A lesson for us all: 30 years of dedicated service to one’s country brings rewards. Maldivians are so grateful to their ex-leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom that they’ve voted him the ‘most popular and important’ man of 2008. Citizens were asked to call in to the variety show “Heyyanbo” to vote for their favourite, a contest that the former president won by a landslide. No one can call almost 77,000 votes out of a total 114,000 calls a weak showing. (The runner up, a preacher, got only 10 percent of the vote, while poor President Nasheed, Anni, trailed a distant third). And let us not forget to give a shout out to the show itself, which must be very popular to get over one lakh callers in a country with total population 300,000. So what happened during the elections, you ask? With the result of this contest so conclusive, there can only be one answer to that: Anni rigged it!
Chhetria Patrakar almost forgot to mention the fine print: A maximum of five votes daily were allowed through the course of the voting session from a single mobile phone. There are also reports that staffers at Television Maldives, which airs “Heyyanbo”, campaigned publicly for their man. One last thing; Gayoom contributes a weekly quote and puzzle to the show, though his religious message has, alas, been cancelled post-elections.
|All drawings by Bilash Rai|
Much ado in Kathmandu this month as Rishi Dhamala, a high-profile journalist and president of the Reporters’ Club, was arrested. His alleged crime: aiding the armed Hindu extremist group Ranvir Sena, responsible for a number of recent bomb attacks around the city. Dhamala remains in custody on charges of extortion and dealings in arms. Police seem confident they’ve nabbed the right man, even playing a tape where Dhamala is heard demanding money for journalists from a businessman. There are questions about whether the court will allow the tapes as evidence. Another odd titbit: he was arrested just a day before a major international media-monitoring mission arrived in Kathmandu. In the midst of a deteriorating environment for journalist safety, the mission spent a lot of its time fielding questions about Dhamala. Is there something black in the daal, is all CP can ask.
One way or another, the vibrant space labouriously carved out by journalists keeps shrinking in Nepal. Attacks, censorship and arrests aside, the passing-away due to a heart attack of Indra Lohani, host of the hard-hitting political talk show Bahas on Kantipur TV, is a big loss. Lohani’s tough questioning will be missed greatly. Job cuts are the tune of the year, as companies go down like bowling pins. And while none of the big Southasian media houses have fallen apart (yet), pinks slips are being handed out apace. The Hindustan Times Group, notorious for its mass retrenchment in 2004, has once against brought down the axe, and has gotten plenty of publicity for its unceremonious sackings. CP hears that the HT Group let go of at least a 100 journalists in just one month. Apparently, these firings haven’t been kosher, either. Reports abound that management has been telling employees to resign with three months salary plus minimal benefits or get fired with only two months’ basic salary. Unhappy former employers aren’t staying silent, though, and the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU) General-Secretary Mohammed Amin has asked the labour minister to look into the situation.
Continuing on with the bleak, CP has not reported much good news from Sri Lanka in recent, and not-so-recent, times. So let’s continue with tradition here. The BBC has suspended its contract with the state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation to provide it content. That the break happened because the SLBC was censoring BBC reports in Sinhala and Tamil hardly comes as a surprise. Hudson Samarasinghe, head of the SLBC, said the BBC, along with all those other evil foreign media outlets, had “fabricated” news on the country. He also said some other things … state of war … terrorists … media role … promote peace. Unfortunately, CP was snoring by that point.
In related (?) news, the LTTE and the government signed a five-point agreement recently. Before you leap from your seat in shock, though, it was a deal between the Liberation Tigers of Tarai Elam (LTTE), an armed outfit in Nepal’s southern plains, and Kathmandu. CP wonders whether the acronym was deliberately chosen.
The line between offending religious sentiments and fostering discussion is fine indeed. This is a point that Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, editor and publisher respectively of the Calcutta-based daily The Statesman, have come to discover the hard way. Both were arrested for printing an article criticising Islam, originally published in the British Independent daily, titled, “Why should I respect these oppressive religions?” This resulted in massive protests by the local Muslim community, and eventually the filing of a legal case against the two for “outraging religious feelings”, a crime under Indian law. It is not clear whether the case will go to trial. Religious feelings get rather easily outraged in a country claiming to be the next modern superpower, thinks CP. Moving on to other – dare one say less important? – arenas. King Khan’s latest venture – with a star-studded cast including Irfaan Khan, Lara Dutta and Priyanka Chopra as item girl – has attracted the wrath of, wait for it … hairdresser and salon associations nationwide. Apparently, the original title of the film, Billu Barber (now only Billu, after the main character of the film) was unacceptable to these groups. So magnanimous is the King that he agreed, after negotiations, to cross out the unacceptable word, even in publicity material already in the market. Can somebody explain to CP why the people employed in the industry that trims/cuts hair find the term ‘barber’ derogatory? Continuing on offensive subject – and this time deliberately – Raj Thackeray is up to no good again. Hindi- and English-language media were refused entry, by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena goons, to a recent press conference at which the little chief himself was holding forth. Apparently, this step was taken because non-Marathi media outlets were prejudiced in favour of North Indians in their reportage. This came on the heels of yet more MNS attacks against immigrants. The Maharashtra state government’s threat of arrest has done little to deter Thackeray’s hate-mongering. But wait, how are those immigrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh supposed to know that they should leave the city if all the reporting is in Marathi? A case of mistaken identity in The Times of India. The paper’s ‘Indians Abroad’ section carried a story about the Brazilian police arresting a “native Indian” for killing and then devouring a handicapped man. Life must be pretty difficult these days for the editor who thought the story was about a very hungry desi bhai chilling in the Amazon. CP sends condolences.
A new role for Kinley Dorji, editor of the state-owned biweekly Kuensel, as he transitions over to Bhutan’s Information Ministry as a secretary. Dorji, a vocal supporter of the monarchy and its concept of Gross National Happiness, went on his way with an excellent editorial (5 February). All that he says, in wonderful prose, about the changes in Bhutanese society and a journalist’s role and responsibility therein does ring true. But let us not forget that government censorship is still very much alive and well in the Druk Yul. The good news is that new publications such as the Bhutan Times and the Bhutan Observer have challenged Kuensel’s monopoly over the Bhutanese public space. CP wishes Dorji all the best at his new job. Let’s hope he translates his passion for journalism into drafting good, open, media policies in Bhutan.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
China, Southasia and India
On May 19 2013, newly appointed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in New Delhi for a series of meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The visit is Keqiang's first outside of China since assuming power in March.
From our archive:
Purna Basnet discusses Chinese engagement in Nepal vis-a-vis security issues in Tibet and broader geo-strategic plans in Southasia (April 2011).
Fatima Chowdury relates the story of Calcutta's Indian Chinese community through the lens of political and economic upheavals in Southasia and China (May 2009).
Simon Long notes the importance of the Sino-Indian relationship for the rest of Southasia (September 2006).
J.N Dixit ruminates on the strategic concerns of the 'Middle Kingdom' in the wake of India's 1998 nuclear tests (June 1998).