power play

This anti-BJP protest march is not making the Congress happy

Hint: Sharad Pawar has organised it.

Does Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar hope to emerge as the focal point of a national secular front of Opposition parties with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?

This question has been doing the rounds since the Maratha strongman called up senior Opposition leaders to invite them to a march in Mumbai on Republic Day to protest the Narendra Modi-led government’s alleged attempts to change the Constitution. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has on several occassions been accused of trying to amend the Constitution, most recently when one of its ministers said the Centre planned to remove the word secular from the Preamble of the Constitution.

The planned “Samvidhan Bachao” (Save the Constitution) silent march to the Gateway of India on January 26 also comes in the wake of a press conference by four senior Supreme Court judges on Friday at which they alluded to selective allocation of cases and administrative mismanagement on Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s watch.

Pawar personally called up National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, former Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, and D Raja of the Communist Party of India to impress upon them the need to come together and participate in the protest march. Opposition leaders admitted this is the first time Pawar has taken such an initiative to bring them together on a common platform.

Congress wary

However, Pawar’s actions have not gone down well with the Congress, which believes he is taking ownership of the programme to project himself as the face of a united Opposition. As the main Opposition party with a pan-Indian presence, the Congress believes it should be leading such a front.

“Not only is he positioning himself as the face of a united Opposition grouping, but he also wants to create an inevitability about it,” said a senior Congress leader from Maharashtra who did not want to be identified.

Congress members pointed out that the programme was actually organised by civil society groups with independent MP Raju Shetti, who broke away from the BJP last year and now heads the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, acting as its convenor. On his part, Shetti has underlined that this is not a political programme but a movement of the common people. Congress leaders maintained it was Shetti who had invited their leaders in Maharashtra to participate in the march.

Pawar’s actions have put the Congress in a bind. If it does not participate in the march, it would be accused of boycotting a programme that focuses on an important matter and of breaking ranks with other Opposition parties. But deputing its senior leaders to represent the party at the event might be taken as acknowledgement of Pawar’s leadership role. To get around this, the Congress plans to depute its state leaders to participate in the protest march.

The Congress, at the same time, is attempting to upstage Pawar and the other organisers by holding similar “Save Constitution” rallies in every district of Maharashtra on the same day. This is essentially meant to send out a message that the Congress is the lead opposition player.

Though it has shared power with the Nationalist Congress Party both in Maharashtra and at the Centre in the past, the grand old party has always had its doubts about Pawar. The two parties did not contest the last state Assembly elections in 2014 or the subsequent local body elections as alliance partners. In December’s Gujarat elections, too, they went their separate ways.

The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party once shared power both in Maharashtra and at the Centre but have since gone their separate ways. (Credit: HT)
The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party once shared power both in Maharashtra and at the Centre but have since gone their separate ways. (Credit: HT)

In this instance, Congress leaders are convinced Pawar is banking on the fact that their new party president Rahul Gandhi, unlike his mother Sonia Gandhi, is not ready to take on the leadership of a national secular alliance. Pawar, on the other hand, is a seasoned politician and a competent administrator with excellent relations with political leaders of all hues.

A change of heart?

Pawar’s proactive approach is a far cry from his earlier ambivalence on the subject of Opposition unity. So far, efforts to present a united Opposition front have mostly been initiated by former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Under her leadership, Opposition parties came together and held several meetings after the Modi government’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes in November 2016, and to pick common candidates for the posts of president and vice-president that fell vacant in mid-2017. However, these efforts to keep the Opposition flock together suffered a setback when Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish Kumar switched sides to ally with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance last year.

When Sonia Gandhi called a meeting of Opposition leaders in August to evolve a strategy to take on the BJP, Pawar stayed away.

Relations between the two parties worsened after the Nationalist Congress Party reportedly did not vote for Congress leader Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha elections held the same month. Though the Nationalist Congress Party blamed the rift on the Congress’s “big brother attitude”, the latter was convinced that Pawar was veering towards the BJP, especially since the ruling party’s relationship with its alliance partner in Maharasthra, the Shiv Sena, was strained. According to speculation, Pawar was not averse to bailing out the BJP-led government in the state in case his party’s help was needed.

But a growing disenchantment with the BJP in the rural hinterland is believed to have prompted Pawar to change tack. Dropping his neutral position, he launched a “halla bol” agitation against the BJP-Shiv Sena government in December in an effort to regain lost ground in his home state Maharashtra. The campaign, which will conclude in February, targets the government on its handling of the farm crisis in the state. Pawar seems to have realised that it would serve him better to renew his alliance with the Congress and be part of the Opposition grouping, given that the BJP is fast losing ground because of its inability to address the agrarian crisis.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.