In a wonderful television series on the great boxing fights, Joe Frazier is asked on his legendary match-ups with Mohammed Ali. “I guess it wasn’t just about boxing, it was personal, we just didn’t like each other,” is Frazier’s candid reply.
What is true of Ali versus Frazier could well be said about politics in this country at the moment. Narendra Modi versus Sonia Gandhi is a battle of political heavyweights that is sharply personal as much as it is a clash of party leaderships.
It was a picture that perhaps best captured the angularities of Indian secularism: AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien in a topi even as Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung and vice-president Hamid Ansari preferred to be bare-headed. The occasion was an iftaar party organised by the Delhi chief minister. Perhaps Kejriwal and O’Brien (an Anglo-Indian from Kolkata) had taken their cue from Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who once said, “To run the country, you have to take everyone along ... at times, you will have to wear a topi, at times a tilak.”
The only thing certain about Indian politics is its constant edge of uncertainty. If in the summer of 2010, you had suggested that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) would hurtle to an ignominious defeat in the 2014 general election, you would have been a certified lunatic. The Congress was so convinced by its seeming invincibility that it quickly lost the plot. Today, amidst the 365-day celebration blitzkrieg, the Narendra Modi-led government's position seems equally unassailable: a victory in the 2019 general election appears very likely.
In an age where a film is declared a hit or a flop on the first weekend’s performance, politicians too are finding their ratings being judged in a compressed timeframe. Narendra Modi was elected prime minister for five years, but he has already had to go through a series of early tests: 100 days, 200 and then 300 days, now his impending first year anniversary have all become occasions for the media to rate his performance. It is almost as if he is facing a constant agni-pariksha.
Call it "tyranny of distance” or simply the nature of the Delhi-centric 24x7 “national” media, but a day after Arvind Kejriwal’s famous win, the BJP swept the local body elections in Assam — only there were no bold headlines or screaming breaking news to announce the results.
Just before the December 2013 Delhi elections, our housekeeper, who has been the mainstay of our home for over a decade, came with a special request. “Sir, I want to get a voter ID card,” she said enthusiastically. We managed the voter card and on election day, she turned to me triumphantly with her inked finger, “Humne jhadoo ko vote diya!” Now, over a year later, she is planning to vote again for AAP. It’s the same with the municipal worker who cleans the street near our home, the driver and the watchman.
India's most powerful prime minister in decades,Narendra Modi has become the focal point of a young nation's aspiration for a better tomorrow
The year 2014 has been the year of the lotus. The indefatigable Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine has taken the BJP to a spectacular victory at the Centre, won Maharashtra and Haryana and seem poised to win Jharkhand too. It is only when you cross the Banihal pass and reach the banks of the Dal that the blossoming lotus seems to wilt a bit. The BJP may have pushed for ‘Mission 44’ in Jammu and Kashmir but this could well be one bridge too far, at least in this election in the Kashmir Valley.
My 26-year career in journalism has parallelled the journey of two individuals who have achieved iconic status. The first front page article I got a byline for was Sachin Tendulkar’s maiden first class century in December 1988. The first major outstation assignment I got a chance to track was the Ram Janmabhoomi Rath Yatra where I met a certain Narendra Damodardas Modi for the first time in 1990