Comparing Democracies

May 28th, 2009

‘Mysore’ Satya, known so for having owned and run a local newspaper in Mysore – Mysore Samachar — has had a chance to experience first-hand the working of a democracy other than India.

He was in New Zealand, to be more precise, in Auckland. He was in NZ to be with his daughter who was having her child. Being a journalist, he could not stop himself from getting a first-hand feel of the politics of New Zealand. It was the general elections there.

He got to see how exactly parties canvassed. He canvassed for Helen Clark’s Labour party. He was surprised by the lack of interest among the Kiwis in the elections.
He seemed ecstatic when he spoke to me for the first time after returning from NZ: “India is much more democratic and people are better informed and better educated about elections. Indians also participate more in the polls. Kiwis are disinterested when it comes to politics.”

So we need not fret about the low turnout, he said. “We are at least more aware of the politics in the country and a greater proportion of people participate in the electoral process.”

But, happened to Helen Clark’s Labour Party he campaigned for? Her party had lost the 2008 general elections. But, he didn’t seem disappointed. “India is a far superior democracy.”

The elections here are so colourful and participatory, despite all efforts to check excess spending by the Election Commission of India this time.

Despite the restrictions and curbs this time, Mysore Satya is a delighted man.

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Over Coffee…

May 13th, 2009

Raju is perhaps a means to know what’s with economy. How the average person, and businesses, have been affected in this downturn which is supposedly on reverse gear (that’s what experts say). Ask Raju. He supplies tea and coffee to a few offices.

Over the past few months he has seen business from the staff from five offices vanish. But, his lament: “The office remain unoccupied.” He has also seen the number of cups of cofee and tea he sells fall steadily. He says it is still falling.

He says many of the new real estate developments have also not given him any business. One, they have their own cafeteria. Or, two, no one has bothered to take up the office spaces that have been built recently.

Raju is not alone. There are many such coffee and tea sellers. I used to have not met over five years. He was another tea and coffee guy who supplies tea and coffee. He had even managed to buy land in Bangalore.

Coffee and teawallahs, if you spend some time speaking to will always give you insights into what exactly is happening to the economy. I have always seen them as a group that gives a true picture of what is happening with the economy on which you get data. But, such data is often collected and analysed by analysts and experts who give you numbers and analysis, but miss out the finer points.

So, hail Raju. Oh, but he has no data and numbers and laptop to analyse the data.

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Swami and IPL

May 5th, 2009

“The greatest feat of Swami and his friends lay in putting together a cricket team for the MCC’ (the Malgudi Cricket Club) and challenging the neighbouring Young Men’s Union to a match. Just before the match, however, things go horribly wrong, and Swami has no option but to run away from home, wanting never to return to Malgudi again.”

For BCCI, however, the matches are taking place. So what if they come with well-choreographed crowd support. Why would a South African pay up to watch a first class cricket match being played by a bunch of Indians. A friend, who owns an ad agency had said of IPL: “You market anything well, no matter what, people will lap it up. Only thing it requires is money — the more the merrier.” That should explain the “huge” support it purportedly enjoys among the naive Indian who believes “cricket is more important than the nation itself”.  

When you see a bunch of white girls waving flags or whatever expressing their support for ‘their’ team and which promptly gets captured on TV cameras, it makes one think ”how much are they being paid to model as supporters?” 

Even a thin crowd of South Africans who are in the near-empty stadium are probably there because they want to “make some noise” and have a good time. After all, it must be cheaper for a South African to go to the stadium to watch the IPL match than go to the movies.

On the first few days of the drama, sometimes I was left wondering if the purported noise being made by the “crowds” in the near-empty stadium was actually a recorded sound from a European football match. It sounded very familiar to me. But, the thin crowds there I could not believe were capable of making the kind of noise they made sure the viewers got to hear.

Said the friend other day: “It is money talking.” Marketing is nothing but creating a smokescreen to sell a product.

I am left wondering “how much longer before we see a Swami-like job?”

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The Political Animal

May 1st, 2009
Valli had vanished for a week. She had windfall gains, thanks to the elections to the Lok Sabha. She had the luck of listening to attending rallies of BJP, Congress and JD(S) and listening to speeches of top leaders of the three parties.
For each of the rally she attended she got money that was good enough for her to tour a few places she had wanted to. For attending the rallies she and her family members would get picked up from home and be dropped back.
But then, finally who she voted for she doesn’t remember. That’s that for all the pains that political parties take to hire crowds.
The high propensity to consume of the poor should be taken advantage of by the state if it is looking to give the economy a shot in the arm through a direct transfer of money into people’s accounts.
She has always had the knack of bringing her employers down to their knees. Now, since attending the political rallies she has developed a certain spring her steps. The domestic help seems to have all those dependent on her dancing to her tunes, more than ever. Her employers, the houses where she works, often pull her up for being late to work or for skipping work. She is in the habit of skipping work altogether. She is told by her employers every now and then that she will be thrown out
But, it is not all that easy to discipline her. A journalist employer learnt it the hard way. The journalist, who calls up top officials of water authorities to ensure regular supply of water or power, too learnt it the hard way.
But, when it came to Valli, the powerful journalist was shown her place. “I don’t want you from next week,” the angry lady one day told Valli. “I will find someone more punctual.”
Next day, her mood had changed. “Please help me find someone else. I was in a bad mood yesterday. Office problems,” Valli was told.
But, Valli refused to give in easily. “I want a raise,” she said. And sure enough, the poor all-powerful journalist had to give in to the demands of a new-enlightened political animal. There was no other way she could even think of keeping her house in order.
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