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  • Lollipoppery, you and I

    Posted On July 5, 1999

    By Karan Thapar

    It’s a long, long time since I last had a lollipop. In fact, so long that I had to buy one to recall the pleasure it once gave me. But now that I have I can speak with authority.

    The fun of a lollipop is the taste. As you lick it, the flavour spreads across your tongue, suffusing the palette far more comprehensively than a sweet or even a chocolate. That’s why kids adore them. The problem, however, is that a lollipop lacks substance. Whilst you can roll a sweet around your mouth as you suck on it and even a chocolate has volume though it dissolves rapidly, not so a lollipop. What you lick is what you get and that’s it. There is nothing more. Lollipops, therefore, tantalise only to disappoint.

    Consequently, as a metaphor, lollipoppery is a type of deception. Not fraud or sleight of hand, not even trickery and certainly not falsification. Lollipoppery is using a favourable first impression – a deliberately, carefully-crafted first impression – to suggest a great future but without the ability to deliver it. It’s wilful misleading.

    Now who does that remind you of? To be honest many people, but if you think of them as types rather than as individuals the range shrinks. Actors can be lollipops, so too can authors, musicians or painters. In fact, many are the professionals to whose initial beguiling charms we fall victim. But in their case the lollipoppery is not deliberate. They would like to do better but can’t. They just aren’t good enough and their hold on us usually swiftly diminishes Yet there is one category where the lollipoppery is deliberate and self-sustaining and even when we realise it we seem unable to snap free. Who or what is this?

    The answer lies in Tavleen Singh’s latest book, a profile of India’s top politicians, which is published tomorrow. She’s called it Lollipop Street and although she derives the name from a different analogy the point she makes about politicians is no different to the one I’ve made above. Of course, Tavleen is less reckless

    with her language and more philosophical in her critique but, like me, she would argue that India’s politicians deliberately, knowingly mislead. They are lollipops.

    In an absolutely brilliant introduction Tavleen explains political lollipopism as deliberate acts that suggest progress but reek of hollow deception. I can’t improve on it so let me, shamelessly, quote from it :

    “In the many years I have spent as a political journalist I have travelled often from one end of the country to another, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, as the phrase goes, and everywhere I have gone I have seen some version of Lollipop Street. Speedbreakers where no roads exist. Signposts stuck in wastelands declaring them children’s parks. Boards sticking out of lakes announcing that the fencing around them has been built by the Forest Department ..... There are hoardings urging people to have only one child in villages where most of the inhabitants are illiterate. Health centres where no doctors have ever been. Schools where no teachers ever come to teach. Housing schemes, named after famous leaders, in which the houses start to collapse as soon as the inauguration ceremony is over. Foundation stones promising grandiose development projects that never materialise.”

    If you ask her what is the biggest lollipop of the lot, I know Tavleen would answer secularism. Not because she isn’t secular nor because she has affiliations to the BJP (which she does, but so what) but because she has noticed that the threat to our future is not only from communalism, not simply from narrow-minded parochialism or even from the squalid caste conflicts that surround us. It comes primarily from the lack of encouragement to our productivity.

    Release India’s spirit of enterprise and this country will realise its potential. Surround us with rules, procedures, permissions, licences and you will throttle us. Abroad we succeed because we are free – not just to speak or write but, far more importantly, to make money. At home, where our enterprise is bottled up, we remain failures.

    As long as politicians care more about secularism than economic development we shall all be sucking lollipops.

    For a change, a good deed

    So often do journalists knowingly and wilfully stitch-up their interviewees that it’s almost a pleasure to step-in and, for a change, point out that someone has done

    them a wrong. On this occasion I’m not twisting or distorting. I’m untwisting and setting the record straight. The confusion has been created – no, that’s a dreadful euphemism – the wilful and repetitive damage has been done by practically every single newspaper.

    What am I talking about? Simply that George Fernandes never ever called China “enemy number one”. Yet this has been repeated so often, from such exalted pulpits as the podium of Parliament and the leader columns of national dailies, that it’s come to be recognised as an established ‘truth’.

    The truth, however, is that in an interview in May 1998, when I was talking to George Fernandes about the nature of threat China posed to India, I asked him if he would be prepared to characterise the country as our ‘enemy number one’ and this is how the discussion proceeded :

    KT: Can I put it even more strongly? In a real sense, because we like naming things as something number one, hero number one, actor number one, China is enemy number one?

    GF: Well, to call China enemy number one would be perhaps not appropriate at this point in time because China has not, at this moment, as we are discussing this ....

    KT : China is potential danger number one?

    GF: Potential threat number one shall we say?

    KT : That’s good enough for me.

    So, you see, George Fernandes never said China was enemy number one. I did and he rejected it. His formulation was very different.

    Anyway, whilst I am at it – putting right others wrongs – let me also say how pleased I was to see The Indian Express correct its own wilful mistakes. Not that they apologised for it – one never does, does one? – but the U-turn in their opinions not only assuages my hurt pride but makes up for the lack of acknowledgement on their part.

    Let me explain. In July of 1998 – only weeks after the George story – I also happened to interview Jaswant Singh. He had just returned from the first round of the Talbot-Singh talks. I asked him if he would be prepared to discuss with

    Pakistan the possibility of converting the LoC into a formal border. He said he would provided Pakistan raised the issue.

    The next morning The Indian Express went ballistic. “Home TV hands over PoK to Pakistan”, its front-page headline announced. What followed was a questionable – no, mischievious – account of the interview as well as of the press release we had put out.

    To be honest, Shekhar Gupta, who is a good friend, made amends by pointing out in a second story the following day that the idea made sense and that the impression I had put words into Mr. Singh’s mouth was wrong. But the correction was on an inside page and the damage had been done on the front page and, as far as all of you were concerned, if you remembered anything at all it was the original ‘slap-in-the-face’ report and not the ‘let’s-kiss-and-make-up’ amendment.

    So imagine my delight when last week I read the following obiter dictum in the lead editorial of The Express. Entitled ‘Pragmatic Patriotism’ it praised the Government for its willingness to consider converting the LoC into an international border. Claiming that a new pragmatism had emerged on this subject it added “it would be in India’s interests to consolidate this consensus and work towards a permanent solution to the Kashmir imbroglio along these lines.”

    So now – to use their original phraseology – The Indian Express is prepared to join Home TV in handing over PoK to Pakistan !

    Well, Shekhar, no one ever said sorry but a year later this will more than do. And I, for one, won’t be ungracious. Let me say, loudly and publicly, thank you.

    Every letter counts

    It’s the little things that count not the big ones. I can’t offer you a better and more telling example than what the printer did to last week’s Sunday Sentiments. I wanted to write the following sentence : “If you think the BBC is good – and it is, in fact, at its best it’s unbeatable ....”, but do you know what the printer turned this into? He decided that it should read : : “If you think the BBC is good – and it is, in fact, at its best it’s unbearable ....”.

    Substitute an ‘r’ for a ‘t’ and the entire meaning can change. So let me make my original point even more emphatically to remove any doubt or misapprehension. The BBC is the best. I definitely think so.

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