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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Now Maharashtra polls: Third front to play spoiler for Congress and BJP-Shiv Sena!

Elections never seem to end in India. If you have the Lok Sabha polls behind you, the Assembly elections may stare you in face.

If not, then the civic [municipal] polls, panchayat elections and then the by-elections--due to deaths of candidates or other reasons--are there to engage us.

Plus there elections of other states that also keep you interested. One of the most important and populous states of India, Maharashtra, is going to polls in a few days time.

Less than a year ago the terrorist strike in Mumbai had shocked the nation. Can one forget the then Chief Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh during the tragic happenings and later when he took his actor son and a famous Bollywood director to the Taj Hotel. Apparently, Ram Gopal Verma wanted to make a movie but public outrage dampened their spirits then.

Soon Deshmukh was replaced. Also, the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil was asked to vacate his chair. The enormity of the terrorist strike was such that BJP's campaign couldn't work well and it was felt that in the face of such an attack on nation, the country must stand united and there should not be any attempt to garner political mileage.

Or may be the citizens didn't just vote on the issue when the Lok Sabha elections took place later. The UPA-led Congress was voted back to power. Now BJP is a divided house and in the post-Atal and Advani era, it is facing tough times.

However, the polls in Maharashtra are going to be a real test for both the parties. Recent setbacks in by-elections in UP and Delhi apart from some other states for Congress suggested a disenchantment with the party.

Price rise is a major issue. However, NDA performed badly in Bihar. For the BJP-Shiv Sena, the Raj Thackeray-led MNS is the real opponent as it cuts into its vote share. Even in the last elections, it was the MNS that had caused the defeat of BJP-Sena in several constituencies.

But the Congress-NCP alliance is also not in an enviable situation. Sharad Pawar's party is facing a severe crisis and has lost its vote share. Congress is also a divided house. The Muslims are angry as once again they felt cheated.

In the Hari Masjid firing case, the State government again went back on its promise and stalled the move to prosecute the guilty officers who had entered the mosque and fired without any provocation.

Besides, all promises of implementing the Sri Krishna Commission recommendations proved to be blatant lies. Nothing happened. Even the Malegaon case investigation was apparently slowed down to ward off any 'Hindu backlash' in the form of votes.

The third front hasn't been taken seriously but it might play the spoiler for Congress-NCP combine. It is a known fact that followers of late Dr BR Ambedkar, especially the neo-Buddhists, Mahars, Dalits and other castes that vote for Republican Party of India's dozen-odd factions, form a solid chunk of votes.

However, their vote got divided every time. On this occasion the grand front--Republican Left Democratic Front [RLDF] is contesting the election across the state and there is no truck with the Congress. This signals trouble for the Congress-NCP.

The Samajwadi Party, the CPI-CPM, Janata Dal, Peasants and Workers Party, the Shetkari Sangathan and united RPI can spell doom for Congress. Recently, senior RPI leader Ramdas Athavale who was occupying a house in Delhi, was forced out from the bungalow as he was no longer an MP.

This 'humiliation' hasn't gone down well with the Ambedkariites and some other sections, who feel that there are dozens of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha MPs but Athawale alone was targeted and insulted. It must be remembered that Dalit Buddhists are an important factor in the state politics.

There are nearly 60 lakh [6 million] Dalit Buddhists in Maharashtra. Besides, there is almost an equal number of Hindu Dalits, who vote for these parties. RPI has a vote share of over 10%. As the RPI factions together contest 150 seats out of 288, leaving the rest for other RLDF constituents, there are strong reasons to believe that Congress may lose the election.

We must remember that the Congress-NCP vote share was too high in the last election but there could be a severe anti-incumbency wave. Congress is banking on MNS' performance. If the latter's candidates pull votes, the SS-BJP candidates will be in trouble. Though Gavai faction has walked out, still the RLDF can't be ignored.

If the other RPI factions manage to hold its vote bank and there is anti-incumbency factor at work in the state apart from disenchantment with Congress due to price rise [it rules the state and is also at the centre, thus double anti-incumbency], the BJP-Shiv Sena may capture the power at Mumbai. Let's wait a couple of weeks for the verdict.

The polling is on October 13 and the EVMs would throw the winner's name on October 25. Till then, we can safely speculate.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Danish Mahal: An Urdu bookshop in Lucknow

Cities change with time and citizens often rue the transformation. The reason is that most of us are nostalgic about our past [childhood] and we like things to remain same.

Like most Indian cities, Lucknow is also changing. It has malls, chains of food joints and cineplexes. But for those who remember the Lucknow of yore, the loss could be heartrending.

I too miss a lot on my visits but there are some landmarks that give me the feeling that I am in Lucknow. One of them is, of course, Danish Mahal, the quaint bookshop in Aminabad. [It has got nothing to do with Denmark. It's Danish that means intellect, wisdom]

All my elder relatives have a lot of say about the shop. My mother used to visit this shop in the decades of 50s and 60s. She still remembers Naseem Sahab, the owner. Since late 80s, I have been a frequent visitor. The shop has a history and a tradition.

In a City that was once an abode of Adab for centuries, Lucknow doesn't seem to have much space for literature now. Even in the turbulent years after partition, the City gave birth to writers of both Urdu and Hindi and there was a literary scent in Sham-e-Awadh.

It's no longer the City of poets, parks and pristine manners. There are fewer bookshops and hardly any libraries. Hazrat Ganj does have a few bookshops (just like shops in any other city) where you may get English classics, best sellers and some books on Lucknow.

It is for this reason that Danish Mahal remains a unique shop. Apart from the old charm, the portraits of the poets and writers that adorn its walls and treasure of literary books, this shop symbolises a lot more.

Located in Aminabad, Danish Mahal, still attracts a stream of poets, writers, journalists, academicians, students and even wanderers who take out books, flip through pages and go without being interrupted by the shop owner.

In this bookshop, you can pick a book, sit and turn the pages to see if it's useful before deciding to buy. It is the place where you may find a rhymster from Rudauli or a researcher from Ranchi.

This is still a shop where there are sprawling sofas where you may find a septuagenarian poet discussing literature or a rationalist speaking about theological differences.

I marvel at the owners' dedication in running a business of books, if it should be called business. I suspect they barely earn in thousands. They are unlike other shop owners who change stickers and increase price of rare books every year.

I dread the thought that one day there might be a showroom selling cell phones or garments. After all, on any given day the space would fetch millions for the owners. But will Aminabad be the same then?

The same question must have been asked when the legendary Nawal Kishore had closed his press and shop. Or when Wali Aasi died, leaving his shop to the son who wanted to instead open a biryani-corner in it. Or when Mayfair shut.

Change is inevitable but often the speed at which things change terrifies. You may accept that the park you visited in your childhood has been encroached partly or the crowd has inceased exponentially but if it vanishes altogether, you feel a sense of loss.

As always people would continue mourning the loss of old values, old culture, old architecture and everything that symbolised a particular era. Shouldn't we forget the losses and celebrate things that have survived the onslaught of change? For example, Danish Mahal, the Palace of Wisdom.

I long to see the the City of my birth once again. Quite soon.

Related post: A strange bookshop in Lucknow

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Child who sells 'Chana Jor Garam'

I have seen Raju, the chana jor garam-seller, a number of times walking long distances to sell this mouth-watering and spicy Indian snack.

It's not easy to carry the weight and walk for kilometres across the City but he does it to help supplement the family income. He buys the packets of chana jor (zor) garam from a whole-seller and then sells them in cones, sprinkling the masala and adding chilli and mashed tomatoes-onions.

Raju doesn't know his age. Says he must be 11 or 12. "If the day's sale is Rs 200 then I save Rs 70. Sometimes the earning is up to Rs 100". On an average he earns between Rs 2,500-Rs 3000 per month.

But the young kid has never stepped into a school. His father is permanently ill and can't go out. His mother works at an 'aata-chakki' and gets around Rs 2,000. Together the mother-son somehow run the household that comprises Raju's younger siblings, who also don't go to school.

In a way, Raju, is lucky. He belongs to a poor family but helps in running the house. He has tremendous self-respect and ekes out his living. He wishes that if he had money, he could get his father treated.

Still, in a country where millions go to sleep with empty-stomach, the boy doesn't sleep hungry and though there are other problems, the mother-son manage to pay the Rs 500 rent for the 'jhuggi'. He can buy small things for himself and his family.

But it's not easy to earn the 'meagre Rs 70' either. Every day is a struggle. The alcoholics take the 'chana jor garam' and don't give money. They take the Rs 10 cone and give him Rs 5. He can't even argue with the bullies who often snatch the 'snack' and refuse to pay, even raising a hand when he pleads.

"Kai log paisa nahi dete", he rues. Though he is sure that when he grows old, nobody will be able to snatch it. On rainy days, he can't sell much and has to save the stock from getting wet. He prefers fares, gatherings and matches where there is a sudden sale.

It may not be legal for a minor, especially under 14, to work. And it's mandatory for a kid to go to school. Whatever, the boy beams with pride when he tells you about how he takes toffees for his younger siblings.

Mature for his age but enterprising, Raju and his family live in glittering urban India where swanky cars and prosperity brought by MNC-BPO-Software firms hides these struggles. His family hasn't a faint idea about any government-run welfare schemes.

His siblings also won't study. "My mother says that it's useless and we don't have money to pay the fees and the cost of uniform and books". Is there any counter argument?

This dreamy-eyed boy wants to earn money for his family and live a decent life. However, the struggles of this boy and those like him, do instill a sense of guilt in our hearts. There are all sorts of injustices but what about this injustice--if someone is born in a poor house, for no fault of his own, it's a near impossible task for him to cross the ever-widening gulf and fight with destiny.

The post is just part of the series on tea vendors, ice-cream sellers, samosa-sellers et al. See some of the earlier posts on how the ordinary Indians, who are a majority in this country, lead their lives and run their households.
1. The groundnut sellers: Do elections matter to Pandit Ji and Aslam?
2. The candy-seller on cycle: Magic of mithai-wala
3. A samosa-seller's nap under the tree shade
4. Chacha's qeema-stuffed samosas
5. Tea shops in India: Shrinking and Vanishing