Utpal Borpujari

September 20, 2017

Misinformed comments do Priyanka – and the NE – no good

By Utpal Borpujari

 

(Published in http://www.hindustantimes.com on Sept 14, 2017; http://www.hindustantimes.com/bollywood/priyanka-chopra-your-misinformed-comments-about-sikkim-did-a-huge-disservice-to-northeast/story-OdgSqJC3N93AD8FzwTEVJK.html)

Only a couple of days ago, the cleaning lady at one of my fellow Assamese friend’s music studio in Mumbai had asked him where Assam was. The lady is a Tamilian, who has lived in Mumbai for long, and has not gone to school beyond a few classes. My friend jokingly told her, in his Assamese-tinged Hindi, “Jaise aapka Tamil Nadu India ka niche hai, waise hi Assam India ka upar hai”, meaning just as Tamil Nadu is in the south, Assam is in the North – or the Northeast to be more precise.

It’s a fact that a huge number of people still have either no idea about the Northeast region or India, or just have a vague idea about it. And they include not only the unlettered or social-disadvantaged class, but also what we know as educated and socially-aware classes. As a Northeasterner living in Delhi since last 23 years, and having worked in the media all this time, I personally can vouch for the fact that even within the media, the awareness about the Northeast, and its complex issues, is hardly worth anything to write home about.

But it is also a fact that the visibility of and awareness about the region has improved to some extent now, as compared to even, say, ten years ago, thanks to the multitudes of Northeast cultural events, increasing population of people from the region in the NCR and other parts of the country, and also the increasing number of journalists from the region working in the media houses.

From the initial years of anger and outrage that I would feel when someone otherwise “informed” would make a silly observation on the region, now it’s the feeling of more of a pity on such people, as I increasingly feel that the fault lies more in the lack of virtually any information about the region in the primary, secondary and higher education curricula. If we people from the Northeast know about the Chola dynasty or Chhatrapati Shivaji, it’s because we had read about them in our school books, and if people elsewhere do not know about Lachit Barphukan or U Tirot Singh (to give two examples), it’s because they are absent from the school books elsewhere.

But even then, the misinformed comments on Sikkim by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Assam Tourism Brand Ambassador and “Mary Kom” star Priyanka Chopra – in an interview given at the Toronto International Film Festival while talking about her production “Pahuna” – rankles. An unlettered cleaning lady in Mumbai not knowing about Assam is one thing, and a hugely-popular and talented star like Ms Chopra giving wrong information about a region that she is genuinely trying to connect with (if we go by the latest announcement that she is producing an Assamese film with legendary filmmaker Jahnu Barua, coupled with her production of Sikkimese film “Pahuna”) surely is another.

Ms Chopra is a known name now internationally, thanks to her appearances in television series “Quantico” and Hollywood movie “Baywatch”. She is, as we all know, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. And above all, she is the brand ambassador of one of the Northeastern states. Along with that, she is a top name of Indian cinema. So, anything she says, goes out to a huge audience, through conventional media as well as social media.

Therefore, when she says that Sikkim is an insurgency-hit state, and that “Pahuna” is the first feature film to come out of the state, it is quite natural that many would believe both the statements. The only problem is – as social media have already stated emphatically and angrily – that both statements are incorrect. Quite clearly, Ms Chopra is misinformed, or – as most people tend to do – paint the entire Northeastern region with one brush. It is a fact that for most Indians, the term “Northeast” is used to describe a region that has a history of insurgencies, is full of exotic tribes, and a region that lies beyond the mental boundaries of “mainland” India (though it is a dichotomy that the same “mainland” term is never in terms of India’s two island territories of Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep). While it’s a popular coinage, it also works in a strangely negative way – by homogenizing the immense geo-political, social and cultural diversity of the region and its eight states.

But even if one considers this aspect, talking of Sikkim specifically as insurgency affected is far beyond being far fetched. In fact, if there is one state in the Northeast that has stayed free from any such trouble, it’s Sikkim. In fact, it’s one of the most-peaceful states all across India, with an absolutely low crime rate, leave aside insurgency or terrorism. Sikkim actually is mostly talked about for its positive aspects – such as having one of India’s highest per capita incomes, being among the leading states in literacy level, being one of India’s cleanest states, being the first Indian states to be declared Open Defecation Free way back in 2008, and being India’s first – and only one till now – fully organic state.

Sikkim is also a tourism-intensive state, and had led the country in introducing home stays and heli-tourism. A large number of domestic and international tourist visit the peaceful state every year, and Ms Chopra’s comments could hugely impact the tourist inflow as for any lay person, it’s easy to believe a Northeastern state to be insurgency impacted going by the image of the region, especially when it comes from a figure whose comments are quoted widely across media. No wonder, the Sikkim government, along with the people of the state and the region – as well as informed people from across India – has reacted with anger at the comment.

Ms Chopra’s other comment about “Pahuna” being the first film to come out of Sikkim, has also been ridiculed, and rightly so. Sikkim does not have a film industry per se, but films have been made in the state quite regularly. In fact, only this year, Sikkimese film “Ralang Road”, by director Karma Takapa, had its world premiere at the Competition Section of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, one of the highly-respected film festivals of the world. The film will also be screened at the forthcoming edition of the MAMI Mumbai International Film Festival. “Acharya” and “Katha” by another young filmmaker, Prashant Rasaily, has also earned acclaim earlier. And these are just three examples from among the films that have been made in Sikkim over the years.

It’s laudable the way a top Bollywood actor like Priyanka Chopra has taken to producing cinema in various Indian languages, including those in languages from states that have very small domestic markets such as Sikkim and Assam, but her comments in the context of “Pahuna” have unnecessarily diminished that effort while belittling the works of the local filmmakers who make films with unimaginably-limited resources.

It’s quite befitting that the actor has tendered her apology to the Government of Sikkim for her comments regarding the state being insurgency affected. Perhaps, she could also issue one more to the filmmakers from Sikkim, whose works have got negated by that interview in Toronto.

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November 12, 2013

NEthing, NEwhere….. AAP in Delhi is a reason for Déjà vu

Filed under: Assam,Eastern Chronicle,Indian Politics,Media,Politics — Utpal Borpujari @ 6:06 pm
Tags: , , ,

EasternChronicleAAP271013

(Published in Eastern Chronicle, http://www.easternchronicle.net, on 27-10-2013)

By Utpal Borpujari

The same day that newspapers carried the information that 11 political parties from Northeast India had joined hands to form a regional grouping called the North-East Regional Political Front at the initiative of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), my neighbourhood in Delhi saw a public meeting by renowned social scientist and now Aam Aadmi Party leader Yogendra Yadav. Yadav was addressing a motley crowd about how the usual political parties like Congress and BJP had failed the people and how AAP was the best and only option to set things right. In fact, the refrain of civil servant-turned-Magsaysay Award-winning social activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP has been that the ‘usual’ political parties are all irreversibly corrupt and only a new idea like AAP can turn the tide in favour of the common man.

Hearing the AAP refrain, and reading about the formation of the North East Progressive Alliance at the same time, gives quite a sense of déjà vu to someone like me, who grew up in Assam during the tumultuous years of early 1980s. If Delhiites are witnessing the birth of a new political party led by men of impeccably clean credentials such as Kejriwal, Yadav and Prashant Bhushan (no matter even if they got separated from others like Anna Hazare and Kiran Bedi who did not agree with the idea of converting the now-famous-but-dead people’s movement led by Hazare into a political formation), we, as young, impressionable minds, had seen not only the birth but also an unprecedented straight-from-university-hostels-to-the-State-Assembly march of a young brigade who had captured the imagination of Assam’s people like never before.

AAP is surely not going to achieve success of the scale that the Prafulla Mahanta-Bhrigu Phukan-led AGP had done in 1985. It at best will, going by the present pre-poll surveys, will emerge as a strong third force in Delhi Assembly elections, and play a major spoil sport to both Congress and BJP. Of course, the growth in fortunes of AAP, going by opinion polls held in August and October, if extrapolated, could show that AAP’s rise can even surprise the political pundits by the time the poll results come in on December 8. But then, given that AAP is going to emerge as an important player in its very first election itself, its leaders can have a look at how AGP squandered the immense goodwill of people, and how many of its leaders got mired in one allegation of corruption after another, before it went into oblivion within less than 30 years of its birth.

The formation of AAP is quite similar to that of AGP in that both parties got formed after huge public upheavals (the AASU-Asom Gana Sangram Parishad-led anti-illegal immigration movement was of course a much bigger people’s movement than the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement has been in terms of mass participation, though the latter got immense visibility thanks to the numerous television channels that exist today) over highly-important issues. It is now a historical fact that AGP not only failed in its avowed goal of freeing Assam from illegal migrants from Bangladesh, but its leaders lost all goodwill of the people – one just has to check the election results of recent years, including the recent Guwahati Municipal Corporation elections in which it could win just one ward, to visualize its downward spiral – through their various alleged acts of omissions and commissions. And in recent years, quite a few of its younger leaders have joined other parties, ostensibly disillusioned with the way the party was functioning.

AAP, whether or not it wins the majority in the Delhi elections as it is claiming it will, now has an image that the pre-1985 election AGP had – a pro-people party led by those who had the vision to change the society and whom people believed in. I am pretty sure – you may call it cynical – a few years down the line, once AAP tastes fruits of election results, the party will face the predicament of how its ‘clean’ MLAs (presuming it will win quite a few seats as is being predicted) have turned ‘unclean’, at least some of them. One hopes for the sake of those who will vote for the party’s candidates that it won’t happen, but the history of Indian political firmament shows that there is no party that has not got some of its members embroiled in cases of financial and/or moral corruption. Those who had voted for AGP (I too had as a first-time voter) in 1985 would tell you from experience that the Assamese adage “Lanka loi jieyi jai xiyei Ravan hoi” (whoever goes to Lanka becomes a Ravan) holds quite true when comes to politics. Or else, how would one explain that the student leaders, many of them from poor background, suddenly acquired immense wealth despite having no other sources of income, soon after they became ministers. Of course, now they are reaping as they sowed, having lost all goodwill of the people and ceding much of its space to BJP, which is led in the state by former AGP leader Sarbananda Sonowal.

Of course, given the predictions that AAP will at best emerge as a strong opposition, it faces less of this danger because opposition MLAs have less scope of turning corrupt! And that probably could be the solace for both the party and its supporters. One hopes that having been in the wilderness for so long, AGP’s leadership would turn a new leaf too with the formation of the regional front. It’s now a given fact that in Assam’s politics, AGP is not even among the top three, though political parties with a regional bent of politics are still strongly relevant in many parts of the country. The Northeast needs powerful political parties that can keep the ruling parties on their toes as far as developmental issues are concerned, and that they can do only if they are at least a strong opposition. Perhaps, just like AAP needs to draw a lesson from AGP’s rise and fall, AGP itself needs to do the same at a moment when it’s aspiring to unite the regional forces on Northeast. If you ask me frankly though, I would say fortunes are not going to be on the upswing for AGP unless they first change their fundamental flaws, which need not be elaborated here again. Its regional front leadership notwithstanding. Meanwhile, only time will tell if AAP will be an exception or if it will go the AGP way!

(http://www.easternchronicle.net/index.php?archive=27.10.2013&city=2 – once the page opens, go to Page 7)

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