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HVK Archives: Cutting it out

Cutting it out - The Hindustan Times

G. S. Bhargava ()
October 12, 1998

Title: Cutting it out
Author: G. S. Bhargava
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: October 12, 1998

Cut-outs are a south Indian, particularly Tamilian,
embellishment of what is intellectually called the political
process. They made their triumphant entry into politics when
M.G. Ramachandran, as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, made cinema
the key to public life. In the early days of competition between
MGR's AIADMK and the parental DMK, the size of the competing cut-
outs often clinched the issue. The reason is simple. There are
no stars without fans, and vice versa. And fans cannot operate
without cut-outs. When N. T. Rama Rao launched his Talugu Desam
Party in Andhra Pradesh, the practice spread there.

Competition, between fan clubs can be as intensive and deadly as
the cold war. I saw in Vijayawada that one of the main functions
of the fan club is to buy up all the tickets for the star's
films for as many days as possible so that the film will have a
longer run than that of the rival film star. Thus, the cinema
houses would always carry house-full notices, but if you have
access to the fan club you can get as many tickets as you want.
In the case of really popular movies - or box office hits, as
they are called - the fans also do not mind making a quick buck
on the sly by disposing of the tickets at a premium.

But there are cut-outs and cut-outs, apparently. They are the
stock in trade in the spying business also. Duane R. Claridge's
A Spy for All Seasons describes their role in the most-paying
trade. Duane practically cut his teeth as a CIA operative in
Delhi and Madras in the early 1960s. According to him, in the
espionage jargon, a cut-out is a sub-agent.

Among the achievements listed by him of his Indian tour duty was
the financing of a pro-Chinese communist weekly from Madras and
helping set up a pro-Soviet communist group in the capital. The
modus operandi he describes of priming a pro-Chinese communist
centre in Madras is fascinating. He got hold of a Chinese-
looking agent and trained him in mouthing Marxist cliches. He
was then sent to the publisher of a pro-Chinese Tamil weekly as
an unofficial emissary from Beijing, or the entre as the
jargon goes. He had some tips for the publisher. Along with the
ips were wads of currency notes in brown envelopes. That was
the pre-suitcase age.

The operation went on for months with Duane periodically pushing
the publication into a more and more militant position,
denouncing Indian independence as bogus, disputing India's
position on the Sino-Indian border and charging the Nehru
Government with imperialist designs on China. There were also
demands for withdrawal of Indian troops from Ladakh and the
erstwhile North-East Frontier Agency.

The Communists readily swallowed it. The Marxists in Kerala and
West Bengal were puzzled, but could not disown the cut-out
because they were not sure that was not the line. Especially
with the cut-out being a ready source of funds and dialectical
instructions. Although Duane did not identify the communist
running the publication, a fire-emitting Marxist in funds did
not remain concealed for long. He was detained by the
Qcomprador regime in Delhi and became a hero for some months.

As Duane describes it, there was not need for a cut-out in
promoting a pro-Soviet communist outfit in Delhi: The vibes from
Madras saw to it.

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