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Opportunity for Rahul

Never take the words of an Indian politician at face value; try and find out why he uttered them at that particular point of time and what he hoped to gain, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Apr 25, 2008 21:18 IST

Never take the words of an Indian politician at face value; try and find out why he uttered them at that particular point of time and what he hoped to gain. His way of thinking is somewhat along these lines: “I come first. Anyone who comes in my way upwards must be removed. My kin come next; Konbaprasthi is my dharma provided my kin remain subservient to me. After them comes the party I belong to, provided it promotes my interests. If it does not, there are other parties I can join. Country? Why bother about the country? It can look after itself.”

So, as soon as I read of some of them endorse the name of Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Minister of India, I asked myself: “What mischief are these Johnnies up to now?” They are members of the government or leaders of parties supporting the government. Manmohan Singh is their Prime Minister. They must know that their statements would adversely affect his standing as their leader. With supporters like these, he needs no enemies. He has discharged his duties creditably for over four-and-a-half years; some people, including myself, believe that his performance has been as good, if not better, than any of his predecessors. So why are they deliberately hurting him?

The statement about the future Prime Minister, if the Congress party is returned to power, should only have come from the Prime Minister, if he was reluctant to do a second term, or the president of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi. Manmohan Singh has maintained a dignified silence. Sonia Gandhi has snubbed them in no uncertain terms as sycophants.

What is legitimate and should be announced publicly is the name or names of people who will lead the Congress party in different states in the forthcoming elections. Its focus should be on one man who will be in overall command to direct operations and work out in collaboration with his colleagues, the right slogans which encapsulate the Gandhi-Nehru legacy in reply to the BJP’s Hindutva: Ram Mandir, Ram Setu etc propaganda.

Also, he must build up cadres of volunteers who will ensure that supporters go to the polls on dates scheduled. At the moment I can think of no better man to play the leading role for the Congress in the battle for the hustings than Rahul Gandhi. It will be an opportunity for him to prove his worth. Not till then should anyone name him as the prime ministerial candidate. I may be wrong. But I am no sycophant, only a well-wisher.

The Dome

Have you any idea what is inside beautiful domes of mosques like Delhi’s Jama Masjid and Humayun’s Tomb, or Agra’s Taj Mahal? I was under the impression they were filled with earth or stone or had beams to support the super-structure. I was wrong. I discovered the truth: inside their marble covering, they are hollow. I found this by sheer chance. Some 40 years ago, I was commissioned by the Uttar Pradesh government to write a brochure on the historic monuments of Agra. I spent a week in the city and stayed in the dak bungalow of Sikandra. Every day I spent many hours at different places like the European cemetery, which is older than the Taj and has many Europeans of different nationalities, including Begum Samru’s husband buried there. Near the entrance of Itmadudaulah across the Yamuna, I visited a garden where Babar was first buried before his remains were taken to Kabul to be re-buried. It was known as Araamgarh (resting place); the locals call it Ram Bagh.

But my main job was the Taj, where I spent many hours and many days. I befriended the caretaker who gave me lots of information on items people don’t notice: the ayats of the Quran festooning the entrance gate (Sura Yaseen) of the main building (ayat-ul-kursi — the throne verses), little onion-shaped miniature domes on top of the gate which give you the number of years to complete the mausoleum, the full-scale drawing of the metal spire on top of the dome on the eastern side — and that kind of thing. One day he took me up the main structure to an aperture in the dome. I was astonished. It was like an empty hall in which we heard our voices resounding.

I put all this in the brochure. I don’t have a single copy left and don’t even remember if my name was on it. I know it is no point writing to the UP government begging for a copy; I will not get an answer. But if somebody has one, I will be most grateful if he or she can gift it to me.

Inflation

Fruits and pulses, rice and ghee
Vegetables and flour, sugar and tea
Were once upon a time in greater
or smaller measure
Used by everybody
In a certain country.
The farmers were happy
And the consumers felt easy.
And then, a species called blackmarketer
and hoarder
And their cousin forward trader
And airy-fairy wealth producer
In the name of economy, free
Took over the country —
Leaving behind only a sweet memory.
(Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Love Set

The two warring superstars of Indian tennis finally made up. To celebrate, they went to a five-star hotel for dinner. After the meal was over, the waiter presented the bill to Mahesh Bhupathi. Mahesh gestured towards his companion and said, “Leander Paes.”

(Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)