Jairam Ramesh and the poem that defined the Buddha
The Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh, is one of those rare politicians who are also prolific writers. Although many politicians, some of whom are not known for their intellectual prowess, are writing edit page articles in English newspapers these days, Ramesh, like some of his party colleagues — for instance, Salman Khurshid and Shashi Tharoor — is truly a man of scholarly traits. He has created waves with his latest book, The Light of Asia: The Poem that Defined The Buddha, after winning the 2020 Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay award for his much-acclaimed work, A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of VK Krishna Menon. His wonderfully researched book, Intertwined Lives: P.N. Haksar & Indira Gandhi, also earned high praise from critics.
A Rajya Sabha member and an important part of the Congress high command, how Ramesh finds so much time for research and writing has always baffled party leaders and academics. But he carries on quietly with his creativity and hard work, producing a unique work debating The Light of Asia, the 1879 book by the British poet, Sir Edwin Arnold. The Dalai Lama wrote the foreword of the book, saying, “What Sir Edwin’s poems showed was that the message of the Buddha is timeless, eternal and relevant.” By choosing such a complex, apolitical subject, Ramesh demonstrated a new aspect of his persona which nurtures interests beyond politics. Sir Edwin’s book had shaped people’s perceptions about the Buddha across the world; Ramesh has given the subject a fresh lease of life. He also gave a glimpse of his own philosophical understanding of life, religion and culture, a rare phenomenon in an era where politicians’ spiritual knowledge is limited to hollow slogans. It is good to see a politician laying stress on the importance of human values and personal ethics in this age of brutal power games.
The growing disquiet in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Tripura has led to the party setting in motion steps not only to keep its flock together but also to keep its disgruntled ally, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura, in good humour. There is an apparent urgency to sort things out before the 2023 state assembly polls, more so after a ‘rumour’ claimed that several unhappy BJP MLAs could soon join the Trinamul Congress. This rumour saw senior Central leaders rush to Agartala and hold wide-ranging parleys with state and IPFT leaders. An IPFT team and disgruntled MLAs were also invited to Delhi for discussions. A cabinet reshuffle is said to be on the cards.
A meeting of BJP MLAs was also held to mobilize support for the embattled chief minister, Biplab Kumar Deb, and to shore up the image of the state government. Deb’s in-your-face style of functioning remains a sore point within his party and beyond. But the cracks in the state BJP unit run deep. Reports suggest that neither Deb nor the party is out of the woods yet. Sudip Roy Barman, who is leading the charge of the dissidents against Deb after his own axing as a minister, skipped the meeting of BJP MLAs. Moreover, a few MLAs who support Deb also did not turn up, indicating that there are some challenging times for the BJP ahead of the state assembly polls.
Karnataka’s assembly elections are almost a year away. But discussions on who will lead the party and its government if the Congress manages to win are already heating up the political landscape. The conversations were triggered by the loyalists of PC Siddaramaiah who want their leader to helm the next government. But supporters of the state Congress president, DK Shivakumar, didn’t take it lightly. The two groups have since been issuing statements about why the Congress high command would pick their respective leaders as the next chief minister. This made the former party chief, G Parameshwara, claim that even his name was doing the rounds too. But these leaders and their die-hard followers are perhaps missing the demands of party workers, who simply want the grassroots network to be strengthened and to not count the chickens before they hatch.
For a chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan faltered by playing into the hands of the Kerala Congress president, K Sudhakaran, in a verbal duel over their decades-old campus politics. While Sudhakaran started it with his claim to a Malayalam weekly about “kicking” Vijayan during a campus fight between the youth wings of the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CM took the bait by giving a minute-by-minute account of the alleged incident that occurred over half a century ago. Both leaders appeared to relish those moments when they led rival unions. Although Vijayan decided to clam up upon realizing his folly, Sudhakaran is definitely the winner in the eyes of his supporters. Many in the CPI(M) now blame some brat-pack advisers of the CM for landing him in an unenviable position.
By all accounts, the Union defence minister, Rajnath Singh, is the most acceptable face in the council of ministers when it comes to dealing with the Opposition. So it was a surprise to many that he was missing from the high-level meeting with the Kashmir political leadership convened by the prime minister. Officially, Singh was out of town, visiting the Karwar Naval Base in Karnataka. But given that the national security adviser was present, the absence of Singh, who is also a former home minister, was most conspicuous, especially as Ajit Doval headed for the meeting straight after landing from Dushanbe where he had gone for a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation conference. Surely, Singh could have been present if the powers that be wanted him there.