India has long been familiar with satirical cartoons, if only because it was often the subject of such depictions produced by artists working within the institutions of its one-time imperial suzerain, Britain. Witness, for example, one of many cartoons by the towering Sir David Low – here, on talks between Hindu and Muslim parties in 1946 in the run-up to independence:
The figure running away is Muhammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League. Nehru, leader of the Congress Party, which represented the Hindu majority, is shown with the welcome mat, offering political concessions in a desperate attempt to persuade Jinnah not to break his constituents away from India (which he did – now Pakistan).
These days news media and satire in India comes in a heady mix of English and Hindi publications. Cartoon Watch, founded by cartoonist Triambak Sharma, is purportedly the only monthly cartoon magazine in the country, and comes in both languages. (On top of that, India’s Limca Book of Records claims it’s the only bilingual cartoon monthly in the world.) Here’s an excerpt from their latest March 2014 issue:
India’s lower house is known as the Lok Sabha (the House of the People), made up of constituent members of the legislative assembly, or MLAs, from each province. The left-hand cartoon is an ironical wordplay about the Women’s Reservation Bill, a constitutional amendment currently going through the Lok that proposes that 33% of seats be guaranteed for female candidates. It refers to Sonia Gandhi (chair of Congress) and Sushma Swaraj (leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok), senior figures in the two biggest political parties in India; and Meera Sanyal, a strong proponent of the bill. ‘EC’ in the right-hand panel refers to the Indian Electoral Commission.
India’s equivalent of the American online satire staple The Onion is Faking News, owned by Indian conglomerate First Post. The Indian version of First Post is affiliated to an online news magazine in the UK named The First Post, which is owned by Dennis Publishing, producers of The Week magazine.
You don’t even have to know much about Indian politics to get some of Faking News‘s fine efforts. Here’s a screenshot of one recent article:
Manmohan Singh is the current Indian Prime Minister. He sometimes looks bored at work.
Mr Singh is about to call it a day, for present chatter in India is all about its 2014 general election, due to commence next Monday. So massive and unwieldy an affair is it that polls remain open until 12 May – a month-long-plus voting period.
The hot favourite to win is Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP. In his current life, Modi is the chief minister of the large and prosperous state of Gujarat, a position which effectively makes him its de facto governor. The unfortunate charge laid against him is that he was at the helm during ghastly anti-Muslim riots that flared up in the province in 2002, which left more than 2,000 dead. Since then he has been obstinate in accounting for this bloody lapse. This has led to jitters from India’s Muslim minority, who fear Modi has grown only in years rather than compassion. The excellent Satish Acharya, who illustrates for Mumbai tabloid Mid-Day, has vividly rendered the perceived extent of Modi’s hardline loyalties below.
Sadhus are Hindu holy men. ‘Om namo’ is an onomatopoeic rendering of a religious chant, while NaMo (a contraction of Modi’s full name) clearly isn’t. The kumbh mela is the mass annual pilgrimage where Hindus bathe in a sacred river. A right-wing Hindu organisation, the Vishva Hindu Parishad, was thought to have sought the sudhus’ endorsement of Modi in early 2013.
With a moon’s worth of action to savour, more election fever will be sure to pop up next time we come round to this corner of the earth. In the meantime, to save ourselves from frenzy, we should all do well to paraphrase the great and late Khushwant Singh, the Indian satirist and journalist who passed away last month, and “keep writing what you believe in – don’t care a damn about the consequences”.