Sunday, June 10, 2018

Transformative Issues Facing the News Industry Today



Transformative Issues Facing the News Industry Today

Syed Ali Mujtaba



In an era of profound distortion of news and storytelling, the most pertinent question that is being asked today is; ‘where is the News’? Notwithstanding the debatable in this context, the fact remains that we are witnessing new trends and upheavals in the media industry particularly the transformative issues in the business of news.
Today we are facing an increasing focus on the intersection of media, technology and social change. There is more digitized news environment now than it was ever before.   The transformative issues shaping the news industry are artificial intelligence, Big Data and digitization that are dominating the news scene.

In the new-era of disruptions and transformations of news, the news is no more mere information these days but it comes in wrappers of layers of sugar coatings.  The stories themselves have become victim of prejudices and are subjected to various interest groups that play a major role in its generation.                                                                                                              

News these days has entrenched itself deeply into our memory that comes from the prism of policymakers, tech platforms and amateur news gatherers and its processors. In such environment the question is being asked, when such players have entered into the business of news then is there any place for the hard bread journalists who have climbed the ropes of journalism the in its toughest  way?


India has some unique story to tell on the subject of issues facing the news industry. In the 2014 General Election, the digital media for the first time emerged as a force to reckon with in the country. The medium was employed aggressively by the winning party to woo the voters that constituted nearly 37 per cent of urban voters as they were connected to some form of social media. This new and relatively revolutionary platform created a whirlpool of information campaign that swung the election in favour of one party leaving other gasping.  

In this era of digitization of news the proliferation of fake news has become a big trend these and dangerous too. There are some Websites that have made a successful business model out of distribution of false news stories with catchy and provocative headlines.

A news item that showed images of number of Hindu temples being removed from the roads for encroachment with the caption ‘temples are being destroyed in India.’ This news contents got further momentum when it was shared by some of its diehard followers.  Even though later, it was debunked as fake news, the damage was done. Even today such false stories continue to be in circulation to appeal to the raw sentiments of right-wing protagonists.

Facebook Twitter and WhatsApp are the biggest platforms, in India, that plays a big role in circulation of fake news. In Jharkhand three innocent men were beaten to death by an angry mob that wrongly believed those men were human traffickers, based on a simple WhatsApp message.

Similarly, a screenshot from a local feature film showing a woman being molested as part of that filmy drama was peddled as news with the caption Muslim man molests a Hindu women. But for quick rebuttal by Tec savvy netizens, this could have led to communal tensions and violent incidents.

Similarly, when India lost a cricket match against Pakistan in June 2017 a video went viral that showed some Indian Muslims celebrating Pakistan’s victory. However, when those videos were verified all except one from Kashmir was found to be genuine. But then the damage was done targeting the Muslim community of India as anti-nationals.

In this heap of fact and fiction masquerading as news, the consumer of news is unable to separate the chaff from the grain. This is because the fake news, paid news, has proliferated immensely in the news bulletins. The biggest challenge before the news readers or news viewers is how to decipher “What Is the News”?

While this is one trend dominating the news industry, many emerging issues that are knocking at the doors of newsroom is unable to make news.  Killing of news for the sake of accommodating news of sex and glamour that catches the eyeball has become a new trend both in news media industry.  


In the business of news, the commercialization of news content for revenue generation is another disturbing trend. The electoral malpractices of paid news and coverage packages are a new trend in India. The press guild of India has found a few media houses engaged in in leveraging political and economic content for overt and covert revenue generation. 

The rapid erosion of the demarcation between journalism, public relations, advertising and entertainment is another growing trend is news industry. This phenomenon is attributed to the convergence of news media, entertainment and telecom industry that has emerged after the rampant growth of media industry in India.

Breaking news is yet another trendy trend these days. As eyeballs are more important to establish the size of readership or viewership, journalistic ethics are being sacrificed on the alter speed and accuracy.

In the mad rush of breaking news the content is approved for broadcast without any verification and cross checking of the relevant facts doing more harm than any service to the news.  In this, the method of ‘sting-operation’ has become a popular format of news gathering disregarding journalistic ethics and media norms. There is a raging debate in India that how unrestrained reporting is robbing the moral quotient of news gathering system that exists from ages.

In order to understand all these transformative issues shaping the news industry today, the East-West Center at Hawaii is organizing a Media Conference in Singapore from June 24-27.

Hundreds of media professionals are gathering in Singapore, to look at new-era trends and transformative issues in media and the news itself.
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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He is invited to attend the media conference in Singapore from June 24-27. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Death of Modern India Birth of New India


Death of Modern India Birth of New India

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Modern India was born when it got independence in 1947; then there was euphoria and a dream to build the modern India with democracy secularism, and social justice as its shining ideology. However, the zest of modern India started feeling tired sometime since 1990, when a new ideological force based on Hindu religious nationalism stared surging ahead. It started challenging the ideological parameters of the modern India and gained momentum of its own to the level that at present it holds the center stage in the country.

Even though many may not like to read the  obituary note on modern India, the fact remains that modern remains in books and the new India is a living reality. This is a seminal development because new India is celebrating nearing three decades of its existence.Apologists like me may still be basking in the old glory, hoping that it’s a passing phase of Indian history and the ideology of modern India, will bounce back to do the course correction in the ideological journey of India.  

Wishful thinking indeed because modern India is now consigned to our constitution only. Notwithstanding the facts of modern India and new India , the present India is witnessing a distinct change in the ideological parameters of the country.

India has already traveled from the center to its right and there are definite symptoms of its gravitating towards its extreme right. It may not be incorrect to say that the Modern India exists no more and the birth of New India is a reality.

In the wake of very weak and feeble opposition to the current narrative of   New Indian ideology is having a fields day. This can be substantiated by the fact that now imprint of the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP is could be seen in more than 20 states of India. The way it has spread its reach shows its growing popularity in the country and a death knell to Nehruvian Secularism that symbolized modern India.

Modern India took birth in 1947; and words like democratic, secular and socialist became the biggest rallying point for majority of the Indians. There was a distinct ideological veneer that was overlaid to accommodate several strands of ideological flavor that were clamoring for domination at that point of time. 

The Nehruvian Secularism clearly defined the parameters of secularism and communalism. It dubbed the majorities communalism as the worst enemy of the country. In modern India, all believed in the centrality of Nehruvian secularism as the dominant ideology as it alone had the power to integrate the entire diversity in the country.

However, as India traversed its journey since independence, the religious nationalist ideology started clamoring for ideological space in the country. This actually started happening sometime around the 1990 when the peddlers of Hindu religious nationalism openly started questioning the  Nehruvian vision of secular democracy.

The Hindu nationalist forces called Nehruvian secularism as minority appeasement and wanted to replace it with their own ideology that equated Hindu religious identity to nationalism. This has given birth to New India.

As of now, there exits two ideology, that caters to two distinct India that is; the modern India and the new India.  In modern India the Nehruvian Secularism remains the mot ivational pull for the common man while in the new India, the rallying point is Hindu religious nationalism.While the ideology in modern India catered to the entire diversity of the country, the Hindu nationalist religious ideology catered to the handful Hindu majority community.

It’s apparent that the new India has thrown the secular mask that modern India wore for long and is now marching towards the fundamentalist democracy.There are series of events those points to this fact. First the Ayodhya movement was built, then the Babari mosque was destroyed caring two hoots about the law of th e land. Second was the Gujarat riots, where thousands of Muslims were butchered in the Hindu communal uprising that followed the Godhra train tragedy. Third the holy cow protection campaign and the lynching of the Muslims. Fourth, saffron clad people emerged in the power structure and this tribe has started growing thick and fast. All these development proclaims loudly that modern India is dead and New India has acquired its place. 

It appears that the gravitational pull of fundamentalist democracy currently holds sway over the country and has put up a show of Hindu unity. However it has yet to evolve a dynamic formula to unite the entire diversity of the Satana Dharmis   under its fold.  


The other salient feature of New India is the growth of crony capitalism. The New India’s economic system is characterized by close, mutually advantageous relationships between business leaders and government officials. The classical example is the growth of Patanjili group and its promoter Baba Ramdev. The euphoria of economic growth has appealed to some groups that are turning towards the Hindutva politics. The dynamics of the New India suggests that its vote bank is the upper caste and the capitalist class.

We like it or not the fact remains that a large chunk of people are keen to join the new Indian apple cart, is enough indicator of 'death of modern India and birth of new India.' The Hindu nationalist ideology the symbol of new India has emerged the dominant force in the country. According to one report Prime Minister Modi and his party enjoys about 70 per cent of the popular support and holds a distinctive advantage over other political forces in the country. This is despite facing the charges of mismanagement, corruption and running a fascist democracy.

This is a very significant development and it’s high time to understand these phenomena while scripting the story of New India.  Is 70 per cent of the people in the country adhering to Hindutva ideology or they belong to the RSS cadre. Why the BJP is scripting emphatic victories in state after state. Why the opposition is totally side lined. Is this not an obituary note on modern India and the birth of New India?

The new development comes with some caveats. How the New India is going to handle its birth pangs? How minorities and other group are going to adjust in the New India? How the protagonists of modern India are going to accept its obituary note or will they turn the tables around in their favor are stories that remains to unfold.

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Syed Ali Mujtaba is an internationally awarded journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com



Sunday, March 4, 2018

Shanker Shambhu Qawwal, the Epitome of Indian Plurality

Shanker Shambhu Qawwal, the Epitome of Indian Plurality
Syed Ali Mujtaba 

Two snapshots of visual communication haunt me all the time. One is of the lynch mobs calling themselves as neo patriots and other the You Tube Videos of two Brahmin saints who were sunk deep into Islamic music and epitomized the syncretic cultural tradition of India. The first need no explanation as they are staple diet in the Indian media discourse, but the second needs a detailed description as this story is much louder than the words.

In these times of highly charged communal atmosphere such stories need greater attention because that’s the only way to save our country from sure destruction. Well I am talking about “Shanker Shambhu Qawwal," the two real brothers and the only Hindu "Qawwal” in the entire subcontinent. These two Hindu singers with their Sufi songs have mesmerized an entire generation were seen as the torch bearers of peace and brotherhood in the country.

I wonder how the Hindu vultures preying on Mohammed Ikhlaq, in  Dadri in 2015 or Junaid in Haryana,  may have reacted after seeing the You tube videos of these Hindu Sufi singers. The custodians of the hate factories from where these hate mongers are being produced too need to be shown such videos in order to slap them to sanity.  

The pictures on TV screen from Kasganj, UP where the recent Hindu –Muslim riot broke out on January 26, too were disturbing. The hoodlums were seen stopping the Muslims to unfurl the national flag and intimidating them for no real reasons.

I think there could be some Shanker and Shambhu among that crowd but none resembled the Sufi singers that I am talking about, whose birth place was very near to the Kasganj where those thugs were having a field’s day.

Shankar-Shambhu Qawal sprung up when the country was emerging from the pangs of Partition of India. The duo epitomized the Indian syncretic culture and gave hope to the Indian Muslims that the people like them will protect the community from any Hindu assault, the ones witnessed at Kasganj in UP.   

Shanker and Shanbu’s command over Urdu language, its diction was a matter of awe and admiration to the Urdu speaking audience. They had memorized thousands of Urdu couplets with heavy Islamic content. This amused Muslims as how these two Hindus can narrate them Islamic history with such ease through their musical composition.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLL-Y7NeMQQ)

As a matter of fact it is recorded that when Shanker and Shanbu went to give live performance at the Urs of Kawaja Moinuddin Chisti at Ajmer, they could not get a chance to perform in the Mehfil Khana of the main shrine. This is not because they were Hindus but because there were many waiting for a chance to sing there and Shanker- Shanbu were just newcomers.

This made the elder brother Shankar to sit on fast in front of Dargah of Kawja Graib Nawaz.  He literally fasted for 3 days at the steps of the highly respected Muslim saint’s shrine that too even without water. He declared that he may prefer to die rather than leave the premises without singing. 
Sensing the gravity of the situation the management of the Dargah gave the duo the permission to perform on the 4th day at the Mehfil Khana, which happened to be the last day of the Urs Sharif.

When the brothers sang the ‘Salaam’; "Mehboobe Kibriya se Mera Salaam Kehna" everyone in the audience was mesmerized with the rendering of the Islamic composition. Many were seen weeping at the soulful melody of the two Hindu Qawwals that had pierced their hearts. Since that day they got the title of "Qawwal" and they become famous as "Shanker Shambhu Qawwal".

One among those seen crying at the Mehfil Khana of Ajmer Dargah was the legendary film director Mehboob Khan, the maker of Mother India.  Mehboob Khan invited these highly talented brothers to Mumbai and asked them to sing at the inaugural ceremony of his Mehboob studio.

The who’s who of Bollywood was present in that function and they all welcomed Shanker Sahambu with open arms. Soon these two singers from Uttar Pradesh established themselves as Sufi Qawwal and playback singer in Hindi film industry.

Shanker Sahambu did playback singing in movies like "Alaam Aara", "Teesri Kasam", "Barsaat Ki Raat", "Professor and Jadugar", "Shaan-e-Khuda", "Mere Daata Gharib Nawaz", "Teesra Patthar", "Begunah Qaidi", "Laila Majnu", "Badal", "Tumhara Kalloo", " Mandir Masjid" etc.
Shanker Sahambu were dominating the music scene in the good old days of radio that carried the golden voice  into the living rooms, courtyards and roof tops of the Indian homes and soon these Sufi singers became a house hold name in the country. 

These two brothers were really a sensation to the Urdu speaking Muslim audience. Many wondered how they had mastered the art of Qawali that usually remains the forte of Muslim singers. It was their effort to live with plural cultural tradition of India that won them all round admiration and adulation.

They were appreciated by some great Indian personalities like Dr Zakir Hussaibn and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and were felicitated with titles like "Khwaja Pasand", "Fanafil Moin", "Qaumi Ekta Ke Pratik" "Shenshahe- e-Qawal" and many more.

Shanker died in 1984 in a road accident and his younger brother Shambu died due heart attack in 1989. Now Shanker’s son Ram Shanker and Shambu’s son Rakesh Shambhu are carrying forward their father’s legacies. 

The progenies too are well versed in Urdu language and have rendered many soulful compositions of Sufi Qawwali music.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdTP5LvfTBk)

However, people like Ram Shanker and Rakesh Shambhu are the fading hope of Indian unity in diversity. They are the chips of the old block and are nowhere near the popularity index that their father enjoyed once.  

It’s unfortunate that the soulful songs of Shanker-Shambhu that gave the message of plural tradition I India are now a forgotten lore.  The high politics of India is systematically destroying these composite cultural traditions of this country.

The religious polarization done to garner votes is an assault on Indian diversity and the consequences of such diabolic politics on the diverse mosaic of cultural traditions are unimaginable.

If India has to be saved from the saffron vultures, then remembering Shanker Shambhu contribution to communal amity is essential for universal peace and brotherhood in the country.  More examples of Shanker Shambhu and Ram Shanker and Rakesh Shambhu needs to cited to uphold the plural values and these examples has to be lauded in forceful words.
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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com







Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Syed Ali Mujtaba Honored by East West Center Hawaii

 East West Center, Honolulu Hawaii, USA has acknowledged me by putting my name on the wall of honor. This is primarily for my excellence in the field of media. I was there as a Jefferson Fellow in fall 2003.  I feel honored indeed with such pats on my back and even though there has been lots of twists and turns in my life, i feel no regrets with it so far. When I look back and see the journey of my life, I can only describe it as a exiting game of snakes and ladders.


Here goes the text of the letter....


Dear Dr Syed .....

 For the past 58 years, the East-West Center has been supported by many who believed in its mission and worked hard to achieve it.

You are honored by Mr Daniel Berman on the Wall of Honor for your important contribution to the   east west center with a gift to support the EWC Association Alumni Endowment fund for student scholarships which has supported scholarships for 125 participants from 23 countries.

 Sincerely,

Gary Yoshida

Development Officer



Saturday, January 20, 2018

Fathimasa Bibi the Woman Sufi Saint of India

Fathimasa Bibi the Woman Sufi Saint of India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Bibi Syeda Ali Fathima a.k.a. Fathimasa Bibi is perhaps one of the few women Sufi saints of Islam whose  mortal remains lies buried at the Athangarai Pallivasal dargah in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, India.

Fathimasa bibi is also called Athangarai Nachiyar Amma, meaning scared goddess who stays on the river side as her tomb is on the bank of the river Nambiyar.

It was sometimes in 16th century; Syeda Ali Fathima and her husband Sheik Mohamed Aulia sailed to southeast Asia on a boat from a place called Bajjal in Arabia to spread the message Islam.

The legend has it during their travel the boat got caught in a storm in the bay of Bengal. The ship found its way to the east coast of India and hit the land in the current Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

The place where the boat landed was a dense jungle and the couple disembarked there and made  their house in the jungle.  They started praying and meditating in that wilderness and in complete isolation from any other human beings.

Their presence was discovered by the people wondering in that jungle who after interacting with them found that they were saintly couple with spiritual powers. 

Soon the message regarding their healing power reached the ordinary people who started visiting their abode in large numbers to get rid of their pain and agony.

The couple undertook the spiritual work with great zeal and earned the goodwill of all sections of the society irrespective of the religious beliefs

It was Hazrath Sheik Mohamed Aulia who first passed away and was buried on the bank of a river Nambiyar. This did not stopped Fathimasa Bibi from her spiritual activities. She continued to stay in the jungle even after the death of her husband and carried out the spiritual activity, earning name and fame far and wide.

After a few years Fathimasa bibi too passed away and her body was buried next to her husband's grave. Legend has it that Fathimasa Bibi had directed her devotees not to construct a roof over their grave and it should be left in natural way.

Later when people were constructing her tomb, legend has it that a big boulder was about to fall on them and this made someone cry; `Athangarai Nachiyar Amma' i.e. scared goddess who stays on the river side, for help. At once the boulder that was moving stopped and that saved the lives of many people.

The Athangarai Pallivasal dargah is frequented by all section of the society throughout the year. Here people from all the southern states throng, irrespective of their faith to seek the blessings of these Sufi saints.
Such is the esteem and veneration in which this couple is held that more non-Muslim visits this Dargah than the Muslims.
All pray at the tombs to get relieved from their misery and pain seeking blessings from the revered saints. 
The offerings made by devotees in fulfilment of their vows are used for feed the hungry and poor who come in large numbers every day to the tomb.

The Urs at Athangarai Pallivasal dargah is held on June 19 and 20 every year. It is a big celebration time. The highlight of the festivities is the procession taken out from the nearby Pulimankulam village to the Dargah. The devotees carry pots on their head containing sandal paste that they apply on the graves of the sufi saints.

Last but not the least, the abode of the Sufi saints couple Syeda Ali Fathima and her husband Hazrat Sheik Mohamed Aulia is a symbol of communal harmony in India.

The synthetic tradition of peaceful coexistence that is being systematically being sacrificed at the altar of high politics in India refuses to die down in the local custom and tradition that is sanguinely present at the Indian grassroots.
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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com










Friday, June 23, 2017

Let ‘Monsoon Asia’ be the New Clarion Call for India

Let ‘Monsoon Asia’ be the New Clarion Call for India   
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Monsoon has arrived in India and its great news for Indians because with it begins the season of joy in the country. Same is the case with many other nations of Asia that are dependent on the monsoon.

Well in this backdrop, it would be nice to remember the idea “Monsoon Asia” that was afloat in late 1950s as a way of regional cooperation among the nations of Asia that are dependent on monsoon. However, this vision was killed when India – China went to war in 1962 and now it’s almost a forgotten history.

Monsoon Asia was a visionary concept with far reaching consequences and had it fructified, it could
have changed the politico-economic structure of the South and Southeast Asian nations. The underlying idea behind Monsoon Asia was to make geography the basis of cooperation among nations and to undermine the political differences by bringing in economic gains for collective sustainable developmental activities.

However, the dream of Monsoon Asia based on shared geographical pattern of monsoon is now gone with the wind. What is left behind is its memoirs and hopes that if it could be revived, it may make tremendous impact on the lives of future generation.

This becomes more pertinent with Climate Change fanning its ugly head and calling for attention the importance the idea of revival of “Monsoon Asia” and forging alliances between nations based on such commonality is a talking point. 

The idea of Monsoon Asia if given a fillip can not only change the fate of large number of people but also may help in meeting the challenges of the problems posed by the issue of climate change.
It is therefore necessary to know what Monsoon Asia is.

The original idea was mooted in late fifties with as many as 23 countries of southeast and south Asia region coming under the fold of Monsoon Asia. The total population of this region was tipped to be more than 3.7 billion people (3,700,000,000) of which 64 percent living n the rural milieu.

The population growth of the Monsoon Asia region is still much faster than any other region of the world. China; India and Indonesia are the three most populated countries in Monsoon Asia region. In terms of land mass, Monsoon Asia occupied a huge geographical space with China being the largest land area followed by India.

In Monsoon Asia Tibetan plateau with its glaciers feed some of the greatest rivers of the region and is

lifeline for two billion people. Now, when its ice and snow are diminishing and the ‘Climate Change’ activists are raising concerns about it, reviving idea of Monsoon Asia of cooperation could be a great idea.

Himalayas is the most important mountain range in Monsoon Asia. The Himalayas are also source of many great rivers that are part of many counties of the region. 

The Mekong River is the longest river that starts in the Himalayas and flows through China, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea. 

In India the river Ganges that is about 1,560 miles long, waters a huge area called the Indo-Gangetic plains. It is also a lifeline to millions of people. The Brahmaputra River, about 1,800 miles in length flows out of Himalayas and joins with the Ganges to form huge delta that makes the entire region very fertile for agriculture.

In China the Yangtze (Chang Jiang) river flows from the Tibetan Plateau accounts for much of the agricultural power in China. Yangtze combining with the ‘Yellow River,’ flow through the North China Plain that witnesses intensive farming activities.

Now when the ‘Yellow River’ is disappearing fast and ways and means of its revival is being thought out, cooperation under the banner Monsoon Asia could a bright idea to address this major environmental concern. 

Further, the Himalayas block the clouds that forms monsoon and is a major source for rains in the entire region of Monsoon Asia. The monsoon formation takes place in two cycles; one summer monsoons that last from May to October and other, the winter monsoons that lasts from November to April.

The most common climates in Monsoon Asia region is humid subtropical and tropical wet type of
climate. The most common vegetation zones in the region are broadleaf evergreen forest, rain forest and highlands.

Coal, hydroelectric power, and oil are the most common resources in Monsoon Asia. Farming, nomadic herding, fishing are the most common land uses in Monsoon Asia.

Monsoon Asia is known for production of coal and rubber. Manufacturing of cars and electronics, machinery, toys, clothing, and other items are done in the region. In Monsoon Asia, the most common religions are; Hinduism 28%, Islam 14% & Buddhism 12%.

One can go on giving any number of facts and figures to belt out the importance of Monsoon Asia that could regenerate interests in reviving this idea of regional cooperation.

In the same vein, it can be said that at a time, when India’s ‘Look East’ policy has become ‘Act East’, the idea of Monsoon Asia could provide the necessary platform of cooperation with the  Southeast Asian nations.

Further, with BRICS grouping India and China has come together on the same platform, the two neighbors can very well cooperate on the idea of Monsoon Asia.

Last but not the least, the revival of the idea of Monsoon Asia can be considered from the environmental point of view. This is because most of the Climate Change concerns are centered on Himalayas and the Tibetan glaciers and they need attention. If the idea of Monsoon Asia could be revived such concerns can be collectively addressed.         

 It’s ironical that for long politics has been setting the agenda for peace and development. Mostly the issues related to geographical considerations are being overlooked. This thought process needs to be changed and people should be allowed to shape their future on geographical consideration like Monsoon Asia.
 
Monsoon Asia provides a window of aspirations to large number of people who may be willing to collectively pursue their developmental goals. The commonality of monsoon pattern provides them a ready-made launch pad to reshape their future.  

We all know well that to know Asia and its people, one has to understand the monsoon pattern that’s formed here. It is not enough to read about it, or see it in pictures; it has to be a personal experience to enjoy the bounties of nature. Monsoon in Asia is preceded by desolation; it brings with it hopes; it has the fullness of summer and the fulfillment of autumn.

Nothing short of living through the monsoon can fully convey all it true meanings. The coming of the monsoon is a source of life to millions of people and also their most exciting date with the nature.

As far as India, the revival of the idea of Monsoon Asia would we’ll fit into the current pattern of diplomacy pursued by New Delhi vis-à-vis China and Southeast Asian countries.

The idea Monsoon Asia definitely is a peace dividend. It can mitigate differences and establish peace in the vast region of Asia. So let Monsoon Asia be the new clarion call for India.   
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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com - This article's abridged version appeared in civil service India

 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Witness to Municipal Election at Shiekhpura

Witness to Municipal Election at Shiekhpura
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I just witnessed a municipal corporation election at my native place in Shiekhpura, Bihar where my friend Pawan’s wife have won the election.  Today I got a call from Pawan saying he is huddled in Bhutan in a star hotel along with 13 other winners.

Pawan seem to be pleased with himself when he called me to break the news that I already had got from my contacts in Shiekhpura, along with the news that he was absconding from the place.


Its first i saw the electoral campaign of a municipal election from such a close quarters. It made me understand the working of the Indian democratic process at the grass root level and the way the electoral dynamics operate at the bottom of the Indian democratic pyramid.

Well Municipal Corporation is a British gift and each town or a city of India is divided into several wards. The bifurcation of ward is done based on the electoral size and normally each ward comprises of 25,000 or more eligible voters. Each ward covers few localities and a number of candidates contest from each ward.

The new trend in India is that most of the seats of municipal ward are reserved for female candidate, perhaps
it’s an effort by the government towards women empowerment.  However, in reality women are just for namesake candidates and it is the husbands of the women who actually call the shots and in reality contests the election in the wife’s name.

The second feature of such election is this is controlled by some heavyweight politicians of the city. He belongs to some political party, and he pulls the strings from behind, fielding his own candidate from each ward.

After the election is over and the head count takes place, the one who can get the maximum number of the winning candidate to its side, appoints a candidate to become the chairman of the municipal corporation. By doing so he actually controls the funds that come into the municipal corporation in the form of property tax water tax etc.  

No wonder there is a fierce competition to win the election and a huge amount is spent on the candidates and on the electorates to woo them to vote for their candidate. Those who pull the strings cough of all the expenses of the electoral campaign.

The electoral process begins with the filing of the nomination by the female candidate. The husband takes his wife for doing that formality and normally it takes place in a huge procession to reach the electoral office. It’s a big show of strength and the one who can get the largest number of volunteers assembled are expected to win. People are ferried in farm tractors, small trucks, cars jeeps and auto rickshaws to the electoral office.

After the nomination is over, the real candidate’s goes back to the house and remain indoors and monitor her campaign. It’s the husband who takes the driving seat and controls the election campaign.

Normally it could be about 500 volunteers’ surround the probable winning candidate. They are mix of juvenile boys, old ladies and middle aged men. They get wage ranging from 100 to 500 rupee daily, plus two square meal and unaccounted number of tea and cool drinks.

Their job is to report in the morning and go around in procession shouting slogans for the candidate and asking votes for her. They hold placards and distribute handbills and stick posters. Some places a vehicle accompany the procession and a pre-recorded tape is played asking for vote for the candidate.

In between the electoral message, the vehicle belt out a rocking Bhojpuri number and the young volunteers erupts into rustic dancing on its earthy tune. This electrifying moment is watched by many passers-by as they stand to watch the fun.  

 The polling day is very crucial and each candidate deploys its volunteers to get the voters to the polling booth. Lot of effort is made for this and at the end of the day of the voting, it becomes clear who will win the seat. The formality of announcing the results is done on the vote counting day, which is a big day for the wining candidate.

In Shiekhpra, its Vijay Samrat and Shambhu Yadav, the two emerging names in political arena are slugging it out to control the municipal cooperation election. Both belong to same locality and both fielded their wives against each other.

The latest news is; it’s Shambhu’s wife who has won the election and she is touted to be the chairman of Sheikhpura’s municipal corporation.  Shambhu Yadav in order to avoid any horse trading by his rival has huddled 14 of its winning candidate’s husbands into Bhutan. More than that, he has given each of candidates 5 lakhs rupees to keep their loyalty intact to him.

My friend Pawan who called me today was narrating his experiences at Bhutan. There was a sense of jubilation sparkle in his voice and he seems to be rejoicing at the place where he was staying.

I remember when I was talking to him during the campaign about where he will go after winning the election and what would be his asking rate, he just smiled and giggled at me then, I knew he will win anyway….    

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Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He comes from Shiekhpura, Bihar and just returned from the election scene. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com