India Insight

Not funny – jokes Indian politicians crack

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Politicians facing outrage over their comments often say that they didn’t mean what they said to come out that way. Lately in India, they say they were joking.

One of the latest was Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, whose self-confessed attempt at a joke earned him the ire of the Election Commission of India just before the beginning of this year’s elections that could boot the Congress out of power. Addressing a community of labourers in Maharashtra last week, the chief of the Nationalist Congress Party urged listeners to vote twice for his party – and told them how to do it.

“This time, Election in Satara is on 17 and as per my information election here is on 24. So cast your vote on ‘clock’ (party symbol) there and cast your vote on ‘clock’ here. Wipe the ink,” he said, referring to the indelible ink to mark the fingers of people who have voted, noting that people should be able to remove it.

For those unfamiliar with how it works, the ink blot is supposed to make sure that people don’t con election officials into allowing them to vote more than once.

When the statement led to a media uproar, Pawar said he was joking. Political commentator Manisha Priyam called it a judgment error. “It is the politicians who belittle the act of voter rights and citizens’ power who [make] statements of this kind. You don’t crack that joke,” said Priyam, a senior lecturer at Delhi University.

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Kejriwal 2.0 not enough to change India’s political landscape

It wasn’t long ago that social activist Arvind Kejriwal called India’s parliamentarians “rapists, murderers and looters“. After making no bones about his hatred for India’s politicians during his anti-corruption movement, the former Team Anna member may soon be breaking bread and rubbing shoulders with the targets of his scorn now that he has decided to enter politics.

Kejriwal’s first test could be the assembly elections in Delhi next year. Will his rhetoric translate into votes? Will his party succeed in overthrowing a state government that has been in power for nearly 15 years in the capital? (Please participate in our poll on Arvind Kejriwal. Our question: will his new party be able to make a political impact? At the moment, “yes” votes outnumber “no” votes by nearly two to one.)

If you go by his “vision document“, the idea of a government run by the people gives an impression that parliamentary democracy is somehow a different thing. The former Magsaysay Award winner wants citizens to make decisions on budget, commodity prices and lawmaking. While there is no doubt that his ideas hint at a disorganized system of governance, it’s a college student’s version of idealism and it won’t transform India’s government.

Why Team Anna’s political plunge deserves India’s vote

Members of Team Anna, the group whose anti-corruption mission last year became one of India’s biggest social movements, will form a political party to try to fix the system from the inside.

The move follows the group’s latest and perhaps least effective hunger strike in New Delhi to try to force the government into accepting their demand of creating an anti-corruption ombudsman post. Such a move looks unlikely at best.

With signs of agitation fatigue among the public and a government refusing to play ball, the movement led by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare has decided to provide a “political alternative”. Hazare on Monday officially disbanded the team to pave the way for the formation of this as yet unnamed party.

Why is Team Anna targeting the PM?

A combative Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he would quit politics if charges of corruption in allocating coal blocks, levelled against him by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption team, are proved.

Singh has been criticised in the past for not doing enough to curb corruption in the government, but the one thing that has never been questioned, even by his detractors, is his integrity.

So why is Team Anna going after Singh? Especially since the allegations are based on a federal auditor’s draft report in which there is no direct proof of corruption or gains made by the prime minister.

More than Lokpal, does Anna need a speech writer?

By Diksha Madhok

The self-styled crusader against corruption, the “modern Gandhi”  — Anna Hazare — has managed to pick on one of the most marginalized sections of Indian society. While pitching for a strong Lokpal Bill on Tuesday, Hazare resorted to an unfortunate idiom about childless women, when he said, “Banjh kya jaane prasuti vedana (what would an infertile woman know about labour pain)?”

However the word in Hindi, “banjh”, does not have the same clean and scientific connotation as “infertile” or “sterile”. It means “barren” and is used as a derogatory term for women who fail to bear children. A woman who does not produce a child loses her social status inside and outside the house. While the ostracism in urban India may not be as obvious, contempt for childless women is reinforced through colloquialism and Bollywood.

Popular culture still depicts women who don’t reproduce, even if it is out of choice, as incomplete and good-for-nothing. It is not uncommon for infertile women to be barred from baby shower or child-naming ceremonies as they are considered the harbingers of ill-omen. Even if the husband is infertile, the wife ends up shouldering the blame for a childless marriage and is often subjected to treatments ranging from exorcism to numerology. Subordination, violence and estrangement are all likely consequences of infertility for a woman.

Anti-graft wars: Empire strikes back at Team Anna

They rode a popular wave of discontent over spiralling corruption to force the government to bend to their demands and led an otherwise fractious parliament to arrive at a consensus on an anti-graft bill, in the process becoming media celebrities — their figurehead even hailed a national hero.

But now, activists led by Anna Hazare, whose campaign against corruption captured the imagination of millions across the country and prompted round-the-clock media coverage, say they are being targeted by official machinery for ruffling important feathers.

Hazare’s aides Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and Prashant Bhushan have all received breach of privilege notices from parliament for derogatory comments they reportedly made against legislators.

Anna Hazare: PR superstar?

So it has come to an end for now. A fast by a 74-year-old man sparked nationwide protests against the political class in the world’s largest democracy and forced a government, already suffering from graft charges, even further on the backfoot. While we are on the issue of sporting analogies, let’s ask ourselves, how many of the statements made in media and civil society, about the UPA government scoring own goals and making unforced errors, are justified?

To start from the top, a few days before Anna Hazare started his fast against the government’s reluctance to table his and his team’s version of a key anti-corruption bill, called the Lokpal bill, the government’s PR machinery made one blunder after the other.

It allowed a Congress spokesman to use rather strong language on TV against Hazare. And later statements on record by union ministers Kapil Sibal and Palaniappan Chidambaram did nothing to turn the tide of public opinion increasingly turning against the government at its inability to crack down on rampant corruption.

Civil servants start following in Anna Hazare’s footsteps

By Annie Banerji

He came, he saw and he took the Congress-led government by storm with his 12-day fast against corruption at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi that became the epicentre of a national crusade.

But just a few days later, Hazare’s plea to hundreds of thousands of supporters to do more than just cheer him on and instead change their attitude to corruption looks to be bearing fruit.

Sipping coconut water and honey, 74-year-old Anna Hazare ended a hunger strike on its 13th day on Sunday when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government caved in to the demands of the veteran social reformer as parliament backed anti-graft legislation that met many of his demands.

Corporate governance and Anna Hazare’s fast

A few months ago, Kiran Bedi visited the Thomson Reuters office in Bangalore as a guest speaker to mark International Women’s week and also to address us on corporate ethics and governance. It was also the day when some of us heard of a man called Anna Hazare and a bill called the Lokpal.

“A few of us activists, like Anna Hazare, if you’ve heard about him…,” began Bedi. “He’s called the Gandhi of Maharashtra,” and she continued further, enlightening us about the anti-corruption bill and the support and impact this man can provide.

“Anna Hazare is known to be very effective in the past,” she said. “Whenever Hazare has sat on a fast, the Maharashtra government gave in and he got the right kind of laws.”

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