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.

Sunanda Tharoor found dead in Delhi hotel room

Sunanda Tharoor, wife of Congress party minister Shashi Tharoor, was found dead in her room at a luxury hotel in New Delhi on Friday, police said.

“Her dead body was found in her room,” Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told Reuters by phone. He declined to give details.

Abhinav Kumar, Tharoor’s personal assistant, said the junior minister for human resource development was at a Congress party session the entire day on Friday. Sunanda was found lying in bed in her room, Kumar said.

from Expert Zone:

The return of the ugly American

(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author's own)

Nearly a month after American authorities arrested India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, outside her children’s school and charged her with paying her Indian domestic worker a salary below the minimum wage, bilateral relations remain tense. India’s government has reacted with fury to the mistreatment of an official enjoying diplomatic immunity, and public indignation has been widespread and nearly unanimous. So, has an era of steadily improving ties between the two countries come to an end?

Judging from Indian leaders’ statements, it would certainly seem so. India’s mild-mannered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that Khobragade’s treatment was “deplorable.” National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon called her arrest “despicable” and “barbaric,” and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid refused to take a conciliatory phone call from US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Social media not a game changer in 2014 elections

By Aditya Kalra and David Lalmalsawma

Political parties in India are relying more on social media ahead of the 2014 election as a way of increasing voter support, even though politicians in general do not expect such efforts to significantly influence election results.

Parties are trying to ride the digital wave by conducting workshops to teach leaders and foot soldiers how to improve engagement on websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The country of 1.2 billion people had around 165 million Internet users as of March, the third-largest in the world, according to data from India’s telecommunications regulator. But the number of social media users is likely to grow to about 80 million by mid-2014, a report released in February said.

Shashi Tharoor on Congress’ social media plans, digital presence of Gandhis

By Aditya Kalra and David Lalmalsawma

Political parties in India are relying more on social media ahead of the 2014 election as a way of increasing voter support, even though politicians in general do not expect such efforts to influence election results.

India Insight interviewed Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for human resources and one of the earliest adopters of Twitter in Indian politics. Here are edited excerpts of the interview:

Can social media be a game changer in the upcoming general election?
I think it can be a game influencer, but I wouldn’t go beyond that at this stage, because what we are discovering is that you need various ways of reaching out to the electorate, and social media happens to offer an additional way, not a substitute for any of the traditional means of campaigning.

Interview: India has a lot to offer in terms of Twitter stories – Twittamentary director

Two Indian social media consultants, Avinash Kalla and Bhaskar Pant, plan to release “Twittamentary India”, a film made in collaboration with Singapore-based documentary filmmaker Tan Siok Siok. Like Siok’s 2012 original “Twittamentary”, the new film will take a look at the Twitter community with the help of people on the social media website. “Twittamentary India” will explore the interactions that politicians, journalists and ordinary people have on Twitter in the country.

(Also read: Twitter in India to come alive in new documentary)

Arnika Thakur spoke to Siok about social media, “Twittamentary” and how India became the first country chapter. Edited excerpts from the interview.

Q: How did “Twittamentary” happen?
A: The motivation for making the film came about from my own experience on Twitter. I was kind of an early adopter and I came on Twitter in 2007, before it became mainstream … When I first started using it I thought it was quite inane. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be doing this … But when I started using it, I was amazed by the connections I was able to make, and by the amount of relationships and friendships I was able to form. At the same time I found that those who are really into Twitter had a really hard time trying to convey their experience to people who don’t get it. So I thought that it would actually be a very good topic for a film as film or video can be more visceral and you can convey emotion and experience that will be in logical terms.

Twitter in India to come alive in new documentary

Four years ago, Singapore-based documentary filmmaker Tan Siok Siok asked her Twitter friends to contribute ideas for a Twitter documentary. That was the beginning of her crowd-sourced film ‘Twittamentary’. She spent three years travelling across the United States, meeting strangers and documenting experiences on Twitter as she made the film.

Later this year, two Indian social media consultants, Avinash Kalla and Bhaskar Pant, in collaboration with Siok, plan to release a new film for India. “Twittamentary India” will look at the interactions that politicians, journalists and ordinary people have on Twitter in the country.

The essence remains the same as the original “Twittamentary”, a film about the Twitter community with the help of people on the social media website, but exploring different themes.

The emerging world’s education imperative

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

Official delegations from the world’s nine most populous developing countries just met in New Delhi to discuss a subject vital for their countries’ futures: education. The meeting of ministers and others from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, known as the E-9, is the latest in a series of encounters held every two years to fulfil the pledge of “education for all” by 2015.

The E-9 account for 54 percent of the world’s population, 42.3 percent of children not in school, 58 percent of young illiterates (aged 15-24), and 67 percent of adult illiterates (two-thirds of whom are women). So the challenges are enormous: children, from families too poor to think about education, beyond the reach of schooling and too malnourished to study; and too few schools, classrooms, teaching resources, and adequately trained teachers. Rampant illiteracy underpins other problems, including exploding populations, gender imbalances, and widespread poverty.

How to insult people, Indian politician-style

If you were a reporter covering the Shiv Sena in 2006, the place to be was a nondescript restaurant located midway between party offices and those of Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj, who rebelled and formed a new party after a fall-out with his uncle.

At this hole-in-the-wall eatery, party workers from both sides would let it all out — the vitriol would flow freely against Raj, the Thackerays and the Congress party. A lot of these barbs were never repeated outside those four walls, but some of that vitriol certainly seeped into the public speeches of their leaders.Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi addresses his supporters during an election campaign rally ahead of the state assembly elections at Dokar village in Gujarat October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is certainly taking over from the Thackerays when it comes to handing out insults — he’s been targeting almost every single opponent in his election campaign.

Narendra Modi, why shoot yourself in the foot?

I usually don’t spend too much time contemplating the bizarre pronouncements, snide comments and muddy slings of India’s political figures.

I’m talking about:

- The village elders who consider themselves the law, declaring that Indian girls should marry young to avoid getting raped.

- Their comment that Chinese food (i.e. chowmein) inflames the passions and leads to rape. I have, however, not given up my favourite stir-fried noodles.

  •