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‘I have created a dot. That’s my corner’

Back in those days when television was a one-channel wonder, a man called Pavan Malhotra was quite a heart-throb. It transpires that in the era of multi-channel television, he still has a huge fan following, going by the number of people who landed up for a Pavan Malhotra retrospective in the capital recently. But that’s not surprising, for the man who is best remembered as Hari – the humble hard-working youth who ran a small shop for repairing bicycles in the television serial Nukkad – has reinvented himself. The 57-year-old actor who became a television star with his role in shows that included Circus and Zameen Aasmaan and later acted in films such as Saeed Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro and Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Bagh Bahadur has been appearing in regional cinema of late. He starred in the Telugu film Aithe and in two Punjabi films, Punjab 1984and Eh Janam Tumhare Lekhe. On the sidelines of the retrospective Unmasking Pavan, he talked to Sonia Sarkar about his journey. Extracts:

Q: What are your future projects?

A: I am currently shooting for Rustom with Akshay Kumar, produced by Neeraj Pandey and directed by Tinu Desai. I am also doing a film with Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan, the maker of the 2010 film Lahore, which will be released in the next few months.

Q: Tell us about your journey from theatre to television to films.

A: While I was studying in Class X, in Manav Sthali School in Delhi, a friend took me to Feisal Alkazi’s Ruchika Theatre during the summer vacations. I got a role as part of a crowd in the play Tughlaq . Then Feisal started giving me roles in various plays. But I mostly didn’t know what was going on. It took me a while to understand serious political subjects such as Marxism. Somebody had then jokingly said that Karl and Marx were two brothers – and I believed him. In another Hindi play, Father, I played the role of an orderly. I didn’t even know the meaning of the word. I knew nothing – but slowly I learnt. That was also when I got some backstage roles in programmes on Doordarshan.

Then one day, I got a call from a friend who said that the production team of Gandhi needed a wardrobe assistant. When they were shooting in Delhi, I worked with them. Then the crew moved to Mumbai and asked me to move with them. Soon thereafter, my theatre friends, Ravi Baswani and Sudhir Mishra, asked me to work as a production assistant for the filmJaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983). It was around that time that I got the role of Hari in Saeed Mirza’s Nukkad . Then came cinema with Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro.

Q: Did you – like many others – have to struggle in your initial days in Mumbai?

A: I can tell you 500 stories of struggle but I would never like to romanticise my story. If you change your city and you don’t have a permanent job, you should be ready for a struggle. When I was living in Delhi with my father, he made me sweep the floor of his office too. He used to say that if I didn’t learn this, I wouldn’t learn anything in life. He had also told me that if I wanted to work, I had to learn to keep my ego aside. I survived in Mumbai because of this lesson.

  • Always different: Pavan Malhotra in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag

Q: Are your films watched only by one section of people?

A: Many years ago, Doordarshan was, one evening, showing Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar . I was watching it in my living room. I turned around and saw my house help watching it too with a lot of interest. So, basically, one has to tell a good story. I think most of my films had a good story – so people liked them.

Q: Every role of yours in every film – from Salim Langde … and Bagh Bahadur to Dilli 6 and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag – is different. How do you manage to play different characters without casting the shadow of one over the other?

A: I work on the body language and voice of the character. And it is a conscious decision to play a different character in each film because the characters remain alive in the mind of the audience even if the actor is forgotten.

Q: After Salim , underworld dons contacted you…

A: One day, when I was standing with my scooter at a petrol station near Centaur Hotel in Mumbai, a man came up to me and said that Haji Mastan loved my acting. He asked me to call him. I didn’t. Again one day, someone came to my house to ask if I would like to visit Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai. He would make it easy for me in Bollywood. But I told him that I didn’t need a shortcut to success.

Q: How do you feel when you see your college junior Shah Rukh Khan, who acted with you in the television series, Circus , and is now a superstar?

A: I feel that it is important to talk to oneself and ask, “Do you want to do this? Are you enjoying this?” I feel in this whole film industry collage, I have created a dot. That’s my corner.

If I think that Shah Rukh has a bungalow and I should have one too, there will be no end to my desires. I will start eyeing someone’s island. It’s not possible to get everything in life.

Q: Television series were real during your time…

A: People have often told me, why can’t we make Nukkad again? I tell them, even if we make it, you will not watch it. These days, television works on advertising and advertising has nothing to do with content. It has to do with eyeballs.

Q: Recently, comedian Kiku Sharda was arrested for imitating Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. As an artiste, do you believe freedom of speech and expression is being compromised?

A: There are – and have been – problems in society. But we have to fix these problems. One has to keep fighting for the freedom of expression.

Muffler: check. Floaters: check. Radio spots: check. As Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal marks his first year in office, V. Kumara Swamy and Sonia Sarkar look at how he has been projecting himself as the man on the street

It was a busy Sunday for Visakhapatnam businessman Sumit Agrawal. He went around the neighbourhood collecting money to be sent to Delhi for what he believed was a noble cause. The neighbours did their bit, too, and a demand draft for Rs 364 was sent to the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, on Monday.

“I humbly request your good self to kindly accept this small contribution & use it to buy a nice pair of black formal shoes,” the businessman said in a letter to the CM.

The CM had worn his customary sandals to a reception for French President François Hollande at the Rashtrapati Bhawan last month. The choice of footwear troubled Agrawal. “You were representing the country that day… not staging a dharna at an Aam Aadmi Party rally at Ramlila Maidan or Jantar Mantar,” Agrawal wrote.

The businessman was mistaken. As Kejriwal marks his first year in office on February 14, it is clear that, at every opportunity, the leader of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would like to underline his man-on-the-street image. He is, at any point, holding a dharna – literally or figuratively.

But then he came to power riding dharnas. And though the quiet bureaucrat in the income tax office in Delhi who became a right to information activist before joining Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption campaign had vowed that that he would never enter party politics, he did so with aplomb – and a great many sit-ins – in 2012.

“It’s difficult to understand Kejriwal’s style of functioning. Every day, he is into a fight with some agency or the other. He seems to be an unusual politician. It doesn’t really matter if he speaks or dresses up like a common man, it is important to see what this ‘common man’ has done for the thousands of other common men who voted him to power,” former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit says.

But if there is one thing that Kejriwal has worked hard on, it’s his image of the man next door. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi likes to dress up – a formal galabandh on one occasion, a heavily embroidered shawl draped carelessly over a kurta on another – Kejriwal sticks to his uniform. A muffler and sweater with trousers in winter, a plain shirt and pair of trousers in summer. Occasionally, a Gandhi cap. And, of course, his floaters – worn with socks when it’s cold.

It is this image that he seeks to highlight in government radio spots that flooded Delhi during and after a state government move to control pollution. The ads were about an experiment when cars with odd and even numbers were allowed out only on alternate days for a fortnight last month.

In the ads, Kejriwal approaches the listener like an old acquaintance, using words and pauses the way one would in a conversation. ” Haan ji… kaise hai” – Hi, how are you – he starts.

His aides hold that more than 80 per cent of the ads have been conceived by him and he writes his own script. “He knows how to convey the most complicated thing in the most simple manner,” AAP spokesperson Ashutosh says.

As a communicator, Kejriwal has outdone himself. But the question being asked is if the government has done any significant work for the one year it has been in power.

Government watchers say that some major steps have been taken. The government doubled the education budget for the state and major changes are taking place in teaching methods and curriculum in government schools. A call centre has been set up to register complaints against corrupt officials. And the odd-and-even experiment to control traffic congestion and ensuing pollution has largely been lauded.

But for much of the year, the government hurtled from one crisis to another. The CM picked fights with the lieutenant governor over distribution of power, hasn’t been able to cut through the bureaucratic thicket and hasn’t attempted to resolve a shortfall of over Rs 1,500 crore in municipal budgets which has led to non-payment of salaries and strikes. He has been under pressure over a CBI raid on his office over corruption allegations against his principal secretary.

But with no opposition to talk of – AAP has 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly – the failures are seldom talked of. Instead, he, or occasionally his deputy, Manish Sisodia, engages with the public directly on issues that would interest them – corruption, pollution or consumer rights.

The idea, AAP insiders say, is to move from one issue to another before discord sets in. “We monitor ads to check when people feel irritated and start abusing us for saying the same thing – is it after 7 days or 10 days? We keep a check on the saturation level,” says Delhi state unit convener Dilip Pandey, in charge of communication.

The strategy, on the face of it, seems to be working. “First it was electricity and water. Then it was corruption, which was followed by the odd-even scheme. People have been given a new issue every time something loses its novelty,” says former bureaucrat Shakti Sinha. “But I am not sure if these have been followed up and monitored closely,” the ex-finance secretary in the Delhi government adds.

For Kejriwal, clearly, a lot of the action is in the public arena. When his office was raided by the CBI, he took on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley publicly. The last time he was in power – for 48 days in 2013-14 – he threw in the towel when he felt besieged. This time, Kejriwal has gone to town over the Centre’s alleged moves against him.

“People think he is confrontational but that’s not the case. Earlier, he was more impulsive, now he is calmer,” a close associate says. “His understanding of politics and society is wider now and more in-depth.”

Indeed, if there is one thing that Kejriwal has demonstrated this year, it’s the fact that he is, contrary to popular perception, an inveterate politician.

Consider the way he has tackled dissidence, or people who could challenge him.

During his days as a fledgling activist against corruption, Kejriwal had a print-out pinned on the wall in his office in Ghaziabad. It was a shot from the film Munna Bhai MBBS. The original poster had Sanjay Dutt on a motorcycle, and his sidekick, Arshad Warsi, in the sidecar. Dutt’s face was replaced by Anna Hazare’s, and Warsi’s by Kejriwal’s. The message was clear: Hazare would lead the charge while Kejriwal would be his loyal lieutenant.

But Hazare – who gave Kejriwal a boost – is now a closed chapter. Even the other stalwarts who were Kejriwal’s equals when AAP was being formed are out in the cold.

“From a consensus builder, he turned into some sort of a dictator. Only yes men got his ear. Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan were men with backbone – and it was only a matter of time before they were kicked out. He wouldn’t like a competitor,” a former associate says.

His political moves should not surprise his associates, for Kejriwal has shown on many occasions that he thinks like a clever politician. An AAP member recalls how, while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections in Punjab, Kejriwal looked at a crowd of mostly traders at a rally, and asked one of his candidates to point out that he belonged to the same community.

“I was shocked that he wanted votes highlighting his caste. He is like any other politician now. And he is more concerned about the next election than anything else,” alleges Harinder Singh Khalsa, AAP member of Parliament from Fatehgarh, Punjab.

But then, politics is all about mining votes – and making alliances. In recent months, Kejriwal has voiced his support for state leaders Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee. Efforts are on perhaps to form an alliance to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress in the next general election.

Before that, though, he has to effectively rule Delhi. “In Delhi, a battle is being played out at a political level. Officials will not be motivated to work in an enthusiastic manner if this daily uncertainty continues,” says Shailaja Chandra, former chief secretary, Delhi government.

Chandra believes that citizens want predictability in their daily lives. “That is absolutely lacking because of these constant upheavals. Citizens are not interested in day-to-day politics which disturb their world,” she says.

Also, much before the next general poll is the Assembly election in Punjab next year. It was thought that AAP could give a good fight to the ruling Akali Dal and the opposition Congress, but there is dissent brewing in the AAP camp now.

“AAP has the same high command culture as any other party and the coterie around Kejriwal keeps him in a world far removed from reality,” Khalsa says.

As Kejriwal returns to the capital today after ayurvedic treatment in Bangalore, he will have his hands full. His aides expect him to promptly get back to his punishing schedule – up at 5am, yoga, and then a spate of phone calls before setting out. “He always returns calls but his timing is odd. He calls at 5.30am – and I often forget what I want to discuss,” an aide says.

And, of course, the battle with the Centre will continue. Kejriwal came fighting the Establishment. And so what that he’s the Establishment now?

It’s no secret that the Centre and the Delhi government are locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. But as the issues pile up, the big question is: which of the two is legally on a weak wicket? Sonia Sarkar finds out.

January 2016: The Union home ministry describes as “illegal” a Delhi government probe into the Delhi & District Cricket Association (DDCA). Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal says that the probe will continue.

January 2016: Delhi home minister Satyendar Jain asks deputy secretaries and additional secretaries to report directly to him and not to home secretary S.N. Sahai, appointed by the Centre.
December 2015: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government suspends two bureaucrats belonging to the Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service (Danics) cadre. The Union home ministry overturns the decision.

April 2015: The Delhi government appoints Surender Singh Yadav as head of its Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB). In June, Lieutenant Governor (LG) Najeeb Jung appoints the joint commissioner of the Delhi police, Mukesh Kumar Meena, as the ACB chief.

June 2015: The Delhi government replaces home secretary Dharam Pal with senior IAS officer Rajendra Kumar. The home ministry revokes the decision and later appoints Sahai.

*****

The last 11 months have witnessed a never-ending drama in Delhi starring chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and LG Najeeb Jung. One proposes, the other disposes.Who’s at fault? Under the law, it is Kejriwal.

He, however, believes that hurdles are deliberately being put in his way because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot accept AAP’s victory and the BJP’s defeat in Delhi. “Ever since we formed the government, the Centre has been determined to give us a hard time. We pass an order and they say your order is null and void,” Kejriwal recently told the press.

 

 

AAP believes that attempts are on to show Kejriwal – who has taken on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on different forums – as politically inexperienced. “The Centre wants to say that we don’t understand governance,” Kejriwal aide Ashutosh fumes.

The BJP scoffs at this. “Kejriwal is not interested in governing Delhi; he only wants to pick fights,” BJP leader Sanjay Kaul counters. “And, above all, he doesn’t understand that the chief minister has to work under the legal arrangement prescribed for Delhi.”

The arrangement, indeed, is peculiar. Once a Union Territory (UT), Delhi got a Legislative Assembly with the enactment of the National Capital Territory Act of 1991. Delhi, however, is not a full-fledged state. The 69th amendment to the Constitution states that the elected government in Delhi enjoys the powers and privileges offered to all other states in India barring subjects such as public order, police and land.

The land powers lie with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), run by the Centre’s urban development ministry, and the police and law and order departments are with the Delhi police, which reports indirectly to the Centre.

The Delhi police commissioner doesn’t report to the elected chief minister, but to the LG, appointed by the Centre. For posting IAS officers, signatures are needed from the home ministry. Further, Parliament can legislate on any subject relating to Delhi’s governance under article 239AA(3)(b) of the Constitution. Under the law, the government in Delhi has to share powers with the “administrator”, the LG.

“Unlike the governor of any other state, the LG is the real power centre in Delhi,” holds Niranjan Sahoo, senior fellow, Observer Research Foundation and co-author of a recent paper, Statehood or Autonomy: Rethinking Governance in India’s Capital.

Kejriwal, he argues, has crossed the line in every case. “In all these cases – the suspension of Danics officers, the ACB chief’s appointment and replacing the home secretary – Kejriwal is exercising powers that are not his,” Sahoo states.

Under the law, only the LG has the right to appoint the ACB chief. The Delhi government replaced home secretary Dharam Pal with Rajendra Kumar (now the principal secretary) because the former had notified the appointment of Mukesh Kumar Meena as the ACB chief, which was done on Jung’s orders. The home ministry revoked the decision on Kumar and later appointed Sahai. The LG, under the law, has the right to appoint the home secretary in consultation with the Union home ministry.

Kejriwal, again, was wrong when he bypassed the LG’s office while appointing Arvind Ray as principal secretary (general administration). This decision requires the LG’s nod. The state government was also wrong in suspending two Danics bureaucrats because only the LG has the power to do so.

“Going by the rules, these appointments made by Kejriwal are all wrong. He is not authorised to execute these,” Sanjay Kumar, professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a New Delhi-based research institute in social sciences. But these are matters that could have been solved amicably.

“The chief minister and the LG could have dissolved differences without taking issues to the media,” says a political expert in a Delhi think tank. “Now, it is a show of strength for the two.”

The Shakuntala Gamlin issue is a case in point. Last May, the LG proposed the name of the senior bureaucrat for the post of acting chief secretary. Kejriwal opposed the move, but the LG went ahead and appointed Gamlin – which he has the right to do.

Yet there is a growing belief that the Centre is thrusting its decisions on the state. Usually, such appointments are decided after informal consultations. “There is a lot of back and forth that happens,” the think tank member points out. In this instance, there was none.

That wasn’t the case in 2007, when then chief minister Sheila Dikshit told the home ministry that she wanted Rakesh Mehta as the chief secretary. The government – a Congress-led one, like the one in the state – complied. “Mehta superseded 11 seniors but Dikshit had her way,” a former bureaucrat says.

Negotiations and consultations, Dikshit stresses, are crucial in running a government. And while having the Congress at the Centre helped on many occasions, Dikshit points out she faced no major problems even during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime.

She refers to the NDA time when construction for the Metro rail started and some colonies in east Delhi had to be relocated. “We negotiated for land with the urban development ministry and rehabilitated the people,” she says.

On the other hand, when her government wanted to authorise some illegal colonies, she couldn’t do so because the DDA, then under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, did not give its consent. “Some hurdles will always remain but one has to keep negotiating,” she says.

At the crux of the battle, perhaps, is Kejriwal’s demand for full statehood – which has been the chief minister’s slogan from day one.

“Since Kejriwal is the face of the government, he should have all powers,” an AAP leader says. “The people who gave us 67 seats in the 70-seat Assembly want us to have all the powers of Delhi.”

A BJP leader retorts: “Chief minister of Delhi is a cosmetic title.”

The title may be cosmetic, but the battle is purely political. And Kejriwal’s target, some analysts believe, is not Jung but Prime Minister Modi, whom Kejriwal recently called a “psychopath”.

“Modi should get the message that there is someone to take him on,” the AAP leader says, pointing to the fact that Kejriwal has trained his guns on Modi’s finance minister Arun Jaitley.

Last month, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided the office of principal secretary Kumar. The CBI said it was related to corruption charges against Kumar. Kejriwal countered that the raid had to do with irregularities in the DDCA, which Jaitley once headed.

“Modi targeted our principal secretary, so we got his most powerful man,” the AAP leader says.

The DDCA fracas has been kicking up a storm. The state government’s decision to set up a body for a probe has been called “illegal” by the LG’s office. However, the Union ministry of youth affairs and sports had asked the Delhi government to look into the matter in July.

Political observers point out that strained Centre-Delhi ties are not new. Dikshit’s relationship with then LG Tejendra Khanna was often stormy.

A Congress leader refers to the case of a 42-acre plot in southwest Delhi. The home ministry and the LG decided to give only 10 acres of this to the Delhi government, but Dikshit wanted more and turned down the offer. “The land remains in dispute till date,” the Congress leader says.

Such tussles are common today. But the AAP camp believes the fight has been thrust on the party. It points out that Kejriwal had earlier offered an olive branch to Modi. He has also sought an appointment with the Prime Minister, but is still to hear from him.

“Kejriwal formally met Modi on two occasions – once to seek his ashirwad(blessings) after assuming office and then to tell him he was facing problems with Jung,” a senior AAP leader says. “We told him that to serve Delhi, we needed his help. But he said: ‘Yeh toh humne suna hai, maine toh socha tha aap kuchh naya idea leke aaoge (I have heard about these things. I thought you’d come with new ideas)’,” he says.

AAP leaders, he points out, get along well with other BJP leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh. Modi, he stresses, is the hurdle. “But people know that we want to work and the Centre is creating problems,” he adds.

Perhaps, as the Kejriwal government celebrates its first year in office next month, there will be a ceasefire. “The chief minister of Delhi has to understand his or her own limitations and the rights of the Centre,” Dikshit sums up. “It took me more than a year to understand the dynamics of Delhi.”


mams in India are using social media to reach out to young Muslims and to counter online extremism, says Sonia Sarkar

 

His smartphone never stops buzzing, but Maulana Mohammad Yaqoob, 67, is happy. The imam of the Khalilullah Masjid in Delhi’s Batla House is on WhatsApp, the popular site for chats and group chats on mobile phones. He is flooded with text messages too. But that’s how Yaqoob connects with young Muslims.

“That’s the best way to catch the interest of the young,” Yaqoob says. “To remain connected to them, we have to use their ways of communication.”

The Indian Muslim preacher is at a crossroads today. The mosque is not where the young like to congregate – they’d rather connect with ideologues on the Internet. As a section of Muslim youths gets attracted to radical thinking propagated on the Internet, religious leaders are looking at ways of bringing the young back into their fold. And the tool for that, they believe, is the Internet.

Like Yaqoob, many imams – who lead prayers in mosques – have been using social media to reach out to young Muslims. They are active on online platforms such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Efforts, clearly, are on to preach in a language that appeals to the young.

Take the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. One of the largest organisations of Indian Islamic scholars, it is planning to produce animated videos with lessons from the Quran.

“We have a lot of reading material but the effect of audio-visual material is always stronger. We plan to build a studio where a trained person will be appointed to make animated films carrying messages from the Quran. We can circulate those videos on social networking sites later,” says Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind general secretary Maulana Mahmood Madani, whose Facebook page has over 8,700 “likes”.

There is a growing belief that online extremism has to be urgently countered. Over 18 months or so, the police have arrested at least 20 Indian Muslims who were said to have been keen to join the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Concern has been expressed that young Indian Muslims are showing an interest in the ISIS and are mostly being radicalised on the Internet. The online magazine of the ISIS, Dabiq, is said to be popular among a section of Indian Muslim youths.

Many of those being lured by ISIS, the Delhi police say, are not madrasa-educated men, but educated professionals such as computer engineers, doctors and MBAs with easy access to the Internet.

“The problem is that the Internet is their imam and Google is their mufti (Muslim legal expert),” says imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, chief imam, All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques.

Islamic scholars believe that the young have to be steered away from what they see as dangerous propaganda. Take the word jihad, says Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. “The word has nowhere been used in the Quran to mean war in the sense of launching an offensive. Instead, it is used to mean peaceful struggle with oneself to control one’s negative and undesirable feelings. It also means to communicate the message of God to all human beings with full compassion and well wishing,” he says. “It is important to tell the youth this.”

In many parts of the world, this is exactly what scholars and other experts are doing. Young Muslims being indoctrinated on the Internet is a worldwide phenomenon that some nations are already seeking to counter.

“There is a rise in ‘freelance’ religious figures who often have little depth in traditional religious disciplines but are charismatic speakers and often use modern communications tools to propagate their messages to wider audiences,” says Alejandro Beutel, a researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, University of Maryland, US.

That’s one of the reasons Indian imams feel that the youth have to be addressed through platforms that they access, with a language that counters that of the extremists.

These concerns came up at a two-day conference on “Opportunities for Public-Private Partnership in Countering Online Extremism and Recruitment”, organised by a Delhi-based think tank in November. Religious leaders who attended the meeting urged Facebook to help them use social media for counter-speech – a term used for logically countering extremist positions.

“Counter-speech is an important part of responding to terrorism and we work hard to protect it,” says Monika Bickert, global head of product policy, Facebook, who was also present at the Delhi conference. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of non-government organisations (NGOs), community groups and student groups interested in creating and promoting positive speech against extremism,” she adds.

India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is supposed to keep an eye on extremist activities within the country, believes that it is important for religious leaders to approach young Muslim men and women. “We cannot work in isolation. If the imams take a step forward to connect with the youth of the community, they can be dissuaded from joining radical groups,” an IB officer says.

It’s already happening elsewhere. A group of imams in London started a website, imamsonline.com, and an online magazine, Haqiqah (The Reality), in March to “reclaim the Internet” from extremists. Imams and working professionals in the US and Canada started a website called virtualmosque.com. The imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Suhaib Webb, is on Twitter with over 81,000 followers, and seeks to engage young audiences with practical religious teachings.

Madani says that his organisation is now reaching out to a group of imams in the US to know more about the use of the social media.

“We have a saying, ‘you snooze, you lose’. Those who reject modern communication technology will lose out to those who embrace them. Sadly violent extremists have embraced these technologies,” says Jennifer S. Bryson, director of the US-based think tank Zephyr Institute, which works for religious freedom. “So it is very urgent for Muslim religious leaders to be, or become, familiar with the pulse of young Muslims.”

Imams in India admit that they have failed to do so, or capture the imagination of the youth. “Our popularity is going down and the gap between imams and the youth is increasing,” Madani rues.

The prayer leaders point out that there was a time when Muslim youths went to mosques regularly. But in recent years, technology has given a new platform to new-age preachers. The Mumbai-based televangelist Zakir Naik, for instance, became hugely popular with his television appearances and videos uploaded on the video-sharing platform, YouTube.

While other religions may also feel the need to reach out to the young through social media sites, Muslim religious leaders feel the pressure more because of the growth and spread of Islamist groups – and anti-Muslim sentiments – across the world.

“There is a sense of insecurity among Muslim religious leaders because of growing Islamophobia across the world,” contends Rakesh Batabayal, professor at the Centre for Media Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. “Imams are using social media sites to assert that they exist, and that they can fight growing radicalism.”

But the gap between the youth and their religious leaders hasn’t happened overnight, experts point out. For long years, the youth have been seeking answers to questions about their identity, the importance of Islam vis-à-vis the world, Islamic state, role of a minority in a democratic country, and moral and human values of Muslim society, says Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed, principal advisor, All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques.

“But these questions have never been answered. The traditional clergymen do not have the knowledge required to address such issues,” he says.

Yaqoob points out that just 10 or 12 young men attend Friday prayers in mosques these days. “Also, not many have the patience to listen tokhutbah (Islamic preaching before Friday prayers),” he says.

  • The Internet is their imam and Google is their mufti
    — Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, Chief imam, All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques, on young Muslim men

But then, as Madani admits, imams speak in a language and style that is not popular among the youth. “They feel that the imams are trying to impose their thoughts upon them,” he says.

To counter the dwindling numbers and interest, the imams are now planning to make their speeches available to the young (and others) through social media sites. “We could record the khutbah and send it to young people through WhatsApp groups to ensure that they listen to it even if they are not physically present in the mosque,” Maulana Mohibullah Nadvi, imam of the New Delhi Jama Masjid, says. “Tele-conferences on burning issues could also be organised using the social media.”

The moves are being welcomed. Delhi student Ramiz Abdul Wadood calls the move “progressive” and says these will create space for conversation and debate. “It is important that the imams motivate us and fill the void that we have been feeling currently,” Wadood, 17, says. He is a fan of Pakistani religious and Islamic scholar Tariq Jameel, whom he watches on YouTube.

What impact has all these had so far? It’s perhaps too early to assess this. Some imams opened Facebook accounts two years ago, some still don’t have any but are planning on opening accounts. Says Ashum Gupta, professor, department of psychology, Delhi University, “Young Muslims who have moved away from the ideologies and teachings of traditional clergy would, at least, acknowledge their existence now. But it is early to say if they will accept them in their current form.” Adds Farhan Ali, a Class XII student at a south Delhi school, who follows Madani on Facebook, “If we have any queries, we know that there is someone to answer them. Also, I listen to his video-recorded speeches, which may not be possible otherwise.”

But, of course, there is concern that the situation won’t change merely on the strength of the Internet. Islamic scholar Khan, for instance, stresses that imams’ attitude and mindset have to change, too. “Imams need to correct their self-righteousness and be more open. The young mind is reason-based and wants objectivity. Imams should keep that in mind,” says Khan, who heads the Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Peace and Spirituality.

Social scientist Zubair Meenai of Jamia Millia Islamia has a word of caution for the preachers. “They should learn how to deal with trolls. They should be ready for public abuse, too,” the professor in the department of social work points out.

Yaqoob looks concerned. ” Kabhi kabhi Internet aafat lagta hai(Sometimes, the Internet seems like a menace),” he says. “We have to be careful.”

More than three decades after he made his mark in the Hindi film industry, actor Shekhar Suman continues his love affair with theatre. He tells Sonia Sarkar that he ‘got away with blue murder’, poking fun at politicians in television talk shows without worrying about a backlash — something he believes he can’t do now.

The audience was ecstatic. And many in the Delhi auditorium were surprised as well. Shekhar Suman – largely known for his comic acts – had enacted the role of the lyricist-poet, Sahir Ludhianvi, with such sensitivity that it had brought the spectators to their feet.

Actors need to reinvent themselves occasionally, but Suman seems to have turned it into an art. More than three decades after he made his mark in the Hindi film industry with Girish Karnad’s Utsav, his performance in Saif Hyder Hasan’s play Ek Mulaqaat – the story of Sahir’s love affair with the Punjabi writer, Amrita Pritam – turned the arc lights back on the man who started his career with theatre.

“This is my best work in the career span of 35 years,” Suman, 53, says. “I strongly feel that I was destined to play Sahir. Every time I heard his shayari, I thought he had written it for me, expressing my emotions.”

He put his heart into the role, carefully studying the life of the poet. He went to the Satish Chander Dhawan Government College for Boys in Ludhiana, where Sahir studied. He pored over photographs of Sahir, trying to pick up gestures from the old snapshots. He heard a rare recording, and sought to master his way of speaking.

“I walked down the corridors of his college with some books in my hand and imagined that I was Sahir,” Suman says, and then starts to recite one of his most famous lines – ” Zindagi sirf mohabbat nahin, kuchh aur bhi hai (life is not just about love; there is something more).”

Suman has been concentrating on theatre for a while now. Eight years ago, he acted in actor-director Makarand Deshpande’s Detective Maurya, and, in 2000, he worked with director Om Katare in Woh Tum Hi Ho.

But then theatre has been his passion for long. The history graduate from Delhi’s Ramjas College took to the stage soon after he’d earned a diploma in acting from Delhi’s Shri Ram Centre for Art and Culture in 1979. He has acted in more than 20 plays with well-known theatre directors such as Badal Sircar, Bansi Kaul and Rajinder Nath.

“Theatre is my umbilical cord. The bond is always there,” he stresses. On his table right now, he adds, are the scripts of some 10 plays.

It has also given him back his place in the sun as a serious actor, a trait that was first noticed nationally with the period film Utsav in 1984.

Getting a break in Bollywood wasn’t very difficult, he recalls. The yesteryear character actress Shammi had offered him a role in a film while he was still doing theatre. The film was never released, but through her he met Shashi Kapoor, who was then producing Utsav. Suman was selected for the role of Charudutt, a married Brahmin merchant in love with the courtesan, Vasantasena.

Since he was a newcomer, Suman says that he had to be vetted by almost everybody associated with the film, including Rekha, who played Vasantasena.

“The day Rekha came to check me out, I felt like a newlywed bride waiting for the bridegroom to come and approve of her,” he laughs.

But while Suman was applauded for his performance, he could never create the same magic on the silver screen again. He acted in 16 films – including the steamy Anubhav (1986) and the Madhuri Dixit hit Tridev (1989) – but remained largely unnoticed.

“I was not happy with the way my career was moving,” he reveals. But, he adds, he could not be choosy about the roles he was being offered. He was married (to Delhi girl Alka) and had two sons – Ayush, who had a heart ailment, and Adhyayan, who is now an actor. “I needed a lot of money for Ayush’s treatment. I didn’t have the luxury to choose my roles,” he says.

That was when he reinvented himself again – and this time by moving to television. Suman’s luck turned with the 1993 series Reporter, where he played an investigative journalist, and became an instant hit with the comedy series Dekh Bhai Dekh.

“The two roles were diametrically opposite to each other but were equally popular. I realised that I could play different characters at the same time.”

He made people laugh, but there was tragedy unfurling at home. Ayush died in 1997 when his career in television was scaling new heights. With the advent of satellite television, there were soaps galore – and he acted in several series including Amar Prem, Hera Pheri and Andaz.

But Suman is remembered most for anchoring Movers and Shakers, the first talk show of its kind on Indian television, in 1997. Some said then that he had copied American comedian Jay Leno, but Suman shrugs off the criticism. “I didn’t even know who Jay Leno was then,” he says.

The satirical show gathered eyeballs as Suman took potshots at prominent newsmakers, from actors and musicians to politicians. “I discovered that I had this ability to talk incessantly,” says Suman, who grabbed a Rs 35-crore contract for three years for the show.

He amassed fans with his flawless mimicry of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad and of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “I got away with blue murder,” says Suman, who later starred in several other similar talk shows such as Simply Shekhar, Still Moving Still Shaking and Tedhi Baat Shekhar Ke Saath.

The actor believes that there is no place today for programmes such as Movers and Shakers, where he could poke fun at leaders without worrying about a backlash. “I wonder how long I would have survived if I was doing a show like Movers and Shakers today,” he says.

Suman adds that he feels “suffocated” when he sees acts of violence around him. “In the last year and a half, the country has become unlivable. It is asphyxiating. You are being told what to wear, what to eat, what to say. I can see that Hindu terrorism is rearing its head,” he says.

He is critical of those who have been questioning writers, artistes, scientists, academics and others who have been returning state awards to protest against what they call a climate of intolerance.

“It is important to understand that these intellectuals are trying to convey that the atrocities have reached a horrifying level. Instead of listening to their voice, it is strange that the government is asking them why they didn’t return awards earlier.”

His remarks come as a surprise because in 2014, before Narendra Modi came to power, Suman was willing to campaign for him. “I admired Modi till all these things happened,” he clarifies. “As a leader, he has to take the flak. He cannot absolve himself of all this by saying that he’s not doing it. He has to handle his men.”

There are rumours that he is angry with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because it didn’t allow him to campaign for it before the Bihar Assembly polls. “These talks happen casually,” he replies.

His relationship with political players in his home state seems a bit ambiguous. He doesn’t think that Bihar has seen development in the last many decades. “Four flyovers and a revolving restaurant in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan cannot define Bihar’s development,” says Suman, whose mother, Usha, was a homemaker, and father, Phani Bhushan Prasad, a surgeon who retired as director-general of health services in Bihar.

But he is quick to add that the outgoing and would-be chief minister, Nitish Kumar, improved standards of education and roads in the state. “But his biggest mistake is that he has joined hands with Lalu,” Suman feels.

In 2009, when Suman was contemplating a career in politics, Nitish Kumar had urged him to join his Janata Dal (United) party. “I liked Nitish and knew that I would win if I had joined him. But the Congress had approached me earlier. I had grown up with Congress ideology, so couldn’t say no to them,” he says.

He contested from the Patna Sahib parliamentary seat and lost miserably to fellow actor and BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha.

Relations between the two Bihari babus soured as a result of the contest. “It was the biggest mistake of my life – first to contest the elections and, second, to fight against Shatrughan Sinha.”

Suman talks about the past and present candidly, sitting comfortably in his 20th floor apartment in Oberoi Sky Gardens in Mumbai’s Lokhandwala area. Dressed in a body-hugging yellow tee and a pair of black trousers, he looks a lot younger than his age. I spot his gym, and ask him about his six-pack abs and image makeover. There were rumours that he’d undergone a hair transplant and had botox injected into his skin to do away with wrinkles when he appeared in a self-produced music video with the 20-year-old model, Bruna Abdullah, in 2008.

“Why should I go for cosmetic surgery? Eventually, nothing will last. I have a 27-year-old son. Why should I be worried about looking old,” he retorts.

“This is not what you should ask. As a journalist, you should ask other questions,” he says, giving me a few instant tips on good journalism.

Clearly, the man who made his name poking fun at others is not open to answering uncomfortable questions about himself.

But, then, he did say these were intolerant times.

Are Lalu Prasad’s two sons and daughter jostling to succeed him as a leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal? Sonia Sarkar weighs the matter

A picture speaks a thousand words. A poster right outside the residence of Lalu Prasad says it all. Bihar’s present – and would-be – chief minister Nitish Kumar stands next to Prasad’s son, Tejashwi, almost hand in hand, while two of his other children – daughter Misa Bharti and son Tej Pratap – are on the other end of the poster.

Political pundits in Patna believe that’s the way the wind blows. Tejashwi could end up as Prasad’s heir apparent – and eventually be handed over the reins of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

“Lalu ji sees the future of the party in Tejashwi. He wants him to walk along with Nitish Kumar and learn the tricks of politics and governance,” says an RJD leader.

Prasad’s RJD won 80 seats in the just-concluded Assembly elections in Bihar. Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), which led a grand alliance of which the RJD was a part, won 71 seats and the Congress, 27.

Prasad, who had almost been written off before the polls, however, may have to handle another war – at home. A battle for supremacy could be looming in his own family.

The three have all taken a plunge into politics. The sons are now elected legislators – from Mahua and Raghopur constituencies, respectively. Misa fought and lost from Pataliputra in the 2014 parliamentary elections.

Misa is the eldest of his nine children. Tej Pratap is the older son, born after six sisters. Tejashwi is the younger son – and seemingly the favourite of his father. Mother, ex-chief minister Rabri Devi, is said to favour Tej Pratap.

The two sons – so named because they were born during memorable thunderstorms – do not get along. They may have grown up playing volleyball and cricket together, but are now seen as adversaries with different teams of people working for them. “The two hardly interact with each other,” claims a party insider.

Misa, who is 39, has been away from the brothers for long. The Patna Medical College graduate and her IT engineer husband Shailesh lived in Bangalore for a few years before she moved to Delhi to join her father who was then railway minister.

Born during the Emergency, she was named after the infamous Maintenance of Internal Security Act (Misa), imposed on political opponents of Indira Gandhi. She often introduces herself as ” andolan ki beti” – daughter of the revolution.

She seems to have inherited her father’s penchant for drama. When she was given a ticket for Pataliputra, which Prasad’s then close aide Ram Kripal Yadav had earlier won, Yadav took umbrage. Misa then barged into his house, with the media, refusing to leave till she had a chance to make up with her “uncle”.

Earlier, at a huge rally in Patna in 2013, where Prasad’s sons were officially launched, she made a sudden entry, taking party leaders by surprise.

“Misa wants to be at the centre of politics,” Delhi-based political scientist Manisha Priyam says.

Misa believes that like her father she can connect with people. “That’s one of the qualities I have inherited from Papa,” she asserts.

Like her father, she is known to be driven. Pataliputra was won by Yadav who joined the BJP in 2014. But Misa has not given up on it.

“I will work for the people of Pataliputra and concentrate on the parliamentary polls,” she says.

Misa claims that she was the “crisis manager” when Prasad was in jail for 135 days in 1997 on charges related to the Rs 950-crore fodder scam, in which he was convicted for siphoning off money earmarked for cattle fodder.

“I have seen the functioning of the party very closely during those years. Since then, I have acquired political maturity. I also have a great connect with senior party leaders,” she says. “But the leaders have always treated my brothers as kids.”

But, clearly, they are kids no more. At a party national executive meet in April, Prasad told a core group of leaders that “only a son could succeed a father”. But he didn’t name either Tej Pratap, 29, or Tejashwi, 27.

Sources say that the two sons – who refused to speak to The Telegraph despite repeated efforts – want Cabinet berths in the new alliance government. There is also speculation that Tejashwi would be made the leader of the RJD Legislature Party.

Senior party leaders contend that neither has the ability to hold a responsible job. Tej Pratap, they point out, wanted to contest student union elections in Patna’s Bihar National College, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was the union president in Patna University in 1970. But he failed his exams and couldn’t contest the polls.

“He cannot speak like his father, nor does he have his charm,” an RJD youth leader says. “Except Lalu ji’s arrogance, he has inherited nothing from him.”

Influenced by the teachings of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, he is mostly engaged in religious activities. The insiders say that he dresses up as Lord Krishna or Lord Shiva and plays the flute or the dumroo. A close associate says that he posed as Sai Baba at a family function in Delhi a few years ago.

Prasad, it is said, initially did not want him to join politics. A motorcycle showroom was opened for him in Aurangabad. But Tej Pratap took little interest in it. Rabri Devi, the whisper goes, persuaded her husband to allow him to contest from Mahua, denying a ticket to party old timer Jageshwar Rai.

Party members believe that Tejashwi, a former student of Delhi Public School, R.K. Puram, is more grounded. He connects with people, is a good listener and speaks well. “He has observed how party leaders conduct themselves politically and picked up the skills,” a senior RJD leader says. “Also, he speaks the language of the younger generation of Biharis, who want jobs.”

Prasad introduced him to politics in the 2010 state Assembly polls, after Tejashwi failed to make a mark as a cricketer. He addressed several election rallies, but the RJD won only 22 of the state’s 243 Assembly seats. The RJD head, however, continues to back him.

“One of the indications of that is that Lalu made him contest from Raghopur, which he had won in 1995 and 2000, and Rabri Devi in 2005,” Priyam points out.

Prasad’s aides, however, believe that he is in no hurry to hand over any major responsibility to Tejashwi yet. He knows the havoc that inexperience can play. When he was in jail in 1997, there was a statewide outcry against Rabri Devi’s misrule.

Indeed, today’s Lalu Prasad is vastly different from the man who lorded over Bihar in the Nineties. Then he was the tallest leader of the state and a power at the Centre. But he has been out of power for over 10 years in Bihar and has no role to play at the Centre. Now that he has been given another chance, he is unlikely to fritter it away.

“His body language has changed and he is less arrogant now. He would want his children to be like that,” an aide says. “He wants long-term politics for his sons, so would want them to learn.”

Political observers agree. “Lalu would want them to be politically trained before they take up important responsibilities,” says Shaibal Gupta, who heads the Patna-based Asian Development Research Institute. “And he would want Nitish Kumar to train them in governance because they have good family bonding.”

Misa too believes that winning an election doesn’t mean either of her brothers would become Prasad’s successor. “Now it is no longer Lalu ji’s prerogative. The electorate would choose the successor depending upon our work.”

She dismisses rumours that she may be named deputy chief minister, though she did not contest the elections. “Let someone who won an Assembly seat take up the post. Why should I be dragged into it,” she says.

Senior party members, who are watching the developments within, are concerned. None of the three, they believe, is capable right now of handling a post. But they are demanding, and Prasad is known to be a fond father. “Lalu ji is extremely emotional when it comes to his children. They always get what they ask for,” a party leader says.

But who’ll get the lantern – the RJD’s election symbol – and become the torchbearer for the party? The question hovers in the air.

Myanmar goes to the polls today – and change is in the air. A flowering of art, music and films is underway, writes Sonia Sarkar

The painting is stark. Military men – dressed in olive green – stand in a row. Their heads are covered with bird cages. The work by Aung Kyi Soe, in the Blind in Knowledge series, is called Cages and is on display at an art gallery in Yangon, once called Rangoon.

Young musicians strum their guitars and sing at a club. The lyrics are simple – “We hate the system,” they chant.

A local news website displays a cartoon called “Religion and Elections”. Two sumo wrestlers are fighting each other.

As Myanmar goes to the polls today to elect a new government after five decades of military dictatorship, there is talk of change in the air. Changes are taking place not just in the political milieu but in the country’s art and culture field, too. Liberal voices once muzzled by the junta are slowly regaining their pitch. And painters, musicians, cartoonists, filmmakers are all a part of the transition.

“We are taking baby steps to democracy through art,” says artist and curator Pyay Way, whose Nawaday Tharlar Art Gallery is displaying the Blind Knowledge painting.

Way, who opened the art gallery in Yangon’s busy Dagon Township in 2012, says that he always wanted to create a liberal space for artists. “My artist friends felt suffocated not being able to express themselves,” he says.

Now there are at least 10 new art galleries in Yangon. Way’s gallery is also open to poets, singers and dancers. He organises an “open mic” evening once or twice a month where people express their concerns.

“There is a vibrant art community producing strong work in a variety of styles and formats, despite years of isolation and a limited domestic market for art,” points out historian and curator Melissa Carlson, who displayed the works of Myanmar’s artists at two exhibitions – Burma by Proxy: Art at the Dawn of Democracy (2015) and Banned in Burma: Painting under Censorship (2014) in Hong Kong.

Myanmar has been witnessing significant changes since 2010, when National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released after two decades of house arrest. The military government headed by President Thein Sein released more than 200 political prisoners. Regressive laws which prevented assembly of more than five people were repealed.

The spurt in art and culture followed changes in censorship laws and as the government allowed access to the Internet. Till 2012, all videos, both feature and documentary, had to go through the video Censor Board of the Television and Video Act, 1996, before distribution and screening. Failure to comply could result in fines, imprisonment of up to three years and confiscation of property. The rules of censorship have now been relaxed.

Cinema critical of the junta is no longer rare. An 18-minute short film Ban That Scene by Htun Zaw Win, for instance, criticises censorship. Kaung Sint’s 12-minute documentary film Enter on the life of a political prisoner in Myanmar exposes political abuse. “It shows how the government tortured political prisoners in jail,” Phyo says.

Since 2013, the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival has been organised in Myanmar in a bid to prod young filmmakers into making meaningful cinema. “This film festival is an effort to create a democratic space,” says the festival organiser Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who won the best documentary award at a 2010 film festival in Hanoi for his film The Floating Tomatoes.

It’s not just motion pictures – cartoons are coming alive, too. Satirical lines touch upon a vast spectrum of subjects once considered taboo, from child soldiers and military politics to Buddhist militancy.

Cartoonist Beruma put up a sketch that showed General Than Shwe, Myanmar’s former dictator, controlling Thein Sein. A cartoon by artist Aw Pi Kyeh makes a telling comment about the political situation in the southeast Asian country, where military men are seeking to join the electoral process. A footballer has been substituted on the field – but instead of a new player coming in, he returns in another uniform.

“There is a space for political cartoons in local news journals,” says cartoonist Kyaw Thu Yein, who does political cartoons for a satirical website, Cartoon Movement. “I started cartoons in 2000. But my cartoons then were not published in newspapers except for a local humour magazine.”

For many artists, the whiffs of freedom are heady. They remember the time when few artistes could raise their voice against the rulers of Myanmar. Celebrated painter Aye Ko was arrested for speaking out against military repression. After a year in jail, he joined a shoe business. And it was only much later that he returned to art.

Artists were not allowed to display their work against the government in the galleries. Political art was banned, as was nudity. Even excessive use of black, white and red was censored.

Music came under restrictions, too. Punk bands were not allowed to perform in concerts without taking prior permission from the government’s Censor Board. Rock bands had to submit their lyrics to the government before they could even be cleared for performance or recording. Many performed secretly in warehouses and railroad yards. Rock bands such as Side Effect, Broken Order, No U Turn, and Rebel Riot performed in underground clubs, and sang of abuse of power by the military.

“We were expected to sing only good songs, about the natural beauty of the country and about love. They wanted us to shut our eyes to reality,” says Darko C., vocalist and guitarist of Side Effect.

The band was set up in 2004 but couldn’t release an album till 2012, when censorship rules were relaxed. Even then, there were restrictions. He had to drop a song on prostitution from their first album, Rainy Night Dreams.

Darko is now all set to release a new album called Voice of the Youth, where he urges the young to be agents of change.

Artistes, however, rue that they are still censored. The pro-government Myanmar Music Association has replaced the Censor Board to exercise control over rock bands. Laws such as the Electronics Transaction Law, with a jail term of 15 years for anyone using “electronic technology that threatens the security of the State”, still exist.

Last year, several paintings featuring nudes by artist Sandar Khine were removed from Yangon’s Lokanat Galleries. Even now, art galleries have to take permission from the government before displaying their work.

Increasingly, though, artistes are violating the rules. “I have been threatened by security forces a couple of times for not taking permission,” Way says. “Intelligence officials always keep a tab on our work,” adds Ole Chavannes, a media trainer who works with the anti-government news website Democratic Voice of Burma.

But many are hopeful that today’s elections will usher in a new climate. “What is the point of having an election if no change takes place on the ground,” Way asks. “Suu Kyi should come to power to bring about that change.”

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