“Katti-Batti” on the treadmill!

In the innocuous lexicon of innocent children in Hindi, Katti means “We are not friends” and Batti means the opposite. I see my eight year old daughter declaring Katti and soon Batti within a few minutes to her friends and they to her, many times over in an hour and this happens every other day. As I watch the Indo-Pak relations over the years I wonder if the two neighbours have taken a leaf from children and invented a new type of diplomacy called “Katti-Batti” diplomacy and gained mastery over it.

Indo Pak,wwwpakistantodaycom

For so many years or rather decades, the happenings between India and Pakistan have fallen into a pattern. Some ceasefire violation or terrorist activity from across the border happens in India. India announces cancellation of talks or any peace initiatives. In effect declare Katti! Then in a few months the top leaders from the 2 nations meet in the sidelines of a multi-lateral summit, talk for a few minutes, pose smilingly for a photo –op, release a joint declaration of resumption of a dialogue process – in short declare Batti!

Then the cycle repeats. As it has been for decades. The result is we never seem to have a normalized relationship with Pakistan even after so many years, changes in the theatre and the lead actors in the 2 countries notwithstanding.  I am no foreign affairs expert and diplomacy isn’t everybody’s cup of chai including mine. But a cursory read of the history of relations between the two countries is enough to conclude that at the end of the day “Playing safe” rides upper most in the minds of all the stake holders involved in the discussions. As a natural progression maintaining “Status quo” emerges the safe option for both sides. This results in the Indo-Pak relations being on an eternal “tread mill” as one of the saner voices from PakistanHussain Haqqani (Ex Pakistan Ambassador to the US) puts it aptly!!!

And the other interesting aspect in the dialogue process what I have noticed is that what is discussed among the top leaders is secondary and what is more pertinent is what is dished out as the “Joint declaration”. Whether it is Shimla, Lahore, Ufa or the infamous Agra Summit more time seems to have been spent on drafting the declaration than on the talks themselves!!! And a summit is declared a success if a mutually acceptable declaration is conjured up at the end and a failure if it’s not. The Indian side is happy if the word “terrorism” appears and Pakistan side if the word “Kashmir” is part of the joint declaration. All the other aspects of the joint declaration like Trade relations, people to people contact,.. are subjects of routine.

With the kind of history attached to the Indo-Pak relations, I do feel that the politicians, diplomats and other stake holders are stuck in a time warp and hence a veritable solution is difficult to emerge. Unless the baggage of the past are left behind. And one of the most important baggage they carry for any out of box solution is if that will be acceptable to the people back home.  Has the time come to question some of the stated positions and look for alternatives?

  • Like having an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan. So no Katti even if there is a provocation. Instead of saying “No more talks”, why not “We Talk more” and “Talk louder” if there is one? An uninterrupted dialogue gives an opportunity to review progress made in the previous talk. On the other hand, an interrupted dialogue gives only an opportunity for an excuse for not making progress in the guise of starting afresh.
  • Like we change our stance on 3rd party mediation. All along, we have maintained that Kashmir is an internal issue and there is no place for 3rd party mediation. When we are unable to find an acceptable solution among our own people regarding Kashmir and Pakistan for 50 odd years, will not a 3rd party help in getting a different perspective and solution which can be sold to the domestic constituency as well?
  • Like we go to the public and ask what they actually want through a referendum. In India we keep saying that through the elections which are part of a democratic process we take people’s opinion and hence no referendum is required. At the same time, we see that there is a public boycott in many parts of Kashmir (though the participation is increasing with every election). Why not call the bluff of the separatists by conducting a pointed referendum in both sides of Kashmir and go by the outcome. Times are changing and as we saw in the case of Scotland the cry for an Independent Scotland eventually met with a “No” in the referendum.
  • Like we ignore Pakistan and focus on our domestic economy and improving relations with other neighbours. No Katti and No Batti. Imagine what would have happened if at Ufa, our PM just said a “Hi” to Nawaz Sharif and moved on. Ignoring Pakistan while making our economy growing will be the ultimate signal to Pakistan that India has moved on and has got more important things in the plate. Ofcourse we have to be prepared to safeguard ourselves from more ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks. I thought that after breaking the ice with Pakistan by inviting Nawaz Sharif for the oath taking, our PM Modi was following this “Ignore Pakistan” route. While at the same time improving relations with all other neighbouring nations. So in that sense our move in Ufa which signaled our return to Katti-Batti diplomacy was a surprise to me.

I’m not saying that these are “the” only formulations. There could be many more. The essence of my submission is that the time has come for a change in approach from all sides. The sooner the better.

Managing relationships between neighbouring countries which have been to war a few times ofcourse is not a simple subject. (Even Bollywood thinks so – #Bajrangi Bhaijaan)Ergo, cracking a solution to the long and vexed problems may not be as simplistic as we think. But then following a staid pattern of “On-off” engagement only means we will only continue to add to the “declarations” we have among our two countries. Ruling parties may change, the leaders may change but ironically our countries may not outgrow the Katti-Batti syndrome. I am certain though my daughter in a couple of years will.

Postscript: In the meanwhile our Bhai Salman Khan has helped a Pakistani girl to return to her homeland Pakistan against all odds in Bajrangi Bhaijaan and declared Bhatti. Now awaiting Sunny Deol Paaji to announce a loud Katti and resurrect his sagging career!!

Indo Pak 2 Neelabhtoons ibnlive

Toon Courtesy: ibnlive.com, Pic Courtesy:pakistantoday.com

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“Broken” News!!!

It’s a common belief that “The More the Merrier”. Particularly if you are a consumer. One always gets a better deal if there is choice. The fact that you can exercise your freedom of choice makes marketers to provide a better deal in terms of Quality, Quantity, Value for Money, the works. It is also said that in a crowded market place, brands try to differentiate themselves. Differentiation by way of form, quality, price, positioning in the mind or overall offering and vie for the consumer’s wallet. But in India, there seems to be one product category which defies all these economic fundamentals. Here More is actually Less!!! Even in an overcrowded market place there is hardly any product differentiation. From one brand to another, they only provide good advertisements for “Cloning”. And when the number of players increase the overall quality keeps falling. Irony dies a thousand deaths at our drawing homes every day and night. Yes, welcome to the world of 24*7 News channels in India!!!

breaking news

I belong to what I refer as the Doordarshan generation. A generation which grew up without much choice for anything but stayed contented. During our growing up times, DD was the only source of entertainment as well as visual news. So the 9’o clock prime time news bulletins were indeed bulletins which walked us through the important happenings of the day. The news readers were news readers and not “Anchors”. They were reading news and were not engaged in endless hysterical debates. At our homes, one of our favourite games at the dinner table used to be guessing who will be the newsreader that night – Among people like Minu, Geetanjali Iyer, Rini Khanna, Tejeshwar Singh, Usha Albuquerque, Sunit Tandon, Neethi Ravindran,…,… Blame it on my memory if I missed a few others.  Apart from consuming news, as youngsters we also had the opportunity to imbibe the way they modulated their voice, their English diction and the overall presentation.  Even sans the choice the prime time news bulletin served its purpose effectively of keeping us informed of current affairs in India and abroad.

Now cut to what I call as “Boredarshan” times and rapidly transcending now to “Boordarshan” times!!! Today, in the 24*7 news channel space we are spoilt for choice.  Or are we???

At any point in time, try to exercise that power of your choice. Across all channels invariably prime time news will start and end with debates where the participants across channels will be the same. I guess for the political parties, it is easy to prepare one spokesperson for a topic and make him/her parrot the same arguments across all channels. In any case as he/she moves from one channel to another, he will anyway meet the same counterpart from the opposition as well!!! Not just prime time debates. A new book is hitting the store? Between 2 days you will find the author providing “exclusive” interviews to 10 different channels! (As per English dictionary, the word “Exclusive” in its noun form means ‘an item or story published or broadcast by only one source! So how does showing up in different channels is termed exclusive has been elusive to me).  Come Friday and a new film is being released? You will see the film crew parading from one studio to another in the National Capital Region doing the same silly things in the guise of “Promoting” the film! And somebody emerges as the newsmaker of the day? You could meet her/him in all channels that day. (Except if the newsmaker is Lalit Modi 😃 He only gave interview this time to one channel that too in Montenegro! While the other channels also reached the Adriatic coast he changed his mind and refused to oblige). The questioners sound the same. The questions sound the same. There is a race among channels to get interviews from the newsmakers that very same day. And on weekends the channels dish out similar content like Retro Bollywood stuff, Tech reviews,…

Not just content. If you look at the style – Among anchors and reporters there seems to be no differentiation.  All anchors by and large keep interrupting and do not allow the participants to complete one sentence. As I had penned in my earlier post DA 24*7 (Read here) we find Devil’s Advocates in all hues 24*7 in news channels. Come weekends all the “Star” Devil’s Advocates take a break and leave their fiefdom to their juniors who undergo on the job training to what else – interrupt!!!

Even on form, differentiation seems to be zilch. The template across all channels seems be a crowded screen with too many details populated.

And oflate their own marketing and advertising also look similar. Every channel claims to be No.1 in viewership😲 Damn the devil which is in the “*”!!! And all of the channels cry hoarse against Noise, Sensationalism,… and exactly do that. Day in and Day out!

So what’s going on wrong here? One could blame it on the TRP driven advertising revenue model for the channels. So when one channel with a certain content/style/form gets high TRPs, the others follow the same. But I would blame it on the “TRP model” itself. I am not too sure if the present TRP system captures the preferences of the viewers accurately. For a diverse country like India, I do feel a more heterogeneous viewership capture system is the need of the hour. Lest in the garb of “the Nation wants to know” we will continue to hear more noise and less news – across all channels. And if you still recall  “broken Record” of yore, news will continue to be that – “Broken” News as you switch from one channel to another😞😞

Postscript: Recently I was forwarded this clip on WA. Wonder if we will ever get to see such an interviewer who doesn’t interrupt and an interviewee who doesn’t get flustered and stays calm throughout, in these times in India. Check it out.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MATAqeiL-4)