A unique power-sharing arrangement between a bureaucrat prime minister and a status quo-ist Congress president rapidly degenerated into sloth, corruption and, above all else, untamed inflation. T h e Indian voter can be rather tolerant of corruption, but what they are notoriously unforgiving of is rising prices. In every election tracker weve done, price rise has always been the top concern for the electorate.
Almost five years of slow growth and high inflation is a recipe for. In the end, it was the economy, stupidwhich meant that for many voters it became a case of anyone but Congress. Chidambaram, former finance minister, put it aptly when he told me post-election, The economy destroyed us in the elections. Had we got growth back on track and inflation under control, everything else might have been forgotten.
And yet, no election is determined overnight by a single issue or even by one towering individual. This book is, therefore, about much more than just Modi and Rahul.
Like a multi-starrer, it contains many characters who played a role in the eventual shaping of the verdict. I have tried to locate some of them in the wider context of the constantly evolving Indian political landscape. Elections are not a one-day match. While the final act may have been played out on 16 May when the results were announced, the build-up. And it is by tracing those roots that we can make sense of the present. I do firmly believe, for example, that the Congress-led UPA lost the elections in itself, the year corruption caused a volcanic eruption in public anger.
After that, the party and the government were like a comatose patient on slow dripthe end was preordained. Similarly, the rise of Modi wasnt instant magicit was the outcome of a deliberate, well-crafted campaign that evolved over several years. Indeed, my central premise is that when the UPAs decline began four years ago, Modi had already begun planning for his daring Delhi bid. It was a long, single-minded journey to the top, not an overnight coup. This book, I must warn you, isnt written by a political scientist or a psephologist. I belong to the more humble tribe of news reportersevery time I look in the mirror, I see a sleeves-rolled-up.
As pen-pushers or sound-bite warriors, we perhaps lack the conceptual base of academics or the number-crunching skills of pollsters. But what journalism does provide is the best seat in the houseyou can meet, observe, understand all kinds of people you report on. Your sources share stories and anecdotes that years later can actually be spun into a long narrative. This book is built on the edifice which twenty-six years of journalism have so kindly providedthe chance to report the politics of this remarkable country where no two days at times, no two hours!
I am no soothsayer, even though journalists and editors like to believe they can give you a glimpse into the future. If you had asked me when I first met Narendra Modi in whether hed be the fifteenth prime minister of India, my answer would have been firmly in the negative. If you ask. No one can predict the future with any certainty, and especially not for India and Indian electionsthis is the enduring fascination of this country.
Democracy is also the ultimate leveller. One of the great joys of anchoring live television shows on counting day is just to watch the crestfallen faces of mighty politicians who had taken the electorate for granted. I remember deriving almost sadistic pleasure on meeting Narasimha Rao after his loss in The prime minister who would treat television journalists with contempt had just got his comeuppance from the Indian voterhis pout was now even more pronounced.
The first election that I have a distinct memory of was the US presidential elections. I had wanted Jimmy Carter to win that one over Gerald Forddont ask me why, maybe I just like peanuts! When Carter was declared the winner, I let off a scream of delight. That same feeling of exhilaration has accompanied every Indian election I have had the good fortune to report on since From Pehelwan Chacha in Varanasi to the fisherwoman in Sassoon Dock, its that tingling excitement that only the festive spirit of an Indian election can bring to life.
Its that great Indian story in all its rainbow colours that I have tried to capture in this bookthe story of the elections, a mandate which has the potential of changing India and its politics forever. Counting day in a television studio. A bit like a T20 match. Fast, furious, the excitement both real and contrived. The 16th of May was no different. It was the grand finale of the longest and most high-decibel campaign in Indian electoral historythis was the final of the Indian Political League, the biggest show in the democratic world.
In the studio, we were preparing for a long day with packets of chips and orange juice to stay energized. But even before we could settle our nerves, or go for a strategic break, it was all over. In our studios, Swapan Dasgupta, right-wing columnist. Its a defining moment in Indian history, he exulted. His sparring partner, the distinguished historian Ramachandra Guha, who disliked Modi and Rahul Gandhi in equal measure, had a firm riposte.
I think Modi should send a thank you card to Rahul for helping him become prime minister of India! As we analysed the scale of the win, my mind went back to the moment when I believe it all began. The 20th of December saw another T20 match, another counting day. The results of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections were streaming in that morning. Himachal was an also-ran. Gandhinagar was where the action was. By noon, we had the breaking newsNarendra Modi had scored a hattrick in Gujarat. The margin was a bit lower than many had predicted, but with seats in a member assembly, Modi was once again the self-.
If there has been a mistake somewhere, if I have erred somewhere, I seek an apology from you, the six crore Gujaratis, said the Gujarat chief minister. Gujarat is a role model for elections, he added. The entire election was fought here on the plank of development. Gujarat has endorsed the plank of development. This victory is not the victory of Narendra Modi but of the six crore Gujaratis and those Indians who aspire for prosperity and development. This is a victory of all those who wish the countrys good.
This was clearly no routine victory speech. Showing a characteristic alertness to the political moment, it was delivered in Hindi and not Gujarati, designed for a national audience way beyond Gujarat. In the frenzied crowds, posters had sprung up: Modi chief minister ; prime. In our studios that day too, Swapan Dasgupta was elated. It wasnt just a self-congratulatory I told you so reactionmost exit polls had predicted a Modi win. He was convinced that Modi was now poised to take the great leap to the national capital.
This is the beginning, we will now see a clear attempt to redefine Mr Modis role in national politics, was his verdict. Modis triumph carried the edge of a victory over the left liberals, a muffling of those critical voices which seemed to have dominated the mainstream. Indias right-wing voices were waiting to burst through the banks and sweep aside the so-called. Swapan seemed not just excited at Modis victory but inordinately pleased at being able to cock a snook at his ideological opponents. Others in the studio panel were a little more sceptical.
After all, Modi wasnt the first chief minister to score a hat-trick of wins. Was Modi, then, sui generis? Was there something in the saffron-hued Ahmedabad air that evening which suggested this was a watershed moment in Indian politics? Later that night, as the dust settled and the television talking heads made their exit, I telephoned Mr Modis residence in Gandhinagar to congratulate him. A little after midnight, he returned the call. Congratulations on your victory, I said. His response was in Hindi. Dhanyawaad, bhaiya! I asked him whether his decision to deliver a victory speech in Hindi was the clearest sign yet that he wanted to make a pitch for prime minister.
Rajdeep, jab aap reporter editor ban sakte ho, toh kya chief minister, pradhan mantri nahi ban sakte kya? If a reporter like you can become an editor, why cant a chief minister become a prime minister. Stated with his trademark gift of quick-witted repartee, there was my answer. The year was and I had been in the profession for less than two years. My hair had not greyed nor had Modis. He was wearing a loose, well-starched kurtapyjama and greeted us warmly. Almost instantly, he became Narendrabhai for all the journalists.
The occasion was the Ram rath yatra of L. Advani from Somnath to Ayodhya. I had been assigned to cover one leg of the yatra as it wound its way from Gujarat into Maharashtra. Actually, I was the secondary reporter, tasked with looking for some colour stories around the main event. I joined the yatra in Surat as it moved across south Gujarat and then into Maharashtra. For me, it was a big opportunity to gain a ringside view of a major national political event, away from the local Mumbai politics beat.
It was a big occasion for Narendra Modi too. He was then the BJPs organizing secretary in Gujarat, the RSSs point person for the state, looking to carve an identity for himself well beyond being just another pracharak. If the rath yatra provided me an opportunity for a front-page byline, it gave Modi a chance to take a step up the political ladder.
His role was to ensure the yatras smooth passage through Gujarat and create an. Gujarat at the time was poised to become, as subsequent events would confirm, a laboratory for political Hindutva. The BJP had just made an impressive showing in the assembly elections that year, winning sixty-seven seats and forging a coalition government with Chimanbhai Patels Janata Dal Gujarat.
The alliance didnt last long as Patel merged his party with the Congress, but it was clear that the BJP was the party of the future with a solid cadre and a strong popular appeal across the state. Under Advanis leadership, the BJP had abandoned the Gandhian socialism plank for a more direct appeal to religious nationalism. The idea of a Ram temple in Ayodhya was central to this new line of thinking. From just two seats in the Lok Sabha in , the party had won eightyfive in There was a fresh energy in its ranks,.
As a Mumbai journalist, I had got to know Mahajan first. He had a debonair flamboyance that marked him out amidst the BJPs conservative and rather nondescript cadre. He may have got his early inspiration from the RSS but appeared to have little time for its austere lifestyle. He was the first politician I knew who wore RayBan, who never hid his affiliations to big business houses and who openly enjoyed his drink.
One of my unforgettable journalistic memories is of sitting in a rooftop suite of Mumbais Oberoi hotel with Bal Thackeray smoking a pipe while Mahajan drank chilled beer. To think that the pipe-sucking Thackeray and the beer-swilling Mahajan were the architects of the original. Mahajan was every journalists friend. He was always ready with a quote, a news break and an anecdote. He was also, in a sense, the BJPs original event manager. The rath yatra, in fact, was his brainchild and he was made the national coordinator of the event. Modi was in charge of the Gujarat leg, and was to accompany the procession from Somnath to Mumbai.
Which is how and where we met. My early memories of him are hazy, perhaps diluted by the larger-than-life image he acquired in later years. But I do remember three aspects of his persona then which might have provided a glimpse into the future. The first was his eye for detail. Every evening, journalists covering the yatra would receive a printed sheet with the exact programme for the next day.
There was a certain. Modi would personally ensure that the media was provided every facility to cover the yatra. Fax machines were made available at every place along the yatra route, with the BJP local office bearing all expenses. Modi even occasionally suggested the storyline and what could be highlighted! Micromanagement was an obvious skill, one he would use to great effect in later years. The second aspect was his attire.
Without having acquired the designer kurtas or the wellcoiffured look of later years, he was always immaculately dressed and well groomed. He may have lacked Mahajans self-confidence, but Modis crisply starched and ironed kurtas marked him out from the other RSSBJP karyakartas workers who sported a more crumpled look.
Rumour had it that he spent at least half an hour a day before the mirror, a habit that suggests early. The third lasting impression came from Modis eyes. Sang Kenny Rogers in his hit song The Gambler: Son, Ive made a life from readin peoples faces, knowin what the cards were by the way they held their eyes. In my experience, those with wide twinkling eyes tend to play the game of life gently, perhaps lacking the killer instinct. Modi in those early days smiled and laughed a lot, but his eyes at times glared almost unblinkinglystern, cold and distant. They were the eyes of someone playing for the highest possible stakes in the gamble of life.
His smile could embrace you, the eyes would intimidate.
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The dominant image of that period, though, was the yatra itself. It wasnt just another roadshow this was religion on wheels that was transformed into a political juggernaut. Religion and politics had created a heady cocktail. Mahajan and Modi were the impresarios, Advani was the mascot, but. I shall never forget their speeches during the yatra, seeking Hindu mobilization and loaded with hate and invective against the minorities. Feverish chants of Jo Hindu heet ki baat karega wahi desh pe raj karega Those who speak of benefits to Hindus, they alone will rule the country would be accompanied by powerful oratory calling for avenging historical injustices.
Uma Bharti, a natural, instinctive politician and mass leader, appeared to me breezily bipolar. At night-time rallies, she would deliver vitriolic and highly communally charged speeches, and the very next morning, she would lovingly ask me about my family and offer to make me nimbu pani she is a terrific cook, I might add. Years later, when Modi was sworn in as prime minister, Uma Bharti was made a minister and Sadhvi Rithambhara was a special inviteethe wheel. As I watched first as a reporter in his twenties, through the decades to an editor in his late forties, the Hindutva movement rose up from street-side clamour and charged-up rath yatras to claim its place finally at the national high table, with these indefatigable agitators always at hand to lend their shoulder to the slowly rolling saffron wheel as it turned corner after corner.
The next time my path crossed with that of Modi we had both, well, moved a step up in life. It was the early days of private news television and we had just begun doing a daily news programme for Doordarshan called Tonight. For the BJP, too, the assembly. For the first time, the party was in a position to capture power on its own in Gujarat. As the results began to trickle inand this was the pre-electronic voting machine era, so the counting was much slowerthere was an air of great expectancy at the BJP party headquarters in Khanpur in Ahmedabad.
By the evening, it was becoming clearer that the BJP was on its way to a famous win. The party eventually won a twothirds majority with of the seats. The leaders were cheered as they entered the party office. Keshubhai Patel was the man anointed as chief minister; other senior leaders like Shankersinh Vaghela and Kashiram Rana all shared traditional Gujarati sweets and farsan. In a corner was Modi, the man who had scripted the success by managing the election campaign down to the last detail.
The arc lights were on the BJPs other senior leaders, but I remember an emotional. Modi telling me on camera that this is the happiest moment in my life. The almost anonymous campaign manager seemed to sublimate himself to his party with the fierce loyalty of the karyakarta.
Again, Modi wasnt the focus, but already the whispers in party circles projected him as the super-chief minister. The sweet smell of success, though, would quickly evaporate. The Sangh Parivar in Gujarat became the Hindu Divided Parivar and the party with a difference began to weaken because of internal differences.
A compromise formula was evolved Suresh Mehta was made the chief minister of Gujarat, and Modi, who was accused by his detractors of fomenting the politics of divide and. These were Modis years in political vanvas exile. He could have dived into his new challenge, but his heart was always in Gujarat. He still wants to be the chief minister of Gujarat one day, that is his ultimate ambition, a common friend told me on more than one occasion. If that was his final destination, Modi kept it well concealed. Once ensconced in Delhi, Modi liked to speak out on national issues. Private television was just beginning to find its voice and political debates on television had just begun to take off.
Modi, as an articulate speaker in Hindi, was ideally suited as a political guest for prime-time politics on TV. Modi took to television rather well at that time in the late s. I recall two telling instances. Once I was anchoring a 10 p. Arnab would later anchor a similarly named prime-time show on Times Now with great success.
At about 8. We were desperate for a replacement. I said I knew one person in Delhi who might oblige us at this late hour. I rang up Modi and spoke to him in Gujarati I have always believed that a way to a persons heart is to speak to them in their mother tongue, a tactic that every reporter learns while trying to charm the power food chain from VIPs down to their PAs and PSs. Aavee jao, Narendrabhai, tamhari zarrorat chhe Please come, Narendrabhai, we need you.
Modi hemmed and hawed for all of sixty seconds and then said he was ready to appear on our show but didnt have a car. I asked him to take a taxi and. Arnab and I sweated in anticipation as the countdown began for 10 p. With minutes to go, there was still no sign of Modi. With about five minutes left to on-air, with producers already yelling stand by in my ear, a panting Modi came scurrying into the studio, crying out, Rajdeep, I have come, I have come! He was fully aware he was only a lastminute replacement but so unwilling was he to give up a chance at a TV appearance, he made sure he showed up, even at the eleventh hour.
We were on round-the-clock coverage of the event, and needed a BJP guest who would be available for an extended period. Modi readily agreed to come to our OB van at Vijay Chowk, the designated site for political. But when he arrived, it began to rain and the satellite signal stopped working. Without creating any fuss whatsoever, Modi sat patiently through the rain with an umbrella for company and waited for almost two hours in the muddy downpour before he was finally put on air.
At one level, the determined desire to be on television perhaps smacked of a certain desperation on Modis part to stay in the news and in the limelight. This was a period when he had lost out to other leaders of his generation. Mahajan, for example, had become prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayees right-hand man and a leading minister in the government. Sushma Swaraj was a great favourite with the partys supporters for her oratorical skills, and her decision to take on Sonia Gandhi in Bellary had given her a special place as a fearless political fighter.
Arun Jaitley was also slowly emerging as. Modi, by contrast, was struggling to carve a distinct identity. He had been virtually barred from Gujarat, a state where a theatre of the absurd was being played out with four chief ministers in four years between and In Delhi, Modi was being accused of playing favourites in Himachal Pradesh and mishandling the political situation in Haryana.
Moreover, as a pracharak, he was expected to remain content as a faceless organizer and a backroom player. I would meet Modi often in this period, and sometimes over a meal of kadhi chawal he ate well but liked to keep his food simple , I got the sense of a politician struggling to come to terms with his seeming political isolation.
For an otherwise remarkably selfconfident man, he often gave way to a creeping self-doubt over his immediate political future. Mahajan, Swaraj, even another pracharak-turnedpolitician Govindacharya, were mentioned; Modi didnt even figure in the list. Lagta hai aap punditon ne desh mein bhavishya mein kya hoga yeh tay kar liya hai! Looks like you political pundits have decided the countrys future , was Modis sharp response.
Which is why news television became an ally, almost a political weapon, for Modi in this period. It gave him a national profile in a crowded political space. It also ensured that he remained in public memory, both in Gujarat and in Delhi. He was a good party spokespersonclear, direct, aggressive, often provocative. He did not pussyfoot around the partys commitment to Hindutva and never shied away from a joust.
The BJP leaders in the Vajpayee government were for some reason reluctant to appear on the programme. Modi had no such compunctions as he came and spoke out strongly against what he said was one of the biggest threats to the country. Little did I know then that Modis position on Islam and terror would subsequently come to define his political identity. I also could not have foreseen that the man who was one of my go to BJP netas for a political debate would never again appear on a television show of this kind.
Life for Modi, the country and even for me as a journalist was about to take a dramatic twist. It was a remarkable change in fortune for a leader who had found himself on the margins of national politics till then. The change in leadership in Gujarat had been in the offing for some time. Keshubhai Patels second term as chief minister had been disastrous. The BJP had lost a series of municipal elections and assembly by-elections in the state in the period. On 26 January , as the country was celebrating Republic Day, Kutch and Ahmedabad had been shaken by a devastating earthquake.
Instead of seeing this as a wake-up call, Patels government became even more somnolent. The relief and rehabilitation measures were widely criticized. Modi himself once told me in March that year, Yes, we need to. Nature had delivered its verdictthe political leadership of the BJP was left with no choice but to heed the message.
It wasnt easya strong section of the state leadership remained opposed to Modi. It hadnt been an easy ride. Born in a lower middle-class family in Vadnagar in north Gujarats Mehsana district, Modi came from the relatively small Ghanchi community, an OBC caste involved in oil extraction. This was a state whose politics was dominated by the powerful landowning Patels. In early conversations, I never heard Modi speak of his caste background or his years in Vadnagar.
He did speak, though, of his RSS mentors with great fondness. Lakshman Inamdar, or Vakilsaab, is a Maharashtrian like. You should then speak better Marathi! I teased him. A few days after he became chief minister I interviewed Modi on the challenges that were now before him. We have to rebuild Gujarat and restore confidence in the people in our leadership, he said, sounding almost sage-like. I sensed that he had been waiting for this moment for years. Some of his critics have suggested that Modi conspired to become chief minister.
Veteran editor Vinod Mehta has claimed that Modi had met him with files against Keshubhai which he wanted him to publish. Clearly, this was one pracharak who was adept at the power game. Mostly bachelors, they are expected to live a life of austerity and selfdiscipline. Modi wasnt a typical pracharakhe was intensely political and ambitious. Modi was also a lonerwhen I met him in the BJP central office in his wilderness years in the late s, he was often alone.
His contemporary, Govindacharya, would be surrounded by admirers; Modi preferred to be in the company of newspapers. Which is why becoming chief minister was a major transition point in his life. As an organizational man, Modi had proved himself as hard-working, diligent and passionate about his party and its ethos. Now, he needed to show that he could actually be a politician who could lead from the front, not just be a back-room operator who had never even contested a municipal election. Modis big chance came on 27 February I was showering that morning when a call came from an old journalist friend from Gujarat, Deepak Rajani.
Rajani managed a small evening paper in. Rajkot and had excellent contacts in the police. Rajdeep, bahut badi ghatna hui hai Godhra mein. Sabarmati Express mein aag lagi hai. Kaie VHP kar sevak us train mein thhe. Terror attack bhi ho sakta hai Theres been a big incident at Godhra. The Sabarmati Express with many kar sevaks aboard has caught fire. It could even be a terror attack. In the age of instantaneous breaking news, it isnt easy to separate fact from hyperbole. What was clear, though, was that a train compartment had caught fire and several kar sevaks volunteers were feared dead.
A few hours later, as the information became clearer, it was apparent that this was no ordinary train fire. A mob of local Muslims in Godhra had attacked the train, a fire had started and several people had died. The backdrop to this tragedy had been an attempt by the VHP to reignite the Ram temple movement by launching another shila pujan foundation stone-laying ceremony in. Several kar sevaks from Gujarat had joined the programme and were returning from Ayodhya when the train was attacked.
That evening, Modi, visiting the site in Godhra, suggested that the kar sevaks had been victims of a terror conspiracy. The VHP was even more aggressivea bandh was called in Gujarat the next day. Television journalists like to be at the heart of the action.
A few of my action-hungry colleagues rushed to Ayodhya because there were reports of a potential backlash to the train burning, in UP. The Union budget was to be announced the next day, so a few journalists remained parked in the capital.
The Diaspora Writes Home
My instinct told me to head for my birthplace, Ahmedabad. A senior police officer had rung me up late that evening after the train burning. Rajdeep, the VHP is planning a bandh. The government is planning to allow them to take the bodies home in some kind of a procession. Trust me, there could be real trouble this time, he warned. The next day, along with my video journalist Narendra Gudavalli, we were on the flight to Ahmedabad.
The Ahmedabad I travelled to that day was not the city I had such happy memories of. As a child I spent every summer holiday in the comforting home of my grandparents. Hindi movies, cricket, cyclingAhmedabad for me was always a place to savour lifes simple pleasures. Sari-clad ladies zoomed by on scooters, their mangalsutras flying. The sitaphal ice cream and cheese pizzas in the local market were a weekend delight. My memories were of an endlessly benevolent city, full of neighbourly bonhomie and friendly street chatter.
But that day in February, I saw a smokefilled sky, closed shops and mobs on the street. The city frightened methe Ahmedabad of my joyous childhood dreams had turned into an ugly nightmare. I can claim to have had a ringside view. From 28 February for the next seventy-two hours, we were witness to a series of horrific incidents, all of which suggested a near complete collapse of the state machinery.
We listened to tales of inhuman savagery, of targeted attacks, of the police being bystanders while homes were looted and people killed. For three days, with little sleep, we reported the carnage that was taking place before our eyes even while selfcensoring some of the more gruesome visuals. On 1 March, I was caught in the middle of a mini riot in the walled city areas of Dariapur Shahpur.
This was a traditional trouble spot in AhmedabadHindu and Muslim families lived cheek by jowl and even a cycle accident could spark violence. That morning, neighbours were throwing stones, sticks, even petrol bombs at each other, with the police doing little to stop the clashes. One petrol bomb just missed my. I saw a young girl being attacked with acid, another boy being kicked and beaten. We managed to capture much of this on camera and played out the tape that evening while carefully excising the more graphic visuals.
A riot is not a pretty picture. We had filmed a family charred to death inside a Tata Safari, but never showed the images. We did exercise self-restraint but clearly the government wanted a total blackout. Are you trying to spark off another riot? Pramod Mahajan angrily asked me over the phone. I felt it was important to mirror the ugly reality on the groundan impactful story, I hoped, would push the Centre into sending the army to the battle-scarred streets. I did not encounter Modi till the evening of 2 March when he held a press conference at the circuit house in Ahmedabad to claim that the situation was being brought under control with the.
That morning, though, he had rung me up to warn me about our coverage which he said was inflammatory. In particular, he told me about the report of an incident in Anjar, Kutch, of a Hanuman temple being attacked, which he said was totally false. Some roadside linga was desecrated, but no temple has been touched. I will not allow such malicious and provocative reporting, he said angrily. I tried to explain to him that the report had come through a news wire agency and had been flashed by our Delhi newsroom without verifying with me.
A few hours later, the chief ministers office issued orders banning the telecast of the channel. Modis press conference also took place against the backdrop of a front-page story in that mornings Times of India indicating that the chief minister had invoked Newtons law to suggest that the violence was a direct reaction to Godhra. Every action invites an equal and opposite.
Modi denied having made any such remark to the reporter. Naturally, the mood at the press conference was frosty and hostile. After the press conference, I reached out to Modi, assuring him we would be even more careful in our coverage. I offered to interview him so that he could send out a strong message of calm and reassurance. He agreed. We did the interview, only to return to the office and find the tape damaged. I telephoned Modis office again, explained the problem and managed to convince him to do another interview, this time in Gandhinagar later that night.
We reached the chief ministers residence in Gandhinagar a little after 10 p. We dined with him and then recorded the interview.
Desh - Desh aur Diaspora
I asked him about his failure to control the riots. He called it a media conspiracy to target him, saying he had done his best, and then pointed out that Gujarat. I asked him about his controversial actionreaction remark. He claimed what he would later repeat in another interview, to Zee News, Kriya aur pratikriya ki chain chal rahi hai. Hum chahte hain ki na kriya ho na pratikriya A chain of action and reaction is going on. We want neither action nor reaction.
We came out of the interview almost convinced that the chief minister was intent on ending the cycle of violence. Less than an hour later, the doubts returned. Barely a few kilometres from his Gandhinagar residence on the main highway to Ahmedabad, we came upon a roadblock with VHPBajrang Dal supporters milling about, wielding lathis, swords and axes. It was well past midnight. Our driver tried to avoid the blockade when an axe smashed through the windscreen. The car halted and we were forced to emerge. Are you Hindus or Muslims? The group, with swords threateningly poised in attack mode, demanded we pull down our trousers.
They wanted to check if any of us were circumcised. In the pursuit of male hygiene, at my birth my rationalist parents had ensured I was. The crowd confronting us was neither rationalist nor normal. They were in fact abnormally enraged, feverishly excited youth, hopping about with their swords and axes, drunk on the power they had over us. The film represents four possible ways to typify important aspects of the desi experience, each of which is taken up below.
In wooing Nina, Kris leads Nina to believe he is familiar with Indian culture; he pretends to enjoy Bollywood movies so that he can be with her and plan the party together. However, while watching the three short-listed Hindi movies from which a song is to be selected, he cannot help exclaim: This is driving me crazy. They are in the Swiss Alps when they were just now in Bombay Oh good, I was starting to get worried No, my parents are! Even if Bolly- wood continues to play an important cohesive role for NRI communities, the producers of ABCD speak of their desire to change the representation of desis in mainstream American media: It has been over 25 years since the migration of Indians [to the US] began in earnest.
In that time, Indians first established themselves economically and are now striving for a greater presence in the social culture sic The current depiction of Indian characters on television and movies is limited to that of an occasional cab driver or news stand vendor or the convenience store owner. After a scene in which Nina finds Kris kissing an- other white woman at a party, Kris excuses himself by saying he was drunk; Nina, however, maintains that her identity as an Indian woman has been hurt.
In the first of two other sub-plots which develop simultaneously, Jagjit Singh illustrates another pattern of identification in a migrant context; Jagjit subordinates his own aspirations to family expectations. This conflict between parental expectations and indi- vidual choice remains a recurring theme in the discourse of young American NRIs, one that is often addressed in Internet discussions.
In redefining patriarchal authority in this way, Jagjit Singh also emerges as the voice that will project new icons of Indian culture that can be incorporated into life on the American campus. Through his rejection of secular values, adherence to the orthodox practice of Islamic and a valorisation of patriarchy, Saleem Ali Khan illustrates the other side of the binary from Kris.
Saleem coldly turns down Farah, a young Muslim woman, who is attracted to him. Only then can he fall for her. Ajay speaks of historical similarities and affinities in the experiences that Africans and Indians share. Unlike his roommates, Ajay does not experience an identity crisis. Instead, his character posits within the narrative an open-ended possibility of appropriating a non-essentialised transnational identity based on intersections between shared histories, contemporary predicaments and political agendas.
Raj seems more stable both personally and professionally, and is engaged to marry Tejal, a traditionally-brought up Indian girl. Smarting at what he suspects is a veiled racist outcome over a long-awaited and well-deserving promotion, Raj finds he can open his mind to his colleague, Julia. Likewise, Nina has to cope with a temporary break-up with her rich white boyfriend, Sam, who begins to have doubts when his family responds dubiously to their being together.
Simultaneously, her mother tries to set her up with Ashok, a childhood friend, who has recently arrived from India. However, when Ashok finally asks Nina to marry him, she is shocked and withdraws. Brian mentions that he is considering going out with their colleague, Julia, but is subtly critical of her independent- minded and career-oriented ways, adding a trifle enviously: Brian: A girl like Tejal is rare nowadays.
Raj: Yeah Brian: Hey I wish I had your options. Raj: Yeah. Brian: What? Raj: Dixit. Brian looks at him, clueless. Look, when I was in high school, I had to work to cultivate an image to get me into the popular crowd. You know what I mean? Being Indian, it was hard enough to get to that point. You made the transition easier for him. Raj: Hah! I lost him after two days! Brian: And this made you happy? Raj: No.
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I felt guilty as shit But it passed. If Raj had imagined that this unease would disappear as he came of age and gained professional recognition, these anxieties resurface when he suspects that he loses out at the workplace when Brian gets the promotion that Raj deserved. Nina tells Raj that she is dating Sam again and that they intend to get married soon; Raj tells her of his break-up with Tejal.
His choice runs counter to the normative way that this conflict would get typically resolved in a Bollywood narrative. Unlike in Mumbai cinema, the death of a parent or family elder does not occasion the invoca- tion of a redemptive moral order. Both Raj and Nina assert their indi- viduality, even though their future remains uncertain, even as they do not aspire to being fully American. Spreading the ashes in a holy river is an important post-cremation rite in Hinduism.
Born confused? This is an issue that requires more research insofar as transnational nationalism also finds strong support among diaspora youth by means of orthodox and militant networks that engage in the construc- tion of cultural identities. In a limited way, desi films seek to look beyond the binaries of East versus West, Indianness versus Americanness that lie at the core of the NRI- genre, and move instead towards affirming a strong individualism. While Mumbai cinema continues to foreground notions of patriotism and be- longing mapped on a geographical topography, the films discussed in the third part of this paper posit the construction of identity as an indi- vidual quest, not necessarily synonymous with territorial borders.
Some- what like wayward children then, and in variance with the discourse of nationhood and belonging imagined within official and popular rhetoric, young desis of the NRI branch of the allegedly utopian great Indian fam- ily, seem rather busy crafting other homes. London and New York: Verso. Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Ballard, Roger ed. Bharucha, Rustom. Economic and Political Weekly. Brah, Avtar. Cartographies of Diaspora.
London: Routledge. New Delhi: Sage Publications. When a Great Tradition Glocalises. Burghart, Richard ed. London: Tavistock Publications. National Identity in Indian Popular Cinema — Austin: University of Texas. Deshpande, Shekhar. Whose Identity is it Anyway? Fenech, Louis. Modern Asian Studies. Fernandes, Leela. Friedman, Thomas. Goel, Urmila. On the Role of Citizenship and Naturalisation. Heidelberg: Draupadi Publishers. Hannerz, Ulf. Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places. London and New York: Routledge. Hutnyk, John. London: Pluto Press. Inden, Ronald. Jacob, Rahul. Return to Nowhere.
Outlook Magazine. Kalra, Virinder S. Revolutionary Antecedents. London: Zed Books. Kaur, Raminder. Popular Indian Cinema through a Transnational Lens, pp. Kaur, Raminder and Virinder S. South Asian Popular Culture. Mathew, Biju and Vijay Prashad. Trials and dilemmas that confront people in India and the Diaspora may be similar, but they are not the same. Isolation overseas can intensify the inevitable gamut of hardships: extended family heartaches and expectations, marriage, raising children, elder care and respect, divorce, racism, job discrimination, uprootedness, friendships, community, identity, finding a spiritual anchor etc.
Desh Aur Diaspora addresses many of these issues. In the battle for hearts and minds, 'ideas have consequences' and Desh Aur Diaspora audaciously tackles self imposed personal, social, political and spiritual roadblocks that people unthinkingly keep or acquire, often creating impediments to success, objectivity, understanding and real freedom. Desh Aur Diaspora engages you with inspiring concepts, inviting debate to shape a well rounded worldview that combines a passionate love of country with a determination to excel and make a difference at home and abroad. Frank Raj is the founder, editor and publisher of 'The International Indian', the oldest, authoritative magazine of Gulf-Indian society and history since Get A Copy.
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