Columns | Insider
Soft Power Down Under
India’s thriving film industry and popular culture
26 May, 2023
(Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
In his interactions with personalities from the fields of art, cinema and music on his visit to Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a reference to the RRR hit song and Oscar winner ‘Naatu Naatu’, pointing to India’s thriving film industry and popular culture. Australian singer Guy Sebastian, who has several top albums and singles to his credit, spoke of Modi playing the song during their meeting. Sebastian said he found the prime minister warm and forthcoming while discussing music and its values. Like others who have met Modi on his visits abroad, the Australian celebs found him deeply committed to exploring how cultural interactions can showcase India’s soft power with cook and restaurateur Sarah Todd finding him very personable and open to ideas. The interactions with corporate honchos were equally important, with chief executives describing Modi as a leader who understood business and the need to bring to India the best technology and finance firms with an eye on a long-term relationship.
Betting On Chouhan
It was somewhat inevitable that after the setback in Karnataka, reports on the state of affairs in BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit would begin to do the rounds. As in Karnataka, BJP returned to office after a section of opposition legislators resigned and defected to the saffron fold and were later re-elected. Since his return as chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s performance has been under scrutiny as he adjusted to the induction of former Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia and older factions in the party amid perceptions that the chief minister has lost some of his heft. Talk of state BJP chief VD Sharma’s differences with Chouhan also found repeated mention in media reports. Since he reclaimed his “gaddi”, Chouhan has doubled down on ensuring that welfare and development programmes reach as many beneficiaries as possible. The view of the BJP brass is that the experienced politician, who once made headlines for highlighting cases of starvation when Congress leader Digvijaya Singh was chief minister, is the party’s best bet. BJP insiders say the government’s profile in the state has improved and will not suffer from the governance deficits that sank the party’s prospects in Karnataka.
Congress’ Delhi Dilemma
Congress faces a tough call on the Centre’s decision to restore the Lieutenant Governor’s primacy in the posting of civil servants, including those from the Central services, with regard to Delhi. There are calls to come to AAP’s aid and strengthen opposition ‘unity’. The moves have gathered fresh momentum after BJP crashed to a defeat in Karnataka. But here’s the thing: Delhi Congress leaders are vehemently opposed to AAP and point to the gains the party made in last year’s municipal elections in the capital which came at the expense of the ruling party. Congress leader Ajay Maken has not lagged in attacking AAP over the excise policy and other cases being investigated by Central agencies. The Congress leadership has, on the other hand, been ambivalent. The theme of a ‘witch hunt’ resonates with the party brass which has, like AAP and some other opposition parties, accused the Centre of “misusing” CBI and ED. But Congress’ revival in Delhi is ruled out if AAP remains the sole occupant of the anti-BJP space. Congress’ subsidence in the city has helped AAP win Assembly elections by big margins despite BJP either holding on to its vote share or even increasing it a bit.
The row between medal-winning wrestlers, some of whom have accused suspended Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh of sexual harassment, and the government is showing no signs of blowing over even as the election schedule for the federation is to be announced soon. Singh has completed 12 years as WFI chief and is ineligible for the post but the wrestlers are probably worried about the possibility of the MP’s son becoming a candidate. This, however, may not go down well with BJP bosses in the current situation when Singh is being investigated by Delhi Police. While the face-off, which has been taking on a political hue with the involvement of opposition politicians, drags on, India’s medal prospects are training and remain focused. Despite the absence of WFI’s top office bearers, the federation’s work, with its coaches and administrators, is continuing apace. The athletes, while expressing solidarity with the agitating seniors, are attending camps and preparing for important sporting events, including the Asian Games in China due later in the year. The government is confident that the federation will not face any threat of disqualification with the Indian Olympic Association and the Sports Authority of India keeping an eye on WFI’s affairs.
Drugs and Guns in Manipur
The smuggling of drugs from Myanmar has exacerbated troubles in Manipur. The presence of criminal gangs and weapons has worsened the situation. Earlier this month, the state government announced another drug haul worth more than ₹15 per kg of the contraband. There have been drug hauls at regular intervals which point to the need for greater attention to law and order and better coordination with neighbouring states. The nexus between drug mafias and insurgents—who helped whip up violence in the Imphal Valley—has been a matter of concern. The money from the illegal drug trade has also gone into funding insurgent groups that have made use of a relatively porous border to set up safe havens. In the latest instance, the drugs were being transported through Churachandpur, the very place where violence broke out after a “solidarity march” organised by tribal groups like the Kukis who are up in arms over the prospects of the Vaishnavite Meiteis being given access to quotas under the Scheduled Tribe category.
Over To Meghwal
The appointment of Rajasthan BJP leader Arjun Ram Meghwal as Union law minister brings a certain earthiness and pungent humour to the ministry’s corridors. The veteran politician, who has also served in the state bureaucracy, has an easy manner and does not usually get into confrontationist situations even as he remains unabashed about his saffron moorings. He is quick to call out clichés and stagnant thinking and often enough his public events involve engaging his audience in a conversation. His traditional attire and demeanour are not at odds with younger urban audiences as the minister comes across as a genial sort quick to praise the correct answers to his questions.
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