Friday, October 18, 2013

Winds of Change Blow Away Akhilesh’s Cycle of Hope

By John Cheeran
Is Akhilesh Yadav more than his father’s son? There is no doubt that Akhilesh’s time has come with Muzaffarnagar riots challenging his authority as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. In the last 18 months, Akhilesh has turned BSP leader Mayawati into a saint, with the state witnessing more than 100 riots. The cycle of hope has been broken. 
Yet, not many can see the man behind Uttar Pradesh’s youngest chief minister, who now at 40, struggles to break free from the circle of his famous daddy and uncles.  
Yes, Akhilesh deserves our attention. Sunita Aron’s biography of the man in the hot seat, Akhilesh Yadav: Winds of Change (published by Tranquebar, pages 561), could not have come at a better time. Everyone is talking about UP and how Akhilesh has managed to alienate both the Hindu and Muslim communities. Muzaffarnagar riots have rocked political equations in Uttar Pradesh, reviving BJP’s drooping electoral fortunes in the state.
Winds of Change, however, fails to pull Akhilesh out of the shadow of India’s forever prime minister-in-waiting, netaji Mulayam Singh Yadav. 
Aron’s rambling account has a lot about the shifting political scape in UP but very little about Akhilesh. Despite being a witness to political vicissitudes in UP, the author has a hazy focus, and ends up with an amateurish effort. The book is too long (560 pages) and the tone is reverential. Poor writing mars this biography, factual errors add to readers’ woes. Relying on too many secondary sources and library clippings make this a dull reading. May be a bit of editing could have rescued this book -- it is amazing how the biographer can translate ‘shramdaan’ as land donation.
Aron uses colourful language as regional reporting often tends to be: "The tussle for power got increasingly vulgar and for the first time in history the UP assembly's carpets were soaked in blood even as legislators indulged in fisticuffs and routinely kidnapped and threatened each other in public.” 
Sample this: “It was evening time and a riot of emotions was visible on the grounds. Evening walkers ambled briskly despite a steady traffic of commuters.”
For all that, Tranquebar and Aron, I guess, got the name of the book wrong. It could have been easily titled Mulayam Singh Yadav: Winds of Change. This is a Mulayam biography in disguise as much as the current Uttar Pradesh administration is.       
Samajwadi Party, founded in 1992 by a shifty Mulayam, is now trying to change its colours with Akhilesh at helm. With free laptops but without English keyboards, it has been a difficult transition for Sydney and south India (Mysore) educated Akhilesh. The Yadav scion turned down an alliance from another powerful Yadav clan, to marry outside of his caste. Akhilesh has shades of strong will but the biography rarely tries to figure out the man.       
Although Samajwadi Party has its own Mahatma in Ram Manohar Lohia, whose ideology has been observed only in its violations, Mulayam has turned the party into a Yadav dynasty. The ‘modern’ Akhilesh has no qualms about it. He justifies the dynasty by saying people like him had ‘struggled’ to become politicians.
There is no doubt that Akhilesh has a tough task. He is ruling a state where students want their chief minister to allow them to copy during examinations. So much for aspirational values and free laptops. 
Much of the political reporting in India does not go beyond the inane. Sample this: “His (Vinod Barthwal, a SP leader) words had proved prophetic as Akhilesh's political career did witness a meteoric rise after his marriage to Dimple and he entered the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2000 after winning from Kannauj and eventually became the youngest chief minister of the largest state in 2012.” So what has marriage got to do with Akhilesh becoming an MP? Is it because the marriage came before the elections? Akhilesh married Dimple in 1999. And the biographer sees significance for an event that took place 13 years later and describes it as “meteoric rise.” 
Aron, however, gets it right, almost, when she writes: “Despite a growth story which remains unparalleled in any other village of Uttar Pradesh, the aggression amongst the locals of Saifai could be just a slice of what ails the Samajwadi Party across the state. It took a rustic Mulayam to rein in such elements in the past but for Akhilesh who is not only known for his politeness but is also hemmed in by lumpen elements within the party, it could prove to be a long overhaul.” 
May be it is a long haul. May be this is what we deserve when you write about a political party and a father-son duo who take pride in ‘English Hatao’ campaigns.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sachin Tendulkar’s Final Deal

By John Cheeran

To pretend that Sachin Tendulkar got his timing right when it came to his final innings would be utter dishonesty on the part of the great batsman as well as you and me.

I’m rolling on the floor with laughter reading what Tendulkar told Boria Majumdar in The Times of India front page story on October 11 that it (the decision to quit) “was not about body and mind.”

Retirement is all about getting old, body and mind, and heart too. Ask your HR department, they should tell you. To say then that Tendulkar quit playing because he thought he has reached a stage where he no longer enjoys the game is merely stating the obvious.

Everyone, except Tendulkar, knew that the great batsman has outlived his shelf-life. So when the decision came on Thursday, nobody asked“why”, the classic measure of a well-timed retirement. BCCI bosses had given broad hints that they were going to push out a batsman reluctant to leave the crease, despite the fact that Father Time had given him out a long time ago.

There were front page stories in at least three newspapers -- The Times of India, Mumbai Mirror and The Indian Express -- citing BCCI’s decision to give Tendulkar a farewell treat by hurriedly putting together a lambs-to-the slaughter West Indies squad for the run machine. That was the ultimate snub.

Those who were sticking to the pretty but pretentious line that“only Tendulkar knows when he decides to quit,” must be a relieved lot now. This was coming quite close to a good riddance minus the ‘thank you’ notes.

Debates about retirement of sport icons only happen in team sports. Consider the case of Roger Federer. Federer has the right to decide when he wants to quit. He alone is the master of his sporting destiny. If he is going to lose consistently, Federer has little choice but to pack his bags and leave. There is no need for a debate. The scoreline 6-0, 6-0, 6-1 would be enough.

In sport, nobody expects you to be forever young. So there is a time to go but your contributions will be recalled henceforth during tea breaks and rain intervals. A star is a star when it shines. The world has no time for a faded star.

So how does it matter whether Tendulkar plays his 200thTest or not? Is it not a mere statistic? Had Tendulkar said on Thursday that he has decided not to play any longer and is not bothered about BCCI inviting the West Indies to play a two-Test series in November, would his legacy as a great batsman have diminished?

May be people, fans, critics, commentators would have cried hearing that, knowing they would never see him play cricket again. That would have been a purifying moment, glorifying all aspects of cricket, and sport at large.

Now how does it matter whether Tendulkar scores zero or centuries in the last two remaining Tests? What difference will it make whether he has scored 15,837 runs or 16,000 and odd?

By saying it is all over, Tendulkar would have put BCCI in a fix. But such a call would have come only from a rebellious man, a man of substance, and not from a middle class icon, who stayed away from controversies by careful public relations management, and shied away from taking a stand when the great game was imperilled by match-fixing and other crises. Brands that have a contract with Tendulkar would have thrown a fit.
What you now have is a deal. Broadcasters, sponsors can have a once-in-25-years sporting moment. And you can rush for your tickets to Brabourne or Wankhede Stadium to be there when Tendulkar will have his final walk. You can bet on how many runs Tendulkar will score in his final innings. This is turning out to be more of theatre than sport. So, let’s salute the deal.
John Cheeran at Blogged