Babies have stopped bawling. Couples have stalled before they make any further move on each other. Tennis balls have frozen mid-air at Wimbledon. Even the flight I’m on seems to be stuck, hanging, according to the flight guide, above Gaya, ominously placed halfway between Left Front-ruled Kolkata and Not-Mulayam Singh Yadav-ruled Lucknow. It would seem that the world, not to mention the known universe as depicted faithfully by the media, is holding its breath to know when the Left will withdraw its support from the suddenly virile, Y-fronted UPA government.
It must be all terribly exciting, even though my mind has been occupied for a while with a deeper question: why do aircrafts have “Do Not Smoke” signs in their lavatories and also have small, collapsible ashtrays with the sign of a cigarette being crushed? That is definitely a more confusing signal for airborne smokers like me than Prakash Karat saying that he and his kitchen cabinet members would like to know ‘definitely’ by July 7 — preferably before six in the evening and after two in the afternoon, ‘please’ — whether the Manmohan Singh team is proceeding or not to seek the approval of the safeguards agreement by the IAEA.
But as I travel back from Kolkata, which I’m genuinely growing fond of again for some reason, it’s not Prakash Karat I’m thinking about, but of two veteran communist leaders.
In 2004, it was the still-then-hearty Harkishen Singh Surjeet who had brought along Amar Singh to Sonia Gandhi’s dinner in the hope of an impromptu Congress-Samajwadi Party love-fest breaking out. Amar Singh was uninvited and Surjeet clearly hadn’t expected the 10 Janpath household staff to keep the gatecrasher waiting outside. (That’s what happens if your boss once withdrew support at the last minute when the hostess of the party was sure of forming a government.) Amar Singh was wrong to say later that he had been treated that evening “worse than a dog or a beggar”. “Treated like a dog or a beggar” would have sufficed.
With the ailing Surjeet out of the picture, it was the healthy Karat who took over the reins of the Left — and then, it seemed to me at least, the country. And it’s the same Amar Singh who’s now managed to get Mulayam Singh Yadav to break bread with Sonia Gandhi and break something else less solid in the face of Surjeet’s poker-playing successor. So hurrah for politics! And hurrah for the Marinated Crow I’m getting ready to eat for believing that we had seen the end of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the deal!
But while I spare a thought for the veteran communist whom Amar Singh must have picked up many tips in brinksmanship from, I also think of the other patriarch: Jyoti Basu. The Kolkata I’ve just left behind is abuzz not with the nuclear deal and the devilish dilemma facing Karat, but with the results of last Sunday’s municipal polls. Despite billboards announcing ‘celebrations’ planned to mark Jyoti-babu’s 94th birthday on July 8, I could smell the gloom among the commissars. Out of the 13 seats, nine have gone to the opposition. The Trinamool Congress and the Congress are probably tying up in the Lok Sabha elections in the state. CPI(M) insiders who naturally don’t have long faces and droopy eyes are now looking like Jyoti Basu. Some reckon that in the general elections, the party may lose up to 20-30 seats. So, my dear petit bourgeois readers, there are more important things bothering the communists who have a state to run than Prakash Karat in Delhi looking at his hegemonic watch.
Jyoti Basu should be having a nice birthday bash on Tuesday. As I sense clouds starting to move outside my airplane again, I wonder whether anyone from AKG Bhavan will be invited to his Salt Lake residence. I believe gatecrashers from the national capital aren’t welcome.