Archive for May, 2009

How come no one saw or heard the worm turn?

29 May 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Hindsight, as the moronic aphorism goes, is always 20/20.

And we have been seeing plenty of hindsight dressed as foresight over the last fortnight following the announcement of the results of the general elections, which bucked the “anti-incumbency” cliche and put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance back in power.

# Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta has said the politics of aspiration trumped the politics of grievance. CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai writes that it is a vote for decency in public life. Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta sees it as a vote against hate and abuse.

# Journalists aligned to the BJP like Swapan Dasgupta have said the BJP failed to keep pace with the realities of a new India. The BJP spokesman Sudheendra Kulkarni has said stability won over change. Atanu Dey says the Congress managed the media better.

# Many analysts have seen in the surprise Congress win, a vote for youth. Political psychologist Ashis Nandy detects a vote against arrogance. The economist Bibek Debroy among others has attributed the Congress win to its social welfare programmes. Pratap Bhanu Mehta has said the era of votebank politics is over.

And so on and on.

And on and on.

The grim truth is that all this is post-facto rationalisation by media sages, policy wonks and psephologists, ever so wise, as so many of us usually are, after the event.

Like the blind men who felt the elephant, they touch different parts of the gargantuan electoral animal now that it has come to rest, and they feel different things.

The reality is nobody in our media—television, newspapers, magazines—and nobody at the top, bottom or middle, knew what was going on. And what we were being peddled for days and weeks was drivel as wisdom.


And how does this happen election after election?

In 2004, the media had “called the election” in favour of the BJP-led alliance and was acting as if “We, the People” should only go to the polling booths and fulfil their prophecy.

Well, “We, the People” decided to spring a surprise and put the Congress-led alliance in office.

In 2009, most media vehicles somewhat got the winning alliance right, but chastened perhaps by the 2004 experience, weren’t willing to stick their neck out beyond giving a wafer-thin margin for the UPA over the NDA.

In reality, the huge gap of over 100 seats between the victor and the vanquished; the surprise showing of the Congress in States like Uttar Pradesh where it had been written off; the number of first-time MPs belowed the age of 40 (58); the number of women elected (59), etc, shows that there is something truly, incredibly, unbelievably wrong in our mass media’s connect with the masses.

Of course, the term “media” is a loose, general one because there is no one, single media oeprating uniformly, homogenously in every part of the land. There are various shades to it, in various languages, in various forms, in various States and regions, etc. And then some more.

Still, how could almost all of them get so much so palpably wrong?

Did the tide turn in the favour of the Congress inside the secrecy of the voting booths preventing our esteemed men and women in the media from knowing what was happening?

Or was it building up slowly but we were too busy or distracted to notice?

If it was the latter, why?

Is there a disconnect between mass media and the masses? Is the undercurrent of democracy too difficult to be spotted? Or are our media houses and personnel not equipped with the equipment and wherewithal to detect these trends?

Given the poor presence and even poorer coverage of the mainstream media in the rural countryside, it is understandable that we were unable to get the rural countryside wrong.

Why, even the one English paper with a “rural affairs editor” was backing the wrong horse which, it turns out, wasn’t even in the race at all, all the while.

Little wonder, the electoral magic being ascribed to the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme and the farm loan waiver—moves which were dismissed as wasteful expenditure by the neoliberals in the “free market” media—went largely unnoticed.

But what about the urban pockets?

The powerhouses of our media pride themselves on being fiercely urban and urbane; serving the aspirations of the middle-class and the wannabes. Yet, the fact that so few of them could detect the ground shifting from underneath the urban, middle-class BJP’s feet shines an unkindly light.

The Congress and its allies (DMK, Trinamool, NCP) won all the metros—Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras—except Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Why, for example, was it difficult to detect the anger of the urban middle-classes against the BJP’s abuse of prime minister Manmohan Singh before counting day?

Or their thirst for fresh, young faces before they were elected and sworn in?

Certainly, the function of the media is not to serve as a soothsayer. It is not expected to tell us what will happen in the future. Nevertheless, it is expected to have a finger on the pulse. Two successive electoral failures suggest that we are consistently holding the wrong vein and coming to the wrong prognosis.

Indeed, on current record, we seem to be living in an echo chamber, hearing our own voices, and relaying it to the world as gospel truth. Or selling our space and airtime without batting an eyelid.

As a piece on the Satyam scandal on sans serif asked:

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

Caveat emptor!

Also read: How come media not spot Satyam fraud?

Media owners, journalists holding democracy ransom

Everybody loves a good shot for the screensaver

28 May 2009

KPN photo

A young leopard vainly strikes a pose for the camera at the Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens in Mysore on Thursday, little knowing that there is another trying to capture it from behind.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

More ways than one to read the Bhagavad Gita

28 May 2009

From the obituary of slain LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in The Economist, London:

“He was a shy, coddled child, the son of a land officer. His parents, both pious Hindus, were followers of Mahatma Gandhi and his doctrine of ahimsa, or non-violence. But the books young Prabhakaran read, out on the veranda under the banana tree, were biographies of Alexander the Great and Napoleon. He treasured the Bhagavad Gita not for its spiritual riches but for the passage where Krishna told Arjuna that it was his duty to fight and kill even his relations. His great hero, “a beacon to me”, was not Gandhi but Subhas Chandra Bose, who had tried to drive the British out of India with armed force.”

Link courtesy Nagarathna Sitaram

Read the full obit: Velupillai Prabhakaran

Also read: Bhagavad Gita as the national spiritual doctrine?

CHURUMURI POLL: Are you a ‘Practising Hindu’?

Horses at left, hearses at right, asses at centre

27 May 2009

KPN photo

The Race Course road in Bangalore is being widened. This is an aerial view of the junction of Bangalore Turf Club and Seshadri Road on Wednesday, with the dome of the Vidhana Soudha bang in the middle at the horizon between the flood lights of the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA).

Photograph: Sudhakar Jain/ Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Hopefully, he won’t step down to give a step cut

Mathew 5:5, Mathew 10:7, Manmohan 2009

27 May 2009

In an open letter that is a work of high art “to the unlikely woman whose tenacity in staying the course changed the contours of Indian politics,” Tehelka editor Tarun J. Tejpal writes:

“Your toil has been worthy. Your ragged army of 1996 is a renewed one in 2009. In the process you have so cleverly — and beautifully — played out two key precepts of your extra god. Thou shalt not covet, the last of the ten commandments, so artfully spun as an act of renunciation that it sucked out the wind from the sails of your opponents. And Mathew 5:5, which is also Manmohan Singh 2004: blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. And both have been cleansing of the public in unanticipated ways.

“Yet let me assert it without any ambiguity. Manmohan 2009 needs you as much as Manmohan 2004. He may be the scythe that clears the weeds, but you are still the arm that wields the scythe. To slice cleanly, the arm and scythe must swing in tandem.

“Since I am convinced that your work is far from over, and since I am on Mathew, let me remind you of the exhortation in 10:7. “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” As one must always do with divine scripture, I could spell out the contemporary burden of every phrase. But that would be fatuous. More than those of us who write of these things, you know best what it is in this calamitous nation to heal the sick and to cast out devils.”

Read the full letter: Mrs Gandhi and Her Extra God

Why 2009 elections was like Mahabharata redux

27 May 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Now that the election results are out and the dust has somewhat settled, analysts and psephologists who had got it all wrong with their analyses and predictions are standing upside down and scratching their heads to read the real meaning.

It isn’t different in our home either.

After Ajji does her daily puje to the Tulasi katte, it is her usual practice to sit quietly in the open yard while I read the morning newspapers. This is the moment when she usually chews on what she has seen on Udaya TV and read in Praja Vani the night before.

Ramu, this election just resembles Mahabharata in every respect,” she started.

I was surprised and taken aback by the comparison.

Ajji, I don’t know how you can compare this to Mahabharata… Although there was lot of shrill verbiage, they didn’t come down to fisticuffs. Even Naveen Chawla and N. Gopalaswami shook hands at the transfer of power in Election Commission. There was no mara-mari.”

Illa kano Ramu… I think this was a war between Pandavas and Kauravas. Pandavas had only five people and their mother Kunthi. Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, Rahul Gandhi, Kapil Sibal and Kamal Nath shepherded by Sonia were all what they had. Krishna came on the scene, as always, at the right time.”

Has Ajji lost it, I wondered?

Has she entered the first lanes of Alzheimer‘s?

“Ha, ha! And who were on the side of the Kauravas?” I asked nonethelesss.

“There were hundreds of them I can’t remember them all. There was Advani like Bhishma, Murli Manohar Joshi as Kripacharya and Jaswant Singh as Drona. Jaitely, the upright Karna, was emotional as always. But their DuryodhanaVarun Gandhi—made a series of blunders. Azam Khan was their Dhusyasana making obscene remarks at Draupadi, Jaya Prada. Behenji Mayawati was their lone sister, Dhusyale. Kauravas paid the ultimate price for their ahankara, over-confidence and lack of unity.”

Ajji had mastered all the names in just two months as Lalit Modi probably had in South Africa for IPL-2.

Ajji, you have got Mahabharatha all mixed up, but ninna story sakatthagide. What will happen in the future?”

“Pandavas will not exactly roll around on a bed of roses. For one thing, they should not have made peace with Dhrutharashtra. His sons and daughters will always be greedy putting their family’s interest before that of the country’s.  No doubt, Krishna will protect Dharmaraya from external forces.  Arjuna and Kunthi, along with BhimaChidambaram, will protect Bharathavarsha from all internal strife. Still, there will be pinpricks from Dhrutharashtra every now and then.”

Ajji! I think you are making up your own Mahabharatha now! But it is beginning to make some sense. Any predictions?”

“After some time Arjuna will take over from Yudhistira who will take to vanavasa. He will also groom AbhimanyuSachin Pilot—his trusted lieutenant, to take up some responsible position.”

“What will happen to Krishna?”

Ayyo, Krishna will ensure there is no trouble to Manamohana Rajya from our neighbours. But ultimately due to Yadavi kalaha in his home-State he will be ousted. His own people will prove to be his nemesis.”

“What will happen to Dhruthrashtra?”

“When Arjuna takes over, he will have a bigger headache as Dhrutharashtra’s great-great-grand childern, children of each of the present ministers and their wives (and husbands), will demand their pound of flesh, i.e. cabinet posts which will number more than 20. Kauravas would have also strengthened their positions through treaties with lesser known chieftains and ruffians. Without Krishna, external forces would also be emboldened to have a go at Pandavas. India will thus face threats both internal and external.”

Ajji was narrating the story like Alfred Hitchcock; rather like Nostradamus. The suspense was killing me.

“What will happen after that, Ajji? Tell me.”

“I don’t know. Thank god! I won’t be there to witness all that,” concluded Ajji.

Happiness is a Volvo loaded with smiles (bar one)

26 May 2009

KPN photo

“What does happiness mean to you?” is an itsy-bitsy question routinely flung at celebrities in page 3 interviews. All manner of gems tumble out in response. But for volunteers of the Ashvasan Foundation in Bangalore, a simple ride on an air-conditioned bus on Tuesday was bliss indeed.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

How much do readers distrust media? Not much.

26 May 2009

The 2009 general elections were marred by widespread accusations and whispers of media hanky-panky.

The Wall Street Journal‘s India bureau chief Paul Beckett accused reporters, editors and newspaper owners of holding the Indian democratic process to ransom. Women journalists in Andhra Pradesh wrote to the Election Commission drawing attention to Telugu dailies selling news space to political advertisers.

How much of all this buying and selling affect reader trust in media vehicles? Not much.

The National Election Survey 2009 compiled by the Lokniti team of the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) for The Hindu asked precisely the question:

Question: “Do people trust the news they read in newspapers?”

Answer: “Forty-five per cent of respondents said that they greatly trusted what they read in newspapers. A similar number said that they somewhat trusted newspaper reports. Around 10 per cent had little faith in what was reported in the papers.” (emphasis added)

Also read: In prosperous Gujarat, everybody can buy media

Sucheta Dalal on selling news and buying silence

Salil Tripathi: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

Tarun J. Tejpal: Media is now part of conspiracy of silence

11 Muslim ministers in Manmohan Singh team?

26 May 2009

Muslims for Ministers

The number of Muslim MPs has come down from 36 in 2004 to 29 in 2009 (including three women) although the general belief is that Muslim voters played a key role in determining the outcome of the elections. But only one Muslim (Ghulam Nabi Azad) has been sworn into the Manmohan Singh cabinet.

On the eve of the expansion of the Union council of ministers, this advertisement appears in The Indian Express, New Delhi.

As Tom said, price of freedom is eternal vigilance

25 May 2009

The saga surrounding the inclusion of various members of the Karunanidhi family in the Manmohan Singh council of ministers continues. As per current indications, MK’s eldest son M.K. Azhagiri and grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran are to be given cabinet berths.

And, as per current indications, his daughter Kanimozhi has opted to sit out.

Presumably, the poet-cum-sub-editor is miffed at the precedence to Maran but she is not saying it. But the curious thing is the lady’s Rajya Sabha webpage. It doesn’t throw too much light on her educational qualifications, profession, positions held, books published, countries visited, and sundry other activities.

But on one key question, it is dead sure: Yes, the 1968-born Kanimozhi is a “freedom fighter”.

Also read: How many poems can fetch a poet Rs 8.5 crore?

‘The date of India’s debut as a great power’

25 May 2009

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek:

“One can date precisely China’s debut as a great power. It was the evening of 8 August 2008—the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. We might look back a few years from now and date India’s coming-out party to 18 May 2009, the day its most recent election results were announced….

“Over the past two decades, India has been consumed by its internal divisions: of caste, ethnicity and religion. This has made it difficult for the government in New Delhi to mobilize national power to any purposeful end in global affairs. A decentralized and divided polity has punched well below its weight internationally. That’s bad for India and bad for the world. This could all change now. For the first time in three decades, a single party—the Indian National Congress— was given a clear and broad mandate.”

Read the full article: India’s giant coming-out party

Plus la Cong change, plus c’est la meme chose *

25 May 2009

Among the many cute arguments that have been advanced for the surprise Congress win in the 2009 elections is the “young face” it presented to a nation 56% of which is below 25 years of age.

The fresh, eager, bubbling, innocent, positive faces, it has been argued, were in contrast to the old, tired, negative, cynical fossils like you-know-who that were strutting around on TV.

And, as is the current mantra, all credit for that is being laid at the door of the uncrowned king, Rahul Gandhi.

His vision and sagacity, and his desire to plough a lonely furrow despite being born with a silver spoon held by the SPG, it is being said, have singularly transformed the fortunes of the party which was staring at the bottom of the electoral barrel by making it more palatable to the young.


Are the “new faces” new faces? Or are they just old wine in younger bottles?

Are we seeing an end to Congress sycophancy? Or just a generational shift in Congress sycophancy?

The right-wing newspaper The Pioneer, whose editor Chandan Mitra is a Rajya Sabha member nominated by the BJP, says “most of the three dozen-odd young Congress MPs have a family background in politics which has helped them catapult to the national stage without much effort.”

Only two of the young MPs who have been elected for the firsrt time do not have any political legacy to fall back on: Meenakshi Natarajan from Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, and Ashok Tanwar, from Sirsa in Haryana.

As for the rest…

Mohammed Hamdulla Sayeed: son of P.M. Sayeed

Sandeep Dikshit: son of Shiela Dikshit

Jagan Mohan Reddy: son of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy

Deepinder Hooda: son of B.S. Hooda

Nilesh Rane: son of Narayan Rane

Jyoti Mirdha: grand-daughter of Ram Nivas Mirdha

Mausam Noor: grand daughter of Ghani Khan Chaudhary

Pratik Patil: grandson of Vasantdada Patil

Shruti Chaudhary: grand-daughter of Bansi Lal, daughter of Kiran Chaudhary

Raveent Singh: grandson of Beant Singh

Vijay Inder Singla: son of Surinder Singla

Jyotiraditya Scindia: son of Madhav Rao Scindia

Sachin Pilot: son of Rajesh Pilot

Jitin Prasada: son of Jitendra Prasada

Milind Deora: son of Murli Deora

Priya Dutt: daughter of Sunil Dutt

To that list of the victors, you could also add one of the vanquished: Krishna Byre Gowda, son of C. Byre Gowda.


* or plus ça change, plus c’est pareil, meaning the more things change, the more they stay the same

CHURUMURI POLL: Will BJP ever come to power?

25 May 2009

To all but those who have not been following events over the last week, it is clear the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in trouble.

The “Hindu Nationalist Party”‘s claim to power has been patently rejected by a proudly pluralistic electorate. For a party which has boasted of its rise from two seats in Parliament to 182, it has been downhill since its 1999 tally, its seatshare falling by 44 to 138 in 2004, and by a further 22 to 116 this time round. Its national voteshare has dipped from 22.2% to 18.8% in every single State of the Union except Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka where it showed a small increase.

On the one hand, L.K. Advani ‘s cheap, negative and personalised campaign seems destined to carry him into Google cache as the perennial prime minister-in-waiting. On the other hand, the prime minister-in-midstream, Narendra Damodardas Modi, is facing three identifiable impediments. His own State is no longer so secure, the BJP’s voteshare diminishing slightly from 47.37% to 46.52%. His national appeal on the basis of the “development agenda” has been exposed as hype; of the 300-plus rallies he addressed, BJP won but 37 seats (against 75 for  Rahul Gandhi‘s 102 meetings). And slowly but surely voices opposed to Modi’s execrable brand of hate politics are being heard from within his own party, many of whom who have an eye on the chair Modi is eyeing.

Worse, the BJP seems to have painted itself into a corner as a party whose only USP is verbal and physical violence (Kandhamal, Mangalore, Varun Gandhi), and whose vision is inextricably linked with a long ago past (think Ram Janmabhoomi, Ram Sethu) when a younger, impatient, forward-looking country wants a break from divisiveness and backwardness of all kind. The so-called “party of banias” has lost all metros (except Bangalore) and the self-proclaimed “party with a difference” has for years and months offered no viable alternative to the Congress; just a supercilious, resentment-filled justification of everything because “Congress did this, Congressman did that”.

Stranger things have happened in politics, of course, but is it all over for BJP’s brand of politics? Will it ever come back to power?

Also read: 20 questions (and 10 supplementaries) for May 16

Will L.K. Advani ever be prime minister?

L.K. ADVANI: ‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

‘Advani offers nothing creative, only resentment’

CHURUMURI POLL: Was there really a Ram Sethu?

If only Mr Robin Utthappa had played as straight

25 May 2009

KPN photo

On the day the Royal Challengers of Bangalore were meeting their would-be nemesis and Robin Utthappa was trying to play it cutely over fine leg, chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa was taking guard and playing it in the ‘V’ against his grand-daughter at his residence in Bangalore.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also see : The B.S. Yediyurappa photo portfolio

Is it an idol? Is it a statue? Is it a mannequin?

One leg in the chair, two eyes on the chair

Yedi, steady, go: all the gods must be crazy

Kissa Karnataka chief minister’s kursi ka: Part IV

Promises to keep, and miles to go, before I sleep

One more example of commodification of women

23 May 2009

KPN photo

Real reasons we are using this picture: Because it is a Saturday. Because we like movies. Because we like good-looking women. Because her name is Ramya. Because, well, she is good looking. And because a good Kannadiga has just been allotted the external affairs ministry portfolio.

Intellectual reasons for using this picture: Because an actress pressing flesh with underprivileged kids to the pop of the flashbulbs should not go unnoticed even if it is, well, a stage-managed photo-op. And because “brands” should not lose faith in the perceived ability of brand ambassadors to attract eyeballs.

Photograph: Underprivileged children from the NGO Vistar get a feel of the insides of a Kingfisher Airlines plane at the first anniversary celebrations of Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) on Saturday. (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Another example of commodification of women—Part I

The sexiest South Indian South Asian women

With so many polls, somebody had to get it right

23 May 2009


Duck’s eggs, it is said, are tastier than hen’s eggs. But more people eat hen’s eggs because, well, the hen lays its eggs and advertises its feat, while the duck keeps quiet about it.

That’s the bon mot of a very successful newspaper editor.

As if to underline the point, Live India, the TV station more famous for a sting which stung it, claims it predicted the results of the general elections on air more accurately than its better known competitors like NDTV, Aaj Tak, CNN-IBN, India TV has taken out an advertisement to crow about the taste of its egg.

Also read: It’s their opinion that they have done an opinion poll

Will DMK join UPA team? Will Sun rise tomorrow?

23 May 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: My friend, the Ace Political Expert (APE) who reads political moves like the back of his hand even in his dreams, tried to avoid me when I spotted him at a distance on the lawns of our club.

After I managed to buttonhole him, he agreed to have a drink with me after much coaxing. He ordered for fresh lime and soda instead of his usual whisky-soda combine. The electoral verdict seemed to have sobered him.

“What happened to all your predictions? You were predicting a hung Parliament!” I asked.

“I have never had it so bad in my entire career. The only consolation is I am in the august company of pundits who predicted 1 to 2 % swings, similar to the bowling of Albie Morkel and Praveen Kumar in IPL2 , but were also way off the mark. Nobody takes them seriously anymore.”

“Tell me, did anybody in their wildest dreams expect this kind of result?”

“Nobody. Who could have guessed that the Congress would beat the BJP, beard Lalu and Behenji in their owns dens, rout Chandrababu Naidu and TRS, outwit Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena, erase the Left from the political map of India and cut their own allies to size? It couldn’t have happened so well even if they had planned it out. It all happened at the press of a button and electronic counting.”

“Was it in the Congress grahas (stars)?” I queried.

“Again, no is the answer. Most of the astrologers, who did homas by the dozens in the last two weeks, have lost their deposit too—meaning trust—with their clients. Both political pundits and astrologers have become pariahs after the verdict. It will take a long time before anybody takes us seriously.”

“What is happening right now?”

“Television channels that have done this before are redoubling their efforts. Everyday new terms are being coined such as ‘Rahul Effect’; ‘Rahul Factor’. Soon, other terms such as ‘Rahul Theorem’, ‘Rahul Lemma’, ‘Rahul Express’ will start appearing.  It is not new to them.”

“Do you think Karunanadhi’s DMK will ultimately join the cabinet?”

“Now that his bosom buddy Velupillai Prabhakaran is dead, Karuna is fighting solo for the cause of “Tamils’ rights”. He has taken it up at the highest level, no less than the Prime Minister of India himself. As always, no fight of Karunanidhi is complete without a quick “breakfast–fast-lunch” and a Tamil Nadu bandh. The Tamil problem will be solved as soon as Congress agrees to give plum posts to his children; and some sundry posts to his grand-nephews etc!”

“One final question. You had visited Washington with our Prime Minister  as a part of the press corps. When will US understand India’s point of view on anything?”

“They will never understand. From the time of Eisenhower till now they have always brushed aside India and its concerns. Our external affairs ministers and ambassadors generally have a nice time there. No one has succeeded in making US understand India’s point of view. There is only one way to do that.”

“What is that?” I asked.

“Make Pakistan present our problems and concerns. They will accept it and reward Pakistan handsomely for bringing it to their notice!” replied the APE as he finished second glass of fresh lime and soda.

Everybody loves the coolness of a few rain drops

22 May 2009

KPN photo

Will even the most up-to-date version of PhotoShop® be able to recreate the colours offered by these frogs, out to enjoy the first monsoon rains in Karwar on Friday?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Does God’s Own Party believe in reincarnation?

22 May 2009


E.P. Unny in The Indian Express

How Siddhartha built the CCD dream cup by cup

22 May 2009

The Bangalore brand that evokes the most immediate recall and recognition around the world may be Infosys, but the Bangalore brand that touches more lives inside the country has to be Cafe Coffee Day.


But, while everybody knows the story of N.R. Narayana Murthy & Co, CCD has had no such luck. Its founder V.G. Siddhartha (in picture) has been a bit of a recluse, letting his stores do all the talking.

The man who has had to work extra-hard to play down the benefits of his proximity to his famous father-in-law, former chief minister S.M. Krishna, has opened up to Subroto Bagchi, the co-founder of Mindtree (of which Siddhartha is now a director), in the launch issue of Forbes magazine’s India edition.

Siddhartha says he could have easily lived off the 350 acres of coffee estate his family owned in Chikamagalur, but he wanted to start something on his own, to make money on his own. His father gave him Rs 5 lakh to “invest”, and to come back if he failed.

Siddhartha was 21 when he went to Bombay:

“I bought a piece of land for about three lakh and kept the rest in a bank. Then, I took a bus to Belgaum and then another to Bombay. I got off near the Fort. I had never stepped into the city before. I walked into a dabba hotel that rented rooms with a shared toilet for Rs 120 a day.

“Next day, I went to meet Mahendra Kampani of JM Financials—I had only heard the name. I had no appointment. I went to his office and the first thing was that I felt intimidated by the two elevators. I had never taken an elevator in my life. So, I climbed up the six floors.

“I met his secretary, a man named Mohan. I told him that I wanted to meet Mahendra Kampani; that I wanted to work with him. Mohan was a Bangalore guy. The man somehow felt sympathetic. He said that I could gatecrash just when he would be coming out of Mahendra Bhai’s room. I did exactly that.

“Mahendra bhai was perplexed with me. He asked me who I was. I told him that I had come all the way from Bangalore and I wanted to work for him. He made me sit down; he fetched me a glass of water. I had never seen an office as large as his. Then he spoke to me, he called someone to show me the research department and asked me to come back at 3 p.m. to see him again.

“I met him at 3 p.m. He said he would take me in but he had no idea who I was. He asked me to get him at least a letter of introduction. That is how it all started.

“I spent all my waking hours to learn about the trade. Every single day, I showed up at 7 am at the office and Mahendra bhai and I were invariably the last to leave well past nine in the night. I would tell the office boys to pack up and it was I who took Mahendra bhai’s dabba to load it in his car as the last item of work.

“In the process, he taught me all about the world of investing. He trusted me. He let me handle the accounts of some really big business houses. After a year-and-a-half with him, I was ready to come back to start on my own. I told Mahendra bhai that. I told him how grateful I was to him, what a lot I owed him.

“He told me that the Universe is connected in a web of timeless relationships. He had merely paid me back for past debt of a previous life — that I owed him nothing.

“So, Siddhartha returned and even though he bought over a stock trading firm called Sivan Securities (later renamed Global Technology Ventures), he really put his heart and soul into the coffee business. He bought out estate after failing estate in the wake of unviable coffee pricing and poor margins dictated by an international cartel. Then one day he decided to be his own master. He realised that the real value addition was in converting the beans into the coffee drinking experience and the rest is history.”

Since a recluse has started making other appearances in the media it could well mean Siddhartha is planning to take Coffee Day public, but that’s another issue.

Read the full article: Serving it hot

Also read: S.M. Krishna on the release of Dr Raj Kumar

What do they know of Mysore who only CCD know

Why pollsters couldn’t gauge Karnataka’s mood

22 May 2009

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: How did the pollsters go off the mark in their reading of the mood of the electorate in BJP-ruled Karnataka in the 2009 Lok Sabha election?

One obvious reason is that they failed to take note of the political leanings expressed by the voters in the assembly elections held a year ago in the mistaken belief that the voters think differently in the parliament and assembly elections.

The latest parliament elections in Karnataka, has provided more proof that the pattern of voting in parliament and assembly elections are not as different as has been generally believed all these days.

In a way, both are interconnected too.

The thinking of the voters is the same whether the two polls are held separately or jointly.

In the assembly elections, the main parties draw their support from their core voters. In the parliament elections, while the core support remains more or less the same, the extra support comes from the category of voters who had not preferred them in the assembly polls.

This trend was quite discernible in the 1999 and 2004 elections when both the Congress and the BJP picked up more voters in the parliament segment over and above what they had received in the assembly segment.

This trend is clearly visible in the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls held in 2008 and 2009.

The BJP, which had received support from 90.42 lakh voters in the Karnataka assembly polls last year, picked up an additional support of 11.85 lakh votes this time. In this process it etched out victories in six more parliament seats than what the poll trends in the 2008 had indicated and emerged on top.

With this the BJP has been able to increase its lead over Congress in the vote share by 10 lakhs, as against a mere 28,000 after the eight by-elections in 2008.

The Congress which had polled 89.13 lakh votes in 2008 added 3.35 lakh votes this time but was unfortunate to lose five constituencies, where the polling trends of 2008 had put it in the lead and had to end up with six seats, its lowest tally in history.

The only silver lining for the Congress has been that its performanance this time has ended the drought in votes which it had been experiencing since 1999, with the party not being able to get a single extra vote in the three elections held between 1999 and 2008.

Another interesting factor has been that the additional votes it has secured this time, has puts its vote strength almost on a par with the 2004 elections when it had secured 92.47 lakh votes to win eight Lok Sabha seats.

For the JDS, it has been one more instance of the electorate not trusting the party in the Lok Sabha polls, notwithstanding the fact that the party supremo had occupied the gaddi of the Prime Minister and had promised to play a powerful role in national politics if the voters reposed faith in his party.

The party’s share of votes has come down from 48.13 lakhs in the assembly polls to 33.36 lakh votes this time. As a consequence it has won three Lok Sabha seats as against four, as the polling trend in the 2008 had indicated. It incidentally had polled 51.35 lakh votes in the 2004 parliament elections.

The inference is obvious: In a Lok Sabha poll, the bonus in the form of the extra votes comes only to BJP and the Congress to the total exclusion of the JDS. And the two parties have shared the increase in votes in the ratio 3:1.

In the 2004 when simultaneous polls had been held for parliament and assembly, the two parties had picked up extra votes in the same ratio.

This has happened despite 15.29 lakh drop in the polling, the enrolment going up almost by the same number. There has been a drop in the vote share of the JDS and also in those voting for the parties other than the three main contenders considerably.

Pending the release of the official figures of the poll statistics, it is difficult to authoritatively state how the extra votes were apportioned. But it is obvious that the two parties the BJP and Congress between themselves had picked up an additional support 15.20 lakh extra votes, which they shared in the ratio quoted above.

‘Fitting finale to five years of foolish opposition’

21 May 2009

R. Jagannathan in DNA argues that the BJP lost the plot not in March 2009, when the bugle was sounded for the latest election, but in 2004, when it stumbled to a shock defeat:

“The party’s public behaviour since then has been that of a bad loser, and nobody loves such a person. Soon after the defeat, we saw Sushma Swaraj threatening to shave off her head if Sonia Gandhi was made prime minister. The party looked foolish when Sonia abdicated in favour of Manmohan Singh.

“Then there was the unseemly behaviour over the UPA’s decision to induct “tainted” ministers. Sure, there was a political point to be made, but the BJP shot itself in the foot by becoming obstructionist in Parliament. Nobody was amused.

“In every subsequent encounter with the UPA—the Ram Sethu affair, the Afzal Guru episode—the party acted churlishly, opposing for the sake of opposing, and creating a ruckus in Parliament. The party’s thumbs-down to the Indo-US nuclear deal took the cake: it tried to scuttle something it had itself been working towards when in power. Everybody could now see the BJP’s desperation to score points.

“The last act in this tragedy was scripted by L.K. Advani himself, with his ill-thought-out taunts about Manmohan Singh being a “weak prime minister”. It took the Sonia-Rahul-Manmohan combine just two weeks to demolish him, providing a fitting finale to five years of foolish opposition. In short, the BJP was in self-destruct mode from May 2004.”

Read the full article: How BJP lost the plot

The gods, they must be crazy seeing this abuse?

21 May 2009

KPN photo

Legend has it that Lord Aiyappa betrayed the tribals of Coorg on a hunting expedition aeons ago. So, on the fourth Thursday of May every year, they take “revenge”. They dress themselves up in strange costumes, shout expletives at the gods, and create a cacophony as part of Kunde Habba.

Or, if you find that difficult to believe, on the eve of monsoon each year, the tribals drink, dance, tie their banians down, make merry and let go of their frustration because of the tension of having to stay indoors for next few months due to the pouring rains. This scene is from the exotically named Devarapura in Virajpet.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Why God’s Own Party, the BJP, is in such a mess

21 May 2009

Loksatta editor Kumar Ketkar argues in The Indian Express that the BJP has become a hybrid organisation pulled in different directions by moderates, hardliners and lunatics.

Result: the party cannot recognise the real face from the several masks it has acquired for electoral persuasion:

“In Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the vast majority across classes and castes, has found the real plural India. Today, along with the markets, most Indian people have introspected and recognised the the folly of militant Mandir and Mandal politics. That is why we saw the decimation of Mulayam and Mayawati, the marginalisation of Pawar and Paswan, and the discomfiture of Advani and Modi. Plural India has triumphed.”

Read the full article: Mask upon mask in the BJP

All the PM’s men all the way from minus 3 to 8

21 May 2009

The integrity and “essential honesty” of Manmohan Singh have been cited as major contributing factors for the Congress triumph in the 2009 election results. Be that as it may, how “strong” is “weak” Mr Singh going to be in standing up to the corrupt, inefficient and incompetent in forming his ministry now that he has a firm voice and vote?

The reporters and editors of the Indian Express, Delhi, have come up with a “Minister Meter” to gauge the performance of members of Team Manmohan in his first stint, and it makes for mighty revealing reading, subjective as it may be.

On a scale of ten, nine ministers negative marks. One worthie gets a round figure of zero.

The inclusion of many of them was seen to be an indication of the tugs and pulls of coalition politics. But now that the Congress win has been read as a “mandate for change”, etc, will Manmohan have the freedom to include men and women of professional competence, not just political clout?

Santosh Mohan Deb: minus 3/10

Shankersinh Vaghela: minus 2/10

Sisram Ola: minus 2/10

Arjun Singh: minus 2/10

A. Raja: minus 2/10T.R. Baalu: minus 1/10

Anbumani Ramadoss: minus 1/10

H.R. Bharadwaj: minus 1/10

Renuka Chowdhury: minus 1/10


Shivaraj Patil: 0/10


Oscar Fernandes: 1/10

Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: 2/10

P.R. Kyndiah: 2/10

Mahabir Prasad: 2/10

Subodh Kant Sahay: 2/10

Vilas Muttemwar: 2/10

Meira Kumar: 2/10

A.R. Antulay: 3/10

Kumari Selja: 3/10

G.K. Vasan: 4/10

Laloo Prasasd Yadav: 4/10

Saifuddin Soz: 4/10

S. Jaipal Reddy: 4/10

Ram Vilas Paswan: 4/10

Vayalar Ravi: 5/10

Mani Shankar Aiyar: 5/10

Kapil Sibal: 6/10

A.K. Antony: 6/10

Sharad Pawar: 6/10

Sushil Kumar Shinde: 6/10

Ambika Soni: 6/10

Prithviraj Chavan: 7/10

Murli Deora: 7/10

Prem Chand Gupta: 7/10

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh: 7/10

P. Chidambaram: 8/10

Pranab Mukherjee: 8/10

Kamal Nath: 8/10

Praful Patel: 8/10