… or how to get a little local insight when travelling.
When I spent a few months in West Bengal, India in 2010 I bought a newspaper whenever I could to peruse during my downtime. I got to learn about Indian politics at the national level and more importantly, because this is where the nitty-gritty action is, at the state level.
Indian politics might appear a confusing mire of parties, coalitions and breakaway factions, but once you begin to accept its shape-shifting character and stop worrying about what each and every acronym stands for, you will get the gist.
The Kolkata-based Telegraph was my usual read. My previous knowledge was limited – I knew only that the communists were in power in West Bengal. I now discovered the likes of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and Mamata Banerjee for myself, or as far as I could without meeting them.
Incidentally, a few months after my return home Mr Bhattacharya and his Communist Party of India (Marxist) Party were defeated in an election by the redoubtable Ms Banerjee of All India Trinamool Congress, and she is currently Chief Minister.
With any country or region you just have to make a little initial effort to find out how the politics works and what party is what, then the political scene will make some sense to you and – lo and behold – you have something interesting to read about while waiting for your train. You can sit back and enjoy the grandstanding and cheap point scoring, especially if an election is looming as it was in my West Bengal days. In a few weeks time I will back in India, landing in Chennai. Although I’ll be spending most of my time in the south – and I’ve already checked up on the name and career of Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister – I will end up back at Kolkata, so I’ll be able to properly catch up on what Ms Banerjee and co are up to.