The odd jobber
Sanjaya Baru’s book, or “job application” as it is popularly being called, isn’t the first time he has applied for a job. A month or so before Congress came to power in the shock 2004 elections, Dr Baru wrote a strange article in The Indian Express eulogising Atal Behari Vajpayee and comparing him favourably to Nehru. Ironically, the job he eventually got was not in Vajpayee’s PMO but in the office of a Congress prime minister. From this position, between the years of 2004 and 2008 he ruthlessly embarked to implement his single-point agenda: create friction between Manmohan and Sonia.
There were at least three occasions when he was on the verge of being sacked. The party was putting immense pressure on Sonia telling her this “mischief maker” had to be removed. The book which is animated by a deep hatred for the ‘family’ (nothing wrong in that, we are all entitled to our loathings) is actually a stab in the back of Sonia Gandhi. It was she who saved him from the chop arguing that Manmohan, who has three daughters, treated Sanjay like the son he never had.
In one of my rare meetings with Sonia, I was surprised to discover how well she was informed of Baru’s anti-party activities and his BJP tendencies. However, out of regard for the prime minister, she took no action. It is a decision she must be regretting. Incidentally, she also told me she was conscious of the opposition charge of backseat driving vis-a-vis the PM. “But I always arrive five minutes before he does at public functions, and I always leave after him,” she would say.
Early this week, when I went to a bookshop in Khan Market, I found they had placed Baru’s book on the ‘New Fiction’ counter. How appropriate.
Hand on the button
This may be a make-or-break election for some. For me, sadly, it created major headaches. Like most citizens, I decide well before polling date which button on the EVM I am going to press. Not for me the panic of a last-minute decision. In the Delhi assembly elections, I spotted pretty early on AAP and Arvind Kejriwal’s potential for good. He and his party had something new and valuable to offer. It was an easy decision. Alas, when polling date for the general elections arrived, my mind was full of negative feelings. Although readers of this column are convinced I am a Sonia sycophant, I would like to inform my critics that as early as November last year I had come to the conclusion that voting Congress in 2014 was a bridge too far for me. There was no way I could support a party with such an abysmal record, topped up with arrogance.
The AAP quickly lost much of its credibility on account of its reckless and erratic behaviour coupled with some bizarre choice of “enemies”. So, two of my options were non-starters.
I was left with Narendra Modi and the BJP, in that order. As Mr Modi’s star ascended and ascended and he himself ran a centrist-moderate campaign, I felt I could do the unthinkable, i.e. vote BJP. Then just a week before polling date, the old Modi suddenly reappeared: he made his terrible “Pakistani agent” speech while his soulmate and closest aide, Amit Shah, ordered Hindus to take “revenge” on Muslims for Muzaffarnagar. Both were straightforward communal speeches. Since I yield to no one in acknowledging the duty of the citizen to cast his vote, I went to the polling station and with a heavy heart pressed the NOTA button.
Not so PC
Despite false alarms, finally just one senior Congress minister ran away from the field, P. Chidambaram. Unlike Manish Tewari, Mr Chidambaram could not claim the “poor health” alibi. Thus, only he fits into the ‘deserter’ category. Mr Chidambaram is no aaya-ram, gaya-ram type of politician, although he has moved around a bit. He is suave and sophisticated, ready with a rational explanation for any decision he has taken. This time, words fail him.
The Congress and Rahul Gandhi are apparently livid with the ex-FM’s cowardice and lack of loyalty to the party. Chidambaram’s game is easy to see through: he will seek a route to Parliament via the Rajya Sabha, courtesy the party he has deserted. I hope the Congress tells him to get lost!
Of all the places, it happened at Khushwant Singh’s memorial ceremony. For the first time in my life, I had something close to a spiritual experience. Listening to three saintly Sikhs singing the Gurbani kirtan, I was unexpectedly moved. The bhajans kept ringing in my ears. I was so moved I rang up Khushwant’s son Rahul and told him about my experience. Can you imagine having a spiritual moment at the memorial of a man who mocked all religions, including his own?
I had lunch with my friend Pankaj Mishra. He is in fine form.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com
Vinod Mehta’s Delhi Diary (Apr 28) as usual gave all of us many things to mull over. It was nice to see him indirectly acknowledging that he had been a ‘Sonia sycophant’, though we readers knew it all along. The Congress has survived so well over the decades because of sycophants like him. Hence the NOTA story is likely to be false. But I appreciate his frankness about PC and his deserting the party.
H.C. Pandey, Delhi
The NOTA option is not very good, Mr Mehta. If the political class is being strategic, so should we. If a corrupt, ineffectual Congress and a communal BJP are the only options left, then let’s scare them by voting for a newcomer. I know the AAP is not without its faults, but we can vote for them to show the major parties how desperate we are for change!
Nitin Kapoor, on e-mail
Mr Mehta’s predicament while voting for the elections is representative of the dilemma most of us face today: the choice between the well-known devil in waiting and the better-known devil in power is frustrating. Most of us feel that neither leadership change nor a change in the ruling alliance will make an iota of difference in dealing with the prevailing conditions—corruption, governance, inflation etc. However, his ire at AAP seems premature.
Rumin Shah, on e-mail
Mr Mehta, may we then consider your hit job on Sanjaya Baru as your ‘job application’ with the Congress for a Rajya Sabha seat, or a cushy position as chair of some commission? You really fear being put out to pasture if a Modi regime is installed in Lutyens's Delhi. Here’s wishing you all the best.
Akshay D. Kamath, Bangalore
So you pressed the NOTA button. What would you have done if there had been no NOTA? My guess is that you would have voted for the BJP, though with a heavy heart.
Rohit Desai, Mount Prospect, US
So just because Sonia Gandhi told you she did not do ‘backseat driving’, we are to believe her like you do? Wonderland is a most beautiful place. Chances are that you are on the wrong side; without the benefit of Baru’s book, most people believe the Congress is a regency, and that it doesn’t meld well with democratic practices. And yes, NOTA is a good choice to make. About PC, I think leaders do what the Congress top brass asks them to! About your anecdote on Khushwant Singh’s memorial ceremony, for the discerning person, spirituality and religion are two different things.
Arun Maheshwari, Bangalore
Thank God Mr Mehta didn’t vote BJP—along with some other ‘secularists’ he has terrible intuitive abilities. They have predicted the BJP’s demise, Modi being put in prison, a national AAP party, Kejriwal as PM, a great future for Nitish, and so on. And they have been wrong in reading the national mood. Due to their emotional involvement, their political judgement has been proven wrong time and again.
Sanjaya Baru’s book is perfectly timed. If one can learn from history, it’s not to trust a back-stabber. And the eagerness to sit on the throne is bringing out the worst in Modi—he went to Hyderabad and praised a minor movie star as if he were a saviour. And he almost read from a script prepared by Chandrababu Naidu. As a PM, he must learn to behave like one. Using streetfighters’ language lacking in maturity is just not done.
B.V. Gopal Rao, Warangal
Actually the Congress should promote Priyanka for the top job, instead of her clueless brother. At least she is the best educated of the lot, and seems smarter.
G. Natrajan, Isere
We have candidates with names like Neta (Mulayam) and Misa (Laloo’s daughter). What prevents people from naming their child Nota?
K. Suresh Jois, Bangalore
VM’s position is—‘let me lose an eye, okay, but my neighbour should also lose one’. This is the thing about NOTA.
Prem Krishnan, Singapore
After weeks of cover stories dedicated to the castigation of Mr Modi and trying to convince the nation that the Congress is the only alternative, you say you pressed the NOTA button (Delhi Diary, Apr 28)! Playing safe, are you Mr Mehta?
Writing in Hindustan times, Vinod Mehta shows his mathematical ability
"Yet they(NREGA) have provided livelihood and sustenance to a quarter of India’s population, i.e. 35 million. "
News for you Mr Mehta. I billion equals 1000 million-not 100 million. Do the math again. It is not quarter. It is 2.8%
All these geniuses debating on the NOTA -- you can vote "NOTA" by staying back at home, unless you voted to get that ink stain so you could post a photo of it on Facebook or twitter.
Great to know that you have just returned from a splendid vacation, far from the madding crowd.
Given your writing skills, you should consider posting a travelog on www.ghumakkar.com
Is it that VM pressing NOTA is as good as he agreeing to the fact that he was fooling around with people for these many years by writing in his columns and articles that out of all the bad choices we have cogress is a less-bad choice? Sure, by telling that he pressed NOTA, he is keeping his vote a secret and suggesting others not to get confused at an eleventh hour just like Him in his 'story'.
DLN .... thanks for the welcome. Right after voting 17th early, night I left for a trip to Sri Lanka and Maldives. Had a great time mixing some culture, perfect beaches and a bit of snorkelling. For the kids, Maldives was paradise. They just wanted to stay back forever (incidentally met a nice Italian family on their 12th trip to Maldives - he said Maldives was the nearest to paradise for him). Even though wi-fi was there everywhere, and my laptop with me, choose to deliberately not get into email/internet/outlook except for 15m at the start of the trip. No newspaper, no TV - just family, beautiful places and friendly "tourist centric" people/cultures.
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