Naya Mahagathbandhan

India is in election storm today. The election results of the five Indian States have been just announced. These results have been rather alarming to the ruling party National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress seems to be coming back.

Prime  Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah were not expecting such results. A meeting was convened on emergency basis to take a stock of the situation, identify the threats and refine the strategy for the national election of 2019. All key ministers, strategists and senior party workers were present.  My Professor friend, who is the secret advisor to the PMO got me in as his assistant.

After the PM made opening remarks showing his surprise as well as concerns, Mr Amit Shah presented his analyses assuring all that the results of the State elections should interpreted carefully, and he does not see a swing to the Congress at the national level.

Mr. Amit Shah said that the trend observed in the five States indicates that the regional satraps might play key roles in 2019 general elections. He presented a State-wise statistic that was a complex mix of caste and class equations. He ended showing his  concern about the attempts by non-BJP parties to put a united front against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid for a second term.

A Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) was conceived. The driving force behind the Mahagathbandhan was Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who was making efforts to put together an anti-BJP front after walking out of the Modi government. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former Union minister Sharad Yadav, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav, Janata Dal-Secular Chief H D Deve Gowda, Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, DMK’s M K Stalin, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati were to be part of the Mahagathbandhan. In this Mahagathbandhan, the position taken by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was going to be critical. The parties in Mahagathbandhan were planning to focus on issues related to farmers, demonetisation and the controversial Rafale deal.

PM asked the senior members of the party to react to Mr. Amit Shah’s presentation and the Mahagathbandhan.

Mr. Suresh Prabhu who was earlier Union Minister of Environment & Forests spoke. He said that his informers have reported that there is a yet another Mahagathbandhan getting formed, something that has been quietly brewing over last five years with a potential to grow across the States, religions and casts, rich and poor. He said that this New Mahagathbandhan should not be neglected and more investigation is required to know who are involved and what will be this Mahagathbandhan’s election manifesto. All he came to know that this New Mahagathbandhan (Green Alliance) is basically pro-environment or green and is led by illustrious people of India, leading the field of environment, pollution and social justice.

Mr. Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister said “Suresh, you mean a party formed by the environmental activists? In that case simply don’t worry. These activists will never come together, they will fight between themselves and unlike us they will never get united as they supposedly don’t have any financial interest – that’s the bond we all politicians have. This interest keeps us together as we share the common goal of making money”

I whispered to the Professor “ I think Mr. Jaitley is right”. “We” simply keep complaining while we watch our environment and natural resources getting butchered. Some of us try to speak out but we are immediately zipped up, Some protest, write letters and fast for the good cause and but are simply neglected with least sensitivity, some sacrifice their lives in protecting our resources and restoring the damage done, but then spokes are put to stall their efforts if their work affects the financial gains of someone higher up. Sadly, these environmental crusaders and change makers are not connected to form a national network. They often work individually. I am glad that there is now a move to form a Naya (New) Mahagathbandhan. Imagine if this succeeds and we have from April, 2019 a green party to lead India or at least get some seats on the cabinet to voice”

Perhaps, Mr. Jaitley’s response to Mr. Suresh Prabhu was good enough and the members did not discuss further about the threat of the Naya Mahagathbandhan. The meeting focused more on the Naidu led Mahagathbandhan and discussed  how to ensure that this Mahagathbandhan does not happen.

When we were returning, Professor asked me to come to his house for a chat. We sat in his library with a south Indian coffee. He lit his cigar.

“Dr Modak, Suresh Prabhu was right. I know that such a green Mahagathbandhan is indeed getting formed, albeit not with seriousness it deserves. You must know  that earlier effort such as the Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UKPP) formed in 2009 has failed. The party fielded two candidates in the 2009 parliamentary elections and 15 candidates in the 2012 state assembly elections. UKPP is raising awareness about Green politics among the masses, although yet to win representation in government. More recently, The India Greens – or The Green Party of India was created in 2018. They held their National Convention very recently on 17th November, 2018. The Party is still in the initial stages of creation and is seeking to register with the Election Commission of India”

Any party or politician is labeled “green” if it emphasizes environmental causes. The Global Greens Charter lists six guiding principles which are ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy, nonviolence, sustainability and respect for diversity. Imagine if these principles are listed in the election manifestos of NDA or the Congress! But these principles are so hard to communicate and convince both the rich and poor of India. Of course we all are looking for roti, kapda aur makaan.

The first Green Party to achieve national prominence was the German Green Party, famous for their opposition to nuclear power, as well as an expression of anti-centralist and pacifist values traditional to greens. In Finland, in 1995, the Finnish Green Party was the first European Green party to be part of a national Cabinet. Other Green parties that have participated in government at national level include the Groen! (formerly Agalev) and Ecolo in Belgium, Les Verts in France and the Green Party in Ireland. In the Netherlands GroenLinks (“GreenLeft”) was founded in 1990 from four small left-wing parties and is now a stable faction in the Dutch parliament. More details of green parties in various countries can be found on the web

Imagine, if the Naya Mahagathbandhan of greens gets formed and works in coalition with the ruling Government. Imagine if the greens were  to manage few critical portfolios for protecting, preserving and enhancing India’s assets of natural resources – apart from all the gold and cash reserves the RBI has! Will we see an emergence of greens on India’s political canvas? But again, I was not sure whether the greens will function in a balanced manner considering both economic development of the country and balance with protection of the environment. The experience in India as well as in other countries has been rather uneven.

I stayed silent. I must be dreaming.

“This will never happen Dr Modak, let me be frank with you” Professor broke the silence while looking outside the window.

“Do you know that Vasundhara Raje ordered broadening of roads and beautification of the cities by removing the encroachments. In the process, several temples, many of them makeshift ones, were either demolished or removed. This angered the Hindus who thought the BJP was working against the interests of the majority community. And was one of the factors why BJP lost to congress apart from the promise of the loan waivers that Rahul Gandhi made”.

“Dr Modak, this country does not have today any strong national association of professionals, environmental NGOs and academia on the subject of Environmental Management. There is no towering national body that can take on the Government if there is need to be – in the interest of environment. So, forget your hope for the Naya Mahagathbandhan” Professor gave me a kind smile and extinguished his cigar.

Professor was right. Good initiatives even in the interest of environment do not get recognized or supported as what is green for someone is perhaps brown for someone else!

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Seat No B10 in the NCPA


I wrote this post after we attended the 3rd day of the International Jazz Festival at Mumbai’s NCPA last week. The music was great. We met there some of our old friends like Farida Green. It made me feel rather nostalgic.

Kiran, Farida and me at the Foyer of NCPA

This post depicts lives of old, sensitive and graceful souls of Mumbai who love music. I leave the mystic part the story to your judgement.

Mrs. Farzan Chichgar reached the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) at Nariman Point in Mumbai  half an hour before the program was to begin. She lived in the Venus Apartment at Cuffe Parade that wasn’t too far. Her driver John drove her in old Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (1993 edition). He dropped her at the main gate and as she got down, the security guard reached to fetch her and help walk up the staircase.

Mrs. Farzan was a regular at the concerts at NCPA for years. Who would not remember this kind and graceful personality and the way she dressed and carried herself even at the age of 80? Today she was wearing a dress that was in polka dot white black faux silk satin. Her pair of golden rim spectacles was a trademark. These spectacles were made by Phiroze Dastur of Dadar TT Circle in 1980.

Mrs. Farzan walked up slowly and reached the foyer. Her husband Jehangir always reached in just a nick of time before the show, a habit that Mrs Farzan never liked. “Jehangir has simply no sense of time”, Mrs. Farzan often said.  She always liked to reach early and have a coffee with her friends.

She was happy to see her friend Mrs. Todiwala and reached her. They ordered coffees from the counter. Mrs. Todiwala opened her large purse and brought out a box. The box contained soft “mawa” cakes from the Sassanian – a 105 year old restaurant at Dhobi Talao. This Irani restaurant was founded by Meheraban in partnership with  Sharookh Yezdabadi and serves authentic Parsi food even today. Its famously known for its “mawa” cakes and the “kheema” puffs.

The Sassanian

The “Mawa Cake”

“Oh, it’s a great combination to go with this coffee” Mrs. Farzan said while sampling a slice of the mawa cake and thanking Mrs. Todiwala “. Jehangir never understands that there is something like this in life other than music” she said to herself.

Jehangir was a pianist. He worked as an accountant at Tata Sons in his entire life. After his retirement he took up as a piano tutor and started coaching young Parsi kids.

It was the third day of the international Jazz festival featuring MND FLO  and the Clifford Brown Legacy Band.  MND FLO (Mind Flow) –  a New York-based band, was featuring Simon Moullier on vibraphone, Sharik Hasan on piano, Anthony Toth on drums and Alexander Toth on bass. This session was to be followed by the trumpet wizardry of the late, great Clifford Brown band. This band was brought by his grandson, Clifford Brown III featuring Miles Davis’s one-time saxophone player Bennie Maupin along with Rayford Griffin on drums. This was going to be the first tribute to Clifford Brown anywhere outside the United States.

Jehangir is going to love these sessions, Mrs. Farzan muttered as she went through the flyers kept on the tables placed in the Foyer.

The Foyer was now full with people, mostly coming from Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Malabar Hill and Marine Drive areas – the exclusive crowd of South Mumbai. A large number of the people were NCPA members and probably knew each other. The ambience of NCPA provided a good setting “for saying hi”, “catching up” and to “discuss” a bit of music and more of Indian politics and the scams. Lavender flavor dominated the perfumes.

Mrs. Farzan noticed Mrs. Bharucha in the crowd wearing a necklace of large size south pacific pearls. She always shows off – Mrs. Farzan said. And there was Mr Mistry dressed in a black suit standing with his son Ardeshir. Mistry and Mrs. Farzan attended Xavier’s college at the same time. “He still looks so handsome – doesn’t he?” Mrs. Farzan told Mrs. Todiwala.

But Mrs. Farzan was not a person of the “networking type” as she had passed this phase decades ago. Her life today was more private. She got into the auditorium and was guided by the doorkeeper to her seat in the B row at the aisle. Chichgars always chose seat no’s B9 and B10, and Mrs. Farzan would take seat B9.

Jehangir was already there on seat B10. In fact, he was looking around for her. “Thank God Jehangir, this time you are in time” said Mrs. Farzan.

“How come I didn’t  see you in the Foyer?” She asked, “Sometimes you just appear in the chair as if from nowhere!”. Jehangir smiled and fondly held her hand, his hand was a bit cold. He gave her a light kiss on her cheeks.

After their son, Rustom, migrated to California in the United States, the couple lived a bit lonely life in the Venus Apartments. It was good that their old servant Shankar was still around to take care of all the errands. Jehangir would be out the whole day giving piano lessons and going to Freddie-  his school friend for an afternoon rum and coke. Mrs. Farzan would spend time keeping the house tidy and clean, experiment different recipes, listen to the jazz of 1960s and make long phone calls to friends.

Sometimes in the evenings, the couple would ask John to drive to the Bombay Gymkhana and have an early supper, ending with a parsi pudding. They always chose the foyer that had the wonderful cane furniture made by Biloo Mehta.

The Bombay Gymkhana

On every Sunday morning, when Rustom would give a call, both would dress up for the conversation as Rustom used to insist to use Skype on a video mode. Their neighbor’s little daughter Fatima would help them set the Skype on their desktop and even participate in the conversations.

Clifford Brown Legacy Band

The first session by MND FLO was over. Mrs. Farzan was impressed with Simon Moullier on vibraphone. Jehangir whispered “Did you know that this is the first time a vibraphone is played in the NCPA”. Jehangir always had some interesting information to share.

After a short break, the Clifford Brown Legacy Band began. His grandson Clifford Brown III recounted some of the stories of Clifford playing with the stalwarts of American Jazz music. Mrs. Farzan was deeply impressed while listening to the stories of this legacy.  When she turned to Jehangir showing her appreciation, Jehangir said “All what he is saying is not exactly true, he is making up stories for the crowd”. “Oh, come on Jehangir, you always speak as if you know everything – and now you are talking as if you just met Clifford Brown!” Mrs. Farzan whispered, “You are impossible!”

Although she didn’t mean, she must have spoken a bit loudly. NCPA is very strict when it comes to “so called whispering” and “flashing of the mobile phones”. The doorkeeper promptly moved to row B with his torchlight to “silence” the person.

When he beamed his torchlight, he noticed Mrs. Farzan sitting on B9.

He returned to the door and told his colleague

“Its usual Prakash, its Mrs. Farzan once again. The old Parsi lady who books an extra seat B10 that always remains empty.

The colleague understood.

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