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Monday, March 30, 2009

Challenges before Mohan Bhagwat


I wrote this contribution in The Pioneer on the changes in the RSS. It is a personal view of the challenges that the new sarsanghachalak needs to address:

There is often a striking mismatch between how the media paints an event and how the actors in the drama perceive it. The appointment of Mohan Bhagwat as the new sarsanghachalak of the RSS was viewed by many through the prism of factional alignments in the BJP. In view of the ongoing general election campaign and the political importance of the BJP this was, perhaps, predictable. Viewed from the perspective of the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, however, electoral politics didn’t enter the calculations.

The RSS has traditionally viewed politics as a necessary but disagreeable facet of national life—one purist equated politics to the toilet in the home. From its perspective, the regeneration of India cannot be brought about by politics but only through the spread of worthwhile values in civil society. As an institution, the RSS has invariably chosen to sidestep the murky world of politics—though it has not always succeeded. Bhagwat’s elevation to the top position may have incidental political fallout, but it was not premised on politics. It centred on the creation of an ethical, nationalist leadership with tentacles in all walks of life.

The issue that is foremost in the mind of the RSS—which Bhagwat alluded to in his first public address after assuming charge—is the challenge of “modernity.” To a very large extent, the organisational and ideological priorities of the RSS were determined and moulded by an India that existed prior to the post-1991 economic transformation. The daily shakhas, with its blend of physical fitness, fun and some food for thought, held a great attraction in an unhurried world. In small towns and closely-knit mohallas, parents were happy to send their sons to the shakhas because the atmosphere was wholesome. In the absence of too many distractions and other leisure opportunities, the shakhas became a centre of community bonding.

The emergence of a fiercely competitive world and the mushrooming of leisure opportunities have dented some of the austere assumptions that defined the RSS till the 1990s. The RSS is still perceived as one of the most important load-bearing pillars of what can loosely be called the Hindutva movement. However, this has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the importance of the shakhas. The difficulties faced by the RSS are also a consequence of a fierce political-media onslaught that has painted the entire brotherhood as a secretive, backward-looking bunch of monsters committed to harassing non-Hindus.

There is an additional paradox. The Hindutva movement touched a political nerve of Middle India during the Ayodhya movement. Since the mid-1990s, however, the importance of Hindutva as a political rallying point has steadily declined. Yet, ironically, the importance of Hindutva as a social and even religious phenomenon has increased quite dramatically. The spread of “evangelical Hindutva” centred on modern gurus, yoga and TV discourses has kept pace with the modernisation of India. There is a new symbolism and even a modern iconography of the new Hindutva which is sharply removed from the symbols of the RSS.

Additionally, there is a new, assertive patriotism in the country. The public discourse, particularly the English media discourse, may be overwhelmed by secularist cosmopolitanism but Indians have simultaneously become more aware of their Indian and Hindu identities. The Indian flag is far more visible today than was the case two decades or so ago. Indians today feel a greater pride in being Indian than during the shortage economy era. In the diaspora, this has translated into Hindu pride and even Hindu activism.

Yet, and this is another paradox, the rise of a fiercely patriotic Indian hasn’t necessarily seen a corresponding strengthening of Indian nationalism—at least not politically. Narendra Modi may be the exception. The Gujarat Chief Minister has grafted the energies of a modern society on a Sangh tradition. This is an experience waiting to be more widely emulated.

As the head of India’s foremost Hindu movement, these are some of the challenges before Bhagwat. How can the RSS connect more effectively with the new India? How can the movement incorporate change without losing sight of its core values?

In many ways, Bhagwat is ideally placed to tackle the challenges of the 21st century. As general secretary of the organisation during the tenure of K.S. Sudarshan, he has formidable organisational experience and familiarity with the entire country. This is coupled by ideological rigour.

Having interacted with Bhagwat on at least six different occasions, I have been struck by the fact that his firm commitment to the RSS ideology is not coupled with dogmatism. Unlike some RSS functionaries who are trapped in an insular mutt culture—the Sangh is their entire world—Bhagwat seems acutely aware that the Hindu movement runs on many parallel tracks and, sometimes, on different assumptions. It is this recognition of plurality—an essential facet of the Hindu inheritance—that sets him apart from those who want the Hindu movement to be modelled along Leninist lines—the hegemonic role of the Sangh. In the coming days, I see the RSS under Bhagwat retreating from micro-management of its fraternal organisations and according great space for a varied articulation of Hindutva. Naturally, this will have a bearing on the future orientation of the BJP. As the head of the parivar, Bhagwat’s responsibility is to both guide and ensure that the different streams are in broad harmony.

The challenges before Bhagwat are daunting. This is not because either the Sangh or the Hindutva movement is in crisis but because the opportunities presented by the new, assertive India haven’t been fully realised. How the Sangh chief negotiates his way through these multiple openings and reaches out to the whole of India will be keenly scrutinised in the coming years.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Varun tapes


Earlier in the week I received an email asking me to sign a e-petition in support of Varun Gandhi, the contentious BJP candidate for Pilibhit.

I ignored the mail.

Frankly speaking I am more than a little appalled by the language of the speech Varun is said to have made. He says the tapes are doctored andthere is as yet no forensic evidence to suggest the tapes (first broadcast on NDTV) are authentic. Yet there is no question that the speech stinks--and you don't have to be a paid-up secularist to say so. It is a hate speech.

I am told that there is a context to the inflammatory speech. It seems that there is a pre-existing communal polarisation in the Rohilkhand region and Varun was merely piggybacking on it.

That may be so but it still doesn't justify the coarse language. There must be some civility in politics and strong messages can be delivered without compromising parliamentary norms.

I am more than a little concerned about the effects of this controversy on the BJP. The purported speech may appeal to a small group of activists but it doesn't send a good message to the rest of the country. Initial results from private opinion polls confirm my fears.

The media, which has a distaste for the BJP, is bound to play up the controversy. But there is no reason for the BJP to add fuel to the fire--as some of its leaders have mindlessly done. Circumstances have forced the BJP to reaffirm Varun as their candidate for Pilibhit. Now it must let the matter play out without any party intervention.

For the first time in the election campaign, the BJP looks like emerging as the single-largest party and the NDA the largest pre-poll alliance. The strategy of concentrating on leadership and bread-and-butter issues is beginning to pay dividends.

Varun threatens to disrupt the forward march.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reclaiming the successful


The phrase "secession of the successful" has often been used to describe the non-involvement of India's professional classes--those who are the driving forces of a globalised economy--in politics. The reasons are well known and don't need to be repeated.

This Lok Sabha election, a section of the media, has been attempting to change things by at least forcing the young, the upper middle classes and the cynical classes to at least go out and vote. The assumption is that a substantial turnout may prompt political parties to may more heed to those they had earlier brushed aside as the non-voting classes.

I spent Saturday in Bangalore (I still can't get myself to writing or saying Bengaluru) with Arun Jaitley to see a group of young enthusiasts, who work under the banner of Friends of BJP, in action. A group from Mumbai, notably Rajesh Jain and Amit Malviya, had taken time off from work to help the BJP reach out to young PLUs--those who otherwise follow Barack Obama's campaign more enthusiastically than Indian politics.

The functions were also aimed to coincide with the entry into the party of R.K.Misra, the winner of last year's Lead India contest organised by Times of India. Earlier in the week, Devang Nanavati, the Ahmedabad-based advocate who was runner-up in the same contest, also joined the BJP in Gujarat. Many others haven't formally joined but feel emotionally committed to the BJP.

I see an initiative such as FOBJP in two ways. In this election season, it can play a role in bringing out the otherwise apathetic middle-class vote. The group can expose a small group of Indians to the delights of organising and interacting with other like-minded individuals. FOBJP, I feel, is not merely aimed at the young. It must target all those who feel for India but shy away from politics.

There is a second, post-election dimension to the FOBJP. If the initiative dies at the end of the campaign, only to be resurrected the next time a Lok Sabha is elected, it would be a lot of wasted energy.

I believe FOBJP should become a permanent forum for all those who see themselves as BJP voters. They should act as a permanent watchdog/pressure group to ensure that the party doesn't forget its supporters.

Hitherto, the party has emphasised its karyakartas, i.e. the activists. It has not demonstrated a similar willingness to either hear or explain things to those who vote for the party and identify with it.

The FOBJP must remain a ready-made forum for party. It must alert the party to possibilities, warn against stupidities and debate the issues. The constant interaction between a party and its social base will enrich democracy.

I hope some of those who are in the FOBJP take up and improve on my suggestion. Among all the political parties, the BJP is the most democratic. We must now use democracy to improve the quality of the party.

(By the way, I wrote a similar piece for The Pioneer before I attended the Bangalore meeting http://www.dailypioneer.com/164324/New-agencies-of-political-change.html )

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Indian Right




One of the heartening features of any election is the interest in politics it generates among the uninitiated. In the past few weeks I have met young people from different professions (but mainly in the financial services sector) who have expressed an interest in the Right.

I am reproducing an article I wrote for The Pioneer (on or around May 14, 2007). I feel there are issues that remain relevant. The immediate context of the article was Sarkozy's victory in the French presidential elections:

In a recent interview to Tehelka on his new book on post-Independence Indian politics, Ram Guha mentioned in passing that whereas liberals and the Left play a meaningful role in the country’s intellectual and political discourse, the Right has been hamstrung by its close association with Hindu nationalism. Despite professing a degree of respect for the erstwhile Swatantra Party of C. Rajagopalachari, Guha went on to argue that the intervention of the Right would acquire greater currency if its adherents cease to be “spokesmen” for the BJP.

Without going into the merits or otherwise of Guha’s idealisation of party-less intellectuals, the larger issue of a void on the Right needs to be seriously addressed. It is a fact that the boundaries of so-called “respectable” discourse have been shaped by a Left-liberal consensus. This is particularly so on the vexed questions of nationhood and national identity—what is known as the “secularism” debate. Even before the Ram Janmabhoomi movement sharpened the polarisation between India’s intellectual establishment and Hindu assertion, there was a significant mismatch between the Right’s electoral and intellectual influence. The fierce resistance to Murli Manohar Joshi’s assault on the Left-wing bias in history and the social sciences and the same elite’s acquiescence before Arjun Singh’s “detoxification” campaign are indicative of the lack of equivocation.

After it first tasted power at the Centre in 1998, the BJP leadership went out of its way to acquire social respectability and shed its outlander status. Dispelling all fears of India being turned into a Hindu fascist sate, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government moulded itself as a conventional Right-of-centre regime. It tried to blend market economics with a foreign policy that incorporated the nationalism of French Gaullism and the realism of Henry Kissinger. In their own ways, both Vajpayee and L.K. Advani tried to forge the BJP as the party of the Indian establishment.

The results were awkward. First, the NDA Government relied excessively on a bureaucratic elite that was inherently conservative, cautious and non-political. Governance and politics was projected as purely managerial issues.

Secondly, as a political party the BJP steadily acquired all the negative characteristics of the pre-1969 Congress. Dispensing patronage and collecting funds somehow became the rationale of its existence—a habit explains many of its post-2004 convulsions. The mission of being a “party with a difference” was lost sight of. Throughout the NDA’s term in office policy issues ceased to be the preoccupation of the party. In retrospect it can be argued that one of the main reasons why “India Shining” failed to motivate the electorate was its insufficient internalisation by those who were meant to disseminate the message to the grassroots. No wonder there has been an abrupt U-turn in the BJP’s approach to economic and foreign policy in opposition.

Thirdly, the controlling stake of the RSS in the BJP was sought to be significantly diluted, leading to prolonged tensions in the Parivar and accusations of betrayal. These problems haven’t been fully resolved.

Looking back, the NDA Government’s tenure was marked by many missed opportunities. To my mind, two are particularly glaring. First, in focussing on the co-option of an establishment that had been nurtured by the Congress over five decades, the BJP lost sight of the need to craft a counter-establishment. The failure was not unique. In other countries too, first-time rulers have often been beguiled into equating the culture of obsequiousness (one of the perks of the job) with institutional endorsement. No wonder that in opposition the BJP finds itself reduced to playing mindless anti-incumbency games.

Secondly, in attempting to forge an elusive consensus, the BJP proved incapable of grasping the simple truth that compromises were being made by only one side. The BJP owed its spectacular growth after 1989 to its willingness to question the fundamentals of the great Nehruvian consensus. When it abandoned this combativeness for short-term respectability, it lost momentum. In the process, the project of evolving a robust, intellectually vibrant Right-wing tradition also fell by the wayside. Today, we have the unseemly spectacle of the party having to disown crass propaganda CDs and maintain a distance from the loony Hindu fringe which believes in playing the moral police.

The creation of a vibrant Right has never been easy for the simple reason that it is not dependant on the revealed wisdom of a Marx or Mao. Social institutions and custom, including religion, have been the bedrock on which political conservatism rests. Grafted to these is the historical memory of both the nation and individual communities. Modern conservatism is a considered blend of these—the process of incorporation and exclusion is never-ending—tailored to the imperatives of a modern, ordered society.

No Indian conservative movement is possible without a meaningful participation of the RSS. Apart from the Sangh’s commitment to the India’s inheritance, its relevance stems from its vast organisation and network. However, in insisting that the RSS must have a controlling interest in the BJP, the Sangh has introduced some needless exclusionary distortions. First, it has created a divide between those who are from the RSS and those who found Hindu nationalism by another route. Secondly, by its stated over-reliance on one tradition, the BJP has failed to inject the dynamism of other social, cultural and religious movements into its bloodstream. It is particularly significant that the BJP has (except in Gujarat) failed to grasp the opportunities arising from the new Hindu evangelical upsurge. There is more energy in the Hindu groups whose advocates give discourses on TV channels than there is in the institutions of sanatani Hinduism.

It must be emphasised that conservatism is not the only basis of today’s Right. The American and European experience—and the awesome victory of Nicolas Sarkozy in France is still fresh in our minds—clearly shows that to be effective social conservatism has to be tied to audacious prescriptions for political change. Issues of national identity are important but if their invocations become Pavlovian responses to every situation, the results can be drearily predictable.

Despite some electoral victories in recent months and a horrible debacle in Uttar Pradesh earlier this month, the BJP has been inflicted by a collective non-application of mind on issues related to economics, national security and India’s relation with the world. Against Sarkozy who has bravely taken on and demolished the pernicious Left-liberal stranglehold on France and David Cameron whose “cool”, compassionate and contemporary conservatism has begun yielding results, the BJP is overwhelmed with its awesome show of deficiencies. Many of its top leaders are colossal intellectual embarrassments and the party’s parliamentary conduct is often loutish with sloganeering being used as a substitute for arguments. .

The Indian Right still awaits its moment.

I would love any feedback.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A "nationalist" TV channel?


Many responses to earlier blogs centre on the need to have an alternative media--particularly a TV channel that projects a "nationalist" perspective.

The idea is not new. Over the past 10 years I have attended numerous meetings and met people professing an interest in the project. My experiences have left me quite disheartened.

Let me narrate some of my impressions and conclusions:

1. Any alternative channel has to have a very broad political orientation. It must be able to cater to the widest community that feels left out from the existing liberal consensus. Unfortunately, most of those who have leverage over the money bags have a narrowly sectarian agenda, whether political or denominational. In recent years, numerous charlatans have raised money from the markets on the strength of their Hindu or Sangh credentials. Most of these projects have sunk without trace. And all because a tiny group wants total control.

2. The sums of money involved in putting together a news channel is staggering--nearly Rs 500 crore to begin with. In today's market? Forget it.

3. Can we blend professionalism with commitment? Without professionalism and quality you can't compete. I'm not sure this is fully understood by all those who are rightly exasperated by the liberal media.

4. The existing "nationalist" media is pedestrian. Unfortunately, its practitioners don't even recognise it.

My conclusions may seem cynical but I am willing to be proved wrong.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Trivialities zindabad


Let me post an observation about a subject that I normally shy away from: media triviality.

Every now and then an editor gets up at seminars and public meetings to tell everyone of the "meaningful" social interventions his publication is making. They will tell you how distasteful politics has become, how public life is an ego game of the netas and how the "real" issues are being unaddressed.

There were two developments in the election campaign that I thought was significant.

First, the BJP released a well-researched policy documented on its policy on Information Technology (see www.bjp.org). It raised many important questions on digital sovereignty and the use of "open standards" software.

Imagine my utter surprise on discovering that this thoughtful intervention was by and large ignored by the mainstream media, with an odd exception or two. The only aspect of the launch the media found interesting was the fact that Arun Jaitley arrived 30 minutes late.

Two days later the CPI(M) released its election manifesto. I am no fan of the CPI(M) but it is the most important party of the Left and runs state governments in three states. I expected the media to dissect its approach to the economic crisis and its perceptions on foreign policy in a post-Obama world.

Once again I was disappointed. Most publications dismissed the election manifesto in a few paragraphs.

The media laments the absence of ideas in politics. When political parties focus on policy, their interventions are blacked out. It is time media professionals stop being so utterly sanctimonious about politicians. They too are part of the problem of an imperfect democracy.

L'affaire Jaitley


abbe

When it comes to the subject of Arun Jaitley, I drop all pretensions of objectivity. I regard him as a close friend, a well-wisher and, at times, my guide to the world of politics. I camped with him in Ahmedabad for nearly a fortnight during the 2007 Gujarat Assembly election; I also spent 10 days helping him out during the Karnataka Assembly election last summer.

It is not that I agree with him at all times. In the last fortnight, we had sharply divergent perspectives on the happenings in Orissa. But our serious disagreements are laced with humorous bantering. He never questions my motives and I have no doubt of his unimpeachable integrity.

Over the past few days Jaitley has been in the news for all wrong reasons. His objection to the appointment of a BJP co-convenor for the North-eastern states has become the prism through which the party is being viewed in the media. If any other BJP had raised objections or chosen to register a protest, the matter would have been a footnote in the media. With Jaitley it is different. He is a media darling and his protest has predictably hogged the airwaves.

It would amount to breaking people's confidences if I narrate the details of the controversy. There are just a few points I would like to underline. These may help people make up their own minds about the kerfuffle.

1. Politics is not the be-all and end-all for Jaitley. He is one of India's most successful lawyers; he is up to his neck in cricket administration; and he loves interaction with friends, most of whom are not directly involved in politics. Unlike most politicians, he has a life outside politics. He can afford to take moral positions.

2. Jaitley has a fierce sense of right and wrong. Like his political colleague Narendra Modi he can be uncompromising. His affable exterior conceals a a firmly cemented spine.

3. Jaitley is central to the BJP's election management. He is the bridge to NDA partners such as Nitish Kumar in Bihar, the slippery Ajit Singh in Uttar Pradesh and the two Badals in Punjab. He is also the BJP's main fund raiser--a crucial responsibility in these difficult times.

4. Jaitley is unequivocally committed to doing his utmost for the BJP campaign. He believes that he owes it to L.K. Advani. He is impatient with the "semi-final election" theory.

At this juncture it is imprudent to say anything more. People can draw their own conclusions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In cold blood


INDIAN EXPRESS OP-ED PAGE (March 10, 2009)

In cold blood

By Swapan Dasgupta

Naveen Patnaik has been in active politics for just 12 years: a year as a backbench MP, two years as a Union Cabinet minister and nine years as Chief Minister of Orissa. Yet, he has been one of India’s most underestimated politicians. When he assumed the mantle of Biju Patnaik, many of his party colleagues reckoned he would be a complete pushover. The BJP, his alliance partner until last Sunday evening, mistook his understated style for permanent acquiescence. Unable to fathom his aloofness and reticence, not to mention his infrequent appearances in Delhi, the national media relegated him to the inside pages. In an age of flamboyant chief ministers, Patnaik ended up being regarded as a bit player with a high profile ambassador in Delhi.

Patnaik’s cold-blooded termination of an 11-year alliance with the BJP last Sunday has suddenly generated interest in one of India’s most successful but enigmatic politicians. Has he, it is being asked, been jolted into secularism after Kandhamal? Has he been taken for a ride by confidants? Or, has he developed national ambitions that can’t be accommodated within the NDA?

To many political buffs, Patnaik’s latest move seems whimsical and uncharacteristic of a man who is inherently cautious. Together, the BJD and BJP had hogged the entire anti-Congress space in Orissa for a decade. The pooling of votes and geographical synergy—the BJD dominated the coastal belt and the BJP was strong in western Orissa—ensured that the Congress was kept out of power from 2000. In 1995, the Congress swept into power with 80 of the 147 Assembly seats and 39.1 per cent votes because the anti-Congress vote was split between the Biju Patnaik-led Janata Dal (35.4 per cent) and BJP (7.9 per cent). In 2000, however, the BJD-BJP alliance won 106 seats and 47.6 per cent votes against a Congress which could manage just 26 seats and 33.8 per cent vote. It was the same story in 2004 when the BJD-BJP combine won 93 seats and 44.5 per cent; the Congress could win just 38 seats with its 34.8 per cent vote.

Is Patnaik jeopardising a guaranteed third-term by fragmenting the anti-Congress vote in Orissa? His local alliance with the Communists, NCP and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha will result in an accretion of not more than 3.5 per cent vote, not enough to cover the shortfall from the BJP’s exit. A.B. Bardhan and Prakash Karat can secure Patnaik’s rehabilitation in the liberal intelligentsia; they are not in a position to match the BJP vote for vote.

If conspiracy theories that reverberate in Bhubaneshwar and small-town Orissa are to be believed, Patnaik has fallen prey to the personal agendas of Pyare Mohan Mahapatra—the ju-ju man of Orissa—and Jay Panda. That’s a load of rubbish. Patnaik is neither impressionable nor swayed by personal friendships. He has a reputation for cold calculation and, unlike his father, is not temperamentally volatile. Even if the local BJP needled him incessantly for the past five years, he has been on the best of terms with the BJP national leadership, particularly Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. The break-up of the BJD-BJP alliance happened on account of problems over seat-sharing. It was not an outcome of profound ideological differences.

Patnaik’s go-it-alone gamble is premised on two parallel assumptions, culled from the results of municipal and panchayat elections over the past two years. The local elections, which were fought by all the parties independently, saw dramatic increases in the strength of the BJD, minor gains for the Congress and significant losses for the BJP. In the municipal polls in Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack, held in the past six months, spectacular gains for the BJD were accompanied by pathetic Congress and BJP performances. Both cities were the home turf of two important BJP Cabinet ministers. Despite loud boasting, the BJP also performed very poorly in Kandhamal and Mayurbhanj district which have witnessed tensions over Christian missionary activity.

The local election results clearly suggested that the 63 Assembly allotted to the BJP needed downward revision. Patnaik was concerned that the BJP no longer had the clout to put up a meaningful fight against the Congress. He genuinely feared that an indifferent BJP performance would lead to the alliance losing its majority in the Assembly. Based on the elections to local bodies, he calculated that the BJD was now the number one party in Orissa, strong enough to defeat the fractured challenge of the Congress and BJP.

The decline of the BJP in Orissa, the BJD believed, was also linked to the questionable reputation of some of its ministers. Over the past two years, prominent BJP ministers, including a former state president, have had to resign following revelations of their colourful personal lives.

Patnaik’s greatest political asset is his unimpeachable integrity. His government may not be as dynamic and efficient as, say, the one run by Narendra Modi in Gujarat. However, there is quiet public appreciation of the Chief Minister’s personal uprightness and his intolerance of corruption. The BJD was apprehensive that Patnaik’s untainted image would be diluted by some rotten apples in the basket. The surgical detachment of deviants has enabled Patnaik to combine his “good man” image with a “strong man” reputation. Earlier, the weeding out process was largely confined to his own party. Now he has extended it dramatically to the whole alliance, not least because the BJP did not undertake its own internal spring cleaning.

By showing the BJP the door, Patnaik has taken a calculated gamble. The response to his public meetings in the past three months has convinced him that the Rs 2/kg rice programme will pay handsome electoral dividends, as it did for the BJP in Chhattisgarh, and allow him to also undercut the Congress’ social constituency. If his audacity pays off, he wins a third term and national compulsions deem it fit, he can move back to the NDA—with honour, on better terms and unencumbered by local baggage. He doesn’t belong in a rag-tag Third Front. (END)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Naveen blow



Yesterday at around 9pm I received a call from my friend Chandan Mitra saying "It's all over. He's broken off the alliance". Chandan was camping in Bhubaneshwar and he was the BJP's point-man for negotiations with the BJD on seat-sharing.


It was a piece of news I had been dreading but also expecting at the same time. For the past six months the strains in the BJD-BJP relationship were evident to anyone who cared to look. The chemistry was all wrong. The BJD leaders perceived the BJP as upstarts with inflated egos; the BJP was visceral in its hatred of Naveen Patnaik--a man they could never understand.

Actually most people don't understand Naveen. He is a recluse and not prone to speaking out his mind. He can barely carry out a conversation in Oriya, although he understands it perfectly. He has infinite patience and doesn't believe in grandstanding. When he makes up his mind, it is based on cold calculation rather than flights of whimsy. An English friend always referred to Naveen as the "Oriyan serpent".

Naveen is so unlike his father. Biju Patnaik was the grand patriarch of Orissa. He was expansive, spoke out his mind fearlessly and had a terrible temper. Naveen is taciturn, cool and quietly purposeful. In 2001, on a visit to Orissa I told Naveen that his MLAs were scared of him. He feigned disbelief but I know he was quite tickled.

Actually, most normal politicians can't make head or tail of Naveen. His assumptions are so different from theirs. He has a profound sense of decency and a belief in right and wrong. For him, it was wrong to burn churches and molest nuns; it was wrong to loot the public exchequer; and it was wrong to be ostentatious. Naveen is a man of tastes. He is an aesthete. He is happiest talking culture, talking about fabrics and humming a Cole Porter song. To most politicians he is a creature from outer space.

Naveen is not temperamentally disloyal. He was provoked into looking for alternatives to the BJP and NDA. His defection has devastated the Advani campaign.

I hope Naveen wins a third term as Chief Minister. Politics is that much more interesting with him around.