In the year 2004, as a reaction to the Lok Sabha Elections, was born a blog which would redefine how Indian Politics is discussed in the New Media. When the 2009 elections were happening, he was among the elite list of people who had some very valid points on Indian Politics. His blog has a loyal set of followers who also swears by most of his opinions. It is time now to introduce the man behind the ‘Offstumped‘ blog. For the first time ever, we have the photo of ‘Yossarin’ and here is his awesome interview.
Q:When & how did you start blogging?
A: In 2004, largely in reaction to the 2004 Lok Sabha election results. Specifically the over the top media coverage of Sonia Gandhi’s abdication and the BJP’s overconfidence come to mind.
Q: Why did you choose to blog about politics? The medium and the topic?
A: Right from my childhood, I have been very aware of public issues and politics and was a voracious reader of news and a listener of news. In the 1980’s, there was not much quality news analysis on the Radio, remember being hooked to BBC Hindi. The coverage in the Hindu on Bofors, Arun Shourie’s brilliant commentary in the Indian Express during the Mandal agitation and then of course the intellectual fault line the Ayodhya movement exposed all contributed to that awareness. The fire to express opinion was always there, blogging provided the perfect medium with the flexibility of format, frequency and more than everything else the necessary independence.
Q: Indian politics are a broad field. Do you ever find yourself having to choose between topics to write about and if so, how do you decide?
A: Yes, it is a tough choice on what topic to write on. The conflict is mostly between pandering to the popular versus focusing on what I may consider important. There is no fixed formula on how the decision is made. Usually try to mix it up with a diversity of topics some in-depth, sometimes shooting from the gut and sometimes trying to bring a historical or philosophical perspective. End of the day I try to be relevant, unique and differentiated.
Q: Yours posts span a wide spectrum from reporting to analysis to opinion to collation of all of these. Can you talk about your favorite sources and how you keep up-to-date with your field?
A: There is a one word answer to this question – Google. Its an ocean of information out there. It is practically impossible to keep track of all newsources. I have stopped using my RSS reader. The backlog is huge. Google keyword search is the greatest gift to mankind and I am saying that with all seriousness. Smart use of google keyword search can help cut through the mass of information to get to the most relevant sources. It saves time and keeps blogging efficient.
For part-time amateur opinion makers that most bloggers are, this is the most efficient way to save time. I also try to read the op-ed columns of The Pioneer, The Hindu,The Telegraph and The Indian Express on a daily basis. Twitter is a useful medium to stumble upon sources as well. But the Twitter timeline can get very noisy. More on Twitter later in the interview.
Q: Who is your favorite politician/party and why?
A: My head says Atal Bihari Vajpayee as all-time favorite and my heart says N.T. Rama Rao. Vajpayee because he is the first and last self made Statesman modern India has produced. On NTR let us just say I have an irrational soft corner for him.
In current day politics I would rate Narendra Modi for his out of the box thinking on “Limited Government and Governance” and most importantly as someone who has dared to challenge the overarching intellectual consensus on Statism. Unfortunately no political party today rates as a favorite.
The BJP of the late 1980s and early 1990s was exciting, the Lok Satta in Andhra under Jayaprakash Narayan looked promising. But neither today is in a position to steer a fundamental shift away from the current political consensus in Delhi on the Statist left leaning policy making. I hope Modi can bring that change to the BJP in Delhi but I am not very optimistic given the political realities today. This also means that there is an Opportunity here for a new face to emerge and lead a new grassroots movement in tune with the challenges over the next two decades posed by a Young India Hungry for Opportunities. The tragedy of course is that a Statist like Rahul Gandhi is confused to be that fresh face by today’s youth. There is an opportunity out there for a fresh new face, a real Achiever to be the political and ideological opposite of Rahul Gandhi’s Left Liberal Statism.
Q: If you could be anyone in Indian politics for a day, who would you pick and why?
A: Mayor of Bangalore. If I had the power to make the things right, I would start with Local Government. Let us show that our Cities can function much better, civic services can be Citizen centric and responsive, Law enforcement can be made directly accountable to the people. If the people of Bangalore have the freedom and autonomy to shape their local government to suit their needs without being dependent on either Delhi or Vidhan Soudha, it would be a turning point in reforming Government and Governance in India. It would be the case study to show that not all wisdom resides in Delhi and it would be a repudiation of Left Liberal Statism.
Q: How much do you think your posts impact popular political sentiment?
A: Its small but highly targeted. The blog has a loyal following mostly among those who are disgusted with the Left Liberal consensus in Delhi, disappointed with the state of affairs in the BJP and those who are hopeful that there will be a Center Right renaissance at some point in the future. The blog has also had an impact on politics as well from time to time. L.K. Advani’s website and blog used to frequently link to it. Sudheendra Kulkarni had linked to the blog in his op-ed in the Indian Express during the 2006 Presidential election. More recently, the blog had hosted a public debate on “Challenging Left Liberalism” with Swapan Dasgupta, Kanchan Gupta, Ashok Malik and Harini Calamur participating.
Q: What are the repercussions of expressing a strong opinion on sensitive issues, online? (Could you share some incidents, if any?)
A: There is the usual abuse that comes one way or the other. But the more significant impact is you are boxed and labelled if you are not politically correct. We have this other social consensus around political correctness. Inclusive, Sensitive and Plural are the operative keywords of that social consensus built around political correctness. So when you express strong opinion on issues without any of these operative keywords it draws its own share of criticism. The risky terrain is when you get personal. Its important to not get too personal or focus your opinion on personalities. Still learning to keep that discipline.
Q: Where do you see Twitter vis-ŕ-vis the Indian political landscape?
A: I think it was New York Times India correspondent Lydia Polgreen who observed the other day that Twitter seems to be made for India. I agree with her. Its a living lab where Amartya Sen’s Argumentative Indian can be observed and immersively experienced. From a political mobilization standpoint it is still early days. I see mobilizing opinion digitally happening. I don’t see much of it translating to the physical world though. But that just maybe waiting for the next spark. I can imagine what a Twitter could have done to the 2006 OBC reservations movement in Delhi by YFE. So yeah we are just one spark away from the next Urban Student agitation using Twitter creatively. It perhaps may already be happening in Hyderabad over the Telangana issue, we just may not be aware of it.
Q: How would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favorite five blogs and your top 5 Twitter follows.
A: I must confess I am not much of a consumer of fellow blogs. Before I am accused of betraying the cause, let me explain why. Blogging is stealing time away from family. It borders on domestic neglect while pushing the envelope dangerously close on Professional delinquency. If I have to prioritize the little time I have I would mostly utilize in producing quality unique and differentiating blogging material. That means Google and op-ed columns mostly consume my time. Not much time to read other blogs. However INI blogs, Atanu’s Deesha, Sandeepweb, Kanchan Gupta’s blog produce good commentary that I check in from time to time. Missing Swapan Dasgupta‘s blogposts, especially after the series he did in the aftermath of 2009 election results.
On Twitter have a huge challenge keeping with the Timeline. I have radically cut down the Following list to less than 50. Moved everyone else to Lists grouped by areas of interest, to help keep up with the volume of opinion and chatter. Find Sidin funny, Smita Prakash and Rashmi Bansal very earthy. Media friends like Mrityunjoy Jha and Toral Varia helpful with their objective reporting. Also enjoy the occasional tweet-a-pow with SVaradarajan whenever he obliges. Lastly my good friend CenterOfRight without who all those Live Events would have been impossible.
Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?
A: Reminds me of a dialogue from one of those plagiarized B-grade Murder mystery Hindi movies, I cant recollect the name of the movie. “You need to write to get the shit out of the system”. Let us just it is something like that. It keeps me sane and intellectually alive.
Q: What other topics do you/ would you like to write about?
A: I have written poetry, some satirical fiction. Had long started a novel, its still stuck mid-way, will complete it someday. Ancient Indian literature, History and philosophy are also topics that I try to get to from time to time.
Q: What is your pet peeve about blogging/social media?
A: None actually. I am not too emotionally invested in it to have a peeve. I give to it what I can, expect very little back. Keeps things healthy that way and ensures I don’t lose perspective. There is a real world out there, it would be a life wasted to get caught up with peeves in the virtual world.
Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?
A: Not beyond the occasional tweet. Word of mouth is perhaps been the best promotion. The occasional celebrity re-tweet helps too đź™‚
Q: You have an established presence online but little or nothing is known about your personal life. Our readers would love to know your real name or what you do for a living. Is this anonymity a conscious effort? Can you tell us something that your readers havenâ€™t heard so far about Offstumped?
A: Actually there is not much of a mystery to someone who wants to know and can connect the dots. It is known for example that I am an IIT Mumbaikar with origins in Hyderabad who works for the Tech sector in Bangalore. I have consciously maintained the anonymity to keep the focus firmly on the substance of the issues and not on the idiosyncrasies of the individual.
Q:What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
A: Follow the eternal advise Krishan has to offer in Bhagvad Gita and the dot-com gurus offered in the 1990s. Do your duty, don’t worry about the fruits. If you write they will come. Just focus on the writing, be consistent and try to be unique and differentiated. The readership will eventually build.
Q:Do you earn revenue from your blog? Do you have any tips on this?
A: None but I am sure the brand equity has some potential for monetization. At some point if Offstumped evolves into a Digital News Media outlet, I will have some tips as well on how to monetize.
And finally, some fun facts about Offstumped:
- Your Favorite Colour: Khakis I guess, I am wearing them all the time, and no not the Sangh variety.
- Your Favorite Movie: Jaane bhi do yaaron
- Your Favorite TV show: Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister
- Your Favorite Book: Joseph Heller’s Catch-22
- Your Favorite Time of the day: Early morning, miss not being able to catch daybreak, love the sunrise.
- Your Zodiac Sign: Virgo
Thank you ‘Yossarin’ for this wonderful interview and for giving your exclusive first-time-on-net photo for the readers of BlogAdda. Friends, any questions on anything and everything on Indian Politics can be discussed here. Do send us your valuable feedback as we gear up to launch a ALL NEW BLOGADDA. đź™‚