Nepali Times Asian Paints
Economic Sense
Indian idle


KALIMPONG: Nothing to focus the attention of India's Nepali speakers than Prashant Tamang, the media-created celerbity.

Nowhere was the hype and hullabaloo as loud as it was here in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim. After all, it was the mass SMS campaign by the population of these areas that allowed Prashant to win.

The texting reached a crescendo last weekend, with everything coming to a standstill so people could keep sending SMSs over and over. Millions of rupees were collected to pay the mobile bills. Everyone chipped in. Refusing would have cast doubts on one's nationalist credentials.

Shopkeepers were asked to keep their phones outside their shops so that anyone could use them for free. Students were deputed to homes with telephones so that they could continue texting non-stop. What began as a game ended up being an outlet for the pent-up nationalism of this region of India which saw the violent Gorkhaland agitation of the 1980s.

The Chief Minister of Meghalaya, the state whose candidate was the runner up, opened state coffers so people could make free calls and free SMS from public voting booths. No doubt, the phone company and tv producers laughed all the way to the bank. In fact, this was even better than robbing the bank!

In their quest of finding their own Nepali identity we contributed to this great commercial venture. When the show finally began on Sunday night no one dared stir the hornet's nest of communal and identity sentiments even though everyone knew this was a money-spinning franchise.

There are programs that force people to tow the state or identity line, but the speciality of Indian Idol was to combine it with ethno-cultural identity to cash in on people's latent nationalism. And this transcended the border to a \'greater Nepal\'. It was probably not the intention of the organisers, but Prashant's victory had a broad ramification for identity politics within Nepal and in India.

Prashant will now find it is a tough road ahead, because he now has to deliver on the people's expectations. He has now become an icon of Nepaliness in India, and a mascot of nationalism in Nepal. He provided an opportunity for Nepalis who always suffer from an identity crisis to be someone each Nepali could relate to.

Prashant's challenge now is to stay away from the politicisation of ethnicity and nationalism even though the millions who voted for him almost as if he was a political leader want him to be more than just a crooner.

Of course, the millions spent on "electing" Prashant could have been donated to build schools or hospitals. As one wag put it, if we had given the money to Indian Oil instead of Indian Idle we may have some petrol in our tanks.

But all we did was make ourselves feel good briefly and make the franchisees exceedingly rich.

The Nepali identity is never linked to prosperity but to poverty, migrant labour and mercenaries. Prashant could be a brand ambassador who could change all that. Even if it is just for that, perhaps, the investment may be worth it.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)