On 18 April, I had just reached the town of Ferozepur Jhirka in Haryana’s Mewat district when my phone beeped with a message from a friend. It said that Gabriel García Márquez was dead. I put my phone away. I had traveled to the town, about ninety kilometres from Gurgaon, to enquire into allegations leveled by the Aam Aadmi Party of widespread booth capturing by several parties. Mourning the great writer’s passing would have to wait for the moment.
Udayanraje Bhonsle, the thirteenth descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji, settled down on a sofa in the reception area of Hotel Maharaja Regency in Satara, in southern Maharashtra. It was the morning of 12 April, five days before the Satara constituency went to polls. Dressed in a spotless white kurta-pyjama, Bhonsle, who is the incumbent MP, appeared relaxed. As we discussed seventeenth-century Maratha history, he drew an unconvincing parallel between the exploits of Maratha warrior kings and present day political issues. “Times have changed, yet problems are very similar,” he said. “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj fought his enemies so people could live freely. Today, we are a global market. Not only have multinationals come to India, but Western culture is invading us.”
For two decades, the politics of Tamil Nadu, which goes to polls today, has been dominated by one rivalry: that between J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi. While the AIADMK under Jayalalithaa won the state assembly elections in 2011 with 203 out of 234 seats, the DMK is bogged down with a factional feud between Karunanidhi’s sons, Azhagiri and Stalin, which seems to have dimmed hopes of Karunanidhi reviving his fortunes before the assembly elections in 2016. In this extract from our April 2011 profile of the DMK patriarch, Vinod K Jose relates the dramatic episode in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly on 25 March 1989 that preceded Karunanidhi’s second fall from power, and Jayalalithaa’s return to prominence.
From the Delhi Press archives: a young J Jayalalithaa wearing an MGR campaign pin. Her association with MG Ramachandran began when he took notice of the young actress when they worked together on Aayirathil Oruvan in 1962. In 1972, MGR floated the AIADMK party, and he became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1977. He brought Jayalalithaa in as a member in 1982 and made her propaganda secretary in 1983, believing that she had the charisma and oratory skills to compete with M Karunanidhi of the DMK. When MGR passed away in 1987, the AIADMK split into two factions, one supporting MGR’s widow Janaki Ramachandran and the other supporting Jayalalithaa as his successor. Janaki became the Tamil Nadu chief minister in 1987, but was dismissed by the Rajiv Gandhi government. Jayalalithaa won the next election in 1989, and has remained the head of the AIADMK ever since.
Before Arvind Kejriwal was a politician, he was a civil activist who battled the UPA government for greater transparency and accountability in its functioning. The demand for the tabling of the Jan Lokpal bill powered the India Against Corruption movement and remains a central part of his party’s—the AAP—manifesto today. In this extract from our September 2011 profile, Mehboob Jeelani meets Kejriwal and his then partner in activism, now political rival, Anna Hazare, over lunch in a rented apartment in Mayur Vihar in east Delhi.
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.