Bangalore energy expo

A global energy expo-cum seminar is under way in Bangalore,  but Karnataka’s energy minister has no time to look in.  He is reported to  have told the show organisers that he is busy with campaigning for  the legislative council poll in Shimoga. Nearly 60 companies  related to energy – solar, wind,  biofuel,  and  hydro power – are represented at the four-day show.

Here they are  showcasing their product and equipment under one roof for the first time, and the karnataka energy minister doesn’t seem to see the  point of it.  For him Copenhagen may well be on another planet.  So  much for his  interest in the climate change issue.

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Thoughts of a poll loser

Karnataka voters have ousted twiddledee only to bring back twiddledum.  So wrote Dr Bhamy Shenoy in 1995. He could as well write the same stuff in May next,  after the 2009 elections. Our voters do not care who wins and often do not even know whom they are voting for. So says Dr Shenoy, who contested the 1995 Karnataka assembly election as an Independent. And lost by a huge margin.

He reckoned that our voters are easily swayed,  even those whom we expect would take informed decisions. A  retired Karnataka Administrative Services (KAS) official, who had promised his vote to Shenoy, changed his mind on way to the polling booth. Because someone supporting  a rival candidate came up to him and handed over his voter registration slip.  The official had  in his government day held responsible positions  that entailed taking decisions. 

Losing elections, twice in a row,I suppose,  makes Dr Shenoy an electoral veteren. Referring to the last time he lost, 1994, the IIT educated  Mysorean said his  assembly constituency, with a fair chunk of well-to-do residents, had eight slum areas,  where votes were controlled by petty landlords, usually small time politicians. Our candidate had reckoned on neutralising the slum area vote,  by appealing to the educated middle-class to 1) stop staying away from the polling booth; and 2)  think before voting.

Dr Shenoy first contested in 1989,  when he polled 550 votes.  His strategy to draw middle-class votes fetched him 2260 votes in 1994. The strategy worked,  but the candidate lost. His years between elections – 1989-94 –  were spent on proactive social activism and networking  retired professionals and officials to help him mobilise public opinion.

With their support Dr Shenoy reached out individually to 70,000 people and visited 30,000 households, spending time at each place discussing issues of common concern.  “If only half of those we met had kept their word,  I would have easily won,” says Dr Shenoy.

On reflection he felt many who promised Shenoy their vote had, presumably, associated his name with BJP.  The middle-class everywhere has a segment of party-committed voters, who went by the party symbol, rather than a condidate’s merit. So much for the power of informed voting.  Dr Shenoy’s home-visits and his efforts to educate them on democratic maturity simply fell on deaf ears.

Another discovery he made was that, like parties and their parties ,  voters too have an ‘unspoken agenda’.  Sharing his thoughts in the media, Dr Shenoy wrote in 1995:

A shopkeeper was frank enough to admit that if we really root out corruption he would not be able to earn his living!…many of us may talk against the present corrupt system. But  we   have learnt the art of managing the system….Traders ans business class  may  agitate for unification of taxes and show their protest against the political system that brings in irrational rules and regulations.  But in the final analysis, they prefer a system where they can bribe and manage rather than the one where the rule of law prevails.   

Dr Shenoy can be reached at bhamysuman@hotmail.com

Of Fahrenheit9/11 and Kissa Kursi Ka

I caught up with Fahrenheit9/11 eventually; at a time when George W Bush has barely a few weeks to go at the White House. Ironically, the film opens with the inagural of the Bush presidency in 2001. Placcard carrying crowds are seen pouring onto the streets of Washington DC to pelt eggs at the Bush limo.

A scathing indictment of the Bush presidency, Fahrenheit9/11 is so provocative that one wonders how the movie came to be screened at all. As I watched film maker Michael Moore taking the mickey out of the Bush administration,  I wondered if such blatantly anti-establishment movie would be possible in India.

Remember Kissa Kursi Ka ?  And the fate the movie met during the Indira Gandhi regime ?  Sanjay Gandhi did not take kindly to the film’s portrayal of politicians. Kissa Kursi Ka was not just refused censor’s certificate; all available prints of the 1977 movie were confiscated and destroyed. More on it, later.

Fahrenheit9/11 is a well made documentary, containing archive footage tracing developments in the Bush White House since 9/11. The pace is racy, the narrative, engaging and entertaining. The political stuff is extensively researched, and for the benefit of nit-picking critics, the film maker provides on the web line-by-line factual  back-up citing the source of film’s script and footage.

In the wake of 9/11 a common question people asked of others was what they were doing when New York’s World Trade Centre got hit by a hijacked plane.  I was then in Mysore,  worried over my travel plans to the US, in the wake of grounding of all planes. I was due to leave for San Francisco, but got stuck at Bangalore for days.

During the shutdown of the US airports, the film points out,  the White House approved Saudi flights carrying the Bin Laden family (of which there were 44 members in the US then). Such special treatment seemed glaring, considering that 15 of the 19 hijakers were Saudi nationals.

Where was President Bush when 9/11 happened ?  In Florida, addressing children at E Booker Elementary School. When an aide conveyed the news the commander-in-chief of the US forces, not knowing how to cope, and with no one to tell him what to do, decided to carry on with the photo opportunity, reading out for the school kids a story from a book,titled,’ My Pet Goat’.

Michael Moore sure can turn political provocation into a fine art. Kissa Kursi Ka  wasn’t known for its production value. Its producer Amrit Nahata was no Michael Moore.  A senior government official,  Mr S M Murshad,  who was among the few who saw the film wasn’t particularly impressed.  He wasn’t in favour of a ban,  for it would give the film ‘notoriety value’. Besides, the film was  so badly made that it would die a natural death at the box office.

Recalling the episode that happened during the Emergency,  Mr Murshad who was then joint-secretary in I & B ministry, wrote,  “The film in question was refused a censor certificate by the Films Censor Board in Mumbai. It came up to me in appeal. I recommended that the film should be granted a certificate notwithstanding that it taunted the Gandhi family in no uncertain terms..”  The official was over-ruled by V C Shukla, ‘Indira Gandhi’s hatchet man in the Ministry’.  Mr Murshad, an IAS official of the West Bengal cadre was sent back to the state. As for Kissa Kursi Ka, ‘all copies (of the film) were allegedly burnt in the premises of the Maruti company by Sanjay Gandhi’.

Green-card holder in the poll fray

A Karnataka assembly poll candidate is reported to have declared his assets in US dollars. Presumably, because he runs a business in the US, owns a flat there and holds US government bonds. It is not clear if his dollar declaration of assets would be acceptable to the electoral officer. Every candidate is required to file an affidavit, declaring his current assets, along with his nomination papers. These are then scrutinized by the election office.
Mr Sonne Gowda, contesting the Kolar constituency seat as BJP candidate, is a green-card holder. Maybe there is nothing in our electoral law that says he can’t contest election. The issue is whether Mr Gowda would serve the best interests of his voters; whether he would be available for them whenever he is needed in the constituency.
Normal requirements of a US green-card preclude his continued presence in India for the duration of his term as an MLA. Maybe Mr Gowda, if elected, can so schedule his presence here during assembly sessions. I knew of a green-card holder who was mayor of Ludhiana (or was it Jalandhar?). His business interests in the US were taken care of by his family members there; and he made brief visits of no more than a week or two to the US to comply with a green-card provision that required his presence in the US every year. The mayor made his US trip, usually a couple of weeks, in December end, returning to Punjab in early January. He could, thus, account for two years in one go. This was some years back.
This is no longer possible. Current rules, they say, stipulates longer stay in the US, of six months every year in order to retain one’s green-card. Many NRI parents who split their time between India and the US no longer find it appealing to apply for green-card; and some who have it find their to-and-fro-ing between India and the US cramped by the six-month rule. A green-card holder who becomes an MLA can possibly seek a waiver. And Mr Gowda has, perhaps, worked it all out.