This kite didn’t fly

HDK storyPoliticians rely on an obliging media to fly their political kites. This past week,  the New Delhi sky over 10 Janpath was overcast with  kites. When the numbers in the Lok Sabha poll made it clear that the coalition this time was going to be Congress-driven, Deva Gowda’s JD(S) swiftly switched fronts to offer ‘unconditional’  support to the  Congress-led coalition, UPA. 

Coalition politics has a way of giving hopes to parties with zero-chance of capturing power to aspire for cabinet seats.  JD(S),  with a tally of three seats , was in the wrong alliance before poll .  The party  was hopeful (or was it wishful thought?) of a ministerial berth at centre,  according to a media report. The newspaper that reported this piece of poor-selling fiction said,  it is more or less certain that H D Kumaraswamy will get a berth in the Union cabinet

That newspaper reporters can at times be persuaded by politicians to publish  self-serving fib, in the name of ‘exclusive’ news, was evident from the media report that said Kumaraswamy, camping in New Delhi, was lobbying   ‘to secure one of these portfolios,  namely Railways, Forest and Environment or surface Transport’.  This  appeared on May 18.

HDK story-4Three days later came this  headline,  in the same newspaper.  The Page One story read that Mr Kumaraswamy’s  ‘herculean efforts to get into the cabinet now appears a distant dream’.  And the question now was whether HDK would want to retain his Lok Sabha seat, at the expense of his seat in the Karnataka assembly.

Moral of the story:  The politically privileged can have it both ways.


BBC poll special

bbcSo BBC   is up to a new way to cover Lok Sabha elections;  and in the process gain promotional mileage for itself.  The British news channel has chartered a seven-coach train to carry their news team, drawn from several language services,   on a 18-day spin around India.  BBC election special that left New Delhi on Apl.25  would cover Ahmedabad,  Mumbai,  Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar,  Kolkata, Patna and Allahabad, before returning to New Delhi, May 13, the last day of voting.

Even before the train moved out of Delhi, over 130 publications in India carried their story. BBC’s marketing people thoughtfully invited the New Delhi press corps to a posh hotel for celebrating their election special.  BBC  brought out publicity T-shirts to mark the occasion. Apart from the BBC news service reporters  from  language services  such as  Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Burmese, Swahili, and Arabic   the tain carries  a blogger on board . 

At Rewari, an unscheduled halt three hours into their journey,  wrote blogger  Soutik Biswas,  the fancy train, painted red and white , was mobbed by curious onlookers  at Rewari station. As they  surged towards their train,  BBC cameramen and sound recordists fanned out into the platform to record the event.

I am sure blogger Biswas would have much to write home about and his colleagues with the camera, plenty more of visuals to record over the next three weeks of the BBC train’s passage through India.  Elections would be over by mid-May,  but the BBC election special would be remembered long after,  by folks at Rewari and thousands of others who happen by the train through its journey.

Late last year BBC hit upon another promotional idea,  called  The Box.  It refers to a 40-ft shipping container,  painted with BBC logo and fitted with a transmitter device.  BBC News tells the story of international trade and globalisation by tracking its shipping container  on its journey around the world.   

At the time of posting  The Box  was tracked to  Hong Kong  en route to Japan.  From there they expect it to travel to Russia before its return to the UK in June/July. BBC brings television, radio and online reports from each location the container has touched.

Shoe-thrower wore size-8

shoe-throw-021The shoe that newsman Jarnail Singh flung at home minister P Chidambaram at a New Delhi news conference was size-8,  says The Times of India.  The ones  George W Bush dodged in Baghdad were size-10.  Bush, downplaying the incident, said,’ the guy wanted to get on TV and he did’.

Mr Chidambaram was on a forgiving mode;  he urged securitymen to be gentle with the offending scribe. The police let him off after questioning. The Congress party  treated the matter as closed,  dismissing the journalist’s doing as an emotional outburst.  Jarnail Singh himself was quick to express regret for what he did. shoe-throw-014

Shoe-thrower in this image is being led out of the hall  ‘gently’ ,  as the minister suggested.  I wonder why everyone involved has been decent,  and so tolerant. shoe-throw-022 It appears as if shoe-throwing is okay,  and media   activism  has just got very telegenic.  Journalists of earlier generation, when we didn’t have live TV coverage,  reckoned a media boycott or walk out on a minister at a press conference was a daring act.

shoe-throw-012Jarnail Singh and 24X7 news channels  have given journalistic activism a dramatic dimension. I can visualise, in the days to come,  a   ‘jarnailist’  assigned to a press meet asking his colleagues,  ‘what should I wear for the Bal Thakerey news conference?’.

Air Deccan Gopi in the fray

gopinathI don’t see Capt. Gopinath in Lok Sabha in 2009. Not because he isn’t a right candidate,  but because he isn’t   winnable as an Independent in the fray. Air Deccan Gopi appears  to  have an enlightened contempt for party candidature. “I don’t want to mortgage my ideas,” he says.  Which makes a smart quote,  but  poor operating strategy.  Ideas don’t  get you anywhere in politics;  cash, caste and  community clout matter.

We don’t associate Air Deccan Gopinath, politically, with any caste or  community,  do we?  He belongs to a class though, the  corporate class. Which isn’t the flavour of the critical  mass of voters in any constituency, even in cosmopolitan  Bangalore. We aren’t yet cosmopolitan enough to get  the best candidate elected.

But the presence in the poll fray, of the likes of  Capt.Gopinath,  is a good thing,  and can go a long way to influence  established parties in paying the much needed  attention to the  innate merits of a poll aspirant, rather than his/her caste/community affiliation,  before doling out the party ticket.

According to a media report,   those who visited  Capt.Gopinath’s place to extend support included  Biotech  Mazumdar, Infy Pai,  civic activist Ramanathan, PR/ad. pandit Bijoor, and fashion guru Bidapa. None of these corporate and social worthies can get candidate Gopinath  much votes.  But  what the corporate/social elite   can do is  mobilise the likes of Gopinath to join the poll fray,  in increasing numbers.  If only because, their presence on the ballot paper give a credible option to a discerning electorate that is disenchanted with the party political candidates on offer.

High-powered media campaigns, such as that  seek to get all eligible voters to the polling booth, would have meaning if, and only if,  the candidates in the  fray are deemed worthy of your vote.

Mallya brings ‘Gandhi’ home

What were  your thoughts  when you heard of  Mr Vijay Mallya’s  acquisition of  Gandhi’s metal rimmed glasses and a few other belongings? gandhi1I, for one,  wondered what the mahatma would have made of the Mallya deal. We have some Gandhiwadhis hailing Mr Mallya for bringing our ‘heritage’  back to India. Never mind, if Gandhi’s things were paid for with a liquor baron’s money.  Whatever happened to the Gandhian thought about putting ‘means’ above ‘ends’?  Does the end, however lofty, justify any means?  Of course there is a school of thought that believes there is no such thing as tainted money. 

Mr Mallya may be an honourable man,  but a businessman nonetheless, believing in making sensible investments.   Imagine the publicity mileage he can milk out of his Gandhian acquisition. Not long ago, he bought Tipu’s sword in auction, and brandished it during the last poll campaign ,when Mr Mallya was working president of the Janata Party.

We have another election round the corner.  It comes after another prized acquisition by Mr Mallya.  Is he  still with the janata Party ?

For the record, he is  reported to have paid  $1.8 mill to retrive  for India prized artefacts auctioned in New York.  The items that came under the hammer were Gandhi’s pocket watch, a pair of sandals, his metal-rimmed glasses, and a plate and bowl.

America grows up

A few days before the poll novelist Maya Angelou was quoted in the media as saying, “if he (Obama) wins, it means my country has agreed to grow up”. America has since ‘grown up’. What’s more,  the decisive mandate has given Americans reason to feel ten feet tall. As columnist Alexander Cockburn put it,  America is a country eager to stand tall once more in the eyes of other nations.  

In India and rest of the sceptical Third World, I belive,  Barack Obama has changed  the way see America. The Obama win made me feel the same way I did when Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa President.  David Frost anchoring the US election coverage for BBC put it in perspective  when he mentioned that not so long ago the blacks in the US couldn’t even get to vote. Today, a black has been elected President.

African-Americans who lived through the days when they were attacked for going to the poll were among the multi-racial multitude that turned out to hear the President-elect in Chicago on election night. Civil rights activist Rev. Jessie Jackson was moved to tears, as he stood there, in the crush of Obama enthusiasts. Another face in the crowd was celebrity  talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. The sight of such notables taking their pace in the crowd (I expected them to be on  stage) ought to have a humbling effect on our own busybodies who claim entitlement whereever they go. 

People fooled pollsters- they predicted a win, but not an  electoral  phenomenan .  The  Obama sweep meant that too many voters had dodged pollsters on their electoral preferences.  After the event, however,  we heard TV commentators saying what the poll reflected was “beyond belief and stranger than fiction”. It is reckoned that Obama has a larger mandate than any Democratic president-elect since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. 

In an earlier post, in July when the McCain-Obama race was getting closer I  referred to a  question that haunted the political minded in the US – ‘what, if Obama gets elected’.  Dick Morris, former Clinton aide, had made it his political mission to educate people on why they shouldn’t vote Obama. He wrote a book – Fleeced – cautioning those falling for Obama-speak. 

There is no dearth of the likes of Dick Morris, waiting for Obama to take a mis-step or make a wrong move, so that they could write an  I-told-you sequal to Fleeced. Within hours of his victory speech in Chicago came the first salvo from Cockburn, the First Post columnist.  He wrote, “Obama has pledged, if elected president, to escalate the US war in Afghanistan; to  attack Pakistan’s sovereign territory if it obstructs any unilateral US mission to kill Osama bin Laden…A fresh start?”

Those familiar with Cockburn’s column don’t expect anything different from him.  But it doesn’t minimise the fact that Obama is in for a rough time; and his presidency would face critical scrutiny at every step of the way. And then, there is a sense of high expectations among the millions who got inspired by the man and his message.

Those close to him say that right through the campaign Obama kept asking them, “what, if I disappoint people”. The question, I guess, would keep haunting Obama during his presidency. As the first ever black president he has to be smarter than his critics and rivals; and has to work harder than anyone else in his position, in order to prove himself.

Obama made an impact during the campaign by transcending race.  America may have sent a resounding signal to rest of the world that it is ready for a black President. But the US is sill a long way from racial reconcilliation. What the Obama win has done is  pave the way for a public and open debate on unspoken racial fears and prejudices.  That Obama has happened in the US has given impetus to race relations and brought what many thought was a ‘mission implausible’ within the realms of possibility.

Of the gun factor and Seshan Effect

I have known Dr. Javeed Nayeem as a social activist, student of Mysore’s folk-history, book-lover, coffee-planter, Star of Mysore columnist, a Haji and, of course, as a reputed cardiologist. His latest column however shows him up as a gun-lobbist. I wouldn’t associate him, though, with die-hard crusaders of US gun lobby. Would suggest he read – Guns and Losses – by B S Prakash, India’s consul general in San Francisco.

Dr.Nayeem’s gun-talk stems from the poll time humiliation that a section of law-abiding citizens have to go through, for the ‘fault’ of owning licensed guns. They are required to deposit them at the local police station during the election process. This ‘revolutionary’ measure was thought of by former chief election commissioner T N Seshan, a ‘sabre-rattler, given to theatrics’. These are Dr Nayeem’s words, not mine, though I wish they were.

The Seshan Effect continues to cast its shadow still; it has gone into the rulebook, as a pre-poll sanitising measure. What is worse, as Dr Nayeem puts it, “we have all shamelessly tolerated it without a whisper or a whimper” all this while. His point is:

1) The gun, especially a licensed one, has never played a role in any poll in Karnataka.
2) When all and sundry, ‘the bad and the ugly’, come to know that weapons owned by law-abiding residents are safely locked away in police stations during election time, they take it as an open invitation to ‘make hay as soon as the sun sets’ over the Chamundi Hills. Isolated bungalows, farm-houses and outlying residental layouts are particularly vulnerable.
3) The police can’t be everywhere; and during election time they tend to be ‘nowhere’, presumably, under pressure of campaign bandobast.
4) Gun licences come at a hefty price; and a handgun, says Dr Nayeem, is literally worth its weight in gold. He reckons that police stations are certainly not the place where licensed weapons should be tossed around. Priceless ones are known to have been ‘misplaced, replaced, or even lost while in police custody’.

He would like to see public opinion moblised to persuade the three wisemen in the election office to see reason. And towards this end, columinist Nayeem is prepared to go beyond his ‘Over a Cup of Evening Tea’ column in Star of Mysore . He invites you to a cuppa of the real stuff, this Sunday evening at King’s Kourt.
Mail (or nail) him on this at or call 9880179722