neither does he have an account in the cooperative bank. He could not, and did not, buy the crop insurance policy.

So, he cannot get any compensation. Farming, for him, is a gamble that did not pay this year.

Continue reading “Each farmer gets Rs 50K, yet suffers”

Travelling with a CM and his cash in election time

First Print 18 November 2018


Pandit Shyama Charan Shukla was tall. And not only physically. He was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh thrice. He cared for the state and was passionate about irrigation schemes, which he knew better than any engineer. Apart from Shivraj Singh Chouhan, he was the only chief minister of MP who would talk constantly about its development.

His father was MP’s first chief minister, Ravi Shankar Shukla, and younger brother VC Shukla was a star of Indira Gandhi’s cabinet. He was also one of the most transparent politicians I have met. We got on well, may be due to some of my reporting that did not put Arjun Singh, another politician from MP and his bête noir, in favourable light.

Ahead of the 1990 assembly election I landed in Raipur for covering the poll campaign for the magazine I worked for then, India Today. I talked to Shukla and he graciously agreed to take me with him in the chopper that the Congress party had hired for him as one of its key campaigners.

Laden with flasks of tea and boxes of savoury, we took off early one morning on the campaign trail of Chhattisgarh region, then part of united MP. An aristocrat, Shukla always packed his favourite Darjeeling tea, known for its unique floral aroma and distinctive bitter taste that he loved to sip throughout the day accompanied by tasteless biscuits, pungent cheese and baked chivda. That was his meal. Continue reading “Travelling with a CM and his cash in election time”

एक मुख्यमंत्री और उनकी नकदी के साथ चुनावी यात्रा

Prajatantra 18 November 2018

When SC Shukla flew with bundles of currency in a chopper


पंडित श्यामा चरण शुक्ल का कद बड़ा था। केवल शारीरिक रूप से ही नहीं। वह तीन बार मध्य प्रदेश के मुख्यमंत्री रह चुके थे। वे अपने राज्य के बारे में बहुत सोचते थे. खासकर सिंचाई योजनाओं को लेकर वे बहुत कोशिश करते थे. इस क्षेत्र में उनकी जानकारी किसी इंजीनियर से भी ज्यादा थी. शिवराज सिंह चौहान के अलावा वह इस प्रदेश के शायद ऐसे एकमात्र मुख्यमंत्री थे जो सोते-जागते हमेशा विकास की ही बात करते थे.

राज्य के पहले मुख्यमंत्री रविशंकर शुक्ल उनके पिता थे. छोटे भाई वीसी शुक्ला इंदिरा गांधी की किचन कैबिनेट का हिस्सा हुआ करते थे। मैं आजतक जितने नेताओं से मिला हूँ, उनमें सबसे पारदर्शी लोगों में वे एक थे. हमारी अच्छी घुटती थी. हो सकता है यह मेरी कुछ रिपोर्टों की वजह से हो, जो उनके राजनीतिक रकीब अर्जुन सिंह के ज्यादा अनुकूल नहीं थीं. Continue reading “एक मुख्यमंत्री और उनकी नकदी के साथ चुनावी यात्रा”

How caste engages voters in Vindhya

DB Post 17 Nov 18


The scion of Rewa princely family, Pushpraj Singh, is sitting in a room of his ancestral fort, flanked by century old photographs of Rajas and Maharajas. He belongs to the 36th generation of the Baghel clan of rulers whose erstwhile empire, one of the biggest princely states in Madhya Pradesh, was spread over 34,000 sq km.

He is also a Congress leader, having won Rewa assembly seat thrice for the party and occupying a ministerial post in Digvijay Singh government. He is trying to convince me why the Congress enjoys an upper hand in the Vindhya region: “All the diseases of the Congress have been transmitted to the BJP.”

He is not contesting the election this time. His son is, but from the opposite camp. Divyraj Singh, who belongs to the 37th generation of Baghel rulers, is a sitting BJP MLA from neighbouring Sirmaur and his party has decided to field him again this time.

Rewa is one of those former princely families that decided to charter a political course for themselves in Independent India. Pushpraj’s father, the late Maharaja Martand Singh was elected to the Lok Sabha thrice from Rewa constituency. His mother also tried her luck in politics. Reports say the going is getting tough for his son this time. Continue reading “How caste engages voters in Vindhya”

A politician goes on a princely padyatra

First Print 11 Nov 18


“Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.”

–         George Orwell, 1984

The turbaned attendant, dressed in the palace uniform, walked in barely after we had settled in our room in the royal family’s guest house. He brought in a silver tray that carried a bottle of scotch whiskey, fine crystal glasses, ice bucket, a siphon for pumping soda and a little something to munch.

As he placed three glasses on the table, we looked at him enquiringly. Only two of us were in that room — GV Krishnan of the Times of India and myself, who used to work for Indian Express then. “Maharaj Sahib aa rahe hain,” he said gravely, bowed, and left the room.

We were guests of Madhavrao Scindia, the scion of the erstwhile princely state of Gwalior and the Congress MP from Guna. He had invited us to Shivpuri for coverage of the padyatra that he planned to undertake of his constituency. He had also, graciously, put us up at the guest house where he was staying. Continue reading “A politician goes on a princely padyatra”

एक राजनेता की राजशाही पदयात्रा

Prajatantra 11 Nov 18


एक लम्बी यात्रा के बाद शिवपुरी के शाही गेस्ट हाउस के अपने कमरे में हम अभी तरो-ताज़ा हो ही रहे थे किपगड़ी धारी एक अटेंडेंट बड़ी अदब के साथ कमरे में आया. उसके हाथ में चांदी की एक ट्रे थी. उसमें स्कॉच व्हिस्की की एक बोतल, आइस बकेट, सोडा निकालने का एक ख़ूबसूरत साइफ़न और कुछ तश्तरियों में खाने की सामग्री थी।

जब उसने हमारे सामने की टेबल पर क्रिस्टल के तीन नक़्क़ाशीदार ग्लास रखे, तो हम चौंक गए। कमरे में हम दो ही लोग थे। मैं था और टाइम्स ऑफ़ इंडिया के जीवी कृष्णन थे। मैं उन दिनों इंडियन एक्सप्रेस में काम करता था.

अटेंडेंट हमारी आँखों में तैर रही जिज्ञासा समझ गया. उसने मेज पर सामग्री सजाते हुए ऐलान किया, “महाराज साहब आ रहे हैं.” अपना काम करके उसने झुक कर अभिवादन किया किया और कमरे से चला गया. Continue reading “एक राजनेता की राजशाही पदयात्रा”

Why is MP BJP acting over-confident?

DB Post 10 Nov 18


Sartaj Singh, recently of the BJP, is a five time member of Lok Sabha and a two time MLA. He once defeated Arjun Singh, one of the tallest Congress leaders of his time. The 78-year-old Sikh leader was a minister in union government and then a member of the Shivraj cabinet until three years ago when he was dropped on age ground.

Sartaj Singh is popular nurses his constituency well. One of the apocryphal stories about him is that on entering Itarsi, his home town, he sends his vehicle home with the driver and walks down the streets.

It normally takes him 4 to 5 hours to reach home, situated just a km away. He would stop to chat to passer-bys, have a cup of tea at a stall, visit a friend’s home, enter the odd shop to enquire about business, exchange pleasantries with people and sign on petitions of any citizen who cares to buttonhole him on the road.

He has never lost an election. Yet the BJP refused him ticket, making him weep publicly like a child, prompting him to cross over to the Congress. The Hoshangabad seat, from where the Congress has fielded him, became doubtful for the BJP and so is now his old constituency of Seoni Malwa.

If winnability is the criteria for ticket, then the BJP seems to have failed the test. Take for example Indore, where no one doubts the influence of BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya. The Indore strongman is a known opponent of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Three years ago he was made to quit the state cabinet and sent off packing to New Delhi. In 2013 assembly election too he was deprived of a ticket from Indore because he had insisted on the candidature of his confidant Ramesh Mendola. Vijayvargiya was asked to contest from neighbouring Mhow, a totally unchartered territory for him. To his credit, he managed to win against all odds.

This time, he has been refused a ticket because he insisted on a ticket for his son, Akash. His opponents saw to it that he sacrifices his own ticket to get one for his son. The BJP has fielded a reluctant Usha Thakur from Mhow, making the outcome doubtful. Thakur’s constituency was handed over to Akash Vijayvargiya.

Ramesh Mendola, a lieutenant of Kailash Vijayvargiya, offered to vacate his seat for Akash. But the BJP leadership asked him to stay put, in an apparent move to sow seeds of discord between the guru and the disciple. Someone in BJP was playing politics, without bothering about the fate of Mhow seat.

If you think that Sartaj Singh was denied ticket on age criteria or Kailash Vijayvargiya was kept out because of kin issue, think twice. The BJP has given at least 44 tickets to close relatives of its leaders. It has similarly fielded several leaders who are in the same age bracket as Sartaj Singh is.

The way ticket has been distributed does not augur well for the BJP. Despite a strong and visible anti-incumbency it has repeated more than two-third of its seating MLAs, including some whose victory is doubtful. It has also fielded 16 such candidates who had lost 2013 elections even at the height of pro-Modi wave in 2013.

The only conclusion one can draw from the BJP’s list of candidates is that the party with a difference is now afflicted with the same disease that had always plagued the Congress, viz factionalism.

The only person who could emerge victorious in this tug of war was former Chief Minister Babulal Gaur, a ten-time MLA, whose margin of victory has been increasing with each successive election. In his case the high command intervened to ensure a ticket for his daughter-in-law because it learnt that if he revolts, the BJP would definitely lose not only his seat, but also a few others surrounding it.

An analysis of the Congress line-up shows that it has played its card well, keeping in mind winnability criteria, by and large. Only two candidates were ‘para-dropped’ Sartaj Singh and Sanjay Sharma. The party was convinced that they have a winning chance.

Sanjay Masani, Chouhan’s brother-in-law, is the only exception. It has also given more ticket to women candidates as compared to the ruling party. It has also fielded more young faces, including candidates from its students’ wing and youth wing.

The selection of candidates is normally considered the first round of election. The BJP will now have to step up its effort to quell the revolt from within its rank if it wants ‘abki baar, 200 paar’. 

DB POST 10 November 2018




A Passage to Madhya Pradesh

MP @62

DB Post 1 Nov 18


“Madhya Pradesh is a faceless state, without a personality of its own. When we mention MP, it does not create an image that one may recognise easily, an image that is ingrained in our collective memory. But when we mention Punjab or Gujarat or Bengal, it immediately conjures up visions of those states, images that symbolise those states.”

— Rajendra Mathur, 31 October 1965

Eminent journalist Rajendra Mathur wrote these lines nine years after the state of MP was formed in 1956. The new born state initially suffered from an identity crisis.

The problem was accentuated by squabbles among rival politicians and warring pressure groups from different regions amalgamated into the newly-formed state. They were all jockeying for more shares in the power structure.

MP was a geographical oddity when it came into existence. Its boundaries have undergone changes thrice, enough to bewilder both its inhabitants and administrators. Before Independence, it was a fragmented entity. Continue reading “A Passage to Madhya Pradesh”

A Baba-log Govt in MP



DB Post 3 Nov 18


It was 32 year ago that journalist Romesh Thapar had coined the acidic phrase to ridicule Rajiv Gandhi administration run by his Doon School cronies — Baba-Log Government.

The term originally comes from the British period when Indian servants would refer to male children of their white masters as Baba Sa’ab and female children as Missy Sa’ab.

The delightful phrase can be re-applied in Madhya Pradesh. Babalog of a different kind, the saffron ones, have been part of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government for the past five years. And it is payback time now, with assembly elections round the corner. Continue reading “A Baba-log Govt in MP”