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This refers to the cover story titled Star wars (May 13). In a country like India, where films have for long been one of the most prominent spaces to engage the masses, it makes sense that many Bollywood celebrities gravitate towards politics. Prithviraj Kapoor was the Hindi film industry’s first entry into Parliament in the 1960s. He was nominated to the Upper House. He was a confidant of then prime minister Nehru who selected him for what was termed as ‘cultural diplomacy’. Nehru often asked him to lead delegations oversees. Bollywood superstars Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Rekha, Jaya Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty have all been roped in by different political parties time and again and have been parliamentarians but they did nothing significant in their political avatars except being showpieces. The trend goes on and there are many in the fray in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. However, it is for the first time that Bollywood is sharply divided on a singular figure—Modi. Anti-Modi statements by some film personalities were issued in 2014 too. But the current situation has brought out all political sentiments to the forefront and opinions are clashing. The hostility is out in the open. Pro-Modi actor Anupam Kher has put it precisely, saying that they are asking the public to oust a constitutionally-elected government and are therefore campaigning for the opposition parties. Bollywood had never been so deeply politicised.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
It’s ok if Bollywood celebrities enter politics; as citizens of democracy, they have every right to. But political propaganda affecting the content of movies is a bit too much to take. Movies should always exist in a parallel domain, having their own integrity. And it’s no surprise that actors who openly support the BJP government are part of the neo-propaganda movies—Anupam Kher acted in The Accidental Prime Minister to make former PM Manmohan Singh look worse than what has been already made of him in the public discourse; actor Vivek Oberoi even tried reviving his career with an unprecedented scheme of pleasing the prime minister by making a hagiography on him. Of course, a film has been made on Congress president Rahul Gandhi too. What is this! In no other age has Indian cinema been so dependent on politicians for content and so invested in acting as an extension of propaganda.
Vibha Singh, Jaipur
The story of stars divided on political lines in the current scenario is well known, especially if you are active on Twitter, but what one would like to learn about is how the economics of film industries has changed in the past few decades. I’d like to learn how much of a hold the government has on Bollywood. There is a race among stars to get in the good books of the government. And those who beg to differ are attacked by the ruling party’s supporters or branded as opposition supporters. There is nothing like individual opinion anymore. Every comment is seen in light of national politics.
Ram Avadheesh, On E-Mail
It’s good to track what’s happening in Bollywood during election season. It gives us insights into the minds of the people who influence the thinking of so many others. One thing is clear, the pro-Modi stars have nothing to lose as they are choosing the side of power while film personalities critical of the government are going against the tide and are speaking out despite BJP supporters trolling them by calling them anti-national. What’s interesting is, anybody who expresses concern over the increasing communal tensions in the country is branded anti-Modi. This is dangerous and signals the beginning of fascism in the garb of democracy. Moving on from Bollywood, you should think of a cover on the media, which is also divided into Modi and anti-Modi camp. It will make for a good cover: keep the same layout, have Arnab Goswami in the place of Anupam Kher and Ravish Kumar in the place of Naseeruddin Shah.
Shardul Ishan, On E-Mail
The Prime Minister’s acting skills have wooed these Bollywood stars to support his party.
Anil S., Pune
At the risk of generalisation, I could say that we, the people belonging to the great middle class of India (Forever Stuck In Middle Earth, May 13), are terribly self-centered. We enjoy our ‘cool’ and ‘happening’ life, spend time in air-conditioned malls and multiplexes, holiday abroad, wear designer clothes and jewelry, and eat out. Any government that fails to further enable these luxuries becomes our bete noire. We start drawing room revolutions and war monger on Facebook and Twitter. While our eyes remain glued to the sky, the impoverished masses—domestic help, drivers, hawkers, ragpickers and beggars—are invisible to us. We complain when a government or political dispensation throws crumbs at them. Governments also throw crumbs at us, albeit butter-coated, and we claim we are stuck in the middle earth.
Richa Juyal, Dehradun
The important turning point as far as middle class political participation goes came in 2013 with the India Against Corruption movement when Anna Hazare and co invoked a residual nationalism in the middle classes, who came out on the streets in protest against the corruption in the then UPA government. It was a moment of great hope for many in the ‘thinking class of India’. The scenes of protest from New Delhi and other cities appeared to be announcing a new era of citizens’ participation in politics. At the time, not many were making much of the election in 2014 as things were more about the present. But, as we came to realise later, a battered party was watching all this from the sidelines, analysing how the new dynamic could work for them. And bang, 2014 undid the Congress and brought in the BJP government to power like never before. The citizen’s movement birthed a new political party and the landscape still looked hopeful. Five years since, no middle class group dares to speak against the government. The tables have turned. But all this proves one thing, the middle class in India is a faux-political class due to its massive privileges vis-a-vis the rest of the people. So, it’s no surprise that the manifestos of political parties don’t talk about middle class issues specifically and directly. Of course, indirectly, the BJP manifesto’s very first issue is to do with the middle class: national security.
Nirmal Vyas, Jaipur
The May 13 issue of Outlook has 41 pages of advertisements of private universities and colleges—38 per cent of the total page count. It looks very disgusting. We, the readers from 1996 onwards, miss the Vinod Mehta days. It is very unfortunate that he failed to create a second-level editorial team. I wish my subscription gets terminated as early as feasible.
Sankar Ganapathi, Coimbatore
Apropos Manna Dey Diary (May 13), it is not true that O.P. Nayyar and Naushad never experimented with Manna Dey. The beautiful classical duet Tu hai mera prem devta from Kalpana (1960), composed by O.P. Nayyar, and the soulful Umariya ghatati jaye re from Mother India, tuned by Naushad, show that no music director could overlook Manna Dey’s versatility.
G.C. Roli, On E-Mail
This is in response to your cover story Manhandled (May 6). For an article that seeks to highlight how women politicians are treated, the language used by your senior journalists to describe them is awful. “Tall, dark and thin!” is what you wrote about Jothimani. Here is how you described Trinamool candidate Nushrat Jahan: “Dressed in a cream Tangail cotton saree with a narrow red border and a matching backless red blouse…” I do not think your writers would have focused on the clothes, skin colour and physique if they were writing about male politicians. It’s really ironic considering the discrimination you sought to highlight.
S. Lalitha, Bangalore
This refers to your cover story on women in politics (Her Crown of Thorns, May 6). Entrenched taboos and social conservatism discourage women from entering politics, which remains a predominantly male sphere. Women are still mostly expected to play the role of mother, sister, wife or daughter. A few eminent women leaders are just exceptions who prove the rule. Even women active in student politics rarely succeed at the state or national level. Women’s representation in the political space has been rising only at a glacial rate, exposing the hypocrisy of the political class. Reservation to the extent of the proposed 33 per cent will be a step in the right direction. A referendum on the subject should also be considered.
Jaideep Mittra, Varanasi
This refers to The Chief Question Is: What’s Right?, May 6), your story on the sexual harassment complaint against the Chief Justice of India. Our social structure is such that we either shame the victim, or believe every word against the accused. Sexual harassment is a serious crime, but so is falsely implicating someone to settle scores or extort money. Just as the victim’s name is not disclosed publicly, the alleged perpetrator’s name should also be held back until the court decides the case.
Siddharth Tharad, Calcutta
This refers to Phnom Penh Diary (May 6). The author seems to have had a good time in Phnom Penh, a city which he wanted to visit, then not visit after reading its bloody history, and then finally visit due to his fate. You never know where destiny takes you to.
Ajay Bhan, Chandigarh
This refers to Her Crown of Thorns (May 6). Even in an age when women are breaking the glass ceiling in various fields in our country, it strains credulity that in politics they are grossly under-represented. Why is it that even after seven decades of freedom, Parliament doesn’t have a substantial presence of women MPs? Today, women who throw their hat into the political ring remain mostly at the receiving end of misogynistic vitriol from vicious trolls. They are routinely harassed during election campaigns. In the process, a message is sent out to them loud and clear: that being women they are not cut out for the rough and tumble of politics. In other words, the cards are stacked against them.
In fact, women with political ambitions face difficulty in first world countries too. In 1849, a French woman, Jeanne Deroin, breaking down gender stereotypes, expressed her willingness to contest elections to the French parliament. Beside themselves with anger, some insecure men made light of her decision. One man, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, in an attempt to cut the ground from under Deroin’s feet, tried to disqualify her candidacy by arguing that a female legislator made as much sense as a male wet nurse! Not the one to throw in the towel, the feisty Jeanne Deroin made a sharp riposte to him saying that she would agree with his description, but then he must tell her which part of his male body was required for the function of a legislator. Oscar Wilde once said, “Women are decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly.’’
Mahatma Gandhi had been all praise for Indian women’s inveterate traits of rectitude and self-sacrifice and believed that they were natural satyagrahis, inherently suited to carry out his mission for truth. The deeply-entrenched patriarchy, even today, has not been able to disabuse itself of many a preposterous belief as to women’s equality. It is time more and more politically inclined women were given a fair crack of the whip in the democratic process. The heartening news is, there are still some spunky and feisty women politicians around who continue to challenge male bastions by flying in the face of patriarchal beliefs.
Aditya Mukherjee, New Delhi
Prejudice against women is indeed rampant in politics but it is actually wearyingly familiar in just about every field. What women contestants go through is probably a micro history of every woman on a daily basis. This point was made by Sheenoo Diwakar, a young 22 year old, who works as a domestic help with me. Sheenoo is not educated but very confident, the kind of confidence and easy manner that come when you negotiate life independently. She walked up to me, her charming smile in place, and asked me why I was not contesting elections. Her logic was simple—I was educated, could articulate my views, well understood the problems women faced, so, why was I not arching for the bull’s eye and doing some good work. I was taken aback by her direct assault and after a bit of whataboutery, I explained to her that politics was not an easy game. Sheenoo, a mother of three, prodded me on how the life of a woman in politics was more difficult than others. She told me she juggled between four homes, doing odd jobs from morning to evening, with her husband, a mason, playing truant both from work and from home. Her point was simple, direct. A woman’s voyage was tough anyways. But only a woman could understand the concerns of other women. So till a few plucky women took the plunge and gathered the gall to enter the choppy waters of political space, nothing would ever improve. Sheenoo is not one who understands reservation or fixed percentage for women but she knows broadly that somewhere the arithmetic is wrong. Point well made Sheenoo, a little late though. You have given me food for thought for 2024.
Sangeeta Kampani, Delhi
Let the women’s representation bill pass in Parliament in order to cure our sick society.
Sonia Rather, Gurgaons
This refers to The Chief Question Is: What’s Right? (May 13). India’s judiciary is going through its roughest patch since its inception. With Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s colleagues now conducting a probe into the allegations against him, propriety demands that he should step down or at least go on leave. It is important that judicial accountability be maintained at all times. Every judge must conform to the highest standards of integrity or our temples of justice might end up as dens of chicanery. Those who are entrusted with the duty of faithfully interpreting and upholding the law cannot themselves be above it or break it.
Aires Rodrigues, Goa
Any allegation against the CJI should be considered a blot on the judiciary itself. People are shocked not just because the allegations are against one of the highest constitutional functionaries, but also due to their obnoxious nature. It’s important that the judiciary clears the air. Justice Gogoi has described these allegations as “unbelievable”. If they are found to be false, the attempt to malign the CJI must be dealt with strictly.
K.S. Jayatheertha, On E-Mail
A citizen reportedly demanded the CJI to refrain from work and set up a committee with members drawn from outside the court. The charge of sexual impropriety must be investigated and women should be treated on par with men. It is also important to investigate the crucial cases of heavyweights pending for judgement with the honourable CJI.
J.N. Bhartiya, Hyderabad
The Easter Sunday bomb blasts are the worst tragedy Sri Lanka has faced after decades of civil war with the LTTE (The Bells Tolled Fear, May 6). It is, however, baffling why Muslims should bomb churches rather than Buddhist temples, for it’s militant nationalist Buddhist who have a history of persecuting the Lankan Muslim community. Of course, after the so-called ISIS claimed responsibility it is known that the attacks were carried out in revenge for the Christchurch mosque attacks. Such attacks will only sow the seeds of disharmony between majority Buddhist Sri Lankans and the minorities, in a country which has a recent, bloody history of tension between the communities—a division which rests just below the surface of Lankan society. Worsening the chance of a proper reconciliation is the political turf wars involving Wickeremesinghe, Sirisena and Rajapaksa. Needless to say, a well-oiled political system could have stopped the outrages.
Ramesh Chaturvedi, On E-Mail
The letter mentioning the drastic change in the style and content of Outlook in the last two months (Clear The Haze, April 8) was spot on. The magazine is going downhill. Take the April 29 issue. It begins with the Congress election manifesto, which is spread over seven pages of thick glazed sheets. Surely, it is a paid advertisement. Ads have become more important than readers and viewers for the print and electronic media, but they should not be thrust down the throats of paying readers of a highly reputed magazine in such a manner. The ad could have been placed towards the end. Sam Pitroda’s two-page interview is also Congress propaganda. There are too many spotlights in each issue. How many readers will be interested in ‘mines that can lay golden eggs? The immensely popular ‘Letters’ was pruned by half—from four to two pages. In spite of protests by readers, it has not been restored to its earlier page count. To add salt to the injury, there is a full-page advertisement between the two pages of Letters, disrupting continuity. At this rate, Outlook may end up losing many old and loyal readers.
The facile pen of Outlook’s editor, Ruben Banerjee, is an asset for the magazine. Over the months, I have become an ardent follower and admirer of Mr Banerjee’s exceptional ‘diaries’. The Graham Staines Diary (Apr 15) was meaningful in the context of the contemporary, BJP-inflected politics. The Staines devoted their lives and property for the betterment of the poor for a country which failed to provide them with a dignified livelihood even decades after independence. The hospital built by Staines is still treating thousands of the downtrodden. Such people aren’t provided proper healthcare, but are being steadily fed a noxious diet of Hindutva by the BJP to convert them into a votebank. Graham Staines’s devotion to India and her people cannot be measured in terms of political or religious gains. A monster like Dara needs to be seen in the light of a certain criminal ideology. The recent killings of Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh too fall in the same category. The RSS and the BJP have poisoned the well of democracy to a degree that those who drink of it run the risk of falling grievously ill. They must be discarded.
Ashim Kumar Chakraborty, Guwahati
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