12May

In the other Varanasi, there is no need for May 16. Modi has ‘already won’

Lok Sabha elections: Narendra Modi file nomination from Vadodara

As the long and punishing polling for the 16th Lok Sabha elections ended with the grand finale of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, where BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is fighting a historic battle, Rediff.com‘s Vaihayasi P Daniel and Project India‘s Patrick Ward joined hands to offer a view of Baroda, Modi’s second constituency. Here, in this safe seat from Gujarat, his victory is seen as a done deal — despite scars of the 2002 riots among the minority Muslim population.


The first thing that struck us about Baroda was the quiet. Sure, the city was plastered with election posters. Posters that brandished a finger, admonishing you to vote for Narendra Modi. Posters and posters and posters. They were on every wall, underpass, and bridge, crowding out the billboards of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, submerging him in a cacophony of silent Modi-figures with tough Modi-glares glinting through steely Modi-glasses.

But one thing was missing. There was no noise.

A few days before the polling day when we visited Baroda, Modi’s ‘home’ constituency in Gujarat, there was no real election buzz. That intangible election energy, which hangs in the air when you enter every Indian town about to vote, that was absent.

At the Bharatiya Janata Party’s central office in Sayajiganj, just before sundown two days before campaigning was to end, a solitary Modi-vehicle, with a nearly life-size cutout of Modi’s head fronting its bonnet, was parked outside. Devotional music spilled robustly out of its speakers into the lobby.

Bharat Dangar, the BJP president for Baroda City, sat at a broad desk, a lotus pinned to his chest. There were saffron rubber bands on his desk, and he was to later say they handed out saffron hairbands as well (saffron being the BJP’s official colour).

The faces of Modi and other BJP politicians formed a panorama behind Dangar, affording him some additional heads, like a Hindu deity. He had all the constituency facts at his fingertips and could reel out pretty much any statistics you asked for. He brimmed with confidence and self-satisfaction. As far as Dangar was concerned, the constituency was already won. There was no need for May 16. Modi was well on his way to 7, Race Course Road.

“Everyone knows Modiji will win with a big margin. We want to create a history over here,” Dangar said.  “This is the first chance a Gujarati, as a Barodian, will vote for the PM and not [just] for the MP. We have 543 constituencies in India. Among the 543 only Varanasi and Baroda will vote for the PM. We are the lucky ones… After the fifth or sixth phase it was clear, very clear that the BJP will come in the power, NDA [the National Democratic Alliance] will come in the power. And Narendra Modi will become the prime minister of the India.”

Modi had stopped by in Baroda for a large rally on April 24, for just four hours, from 8 am to 12 noon. That was all Baroda saw of Modi. Such was the confidence the BJP claimed to have in Baroda that Dangar said he was certain of a significant win.

“Everyone here is Narendra Modi.” Dangar said. “He himself said that at our public meeting. Everyone here is a Narendra Modi. Why should I take stress because everyone here is a Narendra Modi? Not by birth. But by their work.”

By that logic, Baroda, a city if 1.637 million, is a city of 1.637 million Modis. And every single one of those 1.637 million Modis would vote for Modi. That sounds like good electioneering, and you cannot but admit that Modi and his campaign advisors know how to play the crowd.

Dangar was quick to agree there was not much electoral buzz in Baroda — not too many rallies, not too “much voices or noise”. What was not evident to the casual observer, he pointed out, was the extensive door-to-door and meeting-based campaigning the BJP was undertaking — particularly in rural areas, which account for some 500,000 voters.

Most of their work was volunteer-driven, Dangar said. The BJP has 10,000 registered workers in Baroda and many more volunteers, and the main strategy had been to pay special attention to the electoral list, which runs to 25,000 pages, with between 45 and 48 voter names – roughly 10-12 families – per page. For each page, one resident had been chosen ‘Page President’, Dangar said, and it was his/her job to mobilise the others listed on the page to vote for Modi.

So how many Page Presidents did he have in all?

“Twenty-five thousand!” Dangar said, with evident glee.


If there was a spark of electioneering activity visible a few days before polling, it was at the Congress candidate’s rallies. Taking on Modi in a constituency where it is predicted he will triumph with a margin never seen before is all about guts and no glory. And Madhusudan Mistry came across exactly as that kind of feisty fighter as he addressed shockingly tiny rallies — a hyperactive stage actor without an audience. He matched the smug BJP hyperbole word for word.

cong-rally

It must be a very tough fight for him. Why did he take it up?

“Why not?” said Mistry, who sported a mop of long white hair. “When Enoch Powell [the British politician notorious for his controversial Rivers of Blood speech against immigration] contested in Britain, somebody took him on as well. He lost. But they fought.”

So it is because somebody has to stop Modi?

“Yes. Someone has to expose him,” Mistry said. “What sort of person he is. What his development model is. I would say it is purely a facade. He talks about development. In the back of his mind is a very clear-cut vertical divide that he wants to inject between Hindus and Muslims.

“If he ever gets elected and if he ever becomes the prime minister, the first thing he will do is declare a war with Pakistan, to get himself established as a hero in the Indian psyche. His rhetoric against the Muslims and the minorities will continue.”

What is the best change Modi has brought to the state? Mistry shrugged.

“Tell me, in which sector is Gujarat leading the country?” he challenged. “Tell me one. Manufacturing, services, industry, agriculture, health, education? Which sector? IT? Name one?”

Mistry is a mean speaker, and not without talent. He continuously attempted to fire up the audience at the Vagodia area in Savli. But still it was at best a dull show.

The audience sat collapsed in white plastic chairs, listening, but largely unresponsive. The rally, which took place on the side of a main road, caused the traffic to pause only occasionally. Now and then someone would stop by on their motor scooter to listen for a few minutes, before losing interest and carrying on. Once in a while passers-by yelled a jibe: “We have had enough of Congress.”


A group of women at the front of the rally pushed forward and surrounded us when we said we were journalists. They begged us to visit their homes and see their plight.

29baroda4

“Why would I not vote for the Congress? They look out for the poor! Modi cannot even look after his wife,” said Neelu, a factory worker, referring to the recent controversy about Modi abandoning his wife for politics.

Geeta Rajput, from Vaghodia, who washes dishes for a living, lives in one of the government-built housing projects that have slowly started replacing the city’s original slums. She was upset her home leaked water, and she could get no city official to solve the problem.

It was about 9 pm. From Vagodia, Mistry headed to a rally at Raopura, an area where he believed he had good support. Raopura voted in a BJP legislator in the last assembly election; it is mixed area of Gujaratis, Uttar Pradesh migrants, Baroda Maharashtrians, and Dalits.

The audience in Raopura was larger, more attentive to Mistry – but still not enthused. If one were to try to gauge the audience reaction it would seem they were here to judge if Mistry might make a better alternative.

Chaya Rajput, 33, a housewife who sat listening to Mistry at the back of the rally said, “At my in-law’s place all of us like Modi. We like the work he has done very much. I have no fear [that he will bring divisive politics]. Ever since I have grown up and matured I have been seeing his government.”

Rajput said her family liked what Modi had done in the state, especially with respect to education, roads, water, electricity. For her the deciding factor was contrast she saw between Maharashtra and Gujarat, when she went to visit her sister in Shahada, Maharashtra, across the border from Gujarat.

“There is no light there,” Rajput said. “The roads are so dark. But when you reach the Gujarat border, it is all light.”

Mistry said he worked hard trying to attract disaffected voters to his cause. “You just have to go on talking to the people. Be with them, explain to them, mobilise them.”

What does he like least about Modi?

Mistry laughed as he mulled over that question. “I don’t know!” he finally said. “I have never answered this sort of question before…”

Then he added, “He never tell you the truth. He is a five-step liar. He will tell one lie to a subordinate. And then he will convey it to one person. Then he will convey it to the fourth person. The fifth person will go out and tell. And from where it originates nobody knows.”

The poor, be they hawkers or workers, according to Mistry, are still drawn to the Congress because the Modi Dream is not one they feel they can realise.

“It depends on what sort of person you talk and interview with. If they are people who are doing a little well economically they will naturally be siding with him. This has been the history of Gujarat. Wherever there was a good economic status we always supported the right wing people.”

“We never supported the African National Congress in South Africa or a Labour Party in Britain or Labour in Australia. We are always with the Tories and in the US as well. This has been the psyche in the state with whoever is outside. Mainly those who have money will always be siding BJP.”

bandukwala
Why did Modi choose Baroda — with 11,539,68 male voters, 10,717,95 female voters and 34 other voters, as per the latest Gujarat census figures — as his constituency?

Professor J S Bandukwala, a human rights activist who narrowly escaped death when rioters burnt down his in 2002, said: “He chose Baroda because this is the most BJP-oriented constituency in Gujarat.”

Because of the RSS impact from its headquarters in central Maharashtra?

“Not only the RSS impact. The impact of people abroad. This is the Patel-Patidar area and every family has someone abroad. There is a very large population in America and they are very fanatical, most of the Patels. This is their centre. They are all settled in New Jersey and other areas. This is the one constituency he doesn’t have to bother about.”

If Modi wins both Varanasi and Baroda, will he step down from the latter constituency? We asked Dangar that, but he refused to answer.

“Our aim is to make a historical victory,” he said.

Modi will most likely triumph in Baroda, but will the industrious 25,000 Page Pramukhs succeed in bringing some of the city’s approximately 300,000 Muslims to vote saffron? Javed, a taxi driver who took us around, thought so.

“The riots took place in 2002. Things have changed since then,” he said. “Modi has found a place in our hearts. He has brought progress. He has provided jobs.”

Bandukwala, who has a daughter and son settled in the US, and a Hindu Gujarati son-in-law, had this to say of Modi:

“Many Muslims have become resigned to him. They will just accept him for whatever he is. Which I can understand. Small people in public cannot say anything, for fear that there may be a reaction.”

He continued, “Muslims are in a real trap just now. There is an intense fear also. If you go below the surface you will find an uneasiness. We don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t know. That fear is very deep. Society is completely communalised and divided. I don’t know where we will be headed.”

Baroda has a scarred history. Though some of the worst incidents of the 2002 Gujarat riots that saw about 1,500 casualties took place 111 km away in Ahmedabad, Baroda too witnessed deaths – some 36 people were killed in the ensuing violence in the city. Its proximity to Godhra also meant that scores of Muslims fled to Baroda. There was more Hindu-Muslim violence in 2006. But is it possible that BJP might have gained some Muslim voters who are willing to put 2002 behind them?

Mistry said, “In the constituency I was representing, I don’t think they have put it behind.”

As we travelled through rural Gujarat the next day, we quizzed Muslim voters about their preference.  The much-touted Gujarat model of Narendra Modi seemed to not have percolated these areas; and despite what Dangar claimed, many Muslims among the 1.637 million voters of Baroda were not Modis, but anti-Modis.

Bandukwala’s words seemed to acquire a ring of truth as we left our last interviewee. “Muslims voting for Modi would be very low,” the professor had said. “Those who have joined with Modi have been ostracised in the community.”

A version of this story was first published on Rediff.com, our media partner.

Photographs: Patrick Ward, Vaihayasi P Daniel/Rediff.com

12May

As polling ends, a profile of the men and women who fought for your votes

On the final day of polling in the world’s biggest election, voters in 41 constituencies across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal will cast their votes, and, of course, post photos of inked fingers on social media. The 8,234 candidates who  submitted themselves to the electorate over the past month were obliged to declare their education, assets, and a range of other details. Based on that information, here is a quick profile of the candidates who fought for the 16th Lok Sabha seats.

Female candidates made up just 8% of the field. In the last Lok Sabha women occupied 11% of the seats. This means that in order to beat that figure, female candidates will need to be more electorally successful than their male counterparts this time around.

Most candidates were in their 40s, the average age being 47.

There were 52 candidates aged 25. The constitution states that anyone under the age of 25 may not sit in the Lok Sabha.

At 93 Ram Sundar Das is the oldest candidate — the only one in the 90s, in fact. He is running in Hajipur, Bihar for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Rishang Keishing, who is 94, currently holds the record for India’s and the world’s oldest MP. However, he is not seeking reelection this time. If Sundar Das is elected and serves a full term he will become the world’s oldest MP.

Just under one-third of the candidates are graduates, and over 40% declared that they are educated to a high school level.

Five per cent of candidates have no formal education.

The average candidate has assets totalling Rs 49,309,000 (approximately £488,000).

The wealthiest candidate is technology entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani, who declared total assets of Rs 77,102,957,219 (approximately £763,473,000), including Rs 1,166,057,978 (£11,546,000) currently deposited in the bank.

The majority of the candidate, 82%, have never been involved in any criminal cases.

Two candidates from the Aam Aadmi Party in Tamil Nadu came top of the list in terms of involvement in criminal cases.

Udayakumar S P declared in his sworn affidavit that he has been involved in 382 cases, which include 19 charges of attempted murder and 16 charges “related to waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India”.

M Pushparayan, came a close second, declaring he has been involved in 380 criminal case.

Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch, based on sworn affidavits from candidates.

10May

The youth of India have voted, and they have voted for world-class education

More than 100 million people are eligible to vote for the first time in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Some of these new voters are students. And for most of them the state of education in the country has been the greatest determinant of who they cast their votes for.

Young voters in Mumbai. Photo: Apekshita VarshneyShishir Samant, a 21-year-old management student of the Lala Lajpatran College of Commerce and Economics, says the only thing that matters to him and his friends is the state of education in the country.

“Economic issues do not influence us at the moment,” he said.

Like many other students, Samant is not happy with the state of affairs in the education sector. His college is affiliated with the Mumbai University and he thinks the government should take responsibility for anomalies in the system.

Supriya Bwivedi, 20, a medical student at the B J Government Medical College, had the same opinion as Shishir. She said: “Some things are been neglected, the funding to run hospitals and medical facilities is not there and the money people get is not equivalent to their work.”

Many others said the lack of infrastructure has made learning difficult; it has made many courses largely theoretical.

Sneha Murchavade, 20, a student of commercial art at Sophia College for Women thinks that with a little more practical classes the colleges in India should be able to compete globally.

Apart from providing the right environment, the students also expect a government that would be willing to review policies.

Proshant Chakraborty, a student of anthropology at St  Xavier’s College, says there is too much state control and censorship in education. “Books that are thought provocative by one person are dropped. Education has been politicised, so whoever comes to power controls it,” he said.

Not everyone though thinks the system is as bad or that the system needs to change drastically. Anshuman Preenza, 19, a student of Mechatronics at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies expressed satisfaction at the pace of progress.

“We are gradually turning to a more practical approach. Exams are now application-based questions. Five years back we didn’t have this amount of logistics. I think things are turning for good,” he said.

He was however quick to distance the government from any of this achievements and think a more proactive government would make things even better.

Koran Hemanp, a medical student at Rural Medical College in Kolkata, thinks that what is needed is dedication from student; tools and infrastructure don’t matter too much if there is no dedication from students. But even he thinks that things have to change. He, for example, finds the common entrance into the medical college unjustified.

Some students though felt that things other than the elections should influence their votes. Pankhil Mispry, 20, a student of the VJPI Engineering College, said: “I thought first about development. I wanted a leader who would give attention to the manufacturing sector, improve the railways and other forms of transportation.”

A majority of students have expressed discontent about the level of education especially its lack of practical classes. Some of this problem have been linked to government policies or , in some cases, inaction.

“I also had education in mind when I was deciding who to vote for. The kind of education that I like takes place only in private institution. Government colleges have the intellectual crowds that are not treated properly. Private institutions have the rich crowd. At the end there is no proper man-power,” Pankhil said.

The students linked the poor state of education to the government and most thought that a new government might make this better.

“I hope for a new government. This present government has had 10 years and has not worked. Nothing will change if they continue,” Sneha said.

Even Ansuman who thinks that the institutions are improving wants a new government. He said: “Change is always better. Let’s see what a new government can do. Let’s give other people a chance.” 

Photo: Apekshita Varshney. Student voters in Mumbai

This story also appeared on Rediff.com, our media partner.

7May

As elections near an end, a look at India’s other half

The horrific New Delhi gang rape of 2012 pushed women’s rights on to the electoral agenda in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections more than ever before. As India gradually begins to wind up its mammoth election exercise, here’s a historic look at the female vote, which is expected to play a significant role in determining the make-up of the new government.

According to the Election Commission of India, the gap between male and female voter turnout has been gradually decreasing since 1962. Female participation in state elections has risen since 2009. The gap could well be set to narrow even further this time around.

Although the official breakdown of voter numbers is yet to be released, the EC disclosed that in Chandigarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Sikkim and Lakshadweep there were more votes cast by women than by men.

Of the 20 states that have held elections since the last Lok Sabha polls, 16 recorded a higher voting percentage among women than men.

The EC is also hoping that a programme, which includes the deployment of election officials to voters’ homes to encourage women to vote, will help narrow the gap further, after a national survey found that women were often reluctant to visit a polling station unless accompanied by a man.

These official measures have been accompanied by social media campaigns, such as ‘Power of 49’, that have been active in encouraging women to vote.

The ‘Power of 49’ manifesto cites the underrepresentation of women in Parliament as one of the key concerns of their campaign.

Gender Balance in the Lok Sabha

Lok_Sabha_Gender

After the 2009 election, female members of the lower house rose above 10% for the first time.

In that election, women were actually more electorally successful than men. Women made up 7% of candidates fielded, with 11% of those candidates taking a seat in the Lok Sabha. This compares to a 6% success rate for male candidates.

In every general election since 1980 female hopefuls have recorded a higher success rate than their male counterparts.

Of the 7,562 candidates who submitted themselves to the electorate so far, just 592 (8%) are women. This 1% increase on last year’s figure suggests that change in this area will be gradual rather than sudden.

Even with the tendency for women candidates to be more successful than their male opponents, anything other than a modest rise in female representation looks unlikely.

Whatever the new Parliament looks like, India’s attitude towards women’s rights and violence against women is set to remain a contentious issue.

The conservative BJP, which is poised to do well in the current poll, point to increase in girls’ education and decreases in female infanticide in BJP-governed Madhya Pradesh as evidence of its commitment to women’s rights.

This commitment, however, has been called into question by critics of the BJP who accuse its leader, Narendra Modi, of paying lip service to the issue of women’s rights. Journalist Ankit Panda, who covers Indian politics for the Diplomat magazine, stated, “It seems to me that a majority of BJP members espouse views that are hostile to the liberal notion of gender equality.”

An open letter in The Guardian newspaper signed by Salman Rushdie, among others, has also drawn attention to the BJP’s record in this regard. Urging electors to “remember the role played by the Modi government in the horrifying events that took place in Gujarat in 2002,” the letter states “Women, in particular, were subjected to brutal acts of violence and were left largely unprotected by the security forces.”

7May

The recipe for democratic engagement

Mumbai voters

At the end of the day on which Mumbai got its collective finger inked, I was filming a selfie outside the gates of a school near the vegetable market in Byculla in Mumbai South. It was less narcissistic than it sounds – I was finishing off a day of intense live blogging.

It was going pretty smoothly, until I noticed the watchful glare of a police officer, who ambled over, and stood in front of me, his arms folded. I rushed through the remaining sentences, trying not to lapse into awkward gibberish as I did so, and put my phone in my pocket.

“What are you doing?” asked the young officer, gesturing at my pocket.

“I’m just…” I hesitated, “…filming.” I quickly added, “I’m a journalist covering the elections.” The policeman’s brow was still furrowed as he hit me with a follow-up.

“Are you here on a visa?” he asked. “Which one?”

We had a little back and forth like this until I realised it was inquisitiveness rather than inquisition. It turned out that he had been working nearly non-stop for 48 hours.

“So what do you think of democracy here?” he asked. I told him how much I was struck by the level of engagement, especially coming from Britain where voter turnout is generally far lower.

“People here are very proud,” he said. “Everybody votes. Why don’t they in Britain?”

I shrugged. “Maybe it’s because people think all the parties are the same?” I suggested. “There’s not that much difference between them.” My new friend thought for while, then came up with the answer.

“It’s probably because we have a real democracy and you have the Queen,” he said, pointedly. “We can choose for ourselves.”

Photo: Patrick Ward.

This story was also published on WoNoBo.com, our media partner.

5May

‘Of all parties, only the BJP is assured of the contempt of the 190 million Muslims of India. Yet it’s expected to win’

Manu Joseph, journalist, author

Manu Joseph, journalist, author

For me, elections assume different forms. At one level they are the revenge of the poor. Everybody talks about corruption; the branding of corruption is very strong. But the real voter is different from what political observers and the middle class perceive. He has issues more important than corruption. He is willing to condone corruption if he is impressed with the politician. Some even see it [corruption] as smartness, maybe as a sign of the ability to get things done.

I strongly feel that the AAP [the Aam Aadmi Party, which came into being in November 2012 as an anti-corruption party] has changed the political scenario more than the media realises and sometimes even more than they [the members of the AAP] themselves realise. They were exactly what people wanted, but the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] has managed to control most of the mainstream media very efficiently. Recently, a survey stated that Arvind Kejriwal [the founder of the AAP] has more media coverage [than Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate]. This is just media spin. Kejriwal has got a lot of bad publicity, which is not exactly the same as publicity. So if one is trying to spin media statistics, saying that Kejriwal has been favoured by the media, it is absolute rubbish. What Kejriwal has done is pressurise political parties to transform. For the first time, members of political parties who are corrupt and thug-like are being perceived as probable liabilities. This in itself is revolutionary.

The reason why all this is happening, in my opinion, is because the lure of emigrating abroad has died down. Culturally, a lot of Indians are happier living here than in the First World. By culturally, I mean India’s social pyramid, in which the middle class has a protected and cushy life. This has made ‘home’ very important. The middle class has a great power to disseminate information. Everything from cricket to culture to information has percolated the social pyramid mainly from this class. The need for meaningful politics is a middle class requirement. That is where this revolution began.

The ‘Modi wave’ as Narendra Modi’s popularity has been tagged, was first an exaggeration. But the media has succeeded in creating a wave. If one says there is no wave surrounding a person, it means that there is one. The ‘wave’ is an ‘investment’ in media. Not all media, but yes, a bit of it. And I am given to understand that Rahul Gandhi [the vice-president of the Congress party] had a strategy of governance that included alienating opportunists and cleaning up the system to some extent. This ensured that many businessmen went directly to Modi, instead of playing both cards.

Which brings us to the role of the regional parties. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, more than 350 parties contested. To some, this may seem a nuisance since it creates a lot of confusion for a national-level government, but the regional parties actually represent various factions and sections of society and serve as a pressure valve. There are no major uprisings in India because every group feels that it is politically represented — except for women. This is strange, because women constitute 50 per cent of society. All the other groups have a fair representation. But these ‘divisions’ lead to coalition politics.

Because Uttar Pradesh and Bihar form a large chunk of north India, the whole concept of what constitutes national interest is a bit skewed. I am from the southern part of India, and when I hear people talk about national politics, they largely talk about these two big states. This misconception has singlehandedly destroyed the concept of national politics. [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee [the former Prime Minister of India] once said, you cannot become a prime minister if you don’t pass UP. But this false perception has to change.

I think people vote because they strongly believe that it is important to do so. I also know that a section of society feels that voting is not all that important. Take Mumbai as an example. Most residents of Mumbai are migrants and the middle class, who live on rent and so have no ‘stake’ in the city. So they do not turn up to vote. It is all about individual personal gain. But this election has seen a considerably large voter turnout than the last one. Not because people have become more intelligent in the last five years, but simply because more people think it is important to vote. There is greater political consciousness this time around.

However, while the middle class and social media users have created a lot of noise that one might perceive as growing political interest, the majority of Indians are poor. We do not hear their voices and they are ones who NEED the government. So for the common man and woman, the most important aspect of an election is being able to pick the person who serves his or her interest better.

You and I can say, “Yeah, yeah, we need the government too,” but the poor man’s whole livelihood and quality of life depends on the government, from hospitals to schools to everything. The poor cannot live without the government, so their stakes are very high. They want quick improvement to their lives or at least a promise to that effect. This factor has always existed, though it is fulfilled very rarely. Yes, voting also involves communal factors, caste factors and so on, but increasingly, the caste factor is making less and less sense to the Indian voter.

What amuses me in this election is that the Muslim population of India is a state secret. It is presumed to be around 190 million, and that of all the political parties in the country, only the [Hindu nationalist] BJP is assured of the contempt of this huge chunk of the population. Yet it is also the BJP which is expected to win, though I am not entirely sure about that. I want to just wait and watch.

On a positive note, I think that everything is falling into place for India. We are more politically mature, and I think that in the next 10 years, there will be a place for a political party that focuses on women and women’s issues. I do not expect this to happen, but surely there is place. I am also expecting the AAP to be more and more influential in the coming years. They have some very capable and honest leaders, and they have the power to bring about positive changes.

Also, we will know this time how influential social media can be. The good part is that politics now matters to every section of society, from Mumbai socialites to the poor. So let us wait and see how this election unfolds.

As told to Vignesh Jeyaraman. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Manu Joseph, a columnist for the New York Times and a former editor of OPEN magazine, is the author of Serious Men and The Illicit Happiness of Other People.

This story was also published on Rediff.com, our media partner.

5May

NGOs challenge the mystery of disappearing voters in Mumbai

Voters queuing up in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Photo: Goutam Roy/Al Jazeera English on Flickr cc

Two NGOs have filed a petition with the Bombay High Court to challenge the deletion of 200,000 names from the electoral list in Mumbai.

Some 6,500 people who say they had their names “illegally” removed from the list of electors came forward to support the petition, which was started by the Action for Good Governance and Networking in India and Birthright.

Mumbai’s election day on April 24 saw many voters unexpectedly being turned away from polling stations, despite having been able to vote in the previous general election as well as the 2011 civic polls.

The Election Commission of India has apologised, but the public interest litigation filed by the NGOs calls for a special ballot to be held before May 16 to correct the error.

The PIL suggests either dereliction of duty or political conspiracy as the cause of the names being deleted. It has called for the formation of a special investigations team to look into whether the names were deleted in line with correct procedure.

The PIL has been scheduled for a hearing on May 6, following a decision to do so by a bench headed by the Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, Mohit Shah.

This is the second major controversy regarding the removal of names from electoral lists in this general election. A petition calling for an investigation into the removal of 100,000 names from lists in Pune was filed on April 21.

Photo: Goutam Roy/Al Jazeera English on Flickr cc

This story was also published on WoNoBo.com, our media partner.

2May

‘I am worried about Modi’s foreign policy. What would be his attitude towards Islamabad, towards Beijing?’

Professor Daya Thussu. Photo: Alex Littleboy

Daya Thussu  is Professor of International  Communication and the co-director of India Media Centre at the University of Westminster in London. His recent book Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood examines India’s emergence as a global power. Professor Thussu, who holds a PhD in International Relations from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, has written widely about globalisation and the media. In this interview recorded by Alex Littleboy in the foyer of the Regent Street campus of the University of Westminster, he discusses Narendra Modi, his policies, and how the Bharatiya Janata Party is marketing Modi to the outside world.

Opinion polls predict that Narendra Modi is likely to win the election. What do you make of that?

Well, there seems to be a consensus across the board that it is going to be a different government. The incumbent government is leaving office; there is no doubt about that. Now, what will replace it is still open to discussion. The general impression one gets from the media and from opinion polls done by the top news networks in India indicates that there will be a National Democratic Alliance-led government, within which BJP will be the largest component. BJP has already nominated Mr Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. But you never know what next month will bring.

What would you say is the reason for Modi’s potential success?

There are several reasons. Firstly, he has a very strong political place within the RSS, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is a cultural organisation with strong Hindu nationalist roots. Modi has very strong links within the RSS. It has members and networks across the country and they are doing a lot of groundwork for him. Secondly, as a politician, he has a particular reputation of being efficient, personally honest and decisive. These are the qualities which most of India is after, particularly following the current prime minister, who I personally see as honest, but who doesn’t have this decisiveness, and has had questions asked about his style of governance. The third thing is that Modi is an exceptional communicator. He is incredibly good at public rallies, he speaks the language of the masses, and he is a great orator in the Hindi language.

You have said Modi is a good communicator – I understand his supporters have been making extensive use of new media. How do you feel that is affecting things?

It is affecting the way the political debate is shaped, the issues in the elections. Many of these are promoted through new media – social media is important, but the most important is television. Some key television news networks, namely CNN-IBN, a very prestigious news network, which is now effectively controlled by a major conglomerate, has a cosy relationship with Mr Modi. So you see a not-so-subtle effort made to promote Modi, for example his hour-long speech at a public rally is streamed live on websites. Social media is also important, especially Facebook and Twitter, because it is the first election in which 100 million new, younger voters can cast their vote. This is a digital generation, a largely urban audience, and BJP has been very good in terms of using social media to promote Modi to this audience. He tweets, he has a Facebook page, and he realises that this is an area that he needs to engage in to attract young voters.

Would you say that this strategy is entirely new or is it just a repackaging of old strategies with new technology?

There are some new campaigning tools introduced this election. One of course is the greater use of social media – five years ago social media wasn’t as big. The other is the so-called “chai pe charcha,” discussion over a cup of tea. Modi comes from a humble background, his father used to sell tea on railway platforms in Gujarat. One Congress leader once made a flippant comment on television, saying that Narendra Modi could never become prime minister, but if he wanted to serve tea to the party’s delegates, that would be OK. So Modi has been using the concept of tea, for example streaming conversations live to tea stores across the country, reaching a wide audience. It’s very clever political marketing, to the extent that the Election Commission clamped down on this, saying it was a violation of electoral law.

Let’s talk a bit about Modi’s vision for India following the election. What sort of image do you feel the BJP is trying to promote?

BJP is trying to promote Modi as someone who would deliver good government. The emphasis is on governance, on raising the population out of poverty, to improve economic activity, the image of India as a superpower. Given his experience in Gujarat, there is little doubt that he has a good reputation as an administrator, though this is confined to a single state. They are trying to project this ‘Gujarat model’ as a model for the rest of the country. There is another argument, which is about India’s Hindu identity. Over 80 per cent of India is Hindu, and BJP is known as a Hindu nationalist party. While the party emphasises government and economic development, there is an underlying debate about its Hindu identity. One indication of this is that Modi is running in Gujarat, but also contesting Varanasi, considered the seat of Hindu civilisation – so this is a cultural and political statement, showing him to be a pan-Indian figure. This is electorally very important, showing him as a national leader, not a regional one.

As Hindu identity is a big part of this campaign, how does this affect voters of minority religions, in particular Muslims?

In a country the size of India, you cannot exclude these minorities, you cannot govern without them. So Modi has been careful to put the focus on growth and development. I believe that, should he be elected, he would also have to take the largest minority in India into account, Muslims. If he were to be elected, he would be part of a coalition government, and within that he would have to take this minority into account. Muslims cannot relate to the idea of Hindu nationalism. Although it is presented as a pan-Indian idea, it appears to them to be exclusive.

What concerns do you have about Modi’s vision?

One thing that worries me is that Modi has a particular version of nationalism that he promotes, a rabid Hinduised version. For example, he makes statements about China that I find alarming. I am worried about his foreign policy – I imagine he would be friends with the US, but what would be his attitude towards Moscow, towards Islamabad, towards Beijing. To me, the big problem is China – India’s biggest trade partner. But I have faith in India – countries aren’t run by politicians. There is never that fundamental a shift in policy.

Modi has hailed the Indian diaspora, and sees it as having a big role in a resurgent India. How do you feel this will affect the election?

The diaspora is huge, 25 million people. There are all kinds of diasporas; for example, the Indian diaspora in the Gulf countries is mostly working class, mostly Muslim – they are not Modi fans. But then you have the diaspora in the US, which is very pro-business, which wants the idea of India as a superpower to be realised. They see Modi as driven, with the reputation of being a ‘doer’. Large sections of this diaspora are supporting Modi’s campaign, by campaigning, media support, and supporting what Modi stands for.

What implications do you feel this use of the diaspora has for relations with the US?

I think it is really important. Increasingly in the US, the Indian diaspora is influential. One of the very important things is that Modi’s party has a very clear pro-business agenda. That pro-market agenda fits very well with the American elite, businesses and corporations. The Indian diaspora is a part of that discourse. In that sense, they are putting Modi forward to the US as someone to do business with.

The diaspora is not able to vote in these elections. What do you make of this?

I can’t vote! It is absurd! They can’t effect the electoral vote directly, but through media involvement and intellectual discourse, they can shape the argument. For example, there is a famous economist at Columbia, Jagdish Bhagwati, who is openly in support of the ‘Modi model’ – that is the kind of support that the diaspora is giving. They are making the environment that Modi is dominating.

Photo: Alex Littleboy

This interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity, has also appeared on Rediff.com, our media partner.

2May

The journo who jumped to cover India

parachute
It started when I got off the plane and was taken aside by the airport security. Why did I have a tripod but no camera? (It was for an iPhone, because that’s how we roll these days). Why did I have a book about journalism? Where was my gold? And diamonds? And gold diamond encrusted watch? (Actual questions, slightly paraphrased). But my journalistic parachute was yet to be snagged on the tree of unfamiliar bureaucracy and I was let through, phone accessories and all, albeit a little later than anticipated.

Everything was new to me — the climate, the process of hiring a taxi, the language. But I had to get my feet on the ground quickly if I was going to file stories the next day.

This was my experience after landing in the unfamiliar territory of Mumbai to cover the elections as a parachute journalist. Who better to cover The Biggest Election in History than someone who has never seen the place before? As part of Project India, an initiative involving journalists across India and the UK, I am here to give a certain perspective on the month-long general election that is currently underway.

As a first timer, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Mumbai — a city I imagine the un-imaginative but largely correct travel writer would describe as “throbbing”. Sure enough, the damp, smoky night air, the organised chaos of the traffic, and the swarms of people at every turn were a sharp change from the passive-aggression that prevails on the British road networks, and the sleepy evening pavements of Bournemouth featuring only the occasional pub-goer desperately trying to remember their home address.

Parachute journalism is the practise of a journalist with little to no experience of a region being dropped right in there — trying to bring “foreign” stories to a “national” audience. They lack the understanding of the long-term foreign correspondent, and generally don’t stay long enough to develop it fully.

Why parachute? There are heaps of talented (and English speaking) journalists based in India who could tell my stories with far greater depth and understanding than I can. Do we need another European coming from the former colonial power to explaining things?

The trouble with parachute journalism is that’s just what happens an awful lot of the time. Think about the coverage of looting mobs after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, or the forever violent Africans (specific country unnecessary to mention) or the homogenous mass of religious zealots in the Middle East. I can almost hear myself report: “One thing’s for certain, no one can see a way out of this bloodshed and if they could, would they want it? Patrick Ward for Sky News in the Global South.”

There’s also the danger of parachutists developing a pack mentality whereby stories become regurgitated across media. Stories shared by reporters from different agencies and networks over a beer or two in the local journo hangout need to be followed up by all of them, partly because of the ever-present fear that their editor’s number will show up on their mobile phone and they will be yelled at for missing the story.

In Haiti, for example, where starving people were scavenging for food, news reached head offices in London, New York and elsewhere that violent Haitians were coming to blows as their somehow innate savagery came out. If other networks were saying it, it must be real, went the feeling — so journalists had to go out and find that story lest they were left behind. In truth, there was very little violence. And many of the sources used were not ordinary earthquake victims, but US Army spokespeople – leading to all sorts of nonsense about Haitians begging the West to intervene to keep the peace.

Parachute journalists are increasingly relied upon these days because the number of long-stay foreign journalists have declined. This is largely due to cost-cutting and a cynical view spun out by advertising executives and TV network managers that people aren’t interested in foreign news reporting any more. I would tend to argue that it has more to do with the quality of foreign reporting, and its abstract format of stories of flood, famine and flash grenades which appear and vanish from TV screens and news publications without temporal, geographical or political context.

Ted Koppel, a former anchor on the US network ABC, put it well in 2006 when he said, “The approach now is, ‘Well, don’t worry about it. When something happens, we can take a jet and we can access satellites and we’ll have it for you in 24 hours.’ …Have what? You’ll have the after-effects. You’ll have the result of what you should have been telling America about for the last six months. You’ll have the crisis after it breaks.”

But. There can be a merit to parachuting. When my plane landed, seemingly scraping the roofs of one of the largest slums in the world, I perhaps noticed something that would be missed by my fellow nationals at home and maybe taken for granted by the excellent commentators here in Mumbai. It’s the feeling of flying into a country that boasts of its blossoming (if stalling) economy and seeing people without clean water, decent sanitation or functioning electricity. The Indian economic miracle that we read about in the FT or see on BBC News has another side.

It’s more than this too. This isn’t the story of helpless Indians who can’t manage their own affairs. Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to here has an opinion on the election — and an informed opinion at that. Turnout could be as high as 70%. Even speaking to street beggars, they know what they want from the government. Most people want change in India, but everyone has their own view on how that change can come about.

Some people are voting for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi because he boosted the economy in Gujarat and would provide a break from years of Congress corruption. Others have a different take, and say Modi’s policies would punish the poor and be a huge blow against secularism. They might want to stick with Congress who, in states such as Maharashtra, have increased economic growth far more than Gujarat, although many would say they haven’t seen the fruits of this. Others disagree still, and want to give the new kids on the block a chance in the anti-corruption Aam Admi (Common Man) Party… but they quit government in Delhi after just 49 days, so can they be trusted?

There are around 1,000 regional parties too, and complex deals struck between them lead to fluctuating coalitions. In Maharashtra, for example, the BJP is working with Shiv Sena, a far-right Hindu nationalist group that wants preferential treatment for Marathis over North Indians, Muslims and others. Election posters around Mumbai for the group essentially proclaim, “Vote Shiv Sena, get Modi”. (Imagine the Lib Dems doing that for David Cameron in the UK.)

Sometimes parachuting in gives you a comparative take on events that you can relate to people in the country from which you came. But it has to be in that context. Read the Indian media. Watch Indian TV news. Follow reports by Western journalists who do obsessively follow the Indian political scene.

I didn’t grow up in a slum and I don’t breathe in the ever-present smoke that marks both industrialisation and lung disease, but I can notice it’s different to what I’m used to. Similarly, I have never felt the fear that a new government might herald the return of inter-ethnic rioting, but through talking to ordinary people I can relay the fears that people have about these things to an audience back home who might never have realised it.

The most important thing a parachutist can do is tell the story of ordinary people in their own words. Rather than rely on coverage by competing Western news sources coupled with government statements and party press releases, the task is to speak to the men and women in the street who want the world to know their concerns, opinions and daily reality.

Parachutists should augment the amazing reportage readily available from people in those countries, not give a 360-degree view of how their society operates that they can then pass off as the only information you will ever need to know. Better still, they should relate it in a way that connects to power “back home” — where is Western investment going? What role do World Bank loans play in this? Whose hand has David Cameron been shaking?

Journalism is facing huge difficulties, thanks to cost-cutting and huge pressures from government to report The Right Line. Parachutists are filling in the gaps vacated by foreign bureaux, and in today’s 24/7 news environment, the quantity of reports demanded of them are ever increasing, and the time to the next big story, wherever else in the world that might be, is decreasing. But we should recognise what we are doing and understand how it influences public understanding. And, most importantly, we should understand our limits.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

This story was also published on Rediff.com, our media partner.

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