Posts Tagged ‘Vijaya Karnataka’

POLL 2013: Has A. Ramdas not supplied ‘henda’?

4 April 2013

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: IPL is here but the most competitive activity in Karnataka is getting a ticket. Not a railway ticket, as the summer travel season approaches, but a party ticket to contest in the Assembly or a B Form as it is technically referred to.

Democracy has deepened, as E. Raghavan and James Manor point out in their book, Broadening and Deepening Democracy: Political Innovation in Karnataka. And indeed, electoral politics is extremely competitive.

To make a mark, the least one could do is to get a B form from some party. Any party. The aspiring politician has arrived if he or she can get a ticket and fight the honorable fight. Because that ensures relevance and longevity in public life. Not to speak of the ability to get things done in government offices.

So we read stories on aspiring candidates and supporters threatening to commit suicide unless their wishes are met. Or protesting in front of party offices. Women politicians of Congress have asked to consider their application for tickets as their resignation letters if the party isn’t issuing them the B forms.

Then there is private lobbying, from which even sitting central ministers, who are seeking tickets for their kids, aren’t immune. Private or public, the lobbying for tickets has no logic other than the self-aggrandizement of the ticket-seeker. In Mandya for instance, an unknown demands that he be given ticket over a stalwart like Ambarish.

***

SINGAPORE GOVINDUVijaya Karnataka reported on an unusual ticket seeker earlier this week.

In his most recent Delhi Diary column, D. Umapathy writes on the quixotic quest by Pamula Govindu alias Singapore Govindu, who belongs to the Hakkipikka or Kurrumama caste, a wandering (alemari) caste of fortune-tellers.

Govindu himself is an accomplished fortune-teller in many languages, including English; in his youth, a woman from Singapore was attracted by his fortune telling skills and took him with her. He has traveled extensively, has bought land and isn’t the destitute that many in his community still continue to be. He has been a member of the KPCC (Karnataka Province Congress Committee) and this election cycle is the seventh time he has applied for a Congress ticket.

No political party has given its ticket to someone from the Hakkipikka community thus far. Not only does Govindu wants to change that by seeking a ticket from the Mulabagilu constituency in Kolar, note that he is up against the daughter of Union Minister K.H. Muniyappa’s daughter, Roopakala.

Not flustered by this, Govindu wants to show to his people what it means to be an MLA.

There have been others from a humble origin (including from politically suppressed backward castes) who have had meteoric rises in the past decade but their success has been facilitated largely by either real estate or mining.

Reading about Govindu, my thoughts turned to Devaraj Urs, the former Chief Minister and the architect of backward caste politics in Karnataka. There is significant anecdotal evidence to show how Urs would often pick someone like Govindu and promote him politically.

For Urs, the fact that Govindu comes from a caste which has never had any political representation despite being a significant numerically would have been an important factor. Despite his numerous political compromises, such political sensitivity made Urs perhaps the most significant politician in post-independence Karnataka.

Urs thrived in an era when electoral politics was less intense and less competitive; when political consciousness of other backward castes was rather dormant. Moreover, he himself was a charismatic mass leader and possessed the political backing of an unparalleled vote-gatherer in Indira Gandhi.

In today’s political environment, perhaps even he would have struggled.

Case in point. Consider the allegations made yesterday against Siddaramaiah, who is quite progressive and perhaps the tallest backward caste leader in Karnataka today. His opponent in Varuna constituency and JD (S) candidate, Cheluvaraj accused Siddharamaiah of being opposed to Nayakas, a sentiment reiterated by his supporters.

If Siddaramaiah can be turned into the leader of a caste (a Kuruba leader in other words), then his commitment towards and appeal to other castes can be minimized.

Don’t see this simply as a political strategy. Rather this is also a product of the deepening of democracy, as part of which each caste seeks representation in its own name. More on this new caste and politics dynamic some other time.

***

VOTER ALERT:  Until the elections, we will ask churumuri readers to share their knowledge when we come across incredulous claims made by politicians. Here is the first installment.

A. Ramdas, the medical education minister, who represents the Krishnaraja constituency, claimed yesterday that he has never distributed a bottle of liquor (henda is the term he used) to sway voters in his constituency. Appealing to the youth of his constituency to not consider money or caste and religion as considerations while voting, he said: “If I give a bottle of alcohol during the elections, then I turn a voter into an alcoholic for five years”

So, churumuri readers especially from the Krishnaraja constituency: Is this true? Will you share what you know in the comments section?

Also read: KARNATAKA ELECTION 2013: Poll Diary

Will Narendra Modi lead Karnataka BJP campaign?

3 April 2013

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: “Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi“: It makes for a sexy headline. And for an audience drawing shouting match on television. But as an analytical frame to understand the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, it just doesn’t make any sense.

Let me explain.

Neither Modi nor Rahul is on the ballot in Karnataka. They aren’t likely to lead the government if their parties are voted into office. Nor will they be difference making vote gatherers, and to say otherwise is to misread democratic politics.

Narendra Modi’s spectacular success in Gujarat is neither unique nor is it solely based on claims of good governance and absence of corruption allegations. In fact, Shivraj Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Nitish Kumar of Bihar and Naveen Patnaik of Orissa too claim similar track record of both electoral success as well as efficient administration.

If anything, all four of them (Modi, Singh, Kumar and Patnaik) may have in common is the social alliance they have managed to create in their states, which has enabled them to triumph in the electoral arena. Sure good governance and a clean image always help.

But elections are fought and won based on caste equations, finding the right candidate and moving the right pawns. Modi has done exceptionally well in building that combination, in addition to economic development of Gujarat.

Astute political observers have always pointed out that the secret of Modi’s success in Gujarat is not that he is a practitioner of Hindutva politics; but he has rebuilt the old social alliance (of Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim known popularly as KHAM) Congress relied on for electoral success until the 1980s.

Admittedly, Muslims aren’t a key element of Modi’s social coalition but there is evidence to suggest that he has secured significant Muslim support in the last few years.

Yet the point is Modi has turned out to be an exceptional political strategist within Gujarat, and his administrative acumen has only helped in consolidating these political gains.

Does that make him a star campaigner outside Gujarat, especially among people who haven’t benefited from good governance? No one is suggesting that BJP invite Shivraj Singh or Nitish Kumar to campaign in Karnataka!

This is where Rahul Gandhi may start out with a small advantage, which accrues to any Gandhi-Nehru dynast, and that gets him the initial name recognition nationally as well as some loyalty of Congressmen. That may have been enough in the past even until the 1980s when his father entered politics. But Indian democracy has changed and has become more competitive since then.

Political loyalties are only skin-deep these days even in a High Command centric party like Congress.

Rahul gives the impression of being a reluctant politician, who given a choice would do something else. He hasn’t shown the commitment or stamina of a professional politician who will breathe politics every waking moment.

Can he be the adept strategist and star campaigner that Congress party, and indeed even the media expect him to be?

I remain skeptical. The voter has gotten better at seeing through masks and evaluates his self interests in ways that media or political scientists do not recognize.

What Rahul and Modi will accomplish, if they campaign vigorously in Karnataka, is bridge and/or raise the enthusiasm gap for their parties. That is their appeal will be limited to committed supporters of Congress and BJP respectively, who will be energized to vote for their candidates instead of staying home.

A recent survey by Suvarna News and Cfore media bears this out: more than two thirds of likely BJP voters admit that Modi’s support will make them vote for BJP.

What neither will be able to do is to convert the undecided voter or the opponent. Hence their impact will be limited and marginal at best.

So, why do we still see stories like this in prominent newspapers?

Is it because the media is lazy and cannot come up with better explanations?

***

IAS – KAS conflict:  Are only direct IAS recruits efficient and capable of running fair and impartial elections?

The Karnataka Election Commission seems to think so and has replaced twelve deputy commissioners, who are IAS officers but promoted from Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS).  Sashidhar Nandikal reports in Vijaya Karnataka on April 1 that this has created a rift among direct recruits and promotee IAS officers.

Majority of the direct recruits into IAS are non-Kannadigas and therefore lack deep roots in local caste politics or personal / family connections to leading politicians. That’s the not case with KAS recruits, whose initial selection will largely be because of their powerful connections.

Still, we must file this question among the inexplicable mysteries!

***

On Actresses and Politics: Recently, I was asked to explain why actresses are getting into politics in Karnataka. While the elders in the business, like Umashri, Tara and Jayamala relied on MLC nominations or an Academy chairmanship to launch their political career, the younger lot like Rakshita and Pooja Gandhi is sweating it out, traveling across the state and taking part in party conventions.

Lest the reader mistake their political activism to the tireless campaigning of a Mamata Banerjee or a Mayawati, I hasten to add that these actresses haven’t offered a compelling reason for entering politics. In fact, we don’t hear much about their political commitments or track of social service.

The talk in Bangalore revolves around the money they are being paid. Pooja Gandhi is supposed to have received Rs 2 crore for joining BSR Congress and when asked by Vijaya Karnataka, she strongly denied that rumour. Yet in a political career spanning a little over a year, she has been a member of JD (S) and KJP.

To my questioner, a journalist-friend, I suggested that for someone like Pooja Gandhi a political party is no different than a product or a business she endorses. I suspect she looks at herself as a brand ambassador for a party, and taking a fee for that work isn’t the worst thing in the world.

How media, police stereotype ‘terror suspects’

27 February 2013

Deccan Herald journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui has walked out of the central jail in Bangalore a free man, six months after being named by the city’s police in an alleged Lashkar-e-Toiba plot to target two Kannada journalists and the publisher of the newspaper they were earlier employed in.

Siddiqui had been accused of being the “mastermind” of a gang of 15 in August last year to kill editor Vishweshwar Bhat, columnist Pratap Simha and publisher Vijay Sankeshwar, allegedly for their “right-wing leanings“. The journalists were with Vijaya Karnataka of The Times of India group, before they joined Rajeev Chandrasekhar‘s Kannada Prabha.

The national investigation agency (NIA), which investigated the case, didn’t name Siddiqui in its chargesheet on February 20 following which a special court trying the case ordered his release on February 23.

On Monday night, Siddiqui walked out of jail and on Tuesday, he addressed a press conference.

Reporting for the Indian Express, Johnson T.A. writes:

About six months ago, when he appeared in court for the first time after being named by the Bangalore Police, Siddiqui, 26, still had the glint of youthful exuberance in his eyes.

But now, the first thing that comes to mind on seeing Siddiqui after his release from prison on Monday, is the disappearance of that enthusiasm from his face. Gone is the glint in his eyes, and in its place is a serious, sad man.

Even so, Siddiqui, whose thesis suggestion for his PG diploma in mass communication—‘Media coverage of terrorism suspects’—was struck down by his supervisor pulled no punches in describing his own ordeal before his colleagues, compatriots and competitors.

***

siddiqui

# “The media has forgotten the ‘A’ in the ABC of Journalism [Accuracy-Brevity-Clarity].”

# “I always thought the police, media and society at large do not treat terror suspects fairly. That thinking has been reinforced by my experience.”

# “Security agencies are not sensitive towards the poor and weaker sections of society. If you look at the way the entire operation was carried out by the police and reported by the media, this insensitivity is clear.”

# According to the [Bangalore] police and the media, I am the mastermind. If I am the mastermind, why are the others still in jail? I hope they too will get justice.”

# “The media and the police need to be more sensitive toward the downtrodden, Dalits and Muslims. The way the media and the police behaved raises basic questions about their attitude toward Muslims.

# “Muslims are often cast by the media and police in stereotypes. There is an institutional bias which manifests in such cases. This is not just about me; it is about hundreds like me who are in jails [across the country] on terror charges. Muslims are not terrorists.”

# “If I was not a Muslim the police wouldn’t have picked me…. They first arrest people, then find evidence against them. What happened on August 29, 2012 was no arrest but downright kidnapping. A bunch of strong men barged into our house and forcefully took us away in their vehicles. This even as we were pleading and asking why we were being taken out.”

# “They kept interrogating me as if I was the mastermind and kept saying that I’d be in for seven years for sure. Everyone knows that jail is no fun place. For the first 30 days we were cramped in a small room. The confinement itself was torture.  They did not inform our families. They did not tell us what we were being arrested for. They made us sign 30-40 blank sheets of paper. One of these papers was used to create fake, back-dated arrest intimation.”

# “Some fair play is still possible in the system. Though justice was delayed, it wasn’t denied in my case.”

Siddiqui, who is still on Deccan Herald‘s roster, says he wants to go back to journalism, for that is his passion, but wants to spend time with his family first.

Two other journalists—Jigna Vora of The Asian Age and S.M.A. Kazmi—have been arrested in recent times on terror charges, only to be freed later.

Photograph: Journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui at a press conference in Bangalore on 26 February 2013 (courtesy Md. Asad/ The Times of India)

Also read: Bangalore journo in plot to kill editor, columnist?

Anti-minority bias behind foiled bid on journos?

Sugata Raju is new editor of ‘Vijaya Karnataka’

15 May 2012

Vijaya Karnataka, the Kannada daily from The Times of India group, has a new editor: Sugata Srinivasaraju, the former associate editor, south, of Outlook* magazine. He takes over from Vasant Nadiger who was officiating as editor following the sudden death of E. Raghavan in March.

Raghavan had taken over VK from the paper’s longstanding editor Vishweshwar Bhat, who has since moved to Kannada Prabha, the Kannada daily owned by the mobile phone baron turned parliamentarian, Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

ToI bought Vijaya Karnataka in 2006 from the truck operator Vijay Sankeshwar, who launched a new title called Vijaya Vani following the end of the five-year no-compete clause with Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd. Vijaya Karnataka also faces growing competition from former market leader Praja Vani (from the Deccan Herald group).

* Disclosures apply

Also read: Ex-TOI, ET editor E. Raghavan passes away

Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

Belagere vs Bhat spat in television free-for-all

11 April 2012

The front page of 'Kannada Prabha' on Tuesday, in which a Hubli journalist claims to have broken a story long before 'Hi! Bangalore' editor Ravi Belagere, who is claiming credit for it from the makers of the film, 'Bheema Teeradalli'

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: A veritable dogfight has broken out in Bangalore between a 24×7 Kannada news channel owned by the MP, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, and the owner-editor of a weekly Kannada newspaper.

On the surface, the dispute is over credits for a recently released Kannada film.

But, deep down, the spat has served as a platform for some unabashed shadow-boxing between two leading Kannada journalists that has already seen plenty of bile being spilled on the tabloid editor’s parentage, his sexual exploits and financial dealings, not to mention his journalistic vocabulary and targets.

And everybody from film folk to co-journalists have been happily indulging in a slugfest that has also become a TRP battle between the two leading Kannada news channels.

***

When the Kannada film “Bheema Teeradalli” opened last Friday, Ravi Belagere, the editor of the popular Hi! Bangalore  tabloid popped up on the No.1 Kannada news channel TV9.

He claimed it was he who had unearthed the story of Chandappa Harijan, on whom the film had allegedly been based, but he had neither been consulted by the film makers nor acknowledged in the credits or compensated for it.

All through the TV9 show, the film’s producer, director and actor hemmed and hawwed on where they had suddenly found the inspiration for the film while Belagere, a regular face on Ramoji Rao’s ETV, tore into them.

***

The moment the two-hour TV9 show ended on Saturday, the scene of action shifted to Suvarna News 24×7, Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s news channel whose editor-in-chief is Vishweshwar Bhat and whose friendship with Ravi Belagere has seen better times.

(Belagere used to write a weekly column for Vijaya Karnataka edited by Bhat and Bhat played a guest role in a film produced by Belagere that didn’t quite see the light of day.)

Ravi Belagere (centre), in happier times with Vishweshwar Bhat, at the mahurat of the film 'Mukhya Mantri, I love you', in Bangalore in November 2007

For months, the two Bangalore journalist-friends turned foes had been at each other throats, more in private than in public. It’s been open season since the film row broke.

On one night on Suvarna News, Pratap Simha, the news editor of Kannada Prabha (a Kannada daily owned by Chandrasekhar and edited by Bhat) and who had been the attacked in a cover story in Belagere’s publication earlier, threw a series of challenges to the tabloid editor.

On another night, the publisher of a competing tabloid pulled out love letters allegedly written by Belagere. A telephone caller, who claimed he was a police inspector, called Belagere “loafer” and “420” on-air.

***

Ravi Belagere again reappeared on TV9 to explain the many photographs and videos he had shot to prove his “intellectual property rights” over the disputed film, but the film’s key men had parked themselves in the Suvarna studios.

In between, Kannada Prabha jumped in to the action.

On page one on Tuesday, it led with the account of another journalist T.K. Malagonda, who claimed he had written about Chandappa Harijan long before Belagere, and that he had provided all the information and photographs to him and that he had not been acknowledged for his effort—the very claim Belagere was making.

On Tuesday night, Suvarna News went one step further. As the two-hour show went on, a crawler ran on TV screens: “If who have been harassed by Ravi Belagere, please dial 080-40977111.”

A long and famous friendship, it seemed, had come to an end in full public view.

Does Amitabh Bachchan own the name ‘Vijay’?

30 March 2012

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: A first-generation newspaper promoter launches a newspaper with his first name as part of the title. After a few years, he sells the now well-established newspaper to a well-established newspaper group. The new owners (neither of whom share the original promoter’s surname) continue to publish the newspaper in its original name.

Now, if the original promoter buys up the title of another existing newspaper, which coincidentally also has his first name as part of its title, and decides to compete with his first newspaper in the same markets, is he banking on the saleability of his name—or indulging in trademark infringement?

Confused?

Well, that’s the sum and substance of a controversy that has broken out in Bangalore between The Times of India group of Samir Jain and Vineet Jain, and VRL Media owned by the truck operator Vijay Sankeshwar.

Thirteen years ago, Sankeshwar lauched the multi-edition Vijaya Karnataka, which soon became market leader. In 2006, he sold the daily and associated properties to The Times of India group. After the lapse of the five-year no-compete clause, Sankeshwar announced plans to launch a new daily.

He zeroed in on the title Vijaya Vani for his new project.

But The Times group is not amused. In fact, it has apparently issued a legal notice to VRL Media and the matter has landed in the courts in Bangalore. The Times group’s legal notice comes on the eve of Vijaya Vani‘s promise launch on Sunday, April 1.

Vishweshwar Bhat, the former editor of Vijaya Karnataka who now edits Kannada Prabha, points out on his blog:

“If the use of a name like “Vijay” is the cause of the strife, surely Samyukta Karnataka could have objected whenVijaya Karnataka was launched because the word Karnataka was in it? And surely, Praja Vani and Udaya Vani too could take objection to the title Vijaya Vani because the word Vani is in it?”

That’s problem no.1 in The Times argument. Problem no.2 is Vijaya Vani is a title that had been peacefully coming out for a small town called Tumkur, on the outskirts of Bangalore, till Vijaya Sankeshwar purchased it. So, if ToI had no problem with that title for six years, why does it have one now?

Problem no. 3: those who have seen dummy editions of the new (relaunched?) Vijaya Vani  say it will have a picture of the owner, Vijay Sankeshwar, alongside the masthead for a few months. Can either the courts or the registrar of newspapers deny a owner to name a paper after himself?

And who has forgotten the launch of Financial Times by The Times group 20 yers ago that has stymied the launch of the original FT for the last 20 years?

Has RSS infiltrated into IT, media in Karnataka?

22 February 2012

Tehelka magazine has a cover story on Karnataka this week. With the cover reading “Hindutva Lab 2.0“, the story asks if Karnataka is becoming the new Gujarat, the second laboratory for the BJP and the larger sangh parivar, following the right-wing Hindu attacks on Muslims and Christians.

“A greater cause for concern for Karnataka’s liberals is the attempt to inject communal polarisation even in the cosmopolitan environs of Bengaluru, India’s IT hub. A casual visit to the Satyam and Infosys complexes makes for some disturbing observations.

Umesh Hegde (name changed to protect identity) talks about the infiltration of the Hindutva groups into the IT sector: ‘Initially, we were asked to come to the shakha to rejuvenate ourselves and learn yoga. Within a month, my colleagues and me were shown a map of Akhand Bharat, and told how Bharat needs to be cleansed of Muslims. And believe me they have managed to find sympathisers.’

“In five years, the number of RSS shakhas in Karnataka has gone up by 50 per cent, helped by public funds and facilities….

“The unfortunate part in the process of communalisation of Karnataka has been the concurrence of the media. Newspapers in Karnataka have encouraged the polarisation for pecuniary benefits. For example, the Mangalore-based daily Hosa Digantha has been accorded “state newspaper” status although its circulation does not meet the required criteria. Its editor, Chudamani Aiyyar, is an RSS activist.

“While Gujarat newspapers played up the supposed threat to Narendra Modi from Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists, Karnataka too witnessed such attempts. Rashid Malbari, an underworld figure and regarded a foil to Hindutva gangsters like Ravi Pujari (also from Karnataka), was put behind bars for allegedly plotting to assassinate Modi and senior RSS men in Karnataka.

“Local dailies played up the story just like they did in 2005 when Udayavani reported that madrassas were hoisting Pakistan flags. It had to issue a retraction when the police gave a clean chit to the madrassa. Other newspapers like Vijaya Karnataka too sedulously promote the idea of Muslims and Christians as “members of other religions.”

Read the full article: Hindutva Lab 2.0

GAURI LANKESH: ‘Karnataka as the Gujarat of South’

Hopefully, nothing has been lost in translation?

9 March 2011

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: There are ways and there are ways of convincing your critics, but as a pioneering entrepreneur, N.R. Narayana Murthy clearly believes in taking the road not taken.

Lampooned by the writer Baragur Ramachandrappa for being asked to open the world Kannada conference (Vishwa Kannada Sammelana) to be held in Belgaum this weekend despite his “anti-Kannada stance”, the Infosys chief mentor has given interviews today to underline his Kannada credentials.

But surprise, surprise—or maybe not—Murthy sits down with Asha Rai of The Times of India and Asha Krishnaswamy of Deccan Herald to make his point, not with any of the many Kannada newspapers or news channels operating out of Bangalore.

As if his Kannadiga-ness is only to be reiterated to English readers.

The ToI and DH interviews have been dutifully translated into the Kannada publications of the two English giants, Vijaya Karnataka and Praja Vani, respectively, but surely Infosys’ well-oiled PR machine could have done better by getting their admirable chief to also sit with a few Kannada journalists?

Link via P. Ramesh

Images: courtesy Praja Vani, Vijaya Karnataka

Also read: Should NRN open the world Kannada conference?

Vishweshwar Bhat, new editor of Kannada Prabha

7 February 2011

Vishweshwar Bhat, the former editor of the mass-circulation Vijaya Karnataka belonging to The Times of India group, has joined the State’s fourth largest paper, Kannada Prabha, as editor-in-chief, in a move that is likely to shake up the Kannada newspaper market in more ways than one.

Bhat was introduced to the editorial staff and management team of Kannada Prabha by Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, chairman and managing director of The New Indian Express group which owns Kannada Prabha, in Bangalore this evening.

On his newly launched blog, Bhat called the shift to Kannada Prabha a “homecoming“, having served it for four years as sub-editor in the initial stages of his career and then having done another four years at the Asian Schoool of Journalism launched by the Express group.

Bhat confirmed the shift to churumuri.com.

The popular yet controversial Bhat quit Vijaya Karnataka on 8 December 2010, and the market had since been abuzz about his next port of call. Bhat himself wrote on his blog that he briefly considered launching a new newspaper but had to abandon the idea of a startup because of the constraints of printing presses.

There were also rumours that Bhat was headed towards Udayavani, the Kannada newspaper published by the Pais of Manipal, but clearly Kannada Prabha‘s reach and reputation—not to mention the deep pockets (and ambitions) of its owner in waiting, phone baron-turned-parliamentarian, Rajeev Chandrasekhar—tilted the balance.

Both Bhat and Chandrasekhar appear to be similarly politically aligned.

Bhat served as an officer on special duty to the former Union minister Ananth Kumar of the BJP, and Chandrasekhar, an independent MP elected with BJP support, has been seen with both Ananth Kumar and the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, on a “Friends of BJP” platform.

***

Bhat’s decision to join Kannada Prabha, however, shows that an official Times VPL internal circular, issued in the name of CEO Sunil Rajshekhar that said he was leaving Vijaya Karnataka to pursue “higher studies“, was merely for public consumption.

Kannada Prabha, which currently belongs to The New Indian Express group of Sonthalia, is set to come into the control of Rajeev Chandrasekhar by June this year.

Chandrasekhar had entered into a “strategic partnership alliance” with Express publications in March 2009, and picked up a minority stake. His stake in Kannada Prabha Publications (valued at Rs 250 crore) currently stands at 48%. The grapevine has it that he will obtain a majority controlling stake of 76% by June.

So far, the fight for the Kannada advertising pie has been between Vijaya Karnataka (average issue readership 34.25 lakh readers, IRS round 3) and No.2 Praja Vani (29.10 lakh readers) belonging to the Deccan Herald group. But the Bhat-Chandrasekhar combination at Kannada Prabha (11.15 lakh readers) is likely to muddy the scene.

Vijaya Karnataka is said to be mulling the launch of a Bangalore Mirror-style Kannada tabloid to be issued free with Vijaya Karnataka to blunt the Bhat effect at Kannada Prabha, and also to overcome recent circulation and readership losses to Praja Vani.

***

Bhat’s entry into Kannada Prabha is also poised create a ripple in Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s media stable.

Chandrasekhar already has a sizeable media presence in Karnataka through his Suvarna and Suvarna News channels. He had successfully wooed Kannada Prabha editor H.R. Ranganath to the Suvarna News camp at the expense of incumbent Shashidhar Bhat two years ago.

Ranganath came to Suvarna News with his band of print journalists under the belief that Rajeev Chandrasekhar would start his own newspaper. That plan first came unstuck with his purchase of a minority stake in KP.

Now, with the arrival of Vishweshwar Bhat and his own band of print journalists from VK, the former Kannada Prabha journalists in the Suvarna stable are in a dilemma about their future course of action. One of them, Ravi Hegde, is reported to have left Suvarna News and joined Udayavani as editor.

K. Shiva Subramanya, who took over from Ranganath as editor of Kannada Prabha, is reported to have indiciated his decision to leave Kannada Prabha, with the entry of Vishweshwar Bhat, even as Vijaya Karnataka looks around for a full-time Kannada editor.

Whether Bhat will also have a say in Suvarna News or not will be clear in June when both the channel and the newspaper come under a common owner, but it is more likely than not that Bhat will be projected as a face on Suvarna News, both to push Kannada Prabha as a paper and to lend the channel more journalistic gravitas.

The editorial-musical chairs in Bangalore had set the Kannada tabloids and blogs on fire over the last couple of months, with allegations, counter-allegations, innuendos and insinuations, all showing Kannada journalistic egos in very poor light.

Bhat’s resignation also resulted in an ugly war of words with his longtime friend, Ravi Belagere, editor of the popular Hi! Bangalore tabloid. Till recently fought from the shoulders of the former Vijaya Karnataka columnist Pratap Simha, the squabble has increasingly become personal, with Bhat reportedly even sending off a legal notice.

Pratap Simha welcomed Bhat’s decision on his blog thus:

“Our dear editor VISHWESHWAR BHAT has joined “KANNADA PRABHA” just now!! He is the man who gave different dimension to Kannada Journalism, he is the man who captured the imagination of us through his journalistic skills, he is the man who changed the way v all used to think, he is the man who made stars out of writers, he is the man who gave forum to nationalistic views which were unheard until his arrival. I have reason to believe that, his new innings will set new standards and new parameters in Kannada Journalism. Just WATCH OUT…”

Also read: ToI group editor in a flap over honorary doctorate

A blank editorial, a black editorial & a footnote

Is the management responsible for content too?

Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

Who won? Depends on which newspaper you buy.

5 January 2011

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***

Gauging the mood of the people from zilla panchayat and taluk panchayat elections is akin to touching different parts of an elephant with a blindfold and arriving at conclusions that suit you.

It’s all in the interpretation.

The lead headlines from the two leading Kannada newspapers show us why.

The BJP’s hold over the 30 ZPs has gone up from 4 in 2005 to 12 this year; the number of seats its members occupy in those ZPs has shot up three fold from 145 to 441.

Out of the 176 TPs, BJP has gained control over 68 of them, more than the Congress (31) and JDS (29) put together.

Yet, for Vijaya Karnataka, which is furiously pedalling backwards, it is “aralada kamala”, the lotus that didn’t bloom. And, for Praja Vani, it is “aralida kamala”, the lotus that bloomed.

So, has the lotus bloomed because its ZP tally has entered double digits, or has it not bloomed because it has not been able to obtain a stranglehold like the Congress did in 2005, winning 22 of the 27 ZPs?

So, has the lotus bloomed because it has retained its hold over the Lingayat community in the northern parts of the State, or has it not bloomed because the Vokkaliga belt in south Karnataka still remains out of its grasp?

So, has the lotus bloomed because it has managed to put up a creditable performance despite the scams and scandals, or has it not bloomed because it has done so-so in scam and scandal-tainted Shimoga and Bellary?

Link via S.R. Swamy

Is ‘Vijaya Karnataka’ ready for a Dalit editor?

9 December 2010

Vishweshwar Bhat‘s exit from Vijaya Karnataka yesterday has been treated by the paper’s owners and managers with the same contemptible gracelessness that has been the hallmark of their conduct vis-a-vis journalists in the last two decades. There is not an announcement in today’s paper nor an explanation.

It is as if the reader, who is told why Yana Gupta didn’t wear her underwear, somehow doesn’t deserve to be told why there is a change at the top of the State’s biggest newspaper, in today’s imprintline.

The boiler-plate internal Times VPL memo, designed to reassure the rest of the flock and cool their anxieties, announces the name of E. Raghavan as the new consulting editor of the paper, on top of his current responsibilities as consulting editor of the presciently named Vijaya Next.

But just what kind of new editor should a mass-circulation paper like Vijaya Karnataka get? The Udaya TV anchor Deepak Thimaya, who did a short stint as editor of Vijaya Next before being replaced by Raghavan, has posted a provocative suggestion on his Facebook page.

I think a qualified journalist with a Dalit background should be made editor of a major newspaper in Karnataka. We may get new perspectives and the issues addressed may be different too. The time is ripe.”

Thimaya doesn’t take the name of Vijaya Karnataka, of course, but the hint is clear.

Also read: Why Deepak Thimaya left Vijaya Next

Anybody here who’s Dalit and speaks English?

Times VPL circular on Vishweshwar Bhat exit

8 December 2010

Times VPL chief executive officer Sunil Rajshekhar‘s “office advice” on the sudden exit of Vijaya Karnataka editor, Vishweshwar Bhat, and announcing the in-charge editor, E.Raghavan.

Vishweshwar Bhat resigns from Vijaya Karnataka

8 December 2010

Vishweshwar Bhat, the popular yet controversial editor of Vijaya Karnataka, the mass-circulation Kannada daily owned by The Times of India group, has resigned.

Bhat’s decision was announced to his staff this afternoon after a meeting with ToI chief executive officer Ravi Dhariwal and chief marketing officer Rahul Kansal who had flown down to Bangalore.

Bhat confirmed the resignation to churumuri.com, adding that, although he had no negative feelings for the company, he had begun to feel “slightly uncomfortable” in the last few months.

“I decided to quit when things were all right,” he said.

There is no word how long his name will appear on the imprintline or who his replacement is likely to be, although there is a rumour that E. Raghavan, who retired as editor of the Economic Times editions in the south and currently edits the Kannada weekend broadsheet Vijaya Next, may fill the breach.

The charitable version for the exit is that Bhat, who took over the reins of the paper 10 years ago, wanted a three-year sabbatical to go abroad and study which the Jains, who picked up the paper from Vijay Sankeshwar of the logistics company VRL four years ago, were disclined to give.

Bhat says he intends to pursue higher education now that he has been freed of his commitments, although the buzz is he may join a soon-to-be-started Kannada news channel. The no-compete clause in Sankeshwar’s deal with Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd also ends next year opening up new possibilities on the Kannada media map.

However, the press club gossip is less than charitable. This version has it that Bhat had reached the end of the long rope that had been extended him, during which period the paper veered overtly to the right, attracting the ire of Muslims, Dalits and Christians.

In a petition earlier this year, when Bhat was nominated for an honorary doctorate, the Karnataka chapter of Transparency International dashed off a petition, accusing the editor of being “primarily responsible for instigating and fuelling communal hatred by regularly publishing extremely volatile and offensive articles and editorials.”

Recent surveys also showed that Vijaya Karnataka‘s readership and circulation were moving southwards, to the discomfiture of the bosses, necessitating the change of guard.

All things considered, to Bhat goes the credit of turning a fledgling daily into a market leader and opinion maker, overtaking the 60-year-old Praja Vani from the Deccan Herald group in next to no time with a series of innovations and reader-friendly initiatives.

The prolific Bhat churned out a weekly Sunday diary, a Saturday media column, a Thursday edit-page piece, and wrote on a range of issues each week, besides regularly publishing books, compilations and translations. There was no inkling of the coming end even in Wednesday’s paper which carries a tribute by Bhat on page 7.

Bhat’s resignation is the third reorganisation exercise undertaken by VPL president Sunil Rajshekhar after shutting down The Times of India Kannada edition and launching Vijaya Next.

Photograph: via Facebook

Also read: Bhat in a flap over honorary doctorate

Is the management responsible for content too?

A blank editorial, a black editorial & a footnote

External reading: That’s Kannada.com

CHURUMURI POLL: A doctorate for MTR boss?

25 February 2010

After a brief spell of sanity under governor T.N. Chaturvedi, the business of Universities awarding honorary doctorates has now reverted to the familiar, well-trodden cycle of rewarding sychophants, chamchas, ideological blood-brothers, drinking buddies and worse.

First, the Karnatak University in Dharwad ran afoul of the secular brigade when it decided to hand a D.Litt. to the editor of Vijaya Karnataka, Vishweshwar Bhat. After Transparency International got into the act raising serious questions, Bhat withdrew citing “personal reasons”.

Now, Tumkur University has decided that the man who runs the legendary Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR) restaurant, Sadanand Maiyya, deserves to have the “Dr” honorific attached to his name. For the record, Maiyya did not set up MTR, he inherited it. Although he played a key role in expanding MTR’s packaged food brands, he sold it to a Norwegian company in 2007.

Question: Doubtless, MTR is a fine restaurant and MTR products have earned the undying gratitude of homesick Kannadigas across the globe. But do Maiyya’s stellar achievements demand a doctorate? Is he the only homegrown entrepreneur who came to the University’s eye? Is running a restaurant of repute credentials enough? Is giving the doctorate to young, fresh faces a good idea or are we devaluing it beyond redemption?

At last, a ‘different’ film that is actually different

29 September 2009

RAJEEV A. RAO writes from Bangalore: After watching Gaalipata, I had mentioned that Yogaraj Bhat had a challenge upfront for his next venture—“to take the road not taken, to tread on uncharted territory and to significantly exceed expectations”.

22 months later, it gives me great pleasure to report that Bhat scores a neat hat-trick with Manasaare. It has all the elements from his earlier celluloid successes while at the same time being a refreshingly fresh movie —a “statement movie” in the garb of a love story.

The whole storyline has been woven to make one statement: don’t worry about this world, this world is a huchchara santhe (mad world).  Starting with that surmise, Bhat builds up his pieces to make a bold/ unconventional film that might, however, leave many viewers (and reviewers) wondering.

Comparisons may be odious, even inevitable, if a director is following up on Mungaaru Male and Gaalipata.  But Bhat makes sure that such comparisons are also redundant.

One could say that the film has an even thinner storyline compared to his earlier two films. He has let go of his favorite actors (Ganesh, Anant Nag), his favourite animals (the rabbit and the pig), and his favourite element (the rain.)  Instead, he relies on a stronger script (newcomer Pawan Kumar) and witty dialogues bordering on the ironical  as main spine of the movie.

Lilting music by Mano Murthy that grows upon you, impeccable photography by Sathya Hegde and the word wizardry of Jayant Kaikini and Bhat himself complement this unusual fare.

Faith in a fairly new cast (at least for a commercial film) has paid off.  While Digant and Aindrita Ray prove to be a candy-floss on-screen couple (with fairly creditable performance to boot by each), Raju Thaalikoti steals the show with his Dhaarawaadi dialect and dialogue delivery: gems like “temporary huchcharu oLage and permanent huchcharu Horage” (temporary mad men inside, permanent mad men outside) abound.

The technical crew has delivered a top-notch performance—the picturisation of the song “Naa naguva modalene” sums up the crew’s performance, elevating the song to a visual treat. Bhat and team drive home the point that concept and script are the pillars of their movies, with a simple but brilliantly executed climax.

The reviewers are a flummoxed lot. The New Indian Express and DNA largely hail the movie. Deccan Herald hints cruelly at “inspirations” when there are none, and The Times of India childishly labels the movie “a romance”. Vijaya Karnataka has an honestly positive review at the same time wondering how reviewers can assign “stars” to such an unusual movie.

And like the reviewers, one would expect that the movie, given its concept and execution, would garner mixed feelings from its viewers.  But, coming at a time when there is such a lack of fresh ideas and execution in Kannada filmdom, this is a movie to be watched by all and judged by each.

Bhattare, we are eagerly waiting for your next one.

Also read: Jayant Kaikini: Means are as vital as the end

Jayant Kaikini: The wrath of the sambar-lover

When the blind told the world what it was up to

6 January 2009

blind-news-reader-2

gview1

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Chandana, the Kannada television channel of Doordarshan, created history of sorts by getting three visually challenged persons to anchor news bulletins through the day on Sunday, 4 January 2009.

The heart-warming move was made to mark the bi-centenary of Louis Braille, the man who invented the script for the blind, according to a report in the Kannada daily Vijaya Karnataka.

Accordingly, the anchors Manjunath from Devanahalli, and Srinivasamurthy and Ashok from Chamarajanagar, read a part of the news from their Braille script during the six bulletings from 7 am to 9 pm, with a fullfledged anchor by their side.

The activities of Madhu Singhal of the non-governmental organisation Mithra Jyothi gave Doordarshan director Mahesh Joshi (picture in newspaper tear) the brainwave.

“No TV news channel in the world has so far done this. Visually challenged people have a very sharp brain. We wanted them to show them that the world is with them. This will give them confidence,” Joshi was quoted by the paper as saying.

Manjunath who read the news said: “Society does not take note of us. Therefore such a platform is essential. We believe endeavours like these will spur people to empathise with us better.”

Chandana now plans to make this a monthly event.

For the record, the Bangalore newspaper, Deccan Herald, employs a visually challenged person on the news desk, L. Subramani, that is a signal lesson in corporate social responsibility not aimed at burnishing the brand-name.

Hat tip: D.P. Satish

Newspaper tear: courtesy Vijaya Karnataka

Photograph: courtesy Doordarshan

‘Eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind’

4 January 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Can a newspaper (or magazine or website) publish anything in the name of a “debate”? Is such content questionable even when it does not directly spark trouble on the ground? And, in the eyes of the law, who is to be held responsible for the publication of such content?

These are old questions in journalism, but they gain added significance in the wake of police in the communally sensitive coastal city of Mangalore taking cognisance of two separate complaints against Vijaya Karnataka, a Kannada newspaper owned by The Times of India group, for two different articles published on two different dates.

Besides the overall editor of the paper, the resident editor, and the author of the piece, the police have registered a complaint against the directors of the Times of India subsidiary that publishes Vijaya Karnataka, in the second of the two cases. They have been charged with “spreading hatred” among the people and “disturbing peace in society”, both non-bailable offences under two different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Ironically, churches, convents and prayer halls in Mangalore and other parts of Karnataka had been attacked in September last year after Hindutva activists stumbled upon Christian literature (Satya Darshini) that allegedly mocked Hindu gods. This was deemed to be offensive to Hindus and the violence was sought to be justified in the name of the perceived injury to Hindu sentiment.

The boot is now on the other foot.

***

The first case is pretty straight forward and has been widely reported. On 27 December 2008, the Mangalore South police station, registered a case (FIR No 343, dated 27-12-2008) in connection with an article written by the noted Kannada author S.L. Bhyrappa in Vijaya Karnataka on 16 October 2008.

The case was registered on a complaint filed by P. B. D’Sa, president of the Dakshina Kannada unit of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

In his complaint, D’Sa alleged the article titled ‘Inthaha ghatane bere yava deshadalli nadedeethu‘ (In which other country would such an incident take place?) incited communal feelings, in the wake of the attack on churches in Karnataka in September last year.

Apparently, the article by Bhyrappa cast doubts on “the integrity of Mother Teresa and a number of other Christian saints in reference to their contribution to humanity. The complaint said the article had hurt the feelings of Christians, and pointed to a number of demonstrations and jathas taken out by Christians against it.

The local diocese had termed the article “communally provocative” when it was published.

The first complaint named Vijaya Karnataka‘s editor Vishweshwar Bhat, its Mangalore edition resident editor U.K. Kumaranath, and printer and publisher, K.R. Ramesh, besides Bhyrappa.

***

But it is the second complaint, booked by the Mangalore North police six days later, on 2 January 2009, that is drawing the attention of ToI bosses in Bombay and Delhi.

This case (FIR No. 2, dated 2-1-2009) deals with an article written by Pratap Simha, a sub-editor with the paper who writes a weekly column titled Betthale Jagaththu (naked world) every Saturday on the editorial page, and published on 20 September 2008.

The complainant in this case is James Louis, vice-president of the Bharathiya Crista Seva Sanghatane (BCSS). And here, too, the charges are identical: of endorsing the bashing of the minority community and seeking to create discord among various communities.

Predictably, the author of the article (Simha), the editor of the paper (Bhat), the resident editor (Kumaranath) and the printer (Ramesh) have been named in this complaint. But also standing “accused” are five directors of Vijayanand Printers Limited (VPL), the Times of India subsidiary that publishes the paper: Ravi Dhariwal, Chinnen Das, Anand Sankeshwar, Bhaskar Das, and Probal Ghoshal.

Those who have seen the complaint say it does not mention why the ToI directors have been named as accused. All it says is that they are all responsible for the publication of the article.

The complaint refers to objectionable parts of the article ‘Haagantha helidavanu yaava Bajarangiyu alla‘ (the person who said so is not a Bajrang Dal man) and alleges that the article is a “deliberate” attempt to instigate the sentiments of the Hindu community against the Christian community and to create hatred towards Christians.

The complaint raises objections to paragraphs 6, 11 and 12 and says it can “poison the minds of the readers and hurt the sentiments of Christians.

In particular, it objects to the question “How will Christ help the people when he couldn’t help himself?” and the statement “Who will keep silent when offensive statements are made about their religion and is attacked?

This, according to the complainant, justifies the attacks on the churches and prayer halls in Karnataka, coming as they did shortly after the Christian community was targeted in Kandhamal in Orissa.

It says paragraph 12 particularly instigates the people against the Christian community and justifies all the violence reported against minorities. Apparently the article in question contained the statement, “do not keep quiet when someone comes to your locality with the intention of conversion. Receive the books that they give and then teach them a lesson“.

The case against the author, editors, printer and directors has been registered under section 153, 153A, 153B and 295A read with section 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Section 153 of IPC reads: “Wantonly giving provocation with the intent to cause riot—if rioting be committed, if not committed.” Section 153A reads: “Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.” Section 153B reads: “Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration.”

Section 295 saying injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class has to be read with the IPC section 34 which says: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.

***

Media observers say the mere filing of FIRs against the editor, printer, publisher, author/s and directors of the company alleging a plot to disturb communal amity does not amount to much, especially when the attack on the churches preceded the date of publication.

Moreover, the police have to investigate the complaints and only later contemplate or take further action.

PUCL’s D’Sa who accompanied the second complainant to the police station has been quoted as saying that the police inspector told them he would investigate whether the article did create any “negative ripples” in society. That is easier said than done.

But it is the attempt to implicate the directors in the case that is eliciting attention. Are the directors, all of them non-journalists, responsible for the publication of the content when four of the five directors cannot speak, read, write or understand the Kannada language?

Or is this just an attempt to cause pin pricks to them because a mainstream, mass-circulation Kannada publication owned by the country’s largest print media house is seen to have become the inhouse journal of the Hindutva herd?

***

The two cases should also be viewed against the backdrop of Mangalore emerging as a vortex of communalism into which journalists have not just been sucked in but are active players and participants.

On either side of the communal divide on the west coast, leading publications have played a not inconsiderable role in whipping up the surcharged communal atmosphere with inflammatory headlines and incendiary content. The circulations are soaring, but the faultline is growing wider and wider.

Trucks carrying Karavali Ale, a Kannada newspaper published from Mangalore, were attacked last month and its copies burnt allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists for its criticism of their role in the attack on the churches in September. The Press Council of India has had to intervene after the local police refused to register the paper’s complaints.

In March 2007, the paper’s editor B.V. Seetharam was arrested on the ground that his writings promoted religious hatred. Seetharam was arrested under Sections 153A, 153 B and 295A of the IPC—all non-bailable offences.

Ironically, the Vijaya Karnataka editors, the authors, and ToI directors have been booked under the same sections of the IPC.

But the larger question is of the role of the media in creating the ground for “public debate” on a sensitive issue like “conversions”.

Is the publication of any kind of content OK in the name of a public debate? Is it really the business of the media to maintain communal and societal peace and harmony, or is it of the “State”? Is it beyond the function of a newspaper or a writer to provoke readers because somebody might find it offensive?

If Christian literature published decades ago can be suddenly ferreted out and declared offensive to Hindus, are Christians wrong in finding offence in yesterday’s newspaper? Is it wrong for Muslims to feel offence if the Danish cartoons are republished in the name of “debate”?

Who was that genius who said an eye for an eye only makes the whole world go blind?

Who will book the offender on the wrong side?

24 December 2008

elephant-in-city-2

nageshpanathaleThis news photograph of an elephant from the Chamarajendra Zoological Garden on the run on the streets of Mysore, shot by NAGESH PANATHALE of the Mysore bureau of the Kannada daily Vijaya Karnataka, has bagged the second prize in the journalism category at the national photography salon 2008 organised by the Photographic Society of Madras as part of its 150th anniversary celeberations. (Mohamed Khalid Khan of Dainik Jagran won the first prize.)

The jury comprised Benu Sen of Calcutta, H.S. Ganesh and T.N. Perumal from Bangalore, Iqbal Mohamed from Ooty, and Venkat Ram from Madras. The valedictory function of the photography was attended by India’s bestknown photographer Raghu Rai, who is also the Magnum member of world photography.

Photograph: courtesy Nagesh Panathale

5 things Karnataka can learn from Kerala tourism

14 October 2008

SHRINIDHI HANDE writes from Madras: During the past year, I have travelled a lot more than in my previous years. I visited Bidar, Hampi, Hoskote, Jog falls, Shimoga, Mysore, Talakad, Srirangapatna, Udupi and Maravante in Karnataka; and Bekal and Wynad in Kerala.

What makes Kerala tourism score big time over Karnataka tourism?

Or, where does Karnataka need to improve in order to achieve increased revenue from tourism?

# Build better roads: Excellent road connectivity is extremely critical to ensure the comfort of tourists and this is where Karnataka never seems to improve upon. When someone experiences bad roads in a State and tells/writes about them on internet forums/ blogs, the damage caused to the image of the State will be permanent. If prospective tourists read on the internet that roads to a particular place are bad, the probability of them dropping plans of visiting that place is very, very high.

There may be a few like me who might enjoy off-roading, but most tourists and visitors prefer not to travel on a road that may take them to a hospital at the end of the journey, instead of the intended destination, due to bad condition or non-existence of roads altogether.

Government after government, no one seems to understand the importance of good roads. Even if the roads are improved later, it is extremely unlikely that the user who mentioned about bad roads will notice it and update his content accordingly. So information that roads are bad remains permanently and deters prospective tourists.

Some of my experiences with respect to roads in Karnataka:

Hyderabad to Hampi, January 2007: Roads were excellent all through Andhra Pradesh. From the moment we entered Karnataka, bad roads started. Not just for a few kilometres, but the entire stretch totaling 60-70 km. We could have reached Hampi by breakfast time, but it was lunch time when we actually made it to Hampi, resulting in loss of half a day. Heavy duty trucks carrying granite and iron ore were blamed for bad condition of roads.

Status of NH 17, from Mangalore to Kundapur, Mangalore and Udupi district, March 2008: When I had visited, the national highway was in its all time worst condition.  When I visited again in September 2008, it was again in the same condition. I learnt that the road was repaired once in between but monsoon spoiled it again.

Why is that we are not able to build a road that can survive for few years? Why blame trucks and monsoon for our inability to lay stronger roads? Aren’t rest of the states affected by rain and trucks? How are they managing?

Nonexistent roads between Talakad, Somanathpura and Shimsa, Mysore, June 2008: Roads leading to above said places were literally nonexistent when we visited during June. A journey of a few kilometres took a few hours—damage to vehicle and discomfort to people is another thing.

Nagarahole Forest road that connects Manthanavady (Kerala) and KD Kote, Mysore-September 2008: While we were returning from Wynad trip, the roads were excellent in Wynad district, but the moment we crossed Karnataka border and entered Nagarahole reserve forest, the nightmare started.

Again no roads at all. Deep pot holes, big rocks, water filled ponds all welcomed us in place of what was supposed to be a road. Localities told us that this road has been in the same condition for the past 30 years.

Can you believe that? Not just one or two places, the entire stretch of 20+ km, as if it is not made for vehicles but for forest animals. We were in a SUV and somehow managed.

What about localities who have to travel on this roads every day? What do they do when they are in emergency situations, say, a medical emergency? We were one-time visitors and could take it as just a bad experience. Imagine the plight of bus drivers who have to drive on these roads every day.

Even the Shiradi ghat road that connects Bangalore and Mangalore, is believed to be in its original bad condition, though it was reformed earlier this year.

Just imagine what impression outside tourists will get when they suddenly see pathetic roads soon after they enter Karnataka (particularly after cruising through nice roads in neighboring states)? Is that a good way of welcoming tourists into the state?

Unless roads are upgraded to world class (that may be too much to expect-shall I say ‘decently motorable’?) tourism will never really take off. Those manning the government and tourism department better understand this. Only good roads in Karnataka currently is the Golden Quadrilateral and the Bangalore-Mysore expressway.

# Stop fleecing parking charges and entry fees: All over Wynad, we had to pay only Rs 10 as four-wheeler parking charges, and even entry tickets were at Rs 10 per head.

On the contrary, most of the places around Mysore-Talakad, Somanathapura, Srirangapatna and others, this amount was more than 2-3 times, at Rs 20-30 per vehicle or even more. After reaching a place with lots of trouble and pain surviving very very bad roads, someone suddenly appears in front and demands 20-30 rupees, it naturally raises a concern: why are we paying this much when there’re no facilities at all?

Also, in places like Srirangapatna and Talakad where there were multiple places within few kms of each other, money was demanded at each places. I don’t think that is fair.

# Place curbs on annoying hawkers and guides: No one bugged us anywhere in Wynad to hire their services, say guides, photographers, hawkers etc. But at many places in Karnataka (Hampi is the worst place in this aspect where entire town is determined to loot the tourists, especially international tourists, as much as possible) guides, photographers and hawkers would surround us the moment we got down from the vehicle and insist that we hire their services.

Even after telling in clear terms that we’re not interested, they would continue to tail us with their special offers/services. This irritates any tourist a lot.

Unethical practices like quoting exorbitant prices, insisting on “little extra” even after paying the previously agreed amount all create a huge negative impression, about the State and its people. On the contrary, there were people giving free assistance inside Edakkal caves in Wynad, who explained about the significance of symbols carved on the rocks.

# Get web savvy: I find Kerala tourism official website more informative, well organized and lively with regular updates and high level of user interaction by means of forums and message boards (these can be improved though), compared to Karnataka tourism website which has a traditional flash animation and some generic info.

# Get responsive: I remember reading Vishveshwara Bhat‘s editorial in Vijaya Karnataka long time ago, as to how Kerala tourism officials promptly responded to him for an article about a place in Kerala within days of its publication. That kind of sensitivity and responsiveness Karnataka Tourism is yet to develop.

By addressing some of these issues, I believe, Karnataka tourism can increase its tourism revenues manifold.

How media went overboard in Padmapriya case

20 June 2008

A. NARAYANA writes from London: Enough and more has been said about the media’s overzealousness in the Padmapriya Bhat case. Maybe for the right reasons.

More than the overreach what also stood exposed was the regressive thinking—and the immaturity of men and women in the media—in their understanding of human lives and relationships.

In some cases, it was not just the media’s drive to sell more copies or clock up more TRPs which seemed to have prompted them to put out what they did.

In question is their very motive.

Consider these:

# “He has got an MA in sociology but what has he chosen to do?” questioned a headline in the Manipal edition of Udayavani, referring to Atul Rao, the aide of Udupi MLA Raghupati Bhat, even when no one knew the facts behind his role in her death.

And Udayavani wrote as if it was an established case of ‘Kidnap’ even after home minister V.S. Acharya‘s own admission that it was a ‘half-kidnap’ case. He is yet to clarify what that ‘half’ really is. What was Udayavani‘s source or motive in pronouncing prematurely that it was a case of kidnap?

# A Kannada Prabha report summarily suggested that it was a murder. On what basis?

#Vijaya Karnataka‘s reporter questioned Padmapriya’s decision to discard “a life in which she had wealth and prestige”. Idella bekitte (was all this required?)” he asks. How did the reporter know that the woman was happy in her marriage?

# The Hindu, of all the newspapers, found it fit to publish every word that Padmapriya’s mother uttered while grieving in front of her young daughter’s body, that too with the wrong translation from Tulu. These are the words every bereaved parent in such a situation would utter. Should they be published verbatim? Et tu, Hindu?

# Deccan Herald and Praja Vani are sister publications produced in the same building but while the English paper said Atul was an engineering diploma holder who resigned from his government job and did civil contracts, the Kannada paper report said Atul did his MA, continued in his government job and did contracts in his wife’s name. (However, it is also a fact the best matter-of-fact reports were filed by the Delhi bureau of these two newspapers.)

# All Kannada newspapers in their esteemed judgment started addressing Atul in the singular from day one while the police still maintained that he was only a witness and not an accused.

There are many more things that could be said about the media coverage of Padmapriya, its ethics, its calibre and its self-righteousness. But, more importantly, there is something to be said about the role of the State.

From the statements of the police and the home minister, it becomes amply clear that they came to know from the second day, if not the first day itself, that it was a case of strained personal relationships and Padmapriya chose to go to Delhi on her on volition.

If this was the case (and there is nothing on record to suggest otherwise so far), the State had absolutely no role to play except making it clear to the public what it came to know.

Going by the facts of the case known as of today, it is also a case of the State exceeding its limits to save an MLA of the ruling party from what would have been considered in our society a loss of face for him.

(A. Narayana is a scholar at the Institute of Development Studies, UK)

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: 20 unanswered questions in l’affaire Padmapriya

Cross-posted on sans serif

Good morning. Yet another opinion poll is here.

9 May 2008

With a day left for the first leg of the electoral battle, the war of the opinion polls continues unabated, leaving unknown casualties in its wake, the full extent of which will only be revealed on May 25, by which time most editors and pollsters will be praying nobody cares or at least nobody will remember.

Today’s Vijaya Karnataka has published results from a poll conducted by Development and Research Services for the new television channel INX News, as per which of the 89 constituencies trooping to the booths tomorrow, the BJP will 40, Congress, 29, JDS 12 and others 8.

In Bangalore, the poll says BJP will bag 18 versus Congress 10.

The poll was conducted from April 28 to May 6, the sample size was 12,450. DRS has predicted an even better showing for the BJP than the BJP’s own internal survey. DRS says the BJP could end up with 130 seats overall, the BJP’s survey says it could be anywhere upwards of 119.

A poll of the first phase conducted for Kannada Prabha and Suvarna News by C-Fore, using a random sample of 3,000, had predicted exactly the opposite: 42-45 seats for the Congress, 22-24 for the BJP, and 19-21 for the JDS, 0-1 for the BSP.

In Bangalore, the C-Fore poll had predicted 17-18 for the Congress, 9-10 for the BJP, and 0-1 for the JDS.

Don’t like these findings? Take your pick: Each one, take one

‘How Karnataka is becoming Gujarat of South’

28 February 2008

GAURI LANKESH writes from Bangalore: Recently, three young men were arrested in Hubli and Honnali on charges of vehicle theft. Since all of them happened to belong to the Muslim community, within a day of their arrests, police sources leaked to the media that they suspected the trio might be involved in planning terrorist attacks all over the country.

This was enough to trigger a series of speculative stories in the State’s media. Every publication and television channel, without exception, went into a competitive frenzy, all of them clamouring for a first shot at the most ‘horrifying’ story about the ‘terrorist trio’.

Almost every reporter with imaginative talent wrote reams of articles quoting unnamed ‘reliable police sources’ or ‘police sources who did not want to be named’ and narrated how the three young men were planning to blow to smithereens most of Karnataka’s key buildings, such as the Vidhana Soudha, place bombs on (predictably) the premises of IT giants Infosys and IBM, detonate bombs in public places, destroy Hindu places of worship and so on.

What was remarkable about these reports was their contention that the three young men had links right up to Osama bin Laden and down to the local ‘sleeper cells’ of various outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The men were also suspected of conducting arms training in nearby forests, of flying the Pakistani flag, of possessing RDX, of having already distributed arms and weapons to various ‘sleeper cells’ across the state, of recruiting hundreds of youth to terrorist organisations, of possessing AK-47s, of having procured Israeli manufactured arms, etc, etc, etc.

But how much of the content of these reports, well laced with the terms ‘suspected’ and ‘alleged’, had unsubstantiated and un-sourced ‘facts’ attributed to ‘reliable sources’?

As citizens and discerning readers, can we merely accept in good faith that these reports were genuine?

How much of the information carried (leaked) in these reports was a product of the imaginative powers of local reporters? How much was fed by our increasingly inefficient police force? How much was ‘spiced’ up by senior journalists who are forever looking to increase their TRP ratings or circulation figures?

Having already said that all these reports on the ‘terrorist trio’, without exception, were sourced to ‘police officials who did not want to be named’, let us look at one such report to assess how genuine the overall media reports were.

The Mangalore edition of the Kannada daily Udayavani, which adopts a marked pro-Hindutva stance, carried a front-page report that read: “last December Riazuddin Ghouse, Mohammed Asif, Mohammad Abubakkar and Hafeez held a secret meeting where they condemned America’s treatment of people imprisoned at Cuba’s Montessori (!) jail. A copy of the resolutions taken at the meeting has been seized by investigating officers.”

Udayavani is a leading Kannada daily with several senior journalists on its rolls. What is surprising is that not one of them could tell the difference between the word Montessori, used to describe a system of education, and Guantánamo Bay, the name of the prison run by the American government in Cuba. Apparently, in the race for ‘exclusive’ reports, none of them could be bothered with such minor factual details.

Even if one were willing to overlook this rather glaring slip-up by the reporter who filed the story and the senior journalists who okayed it, giving it prime space on the front page, other important questions remain. For example, since when has condemning American atrocities at Guantánamo Bay become a crime? Does this assumption by the police mean that anyone who condemns the unjust imprisonment of people at Guantánamo Bay is a terror suspect?

Are such questions of no importance to the local media?

Apparently not, for instead of raising these valid and significant issues, they carried on blissfully with their ‘exclusive reportage’ based entirely on police sources.

One report, which appeared in The Hindu, can be summed up thus: The fact that one of the arrested youth claimed before the magistrate that his human rights had been violated by the police made the magistrate suspect that he was no ordinary youth. (Does this mean that knowledge of the Constitution, fundamental rights and human rights are not for ordinary Indian men and women?) On the basis of this assumption, the magistrate instructed the police to subject him to a thorough interrogation. And that was when the terrorist links were revealed.

Another report, this one in The Times of India, stated: A warden at the jail became suspicious of Riazuddin Ghouse and Mohammad Abubakkar’s behaviour in the prison where they were jailed on charges of vehicle theft. The duo spoke to each other in low voices, did namaaz five times a day, spoke to one another in English and did not seem to show respect for the national flag when it was hoisted in the morning.

The jail warden conveyed his suspicions to senior police officials and they subjected the duo to interrogation. That was when the youth spilled the beans about their terrorist plans. Had the warden not been such a keen observer of their behaviour the men could well have been let off by the police.

These reports raise a few fundamental questions. Since when has it become a crime to speak of human rights violations? Or speak in a low voice? Or communicate in English? Since when has offering namaaz five times a day become a suspect activity?

As if this were not enough, most or all of the media reported that “religious books and material” were found in the trio’s possession. The media also ‘arrested’ a number of students in its reports even when the police had not in fact done so! Reporters also labelled as “having terrorist links” people who were total strangers to the arrested trio. The list is endless. The end result of all this ‘hyperactivity’ in the media was that the three arrested men were depicted as the most dreaded terrorists this part of the world has seen in recent times.

This reportage took place even as a senior police officer, additional director-general of police Shankar Bidri, told a television channel:

“So far no proof has been unearthed to label these youths as terrorists. The media is indulging in blatant fabrication of news. What if their case too turns out to be another Dr Mohammed Haneef case? (Haneef, who worked in Australia, was mistakenly arrested by the Australian police after being wrongly accused of links to a failed UK terror plot.) Let us not turn into terrorists those who are innocent.”

Sadly, his words of caution fell on deaf ears as the media made merry about Muslim terrorists.

Surely the police need to interrogate the arrested youth and the courts have to pass their judgements before such serious conclusions are drawn? This is why such institutions exist, why the machinery exists in our democracy. It is their job to catch and punish the guilty. But the media seemed to have no time for such ‘niceties’ of democracy or its institutions. It chose to sidestep the process of law altogether and took it upon itself to ‘investigate’ the so-called crime and then pronounced ‘judgement’.

***

With the media in the grip of this ‘terrorist’ mania, can the saffron brigade be far behind? This time their chosen targets were noted litterateur U.R. Anantha Murthy, and the chairman of the State Backward Classes Commission, C.S. Dwarakanath.

When Anantha Murthy wrote his path-breaking novel, Samskara, more than 40 years ago, there were some who considered it ‘anti-Brahmin’ and sought a ban on it. But since most intellectuals dismissed the allegations, no action was taken against it at the time. In the years since, the novel has not only been made into an award winning Kannada film (the first Kannada film, in fact, to win a national award) but has also been translated into several languages across the globe.

Samskara was also listed as a prescribed textbook at many universities in India and abroad. This includes the Mangalore University, which chose the novel’s Hindi version as part of its syllabus for second year degree students and where Samskara is currently being taught in its colleges.

It must be mentioned here that last year the sangh parivar actively promoted a novel called Aavarana, written by Kannada novelist S.L. Bhyrappa. There have been claims that nearly 20,000 copies of the book were sold, a record breaking figure in the history of Kannada publishing for a work of fiction. (The claims, however, have not been verified.)

For long an ardent supporter of the sangh parivar’s Hindutva agenda, in Aavarana, Bhyrappa conveniently interweaves half-truths with blatant falsehoods and presents this as a work of fiction. Given his claims that the book was based on evidence proved by historical researchers (all of whom belong to the sangh parivar caucus), upon reading the book the lay reader could quite easily form a biased opinion of the Muslim community.

The book portrays the Muslim community as bigoted and out to out-populate the Hindus. It appears to hold the Muslim community responsible for all the sins that Muslim rulers may have perpetrated on Hindus in times past and identifies them as the cause of all the problems the country faces today. In the process, the book aims to whip up Hindu sentiments against the Muslim populace in the country.

Apart from the Muslim community in general and Muslim clerics, writers, filmmakers, etc in particular, the book also targets leftists, secularists and historians who do not agree with the saffron brigade’s version of events past; they are dubbed anti-Hindu. When the book was released, supporters of the sangh parivar hailed it as a great work of fiction while progressive forces denounced it as sheer pamphleteering on behalf of Hindutva forces under the guise of literature.

As this debate raged, Anantha Murthy publicly derided Bhyrappa, calling him a “college-level debater” which, in fact, is exactly what he is. This roused the ire of the rightist forces so much that the leading Kannada daily, Vijaya Karnataka, actually launched an SMS campaign against Anantha Murthy. Vijaya Karnataka (now owned by Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd of The Times of India group) is another sangh parivar mouthpiece that calls itself a newspaper. It came as no great surprise therefore when the paper carried two pages filled with anti-Anantha Murthy opinions sent in by its saffron brigade readers.

Protesting this vociferous attack on Anantha Murthy, some of us got together and published a selection of essays critiquing Aavarana, a selection that was fairly well received.

The reason why Aavarana has been dealt with in such detail here is its growing presence on the Hindutva map. So far 15 novels by Bhyrappa have already been translated from the Kannada into other Indian languages and today work is afoot to bring out Aavarana in Hindi and other languages. Considering the amount of unadulterated venom it spews at a segment of our population, it is necessary that intellectuals and progressives in other states counter the half-truths and blatant lies contained in the book to prevent further damage to the fabric of our society.

Since Anantha Murthy is opposed to the Hindutva agenda and has spoken out against it vociferously in the recent past, and since he attacked the sangh parivar’s favourite writer, Bhyrappa, the parivar were looking for a way to get back at him. To do this they chose to falsely claim that some portions of Anantha Murthy’s most famous novel, Samskara, were ‘vulgar‘. Aware that it would be difficult, in the current context, to label the work ‘anti-Brahmin’, they made the specious claim that the ‘vulgar’ portions in the book made it difficult for teachers to teach it to ‘children’!

The sangh parivar even managed to get some lecturers who were sympathetic to its agenda to sign a memorandum claiming as much and submitted this to the University authorities with a plea that the book be withdrawn as a textbook.

The saffron brigade’s attempt to target Anantha Murthy using Samskara as a pretext came under scathing attack from intellectuals and progressives in the State. For the moment, any move to withdraw the novel from University syllabi has been put in abeyance. But in reality the sangh parivar has merely set the wheels in motion. For, in coming years, universities will no doubt be wary of recommending the works of any progressive writer as a prescribed textbook. And from that point onwards a conscious attempt will be made to avoid introducing any writer who is critical of the sangh parivar to the next generation of students.

***

Meanwhile, as one section of the sangh parivar was busy trying to tarnish Anantha Murthy’s image, another found it necessary to attack C.S. Dwarakanath, chairman of the State Backward Classes Commission.

Earlier this month Dwarakanath and other members of the commission visited Coorg in order to inspect existing facilities for the backward classes there. Some commission members visited the ‘religious site’ of Talacauvery—the source of the Cauvery river. According to reports, the priest at Talacauvery asked them to bring Dwarakanath along so he could also receive the ‘holy water’.

In response, one of them told the priest, “He (Dwarakanath) is an atheist who does not believe in such things. He thinks the entire Cauvery river is holy.”

While Dwarakanath himself was blissfully unaware of the incident, word soon spread to local sangh parivar activists. The next morning, when Dwarakanath was alone with just two police constables on guard duty, more than a hundred ‘saffronites’, high on local hooch, laid siege to his room. Led by a former BJP MLA from the area, the drunken crowd surrounded Dwarakanath and demanded why he was “insulting the Cauvery river, insulting Hindu sentiments, and being anti-Karnataka”.

Notwithstanding several attempts to reason with them when Dwarakanath tried repeatedly to explain that he considered all of nature holy, the mob remained unconvinced. Apart from pushing and shoving him around, they forced him to drink the ‘Cauvery water’ they had brought with them in an empty Coca-Cola (!) bottle and forcibly applied tilak on his forehead.

Ever conscious of the big picture, the sangh activists took a cameraman and a reporter from a local TV channel along on their drunken crusade.

Having forced a defenceless Dwarakanath to meekly receive the ‘holy water’ and suffer their tilak application, the saffronites made sure that the entire incident was then telecast across the State. As if that were not enough, they also issued a press note to all publications, falsely claiming that “Dwarakanath had apologised to them for having insulted Hindu sentiments and the Cauvery”.

***

These three instances only emphasise the obvious. It is abundantly clear that much of the media in Karnataka today has been saffronised, that Karnataka’s Universities are now being made to bow to the sangh parivar’s unreasonable demands and that the Hindutva brigade, despite its claims that all Hindus are one, will brazenly attack even the head of the Backward Classes Commission in the name of Hindu sentiments.

These developments could perhaps be expected, thought ‘natural’, in a State ruled by the BJP. But as of now Karnataka is under President’s rule. Yet, it is the saffron brigade’s aggressive agenda that dominates the political and public discourse. This pointed shift in Karnataka’s polity is the legacy of a BJP-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition that was in power for all of 20 months.

During this short span of time, a systemic infiltration of the system inflicted grievous damage. Today Hindu progressives are labelled ‘Naxalites’ even as Muslim progressives are targeted as ‘Islamic terrorists’. The same holds true for many pro-people, pro-secularism organisations as well.

It is no wonder then that the police gleefully entertain complaints by saffronites falsely alleging that secularists like Prof Nagari Babaiah of the People’s Democratic Forum ‘insult Hindu gods’ in their public speeches, that Kalkuli Vittal Hegde, leader of the Adivasis living in the Kudremukh forests, has insulted Dalits, that Hegde’s wife is indulging in prostitution, that volunteers working for the rights of the Adivasi people are abetting Naxalites in the area and so on.

Not long ago, the local administration and police rounded up local Muslims, at random, on the basis of specious complaints filed by sangh parivar activists. The same police force turns a blind eye when sangh parivar activists assault Muslims on charges of transporting cattle to slaughterhouses. The same police force coolly releases RSS activists accused of setting a bus on fire and causing the death of two people over the Ram Sethu issue without even a thorough investigation. The list goes on.

Thanks to the police and the administration’s active encouragement of such violent and unlawful behaviour, activists of the sangh parivar enjoy complete immunity and it is they who systematically file innumerable complaints against Muslims and progressive Hindus.

Recently, Pramod Mutalik, leader of the Sri Rama Sena, had the gumption to say, “We have given a list of suspect Muslims to the police at Hubli. It is unfortunate that they have arrested only one person. If the police do not immediately arrest the rest of the people on our list, we will take up widespread protests.”

The sangh parivar has always considered Karnataka its gateway to the south. The last time they were in power, the gates were only partially opened to them but a foothold was all they needed. It was more than enough for them to sow their seeds of hatred. Those seeds have sprouted now and with the elections only a few months away, the BJP will no doubt be reaping a rich harvest.

With the Janata Dal(S) having committed political hara-kiri by supporting the BJP, and the Congress party’s perennial indecision on if and how to counter the sangh parivar, Karnataka, it seems, is unfortunately and irreversibly hurtling towards its new position as the Gujarat of the South.


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