Posts Tagged ‘DMK’

CHURUMURI POLL: Has India lost moral compass?

23 October 2012

In its 62nd year as a Republic, India presents a picture that can only mildy be termed unedifying.

Scams are raining down on a parched landscape with frightening ferocity. From outer space (2G, S-band) to the inner depths of mother earth (coal), the Congress-led UPA has had it all covered in its second stint. Meanwhile, Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of the first family of the Congress, has taken charge of scandals at or near sea level.

Salman Khurshid, the smooth-talking Oxford-educated law minister, thinks it is beneath his dignity to respond in a dignified manner to charges of pilfering Rs 71 lakh from the disabled. The Harvard-educated finance minister P. Chidambaram and his family is happily busy gobbling up parts of the east coast from farmers. Etcetera.

But what of the opposition?

The BJP’s president Nitin Gadkari is neckdeep in a gapla of his own,  one that threatens, in fact one that is designed to deprive him of a second stint in office. “Scam”, of course, was the middle-name of party’s Karnataka mascot, B.S. Yediyurappa. From Mulayam‘s SP to Mayawati‘s BSP to Sharad Pawar‘s NCP, from Karunanidhi‘s DMK to Jayalalitha‘s AIADMK, money-making is the be-all and end-all.

The less said of the corporates who have pillaged the country since time immemorial the better but Vijay Mallya presents its most compelling side as he shuts down his airline while his son hunts for calendar girls. The do-gooders of Team Anna and now Team Kejriwal are themselves subject to searching questions on their integrity levels. And the media is busy getting exposed as extortionists and blackmailers.

Questions: Have we as a country completely lost our moral and ethical compass? Are we going through an “unprecedented” phenomenon or is this what the US and other developed democracies like Japan have gone through in their path to progress? Or does it not matter in the greater scheme of things? Is all this leaving the citizenry cynical and frustrated or do we not care because all of us are in it, in our own little ways?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will reforms result in UPA-III?

26 September 2012

A week is a long time in politics; ten days is an eternity. Ten days ago, the Congress-led UPA government was weighed down by the scams and scandals that have enveloped it since its return to power in 2009.  The economy was down, the fiscal deficit was up, the ratings were near-junk, the writing was on the wall.

It was deja vu 1991 in circa 2012.

But the partial rationalisation of diesel prices followed by the announcement of foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, aviation and broadcasting (followed by a slew of measures including one rank-one pension for Army wallahs, dearness allowance hike for government employees, etc) have changed the headlines.

Suddenly, the coal scam is off the front pages and nightly news.

Suddenly, the main obstacle to reforms (Mamata Banerjee) is out.

Suddenly, the “underachiever” prime minister is talking.

Suddenly, there is talk of a reshuffle of the Union ministry and Congress party apparatus.

And, on top of all that, the entire opposition from the left to right is united in its opposition to FDI in retail, citing the interests of everybody from the farmer down to the consumer, to dire warnings of economic slavery and colonisation of the mind. Even Narendra Damodardas Modi who has gone around with the FDI bowl in his hand to more countries than most chief ministers is warning of the “foreign hand”.

What last week’s Bharat bandh (in which UPA ally DMK too took part) and today’s BJP suggestion of a rollback of the FDI in retail should it come to power, have done is to willy-nilly paint the Congress as the only “pro-reforms” party in the country ahead of 2014, which is all the more surprising because this was the party which in the last few years had turned subsidies into an entitlement.

Questions: Will the reforms work in reviving the economy and will that in turn convince the electorate to plump for UPA-III? Or, is it just a desperate last-ditch effort by the Congress to revive its chances, one doomed to electoral failure? Will the aam admi see through the xenophobia, or will he let his wallet do the voting?

The New York Times: Reforms do win elections in India

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Jayalalitha PM material?

28 June 2011

Tamil Nadu has generally played a big role in the formation of coalition governments at the Centre for nearly 15 years now, and the size and scale of the victory of the AIADMK in the assembly elections recently—and the current shape and state of the Congress, BJP and Left—has put plenty of fuel in the political tank of Jayalalitha Jayaram.

Suddenly, the controversial Mysore-born actor-turned-politician is holding all the cards as both the main parties bend backwards to woo her. For someone whose sole agenda till last month was dislodging the DMK government of M. Karunanidhi, she is now holding forth on national and international issues in a manner born.

In an interview with Arnab Goswami of Times Now yesterday, the Puratchi Thalaivi offered plenty of insight of how she views her enhanced role on the national stage, cryptically suggesting that “anything can happen before 2014”, meaning she could go either way or her own way, or that there could even be a mid-term election before 2014.

Since anything is possible in politics, as the sad cliche goes to explain H.D Deve Gowda becoming prime minister, is it also possible that Jayalalitha, if she stays away from both the two main formulations, could well end up heading the third front? And, if that is the case, could namma hudugi well emerge as a prime ministerial face?

Could her face, voice and demeanour, not to mention the fact that she is a woman, attract voters? Will she gain acceptance across the nation or will her confrontational style put off coalition partners? Could she be a better bet than whoever the Congress and BJP  decide to go with? Or is she counting her vada maangas before they pickle?

CHURUMURI POLL: Assembly polls, UPA or NDA?

10 May 2011

Friday the 13th, of May 2011, is clearly D-day in Indian politics.

The fate of the assembly elections in two States—West Bengal and Kerala—over which the Left parties have lorded over for decades will be known. While Kerala has been a five-yearly, on-off affair, it is Bengal that stands at the cusp. Will the Left step back from the abyss, or tumble over against Mamata Banerjee‘s Trinamul?

In Tamil Nadu, the ground zero of the 2G spectrum allocation scam—home of the DMK, A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, M. Karunanidhi‘s daughter Kanimozhi, and Kalaignar TV and Tamil Meiyyam and other dramatis personae—is facing an onslaught from Jayalalitha Jayaram and the AIADMK.

If the DMK-Congress pulls off a surprise win, and the Left is humbled in Bengal and Kerala, the assembly verdict will be a shot in the arm for the Congress-led UPA, which has been on the backfoot against a relentless torrent of corruption charges.

If the Left loses both States, it also means that the political centre well and truly belongs to the Congress and throws a big question mark over the BJP’s (and NDA’s) ability to capitalise on big issues like corruption.

What do you think is likely to happen? Is it advantage UPA or NDA? Is it a good thing for Indian democracy if the Left is wiped out from the political map? What does it say about the electorate if voters care two hoots for mind-numbing corruption? Or, are we all speaking too early?

(This churumuri poll allows you to post multiple responses)

CHURUMURI POLL: Spare 2G scam-tainted Kani?

7 May 2011

The order of the special court hearing the 2G spectrum allocation scam on the bail application of the former Hindu sub-editor turned poet turned parliamentarian, M.K. Kanimozhi in the 2G spectrum allocation scam has been reserved (tellingly) till next Saturday, May 14, the day after the assembly elections come out.

However, the bail plea has been remarkable on three counts. One, the DMK, which was “backing” A. Raja, the disgraced former telecom minister, who is a Dalit and close friend of Kanimozhi, when the Tamil Nadu elections were in the air, seems to have abandoned him completely after the DMK’s fate has been sealed in the EVMs.

Two, there is the weird but not unwelcome spectacle of Ram Jethmalani, a BJP member of Parliament of the Rajya Sabha, representing Kanimozhi, who belongs to the DMK, which is a constituent of the Congress-led UPA. There is yet, a third dimension to the bail plea, which is Jethmalani’s handiwork.

The maverick lawyer has said Kanimozhi should be granted bail because she is a woman, although the CBI had called her a co-conspirator in the scam, and an “active brain” who was “controlling everything” in Kalaignar TV, which received a Rs 200 crore bribe from one of the beneficiaries of the Rs 173,000 crore scam presided over by A. Raja.

“Bail is a right and should be treated as reward for my sex, motherhood and my clean record,” Jethmalani said, speaking for his client, even as Kanimozhi was accompanied to the court by her Singapore-based husband and their 11-year-old son, neither of whom were in the picture .

“I hope we have not lost the Victorian sense of chivalry.”

Questions: Should the sex of an accused person be a condition for bail? Are all mothers naturally entitled to bail, regardless of the extent of the scam? And with the NGO with which she is connected having received donations worth crores from the telecom majors, does Kanimozhi really have a “clean record”?

postscript: for eyes which were moistened by Jethmalani’s argument to miss this real gem, let the record state that poet Kanimozhi’s husband was reading Islam and Muslim History in South Asia in court.

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

Has Ratan Tata ruined the Tata brand image?

29 November 2010

Although it has a finger in every pie, the Tata group has enjoyed a sterling reputation as a cut above the rest. Unlike the Ambanis and Birlas and everybody else, the group boasts of a “clean and incorruptible” image. Unlike others, it has been known to do things differently, keeping the “community” at the core.

Is that well-earned image in danger, judging from a bunch of recent incidents? And as he prepares to step into the shadows, having turned a quiet Parsi outfit into a global conquistador, will Ratan Tata—under whose leadership the revenue of the Tata group has gone up 40 times—go down as the dikra who messed with the holy grail?

For starters, the Tata group is smack bang in the middle of the Rs 173,000 crore 2G spectrum allocation scam. The tapped conversations of Ratan Tata’s chief lobbyist, Niira Radia, reveal how a gang of politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, and journalists re-inserted the tainted A. Raja into Manmohan Singh‘s cabinet in 2009.

# One key conversation (on 13 June 2009) between Radia and DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi‘s third wife Rajathiammal matches with the contents of a set of documents that were doing the rounds earlier this year, that revealed that the Tatas (through their subsidiary Voltas) had agreed to build a building in Madras, apparently as a payoff to DMK for keeping Dayanidhi Maran out of the telecom ministry.

# And, for another, the Tatas come out poorly in a Radia conversation that reveals that former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda had demanded Rs 180 crore for a Tatas’ mining lease to be extended. Radia gets the lease extended through the governor Syed Sibte Razi, and she is rewarded a “success fee” besides a Rs 1 crore reward to her team.

In conversations with Radia ranging from the cute to the colourful, Ratan Tata reveals more than just passing interest in the retention of A. Raja in the telecom portfolio. “I’m surprised that Raja after all that you supposedly did for him is playing this game,” he says in one conversation. “I guess the only concern I have is that Maran is going hammer and tongs for Raja. And I hope Raja doesn’t trip or slip or…”

These one-liners only add grist to a delicious rumour, twice repeated, that Ratan Tata actually wrote a hand-written letter to Karunanidhi on Raja’s “rational, fair and action-oriented leadership” in December 2007. To now see the same Ratan Tata say that if the government did not step in and uphold the rule of law, the environment of scandals could see India slide into becoming a “banana republic” and to see that he is thinking of invoking the right to privacy and moving the Supreme Court is revealing in a Freudian sort of way.

Obviously, doing business in India and growing at the kind of rate the Tatas have, is not a walk in the park. Equally obviously, the Radia conversations do not represent the full story. Still, have the tapes removed the halo from around the head of the Tatas? Is Ratan Tata right in seeking shelter under right to privacy, or is he trying to hide more dirt from coming out? And has Ratan Tata proved no different from his much-reviled peers?

The most noise usually comes from the people who have the most to hide.

Also read: Tatas, turtles and corporate social responsibility

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan, still ‘Mr Clean’?

17 November 2010

Manmohan Singh‘s unique selling electoral proposition—his squeaky, clean image and credibility in spite of swimming around in the cesspool of politics—has come under question for the first time in two decades, with the Supreme Court asking the obvious question: what was the economist-prime minister doing when the scum of the 2G spectrum allocation scam was rising to the top.

“The sanctioning authority (the PM) can turn down a request for sanction but can it sit over it? … We find the alleged inaction and silence troubling,” a two-judge bench has observed.

For a finance minister who retained his image despite the JMM scandal perpetrated by his mentor P.V. Narasimha Rao, and for a prime minister who came out smelling of roses despite the cash-for-votes scandal of the nuclear trust vote and other subsidiary scams of UPA-I and UPA-II,the SC’s observation hits where it hurts most.

Nobody has so far ventured to suggest that Manmohan Singh is on the take. Yet, the imputation that he was looking the other way while A. Raja & his pals within the DMK and Congress were making hay, takes off the sheen of his image somewhat and could have serious implications for himself and his party in the weeks and months ahead.

Questions: Has the PM’s integrity suffered a body-blow? Can he recover his reputation or is the damage done? Will the Congress rise to defend Manmohan? Will it retain his if his chief attribute, his image, becomes a problem? Or will it dump him like a hot potato if the opposition goes to town about it?

CHURUMURI POLL: “Most corrupt government?”

10 November 2010

After pretending for weeks that nothing was amiss, the Congress has shown the door to Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan and the chairman of the organising committee of the Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi, who was the secretary of the party’s parliamentary wing.

The spin doctors say by acting the two, the party has raised the probity bar, but clearly, the immediate provocation was the winter session of Parliament and the fear of getting cornered. Plus, the fear of losing the support of the urban middle-class that has been numbed by the scale, frequency and size of the scams.

But the CWG and Adarsh housing society swindles are not the only scams that the Congress-led UPA has had to face. There is the overhang of 2G spectrum allocation involving the DMK’s A. Raja, a ripoff said to be in the tune of Rs 170,000 crore. Plus, there is the rice scam and the DD scam and fill-your-scam-here.

The BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who has himself been embroiled in the Adarsh allotment scandal, has said this is the most corrupt government in the history of India, an irony considering that it is headed by Manmohan Singh, whose personal integrity is repeatedly hammered home by all and sundry.

Questions: Is this India’s most corrupt government? Is the Congress attempting a clean-up, or is this a cover-up to prevent the muck from touching the high and mighty? Is corruption any longer an election issue, or is it just a middle-class fixation? Does anybody believe that all these scams take place without the awareness of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi? Or is Manmohan willingly allowing his name to be misused?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: India’s most corrupt State?

CHURUMURI POLL: How corrupt are you?

CHURUMURI POLL: Dalits being taken for a ride?

6 May 2010

“The Dalit Defence” is increasingly becoming the ultimate move on the chessboard of Indian public life. Those charged of corruption, malfeasance, rape, murder and other misdemeanours claim shelter behind the nearly impenetrable shield of “harassment” by the power elites aka upper castes.

Twice in recent months “The Dalit Defence” has been played masterfully, first by “supporters” of the tainted chief justice of the Karnataka high court, P.D. Dinakaran. When charges of landgrabbing (ironically of land belonging largely to Dalits) were levelled against him to block his elevation to the Supreme Court, the Dravida Kazhagam sprang to his support.

“The real agenda is to prevent a member of a backward community from entering the ‘sanctum sanctorum’, now a monopoly of the upper castes,” K. Veeramani, general secretary of Dravida Kazhagam, the parent organisation of the DMK, was quoted as saying.

“The Dalit Defence” has now been moved by the Tamil Nadu chief minister, M. Karunanidhi again. When his partyman and Union telecom minister A. Raja is facing charges of corruption of astounding proportions in the auction of 2G spectrum, the DMK supremo has blamed opposition parties seeking his resignation for targetting him because he is a Dalit.

“Raja is a Dalit. That is why dominant forces are levelling malicious charges against him,” he said when asked for his comments on the opposition demands for his resignation in the wake of allegations of scam in 2G Spectrum allocation.

Questions: Are Dalits being unfairly targetted by the dominant communities even after half a century of constitutional guarantees? Or is “The Dalit Defence” just a fig leaf? Are Dalits incapable of misdemeanours? Or should we turn a blind eye merely because dominant communities have been doing it for a long time?

Does “The Dalit Defence” work in its intended constituency? Or are Dalits being taken for a ride by wily politicians and political parties?

Also read: Should IAS, IPS officers play politics on the side?

In PC age, is nothing about the Manusmriti right?

Should Abdul Kalam say sorry to Dalits on I-Day?

Money for everything Dalit except the right thing

Ramayana, Mahabharatha and the Women’s Bill

19 March 2010

Union law minister Veerappa Moily while receiving an award for his five-volume Shri Ramayan Mahanveshanam, yesterday:

“It is instances like Sita‘s fire ordeal which firmed our resolve for the women’s reservation bill.”

“In Sita’s ‘fire ordeal’, Ravan‘s wife, Mandodari, talks to Sita: “Are you not satisfied with the fiery ordeal of life we have tolerated and endured as women till now? Only a man of the epoch can put an end to women’s ordeal.”

Moily did not of course reveal who the “man of the epoch” was on 9 March 2009. Was it him, who moved the bill? Was it P. Chidambaram, who is rumoured to have said the dissenting MPs must be marshalled out?

Or, was it you-know-who?

Meanwhile, the veteran editor T.J.S. George too adds a touch of the mythological to decipher modern-day male chauvinism.



Draupadi had five husbands, each with unsurpassed capabilities. None of them came to her rescue when she was dragged into the royal court for disrobing.

The political Yadavs of our time seem to have taken a self-serving lesson from this episode and resolved that women are unworthy of protection, let alone promotion. Either that or they have forgotten the double curse—pronounced by Gandhari, and then by Viswamitra, Kanva and Narada—that the Yadava race would destroy itself.

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Yadav have already reduced their parties to tottering relics. Their opposition to the women’s reservation bill and, worse, the hooliganism of their men in the Rajya Sabha betrayed a 19th century mindset.

The hooligans brought such shame to the country that they would be better off under the waters that swallowed up Dwaraka.

But what do we see beyond the fossils of Yadu Kula?

Two realities are clearly visible. The first is the politics of the bill. The Yadavas talking about Muslim women’s quota is a desperate move to regain some of the Muslim support they have lost. Mamata Banerjee”s visceral hatred of Bengal communists made her an odd woman against women.

The Congress also put its internal politics on display. Singularly lukewarm about the bill on Day 1, it suddenly became determined on Day 2. In the Congress nothing happens until partymen know what Soniaji wants and once the signal comes, nothing can stop them from carrying out her wishes.

A parliamentary system is unhealthy when it adheres to the letter of the Westminster model, without heeding the spirit of it.

The other reality that looms large is that the women’s bill, even if it crosses the obstacles in its path and finally becomes law, will have only symbolic value. It will not by itself give women the human rights they have been denied for ages. That will require social reform and no social reformers are anywhere in sight.

If and when 33 per cent seats in legislatures are reserved for women, around 30 per cent of that will likely go to wives, daughters, nieces and girlfriends of male politicians.

Lalu Prasad himself put his unlettered wife in the chief minister’s chair while Mulayam Singh could only find his daughter-in-law to contest a Lok Sabha seat. The Kanimozhis and Supriya Sules will multiply when reservations become law.

And what will happen when they sit as law-makers?

Will it mean an end to the killing of newborn girls in the villages of Tamil Nadu and Haryana?

Will it stop crimes against women which increased by 30-40 per cent in recent years as against 16 per cent increase in general crime?

Will it bring down dowry killings which doubled in the last decade?

Will it make a difference to one-third of married women in India being children below 18?

In one sense India has already led the way in women’s empowerment. Women occupy top positions in corporate houses, financial institutions and in the arts. They have reached these positions through merit, not the favour of reservations. This will continue, making India an exemplar of women’s advancement.

But it will be foolish to close our eyes to the social debris that has collected over the centuries.

The tendency to treat women as beasts of burden is all too prevalent. Inside a family, discrimination is carried to the extent of feeding sons properly while daughters are kept on starvation diet. This has led to half the married women in India being anaemic.

The largest number of illiterate women is also in India—200 million. It’s all very well for Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat to forget ideologies and perform a celebratory embrace. But what about India’s social reality? Yaduvamsha still has a grip on that reality.

Also read: Goodbye democracy, say hello to Quotocracy

CHURUMURI POLL: Sonia Gandhi, smarter than Indira?

‘Women’s bill will only increase State’s power’

CHURUMURI POLL: Impact of women’s bill?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Dalit Dinakaran above law?

23 September 2009

The strange case of Justice P.D. Dinakaran” has taken a strange turn. A group of advocates and activists in Tamil Nadu are alleging that the chief justice of the Karnataka High Court is the victim of a motivated vilification campaign. That his character is being assassinated because he is a Dalit.

“The real agenda is to prevent a member of a backward community from entering the ‘sanctum sanctorum’, now a monopoly of the upper castes,” K. Veeramani, general secretary of Dravida Kazhagam, the parent organisation of the DMK, has been quoted as saying.

The figleaf was provided by the veteran jurist Shanti Bhushan, who was among the legal eagles who brought the memorandum of charges prepared by the Madras-based Forum for Judicial Accountability to the notice of the chief justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, also a Dalit.

In an interview to The Pioneer, Delhi, Bhushan is reported to have said:

“It is inexplicable on the part of the CJI as to why he is not consulting the judges of the Supreme Court, like Justices M. Katju and A.K. Ganguly, under whom Dinakaran has served. So many lawyers are making allegations against him. Why is he (CJI) so keen to get him (Dinakaran) appointed? Perhaps the reason may be that he is a Dalit. We cannot say.”

An imputation of favouritism was also made by the SC lawyer Rajeev Dhavan in an article in Mail Today, after Justice Dinakaran excused himself from a tour to Australia once the scandal broke:

“Justice Dinakaran has declared that he will not accompany the ‘judges exchange’ delegation to Australia. There is a lot to doubt whethere he deserved to be a delegate over others in the first place. Someone seems to have a soft spot for him.”

Questions: Is Justice Dinakaran being because he is a Dalit? Or is this a lame attempt to give the controversy a caste colour to shield the judge? Should a Dalit be excused if he is accused of land grabbing, corruption, abuse of office and lack of probity merely because he is a Dalit? Is a Dalit entitled to take away lands of other Dalits, as is being alleged, because he is a Dalit?

Also read: The strange case of Justice P.D. Dinakaran

If he is unfit for Delhi, how is he fit for Karnataka?

CHURUMURI POLL: Judge vs Union minister

6 July 2009

The case involving the Madras High Court judge who reportedly received a call from a Union minister on granting anticipatory bail to two persons is remarkable for the u-turn it has taken—or has been forced to take.

On June 29, the judge R. Reghupathy, without naming anyone, said a Union minister tried to influence him to pass orders favouring the petitioners. According to this report, in which the reporter also mentions an off-the-record briefing by the judge after court, the minister is categorically reported to have spoken to the judge: “A Union minister talked to me. He influenced me to release this petitioner on anticipatory bail.”

The disclosure saw the usual to-and-fro from the political parties, with the BJP and Left united in their condemnation. Although the judge had not named the minister who talked to him, the BJP’s Arun Jaitley demanded that he be sacked.”The minister is not ‘a raja’ who was not accountable to anyone,” Jaitley, a Supreme Court advocate said, in a thinly disguised attempt to name the minister.

Kapil Sibal, a former Supreme Court lawyer now a serving cabinet minister, joined former atttorney general Soli J. Sorabjee, in demanding that the judge make the name public.

After the AIADMK leader J. Jayalalitha named A. Raja as the minister who spoke to the judge, the DMK chief M. Karunanidhi sought a clarification from the telecommunications minister. Meanwhile, MDMK chief Vaiko, an electoral ally of Jayalalitha, has suggested that Raja could have used another minister to pressure the judge. (The film star-turned-politician-turned Union minister D. Napoleon hails from the same area as Raja.)

A day after the incident became public, the chief justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, said “if the Minister had spoken to the Judge [as stated by him] then really it is an interference with judiciary.” Now, in an extraordinary turnaround, Justice Balakrishnan has said the judge did not really talk to the minister and that the counsel of the petitioners had held out a phone.

Clearly, there has been some hectic backpedalling. Who do you think is telling the truth?

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

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?

Is a City’s fate bound by its political preference?

20 May 2009

KPN photo

All seven seats in Delhi have gone to the Congress. Six out of seven in Bombay have gone to the Congress-NCP alliance. The Trinamool-Congress combo has prevailed in Calcutta. And in Madras, UPA partner DMK has triumphed.

With a Congress-led UPA in power at the Centre, things will be smooth for these metropolitan cities. What of Bangalore, which has plumped for the BJP?

Saritha Rai quotes M.V. Rajeev Gowda, a professor at IIM Bangalore, in The Indian Express:

“Once again, it appears that we will have nobody to represent Bangalore’s agenda in a clear way…. Bangalore and Karnataka are losing out because of the mismatch.”

Read the full article: No one to speak for this city

Photograph: A girl sells cashew fruit at Mekhri circle in Bangalore on Wednesday (Karnataka Photo News)

Losers of the world unite. It’s all there to win.

10 May 2009

arun nehruFormer Union minister and Congressman turned BJP man, Arun Nehru, in Deccan Chronicle:

“The winners in the 2009 elections will be those who are able to maintain or improve upon their tally. In the winners’ category will be the BJP and the Congress, and apart from them the JDU, AIADMK, PMK, TDP, TRS, BSP and TMC.

“The losers will be the Left, SP, RJD, DMK. The Shiv Sena, NCP and BJD may hold on to their positions. But will the losers in 2009 determine government formation and can this lead to stability?

“Government formation will happen in stages and it is possible that the Congress may emerge as the single largest party, though the gap is getting narrower between the Congress and the BJP and there is another round of polling left.”

Read the full article: Seats of power

Arun Nehru: part I, part II, part III, part IV, part V, part VI, part VII, part VIII

CHURUMURI POLL: Who will you vote for?

27 November 2008

The latest terror attack on Bombay has the potential to alter the political landscape of the country, which may perhaps be one of the objectives of the perpetrators. While we must grieve those who have fallen prey, and salute those who have stood up to protect, an attack of this scale and spectacle usually has voters sizing up the performance of parties and politicians, of the government and the opposition, in their minds.

So, if the Lok Sabha election were to be held tomorrow, who would you vote for?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Should Shivaraj Patil resign?

10 questions written in rage for Shivaraj Patil

CHURUMURI POLL: Who is right on Hogenakal?

2 April 2008

True to its name, the Hogenakal row has generated more smoke than light. Both sides are convinced that they are dead right and the other side is dead wrong—and neither side can entertain any other possibility in a surcharged atmopshere.

Karnataka says that since Hongenakal lies in a “disputed area“, TN cannot go ahead with the integrated water scheme till its “inter-State implications” are examined under the inter-state water disputes Act. It says the grant of a no-objection certificate by the Union water resources ministry in September 1998 cannot be considered as a resolution of the “inter-State implications” since the project was not part of TN’s case before the Cauvery water disputes tribunal (unlike the water supply scheme for Bangalore which Karnataka undertook).

For its part, Tamil Nadu avers that Karnataka has no locus standi to oppose the Hogenakal project since it is based on the NOC issued by the Centre 10 years ago. It says the two States had agreed not to object to drinking water supply schemes as long as the State concerned utilised water from its allocated share. It says the project is on the left bank of the border “which is well within Tamil Nadu”, hence there is no border dispute. It says it is using water allocated to it and which runs through TN for the project. And it says that the border dispute was solved fifty years ago.

But the intemperate statements of Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, the call for a Karnataka bandh on April 10 issued by language activists, the blackout of Tamil TV channels, disruption of bus services on either side, and the call for a Tamil film industry fast on Friday have queered the pitch.

Questions: Is the Hogenakal controversy only about water or is it also about land?
2. Is this an issue to be settled on the streets through the show of emotions by language chauvinists, writers and cinema stars, or in calm environs by water experts, people’s representatives and lawyers?
3. How specifically is Karnataka’s interests harmed? Will farmers or consumers be deprived of water because of the project, or is Karnataka wary that allowing water use will open the floodgates?
4. Can 30 lakh people of two districts (Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri) be deprived of drinking water merely because there is an resolved border row between two States for 50 years?
5. If more Tamil Nadu districts suffer from water shortage, can TN build similar dams downstream and seek a corresponding increase in Cauvery water allocation to meet the new requirements?
6. If Tamil Nadu’s intentions are entirely honourable and above-board, why was it so difficult for their State government to divulge the details of the project before formally launching it?
7. Would the Japan Bank for International Co-operation have agreed to fund the Hogenakal project if the legality of the location or the status of the river water dispute was not so clear?
8. Is Karnataka (and are Kannadigas) gaining any friends through knee-jerk reactions which seem to convey as if the people speaking a certain language (and their property) are the target?
9. Why in democratic India has it become so difficult for two States of the Union to sit and resolve an issue amicably? Why can’t the tribunal adjudicate on the “inter-State dimensions” expeditiously?
10. Has Hogenakal become an election issue? Are DMK in Tamil Nadu and the BJP in Karnataka trying to take electoral mileage out of it? Has Karnataka’s case been hurt by the absence of a popular government?

Also read: What your nela and what your jala says about you

Photograph: Kannada activists, including former minister B.T. Lalitha Naik (second from left), the BJP’s Mukhya Mantri Chandru (third from left) and T.A. Narayana Gowda of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (second from right), take out a torch-light march in Bangalore on Wednesday in protest against the statements of Tamil chief minister, M. Karunanidhi (Karnataka Photo News)

CHURUMURI POLL: Should bandhs be banned?

2 October 2007

On the eve of the birthday of the man who legitimised the use of civil disobedience as a weapon of change, the Supreme Court yesterday came down heavily on the Tamil Nadu government for violating its order not to observe a bandh on the Ram Sethu issue. “Is this a government? Is this the DMK government, a strong ally of (the) UPA government? If the state is not obeying the court order, it will be deemed as a complete breakdown of the constitutional machinery. If things continue like this, the UPA should not feel shy of imposing President’s rule in the state,” the court said.

The communist parties were first off the block in questioning the “uncalled-for judicial encroachment”. But the court’s comments reopen the old chestnut about bandhs, especially state-sponsored ones: Are bandhs legal or illegal? Are the rights of citizens superior to the rights of individual political parties? Or is a ban on bandhs an infringement of the fundamental right to free speech including the right to protest on streets?

Is a bandh still a democratic way of showing dissent in this day and age if it is within the “four corners of the Constitution“, or has it been reduced to state-sponsored goondagiri? Is a day’s inconvenience necessary to get the point across or have bandhs become a political show of muscle power, the aam admi be damned? Should all bandhs be banned or only some kinds? And if bandhs are to be banned, what are the other ways of registering protest, and seeking and getting justice?

Also read: The Supreme Court was right

The Supreme Court was wrong

Cartoon courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express