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Saturday, May 14, 2011

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(Published in on 13th May, 2011, retrieved from More detailed coverage, with about twice as many snide comments available here:

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The Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections 2011 had all the elements of a gripping suspense film. For one, the lead characters had spent decades in the most maudlin years of Tamil cinema. For another, both of them have won their last couple of stints in power thanks to the anti-incumbency factor each had caused. For yet another, the 2G spectrum scam and cash-for-votes stayed in the headlines throughout the campaign period.
For a fourth, practically the whole of Kollywood jumped onto the bandwagon – or should we make that campaign car? – and screamed its support for one of the parties. For a fifth, both the DMK and the AIADMK had tiffs with their prospective allies, and eventually kissed and made up.
But what gave it all the finishing touch was that both parties – and their allies – own a bunch of television channels. Some of us remember the Karunanidhi arrest drama of 2001, when Jaya TV had visuals of Murasoli Maran hitting a cameraman and trying to assault a cop, and Sun TV had its cameras on in Karunanidhi’s bedroom when the police barged in, sending Rajathi Ammal squealing and rushing to cover her yellow nightie with a respectable beige bed sheet.
The more practical of us wondered how the channel knew of the arrest in advance and thought ‘ah, this is faked’. The more imaginative of us shuddered at the idea of a camera in Karunanidhi’s bedroom, and hoped for the sake of aesthetics that those tapes would never, ever, oh-no-never-never-never be leaked.
Over the last ten years, the Maran-owned Sun Network has been joined by the Karunanidhi-owned Kalaignar TV, and the PMK-owned Makkal TV (which, according to Wikipedia, “telecosts lots of entertainment program on the basis of Pure Tamil and promote the people to speak Tamil and only Tamil, without the mixing other languages words”), making a formidable alliance for DMK coalition propaganda. Jaya TV has been joined by the Vijaykanth-owned Captain TV.
On Friday the 13th of May, 2011, we watched anxiously for the allegations and counter-allegations. Here’s what happened.
The early-bird advantage?
Jaya TV, which usually plays oldies in the morning, telecast a special, ‘J Hits’ and only played songs that had Jayalalithaa dancing with her mentor MGR. Every now and then, two anchors shouted out that live coverage of elections would begin at 8:01 am. The DMK coalition’s channels were to gain a whole minute!
They didn’t use the advantage well, though. Sun News began with a newscaster giving us an insight into the process of counting: "The ballots will be counted from the ballot box. The first one will be counted at 9:00 am. The counting centres have been cordoned off."
Jaya TV, on the other hand, brought in an expert panel of astrologers.
“Have you ever seen a one-month gap between the casting of votes and the counting?" the anchor frowned.
"Never!" cried Astrologer 1, "never ever!"
"Never ever?" asked the anchor.
"NEVER!" the astrologer yelled, and then calmed down, "the reason this is happening is because it's been written so in Amma's horoscope. Her lucky period starts at a particular time today. Amma was born on a Pournami (full moon) day and that means most doshams won't occur. She is straightforward and brave. And you know what's strange? Her lucky days are Tuesday - you'll remember the casting of votes was Tuesday - and is Friday! For her planetary positions to reach the most positive alignment, it's taken a month. That's why there was a lag."

Umm...Forget the fact that Ms. JJ had been vocal about the DMK postponing Counting Day to avenge its defeat.
"And the first vote in Srirangam was cast at a time that was very lucky for Amma?" the anchor asked.
Astrologer 1 said, flabbergasted, "you ask very incisive questions. I think you know some astrology too."
The anchor blushed, laughed and said, modestly, "Yes, a little bit, a tiny bit."
Kalaignar TV, which doesn’t believe in God, leave alone astrologers, brought in the unfaithful. One of their panellists was anti-DMK-turned-anti-ADMK journalist R R Gopal, editor of Nakkeeran magazine, who is best remembered for his interviews with the brigand Veerappan, and being arrested under the POTA in 2003 (during Jayalalithaa's rule) in the Rajamaniman missing case of 1999.
After discussing the advantage of experience Karunanidhi (86) has over greenhorn Jayalalithaa (63), the anchor announced that in breaking news, the first postal vote has been cast in favour of the DMK. Nakkeeran Gopal struggled to get his hands into the frame and clapped right by the lapel mic., drowning out the rest of the anchor's speech. Turned out they were counting their chickens before the early birds laid the egg, as Navjot Singh Sidhu might say.
Focal Length reaches Infinity
Sun TV was happy to discuss the progress of technology, and then blame it for the lack of crowds at the DMK rallies.
And then, Jaya TV began to try and link up incompatible entities. First, the anchor said, "Astrology is a great science, right? What is the connection between the horoscopes of the people of the nation, and the time at which votes are declared?"
Astrologer 2 then compared the nation's fate and Amma's fate – not the time of the election results being declared – to the relationship between a mother and child, leaving the anchor confused.
Kalaignar TV’s anchor, confused his guests by saying, "There's going to be a change in Tamil Nadu", and hurriedly recovered with, "I mean, not a change of rule. But a change of pattern. Since 1984, no party has won twice in a row."
"Definitely," Nakkeeran Gopal replied, "you know, people come and tell me 'only AIADMK will win.' I ask them, 'Dude, what makes you say that?' Because they will have reasons. They've cast their votes for the DMK, but they say AIADMK will win. They say, 'no, sir, AIADMK has created a web of deceit. A conspiracy.'"
They then criticise the media for having favourites – ironic indeed!
And then Gopal muddles the viewer even more with a series of consecutive, unconnected sentences, "The thing is, people of the higher castes have decided 'we should somehow make Jayalalithaa win.' She promises to help youngsters. But she spends 4 months a term in Tamil Nadu, and 4 and three quarters of a year in Kodanad. People will think they can pay off their loans and fees, and they're going to get fooled."
This somehow spurred a discussion on how sad it is that people are so naive as to sit in an AC room, become armchair philosophers and predict an AIADMK win. Then, they moved on to Kerala. When they returned to Tamil Nadu, it was to draw a parallel between the two prospective Chief Ministers and the singers Nithyasree Mahadevan and Pushpavanam Kuppuswamy, apparently with the intention of conveying that the exit polls were wrong.
Astrologer jinxes machinery
Astrologer 3 told the Jaya TV anchor, "The biggest bootham of the Panchaboothams (Five Elements) is Vayu and helps Jayalalithaa. Look, communication happens through the airwaves. The correct communication has reached the voters, as to who is corrupt and who is not. A year before or so, the communication transfer was confused. But it's got fine-tuned in the last year, and as we get closer to months, six months, and so on, it's become progressively sharper. The vayu graham is aiding Amma."
About an hour later, when the astrologers had been replaced by two people who were introduced by a different anchor as “scholars and political pundits”, the panel decided to have a chat with the correspondents. The anchor tried to disguise terrible phone lines with, "We can't hear them because of the people shouting with joy" – an effort that went in vain when the correspondent crackled, "hello? hello?"  before the line went dead.
It was bad enough when the phones got jinxed. But then the mics. did. And that happened when Cho Ramaswamy, arguably one of the most coherent political analysts in the country appeared. The anchor had interrupted a panellist to give Cho centre stage. But then, Cho’s voice broke - not because he was getting emotional, but because the microphone was dying.
Cho had finished denouncing the ill-informed media that published the wrong exit polls and patting himself on the back for correctly predicting an AIADMK victory. Just when he was getting started on corruption, saying, “I've never seen a more stupid management of electricity till now. No steps were taken to do anything about it, whatsoever. Then, there is the sand mining mafia. Everything from sand to water to everything else is stolen", the anchor cut him off, leaving him surprised.
The anchor then threw a googly at his guests, with "stealing anything is all right. But our own brothers and sisters, the Lankan Tamils...why was the DMK so uninvolved?"
But one of the panellists was ready with a conspiracy theory, "I'll tell you why. Karunanidhi and his family have set up and supported several industries in Sri Lanka. Their main concern was that these should not be harmed."
The jinx continued when the discussion was interrupted by Vijay dancing on screen. The control room had surprised the studio with an impromptu ad break.
Delusions galore
Naturally, none of the channels saw eye to eye on the vote count for the first couple of hours. But this is not we’re talking about. Well, actually, the problem had to do with anchors whose brains might well be a violation of international airspace. And they weren’t pretty either.
First, the Jaya TV anchor addressed one of the first correspondents who managed to get through and say journalists are not being allowed into the counting centre.

"Why? Why are we not being allowed?" he fumed.
"No, sir, no one is allowed," the correspondent replied.
"But do you know why?" the anchor cried.
"Election regulations, sir," the correspondent said, and the anchor diverted the discussion to farmers.
But he came across as positively well-informed by comparison to a Sun TV anchor who spoke of how well the Congress was performing in West Bengal.
One of the experts, V K Rangarajan, grinned, "You're talking about West Bengal? The Trinamool has a clear lead. So what do you mean the Congress is doing well?"
The anchor said, "no, I mean..." and looked confused.
The second expert came to his rescue: "No, he means that the Trinamool, though it has a different flag and different members, is also made up of Congress people. It is Trinamool CONGRESS."
Expert 1, grinned, "well, he's already said that the DMK has done about 90 percent of what Kamaraj promised."
A break was declared. Sun TV, playing dramatic music, went on to present graphics of votes counted and leads, constituency by constituency.
When they finally returned, Expert 2 said, "See, Mr. VK expressed the view that the Trinamool Congress is different from the Congress. But you must remember that the Trinamool split from the Congress. The TMC, under Moopanaar, Tha Ma Ka as we say it, also split from the Congress, but they were allies."
The anchor nodded and moved on to a discussion on Nandigram.
But VK ruined that by hinting at corruption in Tamil Nadu, which is “unlike West Bengal”, prompting the anchor to declare another break.
When they returned, a couple of hours later, the panel had changed, and so had the ambience. It was clear that the DMK was losing ground rapidly. A different expert told the same beleaguered anchor that it was people’s longing for change, obsession with change, and temptation to see how a change fits that had caused the problem. Yeah, right, blame it on Barack!
The expert, whom we were told represented the Muslim vote, launched into a eulogy that quickly took on the tint of an obituary, "His greatness, his kindness to the people, his heart that beats for the people, his wisdom, his mastery of language..."

Without completing the thought with a predicate, he said, "If Jayalalithaa comes to power, will she show us a changed face, or will she be the same dictator she was?" He seemed to catch the anchor's eye and hurried on, "this is too premature. We can't discuss results yet."
Another break.
They returned twenty minutes later to discuss the power struggle – literally. Expert 2 said, "the problem is that AIADMK created so many problems in the preceding five years that the DMK has not been able to do solve all of them in its five years of golden rule. Because of this, people think that the governance was not all right. Let's take power for instance. We are still trying to make up for the excesses of Jayalalithaa's regime, which has caused a deficit. At least, Karunanidhi has announced that there will be cuts for one hour."

Clearly, they believe that the lighting for the functions held in Karunanidhi's honour every few days was supplied by his inner glow.
But Expert 1, who had clearly tuned out, followed this with, "Like he said, the power deficit has been caused by Karunanidhi's concern that people should have access to electricity and electric lights. We only have 8000 MW allocated to us, but we need 12,000 MW. This situation has been forged by the DMK."
The anchor, looking defeated, announced a round-up of the results.
When they got back, Expert 2 had been replaced by a member of the Marxist Communist Party. He and Expert 1 got into an argument over whether Jayalalithaa cares for her allies, and the anchor, defeated, announced a break – a very long one.
A reconstituted panel spoke about how there may be allegations about a certain amount being lost to the exchequer, but then, the amounts of money that Jayalalithaa stole during her time in power were not accounted for.
As the anchor announced a final break, one was forced to feel sorry for him.
The morning's anchor a.k.a. Man With a Tiny Bit of Knowledge of Astrology returned to Jaya TV at 2:00 pm, welcomed us to this delightful morning - clearly, he's a time-traveller too - and happily showed us a pie chart that declared the 200-33-1 figures of AIADMK-DMK-Others.

With a member of the Marxist Communist Party on the panel, he asked, "you're largely responsible for the victory, right, for exposing the scams?"

Even the party member looked surprised, and the anchor asked, "I mean, everyone has worked together. What did you expose?"
‘It’s the genes! No, the jeans! No, the fixing! No, the coalition!’
A Jaya TV anchor began the analysis in the morning with, "what are the main issues this election? Why is AIADMK winning?"
Expert 1 paused, thought, and said, "the election is basically a public declaration of what the people want."
The anchor, looking awed, began to take notes.
Kalaignar TV's anchor asked his panel, "can an intelligent psephologist fix survey results?"
The non-Gopal expert replied, "yes, definitely. I can conspire to fix the results of survey and present it in a scientific manner."
Nakkeeran Gopal then blamed the trends on the fact that no one could go near Loyola college, and said the conduct of this election was a snub to everyone.
Within minutes, Kalaignar TV wound up the analysis and broke off into songs. One wondered whether there was an underlying message in the songs, when one realised the lyrics of one, sung by a desolate woman, are about the joy of nostalgia, and the memories of a time when she was happy. A couple of lines go, "People who don't remember things they should, people who shun me when I need them most." After this, they went off into a series of re-telecasts of Maanaada Mayilaada episodes.
Sun TV would follow this lead a little later, telecasting the film Thiruda Thirudi (‘Male Thief, Female Thief’). Wonder whether there’s a subtext to that!
But Sun News persisted with the fact that many of the first time voters were youngsters, who wanted change at any cost, because they were used to changing their clothes and mobile phones. Makkal TV took the cake, though. A senior citizen declared that DMK was losing because “voters wearing jeans got carried away the rebellion in Egypt, infatuated with anti-establishmentarianism, and voted against the DMK because they felt compelled to by what is happening in the Arab world.”
Then, the intra-coalition blame game finally began a little after 2:00 pm. The Sun News panel decided that the DMK lost because it aligned with the Congress, “which is at the centre of corruption.” A Congress member on the panel said, resignedly, "say what you want. We have ruled for 50 years. So the good is because of us; and where the good is defeated, our failure is because of us."
‘Huh? Why bother with the elections?’
First, Kalaignar TV sent its experts home and celebrated the dances of its reality show contestants.
But, Vijay TV had never been concerned with the elections. Through the most interesting part of the day, they telecast the film ‘Black Water’ (no, not Kala Paani!), set in Australia and dubbed in Tamil.
Jaya TV then decided it was pointless to show the AIADMK-DMK ratio, and is focusing on the leads of the AIADMK and its allies instead.
Kalaignar TV moved on to a three hour film called Mr. Bharath, which starred Rajnikanth in bell-bottoms, a floral scarf and an evil look taking on a suited-up Sathyaraj (who had to powder his wig at the time) and Ambika (in a pink sari and elaborate bun).
Raj TV initially had a formula for its panel  - pro-party, anti-party and redundant member for each state. The discussions seemed promising at first. For instance, an expert said, "From what I hear, the reason the DMK coalition is losing so badly is that in some areas, the Congress supporters didn't vote for the DMK, and in some places, the DMK supporters didn't vote for the Congress."
"So, essentially, they cut off their noses to spite their faces," the anchor nodded intelligently.
"Yes," said the expert. The other two experts, who had been engaged in a violent verbal argument a few minutes earlier, looked on blankly.
But the discussion wasn’t quite as cerebral for West Bengal, and got a little worse when comedian-turned-politician S. Ve. Shekher compared the Tamil Nadu elections to a horse race, and the channel finally gave up and went into ‘Tele Buy’.
Strangely, DMK mouthpiece Murasoli had nothing to say about the elections. The latest news on the site was that Karunanidhi has announced that the national flag will fly at half-mast as a sign of mourning for Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, who passed away in a helicopter crash last week!
The lone soldier
Jaya TV was the only channel that did away with all its scheduled programming.
Through the day, a series of panels discussed the burning of the Dinakaran office and the killing of three journalists, the murder of a police officer witnessed by ministers, the treatment of Lankan Tamils, the 2G scam a.k.a. The Legend of the Thirteen Zeroes, Karunanidhi’s multiple love interests, offspring, and business interests, his family’s domination of the film industry, the duplicity of Karunanidhi and Ramadoss in embracing Tamil while getting their descendants to study Sanskrit, English and Hindi, the power deficit (well, electricity-wise), the sweets being distributed in Poes Garden, the crackers being burst by AIADMK supporters, the awareness of children and Wearers of Loincloth in Villages about corruption, and Jayalalithaa’s resounding victory.
One of their anchors glared at the camera at one point and said, "you can fool some people for some time. You can fool many people many times. But you cannot fool all the people all the time. This is a whiplash which PROVES IT!" He pointed his finger at the camera fiercely, and Vijay came back to dance on cue.
Sun News battled on. A new panel discussed the election in such sombre tones that one was reminded of Mani Ratnam's early movies, and the whispers in the dark that characterised them.
Later, they cut live to Poes Garden, where the correspondent tried to convey that Jayalalithaa had let down her allies by announcing that she will set up government alone. The AIADMK supporters first drowned him out, and then his earpiece malfunctioned.

The beleaguered anchor said, "speak...speak...speak" in a paternal voice, and the correspondent yelled, "hello?...hello?...hello?" They cut back to a different anchor and a studio analyst who supplied the numbers.
And Game Over
At 2:39 pm, Sun TV announced that Karunanidhi had resigned as Chief Minister, and that party workers had begged him to stay on. Jayalalithaa would take on the post of Chief Minister on Sunday, the channel said mournfully.
Jaya TV was seemingly too busy criticising the components of the alliance that Jayalalithaa often referred to as "minority government" to be aware of the resignation drama.
Finally, the channel said Jayalalithaa would make her victory speech at 3:30 pm.
By 3:36 pm, some of us were placing bets on what was delaying her:
a)      She couldn't find the right shoes to go with her sari.
b)      She couldn't find the right shawl to go with her sari.
c)       They couldn't make the mics. work at her place either.
d)      The astrologers were demanding their pound of flesh.
e)      She'd locked herself in and was shimmying a victory jig to her old songs.
However, she began her speech at 3:50 pm. Thanking the people of Tamil Nadu and the voters from the bottom of her heart, she said, “this is not my victory, but that of the people and democracy.” She then translated that into English for the benefit of the English and Hindi channels.
She also said she could see that wherever she went, she could see that people were disgusted with the DMK government, and were waiting for an opportunity to show their anger and resentment against the DMK. Over the last three years, they were waiting for elections, to throw out the DMK government, she said. "Today, our priority is to bring back stability to Tamil Nadu. The economy has been ruined over the past three years. Time and again, this has happened. It is not an easy task to rebuild an entire state."
Bringing in the metaphor of a house, Jayalalithaa said “Renovation is easy. When the foundation is gone, the ground has been shaken, and debris is scattered everywhere, we have to clear it away first," she says, "time and again, we've had to do it. Time and again, I have had to do it." She spoke of her stints in 1991 and 2001, and how the World Bank had written off Tamil Nadu, and everyone had pitied her for having to take over as Chief Minister.
"Our first priority is to restore the rule of law and order", she said. When asked about Karunanidhi's comments against her, she replied, "you should put the question to the person who made the statement." Then she smiled, "if he has the courage to face you now."
Ten minutes after the press conference, Jaya TV began to telecast an 'exclusive' interview with Jayalalithaa. Must have been hard to get that appointment!
After recapping everything she said at the press conference, Jayalalithaa spoke of the Lankan Tamils.

“The state government can only do so much, as this is an international problem. The Centre should take steps, and once I take over as CM, I will pressurise the Centre,” she said, “There are two options. One, the President of Sri Lanka must be tried for war crimes, and brought before the International Court of Law. The Centre can direct its efforts to that. The next step is that the people of Sri Lanka should live in dignity and pride. If the Sri Lankan government does not do anything to promote this, we can impose economic sanctions, and advise other nations to do the same."
The anchor asked, "When asked which state has been run the best over the past five years, people say Gujarat, Bihar, Orissa. For people to say Tamil Nadu, do you have a timeline?"
Jayalalithaa replied, "The time we've been given is 5 years. If the 2006 debacle hadn't happened, we'd have done more than Gujarat, Bihar or Orissa. Sadly, we didn't get the opportunity. Now, we will do it. I cannot be overwhelmed by the burden imposed on me. I have to do this for the people."
After giving her a chance to thank the people in Tamil and English, the interviewer said, "one last question - when are you going to Delhi?"

With a cheeky smile, Jayalalithaa asked innocuously, "for what?"

He said, "to meet the people at the Centre, accept their congratulations, and tell them what you want them to do for Tamil Nadu".

She replied, "let me first assume the post of Chief Minister. Then, I will schedule the visit."
That done with, Jaya TV continued to castigate the DMK with its panel of experts, before it realised Jayalalithaa’s interview might have been a more fitting climax to the day, capped by a suitable montage of celebrations. Aww. Too late.


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