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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014
Howdy partners
Indrajit Hazra, Hindustan Times
June 23, 2012
First Published: 21:49 IST(23/6/2012)
Last Updated: 21:52 IST(23/6/2012)

I don't know how good Purno Sangma's backhand is, but I've been told he's been sighted in tennis gear, with John McEnroe-vintage headband and Slazenger kit at the Delhi Gymkhana all of last week. Apparently, he's been working desperately to improve his serves.

His decision to quit the National Congress Party (NCP) may have ostensibly been about his own party not backing him as the candidate for the shortest-ever (in height, not in duration) male president of India. But it's been almost confirmed that the real reason for him going solo is the NCP's refusal to hire the services of the legendary (and expensive) Nick Bollettieri to coach Sangma for a few weeks and make him a contender for an Olympic tennis medal in the doubles pairing with Leander Paes, who would have happily teamed up with the 64-year-old 'senior' player.

Which is a pity, as I can just see Lee and Sang chest-slamming like two horns-ramming rhinos in heat as they win yet another point against another win some-lose some twosome in London next month. But with the All India Tennis Association still thinking outside of the box, court and arena, the former Lok Sabha speaker can still show the world that he still has a ball in his pocket after netting his disastrous first serve.

Talking about pairs, humans are hardwired to think in terms of binaries. If there's an up, there's a deep interest  in the down; if there's India Shining, there's also Real India (the  way the flip side of Athletico Madrid is Real Madrid). In the same vein, we now hear of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar, the two successful binary units that make up the Transforming India story, going through their Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi routine.

It turns out that Nitish has been going on for a while now about how he can't possibly approve of Modi being the NDA's prime ministerial candidate. Dumb charade enthusiasts point out that the Bihar chief minister hasn't actually named Modi. Instead, they say, he's simply pointed out that whoever the BJP chooses as their Olympian in 2014 should “have secular credentials... [and] has absolute faith in democratic values”. This is like Bhupathi saying he's willing to partner anyone as long as he isn't No. 7 on the ATP doubles ranking .

Much opinion has been opined regarding whether Nitish's decision not to play if Modi leads the 2014 pack is the first step to the unstitching of the NDA. 'Will Nitish Kumar do a Naveen Patnaik?' is a question sharing centre court space these days with 'Is Leander the Mamata Banerjee of tennis?' BJP patricians have pointed out that the JD(U) chief was happy to sit at the NDA table when Gujarat burned in 2002. So it would be rich to presume, they say, that he would saunter off now when Modi's kept his hair long and rippling at the nape.

But in politics, as in national tennis associations, you act first and explain your action later. So while there is logic in Nitish having stayed on in the NDA during one of its most unsecular moments and seeming to be all fidgety now — Modi, after all, was not a potential prime ministerial candidate in 2002 — the Bihar CM's  utterings could boil down to being a canny response to counter misgivings from Muslims in his state about the JD(U) being in the bobbing boat that has Modi at its helm.

I could, however, lob that ball in a different corner of the court. Nitish, if you stop to think about it, could actually be helping his 'developmental doubles partner' Modi by reminding sulking Hindu voters in Gujarat, worried about their CM having got all soft these days, that he's still the best bet against Congress-style 'Muslim appeasement' in the country. The beauty of Nitish's criticism of Modi is that the Gujarat CM doesn't even have to make any kind of 'communal' remark to reassure the bored Hindutva lot. Who better than Nitish Kumar — a secular NDA partner, if there is one — to make this 'accusation' that doubles as a reassurance to the midlife crisis-ridden Hindutva voting mob?

And apart from providing a pre-assembly polls leg-up to Narendra-bhai, who can be better as the NDA's consensus candidate for PM in 2014 than Nitish Kumar himself, brimming as he is with 'secular credentials'?

There's nothing that captures the imagination more than old partners getting at each other's throats. That's what makes the old photos of Nitish and Modi on the dais with their hands clasped and raised now resonate with Manmohan Desai-kitsch afterglow. That's what provides the cracker kick in the much-more-genuine Paes-Bhupathi stab story.

And what could be more convenient for our multiple pairs of tennis and non-tennis chumps than to take comfort in the fact that to err is human, to put the blame on someone else is doubles.


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