Posts tagged "politics"

Sums Up Politicians Quite Nicely

A driver was stuck in a traffic jam on the M25.

Nothing was moving.

Suddenly, a man knocks on the window.

The driver rolls down the window and asks, “What’s going on?”

“Terrorists have kidnapped all of our MP’s during a sitting of parliament and they’re demanding a £100 million ransom otherwise they are going to douse them all in petrol and set them on fire. We are going from car to car urgently collecting donations.”

“How much is everyone giving, on average?” the driver asks.

The man scratches his chin in quick contemplation and replies, “Roughly a gallon.”

Democracy For Sale

When it comes to interviewing for jobs in India you never really know what you’re going to get (which is probably the same the world over but I’ve never interviewed anyone in England so am in no position to say!). Often candidates haven’t been taught how to handle an interview, say the wrong thing, don’t say enough, say too much, don’t let the interviewer speak, cut the interviewer off in the middle of a question or worse they have read a “how to ace your interview” guide on and come up with answers like “my biggest weakness is that I’m a workaholic.”

My company is currently doing interview rounds as we look to expand our team and as usual the process has thrown up a number of anecdotes. My favourite one so far went like this…

A young man enters the office. He’s from a small village in rural Tamil Nadu and visibly apprehensive, nervous and uncomfortable in the surroundings. His answers are short and he’s got no conviction in what he says. Determined to bring the young man out of his shell the interviewer tries a number of light conversation topics like films, food and family until she hits on one topic where his face lights up light a 1000 watt bulb. “actually it’s my life’s dream to be an MP for my village” he tells her, then continuing, “I will bring development and jobs, make electricity come and make sure everyone has healthcare. Then I will campaign for Tamil rights in Sri Lanka and bring the Sri Lankan government to justice.”

Suitably impressed with the eloquence and passion with which the young man has described his ambitions the interviewer asks him how he plans to get elected. The young man brushed the question aside and said “I will join whichever party gives me the most money then I will pay everyone in my village to vote for me.”

And that is south Indian politics 🙂

Freebies and Indian Politics

Indian politics is fascinating for any onlooker, it’s quite alien to anyone from the west and trying to understand it would take a lifetime. The first thing to know is that being a country of 1.2 billion people, the media likes to segment people in to what are known as ‘vote banks’. For example the muslim minority here are considered a vote bank because they all tend to vote the same way. The people from the lowest castes (they used to be called ‘untouchables’ because it was considered dirty to even touch them, now, in a more enlightened age they are referred to as dalits) will also vote the same way.

There are so many different vote banks here that it’s a tough job for the political parties to appeal to everyone. One way the parties try to win votes is by offering freebies, often under the flimsy guise of ‘welfare schemes’. In Tamil Nadu, in order to sway the election, the two main parties entered in to an almost bidding war with each other on who could give the most freebies welfare to the poor people. In the previous 2006 election, the DMK party swept to power after announcing it would give away 15 million colour TV’s. In the end a lady called Jayalalithaa won because she said that people would get:

  • Free food blender
  • Free wet grinder
  • Free table fan
  • Free ceiling fan
  • Free laptop to all Govt. school children
  • Free cow
  • Free goat
  • Free sheep

It’s unclear how many people are eligible for all these freebies welfare goods, but the BBC reckons that 6.8 million school children alone will be getting free laptops at an estimated cost of $2 billion. In total, $580m will be spent on the free consumer goods and livestock this year alone. Oh, and it’s definitely NOT all a political stunt, Jayalalitha says, despite the fact that all the free goods have her smiling face prominently stuck to the side so that people are in no doubt about who gave them this welfare!

The biggest irony of all this is that in the villages, where most of these poor people live, there is very little electricity, few can afford the electricity and power cuts last several hours each day, or in some cases, for days!

The Hindu : States / Tamil Nadu : It is wrong to denigrate welfare schemes: Jayalalithaa

The Hindu : States / Tamil Nadu : It is wrong to denigrate welfare schemes: Jayalalithaa other schemes pertained to the free distribution of food mixers, wet grinders and table-fans to women carrying rice-drawing family cards and special incentive to students of…

Upcoming Indian Elections

The General Elections are about to take place later this month in India. In a country of 1.1bn people where there are over a dozen official languages and large swaths of the rural areas have very low literacy rates, it’s incredible that elections manage to take place at all.

You could easily compare India to Europe. Imagine if all the countries of Europe, with their different customs, culture and language, were asked to vote in a general election to nominate a single party to represent them all. It probably couldn’t be done. But if you can imagine that, then you can imagine the kind of difficulties the political parties face here.

The general elections nominate 543 Members of Parliment, of which a party needs a 66% majority to form a government. The newly formed Government then elects a President (the current President is Pratibha Patil) and the President then appoints a Prime Minister (the current Prime Minister is Manmohan Singh) nominated by the party in power.

The role of the Indian President is a bit like the Queen in the UK (according to my enlightened Indian friends). The role is largely ceremonial. The president is the head of the armed forces. The president can dissolve the parliment and call a new general election, they also sign any new bill that parliment want to pass and have little choice to refuse it.

The role of the Prime Minister is just like in the UK. They are responsible for the day to day running of the country, in charge of policy, schmoozing with the world leaders and whatnot.

Just like in the United States, there are two main national parties called Congress and BJP. Congress is more secular, and the BJP is more about Hindu nationalism. The current party in power is the Congress party, and has been in power for the majority of the time since independence in 1947.

In the build up to elections, there is a large amount of political manouvering amongst the national and regional parties. The national parties come to power based on their alliances with the smaller, regional parties as there is no way they can achieve a 66% majority by themselves.

Here in Tamil Nadu there are two main parties, the DMK and AIADMK. Both the Congress and BJP parties are courting them to try and get an ally in the Tamil Nadu state. In return for this, the national parties promise a certain number of parlimentary seats or ministries to the local parties. The political wrangling comes when two different state parties demand a the same ministry .

I can’t speak much about other states in India, but in Tamil Nadu, it’s very much a case of celebrity politics. When the famous actors and actresses reach an age where their looks fade, dancing ability wanes or singing falters, the natural progression is to turn to politics and to bring your large army of fans with you. The leader of the DMK is a very renown scriptwriter and the leader of the AIADMK is an aging 60’s icon actress.

Unlike in England where there are ‘just’ 27 million votes to count and polling lasts for just one day, the elections in India last for 29 days between 16th April and 13th may, with the results not announced until the 16th May.

There are many reasons for this, such as the size of the country, size of population, inaccessibility of rural areas (ie. no proper roads), providing security for voting, and the shear length of time it takes to count the votes.

I’ll write some more about the upcoming elections here later on this month.