18 March 2016

Peregrinations in Lutyen's Delhi: Meeting Derek Rodgers...

Often times I have to travel to Delhi on business. I find the city soothing and peaceful.

What are you talking about (Being Delhiite, you will ask WTF are you talking about)? do I hear you ask? Soothing and Peaceful? My foot (actually BC or MC, but lets stick to decent language here) You must be out of your mind. The New Delhi, or for that matter Old Delhi, that I know, is hot, dry, rude, sweaty, smelly and cacophonic, you inform me with mounting irritation.

Did I hear you say New Delhi or Old Delhi? Sorry, that is not where I go when I visit Delhi. I go to Lutyen's Delhi.

Where is this place?, you ask. Sounds like a paradise within the city, you wonder. May be I should go there, you think.

Sorry, you are not allowed to go there. Much like Hogwarts, only few chosen people can go to this invisible city within city.

I happen to be one of the chosen ones.

There is a very long. broad lane in Lutyen's Delhi by the name of Lutyen's Lane (LL) and in this lane there is a coffee shop called 'Lutyens Coffee Shop (LCS)'. This invisible shop is accessible only to citizens of Lutyen's Delhi. This is one of my regular destinations every time I visit Delhi. Many an interesting conversation I've had in LCS.

For you to be a chosen one, you have to be a politician, a business man with political affiliation a currently serving bureaucrat, party spokesperson or a journalist. I am the only exception. I don't fit any of this group.

Intrigue and backstabbing and bitching characterize the citizens of the Lutyen's Delhi. Within all this caustic environment, I have managed to maintain my neutrality. I don't gossip. Any news / information that I hear stays in me.

It is an advantage since I am the go to person for sharing gossip or for complaining or for these people to share their innermost thoughts. 

Before I got sidetracked, I was about to tell you about my recent visit to LD. The place is  currently encompassed in a miasma of Kanhaiya Kumar. Wherever you look, you see the KK effect. You see the effect on the sheepish faces of some BJP leaders, in the angry fulmination of the Iranis and Khers of the world, the sympathetic glee on the faces of congress leaders, the the relief on the faces of communist leaders.

Like the lord of the same name, Kanhaiya is everywhere. He is omnipresent.

Walking down the Lutyen's Lane, I reached the LCS. I am in the mood for a coffee and I saunter in.

And who do I see?

I see none other than my good old friend Derek Rodgers, affectionately called DR, sitting alone by the side table and sipping coffee. From a distance, he looks very calm and peaceful.

DR sees me and waves. "Hello Ram, come and join me for a coffee"

I join him at his table. He seem to be unusually happy, almost ebullient.

"Why you happy?" I ask him. "I have met you many times, but have never seen you so happy What gives?"

"How old do you think I am?" DR asks a counter-question. Non-sequitur, nonetheless, a CQ.

"You look very young" I wade around in a non-invasive way. Age is a sensitive subject in LD

Before he presses me for an answer, I change the sub.

"Why do you ask this question?", I ask DR

"Do you know which party I belong to?"

Evidently, this was more of a day for questions than answers. This question made me pause. Every time someone had asked me that question, trouble followed.

"Communist Party?", I ventured hesitantly into what was turning out to be troubled waters

"Of what?", demanded DR, "of India", "of India (Marxist)" or "of India (Marxist - Leninist)"

"of India", I mumbled the first thing that came to mind.

DR was pleased. "Correct, Ram, you know your politics. I belong to Communist Party of India, also called CPI. We are the oldest communist party in India"

"The question is, can you name any one of my party leaders, either in Centre or in States?"

I had heard that CPI was prominent in Kerala and West Bengal. I blurted out the first Bengali Name that came to mind and added 'Chatterjee' for good measure.

"Pranab Chatterjee", I replied confidently.

"Sorry, wrong party. He belongs to Trinamool Congress", commented DR ruefully. "Unfortunately, this is the situation for our party in other parts of India. No one knows anything about our party and what we stand for. Why other parts? Even in Kerala and WB, people are forgetting us."

That left me with this mystery. Despite the situation being as bleak as DR was mentioning, why was he happy? Why was his face illuminated like a convention center? Why was DR smiling like a gang of fireflies on a rainy night?

"But you look very happy. Positive, Ebullient and Gregarious", I threw the Roget at him, "Why?"

"Ram, you just effectively demonstrated your ignorance about my party. You don't know anything about my party (you took a wild guess there with my party name, as if I did not notice), you don't know the names of any of our party leaders, you don't know what we stand for. Even politically savvy persons like you do not know about us, what can we expect a common man to know? 

We had lost West Bengal, we had lost Kerala, our ideology was being rejected by people across the country, our leadership is becoming older (I myself am 56 fyi)  we do not have a young generation of leadership capable of taking us forward. We are an aging party with a redundant ideology. We are staring at political abyss." DR sounded distant.

"Never despair, Ram, even when things look down and out, someone will always come to save you. It may even be your political or ideological opponent. You should always maintain positive outlook." Suddenly DR changed tack and sounded like the AOL Guy.

I waited. These things correct by themselves.

"We were facing two issues. One, there was no young generation of leadership. Two, how do we spread our message across the country. That is where BJP came to our rescue", said DR

This was surprise. "How did BJP came to your rescue? I thought they were your political and ideological opponents."

"Of course they are. But you see, political incompetence is not a monopoly of one party. " DR pointed out.

"Till the JNU incident, we had not heard of Kanhaiya. He was one of those student leaders, dime a dozen, strolling around the campuses from Kerala to Kashmir and from Goa to Nagaland, making 'Bhashans' in the campuses. These  students are motivated,   good at public speaking and generally resent everything around. As they grow up they tend to lose their enthusiasm and end up as government servants or take up some regular jobs and get forgotten in the sands of time."

"So Kahnaiya was making a kind of vitriolic speech that you here in college cafeterias. Then providence intervened. Someone took out a few videos, merged them together and posted it online as if Kanhaiya was making an Anti-national speech"

"Some holier than thou TV Channels, took up on themselves to define nationalism. They branded Kanhaiya as a traitor and went after him with a pitchfork. That was when, watching TV one day, I found that we had a student wing of the party in JNU and a guy named Kanhaiya was its leader."

"Someone else posted a fake twitter post. And that was when this government woke up", said DR.

"Say what you will about this government, Ram, they have their faults, of course, but you have to respect their machismo, their 'act first, think later' attitude and the equanimity with which they 'act in haste and then repent in leisure' ".

"They came after Kanhaiya with a sledge hammer of a law. They charged him with Sedition. They arrested him"

"By this single act, government hit two birds with one stone for us. Suddenly, Kanhaiya's speech, that contained most of our message, received wide publicity. Everyone and their grand mother was searching for Kanhaiya  in Youtube and listening to his speech. That took care of one of our challenges, how to get across our message to wider public."

"One of the criteria for becoming a political leader is that he/ she should have courted arrest. The flimsier the charges, the better. We can go to town with complaints of state oppression. Kanhaiya was arrested and brought to court and that is where the second act of the drama unfolded."

In front of sympathetic media and teachers of JNU, Kanhaiya was beaten up by supporters of BJP. Adding sweet to sugar, these people even beat up journalists. They violated the cardinal rule of political activism. Leave journalists alone. They will help you spin your story. But the moment your actions affect them, you have created an enemy with wide reach"

"By arresting him on sedition charges and then by their inability to prevent the attack at court house, Kanhaiya was transformed from a student leader to a political leader, thereby resolving our second dilemma, that of new line of leadership"

"Thank you BJP" said DR as he downed his last sip of coffee.

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