Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Election Lexicon-II:

In the first part of the Election Lexicon, we covered letters A to O. Now, in this second part, as some of the most important seats of the country go to the polls, the elections have significantly enriched to the political lexicon, spicing it up with a mix of marketing, branding and management terms which have also caused a fair degree of heartburn. These expressions are unlikely to be forgotten soon.

P: Paid Media. Given the highly polarising nature of the elections and with every news channel doing their bit to keep themselves relevant by defaming one politician or admiring the other, there is always an agenda news channels seem to follow. With social media gaining prominence, paid media remains a favourite hashtag which emerged after the public disclosures of the Niira Radia Tapes

Q: Questions. This applies mainly to Arvind Kejriwal who mainly asks questions and never suggests an alternative to the question. It can be something as silly as why is Narendra Modi not responding to his 18 questions or why is he silent about gas pricing in India.

R: Rights. The Congress Party's favourite buzzword. Every election, the voters are subjected to the same old rights-based governance model. In its current avatar, it includes right to food, right to free healthcare and right to housing. Of course, we cannot ignore the favourite buzzwords: RTI, RTE and the Lokpal, systemic changes that came to dominate the narrative regarding the "rights-based governance" model.

S: Shahzada: Narendra Modi's popular reference to the son of Sonia Gandhi who is constantly known for his amateurish speeches.

T: Twitter. The social media which emerged as the battleground everything under the large spectrum of politics and the only site that has helped manufacture opinions for almost every topic. 

U: Ungli. Thanks to social media and massive awareness of messages about asking citizens to participate in the democratic event of elections, the ink stain on the ungli (finger) became a quite a fad with selfies of the finger flooding social media platforms.

V: Vikas. The BJP's tagline for this time is "sabka saath, sabka vikas". Following the despondency faced by India in the past 10 years, this tagline gives a lot of hope and optimism to the defeated Indian. For the first time since Independence, there has appeared a definite possibility of India developing as a normal nation, comfortable with its past and proud of its culture and civilisation. Hence, vikaas means the activity engaged in quickly uplifting its people out of the long phase of deprivation and scarcity. 

W: Wave. The election season got us acquainted with a different type of wave. With Narendra Modi's rousing reception in Varanasi to the favourable crowds in his speeches, there is certainly a lot that is at stake to ensure that this wave survives the tides. 

X: Xaviers. The premier institute of Mumbai which stands for elitist mentalities. The principal of the college who writes a letter using his official position. The letter is published on the college website asking students to vote responsibly by considering all parameters and the dangers of having an ugly marriage between communal forces and corporates. 

Y: Yuva Josh. It was to be a symbol of empowerment. The 40 second advertisement with its punch line: "kattar soch nahin, yuva josh", the face in the ad Hasiba Amin emphasised that only a young leader can connect with the youth of the country. That's another story that it was a 63 year old man who connected much better with the youth and the yuva josh was being used in other important segments.

Z: Z+ Security. An elite security protection group which has over 500 commandos from the National Security Guards being deployed to 15 people in the country who are supposed to have a threat perception. Most notable belonging to this motley group are Dr. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Robert Vadra, Narendra Modi among others. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Election Lexicon-2014

The 2014 elections are underway. These elections with the highest number of first-time voters and campaigns that focus more on personalities rather than the issues confronting us make it one of the most colourful spectacles and the most interesting Indian election in recent times. On that note, here is a rough dummy's guide to the lexicon of 2014 elections:

A: Adani, a conglomerate with business interests in resources, logistics and energy sectors. The conglomerate's role in the ongoing elections has been discussed widely due to the incumbent government's allegations that Adani is the best example of crony capitalism in India especially given how land was given to them at Re. 1/- to which representatives from the Adani group have consistently denied.

B: Baap Beta Government The BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi referred to the incumbent Samajwadi Party government as the baap beta government owing to the Samajwadi Party being led by the father and son duo of Mulayalam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav.

C: Chhappan inch ki chhati. In one of his rallies in Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi quipped, "Netaji (referring to Mulayalam Singh Yadav) has said Modi does not have what it takes to make another Gujarat out of Uttar Pradesh. Do you know what making Gujarat requires? ... It requires a chhappan inch ki chhati (56 inch chest). After winning the 2007 Gujarat elections too, the nominee had boasted about his sizeable chest and if only we could find the metaphoric supermen, India would be a different country.

D: Damaadshri. An eight minute video released by the BJP that accuses the Haryana and former Rajasthan Governments for amending rule to help Robert Vadra grab land across the two states in violation of rules. In Hindi, it is common to have son-in-laws being addressed by mothers as their damaadshri.

E: Election Commission: The Election Commission that is in-charge of scheduling the cycle of elections every five years has become the new agony aunt for constantly accepting the charges levelled by the incumbent government. The amount of whining that goes on almost makes one believe that the government has nothing to campaign to put up in the campaigning phases.

F: Federal Front. In a desperate attempt to stop Narendra Modi and to defeat "communal forces", the collapse of a possible Third Front led to the talk of a new Federal Front emerged with regional satraps positioning themselves as potential options for the country's top job which primarily consisted of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties.

G: Gas Wars. This refers to the Aam Aadmi Party's fight against Reliance Industries which believes that ministers in the UPA government jointly rigged the prices of gas and managed to hog the headlines bringing forward a long-running dispute. 

H: Hindu Nationalist. The projection of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial aspirant by the BJP in September 2013 led to joy though it evoked shock reactions in another quarters. With posters that proclaimed, "I am a Hindu Nationalist" with a mugshot of Narendra Modi, the secular-liberal activists and intellectuals have been portraying this as the masks of his hardline stance hasn't fallen off.

I: India: Among all the candidates and jibes, it is India that gains in the long run if there is a strong and stable government. Indians eagerly await the dawn of May 16, the day election results will be announced, to know in which direction we would go from here: either progress or regress further.

J: Jijaji. Another reference to Robert Vadra, Rahul Gandhi's brother-in-law, who is under the scanner for his alleged land deals in Haryana and Rajasthan.

K: Kejriwal: Arvind Kejriwal, the founder of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, who has emerged as the wild-card entrant for this election, has been a champion of hogging the news media wheels. He sat on dharnas and then took on the establishment, failing to realise he was part of the establishment and eventually "sacrificed" his government 49 days after coming to office.

L: Left Liberals. These are people who are often professors from the humanities and the social sciences who never fail to give lectures to the Indian electorate about "The Idea of India" and how a BJP government at the centre means inviting dangers of having an intolerant and fascist government that is ever ready to curb freedom of speech and expression. 

M: Maa-Beta Government. A popular allusion by Narendra Modi to the UPA government which is largely thought to be run by mother-and-son Sonia and Rahul Gandhi 

N: Narendra Modi. The chief minister of Gujarat who is currently running for the post of Prime Minister as anointed by the BJP. From being a modest tea-seller in Gujarat, his presence has literally charged the political scene where battles are not fought on issues but purely to stop him from coming to power.

O: Opinions. The 2014 elections which have the longest election cycle has led to a personality contest between the candidates rather than issues. Hence, looking at the sheer media presence of  the personalities in the running, everyone seems to have an opinion about the 2014 elections.

P.S.: This is the first part of the two part that seeks to lighten the note of the 2014 General Elections. The second part will cover letters from P to Z. Stay tuned and do write back with your opinions.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Mirage of Free Speech

The true test of a society's commitment to freedom of expression lies in its defence of marginalised forms of speech. Yet, there is a certain amount of fear within me as I choose to highlight that a Delhi based publishing house "Navayana" has withdrawn the English translation of Sahitya Akademi recipient and Tamil writer Joe D'Cruz first novel originally published in Tamil called "Aazhi Soozh Ulagu", which is based on the lives of catamaran fishermen. The reason for withdrawal cited by the publisher is that the said writer declared his support for Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial aspirant of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The book's translator V. Geetha, in her statement said, "I was terribly distressed when I read Joe D'Cruz's statement of support for Modi. He is entitled to his political opinion but I don't want to be associated with anyone or anything linked to Modi. We can't forget Gujarat 2002--no one must be allowed to either. I still stand by his novel, which I think is a fantastic saga of fisher life and I am sorry Joe has decided to trade his considerable gifts as a novelist for politics that is fascist and dangerous. I have, therefore, decided to withdraw my translation."

It is distressing to note that constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are now being contested by publishing houses on the basis of differing political perspectives. The intellectual discourse of the country since Independence has largely been populated by left-leaning academics, who hold a monopoly over academic institutions and policy-making institutions, which make India stuck in a self-negating world view. While there is absolutely no doubt that, "secular" intellectuals would jump at an opportunity to condemn an instance like the pulping of Wendy Doniger's book on Hinduism, there is a marked silence on the freedom of speech and expression of Joe D'Cruz's book or when Jitendra Bhargava's book titled "The Descent of Air India," which chronicles the decline of the national airline. The publishers, in the latter's case, issued an unconditional apology to the former civil aviation minister and promptly withdrew copies of the book. However, there was no outrage about it. The matter was hushed up in the media too.

This controversy once again brings alive to the debate whether if political inclinations and literary beliefs can be separated? Can a ideology influence a writer? It is certainly not unreasonable that extreme reactions to writers and their creative expressions must be condemned. However, politics is an immensely personal choice and must remain so. How does a publishing house get affected with a person's political belief? A good novel can be political but politics cannot be simply derived from an author's stated political positions. If we were to begin to impose censorship in the lives of novels and poems written by authors who have said and done things which we disapprove, we would be left with a very feeble reading list. 

The capacity of ideas spreads across to ennoble and appall, uplift and debunk, inspire and outrage should not threaten us but make us respect even more the value of protecting the marketplace of ideas. Commitment to freedom, after all, is just self interest when an individual is promoting it for their own ends. It only becomes a principle when we fight for it tooth and nail to protect someone else. Until we don't get finicky about a person's political belief, it is only then can we even be worthy of the freedom of free speech and expression that we truly seek.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Opinion Polls

The elections of 2014 are widely considered as a watershed election. India today finds itself in a cusp of change confronted with political parties who have no particular ideological anchor or are backed by strong state leaders in national parties, which in many ways, are a blend of regional parties. With the strengthening of intra-party coalition set-ups, it would be safe to say that political parties in India are undergoing a process of major churning. As India goes to polls in less than a week, the role and debate around opinion polls is back in action. 

Opinion polls shape public opinion as much as they reflect it. Opinion polls affect expectations about the outcome and expectations which further align with preferences and parties. Public opinion polls now play an important role in influencing voters. They are used throughout the course of election campaigns by candidates and by the media to see which candidates are ahead and who is likely to emerge victorious. The results of these polls, in turn, largely determine where future campaign monies are to be spent and where each candidate's efforts will be concentrated until the close of the election campaign.

Opinion polls have always been about both business and analysis: about symbiotic relationships between the media and its consumers as much as the relationship between the citizenry and their political choices. There is no doubt that opinion polls affect expectations about the possible outcome after a long election season and expectations often align with preferences and parties. In short, opinion polls play a significant role in shaping the course of politics as it helps gauge public opinion to see which candidates are possibly front-runners and who is likely to clinch the coveted title.

Most polls are a result of fairly robust exercises which are often led by social scientists with a fair degree of experience. Despite embarrassments like the 2004 General Elections, there is little to suggest that opinion polls are not a definitive exercise in election forecasting. Although there might be chances of the final tally being wrong, it is not necessarily due to an inherent bias or a result of poor polling. Rather, it must be seen as a reflection of the differences of distilling into a handful of numbers and the diversity of the Indian electorate and the fickleness of Indian politics. 

It is hard to overstate the influence of opinion polls in India. It is hard to overstate the influence of opinion polls in India. The Internet does help in reiterating opinions cannot be divorced from the aspirations of the general public. Opinion polls not only measure public views but also shape them as much as they come to dominate news wheels as it determines attitudes, records disapproval of certain figures and eventually circles back to influence content and weigh the strength of opinions and attitudes. Public understanding flourishes in a variable manner and can certainly influence the course a nation adopts.