Ambiguous Hero of the Year
Winner: Baburam Bhattarai (Prime Minister, Nepal)
It’s hard to think of a public figure in India who deserved anything more than a slap round the face and a barrage of merciless ridicule for their performance in 2011. If Indian politicians were the Japanese samurai of a certain era, there would have been a brutal spate of harikiri suicides in Delhi’s posher enclaves and the leading parties would be struggling to find enough convicted felons to fill the newly vacant positions. But this is India, so all we got was the endless wittering of people blaming everything on someone else.
This year’s top prize therefore heads across the border to India’s little Himalayan neighbour, where the new prime minister, Mr Bhattarai, has broken all the rules of recent Nepali politics and actually got something done. His willingness to compromise and stand up to hardliners in his Maoist party has resulted in a long-awaited deal to integrate former rebels into the army and brought a rare sense of hope that a deadline might finally be met for completing the peace process (now a year and a half overdue). It probably won’t happen, of course, but a good effort nonetheless.
The Political Wrecking Ball Award
Winner: Mamata ‘Didi’ Banerjee (Chief Minister, West Bengal)
You have a retail reform you want to pass? A real-life economic reform for the first time in your godforsaken two years in power?! Well, unfortunately this does not fit with Didi’s plans of constructing a megalomaniac cult of personality around herself at the expense of the rest of the country. So Smash! Down it goes.
Your relations with Bangladesh have vastly improved in the last couple of years and you want to cement that with a high-profile visit from the PM and a crucial agreement on water-sharing? Well, not so fast, because here comes Didi the Wrecking Ball to royally cock things up with her “I’m not even coming to the talks, so screw you”-approach to delicate negotiation.
Need a final nail in the coffin for that anti-corruption bill you didn’t really want to pass? Not a problem.
And while we’re here, how are those election promises coming along, Ms Banerjee? Released many political prisoners yet? Is Calcutta on the way to looking like London? Any progress on that $35 billion debt?
The Yeah, and I’m Santa Claus Award for Self-Delusion
Winner: Anna Hazare (for thinking he’s the second coming of Gandhi)
This point has been made elsewhere and properly enough times that I don’t need to reiterate it.
Beating villagers with sticks isn’t Gandhian.
Glossing over the wrong-doings of the BJP to the extent that your movement becomes a veritable arm of a Hindu nationalist party isn’t Gandhian.
Simply sitting on a stage without food for a few days demanding a new layer of corruptible bureaucracy without mentioning anything about caste discrimination or Hindu-Muslim relations, and then repeating the same action until no one gives a crap anymore, while failing to come up with any innovative new forms of protest that might capture people’s imagination for more than a few fleeting Facebook-driven moments is not Gandhian.
Failing to understand the problem or its possible solution is not Gandhian.
But nice try.
The Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall Award for Sheer Stubbornness
Winner: All parties in the Manipur dispute
Between them, the two leading tribes of Manipur managed to block supplies into the northeastern state of Manipur for four months this year. What did they achieve? Nothing.
The Kukis want their own administrative district, but know it will never be granted. The Nagas want no other people to live in their areas, but awkwardly, other people have been living there for several hundred years. The Meiteis down in the valley don’t want either tribe to have anything at all, but want them to stop moaning about being denied resources and development. All of them want the central government in Delhi to stop interfering in Manipur’s affairs, but also want Delhi to interfere when their opponents do something they don’t like.
And the central government rubs its hands in glee as its policy of divide and rule plays out beautifully, having failed to realise that the area is turning into a degenerate wasteland of which it should be horribly ashamed.
The Please Tell Me You’re Joking Award for Complete Political Lunacy
Winner: The Government Poverty Line
In September, the government planning commission declared that anyone spending more than 32 rupees a day was not poor (25 rupees if you live in rural areas). Their reasoning was that most people in India can happily survive on a diet of gravel and typhoid, live in a hole in the ground, and teach their children mathematics simply by explaining that everything costs more than 32 rupees.
It’s alright, though, because the government has passed the Food Security Bill, supposedly to provide cheap food to everybody. This bill is also known, in Rupa Supramanya’s memorable phrase, as “The Right to Rotting Food, Inefficiently Delivered”
The Suhel Seth Award for Making a Dick Out of Yourself
Winner: Suhel Seth
It occurred to me when I was reading the 7 billionth obituary of Christopher Hitchens by someone who once saw him smoking a cigarette at a party that perhaps Suhel Seth – India’s favourite public-relations-guru-turned-news-panel-blatherer – might fancy himself as something of a Desi-Hitchens. He describes himself as a “bon vivant and maverick” and seems to splash about in a similar swamp of whiskey-soaked contrariness and pop-up pontification as the late God-baiter. Of course, the difference is that Seth’s pithy soundbites are not troubled by anything approaching substance or consideration, and if anyone had any doubts about the hollow crassness at the core of the man, he released a “book” called Get To The Top (no, really), whose primary purpose was to remove any remaining credibility from his past or future statements.
To underline the point, he reacted to a scathing review of his “book” by performing the Twitter equivalent of a child kicking over a boardgame they are about to lose, soiling himself and running screaming out of the room with his underpants on his head.
Congratulations to the winners.
Maybe something good will happen next year. I think that was my hope last year, though.
You can view last year’s awards here.