KAFFEEKLATSCH

The ‘faujis’ are feeling angry

A few days ago, Chandigarh was host to the National Council of the Communist Party of India. It was a congregation of some faded, some jaded, yet unbeaten, men and women.

Harish Khare

The Tribune has always cherished its special and intimate relationship with the armed forces’ biradari. Serving and retired soldiers are our most valued readers; and, we often have the pleasure of publishing letters, opinions and comments from retired senior officers who are kind enough to share their perspective and insight with the readers. The soldier will always have the first claim on this newspaper’s attention and space.

The “One Rank One Pension” issue has agitated the entire ex-servicemen fraternity. We have received and continue to receive many, many articles on the subject. We have published quite a number of such write-ups, and would publish some more. Yet, many of our contributors feel aggrieved when The Tribune does not accommodate each and every piece offered.  

My own feeling is that the biradari is feeling especially frustrated because it chose to believe in the promises made by Narendra Modi before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. After becoming Prime Minister, Mr Modi has discovered — and, has candidly confessed —that the issue was much more complex than he thought and that his government was not in a position to deliver on what he had promised. The fauji biradari consists of men who have their own code of honour: promises made have to be kept. It feels betrayed. The anger is brewing. And, the ex-servicemen activists are doubly angry that the media is not giving them due coverage to their ongoing protests. 

Ireceived a communication a few days ago from one Lt Col DS Dabas (retd), expressing himself rather forcefully on what he called “ethical journalism — the need of the hour”. In his reckoning, the entire media has fallen short of expectations. He has an interestingly apt quote from Rudyard Kipling:

“In times of war and not before,
God and the soldier we adore
.But in times of peace and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.”

I salute to that. 

A few days ago, Chandigarh was host to the National Council of the Communist Party of India. It was a congregation of some faded, some jaded, yet unbeaten, men and women. 

It felt good to be able to meet many old familiar faces from Delhi. In particular, I was happy to see AB Bardhan. He was looking frail and weak. But still as sharp as a gunshot. When I asked about his health, he replied with a twinkle in his eye: “Nothing wrong with me. I am only 90.”

I have had the pleasure of knowing Bardhan saheb for over two decades and he has always impressed me as a clear-headed ideologue. He is blunt in his views and assessment of people — and never apologetic about it. He is someone who would not give in to the political correctness of the day. It was always instructive for a political reporter like me to listen to him dissecting events and personalities from a new perspective. 

The Communist leaders who gathered in Chandigarh know they do not count for much. They know that parliamentary politics in India is an altogether different ball game and they are ill-equipped to play the game with any degree of competence, leave alone success. But the hallmark of the committed men and women is that they are not easily deterred from their chosen path. Rightly or wrongly, they believe in a certain notion of India.

A gentleman named Avtar Singh was playing host to them in Chandigarh. He counts himself as one among the comrades, but of a slightly different ilk. Not only does he refuse to fall in line with the regimentation that a communist party requires of its members, but he also has a fine business head on his shoulders.

Blessed with this acumen, he has just put together an impressive building, called Peoples Convention Centre, on a piece of land allotted to the Communist Party of India. He managed to persuade Comrade Bardhan to give him a free hand so that he could put up something different from a drab party structure. He also inveigled Shivraj Patil, first as Union Home Minister and later as Governor of Punjab, to help clear the ubiquitous red tape. It has the look of a three-star imitation of the India International Centre in New Delhi. 

Avtar Singh hopes the Peoples Convention Centre would become home, a kind of “adda”, where intelligent, forward-looking, sensitive and progressive men and women will bond and unleash their imagination to think of a different, better India in the 21st century.   

It must have been the first week of 2001.  I had gone to the PMO to visit my friend (and source) Brajesh Mishra, who was Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.  Since the very early days, the Principal Secretary has occupied the corner room down the corridor opposite the Prime Minister’s room on the first floor in that grand building called the South Block.  About 60 steps connect the two most powerful offices; both are very, very coveted rooms. 

Those days the PMO used to be a relaxed place. It was sufficiently self-assured and  receptive to friendly intrusions. A visitor was not discouraged from roaming the corridors and take a chance on dropping on other officers after the initial “appointment”.

So, on that early 2001 morning after my chat with Brajesh Mishra, I took a slight detour, hoping to gatecrash on other officers. And I was surprised to find one very familiar gentleman supervising the putting up of a nameplate — his own. He greeted me warmly and rather sheepishly observed: “For the first time in my long professional career, there is going to be a nameplate outside my office.”

The man was AS Dulat, undoubtedly the most experienced “Kashmir hand” we have today. After he hung up his boots as the chief of RAW, he was cajoled and wooed by Brajesh Mishra to lend a hand in sorting out the Kashmir mess. He was designated as “Officer on Special Duty” in the PMO. Hence, the requirement of a nameplate.

Now, the very discreet and very reticent Dulat has allowed himself to be persuaded to put out his recollections, Kashmir — The Vajpayee Years. And, he has uncorked a can of assorted memories, accusations and recriminations.

Many readers have written that Kaffeeklatsch reminds them of Khushwant Singh’s famous column With Malice Towards One And All.

I find it very flattering and gratifying. The comparison would have perhaps pleased him. 

Khushwant Singh was my first editor in India at  Hindustan Times in Delhi.  He taught me the fine points of effective writing. 

Contrary to his public image of a tough-talking editor, he was a very gentle, almost meek, soul who would go to any length to avoid an unpleasant argument. Irate and angry readers would often barge into the newspaper office and demand an audience with the editor. Under Khushwant’s instructions, such visitors were gently steered away from him towards one of us young assistant editors.  

He was a great raconteur and when he was in the mood, he would regale us young assistant editors with salty stories of powerful people. Since he was also a member of the Rajya Sabha, he was brushing shoulders with the political elite of the day. His delightful anecdotes invariably had a moral:  always look at the feet of the pompously powerful and you will find lumps of malleable clay. 

He was also a generous soul. His greatest quality as an editor was that he would prod us to read good writings. He would pass on foreign magazines like The New Statesman and The Spectator to his junior colleagues. On his way out for lunch, he used to often stop by my cabin and inquire what I was reading and then suggest a few titles. Once he asked me if I had read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I replied rather sourly that I was not getting paid enough to be able to afford expensive books. The next morning, Rushdie’s book was on my table. 

Lastly, there was a bloomer in last week’s Kaffeeklatsch. “Muzaffarnagar” in western UP appeared as “Muzaffarpur”.  I and my colleagues were embarrassed that such an error had crept in. Alert readers took the trouble of pointing out the mistake. We have already acknowledged the error in our “Letters to the Editor” column. Thank you all.

Coffee, anyone?

kaffeeklatsch@tribuneindia.com 

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