A vote for change

UP & Goa highlight 1 singular important point –voters, people are wanting CHANGE. Even if it means to take a risk. This highlights a fact that people are frustrated with their current leaders, patterns of governing & are willing to say NO the parties they’ve been loyal to.

People in UP have till now given every single party  a chance & now after rejecting the father, voters have pinned hope on the son. It is the same case in Goa.

In UP all parties have ruled beginning with Cong, then SP, then BJP, BJP with BSP, then BSP. Each & every party ditched the people of UP. A state that can determine the PM post literally has maximum amount of crime. A shameful record -Every day incidents of  rape, murder, cold blooded killing, people openly carrying arms are reported. One example was on the day the rally was taken out in support of Akhilesh Yadav, a person died because of celebration firing. That the trend isn’t likely to change, which is equally alarming.

The elections also highlighted the total failure of most exit polls & the media bias. Most were taken by surprise as with every passing week ground reports indicated it would be SP (Samajwadi Party). Various permutations & combinations were given till the last. What should also have been investigated post-elections is that all Brahmins (we are a casteist society), hardcore Hindus too have voted in favour of SP.

Now for me this is an imp point. The impending promises especially false ones, given to the lakhs in the name of ‘Hindutva,’ after the modern-day terror act of pulling down another religion’s place of worship on Dec 6, 1992. The provocations to kill in the name of religion, promising millions of swayed so-called Hindus that the BJP will a temple for them…BJP capitalized on this for years, good all these people who believed in them finally voted against their very own BJP. This is a Landmark decision.

I spoke to many taxi drivers in Mumbai, before & after the elections. They are a mirror of what happens back home. All had the same reply. Tiwari told me “Sirji (yes he never calls me ma’m) iss baar hum Yadavon ki party ko laenge. Sab saley ek jaise chor hai. Us Mayawati ne toh kuch nahi kiya, paise khake baith gaye..” murmurs of corruption, which i was aware of. Yes, I support women basically & in politics especially. So while I did know SP would be in power of seat, I’d wanted BSP to win.

That apart, the most interesting bit was of another taxi driver, his remarks were clear indicator of things to follow in UP. “Kahe ka Ram mandir. Na raha Ram, na hoga mandir, na rahega Bhajpa…” stunned I prodded him further. “Kahan se kahan gaye yeh neta log…kaun ayega bhote mangne ke liye, chal hat…nahi chahiye aise gaddar humey…” the total milking of public of UP in the name of Ram & a Ram mandir had now made the people of UP sit up & take note. The BJP’s non-stop false promises & moreover politicization of this issue that was emotional to the Hindus there who ‘trusted’ this fascist, right wing political party.

I sensed a feeling of being taken for a ride, ‘gaddar,’ hence asked the cabbie, what has turned them against their own faith? Would they vote for a Mulsim party & Muslim leader. “Arey yeh kahan bhaag jayenge..haan sab ek jaise hai. Lekin yeh kaun hai yeh toh humey pata hai. Pahle dekhe hai aur badley toh nahi na.. Humarey he apne nahi nikley isse aur bada dukh ka hai…” getting upset, he said their families, panchayats, all had taken the decision that it was time for them to change-imagine the overhaul change in their basic thinking that a let’s trust a Muslim party and leaders.

Closer home is Goa, not much of a difference. A state that’s seen more of Congress rule. Obviously, considering majority Christians in Goa have always supported Congress. But like in most Cong-dominated states what we’ve seen –consolidation of power in the hands of few favoured, family rule. Like in most Cong-dominated states we’ve seen consolidation of power in the hands of few favoured, family legacy rule-to the extent all family members got tickets to contest. In case of Alemaos. Voters had become victims of series of malpractices, increasing violence, breach of many policies-mainly environmental. Goans felt they’d been taken for granted, far too much.

In the last decade we saw huge amount of lands, Old Portugese homes being sold to Russians. Worse still, as the Russian Mafia stories were being told Old Goan families began getting disturbed. They hadn’t opposed the settling of migrants, foreign tourists, because they know their state thrives on tourism. However, their concerns about security, safety were valid, which the govt had blatantly ignored. Goans felt horrified to witness rapes, deaths in their back yards.

Worse was still to come for the peace loving, laid-back Goans, who began seeing large tracts of their coastal & green belt being offered on a silver platter to developers, 5/7 star hotels & resorts. Another next scam began unfolding, which sealed the fate of Congress permanently -The Mining scam. A woman activist highlighted the nexus between illegal miners & politicians, especially those close to Congress leaders.

Goa has far more greenery, untouched lands that were now under threat thanks to the mining industry. Also, it would have led to flattening of mountains & depletion of forests. The initiative taken by Philip Neri D’Souza & others was daunting & threatening. The outcome was a writing on the wall before the elections itself. Yet the Christians faced a moral dilemma. While on one hand the Church issued (which is everytime) the call to vote, but this time it was different -vote to keep communal parties away. The voters wanted a CHANGE. Now that meant traditionally in Goa it’s always been Congress or BJP led allies. This time it was the BJP.

This time however, the Christians were determined, they wanted to teach Cong a lesson. The one party that they had traditionally considered non-partisan, non-communal had let them down. On the other hand the Church also asked them to stay away from non-secular parties which put them in a quandary as they had no other choice.  A fundamentalist party with the current chief minister who in his last tenure scrapped 2 Christian holidays –St Francis Xavier’s Day & Good Friday; who said he hated Christians, this time round first apologized to Christians. Then defended himself saying he was given bad advice – he is educated, Goan who has NO knowledge I guess of his state brothers, for the sake of politics he also had to field 5 Christians to ensure he got majority. Manohar Parricker came to power with a majority. Such was the anger of Goans that most families who misused their power-Alemaos were ousted. And immediately on becoming the CM Parricker scrapped mining licences. At least for beginners this Goa govt seems to be on the right track.

The Christians like the Hindus in north too felt let down by the party that promised to protect them, to safeguard their religion & rights. They have trampled upon their own people time & again. Sadly religion, caste gender politics play a huge role in our country and our politicians & political parties have used, abused their vote banks like commodities. The winds of change have taken place, which doesn’t put any leader or party one above the other. It simply means more responsibility & safeguarding from misuse of power. 5 years is long, but the people are no longer patient, they have zero-tolerance to corruption which puts all parties & leaders on a permanent test.

My tryst with the King of Pop

The death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, brings back memories of his visit to Mumbai nearly 13 years ago. I was in my third job with a Hindi news channel — a music lover, but definitely not an MJ fan — and was given the daunting task of covering his stay in Mumbai.

Jackson was to perform on November 1, 1996, at the Andheri Sports Complex as part of his History world tour. Raj Thackeray (now president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) had floated an organisation called the Shiv Udyog Sena, and being a fan of MJ, roped in event company Wizcraft to get Jackson to perform in Mumbai.

Raj was still a part of the Shiv Sena at the time, and close to his uncle, Sena chief Bal Thackeray. Raj received tremendous flak for the event, but Thackeray senior stood by his nephew.

On October 30, 1996, MJ was to land at Mumbai’s Sahar airport in his private jet. For days in advance, I had been pursuing people closely connected with the event, one of them being a man who was to provide MJ and his troupe with vehicles.

Along with the contract that he’d signed came a nine-point letter listing out conditions. The man was given a specific time frame within which MJ would have to reach Hotel Oberoi, now the Trident; there was to be no lapse. Part of my assignment was to cover trial runs of the vehicles prior to MJ’s landing, and these would take place at odd hours, from the wee hours of the morning till late at night. Eventually, my efforts paid off and the man allowed me to take a video of the contract he’d signed for the event.

Waiting for Jackson to arrive was thoroughly entertaining in itself. Lakhs of people had thronged the airport to catch a glimpse of him. Before he landed, I moved around trying to catch hold of all people I knew, so that we could get a closer glimpse of the King of Pop.

Among the celebrities and dignitaries present there, I remember actress Sonali Bendre clad in a nine-yard sari and a Maharashtrian nathni (nose ring), standing with an aarti thali to welcome MJ, along with Raj Thackeray, Sharmila Thackeray and innumerable politicians who were there to receive Jackson.

When he landed, Gajanan the cameraman, Irshad the assistant and I went around trying to get fresh visuals of the frenzied mob calling out to Jacko. Outside, Raj had organised a performance by a troupe of lezhim dancers with dholaks, and they wore traditional Maharashtrian clothes. They danced even as cars whizzed passed them, little knowing that they would soon have a ‘moonwalker’ in their midst.

Suddenly, an Air India employee I knew called out to me from the cordon around the lezhim dancers. He screamed in Marathi that MJ was at the centre of the formation. This was my moment as a journalist, exclusive footage: I was pulled inside the cordon and suddenly found myself standing next to a person white as snow, with pink lips and a hat, toggling his black glares at me in greeting! I stood stupefied and realised the pink lips weren’t those of Madonna — it was Michael Jackson himself.

This assignment raised my stature in the eyes of close relatives, who wanted to attend Jacko’s show. Being part of the so-called vernacular media, we were not considered eligible for free passes; however, we got entry passes for the entire camera crew, along with strict instructions. There were no cell phones at the time, only pagers and telephones.

However, I was thoroughly in demand for the numerous requests I got, asking for passes. Businessmen were willing to pay five times the cost of the most expensive ticket, which was Rs5,000. From that point on, my life wasn’t the same.

I was on duty round the clock. Girls thronged the Oberoi to catch a glimpse of the pop star, and I hovered nearby for a dekho. MJ was ensconced in the hotel’s Presidential Suite and later left his autograph on one of its mirrors. We were heard tales from the hotel of how he slept under an oxygen tent, and there was a lot of secrecy surrounding his lifestyle. During his short stay here, life in Mumbai centred around MJ and his “stories”.

Constables from the Mumbai Police complained that their lives now revolved around controlling frenzied fans outside the Oberoi. Facilities provided to them were even more basic than today: they subsisted on vada paav and sometimes did not go home despite being on duty for 48 hours straight outside the hotel. Local celebrities, meanwhile, did not leave any stone unturned to get that coveted pass and invitation to a dinner hosted in Jackson’s honour.

On the day of the concert, I was to reach early because we were categorically told that the crew needed to check their equipment, we would have to undergo security checks and finally would be allowed to shoot only 1.14 minutes of footage! The organisers would then give us some extra visuals to use as fillers for the story. It was a daunting task, and as someone who was not a fan of MJ’s music, all this contributed to putting me off.

But, I admit, I stood in stunned silence when the King of Pop MJ made his grand entry. I’ve seen innumerable shows thereafter in India, and I admit I never saw anything like it. MJ was brought down a crane amid a cloud of artificial smoke. There was thunderous applause and screams, and I feared that someone in the crowd might just suffer a coronary. I actually found myself tapping a foot to the music, and a colleague said to me, “You don’t like his music, Neeta, but look at you enjoying it.”

Suddenly, MJ pulled a girl from the crowd and for the next 10 minutes, we saw them clinging to each other, as if transfixed. Later, when she stepped off the stage, she told me it had been a dream come true for her.