Byline by M.J.Akbar:The Future is Bright
The military forces of George Nero Bush will not leave Iraq, despite casualty levels at least as high as they were in 2004. A conflagration never frightens Nero, but acts as an aphrodisiac. The Bush expectation is that an elected government in Baghdad will administer the country, or those parts of it that are willing to accept the rule of Baghdad, while American troops, living in modern Crusader fortresses, protect the oil and retain the right to swoop where they want in search of prey that is considered hostile to American interests.
Terrorism? All enemies become terrorists when they declare war.
It’s natural: in the first week of January every right-thinking Indian wants to know what will happen in the coming year.
The problem is not uncertain vision, or the inability to predict. The worry is that truth outstrips the wildest imagination or the bravest astrologer. Take a test. Stand on the edge of a date and let the options in your mind scream on the brink of impossibility. Truth, you will discover, has been stranger than any fantasy. Who could have stared at the horizons of Eurasia in 1990 and seen the implosion of the Soviet Union? Who, in the confident America of 2000, could have seen the twin towers of the World Trade Center being blown out of the sky? You can start at the top and run down a pretty long list of impossibles that have become contemporary realities.
So it may be a much safer call to check out what will not happen this year. Will not? Sorry, amendment needed. May not. For the one thing you can be certain about in life is uncertainty.
1: The wise in Delhi appreciate that power is both transient and limited, but only the very foolish surrender power senselessly. The coalition in power in Delhi has problems, but folly is not one of them. Contradictions will spurt through, but they will also be managed. The operating principle will be: a Cabinet position in hand is worth two in the bush. Moreover, Dr Manmohan Singh is not vulnerable to the traditional Delhi disease, flattery. So he is not going to slip on the grease with which every politician is massaged every morning. It will therefore be a year of status quo, at the Centre and in most of the states (most, because February will see the departure of Om Prakash Chautala in Haryana and the BJP in Jharkhand). This is good news for the ruling coalition, but worrying for the Congress because its aspirations are, justifiably, far above its present status. A squeeze in Bihar and a squash in Uttar Pradesh cannot be comfortable, status-wise. But to change things would risk the status in the coalition, so status quo.
2: The military forces of George Nero Bush will not leave Iraq, despite casualty levels at least as high as they were in 2004. A conflagration never frightens Nero, but acts as an aphrodisiac. The Bush expectation is that an elected government in Baghdad will administer the country, or those parts of it that are willing to accept the rule of Baghdad, while American troops, living in modern Crusader fortresses, protect the oil and retain the right to swoop where they want in search of prey that is considered hostile to American interests. The Pentagon, in the meantime, will plan for the impossible by stretching the scenario through awkward questions. What happens to the Sunni insurgency in case the Shias form a government in Baghdad? Does it reach an accommodation and spread its net into Saudi Arabia? What are the implications for the House of Saud in that case? What will be the Iranian response to an American-Israeli threat to its nuclear capabilities? Nuclear power has become synonymous with nationalism in Iran and Pakistan: can America afford to provoke Iranian nationalism? Was, forgive the heresy, the wrong country invaded in 2003? If the shock and awe had to be turned on somewhere for reasons of re-election, should that country have been Iran? Nuclear installations would have been found, there would have been tacit support from Arab governments and Washington could have appointed a Viceroy for the Afghan-Iran region. And now to the most bizarre thought of all: could Osama bin Laden be legitimised and his support base in the Arab world turned into an asset for the West? He was once an ally, after all. Terrorism? All enemies become terrorists when they declare war. The labels can be taken off if the deal demands it. Mao Zedong was worse than a terrorist; he was a Communist. Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta was a Mau-Mau terrorist, the ogre of a million children’s nightmares. Yasser Arafat was a poster-boy terrorist. Think.
3: India’s biggest private sector industry, cricket, will head in only one direction: the bank. The faded, jaded Sourav Ganguly will remain captain till he is 50 years old and Jagmohan Dalmiya 75, whichever comes first. The dispute between Sharad Pawar and Dalmiya over the elections to the BCCI will remain in the courts till after Pawar’s elected term is over, which means Dalmiya wins even if he doesn’t. Doordarshan will telecast the Indo-Pak cricket series since Subhash Chandra’s offer for telecast rights will be substantially dented by his legal bills. Lawyers will also be the principal beneficiaries of the war between the Birlas and Lodha for an alleged
Rs 5,000-crore bequest. Alleged, because no one has counted. Sachin Tendulkar will make three more centuries until he crosses the SPE (Saturation Point of Exposure) Index: that is, consumers begin to reject products that he advertises. Zahir Khan and Irfan Pathan will alternate in the team due to injury problems. Harbhajan Singh will go straight and join the Zee cricket commentary team.
4: The fourth anniversary of India’s biggest private sector dispute will be celebrated with prayers at Tirupati, Hardwar and Mathura by Anil Ambani, and six board room resolutions by Mukesh Ambani giving him plenipotentiary powers over all interior design decisions in any Ambani office worldwide, including the international headquarters of Crocodile Investments. On the advice of astrologers and haute couture consultants from Paris, Anil Ambani will stop wearing black, the colour of Rahu and so yesterday in any case. Special yagnas will be organised to eliminate the impact of Rahu, currently in occupation of Aries, Anil’s presiding star. Simultaneously, other yagnas will be done, on behalf of Mukesh, to persuade Rahu to carry on what he is doing, and not be in such a tearing hurry to move away from Aries. Both brothers will laugh whenever seen in public, either singly or together.
5: The BJP will not accept defeat at a national conclave of the party in the last week of 2005. In a special resolution drafted by Pramod Mahajan and seconded by rising star Satpal Malik the weather will be given its due share of the blame; if it had rained earlier in the summer of 2004 the base vote would have come out and tilted the balance in 36 Lok Sabha constituencies, including Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Uma Bharti will not become chief minister of Madhya Pradesh after seven more attempts, but will check out how she looks with the mantle of prospective prime ministership resting easily on her tender shoulders. Narendra Modi will continue to ignore her. Atal Behari Vajpayee will bring the House down four times in the Budget session, twice with quips on Lalu Yadav and twice with speeches on the future of the nation if the Bihar pattern of voting is repeated nationally.
6: Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi will not settle outstanding tax claims on income from the milk of their private herd of 270 cows which will, by the end of 2005, cross Rs 5 crores. Lalu Yadav will explain that the results of the Assembly elections have vindicated his stand on income tax. Lalu Yadav will announce the creation of 200,000 more jobs in the railway budget of 2005, for young persons between the age of 32 and 42, bearing the surname Yadav from the districts of Barh, Chapra, Nalanda and Madhepura, trained in special martial capabilities in order to end crime and terrorism in Indian Railways. Dr Manmohan Singh will be sorely tempted to change Lalu’s portfolio from railways to fishing but will be restrained by the taciturn hand of Sonia Gandhi.
7: The state of Telangana will not come into existence by 1 November 2005, one year after the deadline for mayhem on the streets and pillage in the villages. However, a subcommittee to examine regional demands in the light of socio-economic conditions in 1954 and agricultural-industrial prospects in 2032 will start gathering evidence on the feasibility of smaller states in the Indian archipelago/subcontinent within the parameters of overall development in the IT sector. The chairman of the subcommittee will be an economist of the World Bank with visiting rights to Hyderabad.