(FILES) In this photograph taken on September 29, 2013, a supporter of the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) holds a cutout of Gujarat state Chief Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi during an election rally in New Delhi. India's Hindu nationalist opposition could win in four state elections December 8, 2013, getting a powerful boost ahead of national polls and dealing a big blow to the ruling Congress party, exit surveys suggest. The assembly votes mark the last major test before the graft-tainted Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fielding hardline Hindu leader Narendra Modi as premier, face off in general elections due by May. AFP PHOTO/SAJJAD HUSSAIN/FILES
Gautam Mukherjee
Who Gives One For Minerva on Volva?

A fascinating take on all that is happening in India since the BJP came to power.

Did wise old Minerva, the spinster, repository of too much wisdom for the impetuosity of the marital plunge, manage to get on the Progress Bus with the Lotus emblems? That spanking new Volva, being driven by a hearty called Vikas, was certainly full for the ride.

Minerva, the soul of self-effacement, Saraswati by another name, took an unobtrusive spot on the bench seat at the extreme back. It didn’t matter because she also had an extraordinary sense of hearing, bordering on the omniscient. She could sit there minding her own business, and still send us this little despatch on the goings on.

She was soon glad she came, when she met her neighbours, with names straight out of the Virtues. Chastity and Charity were real twins, though not identical, and were sat right next to her.

The front seats swivelled and reclined; had a view, and legroom. They were commandeered by the universal cousins aka Seven Deadly Sins. This lot could have been a Pop Group, an edgy Choir, or a septet of Yalies; but, in fact, they were all listed separately, under their distinct given names, as ‘Social Workers’. This was a triumphant journey; and so it had a grand manifest, just like a train or a plane.

The Sins are hip and rich, and know how to call most, if not all, the shots. Vikas, the driver, had to be mindful and attentive, but he carried the fawning to extremes, verging on taking his eyes off the road at times.

The middle of the bus was occupied by other bona fide invitees, bores mostly, lacking in colour and initiative, with no rough edges to speak of. The whole bus, the latest marque in Volvas, was chock full for the New Year jaunt.  Everyone was sat down, with none standing in the aisle, spitting on it, or blocking it up with baggage. And yes, there were His and Hers toilets too.

The Sins were discussing politics, translated into economics. They  were sure Defence Minister IIT Parrikar, was going to ‘Make in India’ like no man’s business. There was $200 billion of Defence Product to manufacture. He’s been looking over the shipyards already, sending a three-star General to assess making six next-generation submarines. That’s at least Rs 50,000 crores worth right there, said Greed.


Meanwhile Boeing wants to manufacture some more in India. It’s already making floor-beams for the Boeing 787 to 789 in Mohan Bhagwat’s Nagpur, along with TATA’s TAL amongst the Orange (Tangerine) orchards.

Cyrus Mistry, man at the helm of India’s biggest in the private sector, has just sent a New Year message to his flock, saying TATA is enthusiastic about ‘Make in India’. He mentioned Defence Production, and, ahem, Infrastructure. As an old Shapoorji Pallonji construction man,

Mistry knows how the cement stacks up in Infrastructure. His motor-making friend, Anand Mahindra, is also singing off the same song-sheet, along with L&T’s AM Naik and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance and, who knows, the nimble Gautam Adani too.

The French want to make Dassault’s Rafale fighters here; before the Sukhoi or the Eurofighter takes away their $35 billion piece of cake. But they’re still complaining about ‘lack of policy clarity’ instead of getting started with their collaborators. What they really want, probably, is Modi’s ink on their contracts, supplying out of France, and on a cash-and-carry basis. But they know they won’t get it or do they, under that woolly socialist Hollande?

Rafale Aircrafts

Dassault’s Rafale fighters

That $35 billion joint investment estimate includes French surface-to-air missiles, and aviation-fuellers in the sky, says Gluttony, sucking on a jujube from an entire jar of the stuff.

The Russians are completely broke now, sanctions and oil prices, said Pride, sitting up straighter. Their Defence Production industry would be history if we didn’t keep buying. We’ve taken in $40 billion worth lately, but they’ve grown unreliable. No timetables. No spares. Cost escalations. Still they do know how. And now Putin wants to help India make $25 billion worth of stealth fighters, 127 of them. They can certainly come handy for our indigenous Aircraft Carrier project too. And they’ve promised to make hundreds of helicopters in India and parts for 12 new nuclear power reactors.

But really, we could urgently do with some good Siberian strength snow-boots. Ishmael, from Moby Dick’s nightmare, had better sandals than our soldiers’ boots in Kashmir and atop Siachen! And how about some bullet-proof vests that actually stop bullets! And Drones; but probably from Israel.

Parrikar’s putting the Defence Agents back in business for ‘ease of doing business’, before we have to go back to bows and arrows. Still, the late Win ‘Bofors’ Chaddha, undoubtedly ‘still winning’ in heaven, will be sitting this one out. Imagine, it’s been that long since we had official dalals in defence!  It almost makes you miss the Italians.

Parrikar is very catholic about it, considering, and will gladly buy a TATRA truck as long as it is assembled here. Former Army Chief and present BJP Minister General VK Singh, who famously refused to be bribed, can still look it over to make sure that they’re not sub-standard.

Indians are good at making after all, says Sloth, looking at a copy of the Caravan with super-journo Shekhar Gupta on the cover, though this, posed as a question, has always ended up eliciting a ‘What’.

We are over a billion people. We can makemuch water and rich manure too, agrees Greed, but copying a Japanese fridge let alone an American aircraft strains our comprehension to a jet-engined whine.

So what, retorts Envy, we’ll get foreign collaborators. Besides, we are already making Ships. And Missiles. Rockets, too. One went all the way to Mars and is still circling around it taking pictures.We never did want to ‘Make in India’ before. Sadly, it’s not very good for putting money in your own pocket, said E, thinking of the affluent Congress Ministers that preceded him.

The HAL Boy in the middle of the bus winced over overheard references to TAL.  Any suggestion of competition from the private sector makes him want to cry like he has dust in his eyes.  Also defence production sinecures like his were hard to come by. He was only the third-generation of his family working on the Light Combat Aircraft after all.

The Sins meanwhile have moved on to Infrastructure, and Union Roads Minister Gadkari, his debonair moustache, his scooter rides, his Saraswat Brahmin stand-up routine, and his affable promises. He did build the spectacular and quite difficult Mumbai-Pune Expressway through the Ghats after all.


Mumbai-Pune Expressway

But before much could be said beyond how Defence Production, Roads, and Railways alone were enough to put the GDP on super steroids, Envy asked if it was true that Railway Minister Prabhu was pursuing two PhDs simultaneously while rejuvenating the Railways?

Almost as scary, he said, as former academic RBI Governor Rajan, thrilled with being allowed to do things at last, and then refusing to do anything after all!

Vikas smiled here, because he was fond of Suresh Prabhu, and probably Raghuram Rajan too, but the Sins, luckily, couldn’t see it.  HAL Boy did, in the driver’s rear-view mirror, which, from his middle seat, caught all of the man’s expressions.

Wrath said these Conversions, particularly of Christians, could get in the way of The New York Times yet again.  And shouldn’t the Government be pulling up the anti-PK types before every Opposition State decides to give Amir Khan permanent exemption from entertainment tax?

You don’t need a passport, priest or panda to be a Hindu said Lust. I know they can’t answer now but what do you think Steve Jobs was? Or Max Mueller for that matter. Or the Brit who set up the Asiatic Society, whatshisname William Jones? In fact, Hinduism is a philosophy, and no one has an authentic procedure to convert anyone into it.

But yes, he continued, Goa had the longest Inquisition in the whole world, and everyone notable had to be converted or else. That left only the rice-planting, coconut-gathering peasants to account for the Hindu demographics there. And Aurangzeb did wreck an awful lot of temples out of a natural viciousness of temperament that he mistook for piety.

And the Rajasthan rulers who knew what to do certainly got on with the Mughals. Or, if not, they ended up like Chittorgarh; very large, impressive, mostly empty, and in ruins. What is it about monotheism though?

Gluttony said, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. Minerva turned towards her companions on the back seat and smiled at the simplicity of certain wants, just as the Progress Bus turned into a lay-by. It led to the brand new NITI Aayog Office, all lit up. Yes I know said Chastity: National Institute for Transforming India; it’s a Think-Tank for us to work in.

Niti Aayog, Photo Credit: Niti Central

Niti Aayog, Photo Credit: Niti Central

It hadn’t been such a long ride after all, thought Minerva, and yes, there was a restaurant alongside for Gluttony, and everyone else.