Friday, February 19, 2016

Nilgiris Diary

Article published in The Outlook Magazine (issue dated February 29th, 2016) Click here to read

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Does the BJP have a strategy for West Bengal ?

Does BJP have a strategy for West Bengal ? Bengalis want ‘deliverance’ not just delivery

Photo Courtesy - ABP

Article first published in +ABPLIVE (Click here to read)

The Sunday Kolkata newspapers carried a photo of actor turned would-be politician Rupa Ganguly – tripping on a ‘padyatra’. This could be symbolic of BJP’s journey in West Bengal.

After the Lok Sabha polls – the BJP was on a high buoyed by its 17% vote-share and lead in 20 assembly constituencies despite winning just 2 seats out of 42.
This tied in with Narendra Modi’s  “Look East” strategy – by which he wished to hedge BJP’s over-dependence on the Hindi heartland through securing a sizeable presence in Bengal and the North-East. His rhetoric of how – India could not progress by leaving the East behind – resonated well with large sections of the communally not-partisan and ideologically neutral middle-class especially the aspirational youth.

In Bengal, BJP’s overdrive got off to an impressive start with a lot of bluster: the famous ‘3M’ call of Siddharth Nath Singh – the party’s ‘minder’ for the state – threatening to pack Madan (Mitra), Mukul (Roy) and, finally, Mamata behind bars. To follow through, momentum was built over the Saradha Scam - only to fizzle out  all too soon.

The Kolkata Municipality and other local body elections – including some assembly by-polls - were a wash out frittering away the gains of 2014. That BJP central leadership knew little of Bengal was apparent from their choice of the state President. At least Siddharth Nath Singh could boast of having his “sasural” in Kolkata. How Kailash Vijayvargiya and Nirmala Sitharaman were given charge of the state was intriguing. Finally, the RSS seized control by placing its long-time “Pracharak” – Dilip Ghosh at the helm. But, have they got the diagnosis right?

Surely, the RSS may help build a grass-root organization without which elections cannot be won – especially in a state of two strong cadre based parties, namely Trinamool and CPIM. In fact, RSS has been on the job for a while with some success in a few districts of Central Bengal. However, to fight an election purely on anti-incumbency sentiments and backlash against growing communal fault-lines may turn-out to be a shortsighted strategy yielding low dividend.

What Bengal needs is a comprehensive political and economic paradigm shift. This could be a genuine right-wing resurgence – shaking off the hangover of five decades of faux Leftism – that was only a ruse for blatant lumpen-raj. The anger of the middle-class is getting directed at minority appeasement largely because of lack of development in the state. The ethnic Bengalis of West Bengal are pained to see resources of an already impoverished economy appropriated by ‘trespassers’ (read illegal immigrants) – while their own children are constrained to leave home for higher education and jobs in other states. Besides, the beneficiaries of state benevolence do not make any positive contribution to the economy accruing to the benefit of the native population. Instead they are threatening the very foundation of Bengal’s socio-economic value system.

The answer is not an alternative ‘ideology’ but “Vision”. Narendra Modi had raised that hope – but he does not have a leader on the ground (like say Fadnavis or even a Raghubar Das) to translate it into action and the BJP central leadership have no clue about what needs to be done at the state level.

The coming Assembly Election is too close at hand for making any major mid-term course correction. The strategy now should be one of damage control and setting the house in order to avert a complete rout – because it will be so much more difficult to start construction afresh over a heap of rubble.

What Bengalis are looking for is ‘deliverance’ not just delivery. Modi can build confidence on the latter if he performs at the center. However, for the former BJP has to eschew the conservative Hindutva plank and offer a pragmatic alternative with a credible and inspirational face in front – not just an actor with no political experience.

(The writer is Media and Marketing professional who views life and politics from the right. Twitter @SandipGhose)

What's Litfests got to do with reading books ?

Fashion Week of Thinking Socialites

Artcle first published in +DailyO India Today (Click here to read)

Heard the turnout at the Kolkata Book Fair was low this year. But, there was a rush for passes to the three Literary Festivals (Lit-fests) that have become part of the city's winter calendar for the last few years. Of course, the gentry of the lit-fests and the book fair were hugely different.

A few years back I earned the wrath of the luminous organiser of one of Kolkata's Lit-Fest - by calling it a "poor man's JLF". She was riled again this year –at my declining her invite (for which many were willing to give an arm and a leg) saying it is too "elitist" for someone as gauche as me. Being a dear friend I hope she will excuse me over time.

In our age of innocence  - the precarious cusp between school and college - we would go to the Kolkata Book Fair (then held in the Maidan - old Calcutta's equivalent of Hyde Park) for two primary attractions. First, it provided a good cover for meeting girls. Second was, of course, to browse and buy books. While the former was largely a feast for the eyes - the latter was indeed food for the soul. Later in life - when a bit older - was moved to see thousands of people of visibly modest means, who would travel miles in trains and buses from the suburbs to buy books. That they were genuine book lovers was painted on their faces - but those were the days when Bengalis could still afford to believe in "plain living and high thinking".

It is tiresome to repeat - today's generation hardly read and even those who do rarely visit bookstores - preferring the easier and cheaper option of downloading from the net. Knowledge is now consumed on-line - which, per se, isn't as bad as it is made to sound. Granted there are still many dinosaurs like me who love visiting bookstores – just for the look, feel and smell of books but our tribe is diminishing as fast as the Zoroastrian population of India. We too are increasingly turning to Amazon or Flipkart – for ordering books. But, Lit-fests have arrived as fashion shows for ‘thinking socialites’.

There is an emerging new genre of writers – who may be called the “Lit-fest” authors. Thy can be broadly divided into two categories. The first are established writers – who spend the recess between writing books attending Lit-fests. Then there are others who write only to be invited to lit-fest and mingle with the fashionable literati with champagne flute in one hand and cigarette in the other.

Be that as it may, there is definitely a growing market for such shows out there. Or else, Lit-fests won’t be sprouting like the infamous “Congress Grass” (parthenium) in every city from Bombay to Begusarai and Kolkata to Karachi without any apparent revenue model other than sponsorships. Some explain this as the “Cook-Book Phenomenon”. As eating out is the order of the day with cooking becoming almost extinct – more and more people are turning to reading recipes (and watch "Big Chef" on Television) for vicarious gratification of the dormant cook within them or, perhaps, assuaging a subconscious guilt.

There can be another hypothesis. As attention spans are shrinking in a digital age – reading books is increasingly becoming a challenge even for the born bibliophile. Increasingly, therefore, the talkative Indian is being seduced by the spoken word for intellectual stimulation. This, perhaps, explains the popularity of TV Chat shows and prime-time debates on News Channels. Lit-fests, probably, cater to the same appetite in more sophisticate settings and esoteric company.

Last year I happened to be in Jaipur towards the end of JLF. Truth be told – I quite enjoyed the experience not as much for the book reading sessions or panel discussions – but nursing a single-malt in the crackling weather listening to live band performances by motley groups of young musicians from different parts of the country. Quite a change from the Egg Roll, Fish Fry, Lemon Tea and Rabindra Sangeet routine at the Book Fair. I intended to return this - This year - despite but couldn’t make it much to my disappointment. Asked a friend in Delhi, who used to be a regular on the Lit-fest circuit – if she was going to Jaipur? She shot back indignantly “Me and Lit-fests? Oh they’ve become so passé now only the wannabes go for them”. Thought-fests (especially in salubrious Goa) are the place to be in these days - she told me.

While I was secretly relieved for having given it a miss – it set me thinking if Lit-fests yet another marketing fad - of publishers and event companies - that is going to blow over soon?