Tuesday, October 24, 2017

October Fireworks

At a time when the country was bursting firecrackers, we in Delhi/NCR entertained ourselves with political bombs and news sparklers. The ground spinners (chakris), flower pots (anars) and the rockets played themselves, but with a twist. 

For Rahul fans, the month of October brightened with the news that rocket Rahul would be finally launched as Congress President. Unopposed, of course. Time will tell if he can push the boulder up the mountain but as of now he looks like those red popping strips with symmetric dot like protrusions loaded in a toy pistol. Remember them? You kept pulling the trigger, some went off, some didn’t? Phatak. Phuss. Phuss. Phatak. 

Propelled by the news of his coronation and retweets from Kazakhastan, rocket Rahul landed on Gujarat’s political landscape. He rolled his sleeve and called Modi’s GST, Gabbar Singh Tax without explaining why his party passed the Gabbar-esque bill in the house.

A tweet by Shahsi Tharoor

There is no denying that after DeMo bomb and GST damp squib, the BJP fireworks aren’t as spectacular as last year. Meanwhile, when Modi ji was celebrating Diwali with soldiers, his foot soldier lit a snake tablet (remember saanp ki goliyan? They emit the highest amount of PM 2.5) by denouncing the legendary Taj Mahal. Does the publicity seeking hate monger have any answer to the lovely churches of Goa and Kerala built by the Portugese or the Puducherry landscape so lovingly painted by the French? If we were to question the past of every monument, our inclusive culture and heritage will go up in the smoke of our colonial past. 

Looks like the Delhi CM was not in a mood for any festive revelry. No psychopath bombs, no anarchist bangs and no sparks on television. Total black out. Barring a favourable review of the movie the Secret Superstar and a populist stand on metro fare hike. Allegedly, the Delhi govt threatened to revoke the appointment of DMRC chief on fares but the board refused to give in to political pressure. Just so you know, the last metro fares were hiked in 2009. Moreover, there is no political interference in most countries, like in the UK for instance, it’s the Mayor who decides the fares for the London Underground. Subsidizing a world class service for votes can delay expansion and convert Delhi metro into another local train service. Sigh, you can’t blame the CM. Since there are no farm loan waivers in Delhi, aam-admi appeasement is the only ace up his chequered shirt.
Not to be left behind the Fin Min dropped a reform bomb for recapitalization plan of public sector banks. The Kapil The Sibal called it selling of another dream. Time will tell if this one is a big bang reform or another one that failed to explode. Because fireworks are great but where are trillions coming in from?

Meanwhile the set-jaw spokesperson of the BJP, GVL Narsimha Rao lit a sparkler by questioning the general knowledge of film industry. Rao’s comment by no means was directed at Manoj Tiwari who is a direct descendant of Albert Einstein and Madam Curie. While Kirron Kher and Hema Malini kept quiet, a furious Farhan Akhtar exploded, ‘How dare you Sir?’ 

Talking of Bollywood, Bipasha generated some light and more heat by featuring in a condom advertisement. But nothing is newsworthy unless Twitter trolls give you a hard time. Bipasha trolled for starring in a condom ad, read the headline. In a country with second largest population in the world, its funny why condom ads create such dhamaka.

Image from Pintrest

October was also a month that saw the acquittal of the Talwar couple framed in their daughter Arushis murder. It broke my heart to see them emerge from jail as shutterbugs circled them like vultures with their cliched, ‘Aapko kaisa lag raha hai?’
You know what, sometimes the loudest bang happens when we think fireworks are over. Even as I type, news is that Virat and Anushka may tie the knot in December. And Jab Virat Weds Sejal, perhaps this what Virat would say - You blow my Mind.

Image from here

Friday, October 6, 2017

What About a Man’s Self-Esteem?

Advertising & Media

Alright girls of this world, from Mumbai to Delhi, this time I’m going to bat for the new age urban man. Tell me, should a man be made to bowl under-hand to help a woman score a century? Confused? Stick with me and I will tell you what's on my mind.

So, I am at a lifestyle mall, DT City Centre to be precise, shopping for Diwali gifts. As I browse for gifts, a young lady calls her partner assertively, ‘Listen, get me a trolley.’ The partner, I’m assuming the husband is looking at bath mats but obliges promptly. After a few minutes, she calls him again, ‘Come here, I’m buying these lamps.’ To which he says, ‘Fine baby. Buy whatever you like but can you speak thoda pyar se? People are watching.’
She gives him a quelling look, ‘Who cares?’ and moves towards the payment counter.
Contemplating the same bath mat, I catch the young man’s eye. He gives me a sheepish grin and then follows the love of his life like a puppy.

The above incident made me watch some advertisements closely. If advertising is to be believed, Indian home maker is a confident liberated woman who makes informed choices. She knows which refrigerator has a freezer at the bottom, which insurance policy is best for her family and which water purifier gives sabse shudh paani. She controls the spending habits and takes proactive decisions when it comes to consumer goods, kitchen appliances and home decor. Which is great.

Now look at the new Bosch ad where the wife is washing clothes while her obese, rather clumsy husband is working on a treadmill. When the husband worries about the shape of his shirt to be washed in the washing machine, the wife strikes back very sweetly, ‘Shape shirt ka nahi, kisi aur ka kharab ho raha hai.’ 
Flip the coin. Let’s say, for instance, imagine an advertisement where the chic husband fat shames his wife in a television ad. Distasteful, right?

You think it's much doo-doo about nothing? Perhaps it’s all about the need to make women look good, decisive, and smart while selling household goods. But, but but.  Should this come at the cost of body shaming men? Or making them look like incompetent bumbling dimwits?

Image from here

Take the Haier advertisement about the bottom mounted refrigerator with features of convenience, accessibility and visibility. The husband comes home, assuming late, and remarks cheerfully, ‘Arre wah naya fridge aa gaya, very nice.’
Rather miffed with his coming late, the wife retorts, ‘Fridge to time par aa gaya.’
The husband says, ‘Baby ye kuch ulta nahi hai?
She quips, ‘Ab to ye bhi seedha ho gaya.’
The tagline goes - Aa gaya hai ulte refrigerators ko seedha karne, Haier ka Naya Inspire. 
The jibe is aimed at the husband, of course. The advertiser is motivating women to buy a Haier refrigerator by portraying men as ‘good for nothing’ late comers.

Samsung ad from 2013 where the man is shown as lazy, filthy couch potato

Exercising influence on the female psyche by making them feel good about themselves and their choices is a basic tenet of advertising. My simple point is - why pump a woman’s self-esteem at the cost of making young urban men look like losers? At a time when the urban man is devoting time to his family duties, he needs a more accurate description. Also, when advertisers sell mobile phones, cars or bikes to men, do they make women look lame, worthless and incompetent? Since we keep harping about equality, shouldn’t the same latitude of respect for choices apply to both genders irrespective of the product?

For centuries, our society has placed men on a higher pedestal. It’s a man’s world, goes the cliche. Truth is, most women in rural areas and small towns have little or no say in household decisions when it comes to spending big money. Forget making economic decisions they aren’t even allowed to decide the names of their children. 
But the profile is changing in urban areas where women are independent, educated, informed, and almost the same age as their partners. For advertisers, urban women are a business opportunity. This could be one of the reasons why advertisers feel the need to push the envelope. However, lowering a man’s self esteem to make woman look good is lazy advertising. Even insensitive. Portraying all  husbands and dads as clowns who make it worse for the woman is not an urban reality where most couples work as a team. 

How about making the woman look good without making the man look like an idiot? If you wish to pander to the rising female consumer power, how about giving her positive reasons to buy?

Like the Samsung QLED TV advertisement where the father watches his daughter score a goal and they share an emotional hand gesture. Or the Amazon ad where the wife calls her husband and says, ‘Amazon per naya fridge liya’. To which her husband says cheerfully, ‘Theek hai, theek hai.’ The husband acknowledges the fact that his wife knows what she wants, and that he is happy with her decision. Simple. No questions asked. It’s refreshing, even sweet. What say? 

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Big Fight

Those Were The Days
Image from here

Dogs don’t bite dogs goes the canine dictum.
Doctors don’t bill doctors goes the medical motto.
Journalists don’t expose journalists goes the reporting rule.
But the unsaid went out of the television studios when one news channel decided to do an entire show exposing rival news anchor, Arnab Goswami. 

It all happened when Rajdeep Sardesai discovered an old clip where Arnab Goswami is seen fabricating Rajdeep’s Gujarat riot experience and allegedly narrating it as his own. Rajdeep tweeted, ‘Wow! My friend Arnab claims his car attacked next to CM Res in Guj riots! Truth: he wasn’t covering Ahemdabad riots.’

I heard the clip on Twitter, although it was erased from YouTube adding to the culpability of Arnab. There is no denying that the clip shows Arnab looking like an old coot who never went to war but loves narrating war stories and regaling audiences. Or an avuncular figure who never went hunting but enjoys telling tales about shooting tigers. In all probability, the bombastic anchor went overboard during a club meeting some years ago. 
Sagarika Ghosh, Rajdeep’s wife jumped in by revealing her literary palette and disgust, ‘The pudgy little Billy ‘Bunter with the soprano shriek turns out to be an utterly brazen liar,’ she chirped. 

 By afternoon twitter went in meltdown mode and it was like a virtual war between the Cali Cartel and North Valley Cartel. Those tormented by Arnab’s belligerent, binary debates were more than happy to give it back to him for torturing their ear drums night after night. #ArnabDidIT

If truth be told, my initial thought was - High time someone pricked the righteous bubble encapsulating Arnab. But what made me squirm later was the fact that one channel went ahead and got their jollies by making the crack in the veneer of Arnab Goswami’s righteousness a public spectacle. The twitter shaming was not enough.

For one, there are far bigger issues that can be held against Arnab than an alleged lie narrated many years ago during a club function, the context of which is unknown. Arnab should have been pilloried for his reporter’s insensitivity (recent Ryan International case), for prejudice, for war mongering, for jingoism, for passing theatrical drama off as a sensible debate and also for pronouncing instant verdicts.
Second, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t be the first ones to throw stones in public. Emboldened by twitter support, Rajdeep asked if Arnab would apologize and resign from journalism. Coming from someone who has been embroiled in a so-called public brawl spreading alleged lies and abusive direct messages, the virtuous tweet was a bit tough to swallow. As expected, it became a Left vs Right war of digging dirt and Whataboutism.

Past dinner, the nation was glued to a jaw-jaw, paw-paw, between India’s topmost anchors, once colleagues, and siblings of the same mother (NDTV). All the while, there was no response from the other side barring an undated picture of both boys with a crew that covered the riots.
 As long as it’s not yours, watching dirty laundry being washed in public is fun. Such was the public interest in this duel that media houses realised that digging up dirt on rivals could fetch them more TRPs than their Hindu-Muslim or Cong-BJP TRP tirade. 

No matter what they say, there is no denying that media mavens are threatened by Arnab’s popularity. But the rivalry between Arnab and Rajdeep goes back decades. In his book – 2014, The Election that changed India, Rajdeep gives us a glimpse when he writes, ‘I remember a slim, floppy haired bespectacled youngster visiting my house in the 1990s to enquire about TV opportunities. I had then been a mentor of sorts to him. We worked for a decade and even co-anchored a show. But television news can be maddeningly competitive and a personal relationship can easily descend into slightly troubled professional equation revolving around constant one-upmanship.’ 
Rajdeep also talks about how Arnab snatched the first Rahul Gandhi interview from NDTV. Naturally, snatching an experience after snatching an interview was bound to push the wrong buttons.
Moreover, Arnab has been shouting about the cosy Lutyens club of journalists, some of whom like Vinod Dua, Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai were awarded a Padma Shri in 2008 by the previous government. What if, let's say, Arnab decides to retaliate by airing insider information on Radia tapes, cash for vote scam and clearances for bungalows awarded to his peers?

Personal rivalry and exposes on Social media is a part of the game. Even acceptable. On television, it's not. Let’s face it. Most journalists and media houses have taken positions across the fence. So the high moral perch and the pretext of being apolitical fools no one. Needless to say that the public spectacle on television lowered the media image. If that were at all possible? My fear is the ugly will get uglier. And no one will emerge smelling of roses.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Is Social Media making us angry?

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

The Times of India newsfeed says: Check out Kareena Kapoor’s killer body transformation in just ten months.
As I zip through the comments, there’s a virtual bitch-fest on. Turns out, almost everyone who hates TOI reads the paper, comments on it and engages on their enlightening threads - Esha Deol and her baby shower, Soha and her baby bump, Taimur and his Swiss vacation.
So X says, ‘Who cares what Kareena does. Why do you think we are interested?’
Y plugs in, ‘Big deal. Who reads toilet paper? You suck.’ 
Z quips, ‘X, you are a hypocrite. Just because she was born in a rich family and you weren’t.’
To which a ‘nationalist’ retorts, ‘Not interested in Love Jihadis who named their unscrupulous offspring after a barbarian.’
Within seconds Kareena’s figure gets political. Extremes get sucked in. ‘Sanghi dumbf**k, so now we have to name our kids according to your 56 inch?’ 

Hello? The article was about an actress and her shapely lady lumps. What happened? Never mind, the toilet paper went laughing all the way to the nearest loo. Bank, I mean. 

Image from here

Which brings me to the moot question: Is the internet making us angry or were we always like this?

Anyone who has interacted on social media knows how vicious our conversations have become. Why does the internet bring out the worst in us? Once upon a time, Twitter was about witty memes, funny hash tags and clever one-liners. Not anymore. Bored of exchanging hearts, smiles and balloons, Facebook conversations are also veering towards the vitriolic mode. 

To begin with, let us accept that the web is turning monologues into dialogues. Social media allows us to converse – to agree or to disagree. When we agree, we simply like, share and move on. But when we disagree, civil discourse flows into murky waters of confrontation and name calling. Disagreement is good, rage is not. But since the conversation is public, how can we come across as a cop out for those reading the jaw-jaw? Silence is akin to defeat. 
Oftentimes, hate is a result of fear. Most hatemongers are attention seeking, insecure people who are fearful of losing what they have – pride, power, influence. Any diverse view threatens their existence. This fear gives rise to anger and confrontation. 

Recently, @GabbbarSingh, a twitter celebrity tweeted, ‘Indian internet hasn’t gone rogue. Just that a forum which was earlier a niche has reached the real India which is racist, misogynist & bigoted.’ 
This may be partially true. Partially, because we know enough number of educated urban-ites who are equally bigoted and intolerant. The shopkeeper from Rampur may abuse in gutter Hindi but the graduate from Bangalore matches it with fu**ing Angrezi finesse. Just that it sounds worse in Hindi for the urbanite. A lot of sarcastic comments come from educated people who use their societal perch to mock the not so privileged. To say that entire real India is racist, misogynist and bigoted would be a sweeping statement.

However, it is also true that the internet has given a voice to those who had no say in our socio-political discourse. A school dropout in Chindwara, a pan-shop owner in Gorakhpur, a jobless youth in Kashmir and a cab driver in Faizabad – all have an opinion. Those who were silent yesterday are all over the internet today. Why, forget engaging with them, we are unlikely to say hello if we meet them in the market. But these are the very people we are having conversations with. 

When a small town frustrated dropout, someone who never saw his mother or sister voice an opinion finds a platform where he can say anything to anyone under a veil of anonymity, he doesn't mind exposing his worst side possible. Abusing powerful men and women, more so women, is liberating for his caged existence. He feels accomplished. Not only does the web allow him to speak his mind, but it also gives him the courage to say things he wouldn’t dare in person. 
Then there is the infamous tyranny of distance. He is in Raipur, you are in Mumbai, how does it matter? Zero consequence. When caught with his pants down, he will delete his abusive comment or suspend his account. And maybe log in again with a pseudonym. On the other hand, if you show the mirror to a reputed journalist or politician, he is likely to call you names and block you. Anger works in different ways with different people.

Most verbal attacks get aggravated because the conversation doesn't happen in real time. Moreover, the veil of the web accentuates arguments. Don’t we brush aside our disagreements when we meet in a social milieu? Hating a tag (Liberal, Bhakt, Congilicker) is easy, not so much a human. 

Talking about labels, it is easy to fall prey to assumptions. Pigeonhole people. Stereotype them. All of this warps our judgement and complicates issues rather than resolving them. People continue believe what they want to. Our truth to them is irrelevant. 
If anything, online conversations tell us that we are all hypocrites of varying degrees with a perceived halo on our heads. Yes, all. Lest we get disheartened, know that the web rage is not exclusive to India. It’s a universal phenomenon. Look how angry the American President is.
 And there’s a long way to go before we can log in to a more tolerant and pleasant social media. Until then it's best to avoid angry conversations and seek real people to converse with. 

Let’s round it up with Kareena.
Bet? Hundred bucks. If the jerk who created online stink about Kareena gets a chance to meet her, he will give anything to catch her glimpse. Who knows, he might even upload a picture with her. To which another angry voice will say, ‘Big deal. Kareena is a sl*t.’ 
Yes, the web exposes our not so pleasant side. Deal with it.

Monday, September 4, 2017

When the lights went off

Bitti Sharma, the leading lady in the movie Bareilly Ki Barfi is an electricity complaint officer in small town, Bareilly. We see her answering every complaint call with a bored, “Asuvidha Ke Liye Khed Hai. Sare Shahar Ki Gayi Hai. Thodi Der Me Aa Jayegi”. 

Do you remember getting a similar indifferent, somewhat condescending reply? That is when the complaint officer decided to pick up the phone. If you persisted, they disconnected the phone before you could complete the sentence. And yet, calling the ‘electricity office’ provided some solace for the power starved soul.

For more than a decade, I have been fortunate enough to live in an apartment with power back up. It’s been so long that those sweaty moments are a blur, appearing occasionally as flashes during minutes between darkness and revving up of the generator. It would be na├»ve, even stupid of me to say that I miss my tryst with candles, mosquitoes and trickling sweat. 
Then why remember those harrowing times? One of the reasons behind hankering for old times is perhaps the simplicity and innocence of it all. It provides a respite from the obsessive digital life we live. Moreover, nostalgia  is said to soften the rough edges.

Remember the collective ‘Oohhs’ when the power went off and the collective ‘Aahhs’ when the Usha fan stirred and the Bajaj tubelight blinked? And the joy of idling? Doing nothing. At a time when we check Whatsapp mindlessly, those power breaks allowed an on the spot vacation. 
The kids would rush out in the courtyard (angan, most middle class houses had one) and the grumbling adults followed grudgingly. 
Phir Chali Gayi, Bataiye? 
There was nothing to batao. 
Checking if neighbours were also in the same boat was the first on the list. There was solace in numbers. Joy in collective suffering. With cane chairs in place, the courtyard was ready, amply splashed with water in anticipation of a customary power cut. It was time to catch a story from grandma or an anecdote from grandpa. Each story that granny excavated brought joy and giggles. Longer power cuts ended up in candle light dinners and defrosting the refrigerator before going to bed. Which basically meant - ice cream. 
‘Will miss Chitrahaar again’, someone would lament. It is amusing why we missed Chitrahaar for all it had was Salma Agha crooning ‘Dil Ke Arman’, Reena Roy in a black sharara (the dress has come back) singing ‘Sheesha Ho Ya Dil Ho’ or a black dog running after Jackie Shroff in Teri Meherbaniya. 

Those hours of darkness were also a time for the Man Ki Baat contraption - the transistor. It required turning and twisting to catch the signal (like Vodafone). Dad would hunch over for test match commentary by Jasdev Singh and grandpa for news - ‘This is All India Radio. The News read by Melville de Mellow.’
Power cut was a double edged sword. When the ‘home work’ was avoidable, it was a boon but when ‘home work’ was mandatory, it was a curse. My worst torment was to solve Chemistry numericals (damn that Avogadro number) under flickering candle lights and trickling sweat. 
Once it was past dinner time and folks began preening into their HMT watches, someone was asked to walk down the power station to find out the duration of the ordeal. ‘Cable burst. It’s going to be the entire night.’ Resigned to our fate, it was time to take out folding charpoys, mosquito nets, Odomos and doze off in spurts. Sleep. Grumble. Scratch, Sleep Grumble. Scratch. Sleep…..

In the years that passed, we hardened into adulthood, surrendered to smart phones and melted in metro life. Power cuts continued, albeit less frequently. But playing antakshari instead of playing a phone game, watching stars instead of phone pictures or engaging in a game of cards instead of reading tweets is perhaps too silly to be indulged in. The consuming need to stay in touch over the phone has overcome the joy of doing nothing. Moreover, we rarely see stars in Gurgaon apartments; all we see is flickering light of planes through the dust haze. 

In a country where 240 million people live without electricity, I am indeed blessed to have 24/7 power. But with great power, comes a greater electricity bill. With three times the normal electricity charges, the backup bill gives me an electricity shock every month. And yet, it is a lesser price to pay to avoid the agony of, “Asuvidha Ke Liye Khed Hai. Sare Shahar Ki Gayi Hai. Thodi Der Me Aa Jayegi”.

Image from here

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Blingy Baba

Our country, dear friend, is a blessed land. Look around and what do you see? Love, blessings and kripa. 
There is Goddess of Love - Radhe Ma, who prances around in faux-ethnic red ensemble and garish make-up (No less than Subhash Ghai is said to invite her for his Mata Ki Chowki). 
There is Nirmal Baba who tells us that if we eat anything sour (chutney), all our problems will be rendered comatose just like the Haryana government during ruckus.
There are Maulvis and Yogi’s in our living rooms 24/7 - showering rose petals, of course. Switch on your TV and you see them spreading love on Times Now and The Republic.

And then we have Huzoor Maharaj Dr Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan, who is now convict number 1997 in Rohtak’s Suniara jail. What does his loooong name tell us? That longer the name, longer the list of charges against him. Right? No. no. Of course, not. But imagine the plight of the minor girl who was raped repeatedly, threatened and living under fear for more than a decade!

Okay, so you weren’t expecting a man with such a secular name to be a rapist and alleged murderer (Pop Quiz: How many netas are also accused of the same? Ans: More than 150) If you are still eye rolling at his flamboyant names, know that ex Dera chief named his adopted daughter Priyanka Taneja as Honeypreet and nephews as Sweetluck Singh and Subah-e-Dil. Cute. 

Come to think of it, it’s interesting how the media loves to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. In all the interviews of Gurmeet Singh I saw, they never asked him about the alleged murder, castration and rape cases. Instead, they asked him to sing songs penned beautifully with lyrics like You Are The Love Charger. Once the verdict was announced, they discovered the dark side of the man with enough hair to give Anil Kapoor a complex. Dr Batra, meanwhile is wondering why he didn’t use him as his brand ambassador. 

Now that Love Charger alias Blingy Baba alias Pitaji is behind the bars, many victims will come out with alleged bizarre stories of Baba drinking testicular soup and burying bones under the Dera orchard. Time will tell if they are true but according to the judge, Baba acted like a savage beast. 
Having said that, serious questions remain.

Who gave him Z security in 2007? Why?
Who was funding his extravagant movies? Was he into money laundering for political parties?
Army intelligence had warned about weapons training in Dera back in 2010, why did police look the other way?
If he did not appear before the courts even after 42 summons, what made him appear in the court? Was there a deal which fell out? You emerge out of Dera and we provide you a safe heaven? Because if the police were to flush him out of Dera premises, there could be far more casualties. Who blew his cover? Was it the drug cartel, politician or an insider?

As they say, better late than never. Had this verdict been delayed, we would see Gurmeet Singh strut his stuff in Big Boss 9. He had agreed to be a part of the show, provided he was allowed to go out for a few hours every day. If you think this break was to grant pardon in his ‘gufa’, or if you hear the song, Aaja Gufaon Mein Aa, Aaja Gunah Karle, it is purely in your head. 

Coming back to our news channels, when they are not telling us how all Godmen are frauds or accepting Patanjali as their news sponsor, they telecast shows of Nirmal Baba. Maybe Gurmeet Singh should call Nirmal Baba and ask, “Dude, I’m in trouble. What to do for some Kripa?” 
“Hmm…when did you try Khatta?”
“I had a chocolate in the chopper. Nothing sour. No Khatta.”
“Boss, just add an R after Khatta. Kripa will come your way.” 

So, what is it that attracts people towards spiritual leaders? For one, the poor and the downtrodden are trapped in misery – son’s job, daughter’s dowry, land grab, loans and debilitating disease. The Godmen provide hope. Instant solace and support. Given that most Dera followers are Dalit laborers and marginalized migrants, Dera or any other cult provides a sense of identity. If temples and Gurudwaras don’t allow lower castes, these cults welcome them with open arms. The main attraction is the feeling of equality and dignity. 
Second, not all Godmen are frauds. Many are doing great social service by taking care of the underprivileged. Truth is, Gurmeet Singh was involved with many welfare activities, even though they turned out to be a facade for his nefarious activities. 
Third, many Guru’s teach the practice of meditation and sadhna, which is more peaceful and economical than what hard core Hindu-Muslim fanatics propagate. And also the fact that we are a society of iconoclasts, always looking for a saviour. No wonder, there is a long history of deras and cults in UP, Punjab and Haryana.

As I write, Gurmeet Singh’s son Jasmeet Insan, who is married to Punjab Congress MLAs daughter Husanmeet Kaur has been announced as the legal heir.
That said, politics and religion are an incendiary mix. If you are a politician of any hue, it is natural that you will flock to cult chiefs who control millions of EVM’s. Chandraswami, Dhirendra Brahmachari, Nityanand, Rampal, Ramdev…..the list is long. However, it is time to learn from 30 odd civilian deaths. Political parties have keep an eye on the funding, activities and properties of socio-religious cults to ensure that the marginalized are not vulnerable to the machinations of Pied Piper like cult heads.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Game of Votes

Netflix shows are nothing compared to real time political thrillers. I am binge watching one where the political secretary of Sonia Gandhi is fighting the maneuvers of a ruthless election machine, the BJP. Ahmed Patel. 
Never heard of him? Well, between 2004 and 2014, when madam held the remote, all buttons were pressed by Patel bhai. Need an appointment? AP. Firefighting? AP. Cabinet reshuffle? AP. Fix Amit Shah? AP.

But that was past. Cut to present.

Today Patel guy is fighting a nail-biter to retain his parliamentary seat. Initially he had 57 MLAs but after a series of defections and resignations orchestrated by his rivals (read Amit Shah), he is left with 44. And that’s the twist. The old bean has 44 but needs 45. One crucial vote. Will he, won’t he?

Never saw Patel look so tense. Almost nervous. Never saw news anchors so excited. Almost animated. 
Brimming with excitement, Arnab is calling it a prestige issue for Sonia Gandhi. I’m thinking if Arnab looks happy enough for the entire South East Asia, maybe Ahmad Patel is likely to lose. Maybe Arnab knows something we don’t. After all, he is the new Lutyens media. Jogging his vocal chords, Arnab forces his three dozen panellists to confess, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, let’s be direct today. Is it or is it not a prestige issue for Sonia Gandhi?’? Continue to fire your views at #Biggest test for Sonia.’ Like an ape on heat, jumping from his seat to the monitor, Arnab repeats, ‘Will Sonia scrape through?’ 

But there is more than prestige at stake. In an article, Rajdeep says, Amit Shah and Ahmed Patel are ‘jaani dushmans’. Shah, they say, wants revenge for what he believes is Patel’s role in jailing him in an encounter case. So this is as much personal as it is political. 
Sannu ki? But, by God it is so entertaining.

It’s 7 pm. I continue to flip channels. The EC has not even begun counting. An unverified video shows two disputed votes by Congress MLAs. Worse, one Congress guy out of 44 has cross voted. This upsets Rajdeep more than Patel. If Arnab is unable to hide his excitement, Rajdeep is unable to hide his disappointment. 
By 9 pm, when the BJP and Congress delegations approach the EC like students approach the Principal, the Congress spokesperson does a Kejriwal and disses the EC anticipating partisanship. 

In other news, around the same time, China threatens war, says they will enter Kashmir. But our news channels are like, ‘Baad mein dekhenge be! Abhi Ahmed bhai needs one vote.’ To add to the world woes, Trump says if N Korea escalates nuclear threat, it will be met with fire and fury. The world is likely to end but the more important thing is that Ahmed Patel’s fate is undecided.

Meanwhile, at home, my husband returns from work and says, ‘Let’s go for a walk. Care for some fresh air?’
Fresh air? When Arnab is extolling me to ‘Fire my views’ who wants fresh air?
‘ Later. Patel’s prestige is hanging by a thread.’
‘How does it matter? It’s his 5th RS term?’
‘It doesn’t. But it’s a one-ball-one-run situation.’

It’s 11pm. The house is quiet except for the buzz of the air conditioner. After some tossing and turning, I peer into my phone. Nothing. Good folks on Twitter are asking, ‘Bhai in or out?’ 
Around 11.30 pm, the Election Commission invalidates two contentious votes after PC Chidambaram’s legal acumen convinces the returning officer. Which means the overall strength of the house is reduced and Patel chap needs only 44 to win. 44, after all, is the magical Congress number. 

At this point I doze off when I realize that the maid is on a holiday and whatever the result, neither Patel nor Shah will help me do the dishes. 
And then, much after the stroke of midnight, The Ahmed Patel keeps his tryst with destiny. He is blessed with 43 of his own and one mystery voter. Election Commission saved our democracy but the mystery guy, probably JDUs Chotu Bhai Vasava saved Sonia’s prestige. Yo man! Likely that your  ten generations will not have to work. Or pay income tax.
Now that the two ‘Jaani Dushmans’ have reached Rajya Sabha, the episode where they face each other will make for a riveting watch. That Ahmed Patel’s desire to win the RS poll could sink Gujarat Congress deserves another season of the Game of Votes.
On the personal front, it's clear that I'm a political junkie. Who stays awake all night and wakes up with a headache for one inconsequential election?

Image Courtesy: The popscreen and The Republic