Saturday, February 18, 2012

Meals, cash, and election campaigns

Sakal Times
Thursday, February 16, 2012 AT 08:30 PM (IST)
So, what was the menu yesterday?” I asked our domestic help as soon as she had settled down to with her work. Her face lit up as she started describing the menu at the meal given by one of the  poll contestants in our municipal ward. “There was puri, jilebi, masala rice... brinjal curry...”   For the past few days, she along with her family members have been attending lunch and dinner hosted by various poll contestants. In the recent past, my daily conversation with the domestic help has been confined to the poll scenario in our ward. During the initial phase of campaign, when she did not come to work without prior intimation, my wife and I were unhappy. However  when we learnt that she had been attending the poll rallies of different candidates and getting paid Rs 300 to Rs 500 for that from each contestants, both of us mellowed down.

I enquired as to how many of her family members had participated in the poll campaign. “My  daughter and her two young daughters, and I,” she replied, adding enthusiastically, “they pay equal amount even to children, no matter what’s their age, as long as they are able to walk on their feet and carry a banner or a flag.”

“But I will not join the campaign this afternoon... it's too tiring walking and shouting slogans for two to three hours in the scorching sun. I'll rest for a day and will join the rallies tomorrow. I'm told the payment for each participant will shoot up further tomorrow as it is the last day of the campaigning,” she said. I was curious to know how the money was paid to people without attracting attention of the police or the election authorities. “Two or three people slip in the currency notes in our hands as we walk in lines. We are allowed to check the amount only later. We decide to join or not to join the rally next day of that candidate depending on the amount the contestant pays that day,” she explained.

A friend told me that a poll candidate has distributed cookers to his voters while keeping the lid of each cooker with himself. The shrewd fellow told the voters to collect the lids only after he is elected to the municipal corporation. Some candidates have distributed cricket bats to youngsters.

I wonder whether these strategies help the candidates to win the polls conducted through secret electronic voting machines. If not, why would the poll veterans indulge in these practices?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Anna Hazare A soldier’s journey

A soldier’s journey
Sunday, August 28, 2011 AT 06:50 PM (IST)
I remember my first reporting assignment related to Anna Hazare two decades ago. I had arrived from Aurangabad to Pune to join a national newspaper. One morning, I, another reporter and a photographer rushed to Wadegavhan near Shirur. Three farmers protesting against the power distribution company were killed there in police firing. The farmers agitation was led by Anna Hazare, who had resorted to his first indefinite fast in Ahmednagar. Hazare was hospitalised and called off his fast only after securing an assurance from the authorities.

A couple of years later, I met Hazare for the first time at Ralegan Siddhi, where he had resorted to a "maunvrat" to demand action in some corruption cases. Reporters would ask him questions and he would write the answers on a note pad. Then in mid-20s, I could not suppress my laughter on seeing this exercise was. I remember being admonished by my colleagues. Visits to Ralegan Siddhi became frequent later. I developed a close relationship with the social activist and once camped in his village for couple of  days to get acquainted with his development projects. To this date, I have preserved my black and white photographs with Anna and the letters Anna wrote to me, acknowledging receipt of newspaper clips on him or news about some of his new projects.

Hazare has always been media savvy. Ignoring protests from his office staff, he would give journalists complimentary copies of books on success stories of Ralegan Siddhi. For some unknown reasons, most journalists from Ahmednagar used to scoff at Hazare. It was  only after some Pune journalists regularly wrote on Hazare in English newspapers that his unique contribution became known in the state and later all over the country.

The fight against corruption has been an issue dear to Anna's heart. For years, he used to launch a fast around the Kranti Din of August 9 and would end it after a token assurance from the authorities. He was criticised and made fun of because of this. Once, about a decade back, Anna teamed up with Mohan Dharia, Baba Adhav and others to take on the issue of corruption. Otherwise, he was always a solitary crusader. Anna had never studied in a college but this former soldier-driver in the army has graduated to becoming a revered leader in the country during the past three decades. Now he is articulate, has clarity of thought and most important, has the moral strength to lead the masses. No wonder, his protests now move the entire country. 

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Visit Arc de Triomphe or the Arch of Triumph

It was the first day of our Europe tour and we had boarded the metro at Anvers station for a sightseeing tour of Paris. Led by our local guide, Anupam Bari, a young Puneite now working in Paris, we alighted at Charles de Gaul terminal and started walking. Nearly 20 minutes later, we took an underground passage and when we had reached above the ground, we were near a huge monument. There was no need to seek introduction about this great Arc de Triomphe or the Arch of Triumph. I remembered that just a couple of years ago the Indian armed forces, including the jawans of the Maratha Light Infantry, had along with the French armed forces participated in the annual Bastille Day Military Parade here. The event was attended by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

The Arc is located at a very busy traffic intersection; 12 streets spread out from this crossing. As we moved around in that locality, we had to watch out for the vehicles that were zooming past us. So, our guide advised to opt for the underground passage. The huge structure reminded me of the India Gate in New Delhi which too symbolises the might of the Indian nation and the members of the armed forces who sacrificed their lives for the nation and civilisation.
The Arc de Triomphe too honours those who fought and died for France in the French revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I with the Eternal Flame.
Noted French sculptors have been represented in the Arc. The important works here are independent trophies. The four sculptural groups at the base of the Arc are The Triumph of 1810, the Resistance and Peace, and the Departure of the Volunteers of 1792 which is also known as La Marseillaise. It represents the allegorical face of France that is calling the citizens. In the attic above the richly sculptured frieze of soldiers are 30 shields engraved with the names of major Revolutionary and Napoleonic military victories. There are six reliefs on the facade of the Arc as well that depict the important moments in the history of France. No wonder that the Arch has now become a symbol of patriotism for the French. Standing some meters away from the monument, watching the French colours adorning the Arc, I stood speechless, wondering how many dignitaries, leaders, soldiers and commoners may have been at this wonderful monument that stands high.
The presence of thousands of tourists from various countries, races and cultures near the historical monument gives it a global feel. Just as it was in the case of Eiffel Tower where we were few hours back. The crowd at the Arc was much less than that near the Eiffel Tower. But the importance and the glory of the Arc is not diminished a bit. Rather, the importance of the structure seemed to be far greater: the crowd was much quieter, being respectful of the soldiers who have been celebrated here.
A word of caution is necessary about Paris. As in most famous tourist sites, the visitors need to be careful about their Euro and other valuables. Within a first few hours in Paris, we lost cash as we headed towards Arc. Although the amount the thief managed to steal was insignificant, nevertheless it was a lesson for us. During the remaining part of our Europe tour, never did we carry all our currency, passports and valuables in one bag.