“I am a victim of multiple disadvantages. As an uneducated transgender from a poor Dalit family, I am cursed in more ways than one. I have been teased, insulted, beaten up, stripped and abused by strangers and acquaintances—even by those who I considered friends and family.
“People ask me what I do, and I say, ‘commercial sex work’. This ends the conversation many times. But some tend to drag it. ‘Why?’ I am asked. A smile is my only answer. As if they care. As if someone like me has many choices. As if a different answer would make them reconsider how they look at us.
“Born as Chandru, I went under the knife to become Sumitra. The surgery did not just change my gender. It changed my life. I worked in hamams (public bathrooms) and did other odd jobs before I moved into this role. Here you are always the unwed wife, never the mother.”
“Looking at Hampi, I wish someone called me the eighth wonder. That is because I am as beautiful as the ruins of a grane empire, if not more. What is more, I move on against all odds, sans the pomp or fame of Hampi.
“My grace transcends my beauty, although very few tend to notice it. That is because beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, while grace springs from the heart…. These stones are so much like me, yet so different. If ruins can conceal beauty within them, so can I.
” I may be easy on the eyes, but completely shattered inside.”
Photograph: courtesy K. Venkatesh
Words: coutesy Rishikesh Bahadur Desai
The Kannada actress Radhika (centre) at the inaugurates of “The 8th wonder”, an exhibition of pcitures by K. Venkatesh at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore on Monday.
“In 1990, as a teenager, I took my first steps in international cricket and was eager for encouragement and a kind word in the cricketing world. I came across a comment from an accomplished Indian cricketer and a respected leader of men.
“I quote: ‘This lad, I don’t see him winning Test matches for India, either at home or abroad. He rarely turns the ball. At best he can be restrictive.’
“The assessment came from Mr Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.
“Two decades of international cricket and 619 Test wickets later, it is indeed a great honour and privilege to address this august gathering.
“It was my misfortune that I never had a chance to confront Pataudi on his comment, but I am confident that had I done so, he would have had a good laugh. Unlike many men with a reputation for possessing a sense of humour, he was capable of taking a joke against himself.
“In cricket, as in most things in life, perceiving is believing. I think it was the great English left arm spinner Wilfred Rhodes who said that if the batsman thinks it’s spinning, then it’s spinning. As you might imagine, it is a philosophy I can identify with.
“In recent years such gifted bowlers as Shane Warne and Saqlain Mushtaq have spoken of the ‘zooter’ and the ‘teesra’ respectively to keep the opposition guessing and wasting hours in their back rooms figuring out what these exotic terms meant.
“Perception. It is all a matter of perception. After all, what can a teesra be? A leg break bowled with an off break action that turns out to be an off break after all?”
Photograph: Former India captain Anil Kumble arrives to address the meet-the-press programme organized by Bangalore Reporters Guild, at the Press Club of Bangalore, in Bangalore on Wednesday (Karnataka Photo News)
From The Telegraph, Calcutta, the story of Jayaram Banan, the son of a bus driver in Udupi who ran away from home to Bombay as a boy, and now runs a chain of south Indian restaurants in the north under the brand name Sagar Ratna™.
“I worked as a serving boy and then manager in small-town restaurants before moving to Delhi, where I turned entrepreneur,” he recalls. Banan opened a canteen-style idli-dosa outlet in Delhi’s defence colony market in 1986. He called it Sagar.
“The butter chicken-loving Delhi lapped up his southern fare. Apart from the Sagar Ratna chain, Banan runs Swagath for south Indian coastal cuisine. Launched in 2001, it now has 10 outlets.
“Some of Banan’s restaurants are exclusively owned, some are parnerships and some franchisees. “We plan to double our turnover and the numbers of restaurant in the next five years,” he says
For the record, even today Jayaram Banan stands outside his very first Sagar Ratna™ outlet in defence colony and welcomes guests for half-an-hour every day at 7 pm.
“I discovered that he has never once sat at a table and eaten at one of his restaurants. Most days he eats at the Defence Colony Swagath but takes the meals in the kitchen. I’ve known him to drink the odd whisky but he will not touch liquor at one of his restaurants. As far as he’s concerned, the restaurants are places where he is meant to serve, not enjoy.
“His dedication and drive are also exemplary. He leaves home at 9 am every morning and rarely returns before 11.30 pm, trying to visit as many of his restaurants as he can. On Sundays, he leaves at 7 am and visits all 29 restaurants in the Delhi area. There is no other way of maintaining standards, he says.”
Back when it was built, the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore perhaps looked big and beautiful and daunting, and conveyed the full might of the “State”. It perhaps even inspired some of those who secured a five-year lease of occupation. But who can argue that it is the most the user-friendly, for the rulers or the ruled, in the 21st century?
Notwithstanding that, dozens of replicas of Kengal Hanumanthaiah‘s architectural legacy have sprung up all over Karnataka. If the districts have scale-models in the ‘Mini’ Soudha, in faraway-Belgaum there is a near-replica of the original one, the Suvarna Soudha, and it doesn’t look half as pretty when your gaze turns to the shepherd.
Although they were part of the same Indian team—sharing the dressing room, sharing partnerships, sharing victories, defeats and draws—cricket fans detected a faint undercurrent of competition and conflict between Sunil Gavaskar and G.R. Viswanath.
On one level, this was the old battle between two stellar domestic Ranji Trophy sides, Bombay and Karnataka, playing out subliminally through its two leading lights, one a fearless opener who faced the fast and the furious without a helmet; the other an artist who wielded the willow like a brush.
On another level, it was a deeply ingrained stereotype, that “Sunny”, for all the records against his name, was a selfish, mammon-worshipping run-machine with one eye always on the right-hand column of the scoreboard, as opposed to the selfless “Vishy”, who put the team’s interests before his own.
It would have been easy to blame the media for the Gavaskar vs Vishwanath row, but this was in pre-television, pre-internet India of the 1970s and ’80s.
Gavaskar’s pathetic gesture of batting left-handed, down the batting order, in a Ranji match Bombay were losing against Karnataka only confirmed the worst suspicions of cricket followers, but all was forgiven when Gundappa chose Sunny’s sister Kavitha to be his wife.
Was there a similar vibe between Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid? The former, a run-machine from Bombay who adored Gavaskar, and the latter, a touch artist whose idol was Vishy?
Like their icons, Tendulkar and Dravid were kingpins of batting. Without the other, each would have had less to show; without both, the side would have suffered. They played hundreds of matches, scored thousands of runs together.
Still, was it all hunky-dory between the two?
Did Dravid have his team’s interests when he declared the Indian innings in Pakistan even as Tendulkar was within striking distance of his first double-century? Did Tendulkar conveniently lose his form when Dravid was captain?
Two days after Tendulkar announced his pre-retirement from the game, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta writes:
“My most revealing journalistic Sachin moment came in an NDTV Walk the Talk.
“‘If you had to take one stroke from each one of your four great batting peers, Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman, what will it be,’ I asked.
“‘It will be Sehwag’s cut, nobody cuts like him,’ he said, ‘Ganguly’s cover drive, Laxman’s flick off-the-hip and Dravid…’ he paused for a moment to think.
“And what will you take from Dravid, I asked, my mischievous journalistic sensors abuzz, thinking of the little issue the two had just had in Pakistan (Multan) when Dravid had declared with Sachin not out at 194.
“‘I will take Dravid’s defence,’ he said, ‘nobody has a defence like his.’
“I called 10 self-proclaimed cricket experts to ask if that comment was bitchy or brilliant. The verdict: 10:0, brilliant.
Now, wasn’t that a stroke of cricketing genius?
Photograph: Sachin Tendulkar takes a nap on the floor of the dressing room in 1989, as New Zealand swing legend Sir Richard Hadlee (right) and left-arm spinner, Saggi Venkatapathy Raju, look on (courtesy H. Natarajan)
Let me come to the point, for you are a busy man. And it is the busy man who has time to spare. Please spare a few minutes to peruse what I have written here concerning Karnataka, my State and its Chief Minister of a little over 100 days old, Sri Siddaramaiah.
I know him from the day he was a lawyer, law teacher and then an angry young politician inspired by Jayaprakash Narayan and the socialist leaders of Nehru-Gandhi years. Hailing from a backward village of an industrially backward district Mysore, he had the dream of ameliorating the living conditions of the oppressed and the have nots.
Since you will have a dossier on Siddaramaiah, I will not dilate.
However, what prompted me, rather provoked me to write this letter of appeal to you is the news that broke out last evening on TV channels and that appeared in cold print this morning saying that about 20 Congress MLAs have sent a complaint against Siddaramaiah to the Congress high command.
As if to prove the blind belief of many earlier Chief Ministers of Karnataka that whoever visited Chamarajanagar — whose inhabitants are mostly Dalits and Scheduled Tribes — would lose power, these 20 MLAs must have submitted their complaint.
It may be their belief that the bold decision of Siddaramaiah to visit the “cursed” district could be an auspicious moment for them to conspire to bring down Siddaramaiah and then allow the TV and the Press to go to town saying, “didn’t we say he would lose power after visiting Chamarajanagar?”
Dear Sri Rahul, I want you to congratulate Siddaramaiah for his deliberate, daring visit to Chamarajanagar despite advice to the contrary. In doing so, he has led the motley crowd of people steeped in superstition from the front urging them to give up such blind belief. Siddaramaiah, thus, has set a personal example, unlike other Chief Ministers. Now, it should not be shown as if he made a mistake by going to Chamarajanagar.
I will only say this. If you listen to these disgruntled MLAs and sack Siddaramaiah, it will tantamount to yourself subscribing to the superstition and thereby perpetuating the same in this century of reason and scientific temperament.
And in any case, the people of Karnataka know what could be the nature of their complaint. The MLAs generally want their favourite (read corrupt) officers to be posted in most ‘revenue” generating departments like police, revenue, PWD and zilla panchayat. The deputy commissioners (DCs) are tough nuts, being IAS.
So these MLAs want the Chief Minister to give them their favourite police inspectors, tahasildars, executive engineers and CEOs of ZPs.
Totally self-centric, not Karnataka-centric in their conduct as MLAs.
In the past, the Chief Minister, in order to remain in his seat, used to oblige these MLAs. But, have we seen corresponding increased development in the constituencies of these MLAs? No. Reason: Self-aggrandisement.
However, there is another complaint tagged on to the first one, “that Siddaramaiah is ignoring the MLAs’ requests and he is surrounded by his old friends and old gang etc.” This one is to provide a moral facade to an untenable complaint. They alleged that Siddaramaiah goes by their advice.
Ramakrishna Hegde had his “Brains Trust.” Every Chief Minister will have to consult, apart from the Cabinet colleagues, somebody in whose wisdom, expertise and experience he has trust.
According to reports, Siddaramaiah has five such advisors. I understand they are not only committed and loyal to Siddaramaiah but also to his party, Congress. They are: 1. Kempaiah, IPS, retired. 2. Ravi Bosraj. 3. Chenna Reddy. 4. Konanakunte Laxman. 5. MLA Bhyrati Suresh of Krishnarajapuram, Bangalore.
If it is true, it will be perceived by the people, not by politicians and bureaucrats, that these five will be like ‘Pancha Ratnas’ similar to the ‘Navaratnas’ in the courts of Ashoka and Akbar. Like your mother listened to her inner voice about 10 years back, you had better listen to the voice of the people of Karnataka.
More importantly, development of the State is possible only if the Chief Minister is allowed to complete his term, unless he is incompetent or corrupt. For now, Siddharamaiah is competent, what with many years of experience in the earlier governments of JD(S) and he is our Mr. Clean.
For Kannadigas, development is more important than 2014 Parliamentary election.
File photograph: Karnataka governor H.R. Bharadwaj administrating the oath of office to Siddaramaiah during the swearing-in ceremony at the Sree Kanteerava stadium in Bangalore on Monday (Karnataka Photo News)
In the fourth week of August, Madras played host to a three-day jamboree to mark 100 years of South Indian cinema.
Song and dance delegations from each of the four states got a chance to show their wares. By all accounts, it was an event hogged and monopolised by the Mysore-born actress-turned-Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha Jayaram, to the exclusion of all else in the film fraternity, in an election year.
But does South Indian cinema really have much to celebrate, regardless of the snooty South Indian belief that south cinema is better than Bollywood cinema? Regardless of the talented stars, the macho mustachioed actors, the sexy actresses, the villians, the vamps, the directors, music composers and technicians?
The long-time film critic Randor Guyalias Madabhushi Rangadurai, offers a blistering critique of Kollywood and Mollywood and Sandalwood, in The Pioneer:
“We are where we started in 1913. Indian movies in general and south Indian movies in particular have not moved an inch forward. It is all the same. Personalities have been changed to accommodate youth. That’s the only notable change.
“South Indian language films continue to be the extension of the old theatre. There is no semblance of reality to the real life. There should be logic, reasoning and art in the product.
“Do you think hard hitting dialogues, songs shot with hundreds of co-stars in exotic locations, the hero single-handedly bashing up the goons and walking away with the heroine makes a good movie? I am aghast.. Most of the directors have not seen classical movies and they have not read good books too.
“The movie Nenjil Oru Aalayam (A temple inside the heart) was sent as an entry for the Oscar Award. The man in charge of the category for which the movie was sent laughed at us and asked weren’t there any divorce laws in India. He told us that the story could have been cut short had the protagonists approached the court of law instead of singing songs and mouthing tough dialogues.
“If films represent only glamour and nothing else, well, there is no need to elaborate. If even third grade movies could throw up global leaders from the fraternity, imagine, what could have been the scenario had we produced movies matching the ones made in Hollywood?”
Kite-flying effortlessly replaces cricket as the nation’s favourite sport before every election, state or national, and so it is in the run-up to 2014, with “guided rumours” of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani suddenly but not unexpectedly doing the rounds as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South Lok Sabha constituency.
For the moment, there is no confirmation from the man, but he has certainly not denied the report which first appeared on the website of the business newspaper, Mint. “It’s speculative,” is how the Sirsi-born software mogul has chosen to greet the unattributed reports which clearly emanate from his “camp”, and all of which uniformally talk of his candidature having Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi‘s imprimatur.
On the face of it, Nilekani has plenty going for him. He is young (58), has a demonstrated track record as an entrepreneur and a technocrat, has ‘written’ an ambitious book on how he imagines India, and is a past-master at charming the pants off the media. On top of that, his wife, the former journalist Rohini Nilekani has pumped in crores into philanthropic projects.
Nilekani’s role in crafting “Brand Bangalore” is not insignificant. It is Infosys that largely put the shine back into Bangalore and made it the country’s unquestionable IT capital. Nilekani was also the brain behind the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) during S.M.Krishna‘s tenure. So, the Congress’s, if not Nilekani’s, calculation is: this is payback time.
The preponderance of IT types in Bangalore South, the large sprinkling of Brahmins, and a five-time sitting Brahmin MP (Ananth Kumar) who is not on the right side of the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate”, Narendra Modi, makes the Sai bhakt’s candidature look all very rosy—on a spreadsheet.
But politics is not a zero-sum, page 3 game as the similarly qualified Captain G.R. Gopinath discovered not too long ago.
Above all, for all the friendly media coverage of Nilekani’s “Aadhar” card, the fact remains he has essentially presided over an unconstitutional scheme which does not have Parliament’s OK, and which has actually taken millions out of the welfare net, while precisely claiming to do the opposite, by stopping leakage and pilferage. These are the people who vote and, sadly for Nilekani’s and Aadhar’s backers, there are thousands of them in Bangalore South too.
So, does Nandan Nilekani, who can just about speak Kannada, stand a chance, if he gets the chance, or is he like so many billionaires deluded about what his billions can fetch? If he does, could he end up being a potential minister in the next UPA regime, if there is one? And, while we (and he) fantasise, could he even be the kind of quiet technocrat who could be Rahul’s Manmohan Singh? Just kidding.
(Or, tongue firmly in cheek, could Nandan Nilekani’s nomination papers get rejected because his date of birth does not match the DoB on his own Aadhar card?!)
The engineer-son of ‘Make Up’ Naani and Bhargavi Nagaraj who became an Indian Express reporter, who became a magazine correspondent, who became a television chat show host, who launched a journalism school, who launched a weekly newspaper…
And who made a national-award winning English film, who made a hit Kannada TV serial—and who is winning accolades for his role as a Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) agent in the just-released Hindi film, Madras Cafe:
“Prakash Belawadi started and edited a weekly newspaper, Bangalore Bias (it shut down). He has begun so many enterprises, a media school among them, that I have lost count just of those he has been involved in since 2000, and would not be surprised if he has too.
“Belawadi began his career as a journalist and worked for Vir Sanghvi’s Sunday. He remains a columnist and a first rate one. He has the best quality a columnist can have and that, according to Graham Greene, is never to be boring.
“Belawadi has a dangerous lack of ideology that makes him an aggressive and unpredictable debater. He can casually assume a position, often contrary to one he held a couple of days ago, and unpack a ferocious argument. Like all good men, he likes a fight, and like all good men it is promptly forgotten. He has a quality that is admirable among men.
“He is restless and tireless, and totally uncaring for the middle-class ambitions that most of us cannot let go of, and few of us ever achieve.”
There are many labels the Kannada and Tamil actress Divya Spandana also known as Ramya has attracted in her chequered career: moody, hothead, temperamental, drama queen, etc.
She may be all that and more, but she is also spunky, spirited, full of beans, not short of “attitude”, never short of a word, and lives life on her own terms.
Being elected the youngest female Congress MP for the short time that is left in the tenure of the current Lok Sabha may seem trivial, but doing so in the male-dominated Vokkaliga hotbed of Mandya carries all sorts of import.
Will the Ooty-educated actress with a cloistered upbringing, who is now a firm favourite for a ticket in the next general election, be a successful politician with her ear to the ground? Or will she end up being seen as a puppet of politicians firing at their rivals from her nimble shoulders?
Watch Ramya in an item number in the movie Johnny mera naam, Preeti mera kaam:
The conventional wisdom on raksha bandhan is that tying a rakhi symbolises a “sister’s love and prayers for her brother’s well-being and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her.” But in the Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh (RSS), there is a small problem: there are no women, although there are women “volunteers” in the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, which follows the RSS philosophy and ideology.
Here, member of Parliament Prahlad Joshi (right), who is also the president of the BJP Karnataka unit, ties a rakhi to his RSS brothers, in Hubli on Wednesday.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni carries Anil Kumble on his shoulders after the latter had played his last Test match, at the Ferozshah Kotla in New Delhi, in November 2008 (courtesy Sportstar)
As the Karnataka state cricket association (KSCA) celebrates its platinum jubilee, the cricket writer Suresh Menon compiles an all-time Karnataka XI, with a telling line “Humility need not be an aspect of greatness, but in Karnataka (cricket) the two have always gone together”:
What goes around, comes around. Barely months after he left the party fuming and fretting, barely months after the party thought it had seen the back of him, B.S. Yediyurappa and the BJP—both chastened by the defeat in the Karnataka assembly elections—are apparently eyeing each other.
In one sense, it is a reality check for the BJP, which likes to think of itself as a cadre-based party, and for Yediyurappa, who thought that his standing was alone enough to carry him to power. With both the party and the individual realising their limitations, they are thinking of mending broken bridges.
In another sense, it is also a reflection of the changed if not changing reality in the BJP. With “two-time former future prime minister” L.K. Advani, who apparently played a key role in Yediyurappa’s ouster,no longer calling the shots, Yediyurappa sees an opening in the new scheme of things under Narendra Modi. And vice-versa.
Both sides are now playing coy. The BJP wants him to formally “apply” to rejoin the party. Yediyurappa, for his part, says the majority of his followers only want a tie-up with the parent body, not a formal merger. Either way, the path is being paved for the return of the prodigal.
Still, there is such a thing as political morality. When Yediyurappa walked out, the BJP painted all the excesses of his government—the corruption, the scams, the scandals—to him and his cronies. Will facilitating Yediyurappa’s return impact Modi’s national ambitions? Will the BJP emerge stronger in Karnataka with Yediyurappa’s return, or is this too convenient an arrangement which voters will see through?
S. Sreesanth has only just gotten out of the clutches of Delhi’s hyper-efficient police for using a hand-towel tucked into his pyjama as a sign to his bookmaker friends that he will bowl a few bad ones, and….
And former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda brazenly flaunts a towel on his shoulder as he takes guard at a cricket match organised by journalists in his home-district, Hassan, on Sunday.
What qualifications must an elected MLA possess to become a minister? Whose prerogative is it to nominate a minister? Who decides what portfolio a minister must be allotted? Should ministers of certain specific portfolios possess some certain attributes? And should external inputs be given consideration at all in the ministry-making process?
These are evergreen questions and they gain currency in the light of the decision of the new Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah to name S.R. Patil as the State’s information technology minister—and the quite extraordinary intervention of former Infosys man T.V. Mohandas Pai and Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.
# “Surprised at choice of minister for IT/BT. Need a person who can work with global companies and a lot younger. Sad day for us,” tweeted Pai.
# “CM can’t afford to be seen to be viewing IT/BT lightly — these are priority sectors for Karnataka,” said Shaw on her micro-blog account.
“Pai and Mazumdar-Shaw were only echoing the widespread feeling in the industry — though no one else said it openly and even these two later backpedalled — that a suave, urban-educated, technology-savvy minister would have better suited.
“The industry was backing choices such as Krishna Byre Gowda and Dinesh Gundu Rao — both dynamic, articulate legislators in their forties. Patil, from backward Bagalkot district, is a lawyer by training with a background in the co-operative movement and is not exactly known for his tech-savvy.”
“I thought either Krishna Byre Gowda (son of former minister C. Byre Gowda) or Dinesh Gundu Rao (son of former chief minister R. Gundu Rao) would get the IT/BT portfolio,” said a Congress lawmaker.
“Rahul Karuna, crisis manager with a BPO, said the IT/BT ministry deserved a heavyweight. ‘We were expecting a big name or a young minister. It’s not about the age or looks of the man; it’s that this portfolio deserves a more powerful politician.’”
Obviously, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but implicit in these statements are stereotypes that boggle the mind and should shame the likes of “suave, urban-educated and tech-savvy” Pai and Shaw. That a 65-year-old man from Bagalkot (still very much a part of Karnataka) is not cut out for the likes of them in Bangalore. That his age, language and tech skills, and mofussil background are all against him in the slick world.
But above all, the arrogant assumption that the IT/BT industry shall decide the choice of IT minister, not the chief minister. If the children and women of Karnataka (whose number vastly outdoes the number of IT/BT professionals) cannot decide who the next women and child welfare minister will be, what right does the IT/BT industry have?
Yes, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna did wonders for the industry. But do M/s Pai & Shaw know if he knew how to switch on a computer via UPS, send an email or write a blog before he took over as chief minister? And didn’t he come from Somanahalli in Maddur taluk of Mandya district? And where specifically have the dynamism of Dinesh Gundu Rao and Krishna Byre Gowda been displayed for the industry to be batting for their case?
Question: is the pampered IT/BT industry batting out of its crease?
For non-Kannadigas who snigger when when they see the red-and-yellow Kannada “flag”, there’s another red rag on the way, a Kannada “anthem”.
Like Mile sur mera tumhara, Kannada Jeevaswara, an “anthem” dedicated to the state of Karnataka and its people, has just been released. Its aim: creating a sense of belonging to this enchanting land and appreciation of the cultural heritage of Karnataka.
Credits: Concept Maya Chandra, lyrics Jayanth Kaikini, music Abhijith Shylanath, editor Rahul Dev Rajan, cinematography V.K.Subash, director Ajay Kumar.
The multilingual actor Sumalatha (third from left, front row) sits in the visitors’ gallery at the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore on Wednesday, as the first session of a new assembly begins, with her husband, the actor and former MP, Ambareesh, in the revenue benches as a debutant minister.
The ascension of K. Siddaramaiah, the agnostic-socialist who visits not temples and mutts upon becoming the chief minister of Karnataka but writers and intellectuals, as seen through the words and eyes of S.R. Ramakrishna and Satish Acharya of Bangalore’s Talk magazine.
“Back in November 2010 I had gone to Siddaramaiah‘s Mysore house with Mysooru Mithra editor M. Govinde Gowda to invite him personally for my second son’s wedding.
“As expected, the house was full of people spilling over to the road with many vehicles parked around. His aide took us to the dining hall where he was sitting at the head of the table alone, probably for our meeting.
“After the initial courtesies and platitudes I gave him the invitation and requested him to bless the groom in a customary way. As is his wont, he was expressionless and silent for a while and said that he would come.
“I did not believe him.
“I asked him about the political mess the BJP was in at that time and he mumbled something that I don’t remember now. However, I told him that it was good that he joined Congress and Congress never disappoints its loyal members in the matter of rewarding them suitably.
“He lifted his inclined head in slow-motion, looked at me and smiled. Who would not like to hear a positive prognosis of oneself?
“I continued. I said in Karnataka, in the past many years of Congress rule, I had seen that senior Congress members who were ministers and aspired to become chief ministers had realised their aspirations even if it was only for two or three years, and gave the recent examples of Bangarappa, Veerappa Moily and S.M. Krishna (who was deputy chief minister like Siddharamaiah).
“Therefore, you too will become the Chief Minister,” I told Siddaramaiah.
“Now I could see his lips turn elastic revealing his teeth from right molar to left molar with a twitch of his snubby nose. Eyes too twinkled for a fleeting second.
“I am happy to tell my readers, Siddaramaiah indeed kept his words and attended my son’s wedding held at Mysore Race Club premises.”
Photograph: Siddaramaiah gestures to the crowd after being elected as the leader of the Congress legislative party, at the KPCC Office in Bangalore on Friday (Karnataka Photo News)
Now that Congress has accomplished the easy part, it has to brace itself for the difficult part: choosing the next chief minister of the State.
Will the newly elected Congress MLAs really have a say, as they should, in choosing the leader of the legislature party? If so who will they opt for? Or will the high command impose its leader, who will be proposed and seconded, in true Congress style, by the other contenders? In either case, who is it likely to be?
Will Union labour minister Mallikarjuna Kharge get the green signal for his rock-like loyalty to the party? Or, will a younger aspirant like former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah get the OK? or will his late entry into the party and the party’s less-than-impressive showing in the Old Mysore region prove a deterrent?
Does the state Congress president G. Parameshwar stand a chance at all after failing to hold on to his seat in Koratagere, which he unbelievably first won by nearly 90,000 votes? Or will the high command fall back on dark horse, like former chief ministers S.M. Krishna and Veerappa Moily, to tide over potential dissent?
Will the next five years see just one CM or will the Congress change horses mid-stream?
PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Tomorrow, May 8, is results day for the Karnataka assembly elections. Since I am not going to be in front of a camera, here are five talking points I bet you won’t hear on your favourite news channel, but five points I sincerely wish TV anchors and analysts would use.
First, despite what everyone has said in the last month, there hasn’t been any discernible change in the fundamental poll dynamic since the elections were announced. What this means is that despite the month-long campaign and all that comes along with it (read money and other gifts to the voters), nothing much changed that actually altered the political climate.
What are the fundamentals that I refer to here?
The anti-incumbency of a largely ineffectual, scandal and dissension-ridden BJP government had created a small undercurrent of support for Congress. However, that advantage has been difficult to quantify and that’s because politics these days, especially at the state level, is local and very competitive. Further, political advantage doesn’t mean a wave in favor of a political party.
I am tempted to say the era of waves is over.
Congress stuck to its strategy, didn’t recruit too many outsiders (especially those who had ties with BJP), and focused mostly on consolidating its base.
True, its ticket distribution strategy seemed chaotic and the party took too much time to complete the process. There seemed to be much dissension, with ticket aspirants and activists demonstrating regularly in front of the party office. But much of this is media-driven to make the elections more interesting, and generate some stories.
BJP somehow managed to stop its bleeding just in time when its leaders managed to convince the four Lingayat ministers (Umesh Katti, Basavaraj Bommai, Murugesh Nirani and V. Somanna) not to leave the party.
This action enabled the state BJP leadership to save some credibility with its national leaders but more significantly increased its competitiveness in 12-15 constituencies and dealt a crushing blow to Yediyurappa’s dreams of consolidating his hold over Lingayats in north Karnataka.
Second, I want to submit that all the predictions, including the exit poll based ones, are bunkum.
I haven’t looked at the methodology and sample size closely. Yet, I suspect that extrapolating results from voting percentages is not accurate. The Janata Dal (Secular) and BJP are not strong in the same areas, which means that there are fewer triangular fights.
Hence, if Congress is competing strongly everywhere, even if its vote share goes up, it may not win a commensurate number of assembly segments.
This complementary nature of JD (S) and BJP’s support base introduces an element of uncertainty and I don’t know enough about our pollsters to believe they take into account all these variables.
My scepticism about predictions leads me to my third point: that the political culture in Karnataka (in fact, this is also a broader argument that could be made nationally too) has changed dramatically. Hence, history is not a good guide not only to make predictions but more importantly to assess political strategies.
What has changed in the last decade?
In a nutshell, Karnataka has seen a new breed of politician, who has had substantial business interests and is willing to plough back huge amounts of money back into electoral politics. This new politician is in politics to manipulate public policy, further his business interests and secure maximum profits.
He doesn’t have any ideological commitments or a substantial notion of public good.
His political strategy revolves around using his personal fortune (often ill-gotten from real estate, mining or some such natural resource owned by the state) to secure the loyalty of his constituents to himself and this has been the basis for a new form of populism in Karnataka.
There have been many consequences but let me list here only two.
First, the political space available for other kinds of politics, especially the ones inspired by ideology, socio-political movements and a substantial notion of public good, is entirely absent. Be surprised if any candidate who has spent less than five crores actually wins.
Second, even old-school politicians have reinvented themselves along the same lines. In order to understand the truth of this, you only have to look at Yediyurappa and the Deve Gowda family.
In this new political culture, we need a different theory of political strategies, especially in the electoral realm. But we haven’t even had a decent explanation until now about BJP’s own electoral success in 2008. So, I am not very hopeful that we will get a good theory in tomorrow’s shows when Ramachandra Guha and Yogendra Yadav hold forth on our TV screens.
There is much to say on this topic but in brief what we need to recognize is that BJP and JD(S) have recognized the changing tides very quickly and hence have been very nimble in making their strategies.
On the other hand, Congress is burdened by its past and seems like an elephant in its efforts to maneuver around the more nimble, more tiger like opponents. It still has to accommodate all the social classes and its base is largely made up of old time loyalists. The party continues to look to its high command for guidance.
Thus Congress continues to rely on its 20th century political culture/strategizing in what has been a dramatically different 21st century political reality. Most of the stories about Congress bungling (especially this OPED piece by James Manor in the Indian Express) its poll strategy do not recognize this simple fact: it couldn’t have avoided these pitfalls and the magical wand called leadership doesn’t exist.
So, if any analyst tells you that Congress lost because S.M. Krishna was ignored, consider that a load of bull crap. Active participation by Krishna wouldn’t have increased Congress’s total vote tally in the state by 100,000 votes. His counsel wouldn’t have made ticket distribution any more efficient.
If anyone says wrong ticket selection contributed to Congress losing, take that with some skepticism.
For example, at a constituency level there might have been mistakes but Congress had a larger goal. For example, giving tickets to C.K. Jaffer Sharief’s grandson in Hebbal and Shamanuru Shivashankarappa in Davanagere might have been problematic but if the goal is also to send a message to specific communities, then Congress will have succeeded.
This is where BJP, KJP and JD (S) are more nimble in picking candidates and they can afford to make tactical decisions in each constituency.
For example, former minister A.Krishnappa was fielded by JD (S) in Hiriyur after Congress refused to give him ticket in K.R. Puram. Krishnappa, a Golla (cowherd), is likely to win this constituency where his community is in large numbers and who along with Vokkaligas form a potent combintion. His opponent, D. Sudhakar, former minister who joined Congress just before the elections, was seen as a sure shot winner in this contest when elections began.
Here is the takeaway. Politics is extremely competitive and resourceful newcomers are ready to enter the electoral arena. They are trolling different parties in search of opportunities. Nobody can take elections easily these days.
If Siddaramaiah has sleepless nights caused by a political nobody, whose sole claim to fame is that he was Yediyurappa’s former aide and his sole strategy to secure political loyalty is to distribute large sums of money to all comers, then no leader is safe.
Fourth, I really, really wish our analysts would display a better understanding of the caste-politics equation. We really don’t have a good 21st century theory of caste loyalties inspire electoral politics. It is grating to see Yediyurappa described as the “sole leader” of Lingayats and Deve Gowda characterized as the Vokkaliga “strong man”.
Please internalize this: caste support to political parties and leaders is tactical and local; it is not strategic and translocal. I know this claim demands a research paper and not simply an assertion.
However here is the simple takeaway: Subcaste and matha-influence is more important than the kind of translocal caste loyalties that I referred to.
In Hiriyur, Kunchatiga vokkaligas are in large number but they are not strong supporters of the Gangadakara-dominated JD(S). If they vote for JD (S), it is not because of some caste loyalty to Deve Gowda. In fact, if you do a survey of Vokkaligas, most actually very strongly dislike the Gowda family, even if they vote for JD (S) most of the time.
In the same way, Lingayat solidarity across the state is a myth.
Surely, it is possible to secure broad based support from the community in favor of a party like BJP if someone like Yediyurappa is at the helm. But such a strategy would be predicated on finding the right sub caste candidate in each constituency.
Picking a Jangama candidate in a Sada or Panchamasali dominant area will result in huge electoral backlash.
Similarly, backward castes are also not a uniform entity. Siddaramaiah is a backward caste leader but unlike the 1970s and 80s when one could claim that mantle fairly easily these days all the backward castes have become highly politicized and do no want to be represented by someone from outside.
So, Siddharamaiah found himself challenged frequently by backward caste opponents, especially Nayakas, who are a large backward caste community spread across the state, just like the kuruba community to which Siddaramaiah belongs.
So, dear analyst, please do not speak use caste as an analytical category if you don’t understand the local dynamic. You will only sound like a fool.
Fifth, Karnataka saw the emergence of some new political outfits. B. PAC or the Bangalore Political Action Committee represented an alliance of new age entrepreneurs who wanted to influence electoral politics and public policy. This seemed to be inspired by American PACs, which play an enormous role in electoral politics.
Then there was Loksatta, which fielded several naïve, well meaning but political neophytes in urban areas.
All these efforts to build an alternative politics appeared half-assed, pretentious and frankly, quite insulting to the voter. It is not enough to claim that the political class is corrupt and inefficient. It is not enough to claim their own personal cleanliness, educational qualifications or industry experience.
What they lacked is a substantial movement or a public project that they could claim ownership over. Or if any of the candidates had even been a bureaucrat, something that would have brought them in contact with the public, where their conduct would have been monitored by people, such a person would have some claim to seek public trust.
A politician once told me: “What matters is not incorruptibility when you don’t have an opportunity to take a bribe. If you are incorruptible when you actually hold a public office and then work for public good, then you have a claim over public trust.”
The new, middle-class political aspirants seem to miss that simple truth.