HOW THE EAST WAS WON

FIRE­WORKS OF THE MIND AND A KINDLING OF THE SPIRIT LIT UP THE IN­DIA TO­DAY CON­CLAVE 2018 EAST

India Today - - INSIDE - By Romita Datta

From top politi­cians to in­dus­tri­al­ists, sports stars to en­ter­tain­ers, In­dia To­day Con­clave East 2018 brought to­gether the best and the bright­est of east In­dia

As the na­tion en­ters into poll mode for the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions, the east of In­dia is likely to emerge as a “lab­o­ra­tory of In­dia’s many com­pet­ing ideas and trends, a mi­cro­cosm of both con­struc­tive and de­struc­tive spir­its”. This cen­tral theme, as ar­tic­u­lated by In­dia To­day Group Chair­man and Edi­torin-Chief Aroon Purie, man­i­fested it­self in the de­bates and dis­cus­sions span­ning 22 riv­et­ing ses­sions at the In­dia To­day Con­clave East in Kolkata on Oc­to­ber 5 and 6.

The chief min­is­ters of Megha­laya, Ma­nipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, top politi­cians, in­dus­tri­al­ists, sports stars, film­mak­ers, ac­tors and mu­si­cians at­tended the con­clave, talk­ing about their idea of In­dia and their role in the mak­ing of it. The con­clave had a most in­spir­ing be­gin­ning, with three lady sports icons— Asian hep­tathlon gold medal win­ner Swapna Bar­man, for­mer In­dia women’s cricket team cap­tain Jhu­lan Goswami and In­dian hockey team cap­tain Rani Ram-

pal—re­count­ing in­cred­i­ble sto­ries of en­durance, grit and “golden mo­ments” in their jour­ney to the top. “I have re­mained the same, only peo­ple have now started see­ing me dif­fer­ently,” said Bar­man.

NETAS BE­YOND POL­I­TICS

The con­clave plat­form trans­formed into a ver­i­ta­ble bat­tle­ground for 2019 with rhetor­i­cal du­els even as Adele’s song Sky­fall played in the back­ground. The ses­sion, ‘Ben­gal Tiger and 2019: Will it Roar?’, had BJP Ra­jya Sabha MP Roopa Gan­guly say­ing how ris­ing com­mu­nal­ism in the state wasn’t her party’s fault but was due to the fail­ing law and or­der sit­u­a­tion in Ma­mata Banerjee’s reign. The Left, rep­re­sented by Lok Sabha MP Mo­hammed Salim, didn’t let her party off eas­ily, say­ing “the politi­ci­sa­tion of re­li­gion hap­pened only af­ter Modi and Ma­mata came to power”.

“Re­li­gion in a place of wor­ship is okay, but why are you tak­ing it to the streets?” Salim asked Gan­guly. Al-

“The Cen­tre is fo­cused on en­sur­ing that projects get done on time. Union min­is­ter Nitin Gad­kari spent 10 hours clear­ing snags in our projects” CON­RAD SANGMA Megha­laya CM

leg­ing that Ma­mata was “the great­est in­ven­tion of the RSS” and that she had sought its help to oust the Left, the Left MP said that Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Ma­mata were en­gaged in “a mock WWF fight”.

So is the Left now ir­rel­e­vant in the state? For­mer CPI(M) MP Malini Bhat­tacharya cer­tainly seemed to think that not all is lost. Ac­cus­ing the BJP and the Tri­namool Congress of en­gag­ing in “overt com­pe­ti­tion and covert col­lu­sion” in the ses­sion ‘Com­pet­i­tive Com­mu­nal­ism—Streets on Fire or Rigged Ri­ots?’, she said, “Just be­cause we are not in power doesn’t mean the party has be­come ir­rel­e­vant. Ours is a fight for the pol­i­tics of right and not pol­i­tics of fear and favouritis­m.” As­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the In­dian Sta­tis­ti­cal In­sti­tute, Garga Chat­ter­jee said the only vari­able in the Ben­gal po­lit­i­cal equa­tion was the BJP and hence it must be blamed for the com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in the state. “It’s be­cause there’s a new kid on the block, the BJP, they are the cause,” Chat­ter­jee said.

BJP state vice-pres­i­dent Jay Prakash Ma­jum­dar at­tacked the Tri­namool for its dou­ble­s­peak, “Ma­mata Banerjee blames the BJPruled UP and Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment if there’s com­mu­nal vi­o­lence, but when it hap­pens in Ben­gal, they blame it on out­side in­flu­ences, specif­i­cally the BJP bring­ing in out­siders. The gov­ern­ment and chief min­is­ter should re­ply.”

The ses­sions, ‘Left or Right— Which way will Ben­gal sway?’ and ‘The Saf­fron Tide and The Great Eastern Hope—What Lies Ahead’ took the bat­tle nar­ra­tive for­ward. Fresh en­trant into the TMC, jour­nal­ist Chan­dan Mi­tra ad­mit­ted that “the BJP is the al­ter­na­tive for those who don’t want to go with the Tri­namool”, he was not ready to ac­cept that Banerjee’s pop­u­lar­ity had been dented and that the BJP would get over half of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Ben­gal,

“I have al­ways tried to shake up the mid­dle class... now I’m try­ing to shake it up more” DIBAKAR BANERJEE Film­maker

Women are abused in many ways, ver­bal, an arm around the waist... be­ing po­lite, you don’t re­ply” MOON MOON SEN

as claimed by Mukul Roy, once the TMC sec­ond-in-com­mand and now the BJP’s poll strate­gist in the state.

TIES THAT BIND

On the ma­ha­gath­band­han is­sue, am­bi­gu­ity reigned, though Congress leader Ran­deep Singh Sur­je­w­ala agreed that re­gional con­sid­er­a­tions have to be made in mak­ing al­liances. He at­tacked the BJP for “man­u­fac­tur­ing ma­jor­ity in back­rooms” to which Hi­manta Biswa Sarma re­torted: “When the Congress forms al­liances, it’s pure gold, and when BJP does it, it’s man­u­fac­tured.” The Congress, TMC and Left speak­ers all stressed on how “2019 will see a fight of ide­ol­ogy”, and cho­rused the need of com­ing to­gether on an ide­o­log­i­cal plat­form as a pre­scrip­tion to ‘Stem­ming the Saf­fron Tide’.

Union MoS for heavy in­dus­tries, Babul Supriyo, who spoke for ‘The Great Eastern Hope: What Lies Ahead?’ said the BJP was also fight­ing a bat­tle against “Ma­mata Banerjee’s ide­ol­ogy of sim­ple liv­ing and vi­o­lent think­ing”. Quot­ing a line from Ram Gopal Varma’s 2005 po­lit­i­cal thriller Sarkar, he said that “if you want to de­feat a sarkar, you must first de­stroy its ide­ol­ogy”, adding that the time had come to ex­pose the skewed ide­ol­ogy of the rul­ing TMC in Ben­gal.

Mean­while, even as the BJP, Left and Congress tried pulling down Ma­mata Banerjee’s ‘Best Ben­gal’ (a phrase coined by Mukesh Am­bani) ex­hor­ta­tions by point­ing to the “an­ar­chic law and or­der sit­u­a­tion” which is “100 per cent ex­tor­tion­ist” (or so al­leged Gan­guly), the busi­ness fra­ter­nity—In­vestors Inc—said it was still ready to ‘Bet Big for Ben­gal’, say­ing the state was “an out­stand­ing place to do busi­ness and in­vest in”.

Back­ing up the claim, San­jiv Goenka, chair­man of the RP-San­jiv Goenka Group, said he had in the past five years in­vested Rs 21,000 crore in the state. Later, at the ses­sion ‘GST and Af­ter’, state fi­nance min­is­ter Amit Mi­tra ac­cused the Modi gov­ern­ment of be­ing im­ma­ture. “There seems to be a lack of trust within the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, they are tak­ing big de­ci­sions with­out do­ing their home­work,” he said. At a time when states have suf­fered a rev­enue loss of Rs 55,400 crore in the past eight months be­cause of a “dys­func­tional GST regime”, bring­ing petroleum prod­ucts un­der it “will be an­other big mess”, Mi­tra warned.

“In 2009, Ma­mata sup­ported GST to safeguard the MSMEs, for they brought in the most jobs and were hav­ing to face 20 dif­fer­ent taxes and an in­spec­tor raj. But now, MSMEs, ex­ports, they have all col­lapsed with a fall in work­ing cap­i­tal,” Mi­tra ex­plained. Asked if Ma­mata would be a con­sen­sus choice for prime min­is­ter, Mi­tra, ever the trusted lieu­tenant, said “she is not in­ter­ested in the chair” and that she fights for causes. “If In­dia is go­ing down to­day and the In­dian econ­omy is col­laps­ing, she will take it up as a cause to save it,” he said.

THE CIT­I­ZEN­SHIP DE­BATE

“We will not al­low in­fil­tra­tors to re­main on our soil. In­fil­tra­tors will have to go... this is the gen­eral rule for ev­ery coun­try,” thun­dered BJP gen­eral sec­re­tary Ram Mad­hav in the ‘Cit­i­zen Kaun? In­sider-Out­sider’ ses­sion. He re­minded the au­di­ence how way back in 2005, it was the West Ben­gal chief min­is­ter had raised the is­sue but now

“If ha­rass­ment has hap­pened, it’s sad... it’s im­por­tant that we lis­ten be­fore we judge” AB­HISHEK BACHCHAN Ac­tor

“When some­thing like the Tanushree in­ci­dent hap­pens, you need a thick skin to deal with what will fol­low” PRE­ITY ZINTA Ac­tor

“the Great Ma­mata has be­come the cham­pion of in­fil­tra­tors”. Mean­while, as a friendly neigh­bour “Bangladesh will open its arms and ac­cept our na­tion­als liv­ing il­le­gally in In­dia... but In­dia will have to suc­cess­fully prove their iden­tity”, said Gowhar Rizvi, ad­vi­sor to Bangladesh prime min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina.

“In the past 10 years, In­dia has never taken up il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion with Bangladesh but a time may come when the two coun­tries will talk. We are ma­ture coun­tries and have friendly re­la­tions,” he added. “What Myan­mar is do­ing with the Ro­hingya is geno­cide. Bangladesh has doc­u­mented ev­ery Ro­hingya tak­ing refuge with us. When it’s time and the sit­u­a­tion im­proves, Myan­mar will have to hon­our this and take them back.”

“I have re­mained the same, only peo­ple have started see­ing me dif­fer­ently” SWAPNA BAR­MAN Ath­lete

“We will ac­cept our na­tion­als liv­ing here il­le­gally... but In­dia has to prove their iden­tity” GOWHAR RIZVI Spe­cial ad­vi­sor to Bangladesh PM

“The Cen­tre is tak­ing big de­ci­sions with­out do­ing the home­work” AMIT MI­TRA West Ben­gal fi­nance min­is­ter

NO PUSH­ING BACK

The chief min­is­ters of Tripura, Megha­laya, Ma­nipur and Arunachal—all ei­ther from the BJP or in al­liance with it—praised Prime Min­is­ter Modi for bridg­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tance and bring­ing the North­east­ern re­gion closer to the Cen­tre.

Megha­laya chief min­is­ter Con­rad Sangma, who heads a six-party coali­tion where the BJP is a mi­nor part­ner, felt the need of a “pan-North­east party” rep­re­sent­ing the eight states to ex­press and voice the as­pi­ra­tions of the re­gion. How­ever, he did ad­mit that there’s a craze for Modi among the youth of the North­east be­cause they are con­vinced about his de­vel­op­ment vi­sion.

“The Cen­tre is fo­cused on en­sur­ing that projects are im­ple­mented on time. Union min­is­ter Nitin Gad­kari spent 10 hours to re­move bot­tle­necks on projects. The Cen­tre has sanc­tioned Rs 18,000 crore for my state,” Sangma said. N. Biren Singh, the chief min­is­ter of Ma­nipur, said he switched to the BJP from the Congress be­cause AICC pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi re­fused to pay at­ten­tion to the rea­sons re­spon­si­ble for the dis­in­te­gra­tion of the party. “I met him two or three times. He lis­tened, but did not act,” Singh rued. “The var­i­ous Congress gov­ern­ments at the Cen­tre have not done enough for the North­east. Imag­ine, even af­ter 70 years of in­de­pen­dence, Ma­nipur did not have a di­rect flight to Delhi,” Singh added.

But things are chang­ing fast. “Af­ter 2014, Union min­is­ters have vis­ited the state 130 times. PM Modi him­self has vis­ited twice since 2014,” said Arunachal chief min­is­ter Pema Khandu, adding that the main fo­cus was in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment and con­nec­tiv­ity. In­deed, as in­dia to­day chair­man Aroon Purie pointed out, the Cen­tre’s ef­forts had helped bridge the “mar­gins with the main­stream” gap.

WETOO MO­MENTS

The #MeToo mo­ments of ac­tresses Pooja Bhatt and Sreelekha Mi­tra soon be­came “we too”, with the au­di­ence ap­plaud­ing the brave­hearts. “When you speak un­com­fort­able truths in a world of lies, peo­ple tend to turn a deaf ear. I be­lieve that truth does not re­quire PR,” said Bhatt. Shar­ing her own ex­pe­ri­ences, Bhatt opined that “Bol­ly­wood shows al­le­giances at wed­dings and fu­ner­als, but not when you are go­ing through fire. I am sur­prised that peo­ple are si­lenc­ing Tanushree. But for ev­ery bully, some­one needs to stand up”. Pre­ity Zinta, in her ses­sion ‘Kabhi alvida na kehna’, said: “If you can­not sup­port Tanushree, then shut up.”

Ab­hishek Bachchan felt that “if this has hap­pened, it is very sad... but it’s im­por­tant that we lis­ten be­fore we judge”. Talk­ing about his two-year hia­tus from the in­dus­try, Bachchan rub­bished talks of nepo­tism and shared how fa­ther Amitabh Bachchan will al­ways leave him a fan boy. That said, re­makes of Big B films are a strict “no-no”. As Bachchan Jr put it, he wouldn’t be able “to bring any­thing new to the ta­ble”.

“Ben­gal al­ways had re­li­gious pro­ces­sions. The po­lar­i­sa­tion started un­der Ma­mata’s rule” ROOPA GAN­GULY BJP MP

“We are also fight­ing Ma­mata’s ide­ol­ogy of sim­ple liv­ing and vi­o­lent think­ing” BABUL SUPRIYO Union MoS, heavy in­dus­tries

GOOOAL! Ma­nipur CM N. Biren Singh drib­bles the ball be­fore scor­ing on­stage

UP AND AWAY Tripura CM Bi­plab Ku­mar Deb takes on a 50 push-up chal­lenge

Pho­tographs by BANDEEP SINGH, VIKRAM SHARMA, YASIR IQBAL AND SUBIR HALDER

<< RHYTHM DI­VINE Usha Uthup

STRUMMING AWAY Anu­pam Roy

BLUNT CUT Pooja Bhatt

LEAD­ING LADIES (From left) Rani Ram­pal, Swapna Bar­man and Jhu­lan Goswami

NEW DEALS Ran­deep S. Sur­je­w­ala

THROW ’EM OUT Ram Mad­hav

ALL PRAISE San­jiv Goenka

PIN­POINT Hi­manta B. Sarma

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