The absent CSR in Swachh Bharat

By Nipun Vinayak A Swachh marathon conducted by the Dettol company, Reckitt Benckiser, in collaboration with NDTV, as part of the Swachch Banega India project, takes the discussion on sanitation into the drawing rooms of the middle and upper classes. With brand ambassadors like Amitabh Bachchan hosting the show, people look up and watch. Naina Lal Kidwai, Chair, India Sanitation coalition, an industry association “to bring organisations and individuals under one platform for promoting sanitation” speaks at the World Water Week in Stockholm on Swachh Bharat, pushing for higher budgets for water and sanitation, and stating that achieving ODF (open defecation free) is the collective responsibility of the entire nation, not just the government. Beyond this glamour and highly-published events, however, what is the real contribution of the corporate world to Swachch Bharat? It is not easy to answer this question. There is lack of consolidated data on the contribution of the corporate world to Swachh Bharat. A portal on the website of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs provides for collection of information in this regard — which remains unfilled. Maybe the portal did not get publicised enough for every one to know about it. Even if it was, would information have trickled in? FICCI, at the beginning of Swachh Bharat, made tall commitments to the Prime Minister’s Office on its intention of contributing to the movement. Two years down the line, it remains non-responsive on the fulfilment of those commitments. The only worthwhile contribution made centrally by the corporate sector was in the field of school toilets — and that too mostly by the public sector undertakings (which probably had little choice). At the decentralised levels of districts and states, the corporate sector might have helped in Swachh Bharat, though one does not get to hear very many examples. In Sibasagar, corporates responded well to Collector Virendra Mittal’s call to “donate a toilet”. In Ludhiana, Bharti Airtel built a number of toilets for the people. In hindsight, many of those toilets were built without carrying out concomitant behavioural change, and therefore their use remained doubtful. The government initiated a Swachh Bharat Kosh, a Trust for collecting contributions from individuals and corporates and deemed the contributions a valid CSR activity exempt from income tax. Still, contribution to this Trust remaines lukewarm. Two things seem critical for a genuine contribution by the corporate sector to Swachh Bharat. One is belief in, and understanding of, the community approach propagated by Swachh Bharat. Two, a readiness to plug the “missing gaps” in the overall ODF plan of the district administration. The former has happened to an extent. The term ODF is now widely used, and the community approach is ingrained in the ODF concept itself. Its understanding, however, may vary and there is something amiss when a company offers to construct “x” number of toilets as a stand-alone activity. Bereft of a community behaviour change plan, this may not bear fruit, and money will — literally — go down the drain. Secondly, the ODF plan for a village comprises multiple activities. A company may take up, in consultation with, and upon suggestion by, the district administration, any of these activities. In case no such plan exists, or if the plan is deficient in terms of behavior change component, it may not shy away from proactively calling upon the administration to make/rectify such a plan. And participate only when such a plan is in place. Besides these two issues, there can be a few more pitfalls. One is the desire for returns in lieu of contributions. Many a times, such a desire is in the form of creating genuine goodwill towards the company. This, however, restricts the geographical area where the corporate can contribute. Promotion of one’s own brand sometimes takes precedence over work, belying the general principle of service propagated by Sant Tukdoji Maharaaj in Gramgita: True service is not for one’s own name. He who is selfish is not a true servant. Sometimes, Swachh Bharat is slated as a “business opportunity”. “People make a lot of money dealing in shit,” it is said. The Economic Times carried a headline on December 23, 2016: “Dettol maker Reckitt Benckiser rides on Swachh Bharat, posts handsome growth of 14%”. Another company, after spending some CSR funds for sanitation, wanted the ministry to promote their appliances. While sanitation may have benefitted a few people, one needs to understand whether the primary motive of Swachh Bharat is to change the behaviour of people, leading them to adopt safe sanitation practices, or to promote some business models, benefiting a few. In the former approach, companies dealing with sanitation products may anyway benefit; however, that will be incidental and not primary to the cause. In the latter approach, the focus may shift to artificial reasons for insanitation — such as lack of good technology — and behaviour change will take a back seat. This may lead to profits for some companies, but no improvement in sanitation. A shared value, that good sanitation benefits all, can be the mantra for everyone, including corporates. And that is immense. There have been some worthwhile efforts by corporates. The contribution of Tata Trust must be mentioned. It sponsored a young professional — called Zilla Swachh Bharat Prerak — to work in each district of India and help the Collector achieve an ODF district. Although there was some scepticism about the usefulness of this initiative earlier, the enthusiasm, energy and fresh ideas of these young professionals seem to have greatly helped the programme. Collaboration with corporates requires a renewed push. Despite some odd references to the role of some corporates in the freedom struggle, one does not come across any significant testimony to support the premise that corporates did play a major role in that struggle. A freedom struggle from shit is now happening. And this history will again be written. One hopes corporates will not let go this opportunity. (IANS)]]>

Cong still not out of woods in UP

By Mohit Dubey Even as the by election outcome in Gorakhpur and Phulpur handed a lifeline to the Samajwadi Party and the BSP and sent the ruling BJP into a tailspin, the fate of the Congress, which ruled Uttar Pradesh for over five decades, remains uncertain. While both Congress candidates forfeited their security deposit and the party leadership has been slammed for not aligning with the SP-BSP, what must worry the party is the continuing erosion of its vote share. Having unsuccessfully aligned with the Samajwadi Party in the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress finds itself on political crossroads as the BSP, Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have also distanced themselves from it and are leaning towards the Samajwadi Party, with its leader Akhilesh Yadav becoming the pivot of opposition unity in Uttar Pradesh A rout a year before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls also exposes the faultline in the state leadership of the Congress and the fact that its organizational structure across the state is in tatters. Congress’ traditional supporters rue that its leadership refuses to read the writing on the wall. Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Raj Babbar terms the victory of the Samajwadi Party from Gorakhpur and Phulpur with the support of the Bahujan Samaj Party a “len-den ka gathjod” (give and take alliance). But other party leaders say the party has some serious thinking to do if it wants to make its presence felt in the Hindi heartland. “We are neither in sync with like-minded parties not with the people,” said a party veteran, adding the Congress has no chance of revival ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha battle in the country’s most populous state. In Phulpur, which sent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the Lok Sabha in 1952, Congress fortunes have hit rock bottom, with its candidate Manish Mishra garnering only 19,353 votes. Even in the 2014 election, despite a Modi wave, its candidate, former cricketer Mohammad Kaif, secured 58,127 votes. Yet jailed mafia-don-turned-politician Ateeq Ahmad got 48,094 votes in the constituency in this election. The Gorakhpur outcome shows the Congress is facing an existential crisis in the state. In Gorakhpur, where the BJP’s 29-year uninterrupted rule was ended by the Samajwadi Party, the Congress votes shrunk to 18,848 and its candidate Surhita Kareem lost her deposit. In 2014, Congress’ Ashtbhuja Prasad Tripathi got 45,917 votes. Party spokesman Virendra Madan admits the results are worrying but adds that “casteist alliance” undid the Congress. Party cadres are angry that the party leadership did not even send its central leaders to campaign. “All the campaigning was left to Raj Babbar.” The last time the party did well in then undivided Uttar Pradesh was in 1985 when it won a whopping 269 seats in the Assembly. Since then, the march to the bottom has been relentless. Between 1985 and 1989, the party nosedived to 94 seats. It slipped again in 1991, with just 46 seats, and further to 28 seats in 1993. In 1996, it bagged 33 seats, won 25 in 2002 and 22 in 2007, when the BSP led by Mayawati romped home with 204 seats. Despite its best efforts, the Congress has failed to emerge out of the shadows of the Samajwadi Party and BSP. In the Lok Sabha, the Congress has just two members — Sonia Gandhi from Rae Bareli and Rahul Gandhi from Amethi — from Uttar Pradesh. If the Congress wants to recover lost ground in its one-time bastion, its leadership needs to shrug off its arrogance and the disconnect with the electorate, say party veterans. With just a year remaining for the 2019 Lok Sabha battle, the sooner the better, they say. (IANS)]]>

Will Darbu's exit affect PDP-BJP ties?

By Sheikh Qayoom The decision by Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to drop Haseeb Drabu from her council of ministers for his remarks at a business meet in Delhi is being hotly debated in political circles – especially what its consequences could be on the state’s PDP-BJP ruling coalition. By doing what she has done, the Chief Minister has proved that she is prepared take political risks — and taking her for granted is something her colleagues and allies should learn not to do. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leaders were aghast after Drabu, who was the Finance Minister, was quoted as telling a meeting organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi that Kashmir was not a political problem and a conflict state but a “social problem”. He said this while seeking investments in the state from businessmen and saying the conditions in the state were conducive to business “where you will find some very interesting opportunities” not just to make money but also to have “a lot of fun and enjoy yourselves”. PDP Vice President Sartaj Madni had said this was something which negated the very existence of the PDP because it is the firm belief of the party that Kashmir is political problem that needed political remedies to resolve. Interestingly, instead of voices being raised in Drabu’s favour by his own party men, leaders of the PDP’s coalition unlikely partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem to be more worried about the decision to drop him. Some senior BJP leaders have rushed to Delhi to discuss the development and its fallout on the ruling coalition with the central leadership of the party. How important Drabu had been for the PDP was proved not once, but many times in the past. The late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed trusted him to work out the terms of the agenda of alliance with BJP National Secretary Ram Madhav that finally paved the way for the present PDP-BJP coalition. “Mufti Sahib always loved him and would overlook what some of his party men would say about Drabu Sahib,” said a PDP insider, not wishing to be identified. In a letter released to the media after he was dropped from the cabinet, Drabu expressed sorrow for not being told by the Chief Minister or her office about the decision to drop him. “I read it on the website of daily ‘Greater Kashmir’. I tried to call the Chief Minister, but was told she was busy and would call back. I waited, but my call was never returned,” he rued. He also said in his letter that he had been quoted out of context by the media and that he what he had said was that Kashmir is not only a political problem, but that “we must also look beyond this”, Drabu clarified. Sayeed made Drabu his economic advisor during his 2002 chief ministerial tenure and later made him the chairman of the local Jammu and Kashmir Bank. In fact, Drabu became the point man between the PDP and the BJP after the 2014 assembly elections. The problem is that many PDP leaders had of late started saying that Drabu was more of “Delhi’s man in Kashmir rather than Kashmir’s man in Delhi”. Drabu is reportedly very close to Ram Madhav, the powerful BJP leader who is in-charge of Kashmir affairs, which many say “cost him his job”. It is this image that has been floating around in the PDP that finally cost him his berth in the state cabinet. While even Mehbooba’s political adversaries, including the National Conference President, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, have welcomed her decision, her allies in the BJP are not happy at all about her decision. “What did he say? He said it is a social problem and Kashmir is a society in search of itself. Is this wrong? We don’t think this is something for which such a harsh decision should have been taken,” a senior BJP leader told IANS, not wanting to be named. His successor, Syed Altaf Bukhari, who has been assigned the finance portfolio, took a major decision immediately after taking over. Bukhari announced that the decision to replace the old treasury system by the Pay and Accounts Office (PAO) has been put on hold. The ambitious PAO system was Drabu’s brainchild. Bukhari’s decision has been welcomed by hundreds of contractors in the state who had been on strike during the last 13 days demanding their pending payments and suspension of the PAO system at least till March 31. Would Drabu’s ouster be a storm in a teacup or would it have repercussions on the PDP-BJP ruling alliance in the immediate future? Ironically, Drabu’s PDP colleagues say it won’t be, while the BJP leaders in the state say it would. (IANS)]]>

BJP's politics of dualism likely to backfire

By Amulya Ganguli The Shakespearean phrase “fair is foul, foul is fair” can be one way of describing the contradictory nature of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) policies in different parts of the country. The party’s penchant for trimming its sails in accordance with regional sentiments as, for instance, over the consumption of beef, can also be described in the words of a Hindi film song, “Jo tumko ho pasand wohi baat kahengey” (I will say whatever you want me to say). While saffron mobs have been assaulting those suspected of eating beef or transporting cattle in northern India, the BJP’s stand in the northeastern states, and also in Goa, is that beef is kosher. When a party spokesman was questioned about this dichotomy during a television debate on the northeastern polls, he used the word, binary, to explain the BJP’s stand. If this duality indicates an acceptance by the party of India’s diversity and a refusal to abide by the preferences of the orthodox elements that have had a dominating presence in the party till now, it is a welcome development. This step in the direction of multicultural norms can be seen as an accommodative approach which has not been the BJP’s strong point till now although it is the hallmark of all “secular” parties. However, many people will suspect that this genuflexion towards northeastern sensitivities is no more than an expedient tactical manoeuvre. If the BJP can change its colour once, like a chameleon, it can do so again. It will be advisable, therefore, to wait to see if the BJP is serious or is merely playing political games by trying to pull the wool over the people’s eyes. The reason for the doubts is that irrespective of the policies which the BJP pursues in the northeast, it is unlikely to change its stance on dietary preferences and other lifestyle issues elsewhere in the country. There is also little doubt that it will find it extremely difficult to pull of the trick of being different parties in different parts of the country without being tied up in knots. It is unlikely, therefore, that the BJP will look on benignly if any beef parties are held in Nagaland or Meghalaya as they were earlier in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In all probability, the BJP’s objective is to first establish its political authority in the northeastern states and then try, ever so slowly, to inculcate its culinary fetishes in the society as a whole. Given, however, the fragile nature of the coalitions it has helped to set up as a “facilitator”, as a spokesman explained the party’s tactics, it is doubtful if the BJP will succeed in persuading the northeasterners to replicate the lifestyles of the denizens of the cow belt if only because the regional outfits which are currently its allies will not like to be seen dancing to the tune of a Hindu-Hindi party. The gulf will remain, therefore, between the BJP in the northeast and elsewhere in the country. The political implication of this dichotomy is that the party’s ups and downs in its new areas of “conquest” will have only a limited impact on its fortunes in the rest of India in view of the perception of the northeast as a remote, exotic region whose society and politics have no more than a marginal influence on the mainland. Even then, the BJP will have to come to terms, albeit reluctantly, with the lifestyle of the northeasterners. To do so, the party will have to tweak its own “lifestyle” as it did when it put aside three core items on its agenda in 1996 by shelving the issues of building the Ram temple in Ayodhya, introducing a uniform civil code and scrapping Article 370 conferring special status on Kashmir after it found that no other party was supporting Atal Behari Vajpayee’s first minority government of 13 days. When he finally returned to power two years later, his emphasis was more on keeping his 24-party coalition together than on pushing the saffron ideology. Narendra Modi is lucky in that the BJP has a majority in the Lok Sabha. But the possibility that the party will not be able to fare as well in the next general election and, therefore, may lose some of the seats it won in northern and western India has made the BJP try to make inroads into the virgin territory of the northeast where it doesn’t have much of a base. Its main disadvantage in this region is the predominance of Christianity. To win hearts and minds, therefore, the BJP is having to tone down its anti-minority utterances along with denoting its acceptance of the non-vegetarian eating habits of the locals. What is more, since the BJP doesn’t have too many supporters at the ground level, it has had to co-opt the members of other parties such as the Congress in Tripura. However, what impact the induction of these fair-weather birds will have on the BJP’s organisational cohesion will only be known in the future. (IANS)]]>

Amarinder: A year of unfulfilled promises

By Jaideep Sarin Suicides by debt-ridden farmers refuse to abate, jobless people yearn for employment, and the youth are yet to get a first glimpse of the promised smartphones. One year after the Congress romped back to power in Punjab, the tall promises made to various sections of the electorate are staring Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his government in the face. Having remained out of power for 10 long years, the Congress and Amarinder made populist promises in the run-up to the state’s assembly polls last year. Estimates put the worth of these promises at over Rs 10,000 crore (over Rs 1.5 billion) even without the farm debt waiver. The total debt of Punjab farmers with banks and other institutions is believed to be over Rs 90,000 crore. With Punjab’s finances in a complete mess, which the Congress never forgets to attribute to the 10-year rule of the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) alliance government (2007-2017), Amarinder is nowhere on the road to delivering on these. The much-touted loan waiver for the debt-ridden peasantry has been announced in recent months but it has so many limitations and conditions that the eventual beneficiaries are either not eligible or are getting peanuts in the name of the waiver. Yet, the Congress continues to promise them the moon in the remaining four years in power. Leader of Opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira, quoting government figures, has pointed out that over 360 farmers have committed suicide after the Amarinder government came to power in Punjab on March 16 last year. The farm waiver apart, the Congress has an uphill task where other promises are concerned as well — be it employment to one person in every household (there are over five million households in Punjab), eradicating drugs from the state, ending corruption, and smartphones for the youth, among several others. Not one of these promises is being fulfilled, nor is likely to be in the near future, due to an acute financial crunch. Salaries of government staff have been, in recent months, delayed as there was no money to pay them. With a Congress government in Punjab and the Centre being controlled by the BJP, not much help on finances is expected on that front. Investments from industrial houses and big corporates have largely remained confined to mere announcements. Development projects are delayed or held up for want of funds. Unemployment continues to haunt the youth and the government. Punjab BJP president and Union minister Vijay Sampla has demanded that Amarinder should list the promises he has fulfilled so far. Even though Amarinder Singh rode to power with an overwhelming majority of 77 seats in the 117-member assembly, the goodwill around him is fast evaporating. The Chief Minister, who has been skipping official meetings on occasion, has ended up fighting internal battles in the government and the Congress party. The appointment of his hand-picked Chief Principal Secretary Suresh Kumar was quashed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in January. A division bench last month stayed the ruling and Kumar, who was sulking, is back in office. Amarinder was forced to accept the resignation of his close aide Rana Gurjit Singh from the cabinet following a string of controversies around the billionaire minister over a mining scam. Amarinder’s claims before the elections that the prevalent drug menace in Punjab, which the Congress had hyped in a big way, would be eradicated within four weeks of his government’s formation, have remained questionable. There is no official data to prove that the menace, as alleged earlier, has actually been eradicated on the ground. Punjab Police, under the present government, have however been able to end the free run of gangsters and criminals. The police cracked the cases of high-profile killings of Hindu leaders in recent years and arrested several people involved in the killings and those abetting it. The police have also been successful in containing dreaded gangsters, either by killing them or arresting them. The hiring of a big team of advisers to the Chief Minister and giving them fat salaries, even higher than what ministers get, despite the state’s financial constraints, has ruffled features in official and political circles. At the same time, Amarinder has asked ministers and legislators to pay their own income tax, instead of the state government doing so. Within the Congress, legislators and party leaders are upset with Amarinder for being inaccessible at times. His frequent sojourns to his orchards in Himachal Pradesh and visits to New Delhi often set the gossip mills whirring. With the government about to complete one year, a number of senior legislators are still waiting for Amarinder to expand his cabinet so that they also get a shot at power. In the coming days and months, things are likely to get even tougher for the Amarinder government. The party and the Chief Minister will have to find out ways to tackle the brickbats coming from the opposition and the electorate over unfulfilled promises. (IANS)]]>

BJP boosts its poll prospects in 2019

Prashant Sood The Bharatiya Janata Party appears to have consolidated its position as the principal pole of Indian politics due to its stunning victory in Tripura and its improved performance in Meghalaya and Nagaland with the results also showing that Congress continues to face multiple challenges to check its slide in the states. The results are expected to help the BJP keep up its electoral momentum for the crucial electoral battle in Karnataka in about two months and expand its footprint to new areas for the crucial electoral battle in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The results are also expected to boost the morale of BJP workers in the difficult challenges the party faces to retain Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh at the end of the year. The BJP’s concerted push in Tripura, based on solid work at the grassroots, has given a jolt to the Left parties who have ruled the northeastern state for 25 years, and virtually decimated the Congress, which was the principal opposition party, with 36 percent vote share in 2013 polls. With victory in Tripura, where the BJP had lost its deposit on 49 of 50 seats it contested in 2013 polls, the party has now set its eyes on winning Kerala, West Bengal and Odisha – three other states where it has traditionally been on a weak wicket. BJP’s victory in Tripura has come on the back of its victory in Assam and was its first direct contest with the Left parties. With the National Democratic Alliance winning both Tripura and Nagaland and a hung house in Meghalaya, Mizoram is now the only state northeastern state out of ambit of NDA. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been giving a special thrust to the development of northeast since he came to power in 2014 and has been sending central ministers on regular tours to the region, which has severe development challenges and has faced challenge of militancy. The government has also worked towards sustaining peace in the northeast and improving its connect with the neighbouring countries for enhanced business opportunities. For a party seen to be inextricably linked to Hindutva, the outcome in Tripura coupled with improved performance in Christian-majority Nagaland and Meghalaya has come as a morale-booster. The northeast region has 25 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress tally came down in Meghalaya, where it was in power, and it failed to open its account Tripura and Nagaland. The northeast has been a Congress bastion in the past but in both Tripura and Nagaland it was barely in contest. The party was short of resources and some of its internal differences came out in the open. Five of its 23 candidates in Nagaland withdrew from the contest due to severe shortage of funds. The party’s Nagaland unit president, Kewe Khape Therie, complained that its candidates were on an “abandoned ship” and sought resignation of AICC general secretary-in-charge C.P. Joshi for the failures of the party in the northeast. Saturday’s poll outcome seems to have interrupted the momentum that the Congress was building against the Modi government following its improved performance in Gujarat and the bypoll victories in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The party would have to make more concerted efforts to pin down the Modi government on the issue of corruption over the huge frauds in public sector banks and the flight of the main accused from the country. If the Congress is not able to cobble together a majority in Meghalaya, it will be left in power in only in Punjab, Karnataka, Mizoram and the union territory of Puducherry. The party has the onerous task of defending Karnataka, with the BJP now likely to focus all its energies to wrest the southern state. If the Congress loses Karnataka, it will be left with Punjab as the only major state in its kitty, making the task of its revival ahead of 2019 polls that much more difficult. The Congress continues to face organisational challenges with the likely revamp by its new president Rahul Gandhi nowhere in sight. The Congress faces a formidable opponents in Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah who work in synergy to deliver electoral results. The BJP also appears to have developed an expertise in booth-level management and has considerably expanded its footprint since its victory in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress is holding its plenary later this month and has to work out a strategy to arrest its downward slide while getting back to its winning ways. (IANS)]]>

Parrikar has to nurse Goa BJP's health too

By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar Paradox continues to dog Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, irrespective of the geography he is in or the position he commands. As Defence Minister, he seemed to be preoccupied with Goa’s affairs. As Chief Minister, his obsessive politicking overshadowed his administrative capacities — and while lying on a hospital bed in Mumbai last week, tied down by a mystery illness still not officially pronounced, Parrikar appeared to be all but biding his time. Then suddenly he landed in Goa on February 22, amid speculation and chaos, looking gaunt and ill, but to a hero’s reception at state the legislative assembly near Panaji, where ruling MLAs — much like West Indian cricketers for Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar on his last outing — queued up for the man many were writing off. Officials of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Goa, as well as the Chief Minister’s Office, have repeatedly insisted that the 62-year-old Parrikar was only suffering from “mild pancreatitis” and is responding well to treatment. But once again, the paradox is that party-workers are busy organising a series of prayer services in Catholic Churches and “Maha Mrutyunjay” chants (prayers to defy death) in temples, praying for the Chief Minister’s return to good health, indicating all may not be well with the former Defence Minister. Incidentally, Parrikar, who is without a doubt the tallest politician the state has ever produced — both in terms of positions served in the Union cabinet and the sheer impact he has had on the state’s politics in the last two decades — has never completed a full-term as Chief Minister, despite being in the chair on four occasions. Sources in the BJP claim that Parrikar’s return from Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai was not to pen his political swansong, but to batten down the hatches for the party, ahead of a brewing tempest in the coalition government even as ruling alliance members appear to have smelled a weakness in the BJP pride, with the party’s alpha lion down, if not out, just yet. While the jury is out on the nature of Parrikar’s illness, the Chief Minister, according to party sources, is working on ways to increase his party’s numerical tally, in case things go south during his spell of illness. “The key is to get parties like the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward, both of whom have three MLAs each, to merge in the BJP. That will make it difficult for their leaders to leverage pressure on the BJP in the future. This has become Bhai’s (Parrikar) mission now,” a senior state BJP functionary said on condition of anonymity. Both Public Works Department Minister and MGP leader Sudin Dhavalikar and Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai have played footsie with the Congress recently, with the latter being one of Parrikar’s biggest and bitterest critics before he joined the ruling alliance last year. Currently, in the 40-member Goa legislative assembly, the BJP is the second-largest party with 14 MLAs, and the inclusion of three MLAs from the MGP will ensure that it becomes the single-largest party with 17 seats, four short of a simple majority, making the arithmetic convenient for gubernatorial manoeuvrings. It is just this kind of farsighted, political-mathematic mind, a swashbuckling brand of politics and a battle-scarred readiness in face of adversity, which made Parrikar a near-legend for BJP workers in Goa in the years of his ascent. But the paradox of Parrikar continues to dog him. Promises to deliver clean, transparent governance, oaths to drive away the casino industry from Goa, assurances to take down the mining mafia in the state and promises to rid the state of drug mafia have come to very little over the years and driven some of his faithfuls — which includes former state chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Subhash Velingkar — away. That is why opinion about his legacy is now divided, even during his ill-health. A cross-section of social media users mouthed ill-will against him, even when he was being admitted to the hospital. There were those who expressed concern for Parrikar and his party, but even the much-vaunted social media machinery of the BJP could not counter the criticism, which, sometimes, was in extremely poor taste. Post Script: After the buzz of his sudden arrival subsided a bit, Parrikar, late on Sunday night, was once again rushed to a government hospital after he complained of uneasiness, throwing the party once again into a bit of turmoil — an emotion the coastal state and its subjects may have to grapple with increasingly, with growing uncertainty about the severity of its Chief Minister’s health. (IANS)]]>

She was one of her kind, truly special

By Subhash K Jha

We all say good things about the dead. But Sridevi was truly special. Her mere presence could light up the screen like no other actress.

Sridevi started her career as a child actor when she was all of four. “I knew nothing about acting at that age. I’d do exactly what the director asked me to do. I think I continued doing that in my later years,” she once told me. All our conversations were coordinated by her devoted husband Boney Kapoor. It was always difficult to make Sridevi talk. She was always an actor, not a talker. I don’t think she enjoyed talking about herself. And she was extremely health conscious. No late nights, no partying. Though she avoided eating beyond her dietary regime, Sridevi loved to feed others. I remember when former actress Asin came to stay in her building, Sridevi would prepare and carry tiffins with South Indian goodies for the younger actress. Sridevi was shy. But once she took to you, she was comfortable. She loved having fun and enjoyed going out for meals and shopping with her daughters Jahnvi and Khushi. What made her very uncomfortable were the gawking crowds. She longed for privacy and for uninterrupted time with her precious family. The craving for private time with the family came from her childhood when baby Sridevi spent hours in and out of studios in Chennai and Hyderabad, playing roles when she should just have been… well, playing. Her stint as a Bollywood star began in 1978 ith “Solva Sawan”, which bombed. She was all but written out of Bollywood for the next three years until she was re-launched in “Himmatwala” in 1981. There was no looking back thereafter. Jeetendra, who starred with Sridevi in “Himmatwala” and a string of hits in the 1980s, told me of her self-discipline. “Uss ladki mein ek lagan tha… ek junoon thi. She was determined to make it as big in Hindi cinema as she was in Tamil and Telugu. I’ve never seen a more hard-working actress.” After her marriage to Bollywood producer Boney Kapoor, Sridevi slowed down her career but returned with a bang in 2012 with “English Vinglish”. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a huge Sridevi fan, remembers his last meeting with her. “She came to my special screening of ‘Padmaavat’ with Boney Kapoor. She loved my film and said she wanted to work with me. That wasn’t destined to happen. It will remain a lacuna in my oeuvre. How could she go so suddenly? Sridevi can’t die. She’s magic. “There is nobody else who can do ‘Hawa hawaai’ and ‘Kate nahin katte’ the way she can. She had natural-born instincts for the camera, which she sharpened and honed over the years. It is strange to be talking about her in the past tense’ I can’t believe she’s gone,” Bhansali added.]]>