Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Should Big B Clarify?

This entry is sort of an addendum to the previous one. My initial reaction to latest Big B vs Congress controversy was almost entirely restricted to the Congress' pettiness towards Amitabh Bachchan. I entirely skipped the issue of whether or not Amitabh Bachchan should in fact clarify his stand on the post Godhra riots.
As arguably India's biggest celebrity, Amitabh has an extremely large influence on the common man's perceptions on the products he endorses. It could definitely be argued that given his understanding of the power of celebrity, the Big B should definitely pick and choose what he should and should not lend his name to. But then such an argument is put forward by those of us who have placed Amitabh Bachchan on a pedestal not of his choosing. Definitely his recent blogs, public statements and even movie ventures would suggest that Mr Bachchan's primary motivation is the well-being of his family, as it would be and should be for any of us. Even the support extended to Gujarat Tourism is just that; a quid pro quo for tax exemption status for Paa, a movie produced by son Abhishek. So lets not mistake Amitabh Bachchan's endorsement of the state of Gujarat as having any ideological basis. Its just business.
Now, Mr Bachchan may or may not have an opinion about the Gujarat riots and Narendra Modi. But will his clarification of that opinion have any effect on the common man's opinion on as polarizing a figure as Narendra Modi? Should Mr Bachchan's opinion matter so much? In the same vein, can we then argue that Aamir Khan's endorsement of the Incredible India campaign is a sign of his stamp of approval for the current Congress government or even better does Manmohan Singh's acceptance of the PM post in the current government signify a carte blanche absolution from all Sikhs to the Congress party? Its an asinine argument to make. Celebrity endorsement and opinions have to be taken at face value unless they are made by someone with the activistic credentials of say a Nandita Das. But then poor Nandita cant send the TRPs shooting like an Amitabh Bachchan can; and isn't that what this whole controversy is really about?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Congress' BIG(B) Mistake

Amitabh Bachchan certainly seems to be in the news these days. But then its hard to keep a persona like his out of the limelight for long. That is one of the many reasons why the man is the most in demand brand ambassador whatever the product; the efforts of a certain SRK notwithstanding. Big B is riding the second wave of his popularity with a whole new generation of Indian movie fanatics for all its worth. After reaching the brink of bankruptcy and having to slog his way out of a colossal debt at the age of 60, Mr Bachchan showed tremendous integrity and strength of character to repay all his debtors rather than declare bankruptcy. Its possibly the result of the memories of those bleak days, but since then, Amitabh Bachchan has firmly pursued quantity over quality. Just about any script or any product willing to meet his asking rate would get his ringing and much respected endorsement. Of course for those of us who've always put him on a pedestal, watching him plug pens and cement, was always cringe-inducing. But in a testament to his credibility his brand value has only increased.
However his latest role as Brand Ambassador for the state of Gujarat has ruffled the feathers of the powers that be in the Congress party. The stated reason, of course, is that somehow this is also an endorsement of Narendra Modi and everything he stands for. And as a result, following diktats from the High Command Mr Bachchan is now persona non grata at any Government function in a Congress ruled state. The Congress would have had a leg to stand on with this argument if they had just limited their pettiness to the Big B. However by somehow managing to remove posters of Abhishek Bachchan who was WWF's official Brand Ambassador for this year's Earth Hour from a function also attended by Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit of the Congress, the party has amply demonstrated the hollowness of its argument. This latest brouhaha is just another example of petty vindictiveness by the Congress' first family directed against an old family foe. And its really sad, although not wholly unexpected, that the rest of the spineless Congressmen fall in line so quickly against a national icon.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Probably for the first time in recent history we had the rare situation where the Congress, the BJP and the Leftists were all the same side of an issue. The Women's Reservation Bill had been in the making for 14 years. Tabled thrice prior to this, it was always put back in cold storage. But this time was different. This time the only person that counts in the Congress, Madam Sonia Gandhi had thrown her weight behind the bill. The BJP led in the Lok Sabha by Sushma Swaraj had thrown its weight behind the bill unconditionally as had the Left front which had always supported the bill. Tabled on the Centennial International Women's Day at a time when the President and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha were women, it would have sent a significant message out to everybody how serious we are about empowering Indian women. Considering women in general make the headlines in India as victims of abuse, rape or discrimination this would have signaled a significant attempt at correcting some of the wrongs done to our womenfolk. I'm not saying this Bill alone is enough. And since a debate on its merits and demerits never happened we are not privy to its finer details but the idea of more women in parliament and that too in place of the clowns we have there already cant be all that bad.
What was really appalling was how the dissenters chose to voice their opposition to the Bill. All norms of Parliamentary etiquette and public decency were disregarded by the opponents of the Bill especially so by those members of the RJD, SP and JDU who attacked the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. This is of course a result of consistently voting in people with criminal backgrounds. Whatever else it does, a passed Women's Reservation Bill will ensure that this sort of scene happens less often in parliament. But even more importantly today's events have amply demonstrated how low Indian democracy has sunk. In spite of comfortably having the required numbers, Parliament today could not pass the bill because it was held hostage by about 15% of the MPs. We dont need a better indicator of how powerful the so-called backward classes have become. Their opposition to the bill arises because they want to ensure a quota within a quota for backward communities and Muslims. If this is how irresponsibly they use their current strength one can imagine what will happen if their demands were acceded to. Besides the current Lok Sabha has not given a mandate for a quota within a quota but it does overwhelmingly give one for the Women's Reservation Bill. It truly is a failure of Indian democracy if this oppourtunity is lost.