‘Manmohan Singh cartoon with halo won’t work now’

Panaji, May 7 (IANS) No cartoonist would dare sketch Manmohan Singh as Superman with a halo on his head during the economist’s second term as prime minister, says cartoonist-cum-editor Ravi Shankar, one of the few such in India.

During a live cartoon demonstration here, Shankar instead chose to draw Manmohan Singh as a man with darkened eyes and an arched back, much like Quasimodo, the hunchback bellringer of Notre Dame, who is dubbed “the Pope of fools” in Victor Hugo’s epic.

“He is a man of ideas, whose stature has diminished,” Shankar said, explaining his cartoon at a live workshop “Explore the world of politics with cartoons”, conducted at Panaji’s Sunaparanta Art Gallery here Monday as part of the Sunaparanta Mario Miranda Cartoon Festival.

Manmohan Singh, said Shankar, an executive editor at The Sunday Standard, is one of his pet characters along with another prime minister, the late P.V. Narasimha Rao, and the man who could never become prime minister, L.K. Advani.

“They have been in the midst of a lot of situations,” Shankar said, when asked who he loved to draw the most over 40 years as a political cartoonist, working with leading media outlets like The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Indian Express and India Today.

Shankar claimed that political cartooning has much to do with tapping the contemporary public mood. Putting his reasoning in context, he said: “Today, you cannot draw a Manmohan Singh cartoon as Superman with a halo on his head. It won’t work. You have to understand the public sentiment.”

Terming India a place where one had to avoid drawing cartoons with religion as a motif, the Palakkad-born Shankar recounted an instance when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called a strike in New Delhi after one of his cartoons in The Illustrated Weekly used the Mahabharata’s Kurukshetra war scene canvas to juxtapose the untenable defence of Congressman A.R. Antulay, who was involved in a corruption scandal in the 1980s.

“Pritish (Nandy, the then editor of The Illustrated Weekly) was scared and met Advani,” Shankar said, detailing the fallout of the cartoon.

“The reason why we don’t see Indian religious allusions in cartooning is because in India people cannot accept religious humour in cartoons,” he said.

Shankar called America the last free frontier, where cartoonists can take excessive licence and lampoon everyone including presidents – disgraced president Richard Nixon drawn as a rat – and gods too.

“I wouldn’t draw Manmohan Singh as a cow or Advani as a rat,” he said.

Shankar said that space for cartoons in the Indian media was shrinking with publishing houses preferring a more clinical and package-oriented approach to news publishing.

And in answer to a young cartoon aficionado, who was curious to know if one could make cartooning a full-time profession, Shankar quipped: “Only if your father has money!”

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])

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