India Insight

I’m an Indian politician… on TV

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp)

Are they parliamentarians, or do they just play ones on TV? After pushing through proposals on foreign investment in the retail and the aviation sector late last year, India’s elected representatives apparently have decided to get as little done as possible during the current session.

On television, it’s another matter. Newsroom studios appear to be the preferred forum for debating problems and legislation that normally would be the province of parliament. Those include recent demands by the coalition government’s prime opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, for the resignations of the prime minister, law minister and the railway minister over accusations that the government interfered with an investigation of improper allocation of coal mine licenses and certain other bribery allegations.

The Lok Sabha, or “people’s house,” has repeatedly adjourned in recent days, likely making it one of the least productive in its history. That’s bad if you want to pass bills, but it does help clear politicians’ schedules for the nightly news discussion programs. And that is not a bad thing, depending on whom you ask.

“The effort is to inform the public,” said BJP spokeswoman Nirmala Sitharaman. “We don’t think even for a minute we’ll accept this charge that we are disrupting parliament … This government wants to have a debating club run without any accountability”.

State elections loom in Karnataka, a state split wide open

With legislative assembly elections in the state of Karnataka just weeks away, politicians are preparing for an ugly battle for a state whose political future looks wide open.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be hard pressed to hang on to its lead in the state after its once tight-knit leadership ranks frayed under corruption charges and infighting. Given their recent poor performance in the urban local body elections, they might have much to worry about.

“Infighting cost us. KJP (Karnataka Janata Paksha) and BSR Congress also took away our votes,” said state Higher Education Minister C.T. Ravi. But they don’t appear to be too unhappy because only about 30 percent of the state electorate was eligible to vote in the local polls.

Narendra Modi’s media blitz fraught with risk

(This commentary reflects the thoughts of the author. It does not reflect anyone else’s opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

During Gujarat’s elections last year, incumbent Chief Minister Narendra Modi used 3D technology to appear at more than one political rally simultaneously. Now re-elected, the man has increased his omnipresence, if such a thing is possible, with help from the media.

On April 8, Modi addressed the women’s wing of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The same evening, he was at Network18’s summit outlining his vision for India. The next day, Modi addressed businessmen in Kolkata, West Bengal. Later in the day, he delivered a fiery speech to his party people. All of these appearances got plenty of TV coverage, website analysis and Twitter attention.

Short skirts, bad stars and chow mein: why India’s women get raped

If you thought the Delhi gang rape would cause a serious debate on women’s rights in India, you’d be half right. Let’s look at the other half: last December’s brutal incident seems to have put a spell on India’s politicians, holy men and otherwise educated people.

From suggesting that the rape victim should have called her rapists “brother” to blaming her stars, plenty of reasons cited for the crime lay the blame on the women whom men brutalise, or portray women in ways that reveal our skewed attitude toward women and their place in our society. When given an opportunity to figure out ways to improve the  education and behaviour of men, and thus try to reduce the  number of rapes that occur in India, many people revert to the  more traditional method: limit the rights of women.

This is a partial list compiled by me and Robert MacMillan. Please suggest more. We’ll keep updating this as long as we have to…

Narendra Modi, the BJP and the prime minister’s chair

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

Speculation has been rife lately within India’s centre-right nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), over who will be its candidate for prime minister in the 2014 general elections.

There were four possible candidates a few months back, but the choice seems to have narrowed to Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, or Sushma Swaraj, the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament.

India’s political advertising goofs: sometimes they’re just mistakes

Whenever anything happens in India, anything at all, you will find someone on Twitter muttering with suspicion about how it was a political conspiracy. What for? Votes, power, money, the usual. Nobody seems to be able to accept the idea that people sometimes just goof up, that cluelessness trumps deceit and a desire to irk other people.

It’s not like there is no evidence for this simple, if inelegant explanation. Look at the cabinet reshuffle this past October, when Minister of State Lalchand Kataria’s induction in the defence ministry was put on hold after confusion over names in the final list.

Personally, I love then-Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s goof-up at the United Nations Security Council when he accidentally read the Portuguese foreign minister’s speech.

Business of adjournments in parliament

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

Talk of a trust vote, foreign direct investment in retail, and 102 bills pending overall – this is what the agenda for the winter session of parliament could have been. It was, actually, but sometimes things just get in the way.

Day one of the winter session started in the same way that the last session ended: opposition parties protesting over various contentious topics. Also, on the first day, the speaker rejected a motion to trigger early elections with a no-confidence vote.

Elsewhere in India: a Hitchcock escape at Kashmere gate, and more…

(Editor’s note: please bear with us as we find a digest that you can digest. Anything that causes indigestion is the result of something that the author said, and is in all likelihood incorrect, specious and wrong)

Here are some stories from the Indian press that caught our attention in recent days. We hope that you find them as interesting as we did.

    If you’re a police officer and transporting a robbery and murder suspect from one city to another, don’t do it via public transportation. Two cops from Gurgaon lost their suspect at the Kashmere Gate metro station in Delhi when he jumped on a train and slipped away Hitchcock-style. The suspect apparently was tied to one of the cops, who had to untie the rope quickly to avoid being dragged away by the train. The cops took a bus from Chandigarh to Delhi, along with the criminal, and were planning to take the Delhi metro back to Gurgaon, where the suspect was to be jailed. (Times News Now) Avoid insulting the protagonists in major Indian epics. Lawyer and BJP politician Ram Jethmalani is taking some heat after saying that Lord Ram of the Ramayan was a bad husband. The BJP, which relies on the support of often conservative Hindus, says it does not approve of Jethmalani’s statement. Without getting into the whole story — it is an epic, after all — I would say only this: according to his Wikipedia entry, Jethmalani married twice, back when polygamy was legal. Maybe he knows from good husbands? (The Asian Age) The same rule applies to insulting Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize-winning author of “Home and the World,” the “Kabuliwallah” and India’s national anthem and what feels like millions of other works large and small. “After his public criticism of V S Naipaul, writer-actor Girish Karnad has kicked up a fresh storm by calling Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore a “second-rate playwright”. Talking to reporters near Nelamangala in (Bangalore’s) outskirts, he said, “Tagore was a great poet but a mediocre and second-rate playwright. He produced his plays but those were never produced by his contemporaries. The contemporary Bengali theatre never accepted them. I think they did one or two plays. His comedy succeeded but not his other plays.” Not only that, poor people in his plays are “cardboard characters.” Karnad said. (PTI) One boy, two moms! “His genes will decide whether he is Ravish Kumar of Ranchi’s Sukhdeonagar or Sunil Oraon of Ganeshpur village in Chanho block.” (The Telegraph) Life is hard when you’re Malaysian national oil company Petronas. First, Canada blocks a huge buyout that you were about to pull off. Second, you start posting funeral music for major Indian holidays: “Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas was left red faced after angry viewers pointed out that a music video it posted on its official YouTube page to mark Diwali depicted a funeral dance. The three minute clip was pulled out after the Company reviewed the mixed feedback on the video, which had drawn more than 130,000 views. The video featured young Malaysian ethnic Indians performing the ‘Dappan Koothu’, an energetic form of Tamil folk dance performed to loud music on any occasion not necessarily funeral.” Hindu groups in Malaysia also took offense because they said the dance had nothing to do with Diwali and portrayed Indians as a bunch of dance-happy people. As one NGO chief said, “Dancing on the street is not Malaysian Indian culture.” (The Hindu Business Line) Honor killing? A man and his son were arrested for killing the man’s 24-year-old daughter. Police said that she was pregnant, and that the father and brother tried to procure an abortion for her before resorting to murder. (PTI) “A normal root canal treatment procedure at the Government Dental College Hospital here turned into a nightmare for a youth with a needle used in the surgery ending up in his stomach. ” Don’t ask yourself how this happened. The story never says. (TNN) A stray cobra has shown up at the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh. It reportedly was warming itself in the underground parking lot. Attendants found snake catcher Salim Khan, who was suffering from a “raging fever,” and hauled him off to work. The story features a sentence that I suspect my journalism career will never allow me to write on my own: “Reptiles often slither into the area from the wooded area nearby.” (TNN) A man was killed after confronting neighbors who told him that his children were watching TV cartoons with the volume turned up too high. They beat him with iron rods and bamboo. (TNN) Five hundred pigeons dropped dead in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district over four days. The incidents caused people “to fear that something was amiss.” (IANS) Being Naomi Campbell means having people around who can get arrested for you. Indian police arrested an event manager for excessive use of fireworks at an extravagant party hosted by supermodel Naomi Campbell in the desert city of Jodhpur, officials said on Friday. Mumbai-based P.K. Pareek was held on charges of “noise pollution” at Campbell’s star-studded party held to mark the 50th birthday of her billionaire Russian boyfriend Vladimir Doronin at a 15th-century fort.” Neighbors objected to the fireworks, among other noise. Among the guests: the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. The night’s entertainment was Diana Ross. (NDTV) The nose doesn’t lie: The Yamuna river really is an open sewer. That’s what you get when you dump the sewage of 17 million people into it every day. Here is a masterpiece of understatement: “The court noted the submission of CPCB counsel, Vijay Panjwan that the cumulative assessment of all parameters of water quality indicates that river Yamuna is not conforming to the desired levels and it more or less resembles a drain, especially after the Wazirabad area in Delhi. ” More bluntly, there is no fresh water in the river, Panjwan said. (PTI) And here, to end your day, is a collection of great Indian mustaches. (The Hindu Business Line)

 

The novice Indian politician’s guide to drubbings, snubbings and shruggings

It was only a matter of time before activist Arvind Kejriwal and his anti-corruption movement got back some of what they gave.

After Kejriwal’s flurry of allegations of wrongdoing by politicians and accusing the entire political class of working together as a “family” in looting the country, the family is striking back.

Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh has accused Kejriwal of being a “self-serving ambitious megalomaniac”, and plenty of others have openly questioned his intentions. An RTI activist has accused one of Kejriwal’s aide of playing a dubious role in a Mumbai land deal, while another faces questions over farmland that she bought.

The news this weekend: LPG, Kejriwal, toilets, politicians… and Somali pirates

It’s shaping up as a busy weekend for India’s politicians…

The price of LPG — liquefied petroleum gas cylinders, or cooking gas — has risen 11.42 rupees per cylinder because dealers are getting higher commissions. TV channels attacked the government because this “shocker” comes right after the imposition of a cap on subsidized cylinder sales was imposed.

Bharatiya Janata Party politician Smriti Irani said the party will hold a nation-wide protest on Oct. 12, saying the higher prices are “anti-women”. This is presumably because they do more of the daily cooking than men, whose potential inversely proportional waistline shrinkage could be in their favour.

We all know who the main attraction is on news channels nowadays: social activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal. Here are the pots that he’s stirring:

  •