Believe it or not!

If the Americans have one Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, we have three.

The only difference between Mr Robert Ripley’s cartoons and the Indian versions is that there’s nothing to see, you’ve got to hear them to believe – or not.

The oldest of the three but not necessarily the most famous is Beni’s Believe It Or Not!

Named after a septuagenarian Congress survivor from UP, the protagonist has a penchant for putting both his feet in the mouth and on a good day only spits out colourful abuses at his political adversaries.

But on a bad day, Beni could blast his own PM calling him too old to rule or invoke the EC’s wrath by treading on the same “model” path that a fellow Congressman had followed and fallen.

Giving him competition is a regal Congressman from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh with his own series — Diggy’s Believe It Or Not.

Now this character is in a different mould. Diggy doesn’t believe in treading on anyone else’s path not even his party’s path, he walks alone.

For instance, in a city like Delhi, if his party hurriedly walks away from a landmark building called Bathla House he chooses to walk towards it.

Some say there’s a method to his madness which they say is chalked out at a certain house on a certain street in the Capital.

But the piece de resistance of course is Didi’s Believe It Or Not. It could also be Didi’s comedy show, but let’s not be too uncharitable.

Our Didi has gone on from being an agitator to a perpetually agitated chief minister who is paranoid about even looking to her left.

So much so that she blamed the death of infants in government hospitals on the Left rule saying the kids were conceived before she came to power!

Courtesy: This article was published in the Whiplash column in my newspaper the Mail Today.



A Mafia thriller called NRHM

Courtesy: This article appeared in the Whiplash column of Mail Today

As most scams go this one too had money meant for the poor plundered by politicians, bureaucrats and middleman.

It goes by the name of National Rural Health Mission Scam or the NRHM scam as it is lovingly called by the media and other stakeholders – the accused, the suspects, the investigators and those politicians who couldn’t be a part of it.

The scam took place in Mayawati’s Uttar Pradesh where a huge chunk of central funds meant for the healthcare needs of the people of the state disappeared, as always, without a trace.

And then like in all scams the CBI was called in to investigate.

If you have read this far you must be yawning and telling yourself “yes I know” that’s pretty much how most scams appear then disappear from public memory till a new one catches attention.

One would have moved on too had it not been for an event at a place called Lakhimpur Kheri that suddenly grabbed attention.

A state health department clerk, an accountant to be precise, was found dead on Wednesday – officials refused to call it a murder till the autopsy report says so.

A minor event till you realize that this is the sixth “unnatural death” reported one after the other in the past one year of those being investigated in the NRHM scam.

Four of them were doctors, one engineer and the latest victim is a lowly clerk whose wife alleges that a CBI team had come to meet him before he disappeared a week ago.

The wife also alleges that his superior was pressuring him to sign certain files related to the NRHM scam and that he felt his life was in danger.

Six deaths – two murdered, one found dead in his prison cell, one kills himself, another dies in an accident and the latest one has murder written all over him.

Sounds like a Bollywood potboiler or a Mario Puzo mafia novel in which the don eliminates at will all those who could spill the beans against him.

Could this really be the case?

PS: In the absence of an original post taking the easy way out!

So what does the climate elephant look like?

I have been following, or at least trying to follow, the Copenhagen climate talks ever since it began nearly two weeks ago.

Wading through the viscous stream of jargons, I tried to make sense of the developments or the lack of it at the Danish capital, going through the news reports generated by the media every day.

The coverage, in the paper I work for and elsewhere, reminded me of the story of the blind men trying to figure out what an elephant looks like.

Each newspaper or news agency appeared to have a different take on what was brewing inside the Bella Centre in Copenhagen. Except for spot reports, little else bore any resemblance to each other. “It’s like a wall”, “a thick rope”, no “it’s like a tree trunk” they all seemed to say.

Only one thing was clear — Copenhagen was very cold, like the vibes between the rich, poor and the richer developing countries.

Late on Friday night, came the news that PM Manmohan Singh & US President Barack Obama deferred their return at the request of UN general secretary Ban Ki Moon to thrash out a deal.

Still later in the night or early on Saturday morning the news of some kind of a deal filtered in. Reports said the US had arrived at a “meaningful agreement” with the key developing countries like India, China and Brasil.

The said “deal” is not legally binding and does not talk of any carbon reduction target or any “peaking” deadline — in short it has every thing that the key “interested parties” wanted.

Hardly matters that many of the developing countries reportedly did not even know that there was such an agreement when it was being announced by the American representative.

To sum up, this is what a Green Peace official told the BBC on the last night of the summit: “The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport.”

Terrorists or secessionists?

There were a lot of things buzzing around in my head when I thought of what to write about in my first post. Then surfing through those dime-a-dozen news channels I came across a story, rather a headline that said, “Nagaland assembly praises terrorists”.

Terrorists? Who is a terrorist? The screaming headline sent my mind racing back to an incident some years ago. I had just joined an English daily in Hyderabad as a trainee. Campaigning for assembly elections in some states was on and one of the states was Manipur. The paper had carried campaign stories from all the states that were going to the polls except for Manipur.

It was the last day of campaigning and I somehow realised that we had not carried any story on Manipur polls. So I compiled a three-column story from the agencies and put it on my page. Even though I was a trainee I was allowed some freedom to choose stories not because I was good but because I worked in the Dak edition!

And so I felt happy that I was doing something right. Enter the chief sub-editor. I showed him my page and he said, “Why you taking this story?” pointing to the second lead on my page on Manipur polls. I gathered some courage and said, ” Sir (he was twice my age so I couldn’t bring myself to call him by name) we haven’t carried any story on Manipur polls, it is the only state we left out.”

He smiled and said, “Son who’s bothered about Manipur? Or for that matter any state in the North-East? You remove that story and put this.” He gave me a two-day old Delhi-centric story from our Delhi bureau as a replacement. I was stunned to say the least.

That day I understood how and why the Seven Sisters were neglected in the mainstream media. It was an early lesson for me as a budding journalist.

I had been an avid newspaper reader long before I even knew that one day I would be working in one. I used to notice the lack media attention towards the North-East unless of course there was insurgency-related violence. Although I had no connections with the region and had never been there, I felt a certain affinity for the region and its people.

As a journalism student a year before I got my first job, I wanted to write my dissertation on “Media Blackout of the North-East”. But our dean persuaded me to drop the topic saying I didn’t have enough time to do justice to the “vast” topic I had chosen.

So, that afternoon I saw it as a chance to contribute my bit to an issue I strongly felt about. But I was a mere trainee and couldn’t argue with my chief sub.

Watching the news item on Nagaland today on Times Now, I couldn’t help but feel that things haven’t really changed much since that day.

I wondered if the person who put the headline knew the difference between terrorism and secessionism. The Naga secessionist movement is as old as our country’s independence. The government acknowledges that there is a problem and hence there are regular talks held with the NSCN(IM).

The democratically elected Nagaland assembly passing a resolution praising the rebels may not be in line with the central government’s policy. But does that mean we should call the Naga rebels terrorists? If a well respected channel like Times Now does not show  sensitivity in dealing with the region it will only add to the alienation that the Nagas and indeed the rest of the North-East feels towards mainland India.

The point I’m making here is purely from a journalistic point of view. By all means sensationalise a news if that is what sells but please don’t show your ignorance.