Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Wedding: The Secret Diaries

(Published in on 28 April, retrieved from

As royal wedding mania continues, here's a list of secret diary extracts that the Clarence House and White House have no clue about. Sadly enough, exclusive schools don't focus on calligraphy. If you're unable to read any of this, you can read it in print after the pictures.

Phew! Now that we're sure, I can finally stop making that list of 'Diplomatic responses to possible race-related wisecracks by Phil'.

- Barack Obama

Oh, dear! Another commoner enters the family! Thank goodness this one's not been married before. One would think our country was a democracy...erm...maybe I should hide this away.

- Elizabeth R

Hehehe, I love sniffing out the wifey's diaries. If I could slip her some skunk, maybe we can finally snog in public, eh? ;-)

- Philip

I just can't wait to be King! Oh...uh, earworm. That's all. Yeah, that's all, folks.

- Charles

I didn't break my leg trying to kill myself because of succession hiccups! And, of course, I didn't take a good-luck wish literally! Pah, the press is a royal pain! Oooohhh! I just made my first royal pun! Let me show this to Pa. He'll love it!

- Camilla
22-1 on Wombat splitting his trousers...hmm, maybe I should put some money in this. Oh, hey, 25-1 on me forgetting the ring, dropping the ring...hmm, getting drunk too. Now, which would be the most fun? Oh boy, indecisiveness runs in my genes, doesn't it....

- Harry Wales

Not Jecca, not Bella, not Rose. What've I got myself into?? Let's hope I blurt out the right name! Kate, Kate,, no, no, Catherine, Catherine, Catherine...

- William
Please, dear God, I don't care if I have a wardrobe malfunction, fall flat on my face, whatever...but, please, please, let no one think of 'The Princess and the Poo'

- Catherine Middleton

- Sandip Soparrkar and Jesse Randhawa

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sri Lanka's War Crimes: Will India Take a Stance?

(Published in on 25 April, 2011, retrieved from

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India is, perhaps, the only country in the world that is surrounded by former, current and prospective enemies.

Even more bizarrely, each of our neighbours is beholden to us for a timely favour, granted at some time in the past – the weirdest largesse of all being the division of the treasury even as Pakistan was being carved out of British India’s flesh, in a clumsy, excruciating operation.

Now that our ties with our northern neighbour are largely limited to cricket and terrorism – and of course, the occasional exchange of trained militants for incarcerated truck-drivers who got curious about the other side of the border a couple of decades ago – our troubled relationship with Sri Lanka is coming into focus.

India chose to interfere in Sri Lanka’s affairs just as it did in Bangladesh’s, but with far less at stake. Strangely, it was Rajiv Gandhi’s interference in the island nation that backfired, while his mother got away with meddling in politics outside the borders.

After 1991, the Indian government’s relations with Sri Lanka were brought back into the spotlight in the lead-up to the General Elections of 2009, when Priyanka Gandhi decided to rub shoulders with a woman indicted in the conspiracy to kill her father, around the same time it was rumoured that the Congress may turn to Vaiko’s MDMK to strengthen the alliance.

The media in New Delhi saw the situation of the Sri Lankan Tamils as an influential factor in guiding the votes in Tamil Nadu, without realising that the issue was about as remote to a voter from the state as the killings of Hindi-speakers in the North East would be to someone in Sindh province of Pakistan – or, for that matter, to Lakshmi Mittal in the UK.

Even so, the hype around the issue made it sensitive enough for news of LTTE supremo V Prabhakaran’s death to seep through only after the voting was over in Tamil Nadu.

Now, with the increasing number of cases of death and torture of Tamil fishermen, reportedly at the hands of the Sri Lankan navy, India has to be a lot more cautious about how it conducts its handshakes with Rajapakse.

The UN-appointed panel’s report on Sri Lanka, perhaps coincidentally, leaked to the papers within a couple of days of the votes being cast in the Tamil Nadu State Assembly Elections.

With Jayalalithaa waving documents in the air, Karunanidhi can’t simply sit back and write elegies to mourn the death of his dear friends. And, therefore, his allies at the Centre cannot take a stance.

Sri Lanka’s ministers, though, who came back from a joint vacation (if Deputy External Affairs Minister Neomal Perera is to be believed) to find ‘BUSTED!’ scribbled across their walls, got cross because India’s representative in the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, had met the panel before the report was finalised, and hadn’t suggested that they tone it down.

Whether they expected him to suggest that they change “The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery, some of them were hit repeatedly, despite the fact that their locations were well-known to the Government” to “The Government, out of its humanitarian instincts, accidentally euthanised patients who were dying slowly and painfully, as its subconscious guided its mortar shells to put them out of their misery” is debatable.

But reports say that Rajapakse wasn’t able to get an assurance from Manmohan Singh that India would stand up for the island nation when the report came up for discussion in the UN. While Russia and China could be strong allies, India could (a) make a formidable enemy (b) use its support as leverage in trade.

We can quite safely assume that India will stop short of antagonising Sri Lanka. Chances are that the government will dither for a while, assure the media that it is contemplating all the factors involved (naturally, using terms like ‘weighing the options’ and ‘giving due consideration’), send out an expression of regret, provide token aid to a few token victims, and then invite Rajapakse over to enjoy a cuppa with his counterpart during the next cricket match between the two countries.

But the least the whole world can do is stop pretending to be surprised over the gruesome realities discussed in the report. While most Indian journalists, with a few brave exceptions, toed the line of the Sri Lankan government and faithfully relayed its reports, several correspondents from the BBC World Service and CNN, spoke of horrific crimes in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps and No Fire Zones in 2009. The report confirms our worst fears, but is not a shocker.

And the least India can do is demand that the people who conducted the war in Sri Lanka take moral responsibility immediately, whether or not the legal procedures are set in motion, and that they make reparations by providing aid to the displaced refugees struggling to get permission to go out and work in other countries.

But will we call up the courage to do what is right, and use our leverage to stand up for the principles we claim to hold so dear, before we look at its economic benefits?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why I support France’s Burqa Ban

(Published in on 21 April 2011, retrieved from

(Image Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)

Sarkozy hasn’t exactly shied away from controversy since he became French President.

First, he spent a whole lot of campaign money on making himself pretty with expensive makeup – perhaps one of the key reasons he feels people shouldn’t hide their faces.

Then, he brought his girlfriend along on a state visit to India – a country that likes to think pre-marital sex doesn’t exist.

And then – oh, the Muslim-hating Crusader! – he called for a ban on the burqa, and said it went against the rights of women by “imprisoning them”. What’s more, he actually got it enacted.

By saying veils “do not pose a problem in a religious sense, but threaten the dignity of women”, Sarkozy has the unique distinction of leaving both right-wingers and left-wingers in a muddle.

All those who thought he was being politically correct, and hiding the real reason behind the ban on the veil in public places – that a terrorist may be carrying a bunch of explosives under it – had to admit he was more of a feminist than an Islamophobe when he instituted a fine of 150 euros or lessons in French citizenship for women who defied the ban, and of 30,000 euros and a year’s imprisonment for anyone who forced a woman to wear the chador, niqab or burqa (to be doubled if the victim is a minor).

Now, no one can deny the burqa has its uses – it helped Priyanka Chopra get to an event on time, by boarding a suburban train without being mobbed by her fans, and it helped Himesh Reshammiya escape the wrath of music-lovers.

Among other things, it could be a useful mask for people who intend to bomb targets, whatever their religion or causes may be – and France has some great architecture – and it helps men control their carnal desires, if one takes the hard-line clerics at their word.

But then, what does it do for the women? Does it really imprison them, or does it bring them closer to their faith, to God, and make them feel protected?

My first encounter with prejudice against the burqa occurred in London. As I was crossing the street with a Swiss friend, she shook her head in disgust at a man walking with three women swathed in veils, and carrying five shopping bags from Selfridge’s (where a single top could set you back by 700 pounds.)

“Look at that man! How can he force them to wear those when they’re buying such lovely clothes?” she asked.

“Maybe they’re not being forced,” I pointed out.

“Who would voluntarily wear those?” she demanded, with a shudder, “and if they like it, why are they buying from Selfridge’s instead of Tesco’s?”

I found that the question was unanswerable, after I did a documentary on women who chose to wear the hijab. A well-spoken, educated woman who had grown up in Birmingham told me that the veil prevented her from feeling objectified – ironically, a patriarchal term. I’m no feminist. But the response made me wonder whether a woman who chose not to wear the veil was exposing herself to lust. Isn’t there something wrong with that?

Another woman told me she felt more spiritually aware when she was wearing the veil; it made her less vain about her looks. To others, it was an expression of their religion, as simple as wearing a cross or a caste mark.

Does the ban in France, then, go against the rights of these women, who are aware of their choices, and consciously embrace the veil?

One point that most angry protesters seem to forget is that France has simply called for a ban on the veil in public places. Women are free to wear the veil to mosques, if they choose to, and can wear the burqa while travelling in cars.

Besides, those who assume that every woman wearing the veil does so out of choice are as wrong as those who assume every woman wearing the veil is forced to. One of my interviewees, a woman who had discarded the veil in her twenties, told me she resents her relatives even now, for making her feel she was “wanton and unclean” for going without the hijab.

The question that arises next is, does France have the right to tell women what to wear and what not to wear? Can a country direct its citizens to avoid a certain action in public?

The day Saudi Arabia allows women to walk the streets sans burqas, the day Iran admits its female citizens have a right to do away with the headscarf, the day India allows people to kiss in public, and the day any country declares that its citizens are free to do anything they wish to out in the open, one may make a case that France’s ban is unconstitutional.

But there isn’t a single country in the world that doesn’t place restrictions on behaviour on the streets – and I’m not talking about actions that affect other people or expose them to health risks, such as smoking. Whether we personally disagree with these rules or subscribe to them, we cannot deny that the country has a right to put them into effect.

I do believe every individual has a right to practise his or her religion, and a right to freedom of expression – as long as it doesn’t go against the country’s laws. And when your beliefs are in conflict with the laws of the land, you still have a choice – to leave.

Secret Diary: Warne Bluffs Liz, Woos Asha

(Published in on 22 April 2011, retrieved from

The Secret Diary of Shane Warne, as imagined by Nandini Krishnan

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Conspiracy Theories Abound Post TN Elections

(Published in on 19 April 2011, retrieved from

(Picture Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)

Those who thought the war of words would end with the canvassing were in for a surprise, as Election Day came and went in Tamil Nadu, without much change in the behaviour of party leaders.

From the voter turnout to the attacks on AIADMK men, and even the gap between Election Day and Counting Day, politicians seem to believe every aspect of the Tamil Nadu polls involves a conspiracy.

What’s more, the vernacular papers believe they could be right! Even newspapers that were leargely considered neutral have taken up the torch for some cause, if not some party.

The Rs. 81 lakh heist

English newspapers reported on 16 April that a DMK functionary, R S Ramalingam, who claimed to be a papad trader unattached to any party, was being questioned after a poll panel intercepted his car and found details of money distributed to voters in a diary.

However, Tamil newspapers avoided reference to any party.

In an article titled ‘Money Money - CBI to conduct investigation in West Madurai’ published on April 18, the Tamil website of OneIndia said, “Having found evidence that more than Rs. 81 lakh rupees was used to bribe voters in the western part of Madurai, the CBI is conducting an investigation. Election officials and members of the Flying Squad have recovered Rs. 4 crore in a severe crackdown on malpractices during elections, in the ten constituencies of Madurai. Election officials found a diary in a car, containing records of voters having been bribed in 4 wards.”

The report goes on to say, “In the diary, it was written that up to Rs.81.20 lakh had been distributed among voters. Of this, Rs. 16.35 lakh for Ward 65, Rs. 18.96 lakh for Ward 66, Rs. 21.11 lakh for Ward 67 and Rs. 24.41 lakh for Ward 69 have already been distributed. The diary is now in the custody of the Collector, Sagayam. Police interrogated the two people travelling in the car. Based on the evidence collected, there could be repolling in Madurai.”

Dinathanthi quoted Tamil Nadu State Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar as saying, “Before the elections, the Election Commission received a complaint saying bribes were being given to voters in Madurai. Following this, Flying Squad officials did a check on vehicles in the area, and found a notebook in a car belonging to a party functionary.” The report did not mention the name of the party but cited other details, including the fact that a video was taken of the security check and the content of the notebook.

The report continues, “Praveen Kumar met officials to discuss this incident. They will wait for all the details before they decide whether to call for a repoll. We learn that Collector Sagayam will send his report to Praveen Kumar today. Sources in the know say the Election Commission has decided to send out a strong message, by declaring the Madurai polls invalid. However, Praveen Kumar denied knowledge of any such decision and said ‘I haven’t yet got the Collector’s report’.”

Dinamalar, in an article dated April 18, asking ‘Will there be a re-election in West Madurai?’ says, “there was a direct contest between the DMK and ADMK in West Madurai. There is a complaint that, of all the constituencies in Madurai, this was the one that saw most money distributed. Police have arrested a few people in connection with this. In a pre-poll interview, Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar said, ‘If it is determined that voters were bribed, the votes will be declared invalid and repolling will be conducted’. The Election Commission now has proof that money was distributed in West Madurai, and is collecting further evidence. If these allegations are confirmed, there will be a re-election.”

Crunching the numbers: Will poll officials question you?

The voter turnout in Tamil Nadu, which is estimated at about 78 percent, took everyone by surprise.

While the pro-AIADMK media hailed this as a ‘silent revolution’ by people seeking change, the pro-DMK media lauded people for wanting to fight corruption by turning up in hordes to support the ruling government. Never mind the fact that A Raja, who introduced India to numbers previously encountered only in math papers, is a DMK ‘leader’.

But some sections of the vernacular media focused on why people had stayed away from the poll booths in certain constituencies. On April 16, Dinamalar in a rather bewildering article titled ‘Why didn’t 3.53 lakh people vote?’, figures that Tirupur and Kanyakumari could have had a 100 percent turnout if it weren’t for the intelligence, success, or vocation of the residents.

The article says that though Tirupur has more than 15 lakh registered voters, 3,53,892 people stayed away from the booths. The writer sets out to solve the mystery, after saying the numbers have confused politicians. The piece suggests that the High-Court-ordered closure of dyeing and bleaching units in Tirupur was one of the main reasons, as this has forced migrant workers to return home.

As proof, it offers up statistics that the north and southern constituencies of Tirupur, where these labourers live, recorded a lower turnout than the other areas. It doesn’t explain why migrants would be registered to vote in Tirupur.

By way of a solution, the writer wants election officials to figure out who has abstained from voting, hop over to their homes, and ask them (politely) why they didn’t vote. If they’re found to have left Tirupur, their names should be struck off the voters’ list.

“If only we had done this”, the writer laments, “we would have found the voter turnout was close to 90 percent”. He then says “by the time the next elections come round, we could even score a century!”

Another section of the article seeks to answer why educated people didn’t vote. Focusing on Kanyakumari, which recorded a 68.9 percent turnout, the article says “many teachers and government officials hail from here. They may have been posted elsewhere. Also, lots of people may have moved abroad, registered in the army or gone on vacation”. Sadly, doesn’t offer statistics to support this intriguing hypothesis.

Dinakaran, which is owned by the Maran family, has even more interesting reasons to explain the 4 lakh abstainees in Kanyakumari. While most media outlets saw the relatively low turnout as a protest against the state government’s inaction with regard to the alleged killings and capture of fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy, this paper claims most fishermen in Kanyakumari are from Gujarat or Kerala, and hence could not vote!

‘And we will look the other way, and whistle...’

Dinathanthi, on the other hand, chose to focus on the bright side of life. The paper was ecstatic that people had stood in queues, and that first-time voters cast their ballot with enthusiasm in Erode.

In an article dated April 14, the paper first revels in the fact that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) reached the booth a day in advance. This is only a prelude to the paper’s euphoria over voters turning up early (by an hour).

In reading the piece, one might be led to believe a Utopia of sorts was created here, as the writer praises election officials for handing out booth slips for those who hadn’t received them, and the voters for having a brainwave – they turned to trees for shade as pandals hadn’t been put up.

After eulogising men for turning up in larger numbers than women and senior citizens, and young women for voting, the author all but wells up as he commends policemen and other security forces for turning up and “fiercely guarding the voters”.

Meanwhile, the DMK mouthpiece Murasoli chose to blissfully ignore in-state events and focus its reportage, rather bizarrely, on the West Bengal elections.

Who’s got the sickles out?

Dinamani, in a 16 April article titled ‘Jayalalithaa condemns attacks on AIADMK members’ begins with the quote, “I strongly condemn the continuing attacks by the DMK on the AIADMK workers who spotted and reported the malpractices, code violations, and manipulative moves by DMK workers during the Assembly Elections.”

The quote continues for the rest of the article. Saying the DMK was scared of losing, Jayalalithaa is reported to have accused the DMK of attacking voters as well as AIADMK workers with “terrible weapons” after finding out that people were voting against the DMK in Madurai and Melur.

Unwilling to let an opportunity for caste-based votes slip – well, just in case there’s a repoll – Jayalalithaa said two ADMK workers from the Devar community were injured in the ensuing fracas. She then claimed the DMK was issuing death threats and damaging vehicles parked outside the workers’ houses as a warning.

Somehow, the technique is reminiscent of Jack Woltz waking up to find the severed head of his racehorse Khartoum in The Godfather.

Alleging that the police was controlled by Karunanidhi’s family, Jayalalithaa said the police had refused to register a complaint when AIADMK member Anbu was beaten up in Thoothukudi.

She closed her speech by requesting the Election Commission to come down on the DMK with an iron hand, and asked for protection for her candidate Senthilnathan, who is contesting from Aravakurichi in Karur, as he has received death threats from Pazhaniswamy, whom she describes as “a sand mining mogul”.

Nakkeeran said Senthilnathan had been granted armed protection from the police after he filed a complaint, saying, “I, the ADMK candidate from Aravakurichi, was given death threats over my cell phone by some people.”

Dinakaran’s only lead story on ADMK workers was published on 17 April, under the captivating headline ‘Police exhume the body of an ADMK worker who was buried without their knowledge’.

The report reads like a mystery story: “Chinnapayyan, who hails from near Vepanahalli in Krishnagiri district went home after election duty on April 13 to sleep. He was found hanging the next morning at 5 am, and relatives buried him without informing the police. His wife Jayalakhsmi and he have 3 children. Village Administrative Officer Thangaraj informed the police about this. Having registered a case, police spoke to Jayalakshmi, who couldn’t answer the questions properly. The body was exhumed in the presence of the Tahsildar. Samples have been sent for testing.”

Note that the paper doesn’t specify whether the VAO informed the police about the death or the three children.

Dinathanthi, which is largely perceived as pro-DMK, seemed to have revised its stance in an article titled ‘Jayalalithaa pleads for action as vengeant attacks continue on ADMK workers’. After quoting Jayalalithaa’s allegations, the paper doesn’t judge her when it cites her saying, “I was deeply saddened to hear that Roopini, who hails from Kovai and was waiting for her husband to return home so that they could vote for the double-leaf symbol together, committed suicide as her husband arrived from office too late for them to cast their vote.”

In another article, which had an almost identical headline – ‘Vijaykanth pleads for action as vengeant attacks scare DMDK workers’ – the paper quoted Jayalalithaa’s ally as saying his partymen were being attacked with sickles and knives. Without mentioning the name of the party, the report says people from another party attacked DMDK Branch Secretary Vasanthavelu’s house in Vedasandhur and burnt an auto waiting outside, and in Dharmapuri, killed DMDK functionary Ashokan.

What does the DMK intend to do till May 13?

According to Jayalalithaa, as quoted in the website 4TamilMedia, the ruling party plans to avenge its impending defeat before it happens.

In an article titled ‘The month-long delay is only to take revenge on the people: Jayalalithaa’, the site quotes the former Chief Minister saying that, as the DMK’s only responsibility is to maintain law and order in the interim period, the party is using all its power to attack ADMK workers, and the people who turned up in large numbers to vote for change.

After citing several attacks on her partymen as proof, Jayalalithaa says, “When a rowdy gang is ruling Tamil Nadu, there’s no point expecting the law to restrain rowdies and round up armed gangs”, and calls for the Election Commission to intervene and maintain peace in the state.

Burning leaders in effigy: A Congress tradition?

While the DMK and Congress spent most of the lead-up to the Tamil Nadu elections sulking over their lovers’ tiff, the TNCC has had its own internal scuffles. First, EVKS Elangovan’s supporters protested against his exclusion from a poll negotiation panel during seat-sharing talks. Then came the controversy over Thangkabalu expelling party workers for ‘anti-party activities’.

On Monday, Dinamani reported that Youth Congress workers burnt Thangkabalu in effigy in Mylapore. The report points out that the location was quite close to a protest Thangkabalu himself was heading, against the killing of Tamil fishermen in Sri Lanka.

Some English papers pointed out that these Congress workers were only maintaining a tradition of burning their leaders in effigy - G K Moopanar, M P Subramaniam, and Vazhapadi Ramamurthy had received similar honours while serving as TNCC chiefs.

The website Makkal Murasu and Dinakaran were more interested in the arrest of Thangkabalu and 300 of his supporters over the protest against the killings of fishermen than his – umm, trial by fire, shall we say?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Is India Truly Voting for Change?

(Published in on 15 April, 2011, retrieved from

(Image Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited.)

There’s been a record turnout of voters in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The urban young and uber rich have gone to booths in shiny bikes and swanky cars and cast their ballot. 

The government has bowed down to most of the demands of Anna Hazare after the scene at Jantar Mantar was replicated across the country.

RTI activists are making bolder demands everyday, and the judiciary rules in their favour most of the time.

A woman in jeans startles the attendees of a UN conference when she tells them she is the sarpanch of a village.

Is India changing, finally? Have we been successful in hacking at the roots of corruption? One is so tempted to scream ‘YES!’ But we can’t, not yet. If only the newspapers could beam positivity beyond the front page.

However, amidst the reports of serpentine queues at the polling booths, are complaints that people who tried to exercise 49(O) – the no-vote option – were intimidated, threatened, and even roughed up, till they could be coerced into voting for ‘someone’.

Turn a few more pages, and there are updates on Arunima Sinha, the sportswoman who lost a leg after being thrown out of a train by robbers. 

One then remembers the Centre’s contention that elected politicians and ministers could not be answerable to a retired judge. One recalls Kapil Sibal’s ridiculous statement that there was no loss to the exchequer through the 2G spectrum allocation. One thinks of former Karnataka Chief Minister  H D Kumaraswamy’s remark that one can’t enter politics without corruption. And one wonders, ‘can my country actually change?’

One wonders whether, if the fast at Jantar Mantar had not been spearheaded by an ageing, famous social activist and supported by such high-profile people as retired IPS officer Kiran Bedi, it could have been successful in moving the government to act. If the demonstration had been started by students and professionals, would it have ended peacefully, without a lathi charge to disperse the gathering?

But, strangely enough, I find myself believing things can change.

Perhaps I was motivated by Arunima Sinha's press interaction, during which she told reporters that she was grateful for the job she had been given by the Indian Railways, but that she would continue to fight for justice. Unwilling to accept the police's argument that it wasn't easy to identify the culprits as it was a general compartment, she insisted that it couldn't be hard, since the brutes were most likely to be short-distance daily commuters.

Her determination is inspiring, because a while ago, someone who had undergone such trauma would have had to wait for years for any kind of compensation, by which time he or she would probably be too exhausted to pursue the “war against injustice”, as she puts it. She isn’t.

A while ago, the angry young voters who were denied the right to opt 49 (O) may have screamed out to the press, but chosen to remain anonymous. They didn’t.

We may not be a nation that is free of corruption. But we are a people willing to fight it. The students who form political parties may not have the knowledge and experience to succeed right now, but one day, they’ll get there, and hopefully, they’ll remember what they fought for, and what they fought against.

The last months of 2010, and the first few of 2011 have been shockers for the Indian public, as we realised our hard-earned tax money was disappearing into mystery coffers in unprecedented amounts. We were still reeling from the Commonwealth Games mess when the 2G scam slapped us with all of its thirteen digits.

But over the last few weeks, even the most cynical of us have felt surges of optimism. The war may not have been won, but the battle lines have been drawn.

As the New Year is celebrated in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Orissa, Bengal and Assam, we have reason to hope it will be a good one – that the voices that have been muffled all this while will persist till they are heard.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

TN Election Howlers: Jaya's New Hero, Cricketer Ashwin's Escape

(Published in on 12 April 2011, retrieved from

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As the election date draws closer, the summer heat seems to have got to the candidates. From tugs of war with the Election Commission, to claiming credit for whatever strikes their fancy, to bringing in mythology to express their grievances despite widely-publicised atheistic leanings, party candidates and leaders have been going all out to confuse their cadre as well as voters. Here’s a look at some howlers from the last week of campaigning in Tamil Nadu.

Power struggle of another kind

The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) has reportedly been flummoxed by conflicting notices issued by the Election Commission.

While the central branch of the monitoring body has warned that there should be no extra power allocation to any state, the Board, which is already facing a deficit, is apparently stumped by a conflicting order issued by the state branch, which said uninterrupted power supply must be ensured during election time.

The issue seemed to have been resolved on Monday. Dinathanthi noted that the TNEB has delegated officials to ensure that there is uninterrupted supply of electricity from April 12 to April 14, and put down the numbers they can be reached at in case of complaints.

The embattled Election Commission

One can’t really blame the Election Commission for being hassled enough to contradict itself. Its representatives have been running from pillar to post, chasing leads on unaccounted cash transfers. While Rs. 5.11 crore was seized on one day, Rs. 2.23 crore was seized from two different locations on another. Rather generous thank-you gifts for a wedding had apparently been stacked at a marriage hall, when no wedding was due to take place.

In the middle of all this, though, the EC managed to come up with an innovative solution for DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi’s request that he be allowed to bestow Rs. 3 crore on the World Cup winning Indian cricket team, and felicitate cricketer Ashwin, who belongs to the state. The EC said he could do so, on the condition that he didn’t pose for photographs with the cricketers. The Chief Minister promptly announced that he would hold the function after the elections.

Dinamani, in an article titled ‘EC warns of strict penalties for bribing voters’ on April 10, quoted Tamil Nadu CEC Praveen Kumar as saying there had been several complaints of voters being bribed in the last few days of campaigning. The report says “He warned that the EC is keeping a strict eye out for cash or goods changing hands and that severe punishment will be meted out to anyone found guilty.”

But repeated allegations of favouritism seem to have riled the Election Commission. The Tamil website of OneIndia quoted CEC S Y Quraishi as saying the EC is completely impartial, in response to complaints from the ruling parties in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

In another article, the same site spoke of Stalin being slapped with a notice by the EC for targeting Jayalalithaa in his speech, but as if to say it was a good old tit-for-tat, noted that the AIADMK leader and her ally DMDK chief Vijaykanth had also been given notices for criticising the DMK, and that the two had already replied on those.

The article quotes Stalin as saying, “some party leaders crop up only at election time. Jayalalithaa has focused on analysing Karunanidhi’s family in a unique manner. She worries about Tamil Nadu only during election time, and goes to Kodanadu at all other times. Now, she’s got a new partner. They make a lovely couple. What a pity he wasn’t a hero when Jayalalithaa was acting in films! First, he slapped his own candidate in public. Next, he wanted the AIADMK flag removed. One day, there was a problem with the flag. The next day, there was a problem with alcohol.”

Candidates clamour for credit

Yes, they do, and leave their own cadre disgruntled. During a campaign for the DMK, Vadivelu claimed a girl came out of coma after listening to his comedy tracks, prompting a party worker to remark, “well, next time someone has an accident, don’t take them to hospital. Just play Vadivelu jokes to them.”

AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa didn’t fall foul of her workers, but bewildered several...umm, telephone-tappers, shall we say, when her party released a booklet titled ‘Kutram Nadandhadhu Enna?’ (‘What was the crime?’), which praised her for single-handedly exposing the 2G scam.

However, actress Vindhya took up the torch for her on yet another issue, by citing Jayalithaa as the reason Khushboo learnt Tamil. In a campaign speech, she said Khushboo had been using dubbing artists, until the Jaya TV programme Jackpot, which she hosted till she joined the DMK, required her to speak Tamil live.

Vindhya had earlier indulged herself in wordplay, modifying a famous line from the Tamil film ‘Parasakthi’, penned by Karunanidhi, which said “She ran, she ran, she ran to the edge of life” to imply that the people of Tamil Nadu were running away from Karunanidhi’s rule. A disgruntled AIADMK party worker sighed to a reporter that if she repeated her quip again, her audience would run away to their homes.

Congress candidate Hasan Ali – well, the inarguably less famous newsmaker of that name – retorted to charges that he was a good friend of Sri Lankan President Rajapakse’s, and therefore anti- Tamilians, by saying their friendship was like that of Piloo Mody and Zulkifar Ali Bhutto.

A Dinamalar article later said police had impounded a car that had a poster showing Ali with Rajapakse. The piece reads “Naam Tamizhar Katchi candidates Dominic Ravi, Ilando and Jeron Kumar were campaigning at Pamban and used the car. Along with the picture, they had a pasted a slogan reading ‘Don’t vote for the hand of murder.’ Following this, Hasan Ali filed a complaint with the police, who seized the Indica car used in the campaign.”

But his reply seemed positively profound, compared to his party colleague Narayanaswamy’s statement in Puducherry that the Congress had given voters everything free, except babies, and his promise that women would be given mobile phones to argue with their husbands. In its report of the campaign, Dinathanthi studiously avoided a reference to the remark, while the Tamil website of Web Dunia stopped just short of quoting the bizarre promise.

Myths to fight home truths?

As Jayalalithaa focused on corruption in the state and centre, self-proclaimed atheist M Karunanidhi decided to turn to mythology. The DMK patron had once compared his feuding sons Stalin and Azhagiri to Ravana and Kumbhakarna, saying that he would not say there were like Rama and Lakshmana (though he didn’t specify which of them he believed to have a propensity for kidnapping and imprisoning leading ladies, and which to sleep for half the year.)

Now, he made the switch from Hindu mythology to Muslim mythology, saying he was like the Prophet Muhammad who nursed a woman in sickness, though she had poured dirty water on him. He said the grateful woman had become a follower of his.

In response, Jayalalithaa said it was time to forge a new tale of valour in Tamil Nadu, and compared Karunanidhi to Ravana, during one of her final campaign speeches in Chennai. She said the DMK had distributed cash to its voters, and created “a false impression of being strong, to break our will”. Rather incongruously, she equated it with a story from the Ramayana, in which Ravana creates an illusion of the abducted Sita to mislead Rama.

Meanwhile, Karunanidhi finally made his way to his native Thiruvaroor, from where he is contesting, to canvass for votes. While Dinamalar and Dinamani made passing references to his aggressive campaign, the Maran family-owned Dinakaran put down a eulogy to the octogenarian, speaking of the hordes of people who gathered to hear him speak and scattered flowers in his path. The report went on to say that all those who heard him swore to vote for him.

Dinathanthi published an interview with Karunanidhi on April 12, at Thiruvaroor. After lauding Karunanidhi for visiting over 46 villages in his two-day campaign at the constituency, the report hails Karunanidhi for his immense wit in answering the question ‘In how many constituencies will you win?’, with ‘more than we need to form government’.

Secret Diary: Afridi's Foot-in-Mouth Disease

Friday, April 08, 2011

Does Team India Deserve its Bonanzas?

(Published in on 8 April 2011, retrieved from

(Photo Courtesy: Unauthorised reproduction of this image is not permitted.)

Since the much-touted Men in Blue beat the Sri Lankan cricket team in the final of the World Cup, the deluge of movable and immovable assets that has been coming their way may well have enabled all of them to retire and never have to work again.

The cash awards, tax breaks, cars, houses and land that have been bestowed on the squad by various governments across the country make one wonder whether one lives in a democracy or a regular old-fashioned kingdom where the ruler’s favoured bards are rewarded from the treasury, which, of course, comprises tithes collected from the residents of the land.

I’ve been pondering two points over the past couple of days – one, if the government can afford to throw jewels at fourteen rich men, and write off taxes for an international sporting body, why did the Union Budget contain such measly amendments to the tax slab? And next, what have these men done to be treated as national heroes?

Should patriotism really be confused with performance on a sporting field? The government’s ‘cricket diplomacy’ antics and Gautam Gambhir’s dramatic dedication of the World Cup to the victims of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack may well lead one to think there is a direct correlation between cricket and national security.

But aren’t we forgetting that we’re talking about a game that lasts about seven hours and largely involves fifteen men running about on a field after one of them hits a piece of leather with a piece of wood?

There’s a separate debate on the incongruence between the treatment given to our cricketers, and our other sportsmen, and a more engaging one, perhaps, on the extent to which the game is fixed. Since it was decided that the 2015 edition of the tournament would only comprise ten teams, jokes have been passing around about the logistical difficulty of fixing a championship that has fourteen teams.

However, my concern is the incongruence between the treatment of a bunch of sportsmen, who make most of their money from endorsements, and the actual patriots who risk their lives for the country.

When flats intended for war widows and veterans are being divided up among bureaucrats and politicians, disabled soldiers are fighting for an allowance and disillusioned battle heroes are returning their gallantry medals, the country is busy distributing honorary military ranks to Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Even as these cricketers accept their titles and attend felicitations, what are they giving back? Has any of them made a contribution to the War Veterans’ Fund, or given away the money they could well do without for a worthy cause?

While state governments sign proposals into law, freeing cricketers from ever paying property tax, and increase toll fares to make up the deficit, does it occur to any of these beneficiaries to sponsor a hospital, school or even road?

One may well argue that the money is well-deserved, and that the receiver is free to do what he wants with it. But if these men are truly to be regarded as national heroes, shouldn’t their consciences remind them of where this money comes from?

At a time when the corruption in politics has made thirteen digit numbers commonplace, and the public is searching for reassurance of goodwill, don’t these sportsmen realise that giving back the funds to be put into a definite object, which will receive tremendous media coverage in the post-cup hysteria, will actually ensure that the people whose adulation has put them on a pedestal benefit too?

And now, the cry for Sachin Tendulkar to be given the Bharat Ratna award has started up with renewed vigour. The oh-so-modest, unassuming, unselfish Sachin, for whose Ferrari a law was nearly amended, is indeed a brilliant batsman, and a cricketing icon. But are his records enough for him to receive India’s highest civilian honour?

Take a look at the list of awardees, and except for those from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, you’ll see that every other recipient has been given the title for an entire lifetime of work, after consideration of every single contribution they made to their field. In fact, the architect of our Constitution was awarded the Bharat Ratna more than thirty years after his death. Do we believe Tendulkar has really finished contributing everything he can to the game?

It’s all very well to exult over a sporting achievement. But shouldn’t the country be more judicious in spending public money? And shouldn’t the beneficiaries pause to think about whether they truly deserve this? Most importantly, shouldn’t we remember that these men are paid handsome salaries to play a game, and extravagant amounts to appear on television, before we treat them like neglected national heroes?

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Secret Diary of Sangakkara

(Published in on 4 April, 2011, retrieved from

A video of Sangakkara sledging Shaun Pollock, which I honestly found quite funny, can be found here.

And a video of Sangakkara umm...catching Nathan McCullum's behind...can be found here.

When Cinema Brings Drama to Politics

(Published in on 4 April 2011, retrieved from )

Politics and cinema have been so interrelated in Tamil Nadu that one finds it hard to recall the last Chief Minister who hasn’t penned the lyrics of a film song or danced around trees in a movie. But it isn’t often that you see four faces that have haunted Tamil cinema through the nineties outshine the veterans who are competing for the top job.

Over the last week of March, Vadivelu, Khushboo, Vijay and Vijaykanth pretty much shoved Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa out of the headlines. Incidentally, the drama followed a speech the DMK patron made at the launch of a film starring Prashanth and produced, like most of the actor’s others, by his father Thyagarajan.

After declaring that he was proving his commitment to cinema by launching a movie during elections, Karunanidhi said the charge that his family dominates the film industry is unfair; the film industry is his family. We’re not sure whether the statement was a metaphor – two of the octogenarian’s grandsons are acting in movies, while two are producing films, and his late son Muthu tried both.

Now that we’ve appreciated Karunanidhi’s ability to take time off from the campaign trail to hang out at film sets, let’s turn our attention to what the vernacular press has said about the people who’ve done the converse.

Is Vadivelu a slanderer or a lexicon?

It all started with Vadivelu, who made a speech on March 23, 2011, in Thiruvarur, allegedly criticising Vijaykanth. In the televised address, he demands, “Is the CM’s seat a musical chair?” This is the beginning of a series of revelations about what the world looks like through Vadivelu’s bubble.

After hailing Karunanidhi for going to jail with other politicians, he cries, “Here’s what I say to the man who launched his party yesterday – if you’re the Chief Minister, I’m the Prime Minister.” At this juncture, he turns to Karunanidhi and says rather incongruously, “sir, don’t think ill of me.”

His astute understanding of the Indian political system and international affairs becomes apparent when he says, “If you’re the Prime Minister, I’m the President. If you’re the President, I’m Obama.”

Perhaps it’s fortunate that Manmohan Singh, Pratibha Patil and Barack Obama don’t understand Tamil. Then again, India could try negotiating a Vadivelu-Warren Anderson Extradition Exchange Treaty if Obama were to file a defamation suit in Washington.

Back to the speech, though. Without making it clear whether he was indulging in self-introspection or analysis, Vadivelu goes on to ask, “can you say anything if you get drunk? After buying a two thousand rupee cap like MGR, glasses for Rs. 1.50, and a 25-paise handkerchief, he calls himself a black MGR. I’m a black Nehru,” he declares, and then frowns, “They call him Captain. Why? A person who sails a ship that floats on water is called a Captain, not a person who’s always floating under the influence of water (alcohol).”

He finishes off by saying Karunanidhi, who seats other people in power is a true kingmaker, and christens his bĂȘte noir a “drink-maker”, thus displaying his familiarity with both state politics and the brewing industry.

While Vijaykanth’s fans reacted by burning Vadivelu in effigy, the DMDK filed a series of complaints against him. The reportage, though, leaves one wondering which of the two actors is more delusional.

On March 29, the Tamil website of OneIndia reported, “Vadivelu, while addressing a rally in Kolathur, as usual singled out Vijaykanth for criticism.” The article goes on to say Vadivelu referred to Karunanidhi as having a “mother’s heart” in providing for foetuses through his welfare schemes, in addition to distributing mixies and grinders.

The rest of the article simply quotes Vadivelu: “Stalin is someone who entered politics when he was 12. He is just as active now. But Vijaykanth contested in 234 constituencies and won only one seat. The people in that constituency feel cheated. Vijaykanth beats up villains in films, but he uses dupes. We are the ones who’ve actually been beaten.” Vadivelu accuses Vijaykanth and his supporters of stoning his house and injuring his daughter when he was praying to Lord Shiva. The article wraps up on a rather indifferent note following Vadivelu’s emotional outburst, saying he campaigned at various bus depots and temples.

Dinathanthi’s headline on March 29 reads, “Vadivelu’s election campaign which urges people to vote for the DMK to thank them for their enormous achievements over a five-year period.” The rest of the piece reads almost exactly like OneIndia’s report, except to note that people had come in hordes to protect Vadivelu – it isn’t clear what danger the mob sought to avert.

Nakkeeran discusses Vadivelu’s verbal attacks in an article titled ‘Bloody Fool: Vadivelu attacks Vijaykanth’. The piece reads, “Vadivelu, campaigning in support of the DMK and against Vijaykanth in the Tambaram suburb of Chennai, said, ‘a nut calling itself the Black MGR has turned up. It says the land is not run well, and promises to win freedom for the people of the land. Are White British running the land now? Which party have you joined? You’ve joined a party that takes money! Bloody fool! You don’t have MGR’s colour or his character!’” The article ends without offering a verdict.

Vikatan reports that cases have been filed against Vadivelu under Section 153A (promoting enmity between groups), 171G (making false statements in connection with an election) and Section 505 (inducing public misconduct). The report says, “On March 23, addressing a rally led by Chief Minister Karunanidhi, actor Vadivelu had harsh criticism for DMDK leader Vijaykanth. The DMDK has filed a complaint, and asked that Vadivelu be banned for speaking about Vijaykanth, and his speeches barred from telecast. Following this, the chief official of the Election Commission ordered the Thanjavur Police to file a case against Vadivelu.”

DMK mouthpiece Murasoli reports, “DMDK workers have filed an unfair case against actor Vadivelu for remarks about Vijaykanth that he made on March 23 at Thiruvarur. There is an impression among people that the Election Commission is partial, that it discriminates between parties, and works with an agenda. People feel the EC takes immediate action on complaints against the DMK while ignoring complaints against the AIADMK. What followed the incident at Thiruvarur has reinforced this impression.”

The website then hails Vadivelu’s yeoman service in playing dictionary. “Vadivelu does not appear to have criticised Vijaykanth at all! He simply offered an explanation as to the word ‘Captain’, generally. We only remember his saying, ‘A person who sails a ship that floats on water is called a Captain, not a person who’s always floating under the influence of water’. We don’t remember Vijaykanth even acting on a ship floating on water!”

Vijay and his ‘Mass’

Actor Vijay, whose recent flops have drawn the ire of his producers, gave newspapers plenty to speculate about on Monday. He reportedly asked the members of his Makkal Iyakkam to support the AIADMK, but wouldn’t confirm it.

Dinamalar quotes Vijay’s father and film director S A Chandrashekhar as saying, “we don’t plan to join any party. We support the ADMK coalition. I plan to campaign for them. I don’t know whether Vijay will get involved.” For some reason, he assured the paper, “I’ve never asked any party leader, including Jayalalithaa, to help me get my films released.”

Dinathanthi has a different take on the issue: ‘Opposition to encouraging the ADMK coalition: Vijay’s fans burn Makkal Iyakkam member cards in Salem.’ The article reads, “Conveying their opposition to Vijay’s support to the ADMK coalition, his fans dissolved a Makkal Iyakkam, and burned their member cards. Vijay’s decision caused a dispute among his fans in Salem. Members of a fan club called the Ilayathalapathi Vijay Pokkiri Makkal Iyakkam (which translates literally into ‘Young General Vijay Naughty People’s Movement’) decided to dissolve it to protest against Vijay’s choice. On March 28 evening, President Aasaithambi, Secretary Manikandan and Treasurer Sasi, along with 25 others, gathered in front of the club, tore the flex board and burnt their member cards.”

The article quotes members, who seem mildly schizophrenic, as saying, “the fan club comprises people from various political parties. But Vijay has decided to support a particular party. We regret that he has made such a decision without consulting us. As far as we are concerned, we are supporters of the DMK. So we have decided to dissolve this branch.”

A catfight among heavyweights

It wasn’t just the men from the industry who got down and dirty. Actress Khushboo created a stir over the weekend while campaigning in Andipatti and other areas surrounding Madurai.

In an report titled ‘Khushboo launches attack against Jayalalithaa’, Nakkeeran says, “Khushboo, who started her campaign at M K Azhagiri’s house in Madurai said ‘The superstar in cinema is Rajnikanth. The superstar in politics is Anna Azhagiri.’ Then, she said, ‘We must cast aside Jayalalithaa who took a vacation for five years. If she could discard Vaiko who was with her for 5 years, think about what she could do to the common people. She has copied the election manifesto of the DMK. She won’t pass the test. She will fail. Yes, Jayalalithaa, who looked at Kalaignar’s paper and wrote the exam, will not fail.’” The article does not specify whether the actress was lost in her double negatives, or misread a word.

Dinamalar chose to focus on Khushboo’s stand on virginity. In a piece titled ‘The virginity issue is of the past: Khushboo’s interview’, the paper says, “Khushboo had already got into trouble for expressing her opinions on the chastity of women. Khushboo, who hosted a programme on Jaya TV, is now a member of the DMK. She began her campaign with a flying kiss in Madurai. Speaking to the press, she evaded questions on her comments about virginity, and said the Supreme Court had announced its verdict. When asked ‘Because of your comments on virginity, women don’t think highly of you. Won’t this cause problems on the campaign trail?’, Khushboo looked at the reporter, and demanded, ‘Are you from the ADMK?’ Ending the interview, she left to begin her campaign.”

Thinakkural was less concerned with her political acumen than her linguistic prowess. Its headline went ‘Khushboo, who murders Tamil while canvassing, and the followers who blink in incomprehension.’ After listing the areas she campaigned in, the article says, “Only what she said remained a mystery to the workers and followers who had gathered there.” It quotes her as saying, “Karunanidhi ensured the Tamil heart didn’t remain in the dark”, when she meant, “Karunanidhi ensured the pride of the Tamils didn’t remain in the dark.” She’s also quoted as saying, “None of you must believe me”, when she meant, “Don’t believe just anyone.” The actress, who moved to the South in the mid-1980s, after trying her luck in Bollywood, also reportedly said,“the benefits of the freebies will bite you” instead of “the benefits of the freebies will reach you.”

Dinathanthi made no reference to linguistic challenges, and chose to summarise Khushboo’s speeches, while highlighting the DMK’s schemes.
 Dinamani’s attention wasn’t on the content of Khushboo’s speech so much as what happened after. The paper reported, “Two cases have been filed against actress Khusbhoo for violating election rules, police said. She has been accused of obstructing traffic while canvassing for the DMK in Theni district. The other violation was that she engaged a convoy of 8 cars, without obtaining prior permission. The vehicles have been impounded.”

Meanwhile, AIADMK members seem to have taken umbrage at the suggestion that their leader copied the DMK manifesto. In a bid to prove she was serious about distributing freebies right after coming to power and not years later, AIADMK workers took laptops, grinders and mixies around their constituencies to show them to prospective beneficiaries. As they happily posed for pictures, reporters were less baffled by the logic of their methodology, than a worker’s statement that Jayalalithaa could be trusted to give away freebies on time, as she was a woman.

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