Archive for December, 2010

Did Indira Gandhi have no role in the Emergency?

30 December 2010

First Maneka Gandhi was unceremoniously kicked out of the Indira Gandhi household in an episode that presaged the saas-bahu TV serials by about two decades. Now, her late husband, Sanjay Gandhi, it seems, is himself being sent to the doghouse in the Congress.

The description of Indira Gandhi’s mercurial younger son as “arbitrary and authoritarian” in a two-volume official Congress book, holding him responsible for the controversial family planning and slum clearance measures, can be seen either as setting the record straight, or as convenient white-washing.

According to the book, while vast sections of the population welcomed the moves initially since general administration improved,

“…civil rights activists took exception to the curbs on freedom of expression and personal liberties. Unfortunately, in certain spheres, over-enthusiasm led to compulsion in enforcement of certain programmes like compulsory sterilisation and clearing of slums”.

While the acknowledgement of Sanjay Gandhi’s role is welcome, it begs the question: was Indira Gandhi really a puppet in her son’s hands? Did post-independent India’s “strongest prime minister” have no say in any of the controversial measures of the Emergency, including press censorship?

Was she that amenable and vulnerable to an extra-constitutional authority even if he operated from her own house?

Equally, while fixing the blame for the Emergency, 35 years later, might seem odd, the fact that no such effort is being made for the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 reveals a bit. Would Sanjay Gandhi have suffered this fate at the hands of Congress hagiographers if he were still alive? Or if his widow and his equally execrable son, Varun Gandhi, were not on the other side of the political fence?

Also read: ‘Middle-class will never understand Indira Gandhi

CHURUMURI POLL: Was Emergency good for us?

Do our parties believe in power to the people?

29 December 2010

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: There is an air of unreality even as the three major political parties in the State flex their muscle in the panchayat elections now underway.

Firstly, all the three parties have left no stone unturned to raise the hype over the outcome of the poll and say that the future of the government depends on it.

The reality is that the elections for the taluk panchayat and zilla panchayat elections have no role to play in determining the political fortunes of beleaguered B.S. Yediyurappa.

The verdict will not in any way affect the balance of power in the state assembly, where, at the moment, Yediyurappa appears to be well ensconced.

In the case of the rural voters trusting BJP for running the panchayat institutions, Yediyurappa may well claim that his policies have received a mandate from the people and cock a snook at his detractors who have been baying for his blood for months now.

In the case of an adverse vote against the BJP, the Congress and JDS may go to town claiming that the people have shown their displeasure and may demand that Yediyurappa should demit office.

To no one’s surprise, the CM will reject such a demand by taking the stand that it does not reflect the mood of the people since urban voters were not a part of the election process. And in any case his future has to be decided on the floor of the legislature and not in a panchayat election.

The BJP national president Nitin Gadkari who had said that Yediyurappa had been given a reprieve till the panchayat elections also will not be able to secure the resignation of Yediyurappa because of the likely adverse impact it may have on the only saffron government in the south.

Secondly, all the three parties, have been conveniently ignoring the core issue of the panchayat elections, namely of how efficiently these institutions of democratic decentralization could be run to ensure that the money meant for rural development is spent properly for the benefit and improvement of stake holders and how they can remove the impediments coming in the way.

All the three parties without an exception have been busy beating around the bush on the issue of empowerment of these institutions and talk of rural development programmes as if rural development programmes are synonymous with panchayat empowerment.

None of them, including the ruling BJP, are telling people about their commitment to empower panchayat institutions. Even if they do, whatever they say will have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It is because all of them have a uniform record of emasculating the panchayats as far as possible and have abetted moves to subtly withdraw the powers given to them by law.

They would have succeeded in their endeavour to turn them into their vassals but for the constitutional safeguards that these institutions enjoy thanks to the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments.

There have been occasions when the Congress tried its best to avoid regular elections before the expiry of the term. The BJP too would have tried this time to postpone the poll but went ahead due to sheer political compulsions and prospects of the political advantage it could derive in the process.

This was the direct consequence of the reduction of seats reserved for the OBCs as per the direction of the Supreme Court, and everybody knows that it is a constituency in which BJP is not comfortably placed.

More than the political parties, their MLAs regardless of the political divide are dead opposed to any move to empower the panchayats since they fear that any alternate leadership which may emerge in the rural areas as a consequence may prove to be inimical to their position.

They have not lost a single occasion to put these institutions down, deride them and talk about the rampant corruption in the panchayat  institutions, forgetting the fact that they are the fountain heads of corruption and have not lifted a finger to fight corruption.

It is a case of kettle calling the cup black.

The report of the third State Finance Commission headed by A.G. Kodgi, which has recommended a new formula for sharing the resources between the State government and the panchayats has been with the State government for more than a year but neither the ruling party nor the opposition are bothered about the implementation of the report.

The Constitution enjoins that the States appoint the state finance commission to ensure a fair devolution of finances to enable the panchayats to discharge the responsibilities given to them.

The implementation of the recommendations of the previous two finance commissions has been quite tardy and there appears to be no early prospects of the latest one being implemented.

At the end of the day, the point at issue is whom should the rural voters prefer in the ensuing polls to the panchayat elections. One party is as bad as another and all of them are universally untrustworthy.  They have no chance but to vote.

And political parties are there to utilise the opportunity for their political aggrandizement and have hardly any time to give any thought for  strengthening of the system, whose vitality has been sapped by the subtle moves of the government to keep all these institutions under their bureaucratic thumbs.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

December is when a migratory bird flies the coop

27 December 2010

Middle age is when one of your shoe laces comes off and you wonder if you should bend down now and tie it up, or wait for some time for the other lace also to come off before you tie them both.

Old age is, well, when it just doesn’t matter; there will always be some lackey around to slip on your slip-ons. In Shimoga, yesterday, an aide helps former chief minister Sarekoppa Bangarappa do the needful.

This December, Bangarappa indicated he may join the Janata Dal (Secular) from the Congress. Two Decembers ago, he joined the Congress from the Samajwadi Party. And 27 Decembers ago, he merged his Karnataka Kranti Ranga with the Congress.

In all, Bangarappa has left and joined a party nine times.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: It’s news only when Deve Gowda takes a snooze

Red or white, Bangarappa is ready to fight

Umbrellas, shoes, our democracy and theirs

What you read is what they eat before they vote

27 December 2010

After a week’s break, churumuri returns to recognise the use of its bastardised namesake as an election tool in Reddy country.

From a report in Deccan Herald:

“As usual, the candidates are banking heavily on the Bellarians’ all-time favourite: Oggarane churumuri and Menasinakayi Bajji…. The Oggarane churumuri, now modified to Koli oggarane (chicken mixed with churumuri), is said to have been distributed in full spree.

Koli oggarane is said to have assumed popularity in several villages in the district…. It is learnt that in Kapagallu alone, 150 kilograms of chicken oggarane was prepared and distributed on Friday.”

Image: courtesy Deccan Herald

Also read: What is churumuri?

An open application letter to Prannoy Roy, NDTV

19 December 2010

Respected Dr Roy,

I am writing to apply for the post of Group Editor, English News, NDTV.

I am a journalist with 26 years’ experience. Throughout my career I have made innocent mistakes. I have been silly, I have been gullible and I have been prone to making errors of judgement.

Frequently, when I am “desperate for khabar” I also fib to sources. I string them along so much that I have often tied myself up in knots.

In short, I’m just the right guy to lead the nation’s most reputed English news channel.

I am aware, Sir, that you already have a silly, innocent and gullible editor prone to making honest errors of judgement. Those credentials were so clearly established on national prime time news the other day. Only an extremely innocent, very silly and highly gullible editor can do it with such aplomb.

Admittedly, Dr Roy, that’s a tough record to beat. But the silly are never daunted by the odds…recall that stuff about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.

I take heart from two facts: One, that you are perhaps the only editor-in-chief to value such sterling qualities in a group editor, and two, while you might be pretty happy with your in-house options, there are some good alternatives in the market you might want to look at.

It is your faith in and commitment to the cause of the ISGs (innocent, silly and gullible), Dr Roy, that has emboldened me to give the job a shot. I want to convince you that when it comes to these sterling qualities, I dig a lonely furrow… it’s actually a deep trench because I have been at it for 26 years.

Sir, I suspect you will be extremely upset at the completely unconventional way in which this application is being framed. So, let me quickly give you three examples of the work I have done so far.  Please judge me only by my work, not what I say about it on tape.

1. When I was just a few months into the profession,  Akali Dal leader Sant Longowal was assassinated. His assassination followed Indira Gandhi’s who was killed just a few months earlier. I had just subbed the copy when my chief sub asked me, “what’s the headline?”  “Longowal calls on Indira Gandhi,” I read out loud and proud.

The chief sub leaped out of her chair in horror and grabbed the copy. She called me silly and stupid. She even proclaimed me “dangerous” and banished me from the news desk.

You see, Dr Roy, I was editor material even then. Just that I was in wrong hands. Where were you, Dr Roy? I can’t help wondering, “why just Barkha, why is she so lucky”?

2. Once when I was editor of a small Delhi afternoon paper, we ran an expose on upcoming illegal structures in Connaught Place. We illustrated the story with a big picture of a multi-storey building shot stealthily. Next morning it turned out the building belonged to the newspaper’s proprietor.

Error of judgement is passé, Dr Roy, I have monumental blunders on my hand.

3. More recently, I was in the middle of writing Counterfeit, my most most-read weekly column on notional affairs. Two big corporate houses were warring over some goddamn national asset and I wanted to get to the bottom of things. Who better to get an insight from than the PR persons on both sides?

The first guy took me out to lunch and explained his client’s position. I was fully convinced he was right till the other PR took me out to lunch and explained her client’s position. I was convinced she was right too.

But I was two full, two convinced and too confused. So, I wrote about the food instead.

But then word got out. As you well know, our strict code of ethics lays down that a journalist can have only one free meal per topic. Fellow journalists were livid. But since nobody could prove quid pro quo, they pilloried me in public for being unethical and accused me in private of selling the profession cheap.

I am however convinced most of them were just jealous of the extra meal I managed…but that’s beside the point, the pillorying continued because they said “joh pakda gaya wahi chor”.

I had to take matters into my hand because the cat seemed to have gotten my channel’s tongue. I agreed to be grilled by my peers in full public glare. Four white haired gents turned up. For the first time the channel made a departure from the policy of not putting out any raw material on air and played the full unedited tape.

On air I made a clean breast of things.  “I may have been greedy, I may have been hungry, but nobody dare accuse me of corruption,” I said, clearly setting the contours of the debate. “But of course, it’s been a learning experience. Looking back now with all that one now knows about dirty lobbyists,  I have no hesitation in saying that it’s perhaps best to carry one’s own lunch box to work. I have since bought a Milton electric lunch box.”

“No journalist is lily white,” the oldest and gentlest of them all began, “I don’t know of many journalists who carry their tiffin to office….” but I cut him short.  ”Nobody is lily white but all that you will discuss is one spot on my kurta? Why only me,” I thundered. I wanted to punch all of them in their holier-than-thou faces but for form’s sake I just bit my dry lips and somehow held my temper and my hand.

Many close friends upbraided me for appearing on the show. They told me I looked angry, sounded pompous and arrogant. They advised me not to mention the incident in this application because it would look rather silly trying to get an important job on the evidence of this show.

But that is the point I’m trying to make, Dr Roy. I am silly. And I did not stumble on silliness, innocence and gullibility “inadvertently” after 16 years of blemish-less journalism.  I worked at it for 26 long years.

In other qualifications, I must point out that I am a damn good political reporter, even if I say so myself. In the thick of things such as the UPA’s cabinet formation, all kinds of people call me to carry messages to the Congress party. Sometimes there are problems of non-delivery such as that message I did not give Ghulam Nabi Azad but I believe, because I’m a good journalist, even if this were about the NDA forming its cabinet, I would still be a busy courier boy.

I would have loved to attach copies of my work as a political reporter but sadly, Dr Roy, I have none. That is because I have never reported politics.

I know, I know…that is not consistent with my claim to being a good political journalist. I was just stringing you along, Dr Roy.

When can I join?

Yours sincerely

B.V. Rao

***

B.V. Rao is the editor of Governance Now, where this piece originally appeared

***

Photograph: courtesy Governance Now

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Rahul Gandhi blown it?

17 December 2010

For weeks, the bush telegraph in Delhi was abuzz with rumours that the Wikileak cables on India would contain something damaging about Rahul Gandhi‘s proclivities. But when it arrived this morning, it showed that it is not just his mentor Digvijay Singh who sees a Hindu ghost whereever he desires to.

The “former future prime minister of India” if things continue to go as they are for the Congress, it showed, has another pet hypothesis besides his two-nation theory of India.

The son of Sonia and Rajiv, the grandson of Indira, and the great grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, allegedly told the US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, in August last year that he felt that the growth of “radicalised Hindu groups” which create religious tensions in India could pose a bigger threat to the country than activities of groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“[Although] there was evidence of some support for (Islamic terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba) among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” The Guardian quotes him as saying.

Rahul Gandhi has since clarified, saying that he considered terrorism and communalism of all types as a threat to India.

While the alleged involvement of fringe Hindu groups, bordering on the lunatic, is something that has come up in various bomb blasts, is certainly an uncomfortable thought, the very fact that a man who is perceived and projected as the next big hope, could even be holding such a worldview is astonishing. And that he could be broadcasting this that to a newly arrived American over lunch.

Questions: Is Rahul Gandhi right? Or is he merely appealing to the minority “vote-bank”? Is the “wikileak” on Rahul a conspiracy, as suggested by the Congress spokesman? Will his charge go down well with voters? Or will it blow his prime ministerial dreams to smithereens?

Also read: What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

In one-horse race, Rahul Gandhi is a two-trick pony

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

Jesus, Mozart, Alexander and apun ka Rahul

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

Rahul Gandhi‘s ascension: a foregone conclusion?

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part II

Only question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

The book Bhyrappa won’t be writing? Or will he?

16 December 2010

Deccan Herald and Praja Vani cartoonist P. Mahmud‘s take on the writer S.L. Bhyrappa‘s description of the people of Karnataka as tarlegalu (a bunch of good-for-nothing whiners), in the weekly magazine, Sudha.

According to the newspaper, DNA, Bhyrappa said:

“Our people are lost in internecine quarrels. There is a need for them to reform…. Our people know only how to spend, not to save.”

Cartoon: P. Mahmud/ Sudha

Also read: Did Adolf Hitler fetch S.L. Bhyrappa‘s freedom?

And the mahaan elastic buddhijeevi of the year is…

Now, Greenpeace has a question for Ratan Tata

16 December 2010

Grandstanding on ethics and principles is a perilous path to take for Indian businessmen—even for a corporate biggie with the kind of image as the House of Tatas.

Ratan Tata sanctimonious fears of India becoming a “banana republic” if his privacy is invaded any further in the Niira Radia tapes, has drawn an expected response from Greenpeace.

The environmental organisation has taken out this half-page advertisement in The Indian Express, Delhi, whose editor, Shekhar Gupta, interviewed Tata for NDTV’s Walk the Talk programme.

The subject: The threat to the Olive Ridley turtles due to the construction of the Dhamra port in Orissa in a joint venture with Larsen & Toubro (L&T).

The text of the ad begins with a file noting, dated 22 April 2010, by minister for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, on the forest violations by the Dhamra Port. Greenpeace says it has obtained the noting under the right to information (RTI).

“Meanwhile I understand the Port itself is nearing completion. Had construction not commenced, we could have taken a decision unequivocally not to let the project proceed at the site whose “forest” station is disputed.”

The advertisement then throws some tough questions at Tata:

“Senior officers in the ministry of environment have confirmed a violation of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 by the TATA Steel-L&T Dhamra port project. Yet this violation has been condoned by the government.

“Why?

“Is there more to this ‘cover-up’ than meets the eye? Are big corporate houses exempt from environmental laws? Are we a banana republic, where’s India’s big business houses do not have to abide by the rule of law?

“Corporations and politicians are accountable to the people. Greenpeace will continue to expose wrongdoings and cover-ups.”

Advertisement: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: Ratan Tata‘s open letter to Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Rajeev Chandrasekhar‘s open letter to Ratan Tata

Has Ratan Tata ruined the Tatas’ brand image?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

Death, be not proud of how pathetically we live

15 December 2010

After living together, dining together and travelling together, the pyres burn together on the return journey for the thirty victims of Tuesday’s tragic road accident near Mysore.

The accident, on a pathetic road, a so-called “national highway” that connects Karnataka to two important States, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, holds a mirror to the concern for human life.

The mass cremation of the deceased took place at Aralakuppe village in Mandya district on Wednesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Should Prabhu Chawla edit New Indian Express?

15 December 2010

Editors, anchors, columnists, correspondents… tens of media personnel have been badly mauled in the eyes of news consumers, in the Niira Radia scandal.

But do the proprietors and managers really care?

Vir Sanghvi has suspended his weekly column in the Hindustan Times while merrily writing on food. The buck still stops at Barkha Dutt‘s table at 10 pm on NDTV while she fights a lonely battle from the trenches of Twitter.

There’s nothing, it seems, like penance in the press.

Now, Manoj Kumar Sonthalia, grandson of the mighty Ramnath Goenka who is in charge of the southern editions of the paper, has reportedly decided to hire former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, as the new editor of  The New Indian Express (TNIE), despite the thick smog of scandal that has hung over the latter’s head, with or without Radia.

Chawla, who got a most perplexing certificate of merit from The Hindu‘s editor-in-chief N. Ram, on the India Today-owned TV station Headlines Today, however, has had a slightly inauspicious entry. The outgoing TNIE team of Aditya Sinha has carried this brief excerpt involving Chawla from the second tranche of the Radia tapes.

Listen: Prabhu Chawla in conversation with Niira Radia

Also read: Prabhu Chawla‘s son named in media bribery case

“Accused” Ankur Chawla is now “investigator” Chawla

In the New Indian Express, old hands get the sack

Ratan Tata’s open letter to Rajeev Chandrasekhar

9 December 2010

Generally speaking, Indian business is a nice, cosy club of stuffed shirts and suspenders. There are a set of rules and everyone plays along happily. No one ever says anything new. No one speaks out of turn. No one ever throws a flame into someone else’s pants. There is a code of Omerta, and everybody better stick with it.

Rajya Sabha member Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the former BPL scion who owns the Suvarna network in Karnataka, stepped out of line with an open letter to Ratan Tata, the chairman of Tata Sons, who had propitiously chose the Niira Radia moment to warn of India slipping and becoming a banana republic.

Now, Tata has hit back at Chandrasekhar in a return letter, slamming the latter’s self-righteous sanctimony. A politically motivated Chandrasekhar, Tata implies, has been running with the telecom hares and hunting with the telecom hounds, and stops just short of calling him a lousy liar.

If nothing else, the two open letters provide a snapshot of how Indian business and politics is conducted (and how Indian media is managed), and underline the fact that nothing illuminating comes out when everything is hunky-dory. It is conflict between two stones that produces fire and light.

***

Dear Rajeev

I am currently overseas and have just seen a copy of the open letter you have addressed to me with copies to the entire media community. This is of course in keeping with the current trend of attempted character assassination through widespread media publicity couched in pain and concern for upholding ethics and values.

Your letter is based on untruths and distortion of facts and I feel compelled to place the real facts, as bluntly as possible before you. I hope this will also be broadly disseminated to the same audience as your letter.

I am, of course, well aware that some media house will choose not to publish or air my response in deference of their owners, who are the real gainers in the telecom sector, with whom you have unfortunately aligned to provide a massive diversion of attention away from the real culprits in the telecom space.

***

You will appreciate that the Government’s stated telecom policy of 1999 set out the principles of a technology neutral environment. When cellular mobile telephony was introduced, the first set of operators, including yourself, chose GSM, the broadly used European technology at that time.

The first set of cellular mobile operators received their licenses based on the auction process in circles for which some of them and their partners submitted very high bids. Later in July 1999, in a BJP-led NDA government, in accordance with the recommendation of a group of ministers headed by Jaswant Singh, the fixed license fee regime was changed to a revenue share regime (which exists even today).

If a hypothetical amount was to be calculated, similar to one which has been done in the CAG report, at that point of time, the loss to the exchequer would be about Rs 50,000 crore and the exchequer would have been deprived of this amount.

Realistically, however, the revenue share system would have recouped some amount over time and this important change most probably has been responsible for the greater growth of the industry as it enabled tariffs to be reduced.

***

CDMA technology (a newer and more spectrum-efficient technology), was utilised by some operators for fixed wireless operations such as PCOs and for last mile wireless connectivity for fixed line phones.

The first attempted deviation of stated policy was in January 2001 when the then telecom minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, in a BJP-led NDA government, sought to allow the fixed wireless application of CDMA for limited mobility on the grounds that it would be available to the public at a lower price.

The GSM operators led by you mounted a campaign lobbying against this on the grounds that it would be unfair to the incumbents who had made investments and who had enjoyed first mover advantage.

You will recall that you and Nusli Wadia [of Bombay Dyeing] approached me in the Chambers in Taj Mumbai in July 2002 to sign an appeal to the Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpayee, deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani and finance minister Jaswant Singh not to allow fixed mobile service providers to provide mobile services.

I enclose a copy of your fax dated July 12, 2002 requesting me to sign and the draft letter which I was supposed to sign. In para 2 of this letter your objective amongst other things was to reach 50 million subscriber base by 2006.

To refresh your memory, I enclose a copy of the letter dated August 16,2002, that I wrote to you expressing my inability to sign such letter as it would block the introduction of CDMA technology and I believed that the telecom industry needed to be technology-neutral but what I agreed with you was that any new operator should pay the same fee as the incumbents so that all operators were equalized and that no one was disadvantaged.

As a result of a technology-agnostic policy we achieved more than 100 million subscribers in 2006 and to 700 million. I am also enclosing a copy of my letter to Vajpayee dated January 12, 2001, which I advocated an open, transparent process giving all parties a chance to be head—a stance that I have not changed till date.

This had angered you and other operators who were not interested in a level playing field and lobbied aggressively through COAI to ensure that a technology-agnostic environment would not come to pass.

It is obvious that an industry driven by technology cannot confine itself to a single technology only because that was the technology employed by a handful of operators who deprived early-mover advantage, enjoyed high ARPUs and in fact thwarted new admittedly more efficient technology like CDMA.

China, Korea and even the US have built their large subscriber numbers on the utilization of both CDMA and GSM technologies. Growth could have been far greater had incumbent operators like yourself risen above their self-interest of protesting their investment and allowing the existence of all technologies on an equal footing.

However, in pursuance of the spirit of NTP 1999, the Government did indeed implement the technology neutral policy in November 2003.  The minister involved was Arun Shourie in the same BJP-led NDA government under Vajpayee.

This was implemented through the creation of the UASL regime which enabled existing license holders to migrate to UASL license providing freedom of choice of technology and where a pan-India license could be obtained for a fee of about Rs. 1,650 crore, the same fee paid by the successful fourth cellular mobile operator.

Shourie needs to be commended in implementing this far sighted policy, which has enabled technology to be the driver of the industry, rather than technology protected growth.

***

I will now briefly touch on the points you raised regarding Tata Teleservices (TTSL) and the alleged advantage they gained. I have requested TTSL to address those issues in greater detail to you directly.

# On the issue of various allegations you have made on the so called benefits gained by TTSL, so called out-of-turn allotment that you claim have been given by DoT, you have chosen to misrepresent the facts as they suit you to justify the claims you have made.

The true position is that TTSL has not, I repeat not, been advantaged in any way by A. Raja or any earlier Minister.

The company has strictly followed the applicable policy and has been severely disadvantaged, as you are well aware, by certain powerful politically connected operators who have wilfully subverted policy under various telecom ministers which has subsequently been regularized to their advantage.

The same operators continue to subvert policy: have even paid fees for spectrum, even before the announcement of a policy, and have “de-facto ownership” in several new telecom enterprises. Licenses were granted to several ineligible applicants. Several licenses have spectrum in excess of their entitlement as per license conditions and not on the self-styled capacity spectrum efficiency that you have chosen to mention.

This is the smoke screen that I am referring to as these subverters of government policy continue to do so to their advantage and their acts are being ignored or condoned.

TTSL, on the other hand, an existing licensee, applied for spectrum under the dual technology policy after the policy was announced on October 19th , 2007 and is still awaiting allotment of spectrum in Delhi and 39 key districts for about three years whereas operators who applied, and paid the fee even before the policy announcement, were not only considered ahead in line but were allotted spectrum with amazing alacrity in January 2008 itself.

I am surprised that you have chosen to sidestep this very important aspect.

#  The investment by NTT DoCoMo in TTSL was not based on a zero-base valuation, like others, but was based on the performance of the company with 38 million subscribers, pan-India presence of network, offices, channel, turnover of Rs 6,000 crore, 60,000 km of fibre, and the potential growth of the company. The valuations are on the bases of a due diligence and service evaluation of the company’s service quality by DoCoMo.

#  On the question of hoarding of spectrum to which I have referred, you will no doubt remember that in 2005 I made an issue of the fact that spectrum was a scarce resource and needed to be paid for rather than given fee as was being proposed. The government policy entitled operators to no more than 6.2 MHz on the bases of their license conditions.

All additional spectrum should have been returned or paid for. Even TRAI has recommended this July 2010. I believed that TTSL was the only operator that returned spectrum when demanded by DoT. The CAG report clearly indicates which of the powerful GSM operators are holding spectrum beyond their entitlement free of cost to the detriment of the other operators.

# On the question of many disadvantaged new applicants who have supposedly been denied license in 2007, you are well aware that many of the applicants were proxy shareholders in high places, and were applying to enter the sector with a view of monetize the license once received.Even those that were granted license and spectrum have failed to effect any meaningful rollout of service.

Strangely, you have chosen to ignore this fact and singled out TTSL, who have, in fact, put in place a network supporting 82 million subscribers, despite the fact that they have been deprived of spectrum in Delhi and 39 key districts over the past 3 years as mentioned earlier.

How could you or anybody possibly consider this to be a beneficial situation of TTSL?

***

Let me address the question of the Tatas’ need for an external PR service provider. Ten years ago, Tatas found themselves under attack in a media campaign to defame the ethics and value systems of the group which held it apart from others in India.

The campaign was instituted and sustained through an unholy nexus between certain corporates and the media through selected journalists.

As Tatas did not enjoy any such “captive connections” in this environment, the Tata Group, had no option but to seek an external agency focused at projecting its point of view in the media and countering the misinformation and vested interest viewpoints which were being expressed.

Vaishnavi was commissioned for this purpose and has operated effectively since 2001. You yourself have interacted with Niira Radia on some occasions in the past and it is therefore amazing that you should now, after nearly nine years, seek to denounce Tatas’ appointment of Vaishnavi.

Also, the statement regarding Tatas employing [ex-TRAI chairman] Pradip Baijal is completely false.

Vaishnavi is neither owned by the Tata Group nor is the Tata Group Vaishnavi’s only client. Baijal, whom you apparently have a dislike for, is a part of Noesis, (an affiliate or Vaishnavi in which Tatas have no ownership) and, as facts will show, on various occasions has differed with the Tata Group during his period in office and has not advocated or influenced Telecom policy for the Tata Group in any way.

***

You and many others have focused your attention on Ms. Radia as a corporate lobbyist. I would like to draw your attention to the following

# You parked yourself at the Taj Mahal Hotel Delhi, for several months since 2002 which was the centre of operations for your to prevent entry of WLL Limited Mobility and CDMA as well as to interact with the polity and bureaucracy and with other operators to forge telecom policy of your choice. You did this in your own capacity as also as President of COAI.

# Your also constantly solicited support of Confederation of India Industry (CII).

Would you not consider this as an endeavour to influence or subvert policy? To influence politicians or solicit support from selected corporates? I take it that in your view this would not constitute lobbying.

Your affiliating with a particular political party is well known and it appears that their political aspirations and their endeavour to embarrass the Prime Minister and the ruling party may well have been the motivation behind your letter and the insinuations which you make.

We should all note that many of the flip flops in the telecom policy occurred during the BJP regime.

Whatever may be said, it must be recognised that the recent policy broke the powerful cartel which had been holding back competition and delaying implementation of policies not to their liking, such as growth of CDMA technologies, new GSM entrants, revision in subscriber based spectrum allocation norms, and now even number portability.

You yourself have publicly commended in November 2007 such initiatives and the minister for breaking the cartel and reducing the cost of service to the customer.

The 2G scam ostensibly revolved around Raja‘s alleged misdeeds and some parts of the CAG report were quoted as having indicted the minister.

Much has been made about the hypothetical loss to the exchequer in the grant of new licenses and the grant of spectrum on the basis of 3G auction prices, (which were not known or even foreseen at the time of granting such licenses and spectrum).

However, the media and even you have chosen to ignore the rest of the CAG report in which excess possession of spectrum, the disadvantages to TTSL by name, the irregularity in allotment of licenses to most players whose applications were ineligible to be considered in the first place have been clearly stated in detail.

You have also not noticed that the CAG has not ascribed value to 48 new GSM licenses issued to incumbents between 2004-08 and 65 MHz of additional spectrum allotted to incumbents during this period even though the CAG was supposed to cover the period from 2003. It would have been widely reported.

I support the ongoing investigations and believe that the period of investigation be extended to 2001 for the nation to know the real beneficiaries of the ad hoc policy-making and implementation.

***

Finally, you have chosen to lecture me on the responsibilities of upholding the ethics and values which the Tata Group has honoured and adhered to through the years.

I can say categorically that we have not wavered in upholding our values and ethical standards despite the erosion in the ethical fabric in the country and despite the efforts of others to draw us into controversy and endeavour to besmirch our record.

When the present sensational smokescreen dies down, as it will, and the true facts emerge, it will be for the people of India to determine who are the culprits that enjoy political patronage and protection and who actually subvert policy and who have dual standards.

I can hold my head high and say that neither the Tata Group or I have at any time been involved in any of these misdeeds.

The selective reporting and your own selective focus appear to be diversionary actions to deflect attention away from the real issue which plagues the telecom industry, in the interest of a few powerful politically connected operators.

Perhaps it is time that you and members of the media do some introspection and soul searching as to whether you have been serving your masters or serving the general public at large.

With warm regards

Yours sincerely

Ratan N. Tata

***

Also read: To: Ratan Tata. From Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Has Ratan Tata ruined the Tatas’ brand image?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

Is ‘Vijaya Karnataka’ ready for a Dalit editor?

9 December 2010

Vishweshwar Bhat‘s exit from Vijaya Karnataka yesterday has been treated by the paper’s owners and managers with the same contemptible gracelessness that has been the hallmark of their conduct vis-a-vis journalists in the last two decades. There is not an announcement in today’s paper nor an explanation.

It is as if the reader, who is told why Yana Gupta didn’t wear her underwear, somehow doesn’t deserve to be told why there is a change at the top of the State’s biggest newspaper, in today’s imprintline.

The boiler-plate internal Times VPL memo, designed to reassure the rest of the flock and cool their anxieties, announces the name of E. Raghavan as the new consulting editor of the paper, on top of his current responsibilities as consulting editor of the presciently named Vijaya Next.

But just what kind of new editor should a mass-circulation paper like Vijaya Karnataka get? The Udaya TV anchor Deepak Thimaya, who did a short stint as editor of Vijaya Next before being replaced by Raghavan, has posted a provocative suggestion on his Facebook page.

I think a qualified journalist with a Dalit background should be made editor of a major newspaper in Karnataka. We may get new perspectives and the issues addressed may be different too. The time is ripe.”

Thimaya doesn’t take the name of Vijaya Karnataka, of course, but the hint is clear.

Also read: Why Deepak Thimaya left Vijaya Next

Anybody here who’s Dalit and speaks English?

Times VPL circular on Vishweshwar Bhat exit

8 December 2010

Times VPL chief executive officer Sunil Rajshekhar‘s “office advice” on the sudden exit of Vijaya Karnataka editor, Vishweshwar Bhat, and announcing the in-charge editor, E.Raghavan.

Vishweshwar Bhat resigns from Vijaya Karnataka

8 December 2010

Vishweshwar Bhat, the popular yet controversial editor of Vijaya Karnataka, the mass-circulation Kannada daily owned by The Times of India group, has resigned.

Bhat’s decision was announced to his staff this afternoon after a meeting with ToI chief executive officer Ravi Dhariwal and chief marketing officer Rahul Kansal who had flown down to Bangalore.

Bhat confirmed the resignation to churumuri.com, adding that, although he had no negative feelings for the company, he had begun to feel “slightly uncomfortable” in the last few months.

“I decided to quit when things were all right,” he said.

There is no word how long his name will appear on the imprintline or who his replacement is likely to be, although there is a rumour that E. Raghavan, who retired as editor of the Economic Times editions in the south and currently edits the Kannada weekend broadsheet Vijaya Next, may fill the breach.

The charitable version for the exit is that Bhat, who took over the reins of the paper 10 years ago, wanted a three-year sabbatical to go abroad and study which the Jains, who picked up the paper from Vijay Sankeshwar of the logistics company VRL four years ago, were disclined to give.

Bhat says he intends to pursue higher education now that he has been freed of his commitments, although the buzz is he may join a soon-to-be-started Kannada news channel. The no-compete clause in Sankeshwar’s deal with Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd also ends next year opening up new possibilities on the Kannada media map.

However, the press club gossip is less than charitable. This version has it that Bhat had reached the end of the long rope that had been extended him, during which period the paper veered overtly to the right, attracting the ire of Muslims, Dalits and Christians.

In a petition earlier this year, when Bhat was nominated for an honorary doctorate, the Karnataka chapter of Transparency International dashed off a petition, accusing the editor of being “primarily responsible for instigating and fuelling communal hatred by regularly publishing extremely volatile and offensive articles and editorials.”

Recent surveys also showed that Vijaya Karnataka‘s readership and circulation were moving southwards, to the discomfiture of the bosses, necessitating the change of guard.

All things considered, to Bhat goes the credit of turning a fledgling daily into a market leader and opinion maker, overtaking the 60-year-old Praja Vani from the Deccan Herald group in next to no time with a series of innovations and reader-friendly initiatives.

The prolific Bhat churned out a weekly Sunday diary, a Saturday media column, a Thursday edit-page piece, and wrote on a range of issues each week, besides regularly publishing books, compilations and translations. There was no inkling of the coming end even in Wednesday’s paper which carries a tribute by Bhat on page 7.

Bhat’s resignation is the third reorganisation exercise undertaken by VPL president Sunil Rajshekhar after shutting down The Times of India Kannada edition and launching Vijaya Next.

Photograph: via Facebook

Also read: Bhat in a flap over honorary doctorate

Is the management responsible for content too?

A blank editorial, a black editorial & a footnote

External reading: That’s Kannada.com

Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s open letter to Ratan Tata

7 December 2010

In the kerfuffle over the Niira Radia tapes in the 2g spectrum allocation scam, the sanctimonious outpourings of Ratan Tata have been little short of breathtaking: speaking of a bribe 15 years after it was “advised” to him; beating his chest over invasion of privacy; insisting the government had a right to intercept phone calls, etc.

In all these actions, Tata has banked on the superb reputation of the group and blanked out the Tata group’s actions, while taking the high moral ground: like his company’s role in the scam, Radia’s extremely damaging conversations with obvious hints of payoffs to politicians and their kin.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the former scion of BPL Mobile with interests in the Suvarna and Asianet groups in Karnataka and Kerala, addresses just those questions in an open letter to the chairman of Tata Sons.

***

Dear Mr. Tata

It is with considerable concern and some confusion that I have watched your recent television interviews and press statements following the 2G scam and the exposure of the infamous Nira Radia tapes.

I, as countless other Indians, have held the house of Tatas in great esteem and respect—have seen them as being different from so many other Indian corporates that play by a different set of rules and values.  I, along with many Indians, consider J.R.D. Tata as one of the true builders of modern India.

So, it is with considerable sadness and dismay that I am constrained to write this open letter to you. I trust you will not consider this as personal, since my letter has to do with issues of principle and conduct that are disturbing.

***

In your recent press interactions, you have made the point that the 2G scam needs to be investigated and have made several sub-points, including:

1.    Out-of-turn allocation of spectrum,
2.    Hoarding of spectrum by incumbent operators, and
3.    Flip-flop of policy

Let me wholeheartedly agree with you. Many in media and public life including me, have been saying this for several years now, so your belated realisation of these critical issues is very welcome.

I sympathize with your concern about public-policy making in our country sometimes resembling that of a Banana Republic. But the forces behind this are helped considerably by the fact that people with power and influence remain silent and passive spectators to this.

So many including me would have welcomed your intervention much earlier, as in the case of the alleged bribing offer 15 years ago, of Rs 15 crore that you referred to only recently. You will agree that speaking out against corruption is most effective when it is happening and not decades or years later. Because then it becomes an intellectual post mortem, and not active resistance.

***

Since I was previously a telecom entrepreneur, there will be a temptation for those that advise you, to attribute agenda and motivations to this letter of mine. But I assure you that there is none. I write because I believe that there is a need to join you in this debate and necessarily bring to your attention the contradictions between your stand and the position of the Tata Telecom companies, that you may be unaware of, given your senior position in your organization.

1.  Out-of-Turn Allocation of Spectrum

According to the CAG report, the potential loss to the exchequer on account of dual technology licenses at 3G rates is Rs. 37,154 crore. By virtue of dual technology, according to the CAG, your company has caused a loss to the exchequer to the tune of approximately Rs. 19074.8 crore.

But it is not just this. It is a fact that the Tata group is a beneficiary of out-of-turn spectrum.  In fact, one of the biggest of them all.

It is a fact admitted by the government on affidavit that 575 applications were received for 2G spectrum by 01 October 2007.  Using an illegal and arbitrary cutoff date, the then telecom minister A. Raja processed only 122 applications received till 25 September 2007. 110 were rejected and 343 applications were put in abeyance.

Given the fact that there is no 2G spectrum available, these applications received till 01 October 2007 (within the date represented by the government) have now been put in the dustbin. In fact, the TRAI had already recommended on 11 May 2010 that no more UASL license with bundled spectrum can be given.  This means that these 343 applications will never be processed and will never see spectrum.

In the meantime, 19 days after these 575 applications were received, the dual technology policy was announced through a press release by Raja.  The Tatas put in their dual technology applications around 22 October.  So, in effect, their application went in three weeks after the 575 2G applications were received.

Today, Tatas already have GSM spectrum allocated and GSM service launched in most of the circles. But the 343 applications submitted three weeks before the Tata group have neither been processed nor have any chance of ever being processed, so much for First Come, First Serve.

You will accept that this seems to be a case of arriving late, forming a new queue, jumping the priority and accusing others of getting priority on spectrum allocation and meets your point of out-of-turn allocation of spectrum.

I am sure the 373 applicants who were rejected for no fault of theirs, will agree while the Tata Group has sold its equity for billions of dollars to NTT Docomo based on its out-of-turn GSM allocation on dual technology policy.

In my humble opinion, evidence suggests that the Tatas have benefited from out-of-turn spectrum allocation. The dispute between Tatas and Reliance Communications inter se on the allocation sequence cannot dilute the primary fact of bypassing other early applicants to this spectrum.

2.    Hoarding of spectrum by incumbent operators

This is an important point you have raised. I concur with you that there is a need for telecommunications companies,  old or new, to pay market rates for spectrum. I also completely agree that the subscriber linked criteria allocation of spectrum is flawed and is encouraging fudging and false subscriber numbers.

But I bring to your attention, that this is existing government policy, flawed or unfortunate as it may be, and the only solution to this is to replace this with a new policy.

If by hoarding, you mean having more spectrum than number of subscribers that can be serviced, then please note that Tata holds spectrum both for GSM and CDMA.  Based on the spectrum that Tata has, its average efficiency is perhaps the lowest amongst the large operators.

Equally, that the CDMA spectrum that Tata holds is 3-4 times more efficient than the GSM operators, by its own admission, which I recall during the WLL scam. Moreover, Tata has received CDMA and GSM spectrum at 2001 rates.  So even if the hoarding charge was to apply, it would also apply to the Tatas for having maximum cumulative efficiency (CDMA and GSM) to serve the least number of subscribers amongst the incumbents.

Again, I fully support the need to price spectrum beyond 6.2 MHz with incumbent operators at market rates.  But the charge of hoarding that you make applies equally to Tata Teleservices, whether it is total spectrum held, or subscribers served based on that spectrum, or price paid to acquire such spectrum, vis-à-vis the cumulative efficiency of CDMA and GSM.

3.  Flip-flop of policy

In your interview, you have pointed out that a lot of the current dysfunctionality in Telecom has arisen from policy changes and flip-flops.

You would recall that one of the most horrific distortions of policy was the infamous WLL scam in 2001 where telecom companies with fixed service licenses managed to muscle their way into cellular with active support of policy makers of that time, and not to forget that it was all done in the name of benefit to the common man.

You will further recall that in 2003, a convenient set of recommendations by the TRAI and government allowed this illegality to be regularized through the UASL policy, opening the gates to unprecedented and unique (and unheard of) First Come, First Served form of licensing, bypassing tenders (a form of auction) that were the norm for obtaining cellular licenses till then.

Your company was the beneficiary of this ‘policy flip-flop’ and you chose to accept the benefits of this flip-flop at that time despite this blatant violation and distortion.

I am personally aware because I led the fight against it and remember being immensely disappointed at the Tata group’s remarkably self-serving position.

Further, in one of the most mysterious and indefensible acts, Tata group took on board as a consultant, the very individual, who as the chairman of TRAI was the architect of this UASL and other shames.

So, in summary and respectfully, your positions in the recent interviews seem to be in stark contrast with the actual conduct, performance and position of Tatas’ Telecom companies in each of the three points you have raised

***

There are several other questions that deserve answers, including why a group like Tata with its sterling character and reputation requires outside lobbyists to lobby on their behalf. That, in itself, is enough to shatter one’s confidence.

I reiterate that this letter is not meant to tarnish or disrespect or distract from the many achievements of the Tata group including the acquisition of international brands like Land Rover, Jaguar and its increasingly global footprint.

But I believe, on behalf of many erstwhile supporters of the Tata group, that it is my duty to seek and spotlight the truth. The Tata group has a responsibility, and indeed, owes it to its many admirers in India to actually live up to its image of ethical conduct, otherwise your statements and actions will seem to be hypocrisy—something that’s already available in plenty in our public and corporate life.

Respectfully,
RAJEEV CHANDRASEKHAR
Member of Parliament

***

Cartoon: courtesy Prasad Radhakrishnan/ Mail Today

***

Also read: Has Ratan Tata ruined the Tatas’ brand image?

‘What Henry Ford did then, Ratan Tata has done now

An auto driver has a question for Yediyurappa

6 December 2010

Bangalore-based political scientist Sandeep Shastri in the Indian Express:

“Every passing day brings an alarming new twist to Karnataka’s politics, with the competitive exposure of corruption between various political forces…. The State is going through a political free-for-all, where there isn’t a pretence of probity.

“This means that the season of allegations and counter-allegations is likely to go on for for a while. The administration is clearly going to be obsessed with the ghosts of past misdeeds, leaving little time and energy (or motivation and inclination) for any citizen-oriented action.

“An auto-rickshaw driver succinctly summed up public mood when he said: “We are fed up of hearing which leader did what wrong. Can someone show us what they can do right”?

Read the full articleAnything you can do, I can do worse

Should swamijis start boycotting the scamsters?

6 December 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji, fully covered in her shawl, had just finished her pooja of margashira masa, heralding the start of winter season.

Yeno anyaya? Looks like the whole of Karnataka might just cave in because of the landslide caused by endless land scams. The way scamsters are ripping off our State and subsequently flying off with impunity and their extended families to Jammu to get the blessings of Vaishnodevi is preposterous. Isn’t this our money they are looting and then visiting shrines on the top of it, as papa parihaara? “

“It is Ajji, it is.”

“They indulge in daylight robbery (an alleged bribe of Rs 87 crore, no less, deposited in bank accounts) without any qualms and then, when caught by the Lok Ayukta, announce proudly that in order to ‘uphold the highest traditions of democracy and morality’, they are resigning from the cabinet.”

“This is the fashion of the day in Karanataka, Ajji. Resignation on a ‘matter of principle’ seems to come only when forced to face criminal charges for forgery and cheating.”

“Lok Ayukta is also called in some States as Lok Pal, isn’t it?”

Ajji was changing tracks, getting into the Hindi belt.

“Yes, Ajji. In fact the Lok Pal bill is pending before Parliament.”

“Lok Pal is a nice name, meaning somebody who will protect the world or our country or Karnataka against evil.”

“Very true.”

“Lok Pals in the ancient days were Krishna and Rama. There is a popular Kannada song too, ‘Swamidevane loka palane, the namosthu namostuthe’ in B.R. Panthulu’s School Master, starring Raj Kumar and sung by Komala, Renee and T.G. Lingappa with lyrics by Kanagal Prabhakara Shastry.”

How can one forget that song which was once even a school prayer?

“It’s great song, Ajji.”

Nodo! In Bhagavad Gita in 4.8, Krishna says: Paritranaya sadhunam, Vinasaya ca duskritam, Dharna-samsthapanarthaya, Sambhavami yuge  yuge (Meaning: to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I myself appear millennium after millennium.”

“He said he will come again and again to save dharma from evildoers. He said, ‘To protect the good and to destroy evil and establish dharma, I will come back whenever such a situation demands that.”

Illige hege apply aagutthe, Ajji?’

Just like Krishna counted 100 sins of Shishupala and finally killed him with his sudarshna chakra, our loka pala is doing the same for the present crop of Shishupalas amidst us. Hope he gets enough strength to wipe out all scamsters, past and present.”

Ha ha, chennagide Ajji, your comparisonu. It is very apt too.”

“Most of our ministers have amassed illegal wealth and land over the years, and I hope only Rourava Naraka awaits them. By making donations out of the ill-gotten money, they think they can buy off swamijis. How I wish the few good swamijis we have in the State would boycott them if they are true swamijis!”

“Correct, Ajji. The swamiji should put proscribe the cheats whoever they might be.”

“If the swamijis want to be respected by the public and respected by their own conscience, no matter which caste they belong to, they should keep the cheats away  until they publicly apologize for their sins.”

Sariyaagi HelDe Ajji.”

“Do you remember the song Apaara keerthi gaLisi mereve bhavya naadidu sung by G.K. Venkatesh, in Vijayanagarada veera putra? In the film, Raj Kumar enacts this while paying tribute to the people who strived to make our rajya great.”

Howdu Ajji. That song still make one’s hairs stand on the edge with pride; and GKV has  sung very well.”

Eega, such a song will have to be in the name of rogues’ gallery of Karnataka. We will need a 18-minute song to fill in the names. I don’t know whether any of our singers will agree to lend his / her voice. May be the rogues will themselves sing this as a chorus,” concluded Ajji.

Also read: What role should our swamijis, godmen play?

Is it really so difficult to say sorry, maaf karo?

3 December 2010

Nearly 30 years after it was made on a shorter than shoestring budget, the Kundan Shah-directed caper Jaane bhi do yaaro remains one of Bollywood’s most loved movies, presciently squatting at the 2010 intersection of politicians, businessmen and journalists a la Niira Radiagate.

In JBDY, two commercial photographers (played by Naseeruddin Shah and the late Ravi Baswani) pick up freelance assignments for Khabardar, a muckraking publication edited by Shobha Sen (Bhakti Barve) that ostensibly wants to expose the link between an unscrupulous builder (Pankaj Kapoor) and a corrupt municipal commissioner (Satish Shah).

The lensmen come up with damning evidence but, well, the editor is “stringing along” with another builder (Om Puri) and strumming a different tune.

Now, what if the remorseless Bhakti Barve played Barkha Dutt, the “massively influential but ethically embattled” NDTV anchor?

***

B.V. Rao in Governance Now:

Barkha’s show of her lifetime left me unimpressed because it did not answer some key questions. Where is her apology to her viewers (she did not look into the camera, address her viewers and say “sorry” even when prompted).”

T.N. Ninan in Business Standard:

“If both (Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi) could bring themselves to admitting that they crossed a line, apologise and declare that it won’t happen again, the entire journalist community would breathe easier and hold its head up a little higher. So would a generation of young journalism students and new entrants into the profession, who have grown up idealising Ms Dutt and others.”

Shobha Narayan in Mint:

“Should Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi say “mea culpa” for letting down their readers and viewers? Absolutely. Then, why don’t they?”

***

Full coverage: BARKHA DUTT on the allegations against her

Lessons for Vir and Barkha from Prem and Nikhilda

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

‘A too-argumentative Barkha squanders chance’

86% feel let down by CD baat of top journalists

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

The TV anchor, the ex-editor and TV personality

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

Vir Sanghvi suspends Hindustan Times column

In which Adolf Hitler reacts to ‘Barkhagate’

Each of us, none too innocent, none too guilty

2 December 2010

SHASHIKIRAN MULLUR writes from Bangalore: Across towns, most hoardings are taken by jewellers and a number of them are a lush purple with diamond rings on them.

The jewellery stores are always full and same-size crowds flood the tall glass halls of German-car dealerships, just as in the Harley-Davidson showroom where all the bikes on display are sold.

The CEO of a multinational corporation (MNC) repeated the popular intonation over lunch with me last week, that the entrepreneur is driving Indian growth and that the public servant has played no role in our economic surge.

That is not true.

What has happened is that the public servant has turned entrepreneur and has partnered with the old-timer in business, and the two together are reaching critical mass in wealth creation.

With this en masse migration to entrepreneurship, the business of governance has been left short, and we should do what they do in rich countries when locals wrinkle their noses at dirty jobs. We need to look for places in the world where people exist who will work for work alone or for the common good.

We should ready visas for them.

***

We have been surprised by a high season for scams and scandals, a season for PR exercises by those already arraigned.

For a long time we looked to politicians and film stars for entertainment arising from scandal, but now some key purveyors of such fine entertainment, in the media, seem themselves the co-perpetrators of scams, and the fine lines that differentiate one from another are gone.

Mass entertainment through scandal has so greatly multiplied that we don’t any more know in India what boredom means.

***

Some years ago, I read in a newspaper that N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys was thinking of starting a political party with his own money, and I had thought then that I should merge my small savings with his oceanic lot and work with him if he should accept me.

Much later, he declared that he knows to work only with civilised people, so my savings are idle with me, which is all to the good because there is no section of our society that isn’t crying for some cleaning, and I’m sure that if I train my eyes upon my work I’ll see the blots that need to be rubbed out.

Are we stung by an angst of the type that soaked the West in the sixties, when smoke and policemen appeared on the campus, and Tariq Ali led mass protests in Paris, and Street Fighting Man and Gimme Shelter became anthems?

When Lennon did bed-ins for peace and held up bag-ism and people gave him time for his stuff?

Or, are we serene in our situation? Is every one of us at once the scammer and the scammed, none too innocent, none too guilty, and will our life go on in the manner of some households which succeed not to break even though they cannot hold?

Which is India’s most credible media outlet?

2 December 2010

With a cloud of suspicion hovering over the credibility of the bold-faced names of Indian media following the Niira Radia tapes—and institutional disasters such as paid news, private treaties, medianet and the lot—it was just a matter of time before someone twisted the knife even further.

Offstumped, the right-of-centre blog that claims to offer “commentary on an impatient and aspirational India”, has been first off the block with a survey on India’s most credible media outlet. Pinch yourself, multiple voting ensures that the right-of-centre Pioneer is leading the list.

Poll: courtesy Offstumped

Is it time to think of a new kind of government?

1 December 2010

Ashok V. Desai in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“The British invented, and gave to India, a bureaucracy that was selected on merit, paid well enough not to have to be corrupt, and financially secure for the entire lifetime so that it did not have to worry about old age. That did not suit her nefarious designs, so Indira Gandhi subverted the Indian civil service.

“The Americans invented a confrontational, powerful and intrusive parliament; but from time to time they run into corruption amongst members of their two Houses, and their procedures for keeping it in check are laborious. The French, after the revolution, created a powerful central government with a rigorously selected and trained bureaucracy, and severely limited the domain of the legislature.

“The Chinese execute anyone found corrupt, define the tasks of their bureaucrats, and reward performance. They have thereby created an efficient government and driven corruption underground, but the concept of government as a service to citizens is quite foreign to them. The European Union recognizes and registers lobbyists, and has drafted a handbook of rules for them.

Paul Romer has suggested that countries should create provinces consisting of major cities and their hinterland, and ask the world’s best governments to come and administer each province. We could experiment with these models, or we could adapt them and work out our own variant. It is not an entirely foreign thought. The Bharatiya Janata Party wanted to review and revise the Constitution; but because it came from the Hindutwits, the idea never had a chance. But the idea of junking our government and starting anew is an idea whose time has come.”

Read the full story: Business sans ethics

Also read: Scams, scams, scams. Has liberalisation worked?


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