When Deve Gowda Confided In UK PM Against Chidambaram

Heads of state and prime ministers often spend considerable time together during visits and international conferences, but few details of what transpires between them are released, beyond staged photo opportunities or press releases couched in platitudes and diplomatic language. There is an element of extra bonhomie during meetings of world leaders of similar ideologies compared to those between differing or opposing ideologies; for example, it was known that US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher shared an easier relationship while in office, or President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi bonded well.

However, a rare peek into the interaction between two prime ministers of differing political persuasions is now available in recently released confidential documents by National Archives. It relates to the week-long visit to India in January 1997 of Prime Minister John Major (Conservative), when H D Deve Gowda was heading an uneasy coalition of 13 partners in the United Front government. A three-page document from Downing Street set out details as recounted by Major when he, wife Norma Major and Deve Gowda were the only ones present during a 150-minute flight from Kolkata to Bengaluru; no officials were around to take notes

At the time, the United Front government was under considerable strain from inside and outside the coalition, which was reflected in Deve Gowda’s remarks to Major. Described as a “virtually unprecedented degree of access”, the note based on details reported by Major and written by John Holmes in Downing Street to Fiona Mylchreest in the Foreign Office says that Deve Gowda “went out of his way to speak frankly to the Prime Minister, for example about internal difficulties”.

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The note says that Deve Gowda and his finance minister P Chidambaram did not always see “eye to eye”, telling Major that Chidambaram was “very good” in the world of finance, but was not inclined to prioritise the problems of rural India, adding that there were “significant strains” within the coalition, explaining how difficult and constraining it was to manage 13 parties.

According to the note, “He (Deve Gowda) told the Prime Minister…Chidambaram was very good but his skills lay in the world of finance and big city life. He was not inclined to give sufficient priority to the problems of rural India”. It adds that he “went on to say that he was very concerned about the future of rural India, and in particular about Indian agriculture…It was clear to the Prime Minister that the way to Deve Gowda’s heart was through extra help for agriculture, for example training, new techniques and assistance of any kind”.

Deve Gowda, who was prime minister between June 1996 and April 1997, went on to make two political claims that were proved wrong in subsequent elections: the note says that he believed at the time that the Congress had been “permanently fractured” and that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was “unelectable”.

The note says: “Deve Gowda began with the Indian political scene…He believed that the Congress Party was now permanently fractured and that in the post-dynastic era of Indian politics (he was particularly scathing about the dynasty phenomenon) they could not regroup. The Party was too corrupt and their time had passed. Meanwhile the BJP was unelectable”.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance went on to win two successive elections in 2004 and 2009, while the BJP formed two governments under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and later won majorities in 2014 and 2019. The declassified note suggests that Deve Gowda developed a rapport with Major, who faced a general election back home in May 1997.

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At a reception in Bengaluru, the note says: “(Deve) Gowda surprised everyone by calling for silence as the Prime Minister was leaving and saying that he was sure everyone present shared his desire to see the Prime Minister win the election (greeted by a round of applause).”

Major’s Conservative party lost the election to Labour led by Tony Blair.

The note adds: “The Prime Minister believes that he has established an excellent personal relationship with (Deve) Gowda, who pressed him and Mrs Major to return to India whenever they wanted, preferably soon. It was noteworthy that Gowda not only came to the reception in Bangalore, but also insisted on coming to see the Prime Minister off, although Indian protocol had insisted beforehand that he could not possibly do either of these things”.

Racing Ahead – In A Wheelchair

Her opponents brand her as a ‘drama queen’ and she has been trolled by BJP supporters after she suffered multiple injuries outside a temple at Nandigram on March 10. This followed a highly successful rally where she invoked the secular shared spaces of a syncretic society, even while chanting shlokas and mantras which are familiar and embedded in the Bengali consciousness. Her medical reports show she has suffered injuries and a fracture on her left ankle. Her leg is in a cast, even as she continues to campaign from a wheelchair.

In such circumstances, if a chief minister of a state suffers injuries in an accident, or attack, the least that should happen, even in the bitterness and heat of the elections, is that good wishes would be sent to her-him for a speedy recovery. This is the basic protocol of public decency and democratic fair play. For reasons too crudely apparent in contemporary India, that dimension seems to have altogether disappeared from the political arena of opponents, especially in the current battleground that is West Bengal.

Not heeding the doctor’s advice, as she said, of rest for 14 days, she joined in the memorial service of party supporters in Kolkata to the 14 martyrs of Nandigram in 2007. She was paying tribute to a mass movement against forcible land acquisition for a multinational company, which toppled the ruling Left Front government, led by the CPM, after 34 years. She then led a long march in Kolkata sitting on a wheel chair.

Since the Nandigram fiasco, the Left has depleted in strength, confidence and inspiration, while under the indisputable and formidable leadership of Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool Congress has consolidated its hold on power and mass support, despite allegations of corruption and promotion of dynasty.

Besides, her government has done extensive social welfare work among the people, especially among the poor, including the minorities. For instance, rice, dal, oil, etc, is still being given in substantial quantity to poor people across the state even months after the lockdown was lifted. This has helped thousands of people survive without jobs or daily wages, and restart their lives once again.

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The 43 per cent vote bank of Trinamool has remained intact even while the BJP scored almost 40 per cent vote share and 18 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, from being nothing but a marginal figure in the state’s political scenario. Since then, it has been a straight contest between Mamata and all the heavyweights of the BJP combined, led by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and JP Nadda, who have become regular visitors to Bengal, accompanied by all the paraphernalia, pomp and show, and media glare.

And, yet, in these assembly elections, despite pumping in money and media support, a lot of rhetoric and grand promises like ₹15,000 in every farmer’s bank account, backed by convoys of cars and rath yatras with slogans of Jai Shri Ram, the BJP is still not able to find its scaffoldings, or the right strategy. Seasoned political commentators are certain that there is no BJP wave on the ground. After the flop rally at the Brigade Ground led by Modi on March 7, with vast spaces empty and an unenthusiastic crowd, and practically no celebrity joining them except an ageing Mithun Chakraborty, observers say they will struggle to even cross the 100 mark in a 294-seat assembly.

In contrast, Mamata seems to have touched the right chord. “I am hurt and unwell, but my goal remains the same. My pain is not greater than the suffering of the people whose rights in a democracy are being trampled upon by a dictatorship,” she said, sitting on the wheel chair, before the start of the march in memory of the Nandigram struggle on March 10. “I will continue to go around Bengal on this wheelchair. If I go on bed rest, who will reach out to the people of Bengal? …A wounded tigress is more dangerous.”

Street shows and rallies usually do not translate into votes. The Left-Congress alliance organised a massive rally at Brigade Ground in Kolkata with the crowd spilling over on February 28. In 2019 also, the Left had organised a massive rally at the venue. But, the Left scored zero.

It is believed in Bengal that large number of Left supporters, who obsessively hate the Trinamool, voted for the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections. The Left-Congress alliance in the last assembly elections had trouble on the ground with the CPM getting less seats than the Congress because it was alleged that the Congress votes were not transferred to the Left.

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However, processions and rallies have also been a catalytic indicator of mass support, and Trinamool has been able to translate it on the ground with its organisational strength, much of it refurbished on the erstwhile Left model. Hence, the failure of the BJP’s ‘Poribortan Rath Yatra’ across the five points of Bengal is significant. Besides, Jai Shri Ram did not resonate with the people who are worshippers of Durga, Kali and Krishna (Hari), and followers of the Bhakti-Vaishnav tradition of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, as much as the secular spiritual inheritance of Ramakrishna Paramhans and Vivekananda. Clearly, the Hindutva card of the Hindi heartland might not click in Bengal.

On March 15, Amit Shah had to cancel his rally at Jhargram in the crucial Jangalmahal area. The BJP said there was a helicopter snag. The ground reality is that the rally ground was virtually empty. The seven-minute virtual speech made by Shah saw the crowds walking off, in a state where Hindi remains an alien language. Shah’s short speech was too short, an indication that the BJP is losing the plot in Jangalmahal. Jhargram had earlier witnessed a similar flop-show with JP Nadda reportedly refusing to even visit the venue because of low audience strength. Earlier, Nadda’s rath yatra was jinxed in Barackpore too. Even Yogi Adityanath’s much-hyped rally at Balrampur in Purulia on March 16 saw a very poor turn out.

In fact, the low turn-out at BJP rallies have become a big worry in the party, as much as the internal tussle for tickets. Amit Shah had to rush from Guwahati to Kolkata to sort out matters even as BJP workers broke barricades at the Hastings party office in Kolkata. While a few Trinamool MLAs have crossed over to the BJP, there is resentment in the party against tickets being given to turn-coats or ‘outsiders’.

The question is: if the BJP has mass support, why is it not showing up in public spaces? Or, is it banking on its silent support base, as in the unprecedented Lok Sabha elections in 2019, especially among the economically deprived Hindu refugees who arrived from Bangladesh in the 1980s, migrants from UP and Bihar, and sections of the middle class? Is it still banking on the botched-up and sectarian Citizenship Act plank to woo the Hindu refugees and other backward and indigenous communities like the Matuas and Rajbongshis?

While, the BJP is still struggling to find a strategy, Mamata Banerjee, on a wheel chair, is moving from one rally to another of the 130 scheduled. As the battle unfolds, even a neutral referee would say, it is Advantage Mamata, as of now! In fact, nothing describes the current political situation in the state better than the Trinamool’s catchphrase which says: Khela Hobe! Bhaanga Payein Khela Hobe!! (The game is on! With a fractured foot, the game is on!!)

India Has Violated Its Obligations To UN On Peasant Rights

When the offices of the UN Secretary General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association supported the Indian peasants’ right of peaceful protest and assembly, they were reminding the Indian government of its general human rights obligations under the UN treaties that India has ratified and voluntarily undertaken to enforce at the national level.

These top UN diplomats were cognisant of India’s response to the largely peaceful and unprecedented peasant protests in the form of disproportionate and impermissible law and order measures. Such measures are tantamount to criminalising the current peasant protests and are prohibited by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (the UNDROP).

It took more than seventeen years of campaign by the La Via Campesina, a global network campaign of peasants and rural workers organisations, to reach the milestone of the UNDROP’s adoption by the UN General Assembly on December 17, 2018. At this time, the Indian government has committed to follow the UNDROP which it not only voted for but actually proactively co-sponsored and campaigned for at the UN General Assembly.

The UNDROP brought peasant rights within the ambit of human rights and aimed to strengthen intergovernmental coordination and transnational agrarian solidarity. It is the first ever international law instrument that grants human rights to the majority rural population of global society and provides guidance to the governments on guaranteeing these rights. The UNDROP provides a framework for countries and the international community to strengthen the protection of the human rights of peasants and other rural people and to improve their living conditions.

The UNDROP’s fundamental premise is that the peasant and rural workers constitute 80% of the world’s population and are often victims of human rights violations and suffer from poverty. Peasant and rural landless workers, especially women, do not have equal control over land and other natural resources, or access to education and justice. It recognises the dignity of the world’s rural populations, their contributions to global food production, and their ‘special relationship’ to the land, water and nature, as well as their vulnerabilities to evictions, hazardous working conditions and political repression. 

The UNDROP is a blueprint for potential national legislation dealing with the rights of peasants and rural workers. Although currently it is technically non-binding in a strict sense, it uses the term “shall” implying legal obligations of the countries and is an honour code that all UN members have agreed to uphold and incorporate in their national policy framework. Until it becomes a treaty with its own independent enforcement mechanism, the UN has deferred the UNDROP’s monitoring and instead asked all countries including India to include the UNDROP implementation measures in their periodic reports to the other UN human rights mechanisms.

Importantly, the UNDROP prohibits criminalisation of peasants and rural workers protests and calls upon all countries including India to ensure that it shall not subject them to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments when they exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly. It also recognises the peasants and rural workers’ right to life, security of persons, freedom of movement, thought, opinion and expression, as well as association.

Despite India’s commitment at the UN not to criminalise any peasant struggle, the government introduced drastic measures in response to current protests such as interrupting access to water and electricity, limiting access to protest sites, barricading and fortifying protest sites, deploying paramilitary forces, disrupting internet services, registering criminal cases, arbitrarily detaining, torturing, and inflicting custodial and sexual violence against the protest leaders, protesters, supporters, and journalists.

From the beginning, the government acquiesced to the ruling party’s political propaganda apparatus that has engaged in a systematic vilification and dehumanisation campaign about the protests. It failed to publicly condemn all off and online attacks, and the use of hateful and misogynistic language against those connected with the protest.

The UNDROP requires India to ensure the primacy of peasants’ rights specified in the UNDROP over all international agreements, including those regulating trade, investments and intellectual property rights. For that purpose, it further mandates India to take legislative, administrative measures with full consultation of its rural populations. The government in drafting three farm laws has not made good faith efforts to facilitate the peasants’ right to actively participate in the legislative process.

The UNDROP states that India is obliged to take measures to favour peasants selling their products in markets and allow their families to attain an adequate standard of living. The measures enshrined in the three farm laws including the government’s unwillingness to give statutory power to the Minimum Support Price (MSP), adversely affecting the peasants fair access to the market and adequate standard of living, thereby breaching its commitment to the UNDROP.

Without any philosophical or ideological shift at government level or its explicit reservation to the implementation of the UNDROP, India’s volte face reveals its apparent intent to not comply with the UNDROP’s key provisions. The Indian governmental leadership understands the gravity of the situation about the agrarian crisis and protests, and understands its obligations to the peasants, yet it is making a strategic decision that dispute resolution and conflict prevention efforts are not worth the political costs.

A very simple understanding of the holistic configuration of the current protest dynamics indicates various imminent warning signs for the protests spiraling into a larger unmanageable crisis, with devastating consequences for peasants, rural workers, police and armed forces, their families, and the whole social fabric. Even now, a staggering number of protesters continue to die.

The government’s continuous failure to resolve the farm bill dispute, may result in one or more different scenarios, such as aggressive law enforcement actions or incidents of random and scattered violence or even a prolonged low-intensity rural armed conflict, with unimaginable human and material loss. 

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The protest has gradually reached a monumental juncture nationally beyond the strategic encampments at various entry points to New Delhi, with increasing global support. It is slowly starting to receive attention from the UN human rights processes. On February 11, 2021, the La Via Campesina representative spoke at a high-level special event of The UN Committee on World Food Security and said that “thousands of farmers in India are on the streets for over [the past] 75 days demanding a fair support price for their harvest. They are worried because of the entry of big agribusinesses and contract farming models that will push down their incomes further and they will have no chance to bargain.”

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her oral updates on the global human rights situation in more than 50 countries at the 46th session opening of the UN Human Rights Council, provided much needed and belated impetus to protests when she highlighted that “continued protests by hundreds of thousands of farmers [in India] highlight the importance of ensuring laws and policies are based on meaningful consultations with those concerned. I trust that ongoing dialogue efforts by both sides will lead to an equitable solution to this crisis that respects the rights of all. Charges of sedition against journalists and activists for reporting or commenting on the protests, and attempts to curb freedom of expression on social media, are disturbing departures from essential human rights principles…”

Given the global attention the protest is receiving, it is likely that peasants and rural workers globally may observe the forthcoming International Day of Peasant’s Struggle on April 17, 2021, in support of the Indian protests. This day commemorates the massacre of the peasants and landless workers by armed forces in 1996 in Brazil while protesting for comprehensive agrarian reform.

If the government had been more transparent nationally during the drafting of the three farm bills, upheld its commitments under the UNDROP, and discharged its ethical responsibility and legal obligations to diligently implement them, it could have averted this crisis that continues to bring immense pain, suffering, and trauma to all, and that also has inflamed a toxic socio-political culture of intolerance.

The writer is a former UN human rights monitor in Yugoslavia and Rwanda

Agriculure In Crisis – 300 Million Landless Labourers

When India became free in 1947, the country’s population was around 340 million. The bulk of the population was involved in agriculture. During the Moghul rule, the land was owned by the emperor and the Jagirdars and Zamindars appointed by the Moghul controlled vast tracts of land for the purpose of collecting the land revenue. The farmers were virtually landless. I have seen these poor exploited souls walk towards the sheds of these landlords like cattle after the day’s toil to sleep for the night and get some rice and daal for food.

During the freedom struggle, a promise had been made that the land will be given to the tiller. The aim was to get rid of feudalism and revive the country’s agricultural economy that had been ruined and could not produce enough food for the nation. Famines were common both during the Moghul and British eras. Nearly three million died during the Bengal famine of 1943

Independent India’s government took quick steps to abolish Zamindari and Jagirdari to distribute land to the landless farmers. Depending upon the availability of land in each area a limit was placed on the maximum that a tiller family could get. The poor farmers were still using ancient techniques in farming that did not bring a good result.

It has taken time to revive agriculture. To the credit of independent India that it fought a threatened famine in Bihar in 1966. I was all over Bihar then and can say with confidence that few millions would have died but for free India. Not a single person died of hunger-of course the food was imported in large quantities from the United States.

Then came the effort to educate the farmers of new practices, new seeds from India’s agricultural research institutes that the country’s first Prime Minister established. India achieved what is known as the green revolution. Today the country feeds a population of 1300 million and its granaries are overflowing with stocks. The country is an exporter of food grains.

However, over the years, with population explosion and subdivision of small holdings of the farmers in the villages upon the death of original landholder the holdings in most cases have become uneconomic and resulted in the creation of landless estimated around 300 million.

The land has passed on into the hands of big rich farmers who bought it from the small farmers for a pittance. The country is once again facing the emergence of new landlords some of whom own village after village, pay no taxes as agricultural income is tax-exempt. These landlords not only own vast chunks of the land but with income-tax-free earnings now run hotels and miscellaneous other businesses. Many of these new feudals are politicians for whom politics is a business of protecting their landholdings.

Where do we go from here? Will the farm laws enacted by the government help the landless and reduce poverty in the countryside or help poor farmers. If one has to go by any other country’s example, then it has to look at the United States of America where small farms have totally disappeared into the hands of Corporates. Do we want that to happen in India? It can happen, after all, India’s corporates will love tax-free income from agriculture.

It is time to talk to the farmers, the landless, the people who know what is happening in rural India if poverty has to be eradicated. The big farmers, rich as they are not happy that the new laws may give them competition from the Corporates. In any case, the rich farmers including Corporate agricultural companies need to be taxed say on income above a certain level. Let it not be forgotten that agriculture was exempted from tax in the past to make it attractive for farmers and others to invest at a time when no one wanted to invest in agriculture.

Corporates in agriculture may pay better wages to the landless or more money to the small farmer for taking his land on contract. Will they? Or will they go for greater mechanical farming reducing the numbers of labourers required America’s agriculture is totally mechanised?

The agitation by the farmers rich or small, whatever, has now run for over four months. There is no end in sight. Farm laws were enacted without consulting the farmers or their unions. It is not just the BJP that is responsible for these laws even the preceding governments had thought of such action.

The way opposition works in the Parliament – shouting slogans, not studying the Bills, with no debate on proposed legislation. These laws which may be seriously defective get passed by a majority because the opposition whose job it is to highlight such defects is usually not there in the House having walked out.

It is time that the Opposition parties seriously consider their role in Parliament. Is it merely to shout slogans, run into the well of the house, walk out and give free hand to the government to get through legislation virtually without any debate or due consideration. The net result people suffer and agitate if a defective law is passed.

To this author, the Farmers agitation has highlighted the crisis in agriculture that the Farm laws fail to address. In the years ahead, with a rising population and hardly any population control measures, the country is only going to witness far greater numbers of landless poor. It is time to consider the solution and face this crisis.

The Prime Minister has promised to double the income of the farmers and the Farm Laws are said to be a step in that direction. Will the Farm laws really do that or just double the income of rich farmers? Time to sort this out in consultation with the farmers big and small. Bring this agitation to an end and find the solution for rural poverty.

(The author of this opinion piece is the chairman of ANI)

India’s Fall From Democracy To Electoral Autocracy

By virtue of its having a population of close to 1.37 billion and holding elections to Parliament and state assemblies every five years as required under the Constitution and on the basis of adult suffrage, India has logical claims to the status of the world’s largest democracy. Unfortunately, to popular concern, India is not faring well as a democracy in the eyes of independent global watchdogs.

These agencies use copiously collected social science data and feedback from a wide range of independent sources before they decide where a particular democracy finds itself in their indexes. The first blow for India came from Freedom House, a US based watchdog funded largely by the US Administration, which relegated the country to “partly free” status from the earlier “free” ranking.

Now a much harsher admonition for India comes from Sweden based V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute. In a major setback for liberal democracy, “the world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy,” says the V-Dem report. The country’s 23 percentage point slide on V-Dem scale since 2013 makes “it one of the most dramatic shifts (read in terms of erosion of democracy) among all countries in the world over the past ten years.”

Elaborating how democratic values got eroded in India, V-Dem says: “Autocratisation process has largely followed the typical pattern for countries in the ‘Third Wave’ over the past ten years: a gradual deterioration where freedom of the media, academia and civil society were curtailed first and to the greatest extent.”

But Pranab Bardhan, professor emeritus of economics at University of California, Berkley, says much of Indian media, particularly the TV channels are found “shamelessly” ingratiating themselves with the powers that be. What freedom of the Press can there be when media owners and journalists who matter have on their own drawn the Lakshman Rekha in a way offering comfort to the ruling party at the Centre and in states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. What is left of free media is some news and opinion websites run by some intrepid journalists and a magazine or two.

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Bardhan is surprised that BJP has the gumption to complain that the opposition is engaged in smearing the reputation of the country across the world. “But it is now imperative to say that the way democracy is being trampled in so many ways is giving the country a bad name. Let’s take the case of harassment of Disha Ravi (climate activist). Hasn’t this invited global criticism? I will say those who describe the protesting farmers and principled journalists as anti-nationalists are a blot on our democracy,” says Bardhan.

Bardhan, a global campaigner for equality of opportunity for human development, has strong distaste for doublespeak that BJP leaders indulge in. They, according to him, will say sabka saath sabka vikas (development for all) but when it comes to act they will spew hatred for the ones not of their faith. Why Bills are not discussed any longer and Acts are steamrolled through Parliament?

Bardhan thinks the fear of courting uncomfortable questions has made Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to hold Press conferences at all. The people are instead left with ‘Man ki Baat,’ a monologue that leaves no room for questions to be asked. (To put the record straight, Modi at least once sat for a long interview with the former Hindustan Times chief editor Sanjoy Narayan.)

Incidentally, Bardhan like many other front-ranking intellectuals is a strident critic of the NDA decision on demonetisation and the Covid-19 lockdown for the indescribable sufferings of the common man, millions of migrant workers and people dependent on the unorganised sectors. Now we learn from the periodic labour survey by National Statistical Office that the urban unemployment rate in the country shot up to 20.9% in April-June 2020 coinciding with the lockdown from 9.1% in the previous quarter. But what will go unrecorded are the physical, mental and financial pains millions of migrant workers suffered because of sudden declaration of the lockdown without giving them a chance to go back to wherefrom they came by train and long distant buses.

In a recent interview with the largely circulated Bengali newspaper Anandabazar Patrika, Bardhan expressed his anguish over disintegration of the country’s federal structure. As policy decisions are getting concentrated in the Prime Minister’s office (PMO), in a novel development New Delhi is regularly trespassing into areas reserved for the states. There are too many occasions when the centre without seeking the views of states are addressing subjects concerning education, health, agriculture, law and order and labour.

The winding up of the Planning Commission where the states could place their economic demands and subsequently get relief from the government was a blow to federalism. As for revenue mobilisation, every time New Delhi would impose a cess that will be a denial to states of their rightful share. This is not the case when revenues are mobilised by way of taxes.

Drawing an analogy with Germany in the 1930s where the Communists and social democrats locked in political bickering helped in Hitler coming to power, Bardhan strongly recommends that the Left, the Congress and Trinamool Congress should not allow their past differences, often quite bitter, to come in the way to stop BJP from wresting power in West Bengal.

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Bardhan says if the Left truly believes that ‘Ram in 2021 and Bam (that is left) in 2026’ then it is indulging in self-delusion. The left apparently doesn’t want to have any kind of understanding with Trinamool since its members and supporters had suffered a lot in the hands of ruling party members in the past ten years. But he says in the past ahead of the Left Front rule, the Communists were given a hellish time by the Congress. The left, according to him, will be showing wisdom if it is found ready to bury all such hatchets to stop the BJP juggernaut. He at the same time wants the Matua and Rajbangsi communities, which are befriended by BJP, to stay clear of the party with strong Brahminical leanings.

People from different parts of the country have over centuries made Bengal their home and in the process they have made rich contribution to the local economy and culture. Many Bengalis are uncomfortable that BJP is described by incumbent Trinamool as a party of outsiders.

Bardhan has an interesting take on this: “BJP has tenuous links with Bengali culture. Since the party doesn’t have a great Bengali intellectual to boast, it is busy paying obeisance to Bankim Chandra, Rabindranath, Swami Vivekananda and Subhas Chandra Bose. But it is impossible to reconcile BJP’s Hindutva with what these great Bengali minds wrote and said.”

Bankim Chandra will not accept that the country has made any progress unless the Muslims and everyone else have a share in it. Vivekananda wanted everyone to read the Bible and the Quran along with the Gita. Subhas Chandra was secular to the core. His strong disapproval when Syama Prasad Mukherjee joined Hindu Mahasabha is well known. Finally, the world has known Tagore as a well wisher of both Hindus and Muslims and as someone desirous of their brotherhood.

Sahir – The Poet Of The Underdog

“Zulm phir zulm hai, badhta hai toh mitt jaata hai” (Atrocities are what they are, when they increase, they get obliterated)

When farmers engaged in the ongoing agitation around Delhi and their supporters passionately recite Sahir Ludhianvi, one realises that the man who modestly called himself pal-do pal ka shayar lives on. He remains relevant, a century after his birth (March 8, 1921) and four decades after his death.

For a landlord’s son who shunned riches to stay with his mother, Sahir felt close to the farmer crushed by debt. He lives on because his heart ached for the commoner, like the soldier gone to fight someone else’s war, the woman forced to sell her body, the youth frustrated by unemployment or the family living on the street.

He was different from his contemporaries in that he did not praise Khuda (God), Husn (beauty) or Jaam (wine). Instead, he wrote bitter, sensitive lyrics about the declining values of society; the senselessness of war and politics. His sorrow-filled love songs conveyed that there were starker realities. He was the “bard for the underdog”.

This tribute, by one who knows neither Urdu nor poetry, is but a selection of Sahir’s lyrics in films, his times when people also applauded Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi and many others. A certain commonality of ideas they espoused through lyrics marked the Indian cinema’s “golden age”. It was also the golden age of its content, even if the films were slow-moving, simplistic in characterisation and repetitive.

Sahir’s poetry was influenced by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and like Faiz, Sahir gave Urdu poetry an intellectual element that caught the imagination of the youth of the last century. They felt he reflected their feelings.

He was controversial. He insisted on charging a rupee more than Lata Mangeshkar, the reigning singing star. An internationalist, he was critical of the Indian approach. According to Gautam Kaul, writer/researcher on cinema, Sahir is the only poet who got the goat of those who profess to remove poverty. During the Emergency (1975-77), his songs included in the film Phir Subhah Hogi (1958) were given a fresh review and one song was banned: “Cheen-O Arab hamara, Hindustan hamara, Rehne ko ghar nahi hai, Sara jahan hamara.”

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The relevance of Sahir’s contribution lies in his vision of universal brotherhood, of a syncretic India, where people of all faiths live in harmony as depicted in mandiron mein shankh bajey, masjidon mein ho azaan (Mujhe Jeene Do) and Tu Hindu banega na Muslamaan banega, insan ki aulad hai, insan banega (Dhool Ka Phool)

To be sure, these thoughts were always difficult to visualise and practice in reality, even as they inspired when disseminated through the most popular medium of mass entertainment. In the new century, it promises to be more difficult for a number of reasons.

For one, there is less of that sensitivity needed to understand and appreciate Sahir’s words and his message. Urdu or Hindustani is enmeshed between shudh Hindi and the urbanised Anglicization. There is less of that tehzeeb that inculcated love of the language and of poetry. Frankly, there was time at hand to relax and to brood. It is lacking in the technology-driven lives we live.

Then, change in the public discourse has resolutely pushed “us versus them” political culture. It has permeated to the social plane as well. Bollywood, for all its flaws, has been a secular oasis with its unique ethos. It has been targeted, precisely for this reason, in the recent years. This has seriously damaged the content and philosophy of an inclusive society that has shaped “the idea of India.”

In the new century, the Hindi cinema is arguably less romantic. The protagonist is more worried about his livelihood (rozi-roti). Good guy is passe. The one looking to make a quick buck through means fair and foul is the hero. He/she has become city-oriented chasing, not romantic ideas or angst against the tormentor, hurtling towards material gains, always in the fast-forward mode.

The present times have ended the socialist ideals espoused by Sahir and other ‘progressives’. One who controls and multiplies money (Yeh mehlon mein baithe huwe qatil, yeh lootere) is now the job-giver and benefactor, even if he torments and exploits. Once distrusted, even maligned in literature and cinema, and at the best, seen as a necessarily evil, he now calls all the shots – political, social and of course, economic. That change came with the 1990s. Remember, Dil Chahta Hai’s ‘Hum hain naye, andaaz kyun ho purana’ that came 20 years after Sahir was gone?

This change in the way the society looks at the capitalist was inevitable. The agitator for equality in the society, and certainly the poet who spun ideas to inspire the agitator, have lost their clout with global changes. One wonders if Sahir and others like him would have continued writing at all.

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Post-Sahir, some like Gulzar and Javed Akhtar are very much into good poetry, but have had to lead the change in content and philosophy. Fact remains that in this era of fast music created by electronic instruments, with cinematic pursuit extended to television and the digital platforms, the demand-and-supply is so huge that quality suffers. Lyric is not every viewer’s cup of tea and occasionally if not often, it takes the absurd form of ‘jab tak rahega samosa mein aaloo’.

Old lyrics, and the yearning for old and meaningful has made nostalgia a big business. Music is on the internet and with songs digitized, heard more smoothly and widely than ever before. This has prompted books and music albums on Sahir and poets of his era. The generations that grew up on his lyrics have time and money to spend on re-living their youth. Sections of the young also appreciate good verse and melody.

Biopics of the famous were Bollywood’s flavour till the lockdown caused by Covid-19 was imposed. That pursuit has resumed. One reads sketchy reports of more than one film being made on Sahir that, it is claimed, are based on books written after research. One of them, by Akshay Manwani, discusses his songs and poems through the context of his life and the legacy that he has left behind. It is written with perspectives from luminaries, including Dev Anand, Yash Chopra, and Javed Akhtar.

Sahir’s relationship with poet Amrita Pritam is also part of the popular lore. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is supposed to be working on it. Names of top Bollywood actors like Abhishek Bachchan and Farhan Akhtar to play Sahir and to portray Amrita, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Deepika Padukone and Taapsi Pannu have been bandied about. An October 2020 report indicated that the project had been shelved. But biopics are an attractive proposition. It is a matter of time before it could revive.

Through all his angst, we return to Sahir’s self-evasive pal-do-pal sentiment: “Tomorrow there will be more who will narrate love poems. May be someone narrating better than me. May be someone listening better than you. Will anyone remember me? Why should anyone remember me? Why should the busy age waste its time for me?”

What would keep Sahir relevant today, tomorrow and for ever? His immortal lines, “Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya, har fiqr ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya.” Taking life in its strides. Can anything be closer to an individual?

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

The Battle For Bengal Is The Election To Watch

Of the four states where there will soon be assembly elections in April-May, West Bengal’s will be the most keenly watched. It is the state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the biggest challenger to the incumbent All-India Trinamool Congress (AITC) government, which, led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, is completing 10 years in power.

For several years, the eastern state has been a hard nut to crack for the BJP but in the last parliamentary polls, the party managed to win 18 member of parliament seats from Bengal, which was a feat considering that the party has traditionally managed to get no more than two MPs elected from the state. In the West Bengal assembly, the BJP currently has just 27 of the 294 seats (the AITC and its allies have 211).

The BJP’s formulaic approach to winning in the states – the party enjoys power in 18 of India’s 28 states – thus far has been a combination of caste and religion based politics. In the Hindi belt states as well as in the western states this has worked well. But in Bengal, caste politics and religious issues have mattered less in the past. That, however, could change. The Muslim population in Bengal has grown steadily and is estimated now at nearly 30% compared to the all-India proportion of a little more than 13%.

This has two implications. A larger proportion of Muslim voters has stood in the way of the Hindu nationalist-leaning BJP becoming popular in the state. But it has also created a sort of backlash among Hindu voters many of whom perceive Ms Banerjee’s government as being one that appeases the minority community. The BJP wants to turn that sort of backlash to an electoral advantage.

The BJP is also following a strategy that challenges Ms Banerjee’s government with charges of corruption, particularly against her nephew Abhisek Banerjee, who is an MP and a powerful member of her party. The party has also managed to chip away at the AITC by getting some of its prominent leaders such as former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, former state ministers Subhendu Adhikary and Rajib Banerjee to defect to the BJP. Although these leaders have limited mass following in the state, their exits have triggered some dissension within Ms Banerjee’s party.

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There are other factors that might help the BJP. A large part of the urban population comprising middle-class could be a bit restive about Ms Banerjee’s government, which despite promises has not really been effective in ensuring the state’s economic progress at a more rapid pace. The continuing impact of the pandemic has not helped either.

But yet, the AITC led by the feisty Ms Banerjee has many strong advantages in the state. For instance, the BJP really doesn’t have a credible face to project as its chief ministerial candidate for the state. Also, the backlash against Muslims may have grown but the fact remains that at in 100 of the 294 constituencies, Muslim voters will be the ones who will decide who wins. And the BJP is unlikely to get their favour.

The AITC has also employed the services of a poll strategist with a good track record – Prashant Kishor, who has worked with several Indian parties and leaders, including his efforts in Gujarat where he is believed to have played a key role in ensuring that Narendra Modi got a third term there as chief minister in 2011. The other niggling factor that might affect the BJP is the first ever formal seat-sharing arrangement in the state between the Congress and the Left parties. Both are not significant players anymore (both have just 46 seats between them) but an alliance could dent both, the AITC as well as the BJP’s fortunes in the elections.

The other states that will go to the polls are Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, and Puducherry. In Tamil Nadu it will be a repeat of the traditional battle between two regional parties, DMK and AIADMK. The BJP, which is likely to have an alliance with AIADMK (in power now), hopes to piggyback on that party if it manages to be re-elected. But early analyses show that DMK may have an edge this time. The Congress and Left parties in the state are allied with the DMK.

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In Kerala, the pattern has traditionally been one where every five years the fortunes swing between the Left and the Congress. In other words, the opposition gets elected to power. By that logic, the Congress-led alliance may come back to power, dislodging the Left alliance which forms the incumbent government. The Congress is hoping that the fact that Rahul Gandhi represents Wayanad (he was elected MP from that constituency in Kerala) will give it more of an edge.

Meanwhile, the BJP looks confident in being able to retain power in Assam but the Congress party there is focussing its strategy on opposing the National Registrar of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act, two thorny issues that have divisive effects in the state. In Puducherry, a union territory, the Congress government has collapsed recently and although this has created uncertainties, it could well work to the advantage of a BJP-backed alliance if that can be formed.

But it is West Bengal that will steal the show during the state elections. The battle for Bengal could be one that is fought tooth and nail by both, Ms Banerjee who wants to come back for a third term; and the BJP, which wants to wrest control of a state that has always posed formidable challenges to it.

Why In God’s Name…?

Immortality is commonplace, wrote Jorge Luis Borges, but human vanity, megalomania and narcissism has an eternally infinite quality in its self-obsession of historical greatness. In life and in death, and beyond death, thy name shall be remembered, if not in the hearts of grateful citizens and fellow human beings, then in gigantic monuments – this has been the doctrine of both dictators and democrats alike. That is why, their names adorn architecture wonders, towering buildings and institutions, railways stations, airports, universities, hospitals, streets and squares. Do they deserve it? That is the question which history must answer.

Most dictators suffer from this epidemic of immortality, though many democrats too are not far off. In other cases, their devoted followers, for vested or political reasons, choose to immortalise the names of their leaders, much after they are dead and lost in public memory. ‘Aspiring India’ is now in the midst of this ‘inspiring’ churning.

Take for instance the case of Kazakhstan, which became ‘independent’ soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and its eternally infinite ‘former’ president and leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, now 80.  After three decades of unilateral rule, he suddenly and surprisingly ‘resigned’ as president in March 2019. But, then, as is the case with many post-Soviet Central Asian countries, there is, predictably, a catch.

Soon after, his elder daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, was appointed to the number two position in the upper house of a one-dimensional Parliament with its sticky lollypop of democracy. Effectively, she, thereby, became the most powerful person in the country, even while ‘Papa’ called the shots. Inevitably, a loyalist, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was sworn in as president, who quickly not only promised to abide by his leader before taking all key and strategic decisions, but instantly proposed that the capital, Astana, meaning Kazakh, should be named after the Great Leader himself. Hence, Astana, since then, is called Nur-sultan – the ‘Light of the King’!

This luminescent light has been shining across many nations all over the globe. Saddam Hussein built a gymnasium in his name, why, only he knows. The ‘Great Helmsman and Dear Leader’ of North Korea, rebuilt a stadium destroyed during the Korean War in Pyongyang and renamed it in his own name: Kim Il-Sung Stadium. His illustrious son, with an infectious laughter and miscellaneous fictitious missiles targeted at various mythical cities in America, perhaps, is still not in a mood to name anything in his name, so immortal he has already become in his own lifetime!

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Among others, Adolf Hitler was modest enough to name only one stadium in his name: Adolf Hitler Kampfbahn, Stuttgart. Why only one stadium, on a world-conquest project, remains an enigma! Perhaps, he was too busy with the Holocaust, the gas chambers and the concentration camps. And, surely, he could not name all these death camps where he killed millions of Jews across Europe in his name!

Same was the case with his best fascist buddy in Italy. Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino in Turin, constructed as a sign of the great power of the emerging supremacist races in the 1930s, was originally named Stadio Municipals Benito Mussolini, while he was in power. Stadiums apart, both Hitler and Mussolini, could never predict their unremarkable end.

In mid-Sixties India, the then education minister MC Chagla proposed to Jawaharlal Nehru that Delhi needs another university, and that it should be named after the first prime minister of India. Nehru reportedly “flared up”. He apparently said that his views about raising memorials to living persons is well-known, that it is entirely wrong and no statues or institutions should be thus named after any living person. Nehru reportedly said that Delhi has a great history and there could be many names – why not Raisina?

Years later, Chagla did what he wanted. Named JNU after Nehru. Plus, there is a statue out there now near the administrative block of a man who never really wanted it in the first instance.

One can understand unauthorised slums of the poorest and homeless migrant labourers named after politicians, like Sonia Vihar in Delhi. It gives the most impoverished and powerless living in sub-human conditions some sense of protection from the bulldozers and cops. But why parks for the happy middle and upper classes on their morning walks?

Take for instance the Sanjay Gandhi parks in Delhi. Why, for god’s sake, should parks be named after an upstart bully, a tinpot dictator and the notorious son of a dictatorial prime minister who ran amok during the Emergency? 

Or, why should the Delhi airport be named after Indira Gandhi; why not, in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, or Frontier Gandhi, or, Sardar Patel and Bhagat Singh, even Ghalib, for instance? Indeed, it’s a puzzle as to why should the Hyderabad airport be called the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport! Surely, Hyderabad, Andhra and now Telangana can boast of illustrious figures of brilliant greatness from their indigenous terrain and history on whose name the airport could be named, with due respect to the late prime minister.

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Consider the fact that revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Batukeshwar Dutt, Durga Bhabi, Kalpana Dutt, among hosts of other greats in the freedom struggle, have found no place in public memory in terms of naming or renaming architectural spaces. Why only revolutionaries, Munshi Premchand, Phanishwar Nath Renu, Sahir Ludhianvi, Mohammad Rafi, Guru Dutt, Balraj Sahni, Ismat Chugtai, among other greats, have all been ignored or dumped, suggesting a country where the powerful care two hoots about its great cultural and aesthetic legacy. The Kaifiyat Express in Uttar Pradesh is perhaps a rare departure, a tribute to Kaifi Azmi from Azamgarh in UP, among such truly rare, sensitive and precious departures in modern Indian history.

Among other states, West Bengal has named all its metro stations in Kolkata remembering the inheritance of its cultural icons, from poets and writers to actors. The state has names of its cultural icons etched across its landscape, much like Moscow or Berlin, for instance, where, despite their changing history in contemporary times, you can move from the memory of Lermentov to Tolstoy to Marx to Brecht, across its beautiful lanes and squares.

In Gwangju, South Korea, the democratic upsurge against the military dictatorship in the 1980s, is etched in the graveyard nearby remembering the dead who fought and died for freedom and democracy. It has been designed with aesthetic refinement and great sensitivity. There is a photograph, and a small epitaph. Plus, the living opera in the backdrop which is sung in a choir during the anniversary of the uprising, with tears flowing among the audience, in memory and grief, and in deep, authentic homage. Indeed, those who remember the sacrifices of their dead for a better, democratic and humane society, are always trying to create a better, democratic and humane society, despite all odds.

That is why, the current public spectacle at the Motera Stadium in Ahemdabad appears straight out of the warped text books of Nursultan, Hitler, Kim Il Sung and Mussolini. Barring Mayawati who built her own statues, and that is considered by many as a reassertion of Dalit identity submerged and oppressed by upper caste history, agree or disagree, no living politician has ever created or endorsed his own pubic monument in post-independence India.

With the two big stands in the cricket stadium named after two profiteering Gujarati industrialists, known to be the best buddies of the Dear Leader currently ruling from Delhi, the theatre of the absurd is now turning sincerely bizarre.

Hum do, Hamare do? Well, it could very well be the love, self-love, in the time of Corona!

Nirav Modi Case: UK Judge Raps Justice Katju, Endorses Mumbai Jail

It was clear in the earlier stages of Nirav Modi’s extradition trial in the Westminster Magistrates Court that the judgement would likely go in India’s favour, when the judge once remarked that he was bound by the ruling in the Vijay Mallya case delivered in the same court in December 2018. Thus, the February 6 judgement recommending Modi’s extradition to the UK home secretary on the ground that there is a case for him to answer in India was not exactly a surprise. But of more interest are the judge’s remarks on Justice Markandey Katju, who deposed on behalf of Modi, and on the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai, where Modi (and Mallya) are to be lodged.

In the UK’s complex extradition arrangements, the magistrates court is the first stage. After all legal avenues are exhausted, the home secretary makes the final decision. Modi will most likely now appeal to the high court within 14 days, as stipulated in the judgement, which means that his actual extradition to India is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Mallya also lost in the magistrates court, as well as in the high court, exhausted all legal options, but remains in the UK, awaiting disposal of a confidential legal matter widely believed to be an asylum application. But unlike Mallya, who remains on bail, Modi is incarcerated in the Wandsworth jail in west London, having been denied bail on several occasions.

The high-profile Mallya trial forced Indian officials in New Delhi and London to make a better case in terms of evidence, response and quality of paperwork. Several previous cases failed due to poor quality of evidence that did not hold up in British courts. Better preparation was evident in the Modi case also, given the volumes of paperwork, data and evidence presented to the court, but some gaps remain, as the judgement notes: “Unlike the evidence from the Defence, the evidence produced by the GOI in the case, through no fault of Counsel, was poorly presented and very difficult to navigate. Observations I note were similarly made by the Senior District Judge…in (the) Mallya (case). I hope the GOI take these observations on board in relation to future requests”.

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Justice Katju’s deposition by videolink from New Delhi in September was not without drama. Often agitated by questions by the Crown Prosecution Service lawyer, at one point he told her: “I know more English literature than you”, besides making some sensational claims about India’s judiciary and actions of the BJP government.

District Judge Samuel Goozee rejected his deposition in Thursday’s judgement with these words: “In cross-examination, Justice Katju made some astonishing, inappropriate and grossly insensitive comparisons…I attach little weight to Justice Katju’s expert opinion. Despite having been a former Supreme Court judge in India until his retirement in 2011 his evidence was in my assessment less than objective and reliable. His evidence in Court appeared tinged with resentment towards former senior judicial colleagues. It had hallmarks of an outspoken critic with his own personal agenda”.

Secondly, the judge upheld India’s assurances and details of the Arthur road jail, which has been a subject of prolonged arguments and counter-arguments in the Mallya and Modi cases. Allegations that conditions in Indian jails pose a risk to human rights have been one of the key issues cited by the defence team (same in both cases) to object to the extradition.

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Sovereign sassurances were provided by the Union home ministry that Modi would have access to medical and other facilities in Barrack number 12 of the jail. A detailed video of the cell was also presented to the court, which encouraged the judge to say that conditions in the Mumbai jail would be better than the current ones he is facing in the Wandsworth prison.

The judge said: “There is no doubt in my mind that the conditions (Modi) will experience in Barrack 12 are far less restrictive and far more spacious than the current regime he is being held in within the prison estate in our own jurisdiction… (The) regime awaiting (Modi) in Barrack 12, when you consider the video, would I have no doubt, be an amelioration of his current conditions of detention, especially when considered alongside the extensive assurances provided by the GOI”.

Modi is the latest of several individuals facing serious charges who have sought refuge in the UK. The long-drawn out legal routes in the extradition process, with avenues to appeal, ensure that actual extradition, if it happens at all, is not easy from India’s perspective. The Mallya and Modi cases demonstrate a new, pro-active approach from New Delhi to bring back individuals facing serious charges, but as these two cases show, eventual extradition remains something of a challenge for New Delhi.

IPL Hits Covid Gloom Out Of Stadium

Way back, in 2008, when the first Indian Premier League auction took place, noted cricket writer and former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck likened the auction to a huge cattle sale. He was not the only one who thought like that. Even the stiff upper lip Englishmen and cocky Aussies were full of smirk at the inaugural auction.

How times change! Thirteen years on, the same Englishmen and Aussies, traditional rivals on the cricket pitch, clamour to be part of the IPL. They are ready like “cattle” to be picked up for a price and ready to play in killing heat and humidity which the IPL is all about.

Last week, the latest IPL auction held the audience in thrall. A few days after the highs of victory at Chepauk in Chennai where India crushed England by 317 runs in the second Test, the franchise holders were at the same city bidding for players.

The previous IPL season was held in energy-sapping conditions in the UAE, with Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah being the venues. Playing in the Bio Bubble due to Covid-19 and being restricted so tightly did not deter the cricketers from playing top-flight club cricket.

In less than four months after the last IPL, it is back to the 2021 auction where Rs 145.30 crores were spent on 57 players. Twenty two of these were from abroad, which makes one wonder what depression and recession is all about in the Indian economy.

To be sure, the IPL has shown it is recession proof, year after year. This was a big auction and the way the teams went about spending moolah showed they were ready to loosen the purse strings on golden oldies. Young Turks also commanded a price.

It was a jaw-dropping moment when Chris Morrison, from South Africa, 33, was grabbed by Rajasthan Royals for Rs 16.25 crores. Behind him in the Big IPL Bazaar was Kyle Jamieson of New Zealand who was picked up by Royal Challengers Bangalore for Rs 15 crores.

For those who felt the IPL was only about picking players who are in good form or have a proven track record, Aussie Glen Maxwell, a flop show in the last edition, commanded a price of Rs 14.25 crores and went to RCB. The Virat Kohli led side is yet to win an IPL title.

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Kings XI Punjab, now rechristened as Punjab Kings, bought Jhye Richardson, age 24, at Rs 14 crores, which showed the teams which have not done as well as Mumbai Indians or Chennai Super Kings still play huge stakes in the IPL.

Over the years, purists in cricket, now a dwindling breed, have started accepting the IPL. They will swear the slam-bang, whiz-thud brand of cricket is not to their liking but none minds the huge sixes, players fielding like men ready to give up their lives to catch the ball and bowlers ready for delivering with laser-precision.

At this stage, with Corona virus cases again rising in a few states in India, one is not sure how the BCCI and the IPL head honchos will hold the event this summer. To think of a home-and-away playing format in the Bio Bubble will be impossible. However, when it comes to planning for the IPL, it has always been meticulous and maybe just a few cities are used. Mumbai has four cricket stadia but the Corona cases may be an impeding factor, as of now.

The good thing about the IPL is it has provided a platform for many careers to be built as has been the case with players like T Natarajan, Washington Sundar, and K Gowtham to name a few. Of course, someone like Mohd Azharuddin is complaining Sunrisers Hyderabad hardly has any player from the city.

He has made a pertinent point but the IPL is beyond loyalty for a city or own state. It is a cut-throat and high stakes business model where finding the best players to be part of the franchise matters. In a way, the IPL is like football’s EPL model and other club franchises in Europe. What matters to the owners is having the best players.

Look at Chennai Super Kings. They are still going with MS Dhoni, age 39 and veteran Suresh Raina even as they have picked a few good players like Gowtham (Rs 9.25 crores), Moeen Ali (Rs 7 crores) and durable Test batsman Cheteshwar Pujara at Rs 50 lakhs. Social media is divided over the price for Pujara. But for those who know his real value in the Test format, he is priceless and he is quite happy he is in the IPL mix after a long hiatus.

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Punjab Kings had a purse of Rs 53.2 crores at their disposal and spent Rs 34.4 crores. Royal Challengers Bangalore could spend a maximum of Rs 35.4 crores and splurged Rs 35.05 crores. Kolkata Knight Riders had a low budget of Rs 10.75 crores at their disposal and spent Rs 7.55 crores.

Rajasthan Royals had Rs 37.85 crores at their disposal and spent Rs 24.2 crores. Delhi Capitals were not able to spend much as they had Rs 13.4 crores in their kitty of which they spent Rs 11.25 crores. Mumbai Indians had Rs 15.34 crores to buy and used Rs 11.7 crores. And Sunrisers Hyderabad were conservative when they spent Rs 3.8 crores of the Rs 10.75 crores available.

The reason for varying sums at the disposal of various franchises is how much they have spent in the past as there is an overall budget cap. For some teams, fancy names may matter but overall the owners have become smarter and pick players who can deliver in the high pressure IPL.

The return of Vivo as IPL sponsor is very interesting. Last time when the IPL was held in 2020, emotions were high as “Chinese virus” had led to blacklisting and boycott of anything to do with our neighbouring country. Today, one hears of big incidents between India and China on the border but people have forgotten about the Chinese virus!

For the BCCI, having IPL is a win-win situation as they rake in big bucks, officials details of which have not been made public. That the IPL is business plus glamour was never in doubt. Maybe, we can see cheerleaders again. Maybe, we can see fans inside the arena again.

All in all, the IPL definitely lifts the gloom. It is an ecosystem in itself which supports many. Like it or lump it, the IPL has shown, even in difficult times, it remains a hot brand. So, why should cricketers and those in the business of IPL be left behind?