The Sahara Saga
Lucknow has many memories of business tycoon Subrata Roy, founder of the Sahara India Pariwar. Roy is remembered for cycling around town in search of low deposits for a chit fund that he had once struggled to keep afloat.
That was nearly half a century ago. When he passed away last Tuesday in a Mumbai hospital, Roy, 75 was reported to be worth many crores of rupees.
A Bengali, hailing from an affluent family in Dhaka, Roy was born in Bihar in 1948. He was educated in Kolkata, and studied mechanical engineering in Gorakhpur in Eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Roy chose Lucknow as the headquarters of his business that he gradually expanded into education, sports, media, entertainment, health care and real estate.
For over three decades, Roy had ‘ruled’ from Lucknow like a neo-Nawab.
He built an opulent mansion in imitation of mediaeval rulers on the banks of the River Gomti. Roy had played host within the high walled premises of his sprawling home to celebrities from around the world. For many of the country’s top politicians and film stars, Lucknow’s Sahara Estate was a second home.
In 2004, Roy’s Sahara Group was termed by ‘Time’ magazine as the second-largest employer in India. after the Government-run Indian Railways, when its workforce had totalled around 1.2 million employees.
In 2010, Sahara purchased the iconic Grosvenor House Hotel in London and in 2012 the historic Plaza Hotel. New York City’s Dream Downtown Hotel was also Roy’s.
He was also co-owner of the former Force India Formula One team.
The high profile businessman had faced many controversies and legal battles during his life. He was arrested in 2014 and released on bail. In recent times he had plans to launch an online education program. His dream to introduce a certain number of hours of formal education deep into the countryside in small towns and villages remains unrealised for now.
Remembering Muhammad Hasan Askari
November comes and November goes but UP fails to remember Muhammad Hasan Askari, Urdu’s luminous literary critic. Askari was born in Sarawah in district Meerut in 1919 on November 5.
He was a student of English Literature at the Allahabad University around the time that the Progressive Writers Association was founded in Lucknow in 1936.
The Allahabad University campus was a special space in those days, where Askari was taught never to be overawed by the people of the West and to value Western literature from one’s own perspective too.
He was a diehard modernist, fascinated by the experimental nature of western thought.
For Askari literary criticism was as essential as literature itself. He had explored the potential in Urdu to elevate itself to the thrilling heights of modernity. For him modernity implied continuity and not a break with tradition.
This continuity was to be sought by first understanding one’s own literature, or the classical past and then attempting to read and relate it to world literature.
Askari blossomed into a fine academic, and an intellectual doubter.
He had constantly explored different forms and sensibilities. He did not see himself as a straight forward socialist or progressive. He had struggled with traits of decadence that he found in himself and nursed a peculiar worldview through years of a deep study and research of scepticism, progressivism, modernism and later religion and mysticism.
He had desperately wanted to infuse his stories with a spirit of hope for a new world and a new life for humanity and longed to grasp the spirit of unity. He had wondered if it made sense to write the kind of stories he wrote at a time when a battle for the fate of humanity was going on?
Askari had agonised, “That I should write stories about the illusions and imagined narcissistic fancies of an utterly personal nature… My opinions and thoughts change with the wind. Only despair is my constant feeling…”
As a literary critic, he was passionately interested in the political and cultural issues of the day, and especially in literature as an expression of culture. He wrote mind blowing essays on various aspects of literature, speaking from the heart of a crisis of culture.
The rupture inflicted upon the Indo-Muslim literary-cultural history was painful to him. The events leading to independence, Partition, and the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947 served as an emotional tsunami.
To further explore the Indo-Muslim identity, Askari experimented by choosing to live in Pakistan where the genius died in 1978 on January 18.
Meet The Modi of UP
The deputy Chief Minister (CM) Keshav Prasad Maurya, 54 is one of the tallest leaders of the backward castes in UP today. In the absence of a caste census, the population of the backward castes is estimated to be nearly 50 percent of UP’s total population of approximately 240 million people.
Some describe Maurya as the Modi of UP. This is because Maurya belongs to the Other Backward Class (OBC) and he too ran a tea shop in his early years. To make ends meet, Maurya had helped his family by selling newspapers before he became a star disciple of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal.
For nearly two decades Maurya was a Bajrang Dal and VHP pracharak (preacher) before he attracted attention by leading a protest against a Christian missionary in an Allahabad college.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he contested from Phulpur on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket. In 2016, as the state BJP chief, Maurya had toured tirelessly around UP to win the support of voters belonging to backward communities.
The result was that the BJP won 312 of the 403 seats in the 2017 Assembly elections. Maurya was rewarded and made the deputy chief minister in the government.
However, Maurya is part of a government that does not feel the need for a caste census in UP. Talking to the media in Prayaraj recently Maurya said that personally he is not against caste census. He is against the Opposition parties' dream of creating a vote bank on the issue.
“When these Opposition parties were in power, they did nothing for the poor, backward, Dalits and minorities,” Maurya said. He faces an uphill task of remaining in the good books of his ‘upper caste’ masters in the ruling party.
He must also convince his voters that there is no need for a caste census or to know the exact statistics of the backward castes in UP. Really? The findings of the caste survey done in neighbouring Bihar shows the population of OBCs and Economically Backward Classes (EBC) to be 63 per cent of that state’s population.