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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