Sudhir Tailang is one of India’s finest political cartoonists, known for his unique drawing style
and unsparing satire. He has tried his hand in different genres of humour. He has made TV
programmes, anchored a celebrity TV show done books, made animated cartoons, held exhibitions of
his cartoons in different parts of the world and also made a CD ROM on the art of cartooning. But
his core strength remains his daily dose of biting satire laced with wit and vitriol. He has his
fans spread across the political spectrum. Even his victims admire his cartoons.
He has worked with all major newspapers of the country. He began his career with The Illustrated
Weekly Of India from the stable of the Times Group in Bombay in 1982. The following year he
shifted to Delhi and has been a fixture ever since! He worked with the Hindustan Times for about
two decades where he drew the daily front—page pocket cartoon Here & Now, apart from his big
political cartoons. He also had at brief stint with the Indian Express. Presently he draws a daily
political cartoon for the edit page of the Asian Age and the Deccan Chronicle.
He was awarded Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian awards, by the President of India in 2004
for his contribution to the art of cartooning.
Singh is Kking!
This is an unusual cartoon collection. All of my previous anthologies have focused mainly on the
tenures of different prime ministers. But the one in your hands is absolutely different. It
features about 150 cartoons of our solo protagonist: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Dr. Singh is not your run—of—the—mill politician. The sole ambition of many of our politicians is
to somehow make it to the three column cartoon box! Dr Singh is different and never aspires to be
in the company of his tribesmen in the cartoon. Yet, despite his best efforts, he fails to avoid
the cartoonist’s brush! He has to share the same space, within the confines of a cartoon box and
with many politicians he despises. But then these are some of the perks that come along with the
chair— if you happen to be the PM of India.
In fact, a politician remains a non—entity till he actually makes it to the coveted cartoon space.
In that sense, it’s a measure of a leader’s stature too, as to how importantly, and how often, he
is featured in cartoons. To that extent, without any doubt, Dr Singh is Kking!
If I spread out all the cartoons that I drew in the past five years, that would be more than one
and a half thousand drawings. And most of them would go to Dr Singh! That’s his influence and
importance in Indian politics!
When I started my professional career as a cartoonist, way back in 1982, Mrs Indira Gandhi was
ruling the roost. She was the typical Indian politician any cartoonist could ever imagine. She
fitted the slot reserved for cartoons quite naturally: a pointed nose, a white strip of hair, a
rudraksh mala, and a snooty attitude! That’s what made Indira Gandhi the darling of cartoonists.
She was probably the most—cartooned politician of India after Independence! There was something
beyond her external features, something that was outside the reach of a camera, from her
dictatorial streak to her arrogance! And that’s what contributed to the success of her
caricaturists. If a cartoon captured what wasn’t visible to the naked eye, it was guaranteed to
succeed. No politician has been able to replace her since!
I have drawn some nine prime ministers and scores of politicians in the last twenty—five years or
so. I’m thankful to all of them for all their antics that helped me establish myself as a
cartoonist. Each new PM is a mystery and a challenge for me. The moment he takes the reins of
power, I begin to sharpen my tools. The white sheet of paper entices him to my parlour. The
seduction of the drawing board is too tempting, and all PMs ultimately give in to the charms of my
P.V. Narasimha Rao remains my most favourite PM to date. He was a dream come true for me. His
entire persona was invented for the caricaturist. The flaring nostrils, the lovely pout, the long
sleeves of his kurta. . .Rao was, and will always remain, my hero number one.
My hero number two is BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani. He has been at the other end
of my brush for many years. His bald pate, toothbrush like moustache, and bushy eyebrows make him
a cartoonist’s delight! That he is one of the last few leaders of his generation makes him all the
more unique. If he ever becomes the PM, we cartoonists will have a field day.
No PM has disappointed me so far. Not even Dr Singh, who had every reason to fail me! But he has
been pretty kind! Way back in 2004, I couldn’t have imagined that some day he'd flower into being
the king of the cartoon that he is! He is the luckiest politician in India. He has never won even
a municipal election in his life, yet he is India’s PM. No wonder he is so envied by his fellow
He is the man who launched economic liberalisation in India as P.V. Narasimha Rao’s Finance
Minister. He steered:1 booming economy and hoped to achieve a IO per cent growth rate, but
ironically ended up with a period of price rise, a high rate of unemployment and added a few
million people to the BPL list!
In the summer of 2004, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was totally convinced that India
was shining. He couldn’t believe that people thought otherwise, and he lost the election.
Not even in his wildest dreams would Dr Singh have probably thought that he would one day shift to
7, Race Course Road! As Sonia Gandhi’s Congress patty cobbled up a majority to form a government,
there were widespread protests against a person of foreign origin becoming the PM. Sonia decided
to swear in Dr Singh as PM.
Prime ministership is a windfall in India and we have had few PMs who earned their throne. You
don’t even have to be a player in the gambling to win the prize! Jawaharlal Nehru earned it.
Shastri deserved it. Indira Gandhi inherited it. So did Rajiv Gandhi. For Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral
and Chandra Shekhar it was a lottery! For PV Narasimha Rao too it was a bounty he never expected!
VP Singh schemed to reach the South Block, and succeeded in realising his dream! But he couldn’t
pretend for long and lost it because he didn’t deserve it in the first place. Vajpayee genuinely
deserved it and proved worthy of it.
People believe in destiny in India. In fact, it’s not the people of India, but destiny that
decides who rules them! In the case of Dr Singh, the Dynasty decided his fate! He was airdropped
at the South Block. An honest official and an able Finance Minister, Dr Singh was never allowed to
live up to his post! His Leftist allies didn’t allow much elbow room for him to manoeuvre and made
life miserable for him. His boss, Sonia Gandhi, never loosened the reins! So he was just a
sidekick in my earlier cartoons. I never imagined this simple and docile gentleman would turn into
such a splendid cartoon subject. He slips into my cartoons silently It’s so difficult to ignore
him! When he has to seek Sonia Gandhi’s approval for even small decisions of his government, he
automatically qualifies to be in my cartoons.
The Indo—US nuclear deal was his obsession. It has been a matter of life and death for him — much
more important than even his government! That’s why he staked his government to get rid of the
major stumbling block: the Leftist allies.
For me, both the Leftists and the deal itself made my job easier. The Leftists reminded me of
Jayalalithaa during Vajpayee’s tenure of thirteen months. She made mincemeat of him and extracted
her pound of flesh. Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri were the male avatars of Jayalalithaa for
the hapless Dr Singh.
But there is always an Amar Singh who enters the screen in the last reel to rescue the damsel in
distress! In this story he made a grand entry to save the Doctor in distress! Much before Dr Panda
performed a heart surgery on Dr Singh, it was Amar Singh who gave a second lease of life to the PM
and the UPA government. And, of course, many cartoon ideas to me! Wads of currency notes being
waved in Parliament and accusations of horse—trading turned out to be a boon for cartoonists.
A coalition government best serves the cartoonist’s interests, since much of its energies are
invested in the effort to survive. And this keeps the brush—wielders busy. The UPA government
didn’t disappoint me, and ditto for its PM, Dr Singh. I have immensely enjoyed following his
eventful five years in the PMO — a comic slice of India’s history I am sure you too will.
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