Saturday, March 17, 2018

Akhilesh-Mayawati Victory Teaches Opposition: ‘United We Rise’

There is an old slogan — ‘Mile Mulayam Kanshiram, hawa mein ud gaye Jai Shree Ram.’ This slogan did the rounds in 1993, when Uttar Pradesh was due for Assembly Elections. At the time, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshiram had reached an understanding, and had decided to contest the elections together.

This was a time when communal tension was at its peak. Provocative hate-filled anti-Muslim slogans were being raised at every second corner. There were attempts to recreate the Partition-era tension.

The Babri Masjid had been pulled down. LK Advani was at the helm in BJP. In UP, Kalyan Singh was the “Hindu Hriday Samrat” (emperor of Hindu hearts) and wielded a significant amount of influence. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the BJP government had been shown the door.

Elections were going on and the BJP was confident about its victory. But the Mulayam-Kanshiram alliance changed the equation – just like today, when the Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati alliance changed the game in the UP by-elections for Gorakhpur and Phulpur, by winning both seats. In 1993 too, BJP had lost the election. The slogan proved to be true. Mandal politics got the upper hand over Kamandal politics. Even the war cry of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ couldn’t save the BJP.

Storming Yogi’s Bastion

The election results of Gorakhpur and Phulpur are interesting in many ways. BJP’s UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has won the Gorakhpur seat the last five times. Before him, Mahant Adityanath had won thrice from that seat. Meaning, since the ‘Ram Mandir’ issue came up, the BJP has never lost the seat.

In 2014, Yogi won the seat by about three lakh votes. Then in 2017, after BJP’s strong win in UP Assembly elections, he became chief minister. At that, everyone was stunned. Yogi’s image was of a communal leader, one against whom there were ongoing cases of provocative hate speech against Muslims. Because of his being an extremist leader, questions were raised about whether the administration in UP would even be able to function.

But a senior BJP member had told me that he (Yogi) was leader of the future. I did not agree with him. At the very least, this was a shock for the people of UP. At the beginning, TV news channels focused so much on Yogi, that for a while even Modi was pushed off the screen.

The Sangh Pariwar and BJP always thought that after Kalyan Singh, they had no other leader in the region of his stature who could secure a win for the party on his own. Rajnath Singh is a big leader but the party wants him at the Centre. He also doesn’t want to get caught up in regional politics. The Sangh’s assessment was that without winning UP, Delhi can’t be won, and the Hindu Rashtra cannot be created.

This is the reason why Modi was made to contest the election from Benaras. After the UP Assembly victory, the dream to make Yogi into the next Kalyan Singh was visualised. Just like Kalyan Singh, Yogi is also immersed in the Sangh’s ‘Hindutva colours’.

Yogi started showing his true colours soon after becoming chief minister. Meat sellers began to be terrorised by gau rakshaks. Everyone knew that gau raksha was just an excuse, and the real target was the Muslim community. Then began the ‘love jihad’ attacks and the formation of the ‘Romeo Squad’. Soon, encounter killings started to take place; around 40 such killings took place on Yogi’s watch.

Now, if a leader like that is unable to deliver a victory from his home base, how will he ever fulfill the Sangh’s dreams? This question will definitely be asked now.

What Changed in Favour of Mayawati-Akhilesh?

The Phulpur seat was Keshav Prasad Maurya’s. He has been state party chief and is currently the Deputy Chief Minister. Being quite active in the Vishva Hindu Parishad, he has no qualms about being identified as a ‘Hindutvavadi’. But Maurya also failed.

This is just one angle to the UP results. The real picture is much deeper, the source of which can be traced back to 1993.

The question is – when Hindutva is on the ascent, when it is believed that ever since Modi became Prime Minister, a large section of Hindus have become BJP and Sangh followers, why did the BJP lose both seats?

The question is – when Hindutva is on the ascent, when it is believed that ever since Modi became Prime Minister, a large section of Hindus have become BJP and Sangh followers, why did the BJP lose both seats?

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Mayawati didn’t win anything. Samajwadi Party managed to get five seats with difficulty. The BJP coalition won 73 seats.

In 2017, Mayawati’s position became even weaker and she only managed to get 18 MLAs in the Assembly. Samajwadi Party also shrunk to 48 seats. So, what happened in just a year that the BJP couldn’t save the base of two of its senior leaders? Actually, this story is more about Indian society than Indian politics.

Rise of the Oppressed

The upper castes have dominated for thousands of years, to the detriment of Dalit and other backward castes. After the Mandal Commission came into effect, the fight of the backward castes became stronger. Along with equality before the law, they also began participating in power politics in proportion to their population.

This is where the Sangh Parivar got stuck. Because the Sangh’s social consciousness is of the upper castes, what Ambedkar called ‘Brahmanvad’ or ‘Brahmanism’, an ideology which has a longstanding feud with ‘Dalitvad’.

Yogi didn’t merely describe the Akhilesh Yadav-Mayawati alliance as a ‘saanp-chuchunder’ (snake-shrew) merger for the sake of it. It points to a deeply entrenched ideology.

In numbers, the Dalit and Backward Castes form 80 percent of Hindu society, while the Upper Castes form 20 percent. Democracy is a numbers game. The one who has more people, has more power. Whenever there is a fight between 80 and 20, 20 will have to lose. But this will only happen when the 80 come together.

With SP and BSP coming together as a united front, the BJP’s head was left spinning. A one-time senior BJP leader Govindacharya calls it ‘social engineering.’ This time, this social engineering worked.

This ‘social engineering’ will prove to be the biggest obstacle in Modi’s path. If Mayawati and Akhilesh stay together, then irrespective of what Modi does, the BJP collation won’t be able to get 73 seats as they did in 2014. And if that happens, then it will be near impossible for the BJP to reach the required majority in the Lok Sabha.

Takes Two to Tango
So, the story comes back to the point, ‘Mile Mulayam Kanshiram, hawa mein ud gaye Jai Shree Ram.’ The Akhilesh-Mayawati alliance has the power to change the country’s politics. It can eclipse Modi’s second term. This alliance also sends a message to the Opposition that if everyone unites, then Modi can be stopped and the RSS dream of making India a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ can also be prevented.

But the million dollar question is: will the Opposition accept and realise this, and will Modi refrain from using government machinery to break this understanding? Will the Opposition have the capacity and mental strength to counter Modi’s tactics?

The game has just begun.

The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quintneither endorses nor is responsible for the same.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Gored-akhpur - What BJP's loss means

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath stand together during a visit to a crafts centre with French President Emmanuel Macron in Varanasi on Monday. Modi had not responded to the bypoll results till Wednesday night while Adityanath blamed “overconfidence” for the defeat.  (AFP Picture)

Lucknow: Mayawati has defeated the BJP in the trophy Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur, transferring the votes of her core constituency to the Samajwadi Party and churning equations ahead of the general election next year.

While the Dalit voters of Mayawati responded to her call to vote for the Samajwadi Party candidate, the RSS slogan of "Hindu unity" did not cut much ice.

In Bihar, too, Lalu Prasad's RJD protected its turf in the Araria Lok Sabha seat.

The following are the quick takeaways from the bypoll results:

• It's rare for a party to lose seats vacated by the chief minister (Yogi Adityanath in Gorakhpur) and the deputy chief minister (Keshav Prasad Maurya in Phulpur) within a year of an unprecedented victory in the Assembly polls.

• The silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi till Wednesday night was telling. Reaffirms the charge that Modi always ducks bad news - not a sign of a great leader.

• The BJP dispensation cannot downplay the importance of bypolls. It was a by-election that had led to the rise of Narendra Modi. Keshubhai Patel, the then towering chief minister of Gujarat, was replaced by Modi in 2001 after the BJP's defeat in the Sabarkantha Lok Sabha and Sabarmati Assembly bypolls. Ironically, L.K. Advani, now sidelined, had prevailed over A.B. Vajpayee to pick Modi.

• The by-election results reflect the fragility of the proclaimed BJP wave in heartland states.

• The tactical coming together of the SP and the BSP is seen as testing the waters for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The bypoll results show the BJP can be defeated by uniting the social justice forces.

• The BJP claimed to have transcended caste in UP. But the results suggest the backward castes and the Dalits are still behind parties that represent them.

• Gorakhpur and Phulpur represent the microcosm of UP. While Gorakhpur is seen as a Hindutva laboratory, Phulpur is a hub of the backward castes. The BJP has been defeated in both. Its Tripura euphoria has proved short-lived.

• The Congress's decline in the heartland continues apace. Its best bet is to be a junior partner in alliances led by non-BJP parties in UP and Bihar.

• The RJD's victory in Bihar marks the coming of age of Tejashwi Yadav as a leader in his own right. He led the battle as Lalu Prasad is behind bars.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

This article was written by Shekhar Gupta for The Print.

A fresh controversy has just been engineered, with allegations that journalists Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai were impolite to late President APJ Kalam at the 2007 Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards in not offering him a seat, because of which he had to sit on the floor and talk.

I had talked about that “incident” in this tribute after Kalam’s passing, actually a wonderfully endearing moment that the ‘People’s President’ gifted us that evening. I should know as I was the host. Here is that tribute, with a detailed reference to that gesture by Kalam. There was never any controversy and this should also set all rumour-mongering to rest. And by the way, there was another equally endearing moment with him, once again involving us and Barkha, with me as the host again. So please read on:

I do not recall when I first met late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. One early encounter was when I saw him standing outside Prime Minister I.K. Gujral’s room, waiting to get some files signed. Gujral later told me these were delayed promotion cases of some of his scientists, so he had brought them personally to cut through red tape. But I knew him well for at least 20 years and was among the so many touched by his kindness and warmth. I am listing my six most interesting memories of him.

I wrote two #NationalInterest pieces sharply critical of him. The first was on 28 April 2001, headlined Dr Kalam’s Banana Republic. The theme was, whenever the defence forces wanted new equipment, the DRDO, which Kalam then headed, said “humko yeh banana hai (we want to make it)”. But they would never manage to make it, and the forces would be left in the lurch. Just my luck that the very next day (Sunday), I shrank in fright as I saw Dr Kalam coming in walking from the other side of the track at South Delhi’s Siri Fort Sports Complex. He lived close by in a DRDO guest house at Asian Games Village and walked there often with one cop following him. I had nowhere to hide, and he stopped, looking me in the eye. Only to say how much he agreed with my piece and how he wished the government would take it seriously.

Chatting with him that evening, I realised that for someone so important, it was risky to walk with just one cop in a fairly isolated place, and that too at mostly fixed hours after sunset. He needed and deserved more protection. In a subsequent conversation I mentioned this to L.K. Advani, then the home minister, and he immediately increased his security. A few weeks later, as we again caught up walking towards each other from opposite directions, Kalam confronted me, mock admonishing me: “So I believe you are the one responsible for my freedom having been taken away!” He now had three cops with him.

I started stalking him for a ‘Walk The Talk’ interview when he moved into Rashtrapati Bhavan. He kept me waiting. At a Republic Day reception, as our turn came to greet him, he turned to my wife and asked if she still walked so fast, making a sprinter’s pumping motion with his elbows. And then he told her, “You are my walking partner, so come to Rashtrapati Bhavan, and we will walk. Then one day I will call your husband and we will walk and talk.” I had to wait until his term came to an end, but it was a wonderful conversation.

In 2005, he agreed to be the chief guest at an Indian Express event called ‘India Empowered’. This was the culmination of a series of articles contributed by prominent people from all walks of life on how to empower our people. The series had been endorsed by him, and he wrote the first article too (those articles were later published by Penguin in a book, ‘India Empowered’, which I edited).

NDTV was our media partner at the event and Barkha Dutt was moderating it. As is her wont, she started by asking Kalam a sharp question. Kalam firmly raised his finger, told her to sit down, and said he knew what to say and do, and didn’t need any help! Then he delighted the audience by asking them questions instead! Kalam was sharper at the media game than us journalists.

Another time, as chief guest at the Ramnath Goenka Awards, he surprised us – pleasantly – by staying on for the annual state of journalism debate rather than leaving after giving his speech and the awards. Barkha and Rajdeep Sardesai were moderating it. He got involved in the debate, on media ethics, from the front row. And then he got so animated, he hauled himself on to the stage and carried on arguing and intervening, seated on the floor! Barkha still has that picture, and I am posting it here!

My second #NationalInterest to question him came when he was nominated as a presidential candidate. It pretty much questioned his credentials for the job. Here is the article. On the day it was published, I was in Mumbai and got a call early morning from Brajesh Mishra, who said Kalam was deeply upset about my article and would like to see me at his office, then in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan. I walked in the following day, looking suitably guilty. But he never complained, gave me coffee, signed a copy of his book, said the most wonderful things to me, on how seriously he took me, respected me, etc., and even asked if I would join his Vision 2020 programme. I thanked him and politely declined, saying my Code of Ethics wouldn’t allow me to join a campaign. By the end of that meeting, I was totally disarmed, and in awe. This story found mention in much greater detail in the third #NationalInterest I wrote on him, when he demitted office as Rashtrapati.

This article was first published on 31 July 2015, in the week of Kalam’s passing away.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Prices of RCom, Lanco, JP Associates, Essar Shipping plunge 2-12 per cent

The NPA scare ratcheted up by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy is spreading. Share prices of companies that have high debt on their books and the banks that have lent them and those already suffering from a negative public perception took a sharp beating on Friday.
Apart from Adani Group stocks, which have been sliding for the past three trading sessions, RCom, JP Associates, Lanco Infra, Essar Shipping, Bhushan Steel, IVRCL and Punj Lloyd saw their share prices fall between 2 per cent and 12 per cent since Swamy’s comments.

Swamy’s tweet

In a widely commented and shared tweet on Tuesday, Swamy said Adani should be made accountable or he would file a Public Interest Litigation in court for recovery of bank loans from him.
These companies within their respective corporate groups are among the 25 most debt-heavy in India. Apart from the public sector banks’ stocks that have seen a sharp erosion in value in the wake of the Nirav Modi loan scam, private lenders such as ICICI Bank, Axis Bank and YES Bank took a beating this week after Swamy’s tweet.
“Swamy’s tirade against Adani group has caused a domino effect on perception and the stock prices of other debt-heavy groups and banks that have lent to them,” said the CEO of the institutional equity desk at a Mumbai brokerage. “The worry is more about banking stocks. Swamy is seen as someone who will follow up on his allegations and can bring about the downfall of those whom he attacks. Traders think this may hit the banking system hard as all those putting up an ‘act’ of restructuring are under the scanner.”

Most of these companies have seen a 90 per cent wipeout of their market-cap over the years; the fall of the past couple of days could render them junk stocks, experts said.
Nearly $2 billion worth of market value of Adani group stocks was wiped out after Swamy made the allegations. Adani Enterprises, the flagship company, is down nearly 20 per cent over three days. Anil Ambani-promoted RCom, which had seen some interest building up in the counter on the back of news that Mukesh Ambani’s telecom venture had tied up with it, saw investors yet again shunning it.
Adani, Anil Ambani, Bhushan Steel, JP group and Lanco alone account for a debt obligation of over 1.5 lakh crore to banks. The downturn in their business cycle and the allegations against Adani in a scenario where PSU banks are under pressure following the revelations in one of biggest loan scams has spread panic, experts said.
“The scam, PNB’s share price crash and Swamy’s allegations have caused most lenders to critically evaluate their clients and has even jammed credit in the system, which is hurting stock markets, which can rally only on fat cheque books and high availability of credit,” said a promoter of brokerage house in Mumbai.
The Sensex and Nifty, down nearly 10 per cent from their all-time high since the PNB scam came to light, are reluctant to move up.

Subramanian Swamy writes to Prime Minister, demands action against official allegedly gifted gold by Nirav Modi

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  MP Subramanian Swamy has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding a probe against a senior Finance Ministry official whom billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi allegedly gifted gold worth 
Rs one crore on Diwali last year.

Without naming the official, Swamy claimed that the servant of this bureaucrat, who resides in Moti Bagh in the posh NDMC area, opened the "gift' in front of other officers who were visiting this government official to exchange Diwali greetings.The official later wrongly donated the gift in the 'Toshkhana' at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Swamy claimed.The former union minister urged the prime minister to consider directing the CBI or the Enforcement Directorate to investigate the matter, besides registering a fresh case against Nirav Modi under the Prevention of Corruption Act in this connection.

Also, the MP said a case should be registered against the public servant for not reporting the offence relating to illegal gratification and clandestine deposit of gold in the Toshakhana causing the disappearance of evidence.Modi and his uncle Mehul Choski, promoter of Gitanjali Group, are accused in the Rs 12,600-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud.The letter comes a day after 'The Wire', an independent online publication, had claimed that Union Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia received two gold biscuits of 20 grams each from a mystery giver during Diwali in 2016 but he did not order an investigation into the identity and motive of the individual who evidently sought to influence him.Adhia was quoted in the article as saying that he had got certain precious gifts but he did not accept it as it was against the Conduct Rules. "Since they were delivered at my house in my absence, I could not even refuse to accept them. And it is difficult for me to identify who sent these gifts for me now.

"I, therefore, want to surrender these gifts to the government which can be deposited in the Toshakhana for disposal through auction or as per rules. The list of items being surrendered is as follows: One new iPhone 7 and two gold biscuits of 20 grams each (MMTC mark)".These items, Adhia told The Wire, were accordingly sent to the Toshakhana of the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) "as per the directions of the Cabinet Secretary."

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

West Bengal Medical Council President and Trinomul MLA, Dr. Nirmal Maji, Surrenders In Court and Released on Bail Facing Charges for “Criminal Conspiracy” and “Criminal Defamation” For Making Baseless Comments Against PBT

West Bengal Medical Council (WBMC) President and Trinoomul MLA, Dr. Nirmal Maji, surrendered today before the court of Ld. Metropolotian Magistrate, Mr. Debashis Panja, in Bankshall Court (Case No. CNS/415/17; Dr. Kunal Saha vs. Dr. Nirmal Maji & Anr.) to face criminal charges filed against him under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 120b (“criminal conspiracy”), Section 500 (“criminal defamation”) and Section 501 (“engraving defamatory matter”) for each of which, if convicted, Dr. Maji may be imprisoned for up to two years. Dr. Maji personally appeared in the court today and was released on a Rs. 1000/- bail plus one surity until the next hearing fixed on 10th April, 2018.
This historic and unprecedented criminal case emerged from Dr. Maji’s brazen attempt to dialyze his pet dog using the dialysis machine at SSKM Hospital where thousands of patients undergo dialysis in the most reckless manner using political influence in 2015. After PBT lodged a complaint against Dr. Maji with the Medical Council of India (MCI) seeking cancellation of his medical registration for his unethical conduct, MCI directed WBMC to investigate and take appropriate disciplinary action against Dr. Maji within three months vide an order dated 4th November, 2017. Following publication of this MCI Order, Dr. Maji made slanderous and overtly defamatory remarks against PBT president, Dr. Kunal Saha, in the media including that PBT was formed by Dr. Saha only to make financial profit from the victims of medical negligence. It is well-known that since its inception in 2001, PBT has never taken any money from anyone for helping the victims of medical negligence or other purposes.
Dr. Saha first sent a legal notice to Dr. Maji asking him to apologize and retract his baseless personal comments but the Trinomul MLA refused to apologize or retract his comments. During his last trip to India in December, 2017, Dr. Saha personally appeared in the court to lodge this historic criminal case against WBMC president. Two other witnesses were also examined by the court on 31st January, 2018 in support of Dr. Saha’s petition as court took cognizance and issued processes/summons against Dr. Maji for which he appeared and surrendered before the court today. Dr. Maji now stands indicted for criminal offence under several sections of IPC. PBT wonders whether a criminally indicted doctor can continue to work as the head of a state medical council or remain as an MLA until he is exonerated from all charges?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Darling of online rasikas

When the shruti box is plugged in and set to G sharp, there is a sudden transformation in the house. The clanging of the kitchen utensils quiets down, the mixer-grinder is switched off and even five-year-old Shiva Soorya tiptoes silently into his room. It is practice time in Sooryagayathri’s house and the only sounds are those coming from the fingers of her father, PV Anilkumar, tuning the pitch of his mridangam as the 12-year-old hums slowly, allowing her voice to expand into every corner of her home. Anilkumar’s gaze is intent upon his daughter, in readiness for her cue. In a few moments, it is a sideways glance from the curly-haired girl, dressed in a blue frock, that brings a smile on his face and off they go exploring the depths of the Annamacharya composition ‘Brahmam Okate’, which deems the dwelling spirit in every creature to be one and the same.
Soorya, as she is fondly called, sings with her eyes closed, her fingers moving in perfect sync with the upbeat adi talam count of her father’s mridangam-playing. They exchange eye-contact at every verse, even as the eight-beat talam mounts to a crescendo. When the song ends, Anilkumar is tranquil, eyes moist, wrapped up in the sublime aura of his daughter’s music. A few more songs later, the shruti box is unplugged and off run Soorya and her brother to play with their friends outside the neighbourhood Ayyappa temple.
But for the ceiling-high glass showcase in her living room that’s decked with music awards, felicitations and prizes, there’s little else about the girl’s persona that gives away that she is “The Sooryagayathri” — a Carnatic sensation on YouTube with a viewership that runs close to a billion, and boasting live performances across the globe. At her village Purameri, lush with coconut groves in Kerala’s balmy Kozhikode district, she is just a little girl with a sweet voice.

Building a YouTube sensation

The Narikkunnu Upper Primary School in Vadakara likes to indulge its star pupil. Soorya’s class teacher, Bijesh sir, proudly says he has her song as his caller tune. Despite her low attendance, with her friends taking notes for her, she breezes through her exams, excelling in arts, history, languages and extracurriculars. After her house ran out of space for her trophies, Soorya decided she won’t compete any more, allowing other children the chance to win.
She was nine when one of the songs she had sung was sent to Kuldeep M Pai, a Bengaluru-based Carnatic singer and independent music composer, who was then creating caller tunes for mobile companies. He had been asked to record the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ in a “refreshing new voice” and had been on the lookout for a child who could do what the redoubtable MS Subbulakshmi did — essentially, create magic. “In the first few seconds of hearing her voice in that recording clip, I knew I had found what I was looking for,” Pai tells BLink on phone.
The YouTube video itself is very ordinarily made, a screen crowded with a still image of Lord Hanuman, the lyrics in Sanskrit and English, and the footage of little Soorya in a recording studio, wearing a pattu pavada, hair held back by a yellow bow and pinned with jasmine flowers, and singing with steadfast concentration. The singing style, the Hindi words pronounced with a south Indian accent and her brigas (speed of rendition) drew instant comparisons with MS, as the Carnatic doyenne is popularly known. So much so that, “Is Sooryagayathri MS Subbulakshmi’s granddaughter?” became a frequently googled query. The Sooryagayathri ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ video has over 17 million views, almost replacing MS’s version online, with the latter currently unavailable on YouTube.
“After MS, we have all been searching for a voice to fill the vacuum she left behind. The purity in her voice was unparalleled... Soorya’s voice too has the same pure quality. It moves you. She is special,” says Pai, who has since worked with many other children too, producing bhakti sangeet (devotional music) videos for a YouTube channel he runs.
Soorya is a self-professed fan of “MS Amma”. Her favourites among the songs sung by the legendary musician are ‘Bhaja Govindam’ and ‘Bhavayami’. She brings out two pencil drawings she has made of MS — one that shows her singing and the other, her face, eyes closed and hands folded in prayer. What does she like about her? “Her divinity,” she replies, in English, after some thought.
Pai mentions that in the days leading up to the recording, he made Soorya chant the Hanuman Chalisa like an upasana (prayer) for 108 days. Recorded on the 108th day, not a syllable was out of place, he reminisces.
Alongside the instant fame that followed, Soorya went on to record the ‘Ganesha Pancharatnam’ (15 million views), ‘Vishnu Sahasranamam’, Annamacharya compositions and ‘Vaishnava Janato’ — all renditions made famous earlier by MS. The youngster’s other recordings include shlokas (chants) like ‘Aigiri Nandini’ (23 million views), bhajans such as ‘Sri Ramachandra Kripalu’ (10 million views), ‘Sharanam Aiyappa’ — the staple of Sabarimala pilgrims, and the popular Kannada composition ‘Bhagyada lakshmi baaramma’ (12 million views).
Her success rubbed off on Pai too, who now works with several child singers, producing a video a month under the series Vande guru parampara — “a collection of songs and chants that should be passed down generations,” as he puts it. So famous is he, in fact, that he no longer picks up calls from unknown numbers, as parents everywhere chase him to turn their ward into the next musical prodigy. “I have 3,000 unread emails in my inbox from parents introducing their children to me,” he says, chuckling.
Pai’s productions are also greatly in demand among parents who see these recordings as a surrogate for the family elder who, in earlier generations, taught children many of these chants and devotional hymns. Today, with nuclear families largely in vogue, many Hindu households simply play a Sooryagayathri YouTube video to fulfil their cultural obligation of passing on these hymns.
“When she was barely three, Soorya just had to hear a song once to get its tune in perfect pitch and talam. Being so little she would mispronounce the words, but her tune was spot-on,” recalls her mother Divya, speaking in Tamil. That got the parents thinking about giving her music lessons. Anilkumar had been an A-grade AIR mridangam artist in Kozhikode for several years, while Divya had no real interest in music. Soorya’s father became her first guru, but it was her mother — a BA graduate — who virtually expanded her horizons. From developing the Sooryagayathri Official Facebook page to accepting requests for interviews and performances, to keeping up with the comments and views on the videos, Divya handles it all. At 11 every night, after the dishes have been done, the kitchen scrubbed clean and the kids tucked into bed, she switches on the computer, turns on the wi-fi and allows the outside world to seep into their sleepy village.
Soorya’s performances have taken her to London, Dubai, Singapore (twice), South Africa and she has more lined up this April in Trinidad and Singapore (her third). Within India she has performed in Uttarkashi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Assam, Bhubaneswar, Thrissur, Chennai, Delhi and Tenali, the last being one of her favourite places to perform in. “The Telugu people were so excited to hear my songs. They were roaring with applause when I sang in Telugu,” she says, smiling at the memory.
Her five-member Carnatic troupe has her father on the mridangam, a tabla player, a violinist, and an extra percussionist, all from Vadakara. Earlier, her mother accompanied her to every concert, frequently nursing her through illness, sudden sore throats or cold attacks during her tour. At Bhubaneswar, she performed despite having a sore throat and swollen tonsils. “I just did, I don’t know how,” the girl says. “Now she can take care of herself,” says Divya with pride.
Anilkumar remembers cradling the sleeping child in his arms through delayed flights, train, bus and car journeys in their hectic travels to concerts.
Today, Soorya practices for five hours a day, training under two teachers — Nishant K, a Carnatic vocalist in Vadakara who has been teaching her since she was seven; and S Anandi, in Kozhikode, who has been teaching her on a weekly basis for the past three years. Recently, it was reported that a renowned Hindustani classical singer in Mumbai, too, has agreed to train Soorya.
As her primary guru, Anilkumar says he’s a tough taskmaster who has, at times, made his daughter practise through the night to perfect a song she was scheduled to sing the following morning.
Her performances typically last for two hours, during which she sings some 10-12 bhajans or other short Carnatic compositions. Earlier she would start singing straightaway, but these days she first introduces herself and the song she’s about to sing.
“I’m never scared, no matter how many people are sitting in the audience. When the mic is on and I’m up on the stage, I just go sing,” she says simply. The tough part comes after the show, when people surround her for autographs and selfies. All she wants to do then is get up from the stiff padmasana and scurry off to use the bathroom. She has even perfected a selfie-ready smile for her fans; her autographs showcase her pearly handwriting, the S marked by a super-curly treble clef.
Among her many awards, the biggest ones include the MS Subbulakshmi Fellowship in 2014, the Trivandrum Kalanidhi Sangeeta Ratna Puraskar in 2016, and the Bombay Hariharaputra Bhajana Samaj Shakti award last year.
There is gravel and new matt-finish outdoor tiles piled at the entrance of Soorya’s home. A compound wall is being built, for the first time. In Purameri, where good neighbours never built good fences, things are changing. Priorities have shifted in Sooryagayathri’s household. The young star singer has, overnight, raised the family’s financial status. The question now is how to steer her course forward? As Soorya wraps up Std VII, her studies are jostling for attention in her packed daily schedule of music practice, tours and performances.

Tackling the big decisions

“We’ve been thinking, what use is formal schooling, really?” her father says, in Tamil. “The purpose of an education is to give you all the exposure you need to decide which career to pursue. But here, that decision has been made. Soorya is already a musician,” he says, picking his words carefully.
He himself comes from a family with a rich grounding in music — his father was a Bharatanatyam dancer, his mother a singer and his grandfather was a Kathakali singer of repute. After studying music under the tutelage of Karaikudi R Mani, Anilkumar began performing as an accompanist in Carnatic music concerts. But with his daughter’s ever-growing fame and work, his own tours and performances have shrunk — apart from an upcoming performance in the US and a few telecasts on Doordarshan, he is a man seemingly reborn from mridangam artist to chief architect of his daughter’s destiny.
The family plans to homeschool Soorya from the new academic year, to allow her to devote more time for her training and performances. “She doesn’t need to waste her time learning complex mathematics. She needs the freedom to learn music in a pure environment,” says Pai, whose idea it was.
But what about friends? And playtime? And just the freedom to be a child? “Music is her fun-and-frolic,” the father says shortly. On their trips overseas, Soorya is ushered in and out of performances before being flown back home. Do they find the time for a wildlife safari or, perhaps, a visit to a theme park?
“She has no interest in all these things,” Anilkumar insists.
The only entertainment she gets to enjoy is semi-classical film music and watching an occasional Hindi film at a theatre. “The last film I watched was Dangal. I really liked it, even though I couldn’t understand that [Haryanvi] accent,” says Soorya. Asked if he sees in himself the character essayed by Aamir Khan in the film — a tough dad readying his daughter to perfect her skill — Anilkumar disarmingly admits, “Yes, that’s me.”
Determined to safeguard the “purity” of her art from the dangerous influences of the big bad cities, Soorya’s parents are against moving out of Vadakara.
MS Subbulakshmi, Soorya’s role model, had a devadasi lineage and found fame as a film actress and singer before establishing herself as a Carnatic legend. Her avatars were many. Who can forget that famous 1937 photograph of MS with dancer T Balasaraswathi, both in striped pyjamas and holding unlit cigarettes in fashionable nonchalance — an image that appears ahead of time even today.
But Soorya’s parents, like most traditional Indian parents, see themselves as the gatekeepers against “unwanted” influences. “Her obedience is her hallmark,” says Divya proudly of her daughter. But will obedience to those around her be enough to help the naturally gifted Soorya find her own voice, to carve out her own inimitable style?
One of her favourite performed songs is a Kabir bhajan that celebrates non-duality:
Na main jap mein, na main tap mein /
Khoji Hoye Turat Mil Jaoon / Ik Pal Ki Talas Mein
(I am not in prayers, nor in meditation or renunciation /Seek earnestly and you will discover me In but a moment of search)
The lyrics move this 12-year-old deeply, evoking, yet again, comparisons with MS and stoking the hopes of a billion rasikas for an encore.