Archive for November, 2010

One question I’m dying to ask Barkha Dutt

30 November 2010

Barkha Dutt, the “massively influential but ethically embattled TV news anchor” of  NDTV 24×7, is subjecting herself to a massively advertised, pre-recorded public inquisition with four carefully chosen peers to extricate her credibility out of the sludge that the Niira Radia tapes have thrown her and her channel in.

Cruel wags are calling it “We, the Peepli [Live]“, “The Buckwas Stops Here”, “The Buck Stops There”.

What is the one question that you are dying to ask Ms Dutt that the Delhi journalists are likely to have missed. Please keep your queries short, civil and journalistic.

Photograph: courtesy Eric Miller/ WEF via The Daily Beast

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Also read: BARKHA DUTT on the allegations against her

‘Credibility is like virginity and it’s been lost’

86% feel let down by journalists’ “CD baat

Everybody loves a nice admiration club

Lessons for Vir and Barkha from Prem and Nikhilda

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

NDTV response on Barkha Dutt

Vir Sanghvi‘s response to the Radia tapes

Has Ratan Tata ruined the Tata brand image?

29 November 2010

Although it has a finger in every pie, the Tata group has enjoyed a sterling reputation as a cut above the rest. Unlike the Ambanis and Birlas and everybody else, the group boasts of a “clean and incorruptible” image. Unlike others, it has been known to do things differently, keeping the “community” at the core.

Is that well-earned image in danger, judging from a bunch of recent incidents? And as he prepares to step into the shadows, having turned a quiet Parsi outfit into a global conquistador, will Ratan Tata—under whose leadership the revenue of the Tata group has gone up 40 times—go down as the dikra who messed with the holy grail?

For starters, the Tata group is smack bang in the middle of the Rs 173,000 crore 2G spectrum allocation scam. The tapped conversations of Ratan Tata’s chief lobbyist, Niira Radia, reveal how a gang of politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, and journalists re-inserted the tainted A. Raja into Manmohan Singh‘s cabinet in 2009.

# One key conversation (on 13 June 2009) between Radia and DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi‘s third wife Rajathiammal matches with the contents of a set of documents that were doing the rounds earlier this year, that revealed that the Tatas (through their subsidiary Voltas) had agreed to build a building in Madras, apparently as a payoff to DMK for keeping Dayanidhi Maran out of the telecom ministry.

# And, for another, the Tatas come out poorly in a Radia conversation that reveals that former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda had demanded Rs 180 crore for a Tatas’ mining lease to be extended. Radia gets the lease extended through the governor Syed Sibte Razi, and she is rewarded a “success fee” besides a Rs 1 crore reward to her team.

In conversations with Radia ranging from the cute to the colourful, Ratan Tata reveals more than just passing interest in the retention of A. Raja in the telecom portfolio. “I’m surprised that Raja after all that you supposedly did for him is playing this game,” he says in one conversation. “I guess the only concern I have is that Maran is going hammer and tongs for Raja. And I hope Raja doesn’t trip or slip or…”

These one-liners only add grist to a delicious rumour, twice repeated, that Ratan Tata actually wrote a hand-written letter to Karunanidhi on Raja’s “rational, fair and action-oriented leadership” in December 2007. To now see the same Ratan Tata say that if the government did not step in and uphold the rule of law, the environment of scandals could see India slide into becoming a “banana republic” and to see that he is thinking of invoking the right to privacy and moving the Supreme Court is revealing in a Freudian sort of way.

Obviously, doing business in India and growing at the kind of rate the Tatas have, is not a walk in the park. Equally obviously, the Radia conversations do not represent the full story. Still, have the tapes removed the halo from around the head of the Tatas? Is Ratan Tata right in seeking shelter under right to privacy, or is he trying to hide more dirt from coming out? And has Ratan Tata proved no different from his much-reviled peers?

The most noise usually comes from the people who have the most to hide.

Also read: Tatas, turtles and corporate social responsibility

External reading: The Niira Radia tapes and transcripts

Good morning, here’s the news you didn’t hear

29 November 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN says: Hello and welcome to ‘Corruption Matters! Channel’.

Here’s the news read by Ghoos Bhai Ghoos.

First, the headlines:

# The telecom scandal of Rs 175,000 crore has now crossed Rs 575,000 crore.

# Bangaloreans will have to vacate their homes as the entire City will be denotified.

# India has requested Commonwealth countries to award CWG on a permanent basis to Delhi.

# ‘Parama Adarsh’ complex is to come up opposite Parliament House for freedom fighters.

# And, as usual, sports, business and weather.

Now, the news in detail:

# Reliable sources have told CM!C that the 2G spectrum allocation scam involving A. Raja has swelled to Rs 575,000 crore thanks to the disruptions and non-functioning of Parliament over the last 15 days. The figure, computed and released by CAG last night, was immediately disputed by the national council for unclean public life (NCUPL).

NCUPL feels various ministries and departments have colluded with DoT and TRAI to present a “less than accurate” picture. NCPL estimates the figure should be more than Rs 875,000 crore. Going by the now accepted worldwide industry norms (one spectrum Raja = Rs 175,000 crore), this works to more than 7 spectrum Rajas.

# Moving on, at the rate at which way Bangalore is being denotified, most citizens, except Cabinet ministers and their near and nearer ones, will have to leave the City soon.

The move will affect the IT industry and the Bangalore international airport in particular. The denotification ministry of Karnataka government (DEMI-K) has already issued notices to IT companies to vacate their land. The BIAL will be shortly moving across to Hosur in Tamil Nadu to fly their planes.

Meanwhile, some well-known ministers along with hitherto unheard-of mining companies have floated a joint sector company, ‘Just Grab’, to arrange to and fro transport to passengers at ‘Hosur Kalaignar Airport.’ Passengers will have the choice of air-taxi, air-bus, plain bus to reach airport arranged by JG.

It’s reliably learnt JG has applied for a loan for Rs 500 crore for this project which was sanctioned last month itself. Cheques have already been deposited in specific accounts to speed up matters. This project was cleared with no windows but only a small hole under the table but big enough to push a hand through.

# Commonwealth countries are said to be reacting positively to India plea that all future games, including the opening and closing ceremonies, be held in Delhi. This which will keep the chairman of the organizing committee and various agencies such as NDMC, CPWD, Delhi Metro etc fully occupied till kingdom come.

Your channel has learnt that IOA has specifically requested permission to organize each and every “Queen’s baton exchange programme” as it has acquired sufficient expertise in handling procurement of queen-size toilet papers,  umbrellas and organizing  taxi–service .

# Good news for freedom fighters across the country. A new complex, Parama Adarsh, is being planned bang opposite Parliament House in Delhi  A 62- storey building comprising 552 flats, malls, swimmimg pools, seminar hall, spa, yoga and astrology centres, and tennis courts will come up in the sprawling complex to commemorate 62 years of freedom.

The complex will be built by a conglomerate of builders who will raise loan from LIC housing finance for Rs 1,000 crore. Earnest efforts are underway to trace the freedom fighters.

# And in sports. In a surprise move, both IOA and BCCI have come together. The IOA which has enormous experience in organizing CWG will join hands with BCCI in organizing future auctions to select IPL Teams. IOA will also handle publicity in print and electronic media, Bollywood, fashion shows, etc, for BCCI.

And finally, business news and the weather.

The rupee held its own against the onslaught of brokers trying to sell benami sites, and to form quick and fictitious joint-ownership companies.

The weather continues to be bright and cheerful all over India for denotification, housing allotment, housing loan, telecom allocation, and other scams.

We will be back with more news in an hour, or as and when it breaks.

Why is Yediyurappa taking on the Lok Ayukta?

29 November 2010

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Poor Yediyurappa, a victim of his own habits.

The Karnataka chief minister is impulsive in his reactions, a habit which he has carried from his days as the chief of the state BJP unit and leader of the opposition in the State assembly.

He often puts his foot into his mouth and has a penchant for making promises, with no thought whatsoever of redeeming them. He is liberal with both.

These have often dragged him into a quagmire of controversies needlessly.

The latest one to surface has been the one in which he has pitted himself with the Karnataka Lok Ayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, over the propriety of the State government in constituting a judicial commission to go into the land denotification issue when the matter is already pending with Lok Ayukta.

From all points of view, this was an avoidable controversy. Only some time ago, Yediyurappa had achieved a tenuous  peace when Hegde had put in his papers, dissatisfied as he was with the manner in which the State government was hedging the demand for the grant of the suo motu powers of  investigation into the cases of corruption.

(Under the present rules, the Lok Ayukta can only act on the basis of a written complaint and in the absence of the same, he can’t proceed in the matter.)

In view of the public outcry over the episode, Yediyurappa had to seek the intervention of the BJP’s higher-ups, including the patriarch L.K. Advani in making Justice Hegde relent. Justice Hegde was promised that the needful action would be taken to meet his demand. But this hardly materialised in the days that followed.

What has happened is that the government has only met the demand halfway, leaving the main question unresolved.

It does not stand to reason why the Karnataka chief minister should open another flank for a fight, when he had won a reprieve by a whisker as it were from the party high command which wanted to give him the marching orders.

It has opened the raw wound of uneasy relations between the government and the Lok Ayukta at a time when the issue had almost gone out of the memory of the people.

One may concede that the decision to go in for judicial commission was an impulsive reaction from Yediyurappa in the light of the torrent of land denotification scandals involving his kith and kin which had prompted the high command to think in terms of asking him to quit. But the subsequent events have proved that it is a deliberate action.

In an unusual reaction, the State government seeks the status report from the Lok Ayukta on all the matters entrusted to it for enquiry, while the State government is known to be sitting over the reports already sent by Lok Ayukta, thus coming in the way of the enquiry reaching the logical end.

Not only those, BJP legislators have been let loose on the Lok Ayukta, with one of them demanding an apology from him to the CM and threatening to organise a demonstration in front of his office if it wasn’t forthcoming.  The action smacks of attitude of the political vengeance, which is uncalled for since the Lok Ayukta is not a political office.

It is not clear what Yediyurappa wants to achieve by this kind of action. One plausible explanation could be that he would like to complicate the matter by having parallel enquiry by two separate agencies, and create a legal conundrum to delay the process of enquiry one way or other.

Yediyurappa in his wisdom genuinely believed that the judicial enquiry would serve the ends more than the one conducted by the Lok Ayukta, nothing prevented him from having informal consultation to avoid any acrimony or needless controversy.

That Justice Hegde has been hurt very much by diatribe opened by the government is evident from his strong reaction.  Hegde, who is otherwise quite restrained and balanced in his remarks,  made an emotional remark that if the government so desired, it could abolish the Lok Ayukta by repealing the law.

Yediyurappa and his cohorts should understand that Lok Ayukta today enjoys better credibility than the BJP government and this is the one controversy they could have avoided on the eve of an electoral challenge in the form of the panchayat elections next month.

The inimical attitude towards the Lok Ayukta inherent in the State government’s action and observations cannot be hidden by any explanation made on behalf of the government. Moreover, there is hardly anything that government gains politically by throwing innuendos against the style of the working of Lok Ayukta.

Also read: ‘BJP’s lotus grows in muck; so do its people’

6+1 questions after the return of Justice Santosh Hegde

‘In Ram Rajya, hamaam mein sab nange hain

Getaway of the Louts in the Gateway to the South

CHURUMURI POLL: Dismiss BJP govt in Karnataka?

GOOD NEWS: Karnataka beats AP, TN, Kerala

How China changed the politics of Karnataka

How the BJP completely lost the plot in Karnataka

In the end, no one can fool ‘We, the People’

28 November 2010

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Journalism started going astray with the birth of financial dailies in the 1960s. With full-fledged newspapers devoted exclusively to business, corporate houses became hyperactive. The next thing we knew was press conferences ending with gifts of expensive sarees and suitlengths to reporters.

That was innocent child play compared to what has hit the headlines now: charges of celebrity journalists working hand in hand with a professional lobbyist to fix things like cabinet appointments and big-ticket business deals.

Excerpts from taped conversations between the star journalists and corporate lobbyist Niira Radia have been published. Radia was promoting the prospects of some DMK personalities as well as the gas interests of one Ambani brother and the spectrum interests of the Tatas.

The journalists became her tools.

Lobbying is a recognised activity in democracies. But it is a tricky line of work because sometimes unconventional methods might become necessary to secure the case of a client. Given Niira Radia’s experience and efficiency, acknowledged by companies like Tatas, we must assume that she took care not to cross the line. Anyway we can leave it to the enforcement directorate which is looking into the matter.

Journalism is as different from lobbying as nariel paani is from singlemalt. Any crossing of the line may be a tribute to the power of singlemalt, but never justifiable.

Unfortunately the journalists show themselves as amenable to doing the unjustifiable. They agree to convey messages favouring A.Raja to the Congress bosses. They agree to take the side of the Ambani brother Radia was promoting as against the other brother.

The moment the tapes were published, the journalists mentioned in it rushed to rebut all insinuations. The arguments were that journalists had to talk to all sorts of people, that “stringing” along with a source was no crime, that promises had to be made sometimes to get information from a source. The employer of one journalist said that it was preposterous to “caricature the professional sourcing of information to ‘lobbying’”.

The question is whether the journalists carry credibility. Of course drunks and murderers have been among the valued contacts of journalists. And of course journalists have moved very closely with political leaders.

Few people were closer to Jawaharlal Nehru than B. Shiva Rao of The Hindu. Prem Bhatia of The Statesman used to walk the corridors of Delhi as if he owned them. The hardest nuts in the power circle cracked happily before Nikhil Chakravartty on his morning rounds.

Not once did these men ask for a favour or recommend a businessman friend. They were not social celebrities, but they did their profession proud by keeping the highest possible credibility level.

Today’s celebrities assume they can win credibility by simply saying that they talked to Radia only as a source and that they never kept promises made to her anyway. Is a veteran networker like Radia so easily fooled? Obviously she is close to her journalist contacts and must have had promises from them before. She wouldn’t waste her time if she knew that they were promises not meant to be followed up.

At one point she actually tells another contact that “I made [the journalist] call up Congress and get a statement”. This is Radia speaking, not a naïve greenhorn. To say that this kind of work on behalf of a lobbyist is legitimate journalism is like B.S. Yediyurappa saying that all he has ever done is development work.

To say that they promised to talk to the likes of Sonia and Rahul only to outsmart a war-horse is like the BJP high command saying it has outsmarted Yeddyurappa.

The glamour of celebrityhood has a way of going to one’s head. Delusions of grandeur are never a journalistic virtue. The real virtue is the mind’s ability to maintain a degree of detachment. When the game is played at the 5-star level, one can never be sure of who is fooling whom.

It will be good for everyone to remember that there is one lot that can never be fooled: The people.

Full coverage:

Vir Sanghvi suspends Hindustan Times column

‘Quantitative growth versus qualitative improvement’

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

A matador takes the bulls by their horns (almost)

27 November 2010

At the close of what perhaps has been his most successful week in political life—when he showed that not just the Reddy brothers, his party MLAs, the governor or the opposition, even his party high command can’t dislodge him—Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa strikes a valiant pose during a visit to the house of an organic farmer in Bijapur district on Saturday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

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The B.S. Yediyurappa photo portfolio

1) Is it an idol? Is it a statue? Is it a mannequin?

2) One leg in the chair, two eyes on the chair

3) Yedi, steady, go: all the gods must be crazy

4) Kissa Karnataka chief minister’s kursi ka: Part IV

5) Why did the chief minister cross the road divider?

6) Sometimes you are up, sometimes you are down

7) Dressed to thrill: Yedi-Chini bhai bhai in Shanghai

8) Survival of fittest is a great photo opportunity

9) Drought relief one day, flood relief the next

10) How a chief minister should drink tea. (Or not.)

11) Let the rebels know, the CM will not bow one inch

12) Even four pairs of hands can’t stave off the flak

13) Yediyurappa regime slips into yet another sandal

14) Behind every successful cyclist, there are a few men

15) Life’s a cycle. What goes up must come down.

16) A leg up for the one is a leg up for the other

17) The emperor’s new clothes has a loose button

18) Why does this poor, selfless soldier cry so much?

19) The great Indian rope trick adds inches to a giant

20) Even Alan Donald would quiver at such a glare

21) One sanna step for man, one giant leap for anna

22) A party of loafers, thieves, liars and land-grabbers

23) Three years in power = three rings, or is it four?

24) Say hello to the sarsanghchalak of the ‘ling parivar’

25) Why you didn’t this picture in today’s papers

26) Across, the line, feet wide apart, head still high

 

Bangalore journos named in site allotment scam

27 November 2010

It’s raining scams across the country—and the media is increasingly getting caught in the downpour with its pants down. In just the last few weeks, newspapers, magazines and TV stations have stood accused of conflict of interest, outright plagiarism, questionable business practices, and equally questionable journalistic practices.

In the backdrop of the Adarsh scam in Bombay which claimed the head of Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, the preferential allotment of vacant plots and houses to media houses and mavens as a form of favouritism, if not subtle bribery, has drawn attention too.

Last week, in Tehelka magazine, the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad raised the issue of media houses pontificating on ethics while sitting on land leased at one rupee (yes, Re 1).

Hundreds of plots around the country have been given to big media houses in Delhi, Noida and Greater Noida on Re. 1 lease. What about them? If you want to raise a question on discretionary quota, then please check every allotment.

In its latest issue, Tehelka runs a cover story titled “Land Scam 2.0“, in which it carries a “partial list” of Karnataka journalists who have been allotted expensive house plots in Bangalore under the controversial “G” category of the chief minister. And if the buzz is to be believed, one of those on the list has already had to pay a price for his apparent indiscretion with his job.

If Ashok Chavan’s relatives and B.S. Yediyurappa‘s could return their allotments after being caught, will the journalists?

Screenshot: courtesy Tehelka

Also read: ‘Media houses are sitting on plots leased at Re 1′

BARKHA DUTT on the allegations against her

27 November 2010

After lying low for a week following the Outlook* and Open magazine cover stories on her conversations with the lobbyist Niira Radia, the NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt has provided her version of events, rebutting the key charge that she played any role in passing on any message to intercede on behalf of a particular minister or portfolio, or to lobby for the disgraced telecom minister A. Raja.

Below is the full text of her defence, carried on and courtesy of NDTV.com:

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By BARKHA DUTT

As a journalist, whose work has been consistently hard-hitting and scathingly critical of the ongoing 2G scam and the former telecom minister, I am astonished, angered and hurt to see the baseless allegations against me in sections of the media this week.

While there is no doubt that journalists must be held to the same exacting standards of accountability that we seek from others, the allegations in this instance, as they relate to me, are entirely slanderous and not backed by a shred of evidence.

The edited conversations between PR representative Nira Radia and me have been headlined to suggest that I misused my role as a journalist to “lobby” for A. Raja, a man I have never met.

While this is completely untrue, I can understand the anger and anguish that such a misrepresentation can create, among viewers who rely on me to report honestly and impartially. And I would like to address some of the questions raised by these edited transcripts.

The tapes seem to add up to hundreds of hours of conversations between Nira Radia and people from different backgrounds, including scores of well-known journalists and editors from all the major media organisations (TV and print) in India.

Despite this, much of the commentary has been strangely selective in its focus. And quite often, vindictively personal. Consider, for example, that online it is being dubbed “BarkhaGate.”

I cannot speak on behalf of any other journalist on the tapes. Framed in the backdrop of a larger media debate, every journalist’s conversation on these tapes must, of course, be evaluated on its own merit. So, speaking only for myself, the insinuation made by the magazines are preposterous.

By definition, the insinuation of “lobbying” implies either a quid-pro-quo of some kind or a compromise in how I have reported the story. As anyone who has watched my coverage of the ongoing 2G scam over the past year would know – to suggest either is entirely absurd. (Attached below are links to several shows hosted by me on the 2G scam over the last two years.)

In several different statements, I have already challenged two newsmagazines who first carried the allegations to establish any proof of a quid-pro quo or a bias in reportage.

I know that neither charge stands the test of any scrutiny.

For those perplexed by the ongoing debate, it could be useful to understand the context in which these conversations took place. The few, short conversations took place in the backdrop of cabinet formation in 2009, when the DMK had stormed out of the UPA coalition over portfolio allocation.

In this instance, Nira Radia, was clearly plugged into the inner workings of the DMK, a fact we only discovered when she rang up to tell me that the news flashes running on different news channels were incorrect; the stalemate between the DMK and the Congress had not yet been resolved.

She corroborated her claim by saying she was in direct contact with the DMK chief and was in fact with his daughter, Kanimozhi. We talked about news developments within the DMK and the Congress and nothing I said was different from what I was reporting on TV minute-by-minute.

Ironically, the one sentence being used to damn me, “Oh God, What should I tell them”, is in fact two separate sentences, neither of which are related to A Raja or the telecom portfolio at all. When transcripts are edited and capture neither tone nor context, the message is severely distorted.

The phrase “Oh God,” was nothing more than a response to a long account by Nira Radia on a DMK leader, T.R. Baalu, speaking to the media without sanction from the party. The excerpt, “What should I tell them,” was in response to her repeatedly saying to me over several different phone calls, that if I happened to talk to anyone in the Congress, I should ask them to talk the DMK chief directly.

As a matter of record, I never passed on any message to any Congress leader. But because she was a useful news source, and the message seemed innocuous, I told her I would. Ultimately, I did no more than humour a source who was providing me information during a rapidly changing news story.

AT NO STAGE WAS I EVER ASKED TO PASS ON ANY MESSAGE TO INTERCEDE ON BEHALF OF A PARTICULAR MINISTER OR PORTFOLIO.

NOT ONCE, WAS I ASKED TO “LOBBY” FOR A. RAJA. NOT ONCE WAS I ASKED TO CARRY ANY MESSAGE REGARDING HIM OR ANY OTHER APPOINTMENT.

Anyone who has bothered to read the entire transcript of these conversations instead of just the headline, would notice that the conversation is essentially a journalist soliciting information from one of the many people plugged in – something all journalists do as part of newsgathering. And as journalists, we also often humour our sources without acting on their requests.

The only “benefit” I ever got from talking to Nira Radia was information; information I used to feed the news.

It is important to remember that at this point, in May 2009, none of us were aware of the present investigation against Nira Radia. Like most other journalists in India, I knew Nira Radia professionally as the main PR person for the Tata Group. In this instance, she clearly represented one side of the story.

She was just one of many people I spoke to as is typical in such news stories.

As journalists we deal with different kinds of people, who sometime solicit information and at other times, provide news leads. Unless we believe in only press-conference driven journalism, the need to tap into what’s happening behind-the-scenes in the corridors of power involves dealing with a multitude of voices, and yes, we cannot always vouchsafe for the integrity of all those we use as news sources. We concern ourselves primarily with the accuracy of the information.

But, I must come back to my original objection to what the two magazines have implied.

Strangely, when I complained to the editor of Open magazine about the smear campaign against me, he sent me a text saying , there was “not much remarkable” in my conversations and went on to even say that, “there is one bit in the strap where the word go-between is used that I don’t like myself.”

I have to wonder then, with anger, why he did not pause before using such a defamatory description.

Are there learnings in this for me? Yes, of course there are.

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight and with what we know now, I realise that when we talk to people who represent or belong to the power establishment, there can be a danger in sailing too close to the wind, even for those of us who are experienced and are driven purely by a deep passion for news.

The takeaway from this debate for me pertains to the everyday practice of journalism. I think of how different kinds of people, who could be potential sources of news, call me, and indeed all editors in this country every day, with different requests ranging from complaints about stories to requests for coverage and yes, sometimes we are also asked to pass on innocuous bits of information.

Never have these requests—nor will they—dictate the agenda of my news decisions. But, the calls that we treat with polite friendliness, to keep our channels of news open, clearly need to be handled with more distance. This controversy has made me look at the need to re-draw the lines much more carefully.

There is also another learning. I have always operated by a code of ethics that holds me as accountable to the public as the politicians I grill on my show. The selective and malicious nature of some of the commentary against me has reinforced my awareness of how responsible we ought to be before we level an allegation against another.

While a genuine debate on media ethics is always welcome in the quest for self improvement, I hope this debate will also look at what amounts to character assassination.

* Disclosures apply

**

Text: courtesy NDTV.com

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

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Adolf Hitler intervenes again on the Radia tapes

25 November 2010

As journalists seriously ponder the rot within the media, Varun Grover at The Daily Tamasha provides much-needed levity to the proceedings by asking the basic question: where is the fucking story in the paper I read?

Adolf Hitler finally reacts to “Barkhagate”

24 November 2010

So what if “mainstream media”, assuming such a beast exists, ignores the Niira Radia tapes in the 2G scam involving, among others, topguns of journalism like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and Prabhu Chawla?

Also read: This is “All India Radia”

Can Jumbo & Babu usher in change without Hari?

23 November 2010

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: It is said that leading the Indian cricket team is the second hardest job after the Indian prime ministership.

We may add a new truism: being an Indian fast bowler is perhaps the third most difficult job.

Now, that Anil Radhakrishna Kumble and Javagal Chandrashekhar Srinath have won the elections to the Karnataka state cricket association (KSCA) and will be at the helm of cricketing affairs in the State for the next three years, they have, quite possibly, an even more difficult job ahead of them.

Their candidacy excited many reporters and commentators, within and outside Karnataka, who turned into veritable court-poets, often abdicating their day-job as journalists.

Their resounding victory has elicited hyperbole. The Indian Express calls this the “beginning of a new era in the Indian cricket administration“, and Cricinfo’s Sharda Ugra, whose analytical pieces are balanced and insightful, calls Srinath and Kumble as “gamechangers“.

Amidst this rapturous welcoming of M/s Kumble & Co, forgive me, if I sound like a sceptic.

True, Kumble and Srinath have been brilliant performers on the field and, having watched them since their junior cricket days, for over two decades, I have been a great admirer of their skills and accomplishments.

More impressive has been their personal conduct during their playing days, and since then.

It’s on that basis Kumble and Srinath sought the support and trust of KSCA members. These aren’t ordinary cricketers, who demanded that cricketers be put in charge of cricket administration.

Remember Brijesh Patel too had fought an epic battle 12 years ago against the then secretary, C. Nagaraj, against whom Patel had raised a series of corruption charges and promised to clean up cricket administration in Karnataka. In contrast, Kumble and Srinath have staked their character and integrity.

What’s been interesting about the Kumble-Srinath campaign is their message of change.

While they promise to clean up the cricket administration and turn KSCA into a model organization, we haven’t seen any specifics—either on the problems that plague KSCA or on the alternatives they have in mind. In fact, after the elections on Sunday, Kumble promised to study and come up with a blueprint for change.

Given that both Kumble and Srinath, along with their cohorts—B.K. Venkatesh Prasad, Rahul Dravid, Sujith Somasundar, Roger Binny, M.R. Srinivasa Prasad, Vijay Bharadwaj, all of whom have led Karnataka Ranji teams—have been “insiders” in a manner of speaking for decades, holding many official positions within BCCI and KSCA, I find it surprising that they have nothing concrete to say to the press, even after the elections.

What we have seen so far is a ‘campaign for change’ without specifying what that change might look like.

Sadly, our star-struck journalists haven’t asked for specific details.

Here is another interesting thing. Kumble and his team wanted complete control over KSCA. They compelled Brijesh Patel, who controlled KSCA for over a decade, to give up power. They wanted Srikantadatta Wodeyar, the outgoing president, to step aside and accept a new position of patron, which they offered to create for him.

Perhaps it made sense from their perspective to install a new team so that they could do a proper housecleaning.

Yet, troubling questions arise given how they seem to have allowed themselves to become or to be painted as de facto candidates of the Patel camp. We don’t know what promises were made to Patel; any meaningful change in KSCA will actually mean not only changing the policies of the Patel regime but also investigating Patel himself.

Kumble has forcefully asserted that he is his own man but he hasn’t addressed questions of corruption or nepotism that have plagued the Patel regime, too. Moreover, it’s not an entirely new team since there are holdovers from the previous administration like Roger Binny and R. Sudhakar Rao.

For all the paeans to their integrity in the press, I am actually reassured by Kumble & Co’s very competent politicking.

They presented themselves as the agents of change, as cricketers fighting against outsiders. They were brilliant in characterising the Wodeyar team as incumbents, which was entirely inaccurate; in fact, the Kumble team benefited from the support of the incumbents, the Patel faction.

The fact that the Wodeyar team was utterly incompetent in producing a strong response only helped them. I wish A.V. Jayaprakash had said he is no ‘interloping kabaddi player’ seeking the office of KSCA secretary but a former Karnataka captain and a distinguished international umpire.

Moreover, even before the elections, I heard from reliable sources that Srinath had been instructing KSCA staff members, especially on financial matters.

All this is better than being self-righteous because then they are more likely to become saints or martyrs. The virtue and integrity of the righteous aren’t necessarily valuable to run a public institution. Restraint, common sense, humility and a healthy dose of wiliness are.

Kumble and Srinath will need those qualities in abundance if they want to forge partnerships and build KSCA. Otherwise, for all their good intentions, they will accomplish very little.

Are they game changers? Ask me in six months but I suspect not. What ails KSCA, and generally cricket administration in India, is quite complex and is best left for another post.

***

Full disclosure: I must admit a particular bias in writing this article.

My team, the National Cricket Club (NCC), Mysore, which has been part of the Wodeyar group and represented Mysore zone in the managing committee from 2007-10, lost in the KSCA elections.

I have never been an admirer of Wodeyar and I am glad that he lost.

But NCC’s loss saddens me. That’s not just because NCC is my team but its track record in the last three years warrants strong support. I strongly believe Kumble and Srinath should have been proactive in recruiting NCC to be part of their team, especially because they know what NCC has accomplished in the last three years.

NCC’s major accomplishment of course has been organizing six Ranji trophy matches, including a classic finals match in January 2010, and maintaining what has come to be recognized as the best domestic wicket in India. We don’t realize all the work that goes into organizing a Ranji trophy match in a small center.

The members of National Cricket Club and a superb core of volunteers performed wonderfully, from ensuring supply of drinking water to spectators to tea and snacks to KSCA guests and press; erecting stands for the public to arranging internet for the Press, they did it all and in the true spirit of cricket.

All this is well known. Here are some lesser known facts. Nearly 1500 league matches were played. Five new grounds, including in smaller centers like Mandya, Chamarajnagar and Krishnaraja Nagar, were added and league matches are played regularly in all these places. Seventeen new teams were registered in the Mysore zone and al these teams take part in the State league. Distribution of KSCA resources has been equitable and selections to Mysore zone teams were extremely fair, and senior players from all teams were recruited to be part of the selection committees or to accompany the Mysore zone teams as managers. I have followed Mysore zone cricket for over two decades now and I couldn’t have written these two paragraphs about any other administration.

What’s important to recognize is that the core group of NCC are all active, and committed league cricketers: 45-year-old Harikrishna Kumar, who supervised the day to day administration of Mysore zone cricket, was also the leading wicket taker in the 2009-2010 state league.

NCC may have lost this election but Harikrishna Kumar and his friends can be proud of their tenure as KSCA Mysore zone conveners. Congratulations to them on completing a successful three year tenure.

***

Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising  in medieval South India (especially Kannada literature and cinema) and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia.

***

Photograph: Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath on election night, November 21, after the results came out (Karnataka Photo News)

***

Also read: Anil Kumble‘s secret is his un-Kannadiganess

Javagal Srinath: The world’s most famous Mysorean?

A tale of two cities as narrated by a cricket field

Players, patrons and the crowd in the age of IPL

A real workhorse from the land of ‘benne dose

From the Coffee Board end to Hunsur Road end

Finally, it came down to Abhishek Nayar‘s balls

‘A different ball-game against a different side’

23 November 2010

Dear Anil, Venkatesh and Srinath,

I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear that you have conquered Karnataka, the Karnataka state cricket association (KSCA) that is.

As a cricketer, albeit at the club level, one has always known of (and dealt with) cricket administrators, most being non-cricketers.

Yes, there are and have been a few administrators (some of them I term as good friends) who have played cricket at a decent/good level, and even at the highest level but, not too many recently retired cricketers have had the guts (the ‘balls’ actually) to contest a cricket election.

One basic reason for not contesting, I assume, would be the reluctance of taking second place; a major issue with most sportspersons like yourselves who hate losing.

You took on capable and very well known administrators—and won.

You knew when you put in your candidature that your competitors had taken on and beaten one of Indian cricket’s most lovable legends, Gundappa Vishwanath. You also knew that it’s much easier bowling to (and batting against) great cricketers on the field.

You knew that this battle will be played against some who may not know what a ‘cherry’ and ‘sweet-spot’ means (in cricketing terms) but you contested and won.

You put your necks on the block, like you did when you wore the India cap.

I do hope, sincerely, that your victory will egg on many more cricketers—who tend to sit on the fence as  they don’t have faith, and confidence, in their awesome abilities—to contest, and win battles against people who ‘love’ the game for reasons best known to themselves.

I also wish that this is the dawn of the era where cricketers will call the ‘shots’ unlike money/political muscled people. I am honestly not implying that non-cricketers have no right to be office-bearers of important and august bodies that administer cricket not just in India but the world over. There are many such administrators who have had cricket – and cricketers close to their hearts.

There will be pressure on you to perform like when you donned your flannels, dry-fit clothing, whatever. Be forewarned that you are getting into a different battle now. It will be much more than pitch and match conditions, form and many factors that you have encountered so far.

You will now have to play a very different ball game, with a different kind of opposition.

Whatever you do, Indian cricket fans will back you just the way they did in the past.

Good luck, you servants of Indian cricket.

Hemant Kenkre

***

First cousin of India’s most famous opening batsman, Hemant Kenkre was Sachin Tendulkar‘s first captain at the Cricket Club of India, and the proud donor of Tendulkar’s first pair of pads.

***

Photograph: Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Roger Binny, Vijay Bharadwaj, Sadanand Maiyya and Venkatesh Prasad after being elected to the KSCA at Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Sunday (Karnataka Photo News)

CHURUMURI POLL: What next for Yediyurappa?

22 November 2010

The B.S. Yediyurappa circus continues unabated. Tainted by scams, scandals and controversies from his first day in office, the battered and beleaguered chief minister is hanging on to office like dear life, as newer and more titillating details emerge of his family’s portfolio management.

Told to go by the BJP “high command”, Yediyurappa has struck a defiant note. He has said his best successor is B.S. Yediyurappa. He has shown his preference for a non-Lingayat successor if push comes to shove. He has indicated he could split the party if he is shown the door. He says he wants time till the Zilla Panchayat polls. Etc.

What is likely to be Yediyurappa’s next course of action? Will he give in as a “loyal soldier of the party”, or will he leave the BJP? Will he form a new party or join an existing one? Does the BJP stand to lose from the scams, scandals and controversies? Is the damage confined to Karnataka if Yediyurappa stays, or is it national?

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

What the Ram-bhakts can learn from Sri Krishna

21 November 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Yesterday, Ajji was watching TV for quite some time.

Normally she doesn’t watch it for more than a few minutes unless it is Vidyabhushana singing Dasara padagalu or Basavanna’s vachanas.

Ajji! What happened? You are watching TV as if it is Garuda Purana by Bhadragiri Achyutha Dasaru.”

“This is more than Garuda Purana kano. It is ‘Bhoomi Svaaha Vyaakhyaana ‘ from Bookanakere Yediyurappa dasaru!.”

Ajji is now up to date on all scams having earlier followed CWG, Adarsh and G.G. Raja—which is Manmohan Singh ji & Sonia Gandhi ji if you think administration is a shared responsibility in UPA.

Alvo! I remember the time when Acharya Vinobha Bhave started the ‘Bhoodaan Movement’ in the sixties trying to get donations of land for the landless. Now there is ‘Bhoo Aaposhana’ movement in Karnataka!”

Sariyaagi helide, Ajji! The bhoo daana here are for the landless sons, daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandfather’s brother’s third cousin’s sister, of the chief minister!”

Aha! Yella daana shura karanaru! All the donations are for the members of family and their extended family!”

“Karnataka has become the laughing stock of the country, Ajji.”

“Do people get elected in our country only to make property for their kith and kin by mostly dubious means? Is that their only agenda?”

Howdajji.  ‘Site site everywhere, not an inch to breathe’ (with due apologies to S.T. Coleridge)’ aagide.”

Yeno site-u site-u antha padya shuru maad-de? Adu sari, how can they re-notify a de-notified site so easily?”

“Simple, Ajji. By extending the line in letter ‘D’ further down and adding a small slanting inverted stroke ‘ \’  below D to make it ‘R’!”

Yentha master-stroke kano, Ramu!”

“All our ministers are masters of master strokes, Ajji!”

“Isn’t it Gandhiji who said, ‘we have enough for our need, not for our greed?’  In just a few months after becoming ministers, they start a fictitious company in the name of a son or daughter and get a site sanctioned. In a few days or months, they sell it off at exorbitant prices to make obscene profit. They are neither educated nor qualified to start an industry. Still, how do they get the land, loan etc sanctioned in a jiffy? And they get loans sanctioned on fictitious addresses? How does the CM sanction lands for his sons so audaciously throwing rules to the gutter?”

“This is the speciality of Karnataka politics. Whether it is present or past, single or coalition or 20×20 government, they all have been mainly cornering sites throughout.”

Nachikkgedu! All of them visit swamijis’ mutts at the drop of a vibhuthi or kumkumada bharani. I feel even Duryodhana was better as he refused to give 5 grama, or 5 kugrama or even 5 square inch of space to the Pandavas. At least there was no nepotism then. We have to recollect the story of the great king, what’s his name, Bali Chalravarthy who, like Karna, was the epitome of self-sacrifice.”

“Bali Chakravarthy?”

Howdu Kano! When Krishna requested for space for just three steps, the eternal daani, Bali, readily agreed. The first step took the entire Aaksasha (sky), second step all of Bhoomi (earth), and when Krishna asked where he should keep his third step, Bali asked him to keep it on his head! That was the pinnacle of human sacrifice; just the anti-thesis of the Karnataka chief minister or his ministers!’

Nija, Ajji.”

Nodu, I had almost forgotten the name of Bali. These days, haaLu maravu—and confusion in spelling kano. To use whether or weather when we talk of climate; or to use ‘T’ or ‘C’ when you want to spell ‘chief’.”

File photograph: Karnataka Photo News

CHURUMURI POLL: Do you trust the media?

20 November 2010

As if all the scams involving the legislature, executive and the judiciary weren’t enough, a big blow has been struck against the so-called fourth estate—the media—with tapped conversations allegedly revealing that some of Indian journalism’s biggest names may have crossed the line between legitimate news gathering to lobbying with political parties on behalf of corporate houses.

The voices of Barkha Dutt of NDTV, Vir Sanghvi of Hindustan Times, Prabhu Chawla of the India Today group, and other leading journalism lights—and the tone and tenor of their conversations with Niira Radia, the fixer of the Tatas and Ambanis—show that the first two may have actually played a less-than-innocent part in the reinduction of A.Raja, the disgraced telecom minister at the centre of the mammoth 2G spectrum allocation scam.

The employers of M/s Dutt and Sanghvi have issued boiler-plate denials, although it is the individuals, not the institutions, which stand charged. (Sanghvi has posted a response on his personal website.)  But there is no question that the contents are damaging to the credibility of the journalists concerned given the exalted positions they enjoyed as fair and competent opinion-shapers on national television.

Paradoxically, this moment of shame comes at Indian journalism’s finest hour, when it can legitimately claim to have unearthed the 2G, CWG, Adarsh housing society and the IPL scams. While motives are being attributed at the timing of the expose, the key issue is simple: the stinky stables of media need urgent cleaning up after the paid news, private treaties, medianet and other associated scandals that have tarnished its image in recent months.

At a time when trust in the media is slipping according to a recent survey, do scandals like these help enhance your trust in the media and mediapersons? Or do you think that they are carrying out their own agendas on behalf of hidden puppeteers while keeping you in the dark?

* Disclosures apply

Also read: The TV anchor, the ex-editor and TV personality

Why we didn’t air Niira Radia tapes: two examples

Hear no scam. Speak no scam. See no scam.

20 November 2010

As lesser mortals of a civil (and civilised) State helplessly watch the BJP’s selfless soldiers use public office for private good with a brazenness (and shamelessness) that would put their Congress and JDS peers to shame, chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa strikes the classic pose at the inauguration of Aasare houses in Bagalkot on Saturday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

 

Also readCHURUMURI POLL: India’s most corrupt state?

CHURUMURI POLL: Dismiss Yediyurappa government?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Yediyurappa survive?


The state of the State is up three & down three

19 November 2010

The latest issue of India Today magazine carries its annual “State of the States” survey of India’s best and worst States. Karnataka’s position under the leadership of B.S. Yediyurappa is quite revealing.

The State stands seventh overall in the composite ranking of the 20 big States, below Tamil Nadu (3rd) and Kerala (4th) and above Andhra Pradesh (10th). Himachal Pradesh is no.1.

Karnataka held the no.7 rank in the survey in the last three years, and was 8th in the three years preceding that. The State is not no.1 in any of the parameters on which the States were judged.

As per this year’s rankings, by economists Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari:

# Down in investment environment: The State stands eighth. TN stands at no. 6, AP is at no. 9, Kerala is no. 12. Karnataka’s no. 8 rank is two positions down from the no. 6 rank in the last three years, and down from no. 7 in 2006. HP is no. 1.

# Down in macro economy: The State stands ninth, down from no. 8 last year. AP is at no. 7, Kerala is at no. 8 and TN is at no. 10. The macro economy scene has certainly improved from the no. 10 and no. 11 positions held by the State between 2004-07.HP is no. 1.

# Down in agriculture: The State has slipped to the sixth spot in agriculture, down from no. 5 in the last two years.  TN is at no. 3, AP is at no. 5 and Kerala is at no. 8. Punjab is no.1.

# Even-steven in consumer markets: The State is ranked ninth this year, retaining its position in the last two years. Kerala is at no. 4, TN is at no.7 and AP is at no. 11. Punjab is no. 1.

# Up in primary education: The State has shot up three positions to no. 5. Kerala is at no. 2, TN is at no. 7 and AP is at no. 13. HP is no. 1.

# Up in infrastructure: The State has also shot up two positions to no. 5. TN has risen four positions to no. 2, Kerala has slipped two spots to no. 4, and AP has climbed two spots to no. 8. Punjab is no.1.

# Up in primary health: The State has shot up one spot to stand at no. 5. Kerala is at no. 3, TN is at no. 4, and AP is at no. 9. Jammu and Kashmir is no.1.

# Even-steven in governance: The State has retained its fourth spot, just as Kerala has retained the no. 1 spot, Tamil Nadu the no. 2 spot and Andhra Pradesh the eighth spot. Kerala is no.1.

Also read: Karnataka is going the way of Bihar and Bengal

CHURUMURI POLL: Karnataka, Bihar of the South?

Good news: State beats AP, TN, Kerala

CHURUMURI POLL: India’s most corrupt State?

Sauce for Cong goose isn’t sauce for BJP gander?

19 November 2010

Ashok Chavan and B.S. Yediyurappa: chief ministers of neighbouring States, one of the Congress, the other of the BJP. Both caught in heavy-duty nepotism. One for allocation of flats in the name of his relatives, the other for allocation of sites and industrial plots in the name of his relatives.

As public pressure mounts, Chavan’s kin “return” their allotments but the party gets him to resign. As public pressure mounts, Yediyurappa brazens it out, pointing fingers at other politicians, even suggesting that nothing was wrong in promoting one’s own children, and finally gets them to “return” their allotments.

But will the BJP ask him to do what the Congress did?

Editorial in The Indian Express:

“If the BJP is indeed satisfied, if Yediyurappa’s explanation that “all CMs do it”, is considered sufficient, then Karnataka politics is in a deep, deep hole…. The sinkhole that Karnataka politics has become is the most persuasive of arguments that real estate and mining desperately need depoliticisation and reform unless they are to poison politics across this country….

“Bangalore, for so long a beacon of progress, is being held hostage to the extractive politics these exemplify. For Karnataka’s sake, Yediyurappa’s attempt to brazen out these revelations must not be allowed. He and his government have shown themselves to be mired in the worst sort of crony capitalism. He must go — and if he refuses, he must be asked to go.”

Editorial in The Times of India:

“It’s time the BJP looked within and ensured its leaders too measured up to the ethical standards the party has demanded from its political rivals…. Corruption in the past can’t be cited to justify current actions. By all means probe previous out-of-turn land allotments and take remedial action. That, however, should not come in the way of clearing the present mess in Karnataka. A clean-up there is urgently called for.

“The BJP leadership needs to set its house in order in Karnataka. The moral register it has adopted in Parliament will sound hollow if the party persists with the current leadership in Bangalore. The Congress has at least asked Ashok Chavan to step down in Maharashtra. Where is the BJP’s Prithviraj Chavan?”

Photograph: Agence France Presse via The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: India’s most corrupt state?

CHURUMURI POLL: Dismiss Yediyurappa government?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Yediyurappa survive?

Scams, scams, scams: Has liberalisation worked?

18 November 2010

It’s raining scams here, there, everywhere.

A. Raja and 2G, Suresh Kalmadi and CWG, Ashok Chavan and B.S. Yediyurappa and land allotment, Lalit Modi and IPL, Vikram Akula and microfinance, Madhu Koda and the Reddy brothers, and so on and so forth.

But this is only the favour of the current season. Last year, it was Pinrayi Vijayan and Lavlin, Ramalinga Raju and Satyam, and so on and so forth.

For nearly 20 years now, corruption has skyrocketed to stratospheric levels, cutting across States, party lines, ideologies, affecting not just the three estates of the legislature, executive and the judiciary, but also business, industry, stock exchanges, cinema, sport, media, academics, and almost everything else in Indian society.

Was it supposed to be this way?

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr in DNA:

“The great hope of economic liberalisation was that government will be less intrusive and dominant and that this would end not just the vice-like grip of politicians and bureaucrats over the lives of people but also mean less corruption.

“But this is one great hope that has been betrayed. It looks like that politicians and bureaucrats are still enjoying their power to dole out favours, whether it is mining or telecom licences, and that business folk find it useful and even profitable to cultivate the politicians and their minions in the government.

“Right from the Enron episode in the 1990s to the 2G spectrum allotment just goes to show that business is deeply involved in the corrupt system.”

Read the full column: The role of business in governmental corruption

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan, still ‘Mr Clean’?

17 November 2010

Manmohan Singh‘s unique selling electoral proposition—his squeaky, clean image and credibility in spite of swimming around in the cesspool of politics—has come under question for the first time in two decades, with the Supreme Court asking the obvious question: what was the economist-prime minister doing when the scum of the 2G spectrum allocation scam was rising to the top.

“The sanctioning authority (the PM) can turn down a request for sanction but can it sit over it? … We find the alleged inaction and silence troubling,” a two-judge bench has observed.

For a finance minister who retained his image despite the JMM scandal perpetrated by his mentor P.V. Narasimha Rao, and for a prime minister who came out smelling of roses despite the cash-for-votes scandal of the nuclear trust vote and other subsidiary scams of UPA-I and UPA-II,the SC’s observation hits where it hurts most.

Nobody has so far ventured to suggest that Manmohan Singh is on the take. Yet, the imputation that he was looking the other way while A. Raja & his pals within the DMK and Congress were making hay, takes off the sheen of his image somewhat and could have serious implications for himself and his party in the weeks and months ahead.

Questions: Has the PM’s integrity suffered a body-blow? Can he recover his reputation or is the damage done? Will the Congress rise to defend Manmohan? Will it retain his if his chief attribute, his image, becomes a problem? Or will it dump him like a hot potato if the opposition goes to town about it?

Who really named All India Radio as Akashvani?

15 November 2010

PALINI R. SWAMY writes: Mysore’s preminent position in the setting up and christening of All India Radio as “Akashvani” has gone uncontested for well over half a century. Now, in the 75th year of AIR, an unlikely challenger has emerged from 300 km away.

A 70-year-old woman has stood up in Udupi to assert that it was her late father, Hosbet Rama Rao, a former district education officer in Mangalore, was the man who first used—and thus gave the nation—the unquestionably evocative brand-name, “Akashvani“, for the radio.

In other words, the claim busts the belief widely held by Mysoreans that it was their townsman M.V. Gopalaswamy (in picture, above) who coined the word after setting up the nation’s first private radio station in his residence “Vittal Vihar” (in picture, below), about 200 yards from AIR’s current location.

***

Anuradhagiri Rao says her father, while serving as a teacher at the government college in Mangalore, anonymously published a booklet titled ‘”Akashvani” in 1932 on the phenomenon of the radio set. She says he drew inspiration from mythology in Kamsa‘s case when an ‘ashariravani‘ (voice without body) predicts his death.

Thus, voice from the akasha (sky) was ‘Akashvani‘, meaning celestial voice,” she has been quoted as saying in the New Indian Express. Her father, she adds, did not reveal his name fearing victimisation from the then British government, as he was then beginning to establish himself as a writer.

To bolster her claim, Anuradhagiri Rao adds her father’s book with the “Akashvani” title was acknowledged and adopted as a non-detailed text book for high school students by the text book committee of the Madras presidency. The book was printed twice in 1941 and 1945.

She also says an Indian Express editorial in February 1987 had doffed its hat to “an article from an unknown writer” for naming “Akashvani“. That unknown writer doubtless was her father.

Needless to say, she wants his name to the immortalised.

***

There are two problems with the claim. First, Anuradhagiri Rao bases her claims on an anonymous booklet published in 1932.  Although radio had been around for a while, sound broadcasting began in India in 1927 but All India Radio formally began operations only in 1936, according to AIR’s official website.

Second, there is the small matter of official history.

Akashvani Mysore has just brought out a 406-page souvenir to mark the platinum jubilee of the station.

In her editorial, Dr M.S. Vijaya Haran, station director, AIR Mysore, writes:

“Dr M.V. Gopalaswamy is the father of Mysore Akashvani. He served as the professor of psychology and the principal of the Maharaja’s college. The radio station that he started in 1935 in Mysore is his great contribution to the field of culture. This was the first private radio station in the whole of India and it speaks volumes of a person’s interest, passion, hard work and the instinct to do good to his fellow human beings….

“For six long years Dr Gopalaswamy ran AIR single-handedly spending money from his own pocket. Owing to financial constraint he handed over the administration to the Mysroe city municipality. Later from 1 January 1942, the provincial government of the Maharaja assumed the responsbility of running the organisation.

“Even then Dr M.V. Gopalaswamy continued to be director (till 2 August 1943). After that his colleague, Prof N. Kasturi was appointed full-time chief executive with the designation ‘assistant station superintendent.’ The radio station continued to function under the care of Kasturi, who was a thorough gentleman and a well-known humourist….

It was during that [Kasturi] period that All India Radio was baptised as ‘Akashvani‘ , a name that has been an appropriate metaphor for this wonderful organisation. The radio station flaunted with aplomb the title ‘Akashvani Mysore’ before its facade. It wafted on the waves and reached the hearts of listeners lending them undimmed pleasure. Later on, when All India Radio came under the administrative fold of the Indian government, the radio stations continued to use the name ‘Akashvani‘. The credit of lending this beautiful name ‘Akashvani‘ to all the radio stations of the country belongs to Mysore Akashvani.

Vijaya Haran’s editorial does not, of course,  say Gopalaswamy christened Akashvani, merely that he set it up.

So,while the parentage of Akashvani is not in question, it is Prof Gopalaswamy’s role in naming it that is clearly under question. Did he call it “Akashvani Broadcasting Station” when he started broadcasting as a hobby in 1935, as an earlier souvenir published in 1950 (and included in the platinum jubilee souvenir) avers?

If the name Akashvani evolved under N. Kasturi’s helmsmanship, did Kasturi himself think up the name? Did Prof Gopalaswamy, who was no longer its chief, have any role in it christening or, as a college principal himself, did Gopalaswamy draw his inspiration from an academic 300 km away?

Gouri Satya, the journalist who is a walking encyclopaedia on Mysore, wrote recently that “a few sat together and hit upon the name Akashvani for the toy broadcasting station“. Was Hosbet Rama Rao among the few?

In the evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, reader K. Radha Chengappa writes:

“The truth is revealed by late N. Kasturi in his book Loving God, page 76 (early 1920), where he refers to his colleague Dr. M.V. Gopalaswamy of Maharaja’s College, Psychology Department.

“He writes that Dr. MVG had bought a mini Philips transmitter and desired to use it to broadcast educational programmes for the common man an hour everyday. After some years, he managed to secure permission to use short wave transmission programmes.

“For this project, he had roped in Kasturi and when he wanted an Indian word for the broadcasting station, Kasturi’s choice was Akashvani and this word stuck for AIR (All India Radio).”

Or was it Rabindranath Tagore who is supposed to have done so “in the 1930s”?

***

Photographs: courtesy Akashavani Mysore platinum jubilee souvenir

CHURUMURI POLL: Should SUVs be banned?

15 November 2010

It’s no exaggeration to conclude that Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh has become the pencil in the hands of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for the “course correction” from the unidimensional, growth-at-all-costs approach that the Manmohan Singh government had embarked upon in the first year of UPA-II.

After summarily giving the short shrift to tribals while pursuing India’s “gravest internal security threat”, the hand-brake has been suddenly applied. Anil Agarwal‘s Vedanta project has been shown the door. The nation’s biggest FDI investment, Posco, is hanging in the balance. Searching questions have been asked of the New Bombay airport project. Etc.

Jairam Ramesh has now been emboldened to stick it into sport utility vehicles (SUVs), the gigantic off-roaders whose passengers sit high enough to comfortably piss into passing cars. Ramesh says the use of SUVs is “criminal” and that the diesel-guzzlers of the rich were eating up the fuel subsidies meant for the poor.

Not surprisingly, environmentalists have cheered the thundering slap, but the auto industry has contested Ramesh’s claims and the German ambassador in India has jumped into the frame and said: “Deutsch Automobilsektor hat “herausragende Kompetenz” in der Motorenentwicklung und verwendet moderne Technologie, um Verbrauch und Emissionen reduzieren.

Questions: Is Ramesh right about SUVs or is he barking up the wrong tree? Does he also object to the use of SUVs by “future former prime minister of India” Rahul Gandhi, during his Bharat Yatra, or is he only irritated by the sight of lesser mortals enjoying the pleasure of scaring smaller cars? Should there be alternate pricing of diesel for SUVs or should they be taken off the road altogether?

Photograph: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi atop an SUV during his visit to West Bengal in September 2010 (courtesy: The Telegraph, Calcutta)

How the big O made our media lose its balance

15 November 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The visit of the 44th president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, was covered by the Indian media in a way reserved historic occasions like the sinking of the Titanic or the invention of penicillin would have been, if only there was 24×7 television.

Everything else that happens in our wide and wonderful land—and everything that is conveyed to us as “Exclusive-Breaking News-Flash-First On” in normal times—was summarily relegated to nanosecond bits before the weather forecast, or bunched together ‘in other news’.

As if nothing else mattered.

If ever there was an overdose of verbal and visual onslaught on, this was one.

Channel after channel, hour after hour, minute after minute, spewed forth raw and unprocessed data of every bit of the Obamas’ three-day trip as if there was no tomorrow. Thankfully, secret service didn’t allow cameras to record and beam footage after the couple retired for the night.

Studio discussions with a pantheon of “experts”—who were seeing the action on TV screens like the rest of us, normal folk, but who were duty-bound to say something wise and illuminating at the same time—only aggravated the national headache enveloping the country.

The newspapers were no different, devoting page after dedicated page.

Truth to tell, fawning over celebrities, especially visiting dignitaries, has been a national obsession for a long time, with ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ being taken to ridiculous lengths to make the visitor feel at home. But do we have to lose our head and bend our backs as if we have no spine?

When our prime minister visits foreign countries, especially the US, his stay and activities get reported on page 4 of section 2, in the sixth column, for a grand total of 150 words.

Even at the height of the East Pakistan war, prior to the formation of Bangladesh, when Indira Gandhi visited the United States to convince President Richard Nixon, all she was accorded was page 32 or something in the Washington Post.

Walter Cronkite on CBS news or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC would not give more than 60 seconds on their prime time news, and here we were covering what was essentially a trade trip by a Nobel laureate with vanishing aura back home, as if our lives depended on it.

Despite the gains of the renewed friendship being trumpeted by our networks ad nauseam, Manmohan Singh still barely gets a minute or two in the US media, both electronic and print media. Shouldn’t be there some kind of reciprocity, or a semblance of balance?

Every student in India knows by now that Michelle Obama can play hopscotch and that she studied in Harvard law school. And that she is a better dancer than he.

How many of us in India know that Gurusharan Kaur (that is the PM’s wife for you) is a trained teacher? That she can sing keertans and she has sung in All India Radio many a time? Do US networks ask her play hopscotch in Washington and make her sing on TV when the Singhs are visiting?

No doubt, the Obamas are well educated and enlightened and make a nice couple. But where is the sense of discretion from our media who went crazy for three days lock, stock and smoking gun?

Across the line, feet wide apart, head still high

14 November 2010

At a venue where one of India’s most stylistic batsmen cut, drove and flicked to cricketing glory, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa shows a preference for the long handle, points his toes towards covers and has a big gap between bat and pad as he eyes mid-wicket, at the inauguration of a tournament for the media, at the Central College grounds in Bangalore on Saturday.

Of course, the last time the chief minister held a bat…

And the time before that.

Composite photographs: Karnataka Photo News

***

The B.S. Yediyurappa photo portfolio

1) Is it an idol? Is it a statue? Is it a mannequin?

2) One leg in the chair, two eyes on the chair

3) Yedi, steady, go: all the gods must be crazy

4) Kissa Karnataka chief minister’s kursi ka: Part IV

5) Why did the chief minister cross the road divider?

6) Sometimes you are up, sometimes you are down

7) Dressed to thrill: Yedi-Chini bhai bhai in Shanghai

8) Survival of fittest is a great photo opportunity

9) Drought relief one day, flood relief the next

10) How a chief minister should drink tea. (Or not.)

11) Let the rebels know, the CM will not bow one inch

12) Even four pairs of hands can’t stave off the flak

13) Yediyurappa regime slips into yet another sandal

14) Behind every successful cyclist, there are a few men

15) Life’s a cycle. What goes up must come down.

16) A leg up for the one is a leg up for the other

17) The emperor’s new clothes has a loose button

18) Why does this poor, selfless soldier cry so much?

19) The great Indian rope trick adds inches to a giant

20) Even Alan Donald would quiver at such a glare

21) One sanna step for man, one giant leap for anna

22) A party of loafers, thieves, liars and land-grabbers

23) Three years in power = three rings, or is it four?

24) Say hello to the sarsanghchalak of the ‘ling parivar’

25) Why you didn’t this picture in today’s papers

Desi colossus on a par with Yeats & Shakespeare

14 November 2010

Rasave Janana,
Virasa Marana
Samarasave Jeevana

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: These evocative lines (meaning: rasa is birth, virasa is death, and harmony is life) in a world torn asunder by discord,  dissension, greed and avarice continue to be on the lips of every Kannada-speaking person even today.

Penned by Kannada’s poet-laureate, Da. Ra. Bendre, the literary colossus who strode on the firmament of modern Kannada literature for more than seven decades, they retain the same liveliness and relevance even after three decades of his passing.

“Bendre is an evergreen poet,” says the poet, Chennaveera Kanavi. “I don’t mind admitting that every time I read his poems, I acquire newer insights. The process of learning never stops.”

Better known by his pen name, Ambikatanaya Datta, Bendre, a recipient of the Jnanpith award, was a poet par excellence of a different genre. Though poetry was his first love, he was quite at home with other forms of literature like drama, prose, short stories and satire.

A poem for him was a nothing but the translation of his pangs and pains.  “It is the poet in me who speaks and I am a mere scribe,” Bendre used to say.

“Let the sufferings remain with me

But I give you the song of my life.”

What makes his poetries sparkle and appeal to the common man is that they are lyrical and are firmly rooted in desi Kannada of the Dharwad region, which was his home turf. With equal felicity and aplomb, he wields his magic wand of words to paint superb verbal images with a liberal sprinkling of colloquial idioms.

Besides being a poet, Bendre was a visionary and philosopher, and scientific thinker, too, who was far ahead of the time.

In last phase of his life, he had developed a keen fascination for the science of numbers. Bendre had made it clear as back as in the 1940s, while presiding over the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in Shimoga, that he was a firm believer in the fusion of material science and literature as essential tools in the quest of truth.

Mere literature alone would not help realise the truth but it has to be judiciciouly tempered with material science.

His multidisciplinary approach and the amalgam of philosophical thoughts, scientific theories and the mathematical concepts reflected in his writings, often proved to be a riddle for the uninitiated in understanding his poetry.

Dharwad takkadi innoo tookaane aagilla. Horataava chakadi, hortaava chakadi…,” was his favorite observation about his works not being properly assessed or understood by the society.  The scale of evaluation of his poetry was to emerge, while cartloads of literature continued to be produced. (Takkadi is the scale used by the traders to weigh the material brought to the market.)

And the situation remained so when Bendre died in 1981. He bequeathed to posterity a rich legacy in literature in the form of published works and manuscripts waiting to see the light of the day. As a voracious reader, he had more than 16,000 books in his library, with jottings which had a whale of material for publication.

All these awaited being deciphered, analysed and interpreted. This arduous task,  stupendous by any standards has been bravely taken up by a two member-team  comprising Dr Vaman Bendre, his son, and  Dr K.S. Sharma, his close disciple.

By their close association with the poet throughout the life, both have developed a keen insight into the thinking, the philosophical strands and scientific concepts which prop up often in the language and literature of the poet.

Combining themselves in the name of the Bendre Research Institute, Hubli,  the duo, through their labour of love and indefatigable efforts have been able to bring out  more than 25,000 pages of literature  in the post-Bendre era.

It includes, six volumes of poems, two volumes on Aurobindo and Mother, and sakhi geete, a mini-epic; three volumes of dramas; Kavyodya, a prose volume on the aesthetics and philosophy in his poems; and 35 individual anthologies of poems, five selections of poems, 14  stage plays including the unpublished Taledanda relating to the life of Basaveshwara,  and 13 collections of Bendre’s poems with musical notations, a la Rabindra sangeet.

The latest work to come out of Bendre Research Institute is the 13th volume in the series of collected works of Bendre, viz Sahitya Yoga Sidhanta, a treatise on the aesthetics in Bendre’s prose, and Bendre Samagra Kaavya Nighantu, a dictionary of the words used by the poet, compiled by the leading linguist, Dr B.B. Rajpurohit, who incidentally had collaborated with Dr Nichida of Japan in bringing out a Kannada-English-Japanese dictionary.

The Sahitya Yoga Siddhanta comprises five parts: a) Theory of literary prose; b) Samvada, translation of his Marathi articles;  c) short stories, which Bendre would often describe as common man’s epics including transcreation of Chinese stories adapted to Indian settings ; d) Kadambari yoga, with  Bendre writing the finale of relay writing of the novel by eleven authors, in an unique  literary experiment undertaken by Manohar Grantha Mala, and e) ten satires.

The significance of the 170-page lexicon lies in the fact that it deals with only the words which are not found in other dictionaries which are used in the six collected poetry volumes brought out by the Institute already. There is  emphasis on the colloquial Kannada used by the poet, which is peculiar to this part of Karnataka, and a plethora of diglosia (words having more than one meaning) thrown therein.

Oh Manava, Bidu Durabihmanava/ Oh Daanava kodu Hridaya Daanavaa,” which could be loosely translated as, “Oh man, shun the ego/ Oh demon, donate your heart.” This is a typical example of diglosia found in the work of Bendre.  Both the words Maanava and Daanava have different meanings in the two contexts.

These books were released to mark the 30th annual memorial day of the poet the other day. Chennaveera Kanavi expressed the view that by using the Dharwad desi Kannada, Bendre had raised Kannada literature to cosmic heights. In a way Bendre  could be placed a  notch above the English poet, W.B. Yeats, who while being Irish, gave up the desi to start writing in English.

Said Dr K Raghavendra Rao, the Indo-Anglican writer who has translated several of works of Bendre including the Jnanpith award winning work “Naku Tanti” in English: “Bendre who had transcended the barriers of language deserves to be treated on par with Shakespeare and Yeats. No lexicon can help fully understand Bendre.”


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