Archive for January, 2012

The right arm of the Gandhi no one remembers

31 January 2012

V. Kalyanam (left), the former personal secretary to Mahatma Gandhi, arriving for the Sarvodaya Day celebrations organised by Bangalore University, in Bangalore on Monday. Now 92, Kalyanam was 28 and a few inches from the Mahatma on the day the 79-year-old “stopped three bullets from their deadly trajectory of hate”.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: 77 years ago, when the Mahatma came to Mysore

As Gandhi said, “I wish to wrestle with the snake”

External reading: Incidentally, we must never forget

CHURUMURI POLL: Who is your role-model?

30 January 2012

As the old saying goes, nostalgia is no longer what it used to be. Even so, in a discourse dominated by the here and now and the ephemeral, Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy has struck the right note by talking of the nation’s diminishing stockpile of role models.

“The number of role models that our youngsters can look up to is decreasing. How many people in our public life can you be proud of for honesty, courage, commitment and hardwork? And that number is dwindling. Our youngsters don’t have role models to look up to and therefore, and sadly because of corruption, some of the people who are doing exactly the opposite — dishonest, deceit, ‘chalta hai’ and all of that… they are becoming more and more powerful… they are becoming wealthier,” Murthy has been quoted as saying.

Not just in politics but in business, industry, economics, science, art, music, media, films, cricket, etc, there clearly is a dearth of people to look up to. Sure, the standard Miss India responses—“Mother Teresa, “A.P.J. Abdul Kalam“, “Narayana Murthy”—are still valid, but who beyond and beside them?

So, who in this day and age, in big bad India do you think is the ideal role model? Do today’s young who are connected to a wider world really need Indian role models?

Rushdie: Listen to what the good doctor says

27 January 2012

Looking at all the shrieking and shouting on television (and reading the newspapers), it would seem as if the only people who have a view on the major debates of the day are: a) party spokesman with an agenda, b) fundamentalists with an agenda, c) party spokesmen and fundamentalists with an agenda masquerading as journalists and intellectuals without an agenda, and d) some extras who parrot out the most expected lines.

Communally sensitive issues like the Salman Rushdie episode, the A.K. Ramanujan essay ban, and the flight of M.F. Husain from the land of his birth, show how the nation’s discourse has been hijacked if not usurped by these “usual suspects”. It is as if the common men and women of India—Hindus, Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs et al—do not matter if they do not have a microphone attached to their lapel pins.

Here, a smalltown doctor pens his thoughts on l’affaire Rushdie.

***

By K. JAVEED NAYEEM

It is sad that, thanks to pure vote bank politics, the controversial writer Salman Rushdie, without being allowed to visit India, was still allowed to stir the already impure and extremely murky waters of Indian politics.

Rushdie’s physical and even virtual participation at the Jaipur literary festival was reportedly cancelled at the last minute after Muslim groups reportedly threatened violence even if his image was shown in a video-conference.

But except for the stray pictures of slogan-shouting Muslims, very appropriately attired for the occasion in skull caps and jubbas, just like film extras, I did not even sense any tremor of opposition from any right thinking Muslims worth their name or salt against his participation at the litfest.

It was only the media which went overboard to give more coverage to Rushdie’s aborted visit to Jaipur, than what it would have perhaps given him if he had actually visited the place and the event.

For a five full days, more Rushdie and less literature was discussed at the litfest, which is indeed a shame.

It is now an established fact that the threat to Rushdie’s life was much magnified, if not fully concocted, by our intelligence agencies and vote-hungry politicians, especially at the Congress-centric government at the Centre and the governments of the two Congress-ruled States of Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Although he has been allowed to visit the country in the past without any problems, this time these three agencies decided to ban Rushdie’s visit clearly to appease the Muslim voters and impact the outcome of the forthcoming elections in the northern States.

That is why the threats to his life were ‘perceived’ in Bombay, the hub of all our terror threats, by intelligence agencies and conveyed to their counterparts in Rajasthan. Although the former deny their role, the latter reiterate that they have concrete evidence of the same.

The DGP of Maharashtra has said that they had not provided any input to Rajasthan in this regard while the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has insisted that his government had received six messages from them about the threat.

Rushdie has no doubt faced death threats from fundamentalists ever since he wrote the controversial book but to give importance to the largely imaginary story that hired assassins were going to kill him in Jaipur this time shows how low even governments can stoop for imaginary vote banks.

It actually portrays our security preparedness in rather poor and unflattering light.

The man has actually derived much mileage from being controversial and our government does not realise that it has just augmented it.

The organisers of the Jaipur literary festival would certainly have known that his visit could spark protests and should have acted with a little more common sense and foresight before inviting him. The government too should have conveyed this possibility to the organisers since the visit was not at all a closely guarded secret.

Inviting Rushdie to the festival was clearly a very reckless and irresponsible act as it would have painted the whole of India in very bad light if something untoward had happened.

That there is much vote-bank politics behind this whole issue is eminently clear from the utterances of Sheila Dixit, the chief minister of New Delhi two days ago. Earlier in the day, she had told reporters that “one may have differences with what Rushdie writes, but he’s a very eminent writer and a Booker Prize winner who was welcome to visit Delhi.”

Barely hours after she praised him as a gifted writer she changed her mind. Her office issued a retraction stating that there is no question of welcoming the author of the banned “Satanic Verses.”

This sudden turn-around could only have been the result of a sharp rap on the elderly lady’s knuckles by her much younger lady mentor who undoubtedly wields the baton and the sceptre too.

In reality, banning his book has not prevented any determined readers from reading it. It has been always available to all and sundry except to our government from the black market. In five minutes it can be downloaded from the net and this can never be prevented by any kind of ban.

I certainly was very eager to find out what was bad in it and I found out very quickly too when I could borrow a copy from one of my teachers just a few days after it was proscribed. Since I have read everything that Rushdie has written, I feel it is not the ability to write well but his tendency to stamp on others’ toes deliberately which has made him famous.

This habit is the forte of all those without real talent. I do not endorse anyone making fun of Gods and Goddesses or revered personalities or the sacred texts of any religion. I have therefore also been very critical of M. F. Husain’s portrayal of Hindu deities in poor taste.

As a Muslim I would like to reiterate that The Satanic Verses, a work of fiction penned by Rushdie, certainly cannot shake our faith.

The history of Islam is full of instances where the prophet was subjected to much harsher criticism, including being dubbed an imposter for many years. But at no point of time was he ruffled one bit by such opposition or condemnation. He calmly went about his work with full conviction that what he was doing was in accordance with what Allah had ordained for him.

Let me reassure all Indians and all those anywhere in the world, who think that Indian Muslims are even slightly preoccupied with this Jaipur event, that I do not see it as anything more than a ripple on the surface of Indian politics.

It will certainly not shake our composure or patriotism.

It is actually time now for both Muslims and Hindus alike to rise much higher than being perturbed by what the Rushdies and Husains do in their free time.

This time a tottering Rushdie whose ink has dried up, has only used a lame excuse very conveniently to avoid attending an event which he was just frightened of attending like a timid boy. Let us not offer him a Jaipur foot to enter our minds and disturb our mindset.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: Sir Salman Rushdie with television anchor Barkha Dutt at the Jaipur literary festival in 2007 (courtesy Shelly Jain)

Also read: A Hindu iftar for a good Muslim doctor at work

All terror can be traced to injustice, inequality

The most difficult to cross is in your mind

Is there space for another Kannada news channel?

25 January 2012

On paper, the media market in Karnataka is not the largest of the four southern States. The conventional wisdom is that unlike Andhra Pradesh, we do not have as many eyeballs; unlike Tamil Nadu, we do not have as many urban centres; unlike Kerala, we do not have a booming retail market; and unlike all three, we do not have deep pockets.

But the reality is slightly different.

Karnataka has more newspapers and as many news channels as the biggest of the four States. To the existing stampede of TV news channels—TV9, Udaya News, Suvarna News, Kasturi News, Janashree and Samaya—one more will be added tomorrow, when former Kannada Prabha and Suvarna News editor H.R. Ranganath‘s Public TV goes on air.

Question: is there space for one more Kannada news channel?

Photograph: A hoarding for the soon-to-be-launched Public TV on Cunningham Road in Bangalore (Karnataka Photo News)

Have even Sardars lost their sense of humour?

25 January 2012

Facet: Jay Leno is the US equivalent of Cyrus Broacha (to the power of one thousand). Fact: With an income of $21million last year, US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is not just in the top 1% but in the top 0.0025%.

And the nation’s most humourous people are miffed at a skit that does not even have accompanying commentary from Leno as to sue?And the Indian ambassador to the US complains, only to receive a sermon on the First Amendent?

Also read: Who gives a shit to Jeremy Clarkson‘s crap?

Just how is this dress an affront to Hindu culture?

Why The Times of India was right to use Last Supper motif

One question Barkha Dutt should ask Rushdie

24 January 2012

After five days of dominating the Jaipur literary festival without even stepping foot in it, Sir Salman Rushdie will bring the curtain down on the final day; he will address the gabfest by a video link with NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt as his interrogator/interlocutor. (Oh, he won’t!)

These five days have been a signal lesson in India’s slow but sure march towards illiberalism.

Over five days, we have learnt that there is no ban on reading, possessing or downloading copies of The Satanic Verses;  just that the finance ministry has disallowed its import. But that has been sufficient for Islamist fundamentalists to bar Rushdie from stepping on the soil of the country of his birth.

Over five days, we have seen the Rajasthan government invent an “assassination plot” to keep Rushdie out, succeed in their efforts, and then deny their concoction. Over five days, we have seen the festival’s organisers behave like Team Anna, saying one thing one moment, exactly the opposite the next moment and both sometimes (while having grand debates on censorship).

Over five days, we have seen a lawyer (Akhil Sibal)—son-in-law of one of the organisers (Namita Gokhale) and son of the Union IT minister (Kapil Sibal)—who “defended” M.F. Husain when he was being targeted Hindu fundamentalists, being deployed to urge authors (like Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil) to sign papers that they read passages from the book so on their own volition, and so on.

What is the one question Sir Salman Rushdie must be asked this afternoon?

Like, should Rushdie be asked to repeat what he told Rajiv Gandhi in an open letter in the The New York Times in 1988, when The Satanic Verses was banned:

“By behaving in this fashion, can [India] any more lay claim to the title of a civilised society? Is it no longer permissible, in modern, supposedly secular India, for literature to treat such themes? What sort of India do you wish to govern? Is it to be an open or a repressive society?”

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is India a liberal republic?

Does jail mean ‘guilty’, bail mean ‘innocent’?

23 January 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji gawked at the TV screen as she watched the news.

“What happened, Ajji? Something wrong?”

“This fellow kammenwelthnalli Englandninda dodda chhatri chhatri tharisda alva?”

“Yes, Ajji. That is Suresh Kalmadi. He was the chairman of the organising committee of the Commonwealth Games (CWG), who organised the import of jumbo-size umbrellas!”

“Wasn’t he sent to jail for wrong doing while organising the games?”

‘Yes. He was in jail for nine months; now he is out on bail. Along with him all his colleagues have also been released.”

Hagandre? They are all innocent or guilty.”

“Nobody knows that yet, Ajji.”

Shiva, Shiva. They also released all company people, fillum people on two gee skyam.”

“Yes.”

“They released that girl, Thiru Karunanidhi’s daughter, Kanimozhi also?”

“She was released last month, Ajji.”

“If they released Kalmadi, Kanimozhi et al, who is the kalla/kalli in CWG or 2G?”

“The real thief? Nobody knows, Ajji. They have all got bail now. By the time they decide that, your granddaughter born last month would have become an Ajji!”

“How come these people who are coming out of jail want their positions back. Yediyurappa wants to become CM,  his supporters are disrupting meeting of present CM asking him to  resign and keep up the ‘promise’ given to Yedi. Kalmadi’s supporters already want him as chief of IOA for the extraordinary general meeting, and are talking about the great service rendered by him.”

“Yes, Ajji.”

“Isn’t there any sense of shame left any more? People who were arrested on serious charges, just because they get bail, they are treated like heroes as if they have done something fantastic. Crackers are burst, sweets are distributed. What is this nonsense, kano?”

“They think bail = not guilty, ashte Ajji.”

“Now I hear that the ‘Trichy 29’, the group of robbers who robbed cashiers in a bank have also applied for bail! They will also get bail I am sure.”

“Quite  possible, Ajji.”

Rama, Rama. Then who is left in jail, only petty thieves, pickpockets, chain snatchers who can’t afford  money to get bail, I guess.”

“Yes, Ajii.”

Devare kaapadbeku ee deshana!”

“Even God has given up, Ajji. He seems to have abdicated his responsibility. Now it is taken over by swamigalu, matadhipathis. Some swamijis have petitioned that Yediyurappa should be brought back as CM.”

Ayyo devare! At this rate I am sure the ‘Trichy 29’ will come to power in Tamil Nadu and form a ministry. This has happened before there.”

I agreed with Ajji.

Manmohan & Deve Gowda: 40 winks of separation

23 January 2012

In his first term as prime minister, Manmohan Singh was called plenty of names by the BJP and routinely reminded of being “weak” till it boomeranged in the 2009 elections.

In his second term, Singh continues to be called weak but with the corruption scandals chipping away at the PM’s image, there is an added twist: he is now called weaker than the former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

At a function in Madras last week to mark the 40th anniversary of the Tamil magazine, Tughlak, the “former future prime minister of India” L.K. Advani once again repeated the “weaker than Deve Gowda” charge.

Srinivasa Ram Iyengar  Iyer Ramaswamy alias Cho Ramaswamy, the editor of Tughlak who has now positioned in the AIADMK camp after having enjoyed the pleasures of the DMK camp not long ago, interjected:

“Advaniji says Manmohan Singh is weaker than Deve Gowda. But Deve Gowda was stronger in one respect. Deve Gowda was strong enough to go off to sleep on his own. Poor fellow Manmohan cannot even doze off on his own.”

Also read: Is Manmohan Singh still India’s weakest PM?

Weak Manmohan, yes, but what about L.K. Advani?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is India a liberal Republic?

20 January 2012

On the eve of the 62nd anniversary of the “sovereign socialist secular republic”, a nice little knife has been stuck into the heart of liberal India by goondas and moral policemen. The author Sir Salman Rushdie has pulled out of the Jaipur literary festival following threats from “influential Muslim clerics” of the Darul Uloom Deoband, who suddenly remembered that his banned 1989 novel The Satanic Verses hurt the sentiments of Muslims ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.

Considering that the book was banned the cowardly Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi 23 years ago, it will surprise nobody that it was the cowardly Congress government of Ashok Gehlot that did the needful this time round. Instead of reassuring the world that the “Indian State” would protect every single individual, down to the last man, woman and child, even if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—especially if he has offended the super-sensitive and super-patriotic—the Rajasthan government caved in to the thugs.

And the Manmohan Singh government meekly watched on—just as it meekly watched on when A.K. Ramanujan‘s essay Three-hundred Ramayanas was being proscribed by Delhi University (where Singh’s daughter works), under the benign gaze of Sonia Gandhi and Shiela Dixit (peace be unto them).

While the Congress deserves every brick, shoe and invective hurled at it for the latest “stain on India’s international reputation“—on top of its execrable efforts to screen Facebook, Google and the media—no political party is properly clothed in this horribly naked hamaam which repeatedly and brazenly cocks a snook at free speech and expression.

# The warnings of Hindutva hitmen owing allegiance to the BJP drove M.F. Husain out of India, forcing him to live the last years of his abroad.

# NCP goondas burnt down a library in Poona because its author had used it to write a book on Shivaji, which they didnt’ like.

# In the glorious republic of Gujarat, movie watchers could not catch Parzania because–horror, horror—it showed the plight of Muslim victims in the 2002 pogrom; because, well, Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s government couldn’t offer basic security to theatres.

# Ditto Aamir Khan‘s Fanaa.

# And of course, the “alleged apostle of peace” couldn’t bear the hints of bisexuality in the real apostle of peace, so Joseph Lelyveld‘s book on Mahatma Gandhi was conveniently removed from the eyes of readers.

# In Left-ruled Kerala, a professors’s hand could be merrily chopped off with gay abandon by Islamists because he had mistakenly prepared a question paper that used the named “Mohammed” for a somewhat daft character. (And who can forget what happened to Deccan Herald, when it printed a short story titled Mohamed the Idiot.)

# Taslima Nasreen was unwelcome in Left-ruled Bengal because her views didn’t match those of the mullahs. (She was later attacked by Majlis MLAs in Congress-ruled Hyderabad and her visa reluctantly renewed by the UPA.)

# The BSP government of Behen Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh banned the film Aarakshan because of is “derogatory” take on reservations.

Questions: Are we really a tolerant, liberal nation open to views from all sides? Or in the 21st century, are we utterly incapable of using the word freedom without adding “but” to it?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Does freedom have its limits?

‘Online extremism has lowered tolerance levels’

What’s the correct word for a Hindu fatwa?

Free to live. Not free to do and say as we like?

Why we mustn’t ban the book on the Mahatma

Tch-tching about Adelaide? Think of Anandvan.

19 January 2012

On the eve of the fourth Test match against Australia, Rahul Dravid and Harsha Bhogle show that there is more to life than winning, losing or sweating over a cricket match.

Think of life itself.

As Lance Klusener famously said after South Africa’s loss to Australia in the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup and everybody was pouncing on him: “So what, no one died.”

Also read: Player no. 207 is the modern-day Vijay Hazare

India’s greatest match-winning batsman is…

Do our cricketers have social responsibility?

Yes, his name was Anthony Prabhu Gonsalves

19 January 2012

Anthony Prabhu Gonsalves, the Goan music composer who was Laxmikant-Pyarelal‘s muse for the hit song in the 1977 Manmohan Desai film Amar Akbar Antony is no more.

“Wait, wait, wait. You see, the whole country of the system is juxtaposition by the haemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity…”

Also read: My name is Anthony Gonsalves. Do you know…?

Naresh Fernandes: Remembering Anthony Gonsalves

N. Ram’s farewell letter to ‘The Hindu’ staff

18 January 2012

The following is the full text of the letter sent off by Narasimhan Ram, editor-in-chief of The Hindu group of publications, to his colleagues on Wednesday, 18 January 2012, on the eve of his relinquishment of office.

***

January 18, 2012

Dear colleagues

Today I step down as editor-in-chief and publisher of our publications, The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar, and also as printer as applicable.

In consequence, Siddharth Varadarajan, D. Sampathkumar, R. Vijayasankar, and Nirmal Shekhar, all editors, take over, with effect from January 19, 2012, as editors of The Hindu, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar respectively responsible for the selection of news under the Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act of 1867. And K. Balaji, managing director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., takes over, under the same Act, as publisher of all our publications and also as Printer as applicable.

I will continue to be a wholetime Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd.

These changes on the editorial side are significant, indeed milestones in our progress as a newspaper-publishing company.

On the one hand, they represent a conscious and well-prepared induction of fresh and younger blood at the top levels of our editorial operations, not of course as one-person shows but as captains of teams of talented professionals who work on the basis of collegiality, mutual respect, trust, professional discipline, and cooperation.

On the other hand, these editorial changes are a vital part of the process of professionalization and contemporization under way in all the company’s operations. I am clear that this is the only way to face the future – the opportunities as well as the challenges.

The Hindu is, way and ahead, India’s most respected newspaper – about that there can be little question.

Founded on September 20, 1878, we are the oldest living daily newspaper in the freedom movement tradition. Our strengths are drawn from our rich history, and equally from the way our organization has contemporized, transformed itself continuously and pro-actively in content, in mode of presentation, in style, in engaging the reader, and of course technologically, over 133 years in keeping with the enormous changes that have taken place in India and the world.

Generations of editors, managing directors, and other business and professional leaders at various levels, but above all many thousands of our hard-working and dedicated journalistic and non-journalistic employees have made us what we
are today. About us it will certainly be no cliché to say: individuals come and go, the institution goes on.

With a daily net-paid circulation close to 1.5 million, The Hindu is today one of India’s three largest circulated English language newspapers. The latest round of the Indian Readership Survey confirms our position as South India’s No. 1 English language daily in terms of readership. Our other publications, Business Line, Frontline, and Sportstar, have also developed well, winning a reputation for independence, integrity, reliability, relevance, and quality.

For complex reasons, the main news media – the print press as well as broadcast television – are in crisis across the developed world; this phenomenon is well known and well documented.

Summing up the evidence, Christoph Riess, chief executive officer of the world association of newspapers, told those assembled at the world newspaper congress and world editors forum in Vienna in October 2011: ‘Circulation is like the sun. It continues to rise in the East and decline in the West.’

And it is not just circulation; Riess’s observation applies to readership and, in varying measure and with some qualifications, to revenues as well.

We can easily see how fortunate we, and our counterparts publishing in English and various other languages in India and across the developing world, are to be located in another media world. The chief differentiating characteristic of this media world is that printed newspapers (and also broadcast television) are in growth mode, some of us in buoyant  growth mode.

How long this duality will endure is a matter of conjecture. But there are exciting opportunities out there in our media world and they must be seized strategically and with deft footwork. Digital journalism – good journalism on the existing and emerging digital platforms – is an exciting domain where a combination of quality, reliability, interactivity, creative  ways to engage the reader, and growth with commercial viability will be key.

There are, equally, tough challenges – especially a hardening business environment and rising commercial pressure on editorial values and on the independence and integrity of editorial content, seen, for example, in the recently exposed notorious practices of paid news and private treaties.

The negative tendencies that have surfaced in the Indian news media have been sharply criticized by the Press Council of India Chairman, Justice Markandey Katju; and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has reflected on the problem in a rather different way. I have discussed the opportunities as well as the challenges in some detail in a recent address I gave at the Indian History Congress in Patiala on ‘The Changing Role of the News Media in Contemporary India’.

The last thing we need is complacency.

In my understanding, the two central functions of a trustworthy and relevant press (and news media) are (a) the credible-informational and (b) the critical-investigative-adversarial.

A third is the pastime function, which is important, especially for engaging the reader in a wholesome way; but it must be constantly kept in perspective and proportion and must not, in my view, be allowed to outweigh, not to mention squash, the two central functions. There are also valuable derivatives of the two central functions: public education; serving as a forum for analysis, disputation, criticism, and comment; and agenda building on issues that matter.

It is to maintain and strengthen our vantage position as India’s most respected newspaper in an increasingly challenging professional and business environment that the Board of Directors of Kasturi & Sons Ltd. adopted ‘Living our Values: Code of Editorial Values’ on April 18, 2011.

‘The greatest asset of The Hindu, founded in September 1878,’ the Code begins, ‘is trust. Everything we do as a company revolves, and should continue to revolve, round this hard-earned and inestimable long-term asset. The objective of codification of editorial values is to protect and foster the bond of trust between our newspapers and their readers.’

The Code emphasizes the imperative need for the Company to protect the integrity of the newspapers it publishes, their editorial content, and the business operations that sustain and help grow the newspapers.

It commits our newspapers as well as the Company to uncompromising fealty to the values that are set out in the Code.

It underlines the importance of the business and editorial departments ‘working together closely on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation and in the spirit of living these values in a contemporary sense.’

It mandates ‘transparency and disclosure in accordance with the best contemporary norms and practices in the field’ and also avoidance of conflict of interest, keeping in mind the codified values.

Finally, the Code lays down this mandate for contemporization of all our operations: ‘There is no wall but there is a firm line between the business operations of the Company and editorial operations and content. Pursuant to the above-mentioned values and objectives, it is necessary to create a professionalism in the editorial functioning independent of shareholder interference so as to maintain an impartiality, fairness, and objectivity in editorial and journalistic functioning.’

As I step down from my editorial positions with a decent measure of satisfaction over our collective achievement, at an age that is close enough to 67, I warmly thank all our journalists and non-journalist colleagues for the trust, hard work, and cooperation they have invested in The Hindu group of publications and the Company during my editorship.

I can assure you that with this completion of the process of editorial succession, our publications will be in able and trustworthy hands and our values as strong as ever.

N. Ram

**

File photograph: N. Ram, the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Hindu, at a lecture in New Delhi in April 2011 (courtesy Kanekal Kuppesh)

***

Also read: N. Ram to quit as The Hindu editor-in-chief on Jan 19

N. Ram: caustic, opinionated, sensitive and humane

Why N. Ravi quit The Hindu after 20 years as editor

Nirmala Lakshman: I didn’t step down; I resigned

Malini Parthasarathy quits as Hindu‘s executive editor

The four great wars of N. Ram on The Hindu soil

N. Murali: The Hindu is run like a banana republic

Is the media to blame for Team India’s worries?

17 January 2012

India Drown Under. Surrender Down Under. Wallopped! Tigers at home, lambs abroad.

The adjectives are tripping off TV screens and sports pages, following the precipitous fall in Indian performance in Australia, where the 0-3 scoreline looks less from a cricket series, more from a tennis match.

The blame, as usual, is being laid at the door of the IPL and the surfeit of Twenty20 cricket. The cricket board is being slammed for ignoring domestic cricket, for short sighted selection, etc.

But how much of the blame does the media carry?

Calcutta-born Andy O’ Brien, a former journalist with Sportsworld magazine, now happily settled in Australia, on the debacle of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his World Cup winning boys, in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“If one was to compile international media clippings of this tour, mention of Sachin Tendulkar‘s milestone would probably outnumber 10:1 any analysis of the outcome of a Test match or the shortcomings of the Indian team….

“Are Indian cricket fans more interested in Sachin getting his century of centuries or in winning a Test series? Or is the truth that this almost cosmetic overemphasis on the peripheral is a coincidental cover-up of the fact that, by and large, Indian cricket reporters tend to be too soft on their cricketers?

“Not many are willing to bite the proverbial bullet and risk their “contacts” with the team or the hierarchy. If always seemed to me, even when I was a part of this wonderful hardworking group of people, that the business is not so much about writing or cricket, but what contacts you have and can tap, to produce a “cosmetic/glamour” story with banner headlines.

“That trend has grown and as a result many reports now deal with either the mundane or the inconsequential part of the game.”

Photograph: Australian captain Michael Clarke tosses the coin at the start of the third Test match against India in Perth, as captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni looks on, with ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle (right) and Channel 9 host, Mark Nicholas.

Read the full article: Let go of that cockiness and arrogance

Also read: ‘Today’s cricket journos are chamchas of cricketers’

Khushwant Singh: 11 secrets of a long, happy life

15 January 2012

As he prepares to turn 98 next month, the “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, Khushwant Singhis in an effusive mood, revealing the tricks of Life Sutra, in his Deccan Herald column.

1) If you cannot play a game or exercise, get yourself a nice massage once if not two times a day. Not a greasy oil massage, but powerful hands going all over your body from skull to toes.

2) Cut down on your intake of food and drink.  Maintain a strict routine for intake of food. Use a stop watch if necessary. Guava juice is better than any other fruit juice

3) Forget ragi malt. A single peg of single malt whisky at night gives you a false appetite. Before you eat dinner, say to yourself ‘Don’t eat much’.

4) Eat one kind of vegetable or meat, followed by a pinch of chooran. Eat alone and in silence. Idli-dosa is healthier and easier to digest.

5) Never allow yourself to be constipated. Keep your bowels clean by whatever means you can: by lexatives, enemas, glycerine suppositories.

6) Keep a healthy bank balance for peace of mind. It does not have to be in crores, but enough for your future needs and possibility of falling ill.

7) Never lose your temper.

8) Never tell a lie.

9) Cleanse your soul, give generously. Remember you cannot take it with you. You may give it to your children, your servants or in charity.

10) Instead of whiling your time praying, take up a hobby: like gardening, helping children.

Bonus suggestion: If you can afford it, get yourself some nice genes.

Read the full article: Secret of my longevity

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

External reading: Khushwant Singh on how to live and die

Also read: If it works for the young man, it sure works for us

When Mukesh Ambani writes the media’s cheques

15 January 2012

The fears over what happens when a big business house with deep pockets and political influence across parties funds a big media house to legitimise its hitherto-hidden media interests are coming true even before the controversial Reliance Industries -Network18/TV18-Eenadu Television deal can be inked.

Obviously, the political class is silent. Obviously, TV18’s competitors won’t touch the story for reasons not difficult to imagine. Obviously, The Hindu won’t even publish a media column for reasons not difficult to fantasise.

But there has been no serious discussion of the implications of the deal on the media or on democracy in the mainstream media. Not on any of Network18’s usually high-decibel shows since the tie-up was announced on 3 January 2012. Not even on Karan Thapar‘s media show on CNN-IBNThe Last Word.

Print media coverage too has at best been sketchy. Even the newspapers and newsmagazines which have attempted to probe the complexities of the menage-a-troisThe Economic Times and The Indian ExpressOutlookand India Today, have barely managed to go beyond the numbers into the nuance.

Rajya Sabha TV, the newly launched television channel of the upper house of Parliament, has filled the breach somewhat with a no-holds barred discussion on the subject.

Anchored by Girish Nikam, a former Eenadu reporter who wrote five years ago on Ramoji Rao‘s travails, the RSTV debate flags all the important issues raised by the deal and underlines the role public service television can play in the service of the public when the corporate media gives up—or gives in.

Some of the comments made by three of the four participants on The Big Picture:

S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman: “My first reaction [on reading of the deal] was that it was time for India to have a really good anti-monopoly law for media, which is the norm in all democratic countries in the world, including the most advanced….

“The press council of India is totally dysfunctional because of the new chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who is baiting the media, who doesn’t believe in conversing with the media, or exchanging views with the media.”

***

Madhu Trehan, founder-editor of India Today and director, content, of the soon-to-be-launched media site, News Laundry: “It need not have happened if the government and corporates were more alert. One person owns much too much….

“Already every policy is decided by corporates as the 2G tapes (of Niira Radia) show. Not only is it dangerous that Mukesh Ambani will be deciding what policy will be decided, as you know has happened in the past, but he will also decide whether we can talk about it, or criticise it or expose it….

“Why is Reliance interested in media? It is not for money; it is obviously for influence. Rupert Murdoch was endorsing PMs and Presidents in three continents. Now we have the richest man in the country owning the largest network. Yes, there is an independent trust, but I don’t believe that. The purpose is to control the media. You are influencing policy, you are influencing how the government decides, and now you are going to decide how the people will hear about about you and the government….

“When a politician or a government spokesman speaks, we don’t believe them, but when somebody like Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose speaks, or anyone at IBN7 or TV18 comes on, we presume we should believe them. Now there is a big question mark [when RIL has indirect control over CNN-IBN]….

“In a deal of this size we are looking at very subtle plants of stories, subtle angles, subtly putting things in a certain way so that people think along in a certain way for a particular way. I don’t know if anyone can shut the door. It’s too late.”

***

Dilip Cherian, former editor Business India, head Perfect Relations: “Globally we have seen when big capital enters media, that is exactly what we are about to replicate for ourselves.

“Oligopolistic tendencies are visible in global media today, whether it is Silvio Berlusconi or Rupert Murdoch, the fact is they exercise humongous influence not on media but politics. Are we headed down the same road? At this time, the answer seems to be yes. Is it good? The universal answer from the question is that it isn’t,  not just because it affects the quality of news but because it affects the quality of politics….

“The entry of big capital is not new or news. What has happened in this case is a big distinction between foreign investment and domestic. Because of 4G, because the same business house owns the pipe, owns the content, there could also be another issue of monopoly. If I were the owner, I would say there needs to be a publicly visible ombudsmanship [to dispel the doubts]….

“There is room for concern, there is room for elements of self-rgulation. As a country we are not able to legislate for two reasons. One because of the influence business houses have on policy making. And two, when you bring in legislation (on regulation) up, the other group that is affected are politicians who own media houses of their own. You are talking about now a coalition of forces which the public is incapable of handling. You won’t see Parliament doing the kind of regulation they should, in an open manner, because there are interests on all sides.”

* Disclosures apply

Also readWill RIL-TV18-ETV deal win SEBI, CCI approval?

The only reason why Yediyurappa should return

14 January 2012

His chamchas and chelas, his followers and factotums, have dozens of reasons for B.S. Yediyurappa‘s return. But if there is one genuine reason why the newspaper reading world should forgive his sins and welcome him with open arms, it is because the scam-tainted former Karnataka chief minister’s is a news photographer’s dream come true.

Here, he arrives in his usual style for the inauguration of a fete at Karegodi Rangapura in Tumkur district on Saturday. –

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

***

Also view: The best Yediyurappa pictures on planet earth

CHURUMURI POLL: Yediyurappa as CM again?

Who gives a shit to Jeremy Clarkson’s crap?

14 January 2012

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Recently Jeremy Clarkson, that giant of a man, the patronising British ‘chap’ who presents Topgear, a show about cars on BBC Entertainment, did a show in India where he drove all over North India in a car fitted with a toilet in the trunk!

Why?

As he put it, “Everyone who comes to India gets the trots.”

Later in the show, he stripped down to his underpants at a party he had hosted to demonstrate how to use a trouser press. But no one cared. After all, we have a very efficient and ubiquitous ironing service on every other street corner in India. But then there was no need for a strip-down demonstration.

Thank god, in his imperialistic ignorance, he did not venture down to show us how to use toilet paper.

Anyway, his supposed unsavoury comments Indians living in the UK all worked up.

For some reason, Indians abroad seem more touchy about India jokes. Is it because they love the nation they left behind, or is it really because they fear they will be perceived to be like their poorer cousins as seen on TV by their new, white country cousins?

But the fact is, Jeremy’s jokes were laced with truth.

We still have hygiene issues in tourist places and so most foreigners have tummy upsets when they come to India. Yes, our traffic is bad, in fact on the show Jeremy says as he drives, “It’s terrifying driving on Indian highways” and points out the huge trucks without lights and tractors coming from the opposite direction.

So, why are we upset with a reality check? Jeremy pointed out the same issues we complain about, albeit in a funny and cheeky sarcastic British manner.

So, is it ok when we criticise our own country but not a foreigner? But then no one in India cares, it’s more of a bother for our country cousins living abroad. Instead of getting touchy, why don’t they come back or give solutions to fix the issues Jeremy was joking about?

Speaking of jokes, every North Indian has a Madrasi joke, every South Indian has a North Indian joke and every Indian has a Sardarji joke. It seems, Sikhs are the only people in India who know how to laugh at themselves and thrive on self-deprecating humour, thus making them the quintessential jolly good fellows.

The rest of us are too busy stereotyping others who are unlike us. We cover everything from their colour, culture, food to their hygiene. And we have the arrogance to point fingers at Jeremy.

Because the Indians in the UK were upset, the Indian High Commission sent a letter to BBC “to make amends, especially to assuage the hurt sentiments of a large number of people.”

How many people? 21.

They got only 21 complaints!

Every person who watches Topgear knows not to take the show seriously except for the car reviews. Everyone knows that most of it is staged. They know that Jeremy and his boys are forever indulging in juvenile behaviour. Why then is the Indian High Commission so upset?

We would prefer if they were more concerned with the issue of why so many Indians are getting killed in the UK. And we can assure our brothers abroad it’s definitely not because the British goons think that we have bad roads, bad driving skills and bad public hygiene.

For the time being, we are glad that it has not become an issue that dominates the Indian news screens and BBC news junkies are glad that no one is asking for a ban on BBC in India. A pleasant surprise. Maybe we have moved on from being needy for the West’s approval. But then may be all the trouble makers are too busy performing their dirty tricks in Uttar Pradesh. Other reasons could be that Jeremy makes a fool of himself rather than Indians, with his sarcasm and strip show.

Times have changed. Yes, India still has a lot of poor people but it also has a lot of rich people. Yes, we have a lot of illiterates but we also have a lot of educated people and the world knows that; if not by watching TV news then at least when they lose their jobs.

The media in the West loves to mock brown people and all brown people are put into one basket, the Indian basket — no matter if you are a Pakistani, Bangladeshi or a Sri Lankan. But that is slowly changing. The West now knows most Indians, especially in the US, are educated and are in good standing.

Indians there too have tried very hard to differentiate themselves from their brown but not-so-educated cousins from the Indian sub-continent. There is nothing more insulting for an Indian in the US than being called a “Paki!” On the other hand, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans, as much as they would disagree, like to be mistaken for Indians.

When I was studying in New York, a friend of mine in a hurry crossed the road suddenly and a car had to brake hard. The driver screamed, “You stupid Paki.”

My friend was smiling. I asked him, “He just abused you and you are smiling?” To this my friend replied, “I know, but I’m just glad he said ‘stupid Paki’ and not Indian.” So Indians abroad are conscious about their identity, they don’t want to be mistaken for a Pakistani unless of course they are doing something ‘stupid.’

However, it is a fact that whenever we see a brown man being portrayed in an embarrassing manner in any foreign media, we as Indians feel awkward and cringe. That’s because we are still trying to fight off the stereotype that foreign media has portrayed of us over the years — droopy shouldered, overly apologetic and socially inept people with a funny accent. But we are no more like that.

Yet we are so sensitive that in the recent movie Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol where our legendary Bollywood icon Anil Kapoor played the role of a bumbling testosterone-packed mobile tycoon, his silly two-minute appearance made many of us cringe. We felt Anil had lost one good chance to portray that a well-educated rich Indian can be as suave as a Western playboy, but alas!

So, the West will continue to find ways to mock us. But we have to find ways to mock them too. One of the best Indian stand-up comedian named Papa CJ mocks the British in a show in England where he says, “Yours is the only country so insecure that it needs an adjective before its name — ‘Great’ Britain.”

Then he continues, “I came to England because my grandfather said the sun never sets on the British Empire, but I now see that the sun never rises on the British Empire (in reference to the gloomy British weather).”

He also says, “We both are alike, while you’ll think that there is a stupid person at the other end of the customer service telephone line, we think the same.” Papa CJ finally adds, “You may feel offended with the things I’ve said about your country, but I don’t care. After all, I’m from the land of Kamasutra and I can screw you in a 100 different ways.”

Hopefully, this incident of Jeremy Clarkson will continue to be ignored. People like Clarkson are the least of our worries. At best, we must hear his comments and better our systems and as for his humour, what can we say? It’s just like his nation’s food — bland and unpalatable.

Best ignored.

(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Who wants a 4-lane road to Chamundi Hills?

12 January 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The overzealous minister in charge of Mysore district, S.A. Ramdas, has announced that he wants to convert the road from Mysore leading upto Chamundi hills into a four-lane one—apart from constructing a shopping complex atop Mysore’s largset immovable asset.

This is the kind of announcement of “development works” that has the construction crowd all keyed up.

But….

But, the question to ask is: do we really need a four-lane road and a shopping complex atop the lovely hills?

As it is, there is no space for widening the road in Chamundi Hills. A four-lane road can only come if they cut into the hills (like they have in Bellary), level the place, and asphalt it. Still, that will not answer the question: Is there a need for it? Will it not destroy the ecological balance?

There are many botanical species that have existed for hundreds if not thousands of years on Chamundi hills. Further, the place is home to various species of birds and insects. They all play their part in maintaining the sanctity of the place and adding to its infinite beauty.

Moreover, there is the question of wildlife. The space for wild animals is being constantly encroached upon by human greed and avarice forcing them to come out in search of food. And Mysore has in the last couple of years, seen wild animals coming into the City and playing havoc, resulting in the loss of lives.

Do we want to get rid of all this in the name of a four-lane road?

And what purpose is it supposed to achieve: that we drive at Formula One speeds to pay homeage to Mahishasura?

The overzealous minister says there is also a plan for constructing a shopping complex at the hill.

Is there such a shortage of shopping arcades in Mysore City that we should set up one more in the sky? And, pray, who are these people who come to Chamundi hills, not to enjoy its beauty, not to partake in its divinity, but to swipe their cards and shop silly trinkets?

When space is at such a constraint on the hills, surely there is nothing unpatriotic in suggesting that the overzealous minister’s emphasis should be on maintaining the heritage value of the hills and the temple?

Before the ghastly plan materializes for which the efforts are already under way, surely there is also nothing unpatriotic in suggesting that the chief minister steps in, reviews the hare-brained idea with NGOs and environmental experts, and buries it six feet deep?

Photograph: Mounted police take a stroll on their horses atop Chamundi Hills (courtesy Shrinidhi Hande)

Also read: Should gods, godesses have caste identities?

When Chamundi betta moves to aamchi Mumbai

Chamundi hills hath no fury like a woman scorned

Everybody loves a nice, messy photo-opportunity

11 January 2012

The statistics tumble out of the papers every morning: 42% of children—two of every five, that is—are malnourished; 56% of our population is in need of food subsidy. Etcetera. And every now and then, tears are shed at food grains rotting in warehouses while millions go hungry.

But what about this?

The grisly sight of farmers dumping their produce on the streets to protest a fall in prices or whatever their demand is. Sure, it is a way of catching the attention of the people; a photo-op for the morning papers. But surely, whevere they are, they could be registering their anger better?

The produce here: tomato. The venue: the deputy commissioner’s office in Raichur. The day: Wednesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Church, temple, gurudwara, mosque and hunger

Soup kitchens of soul as soup kitchens of stomach

The dumbest TV commercial of the year, so far?

11 January 2012

After watching Abhishek Bachchan in this priceless Idea 3G ad, you can only hope his baby takes after Aishwarya Rai (justice Markandey Katju please to note). And they are touting “smart” phones, mind you.

Link via Nastika

Also read: What an idea sirjee to kill newspapers, magazines

Another gig for ‘Papa Rock’ in another world

10 January 2012

In the Bharat that is India, it is only those who play by the book, who stick to the code, who do not stray from the straight and narrow, who get the 21-gun salute. The game-changers, the pathbreakers, the non-conformists, the iconoclasts barely get a look-see from even the most modern of media.

Artists, yes. Graphic artists, no.

Classical musicians, yes. Rock stars, no.

Last Thursday, Amit Saigal, one of the titans of the Indian rock music scene, met a watery end in Goa to almost deafening silence from the media which otherwise thinks it reflects and celebrates India’s youth. Here, a childhood friend pays tribute to a true rockstar.

***

By BISHWADEEP MOITRA

I was on my way to Dabolim airport from Anjuna on Thursday when my phone rang twice around 1.30 pm flashing “Amit Saigal“. I had called Amit two days earlier when I was at Ashwem beach; I knew he was staying there.

My call had gone unanswered – so typically Amit, I told myself.

So, when I saw his name flash on my mobile phone screen I thought he was returning my call. But I could not take it immediately as I was checking in at the airport.

Once I had done so, I called Amit back on his number. It was not Amit on the other side; it was Gavin, Amit’s friend from Australia, with whom I was vaguely familiar. Thanks to the noise of the airport announcements and Gavin’s accent, I could barely make out what he was saying.

And then Gavin said: “Amit is dead.”

***

Amit and I had known each other since we were five years old. We had gone to the same school, St. Joseph’s in Allahabad. Amit stood out due to his unusual looks among us, Allahabadis. His complexion was western white; his hair was light in colour, almost blond.

He was built stoutly; he looked handsome.

Teachers at our school pinched his cheeks often. He was never the one who scored high grades but had a flair for writing English. Due to his appearance many of us thought he was a foreigner or an Anglo-Indian and kept some distance from him.

In school, Amit remained a bit of a mystery for us even though he would try his best to make us laugh with his fake ‘angrez’ accent, which mostly went beyond our comprehension. He could mimick very well at school functions; he was good at holding an audience’s attention.

Despite his well-heeled background (a bahadur used to bring hot food every afternoon at the lunch recess for him) anyone of us who broke ice with him found him to be just like us.

***

Amit Saigal came from an aristocratic family of Allahabad engaged in the business of printing UP government’s school books and stationery. His grand uncle was an Independence revolutionary of sorts and ran a publishing company by the name of Chand Press in the 1930s and ’40s.

The Saigals lived in a sprawling bungalow in the Civil Lines area and owned furniture and cutlery that would rival the Nehrus of Anand Bhawan. The Shankaracharya had stayed at the Saigal household at a time when Maharshi Mahesh Yogi was his mere sevak.

After we had finished our school, Amit’s father sent him to England to attend a printing technology fair. The experience could come in handy in running the family press, or so Saigal senior thought. But when Amit returned from ol’ Blighty, his suitcase only contained literature on his future port of calling: rock music.

Rock music in Allahabad of the 1980s might sound like Teejanbai performing for the Pope, but the truth was slightly different. Due to a sizeable Anglo-Indian community, there were a small yet die-hard rock music loving gentry.

With the help of the gear he got from his England trip Amit started a rock band on the Prayag.

***

Amit and I lost touch with each other after school, after my family moved to Delhi. In 1993, with his now ex-wife Shena, Amit started India’s first rock magazine from Allahabad Rock Street Journal, a sort of cut-paste job from foreign music magazines peppered with profiles of a few Indian rock bands.

Initially RSJ was a sheaf of stapled sheets put together by Amit and Shena and personally handed out by them at IIT festivals. But soon the magazine became hugely popular among the student communities of the metros. Over a period of time, Amit became a cult-like figure among the youth of India’s north eastern states.

He once received a fan’s mail, which the letter writer claimed to have written with his own blood.

When we met again around 1996, our professions were a bit similar. Amit asked me to design the glossy format RSJ. The cute little boy from school had grown his hair. It was turning silver now, flowing below his shoulders like a rock star.

He looked even more incongruous than in Allahabad.

“Don’t you get cat-calls in Allahabad for your women-length hair?” I asked.

Amit turned around and said: ‘Ham phorener hain na.’

The fact was Amit couldn’t care less.

That was Amit. He conformed only to the extent where he would not make his peers too unhappy with what he did. His rock star spirit was genuine; he did not work at it, he was born with it. He liked himself to be a bit on the edge, but one foot was always firmly planted on the ground.

***

Indian independent musicians will remain ever indebted to Amit Saigal for the possibilities he opened up for them in his lifetime. In the mid-90s RSJ started an annual three-day independent rock music festival, The Great Indian Rock, at Delhi’s Hamsadhwani theatre to a capacity crowd of 10,000.

For the first time Indian rock bands from across the country found a professionally managed platform to perform for a large audience. GIR over the years discovered many amateur rock bands which have graduated to professional bands now.

Fondly called “Papa Rock” by the army of musicians he unearthed and honed, Amit started club gigs called Rocktober-fest in many cities of India. The surge of live-bands we see now playing at different bars and restaurants all over the places in emerging India were triggered by RSJ a good decade back.

In 2004, RSJ took the rock band Orange Street for a 4-country rock tour of Sweden, Norway, Estonia and England. This again was the first time an Indian band was touring Europe on this scale. I followed the band on this tour as a writer and a photographer for my magazine Outlook*.

In 2009, Amit’s RSJ banner was up for more than 200 nights at different gigs all across India.

This November Amit kickstarted a weeklong international music festival in Delhi, The India Music Week.

We met a few times during the festival and he told me how physically exhausted he was putting together a festival of this size. He wanted to take a break from work, to re-energize himself in Goa for a few weeks, like he always did at the end of the year.

I told him I would join him towards New Year Eve.

Around 10 in the morning on January 5, Amit sailed out with Gavin and a few others on Gavin’s boat from Panaji dockyard to sail to Palolim. About 100 metres before Palolim beach the boys jumped into the calm waters of the Arabian sea for a swim. They were a having a lot of fun swimming.

Amit said to Gavin that next year he would bring his daughter Aditi over.

Amit floated on his back gazing the blue skies above, his favourite position when he used to be in the water. After a while, his mates noticed he was floating face down. They sensed something was amiss. They pulled Amit on to the boat, gave him the oxygen mask to breathe. But it was too late.

“Papa Rock” had already left to organise another gig, in another world.

File photograph: Amit Saigal takes the mike at the author’s wedding at Amber in Jaipur in November 2009

Also read: North meets South on the banks of Cauvery

Never—ever—ignore the elephant in the room

10 January 2012

Online, people call it “The Streisand Effect“—an attempt to hide something which has the inverse effect of publicising what you are trying to hide some more. The Election Commission’s quixotic order that those gargantuan statues put up by Mayawati‘s government in Uttar Pradesh be covered up, since the elephant is the symbol of the Bahujan Samaj Party is a bit like that.

Little wonder, cartoonists are having a field day. And Delhi’s political hack-pack which has more or less allowed itself to be convinced by Congress media handlers that the Congress will be kingmaker if not the king himself in Mayaland, are wondering if the EC’s move could boomerang and play to Mayawati’s benefit?

Cartoons: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today and Keshav/ The Hindu

External reading: What if Mayawati was contesting in Kerala?

The curious case of Mukesh Ambani & Raghav Bahl

9 January 2012

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and KEERTHI PRATIPATI in Hyderabad write: Media criticism in India, especially in the so-called mainstream media, has never been much to write home about.

Operating on the principle that writing on another media house or media professional means exposing yourself to the same danger in the future, proprietors, promoters and editors—most of whom have plenty to hide—are wary of taking on their colleagues, competitors and compatriots.

That risk-averse attitude amounting to a mutually agreed ceasefire pretty much explains why the biggest media deal of the decade—Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) funding Network 18/ TV 18 group to pick up ETV—has been reported with about as much excitement as a weather report.

That the newspaper which issues P. Sainath‘s monthly cheque, The Hindu, declined to publish media critic Sevanti Ninan‘s fortnightly column on market rumours about the impending deal (without telling readers why) provides a chilling preview of what lies in store as the shadow of corporates lengthens over the media.

In 2008, New York Times‘ columnist Anand Giridharadas wrote of why the Indian media does not take on the Ambanis of Reliance Industries in an article titled “Indian to the core, and an oligarch“.

“A prominent Indian editor, formerly of The Times of India, who requested anonymity because of concerns about upsetting Mr Ambani, says Reliance maintains good relationships with newspaper owners; editors, in turn, fear investigating it too closely.

“I don’t think anyone else comes close to it,” the editor said of Reliance’s sway. “I don’t think anyone is able to work the system as they can.”

***

First things first, the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV wedding is an unlikely menage-a-trois.

Reliance Industries Limited is a behemoth built by Dhirubhai Ambani and his sons Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani using a maze of companies and subsidiaries built on a heady cocktail of mergers and demergers, using shares, debentures, bonuses and other tricks in the accounting book—and many beyond it.

The only known interest of the Ambanis in the media before this deal was when they bought a Bombay business weekly called Commerce and turned into the daily Business & Political Observer (BPO) to match the weekly offering, The Sunday Observer, which they had acquired from Jaico Publishing.

(Top business commentators like John Elliott and Sucheta Dalal have alluded to a blog item to convey that Mukesh Ambani’s media interest goes beyond the recent announcement.)

Anyway, BPO, launched under the editorship of Prem Shankar Jha, was long in coming unlike typical Reliance projects. Suffice it to say that in 1991, when India was at the cusp of pathbreaking reforms, some of India’s biggest names in business journalism were producing dummy editions of BPO.

The Ambani publications were under the gaze of the more media-savvy younger brother, Anil Ambani, who operated with R.K. Mishra, the late editor of The Patriot, as chairman of the editorial board. The Observer group shuttered before the beginning of the new millennium.

As Mani Ratnam‘s film Guru based on Sydney Morning Herald foreign editor Hamish McDonald‘s book The Polyester Prince makes clear, the Ambanis have always cultivated friends across the political divide, but they have been identified with the Congress more than the BJP.

Raghav Bahl‘s Network18/TV18 is in some senses an ideal fit for RIL.

Till its latest cleanup came about a year and a half ago, it was difficult to understand which of its myriad companies and subsidiaries came under which arm. It too has friends on either side, but suffice it to say, CNN-IBN‘s decision not to run the cash-for-votes sting operation in July 2008 revealed where its political predilections lay.

Eenadu and ETV, on the other hand, is a long, different story.

***

The ETV network of channels was launched by Ramoji Rao, the founder of the Telugu daily Eenadu. Rao has many claims to fame (including launching Priya pickles), but he is chiefly known as the media baron behind the transformation of the Telugu film star N.T. Rama Rao into a weighty non-Congress politician.

Rao and his men are known to have crafted speeches that tapped into dormant Telugu pride for the politically naive NTR. The massive media buildup in Eenadu—Ramoji Rao pioneered multi-edition newspapers with localised supplements—saw NTR become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh just nine months after launching the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982.

Two years later, when NTR was removed from office by a pliant governor (Ram Lal) working at the behest of Indira Gandhi‘s rampaging government, Ramoji Rao played a key role in protecting the numbers of TDP MLAs by having them packed off to Bangalore and Mysore, and building public opinion through his newspapers.

When NTR’s son-in-law N. Chandrababu Naidu walked out of TDP to “save” TDP, Ramoji Rao backed Naidu and played a hand in his ascension as CM. Thus, Ramoji Rao galvanised non-Congress forces in the South leading to the creation of the National Front, which installed V.P. Singh as PM in 1989 after the Bofors scandal claimed Rajiv Gandhi.

In 2006, Ramoji Rao placed his political leaning on record:

“I submit that until 1983 the Congress was running the State in an unchallenged and unilateral manner for the past 30 years. The Congress party became a threat to democracy and in view of the single party and individual rule by Indira Congress, the opposition in the state was in emaciated condition. It has been reduced to the status of a nominal entity. The dictatorial rule of the Congress proceeding without any hindrance. I submit that as the opposition parties were weak and were in helpless situation where they were unable to do any thing in spite of the misrule by the ruling party, Eenadu played the role of opposition. I submit that in the elections of the State Assembly held in 1983, the Congress for the first time did not secure a majority in the elections and lost the power to the newly formed Telugu Desam Party. I submit that on the day of poling i.e. January 5, 1983, I issued a signed editorial on the front page of Eenadu supporting the manifesto of Telugu Desam Party and calling on the electorate to vote for Telugu Desam Party giving cogent reasons for the stance taken by me.”

In short, the marriage between RIL-Network18/TV18 and Ramoji Rao is one between a largely pro-Congress duo and a distinctly non-Congress one.

***

Indeed, Ramoji Rao’s troubles that has resulted in substantial sections of his ETV network getting out of his grasp and into RIL’s, are largely because of his consistently anti-Congress stance, which gained an added edge in 2005 when the Congress under Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR) trumped the TDP under Chandrababu Naidu in the assembly elections.

Reported The Telegraph:

A slew of news reports in Eenadu and programmes on ETV since 2005 have accused Congress ministers, politicians and senior government officials of corruption and hanky panky. One report, for instance, debunked the official claim that the number of suicides by farmers had dropped. Another attacked construction by Y.S. Vivekananda Reddy, the chief minister’s brother, on disputed land. A third said that Eenadu had discovered, based on a survey, that voter lists for elections for local bodies had omitted the names of opposition party sympathisers.

It didn’t take long for YSR to hit back.

It was a two-pronged attack: his son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy launched a project to own launch his own newspaper and newschannel house to take on the might of Eenadu and ETV. Simultaneously, a Congress MP from Rajahmundry attacked Ramoji Rao where it hurt most: his finances.

Arun Kumar Vundavalli, the MP, revealed that Rao’s Margadarsi Financiers had started dilly-dallying about repaying depositors, even after their deposit period had expired. Kumar showed that Margadarsi Financiers—a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) company, of which the karta was Ramoji Rao—had collected deposits from the public, although a 1997 RBI law forbade HUFs from doing so.

Margadarsi Financiers owned a 95% stake in Ushodaya Enterprises, Ramoji Rao’s company which owned Eenadu and ETV.

A one-man committee of enquiry constituted by the Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy government revealed that Rs 2,600 crore of money was collected from the public in violation of RBI norms. Although his companies were not in great shape, Ramoji Rao assured the Andhra Pradesh high court that he would repay the full amount of Rs 2,600 crore due to the depositors.

Enter Blackstone.

In January 2007, the world’s largest private equity player indicated that it wanted to pick up 26% in Ushodaya Enterprises group for Rs 1,217 crore. At the time, it was reported to be India’s single largest foreign direct investment (FDI) in the print media.

The Blackstone offer placed the value of Ramoji Rao’s company at Rs 4,470 crore.

But the FDI proposal got stuck in the I&B ministry for months, allegedly at the behest of Vundavalli, who raised a variety of concerns over the Blackstone-Eenadu deal. In January 2008, when the clearance for the Blackstone investment was still not coming, Mint asked:

“Does the promoter of an Indian company, who is selling a stake in his family’s media firm to a foreign investor, have the right to do what he wants with that money, in this particular case, pay off liabilities of another company that his family separately also owns?….”

“FIPB records then show that the finance ministry, specifically citing Vundavalli’s claims, ‘has observed that prima facie, it appears that the purpose of securing funds from M/s Blackstone is not for advancing the business of Ushodaya Enterprises Ltd, but for repaying the deposits taken by M/s Margadarsi Financiers.”

When the Blackstone deal did not materialise, Nimesh Kampani of JM Financial stepped in as Ramoji Rao’s white knight although, as Sucheta Dalal writes, Kampani was never known to have any interest in the media except in deal-making.

According to VC Circle, Kampani picked up 21% of Ushodaya Enterprises for Rs 1,424 crore, which valued the company at Rs 6,780 crore, or over 50 per cent more than what Blackstone was willing to accept.

“The first public report of Kampani’s investment came in early February 2008, or around 10 days after stock markets crashed globally.”

Now, YSR got after Kampani.

Andhra Pradesh police issued a “look-out” notice for Kampani. Nagarjuna Finance, of which Kampani had been director, had allegedly defrauded depositors. Although Kampani had resigned from the independent directorship of the company nine years earlier, it was a sufficient handle to beat him with.

For months, Kampani had to stay out of India, fearing arrest. It was only after his bete noire YSR met with a bloody death in a helicopter crash in September 2009 that Kampani could return home. In May 2010, rumours surfaced of Mukesh Ambani buying up JM Financial but they soon fizzled out.

Shortly before buying into ETV, Kampani had recently sold his stake in a joint venture with Morgan Stanley to his foreign partner for $440 million and had the cash. The Margadarsi bailout, it was assumed, was in his personal capacity. It took a petition in 2011 filed by YSR’s widow seeking an inquiry into Chandrababu Naidu’s assets assets for the penny to drop.

Enter RIL.

YSR’s widow, Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, an MLA, alleged that when gas reserves were found in the Krishna Godavari basin in Andhra Pradesh in 2002, the Chandrababu Naidu government wilfully surrendered its right over the discovery in favour of Reliance, “while allowing Naidu’s close associate Ramoji Rao to be the vehicle of the quid pro quo.” (page 32)

“In consideration for the favour done by the Respondent No. 8 (Chandrababu Naidu) in allowing the State’s KG basin claim to be brushed under the carpet, the Reliance group facilitated the payout of Ramoji Rao’s debts to his depositors. This was carried out through known associates and friends of Mukesh Ambani.

“Two of these known associates of Ambani and the Reliance Group are Nimesh Kampani (of JM Financial) and Vinay Chajlani (of Nai Duniya).

“Kampani extended himself in ensuring that Ramoji Rao would be bailed out. Within a short span of 37 days between December 2007 and January 2008, six “shell companies” were floated on three addresses, which are shown as Sriram Mills Compound, Worli, which is the official address of Reliance Industries Limited. Reliance diverted Rs 2,604 crores of its shareholders money through the shell companies to M/s Kampani’s Equator Trading India Limited and Chajlani’s Anu Trading.”

In other words, RIL’s involvement in Eenadu through Kampani became known only recently in response to Vijayalakshmi’s petition, but it was market gossip for quite a while.

T.N. Ninan, the chairman of Business Standard and the president of the editors’ guild of India, wrote in a column in January 2011:

“If reports in Jagan Reddy’s Saakshi newspaper are to be believed, Mukesh Ambani is a behind-the-scenes investor in Eenadu, the leading Telugu daily.”

Vijayalakshmi’s 2011 petition makes several serious allegations.

That Ramoji Rao entered into the deal with Kampani’s Equator just 23 days after it was registered although it had no known expertise or business; that Ushodaya sold Rs 100 shares to Equator at a premium of Rs 5,28,630 per share; and that Ushodaya’s valuation had been pumped up by Rs 1,200 crore by its claims over a movie library.

Vijayalakshmi’s petition concluded:

“The interest shown by Reliance group in coming to the rescue of Ushodaya Enterprises headed by Ramoji Rao is clearly in defiance of any prudent profit-based corporate entity (since) Reliance does not gain any returns by virtue of that investment.”

***

It is this RIL baby that is now in Network18/TV18’s lap.

The timing of the RIL-Network18/TV18-ETV deal also hides a small story.

It comes when the probe into the assets of Naidu and his associates (including Ramoji Rao) has moved from the High Court to the Supreme Court. It comes when a parallel probe into Vijayalakshmi’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy’s assets has entered a new and critical phase. It comes when the KG basin gas controversy is heating up. And, above all, it comes when 2014 is looming into the calendar.

Several questions emerge from this deal which has politics, business and media in varying measures:

1) What does it mean for Indian democracy when India’s richest businessman becomes India’s biggest media baron with control over at least two dozen English and regional news and business channels?

2) What kind of control will Mukesh Ambani have over Raghav Bahl’s Network18/TV18 when and if RIL’s optionally convertible debentures (OCDs) are turned into equity?

3) What kind of due diligence did the financially troubled Network18/TV18 do on the Kampani-Ambani investment in ETV before agreeing to pick up RIL’s stake for Rs 2,100 crore?

4) How will CNBC-TV18, which incidentally broke the news of the split among the Ambani brothers in 2005, report news of India’s biggest company (or its political and other benefactors) now that it is indirectly going to be owned by it?

5) Is there a case for alarm when one man has a direct and indirect stamp over three of the five major English news channels (CNN-IBN, NewsX and NDTV 24×7), three business channels (CNBC-TV18, IBN Awaaz, NDTV Profit), and at least five Hindi news channels?

6) Do Raghav Bahl and team who ran a handful of channels heavily into debt, have the expertise to run two dozen or more channels, especially in the language space where there are bigger players like Star and Zee?

7) Is the ETV network really worth so much, especially when Ushodaya’s most profitable parts, Eenadu and Priya Foods, are out of it? Or is RIL using Network18/TV18’s plight to turn a bad asset into a good one?

8) Is RIL really tying with Network18/TV18 with 4G in mind, or is this just spin to push an audacious deal past market regulators such as SEBI and the Competition Commission of India (CCI)?

9) How immune are Mukesh Ambani and Raghav Bahl from political forces hoping to use the combined clout of RIL-Network18/TV18 to blunt negative coverage ahead of the 2014 general elections?

10) And have Network18/TV18 investors got a fair deal?

***

Infographic: courtesy Outlook

Also read: The sudden rise of Mukesh Ambani, media mogul

The Indian Express, Reliance & Shekhar Gupta

Niira Radia, Mukesh Ambani, Prannoy Roy & NDTV

Cricket’s a team game. Here’s full and final proof

8 January 2012

Two years ago, in Mysore, Karnataka’s Manish Pandey pulled off a blinder in the finals of the Ranji Trophy against Bombay. Two years on, Bevan Small does ditto in domestic Twenty20 match in New Zealand, and involves a teammate in the process.

Link via Kanekal Kuppesh

Also read: The finest catch ever by an Indian fieldsman?

6 questions Rahul Gandhi still hasn’t answered

7 January 2012

If you listen closely to the breeze blowing through the capital’s vineyards, the year of the lord two-thousand twelve is the year when a not-so-young man will become the “fifth generation custodian of one of the world’s longest serving political dynasties of the world“.

But Rahul Gandhi‘s personal life has not been the bed of roses that pathological Congress-haters with Subramanian Swamy on their Twitter timeline think it is: he was 10, when his uncle crashed to death; 13 when his grandmother lay soaked in blood in the family garden; 20 when the call came from Sriperumbudur.

His political life, though, is not as touching.

Seven years since he set foot in the cesspool, few know where he stands on any issue. He speaks for FDI in retail after the bill has been torpedoed. He speaks for Nandan Nilekani‘s Aadhar project after the parliament standing committee has torn into it. He looks ashen-faced when his suggestion to make Lok Pal a constitutional authority is noisily defeated.

If the Congress wins anything, bouquets are laid at his door; if it loses, partymen magnanimously bat the bricks. If he speaks in the Lok Sabha, he is cheered; if he remains silent, his critics are jeered. For a digital generation politician, he seems to loves playing a stuck LP on his strange two-nation theory of India.

Yes, has heroically (and admirably) made the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections a test of his prowess, unlike his presumed rival from the BJP—Narendra Damodardas Modi, to give him his full name—who cannot even step out of his Vibrant State, but what after that?

On India Real Time, the Wall Street Journal‘s superb India website, Ajit Mohan asks the one question reporters on the Congress beat are loathe to asking:

“The question that has never been sincerely posed is what will he have to do to earn the right to lead the nation or even the party? Even the scions of established political dynasties have had to earn their stripes in recent history.

“While it was always a guaranteed outcome that Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew’s first-born son would become the prime minister some day, Lee Hsein Loong was battle-tested in critical ministerial portfolios and successfully led the country’s monetary authority during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s before he got anywhere near the leadership chair.

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the Democratic party’s favorite president, John F. Kennedy, and descendant in a long line of family members who served in senior leadership positions in the government, failed to get the nod from her party for a US Senate nomination despite her legacy and support from a sitting president. North Korea may well be an exception to the rule, where the only criterion for the new supreme leader seems to have been that he happened to be the son who was not a full-blown lunatic.

“For Rahul Gandhi to earn the right to be the leader that he may be destined to be, he must prove his mettle on many fronts.

“Can he articulate a philosophy of political and social change that is compelling enough to chart the policies of the Congress for the next 20 years? Can he create a political strategy that is rooted not in the vote bank politics of the past — slicing and dicing communities and castes — but in appealing to the aspirations and energy of constituencies that have traditionally not even bothered to vote? Does he have the intent and the ability to reform the party’s governance structures? Can he win elections for the party? Can he build and sustain coalitions? Does he have the management ability to lead and govern a party as diverse as the Congress, or a country as complex as India?”

Photograph: courtesy The Associated Press via WSJ

Also readJesus, Mozart, Alexander aur apun ka Rahul Gandhi

What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

How different is Rahul Gandhi from MNS and KRV?

Rahul Gandhi‘s ascension: A foregone conclusion?

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

After Manmohan who? Chidu, Diggy or Rahul?

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,707 other followers