Thursday, February 7, 2008

Why Hillary-Obama Tussle is Big News in Kerala?

A cartoon on Super Tuesday, published in Thejas, a newspaper from Kozhikode.

THE SUPER Tuesday showdown was big news in India. No wonder that the mainstream Indian English newspapers, from The Hindu of Chennai to Times of India of Mumbai to the Hindustan Times of Delhi front paged it and most of them led the day’s news with the neck to neck battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They are the voice of the upwardly mobile Indian middle class, who speak the language of the yuppie, eat his hotdogs and aspire to the life and style of the west.

But most of the regional language newspapers also carried the news item on front pages and many of them led their news with it. I read around a dozen Malayalam newspapers and I found that almost half of them had prominently covered the news on their front pages.

Why such an unusual interest in the election process in the United States, at a time when even the candidates are yet to be decided? What is unusual is the keen interest the regional newspapers, mainly those catering to the small religious and linguistic minorities, have shown in this election process. They seem to follow up the Clinton-Obama battle as if they were candidates in a local election.

One interesting aspect of this media interest seems to be the fact that the newspapers run by the Muslim community are showing an unusual interest in the election. In Kerala, there are as many as five major mainstream newspapers that cater to the Muslim community, a religious minority that comes to around 26 per cent of the population. As a community, Muslims in Kerala, mainly living in the northern Malabar region, are now showing a vigor unseen in the past. Just two decade ago, they had just one newspaper, Chandrika run by the Muslim League, but recent years have seen such a massive growth in the Muslim media. From the city of Kozhikode, five morning newspapers come out targeting the Muslims readers while there are around a score other publications including weeklies and magazines.

And reading their pages, one realizes that they are more international than any other major national newspapers which give scanty coverage for international affairs. The Bush administration’s attack against Iraq and its aftermath, Israel’s aggression against Palestine, the Iran nuclear imbroglio, etc, were followed up as eagerly as any local event by these newspapers. In fact unlike other mainstream newspapers, Thejas and Madhyamam, two leading Muslim newspapers, devote full pages for international affairs.

The fact seems to be that global events, especially attacks on the Muslim community everywhere is as avidly followed up by editors as well as their readers as any other local event. That explains the keen interest in Hillary-Obama tussle, as people here expect that an Obama victory would have a tremendous impact on the United States’ Iraq policy. There is also a hope that a saner attitude to the Muslim community would be pursued if Obama comes to power.

The same message is what one gets reading the letters to the editor columns in these newspapers. In a place where there are umpteen number of issues to write to the editor about, like the huge rise in rice price to the lack of employment to the increasing menace of mosquitoes in cities, one finds that almost half of the letters are about global affairs, from the hanging of Saddam Hussein to the plight of the children in Gaza strip.

A truly international community lives in this small part of the global south, indeed.


Unknown said...

Balendu,poet and translator, Bangalore,writes in an email:

The Muslim angle and resultant increased interest apart, American elecions have been followed very keenly by Malayalees I think. Don't forget that US of America was next to heaven only for another minority from time imemorial. I remember my convent school had distributed sweets when Kennedy (the first catholic) became President.


Unknown said...

Muslims as a group has become the most `internationalised' one during recent decades. In fact, Muslims have overtaken Christians or Catholics or communists, in this regard. Isn't also true that the muslims all over the world can `speak' (atleast a few words)of a common language? Is there anything like `Haj' (a common destination for spiritual travel) for any other religious group? Though Catholics may outnumber Muslims, devotion to pope or rome, does not seem to be that widespread among the former? When the community is internationalised to this extent, there is no wonder in the huge interest on what happens to Obama or Hilary.

V. Santhakumar