From the Delhi Press archives: On 17 June 1982, Malkhan Singh and around one hundred of his gang-members surrendered themselves to the police in the presence of then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Arjun Singh. The gang were notorious dacoits in the Chambal badlands of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, and Malkhan Singh alone had over seventy-five cases of dacoity, kidnappings, and violent encounters against him. Singh and his gang were practically running a parallel government in the area, and he was a self-styled arbiter of disputes. Now in his seventies, Malkhan Singh canvasses for the BJP candidate Bhagirath Prasad, who is standing for election from the Bhind constituency.
From the Delhi Press archives, a younger Mayawati. After a series of bruising electoral losses, the Dalit leader has sounded the battle cry this year, with her Bahujan Samaj Party contesting all 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. In our April election special, Ajay Bose analyses her careful demographic calculations: http://caravanmagazine.in/perspectives/seat-revenge
I was 15 years old when India became independent. My first political campaign was in Shimoga district in 1952, when I was 20, for the Samyukta Socialist Party candidate Shantaveri Gopala Gowda. Our agenda was that there should be a toilet in every house. But we mostly talked to villagers about new ideas—Darwin, Marx, Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar. And at the end of it we asked them to vote for the Socialist Party. Before moving on, we asked them for “ondu note ondu vote” (one note, one vote), which ironically the Bharatiya Janata Party is now using as a slogan.
Jyotishratna Nandkishor Jakatdar insists that Narendra Modi will not be India’s next prime minister. Jakatdar, an astrologer and president of the Brihan Maharashtra Jyotish Mandal, a Pune-based association of astrologers, explained that analysing the sun, Mars and Saturn were key to predicting political success and that “their positions, motions and influences do not favour Modi. His desire to be PM will not be fulfilled.” Jakatdar prophesises that the Bharatiya Janata Party will end up with between 155 and 165 seats, that the Congress will win between 115 and 125 seats, and that the Aam Aadmi Party, led by Arvind Kejriwal, will not prove significant players at all. “Success will elude him,” Jakatdar said.
In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP showed signs of softening some of the hard edges of its right-wing credo, perhaps with the intention of winning over fence-sitting voters. The party renewed its pledge to build the controversial Ram temple in Ayodhya, but “within the framework of the constitution.” It reiterated its commitment to the abrogation of Article 370, but said it would “discuss this with all stakeholders.” The party also reaffirmed its intention to bolster Indian systems of medicine, but along with modern science and “ayurgenomics”—a word whose newfangled, oxymoronic timbre had even its own supporters reaching for Google.
For a young man in search of “something more”, as his oldest brother Sombhai put it, the RSS gave Narendra Modi a sense of purpose and direction. But he remained unsure of his calling: whether to pursue the priestly life or volunteer himself towards the advancement of Hindutva. His parents had arranged him a marriage in keeping with the traditions of the Ghanchi caste in Vadnagar, which involved a three-step process that began with an engagement at age three or four, a religious ceremony (shaadi) by the age of 13, and cohabitation (gauna) around the age of 18 or 20, when the parents felt the time had come.
On 21 July 2012, around 2,000 angry farmers blocked National Highway 8 at the village of Asalwas in Haryana, fifty kilometers south-east of Gurgaon. They were protesting the government’s decision to acquire 3,300 acres of land in twenty-one villages in the surrounding areas to develop the Western Corridor, a highway project linking Delhi to Mumbai. When the district administration didn’t respond by the 1 pm ultimatum they had been given, the protests erupted into violence, with the farmers torching buses and other vehicles, and a police post. Police charged with lathis and opened fire to disperse them. In retaliation, the farmers briefly held eight policemen captive. Five farmers were arrested and at least sixty people were seriously injured that day.
On the auspicious 25th evening of Ramadan, in August 2012, I followed Sibal to an Iftar dinner at Faiz Masjid in his Lok Sabha constituency, Chandni Chowk. Despite having won the seat in 2004 and 2009, Sibal still seemed like a fish out of water among the crowds, clearly a little uncomfortable. (“He is not a born politician, not a people’s person,” one of his aides told me. “He doesn’t like too many people around him.”)
In the present scenario, I am strongly in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party, not as a party but as a movement. To explain why I like it, I would have to go back to Gandhi. In him I see a great combination of societal concern and a streak of anarchy. But after independence, we accepted only one part of Gandhi—the worship-able one—and forgot the Gandhi who walked to Dandi and made salt. Quite a few of his actions went against the law and can be interpreted as anarchy.
After Singh entered the upper echelons of the Congress in the late 1990s, the party gave him a ticket to contest a Lok Sabha election in 1999 from South Delhi—a posh constituency of middle-class voters who had reaped great benefits from the liberalised economy. His challenger was an unseemly state-level BJP leader, VK Malhotra. “It was meant to be a cakewalk for Doctor Sahib, a very sure seat for the Congress,” said Harcharan Singh Josh, a local party leader who served as Singh’s campaign manager. “In the previous year’s state election, ten out of the fourteen assembly seats were won by the Congress MLAs. The Muslim and Sikh populations came to more than fifty percent of the constituency. And everyone was buying the foreign brands in the South-Ex market, brought to India by Doctor Sahib. Malhotra had jhero chance.”