Faceless businessmen. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab
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"I’ve never bought tights in my life": The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 12

Lord Sugar’s rather laboured hunt for a new business partner finally finishes.

WARNING: This blog is for people watching The Apprentice. Contains spoilers!

Read the episode 11 blog here.
 

At last. Like birds released, we can spread our wings and fly jubilantly away from this cage of glass and steel that has imprisoned us for 12 weeks. Away from the fiercely ironed blouses and hostile pocket handkerchiefs that is the uniform of its inmates. Away from the cruel icy-eyebrowed gaze of its guards, Karren and Nick. Far, far away from the judge (and Supreme Court judge, of course), jury and executioner, Lord Sugar.

For it is the final. To those reading who have stuck with the series throughout, congratulations, and thanks for giving it 110 per cent. To those who had long ago given up but deigned to watch the final, yer a bladdy disgrace. A bladdy disgrace. But probably have more friends than I do.

 
 
 
 

In an emotional last ever early morning wake-up call, Mark in his serious boxers picks up the banana phone one final time to be told to travel to a random London location in 20 minutes.

He and Bianca – who take separate taxis for some reason, so it may be worth scrutinising the green credentials of their respective businesses if they ever come to fruition – bomb down to the Bloomsbury Ballroom. This is because it has the supremely vague appeal of being a “leading venue for high-profile events”.

“You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve arranged some help,” says Lord Sugar, with a look of a man jollily announcing someone’s death sentence, as a motley procession of some of the series’ past most irritating candidates file in. Felipe grins. Bianca and Mark look queasier than they did at six in the morning.

They pick their teams, with Mark’s furiously clenching nemesis Daniel, pintsized brute James and petrifying lipstick enthusiast Sarah last to be chosen, and go off to launch their businesses.

Sarah is last to be chosen. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

“Sarah, welcome aboard, we need some beauty,” says Mark, as the equality of the sexes becomes but a footnote in the history of a world dominated by faceless digital marketing men.

Bianca briefs her team on the importance of selling hosiery in different skin tones for £35 each, while Daniel works very hard at setting his face in a confused scowl and making sure everyone knows he is a MAN and knows NOTHING about tights. “I’ve personally not worn tights,” he growls anxiously to camera, doing a good impression of someone who protests too much, “in fact, I’ve never bought tights in my life”.

And it soon looks like women won’t be buying them either. Well, not Bianca’s ones anyway. Her market research – a room full of businesswomen with legs of all different hues – shows very strongly that her aim for the “luxury market” (ie. ripping people off) is misjudged. They wouldn’t buy such expensive tights. “It’s important that people know the truth about this,” cries Lauren, her concern about getting a ladder extending to the whole of humanity.

Access deniered. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

Meanwhile, Mark is putting together his dull digital something-or-other plan to do the same thing as those marketing people who hassle companies about making their online presence more “impactful”, but even more intensely. Face-to-face hassling.

It’s called “Climb Online”, and the promo video features builders and dentists scaling a climbing wall talking unconvincingly about how much they love people pitching to them about having their companies appear higher up in Google searches.

Then it’s time for the pitches, in which “an audience of experts” fills a cavernous function room to look menacingly at the candidate in question, and act as Lord Sugar’s gaggle of sycophants at the after-party, when they gather around what looks like garden furniture, drinking warm wine and discussing things like how “lots of people would buy tights in different colours” and “lots of people are doing the internets these days”.

Unsuitable entertainment. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice screengrab

Bianca gives a slick, solid performance, and the audience of experts coo and purr. Mark, stricken with stage-fright, is rather hesitant at first, clearing his throat in what ominously sounds like it will be a repeat of the disastrous pitchto Tesco he croaked and choked through a couple of weeks ago.

But he gets over it and delivers a passable, if staid, presentation. The only thing that jazzes it up is Solomon and James’ idea of having men in blue and orange lycra Morph suits climbing and falling in an interpretative dance to open the event. It’s everything that is wrong with the modern age: onesies and meaningless digital marketing strategies. But afterwards, the audience of “online giants”, who are disappointingly average height, sing Mark’s praises to Lord Sugar.

We end, as we always do, in the boardroom. There’s time for one final unnecessary sexist comment (Nick on seeing a real-life woman wearing tights: “Mr Hewer had minor palpitations”), one final mangled metaphor (Sir Alan: “singing the song for high quality, you make a rod for your back”), and one final firing. Bianca goes, and Mark wins the investment, as Lord Sugar decides, “the devil in me says the service industry”. Ooh, you devil you.

Putting the Mark in marketing. Photo: BBC/The Apprentice

I've been blogging The Apprentice each week. This is the last instalment. Read my blog on the previous episode here. Click here to read the whole series. 

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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How the death of a militant in Kashmir went viral

Burhan Wani was a 22-year-old Hizb al-Mujahedin commander. In life, he resuscitated the flagging insurgency. Now, his death has put it on a firm road to revival.

His photographs began to circulate on Facebook last year. In one, he leans against a cedar tree in a forest in southern Kashmir, a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder. In another, he stands before lush green mountains under a cloudless sky.

But the picture that created the myth of Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old Hizb al-Mujahedin commander, was a group shot with ten armed associates standing around him. They faced the camera calmly, a hint of a smile tugging at their lips. The photograph went viral, not only in Kashmir but also across India and Pakistan.

On 8 July, when Wani and two other rebels were shot dead in a joint operation by the police and paramilitary forces, thousands of people across southern Kashmir took to the streets to mourn and protest. The mosques reverberated with slogans of freedom – a throwback to the late 1980s, when armed struggle against Indian rule broke out in the region. The protesters lobbed stones. The police fired back.

The following morning, news of protesters’ deaths started to emerge. The injured, numbering in their hundreds, began to reach the hospitals in Srinagar. Many had been hit in the eyes with pellets from pump-action guns, non-lethal weapons used for crowd control in Kashmir since 2010.

The eye doctors at Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital said that more than a hundred people had been partially or completely blinded. Among them was a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Insha Malik, who lost the vision in both eyes. A picture of her pellet-riddled face has become the symbol of the ongoing mayhem.

The fury soon spread across Kashmir. Mosque loudspeakers boomed with slogans and songs calling for resistance against India. Apart from the government-owned broadband service, internet and mobile-phone networks were shut down. Yet this made little difference. Roughly sixty people – many of them teenagers – have lost their lives. According to figures presented to parliament by the Indian home minister on 11 August, 4,515 security personnel and 3,356 civilians have been injured in the protests.

What made Burhan Wani important enough to warrant such widespread mourning and anger? The answer is tacitly understood in Kashmir but little articulated. In his six years as a rebel, Wani revived anti-India militancy from near-extinction. His strategy was primarily tech-driven – according to police in Kashmir, he hadn’t fired a single shot.

The image of a handsome young man in battle fatigues against a pastoral backdrop, calling for a new attempt at jihad against India, held a powerful appeal for a young generation in Kashmir. These are the people who are enduring the fallout of more than two decades of separatist insurgency, and they are bitter about New Delhi’s oppressive hold over their homeland. With his fresh, viral image, Wani separated his movement from Kashmir’s history and bestowed a new moral glamour on their actions.

He was soon joined by scores of recruits. In 2015, for the first time in a decade, local militants outnumbered outsiders. This year, out of 145 active rebels, 91 are from Indian-administered Kashmir and most of the rest are from Pakistan or Pakistan-administered Kashmir (though this is still a far cry from the early 1990s, when thousands of militants, both local and from elsewhere, roamed the valley). The recruits – many of them home-grown, Wani-inspired youths – are replenishing the ranks as others are killed.

As the ongoing turmoil shows, Wani long ago transcended his modest militant credentials. He has become an emblem of Kashmir’s deepening alienation from India and a role model for young people for whom guns seem to be the only route to a better future.

In life, he resuscitated the flagging insurgency. Now, his death has put it on a firm road to revival. Unlike during the mass uprisings of 2008 and 2010, Kashmir today is drifting back to active militancy, with the myths about Wani enlivening the separatist narrative.

“You will kill one Burhan; thousands of Burhans will be born”, one slogan goes. “Burhan, your blood will bring revolution”, promises another. The millennial generation has little memory of the horrors of the 1990s, of the innumerable killings and disappearances. An estimated 60,000 people have been killed in the armed rebellion against New Delhi, in part aided by Pakistan (which claims Kashmir as part of its territory, in a dispute that stretches back to the 1947 partition of India). Human rights groups put the number of enforced disappearances in the present conflict at 8,000.

Contributing to this mood are India’s rightward turn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the perception that New Delhi wants to forcibly change the demographics in Kashmir. This fear has been reinforced by recent government measures to set up colonies to be settled by Indian soldiers and Kashmiri Pandits – the latter from a small Hindu community that was forced to flee the region during the separatist violence.

At Wani’s funeral on 9 July, all eyes were on a group of masked rebels in the front row. They fired their guns in salute to their fallen chief. When prayers ended, the mourners strained to catch a glimpse of Wani’s comrades. Those who were close enough kissed them on the forehead before they escaped.

More than a month later, the anger on the streets shows no sign of abating. Protests take place daily across Kashmir. Businesses are shut down for most of the day, opening only briefly late in the evening and early in the morning. Internet access is restricted, except through the state-owned broadband. With each week of disturbances, the numbers of deaths and injuries continue to mount.

Meanwhile, a new video has appeared on Facebook and YouTube. This time, it comes from Sabzar Ahmad Bhat, Wani’s successor. Again, it shows a commander and his associates in battle fatigues, in a forest in southern Kashmir. Bhat waves to the camera as the others remain engrossed by their phones. It, too, has gone viral. 

This article first appeared in the 18 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s revenge