Posts Tagged ‘NDTV’

Not yet MP, could Nandan Nilekani become PM?

11 December 2013

On December 8, as the results of the assembly elections in the four States showed that opinion polls are not always wrong, and as the clamour for clarity on the Congress’s “prime ministerial candidate” a la the BJP grew in overheated TV studios, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said:

“I think people need not worry. At the opportune time, the name of the PM candidate… the name of him will be announced.”

Despite the ungrammatical awkwardness of “him”, the invocation of the male gender in her response triggered instant speculation. Was it going to be son Rahul Gandhi, or could it finance minister P. Chidambaram, or could it be a totally new face?

The Times of India, which broke the news in September that former Infosys man and UID chief Nandan Nilekani was being thought of as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South, now reports that Nilekani could be Sonia Gandhi’s “him” with a boiler-plate denial.

When TOI called him, Nilekani’s immediate and only reaction was, “Complete rubbish. This must be a figment of someone’s over-active imagination.”

Obviously, Nilekani’s candidature is predicated on several imponderables. That Rahul Gandhi may not want the top job, should he by a stroke of miracle become eligible for it. That other potential candidates in the Congress will quietly acquiesce should Nilekani’s name come up. Etcetera.

But the Congress moves in mysterious ways, often with some fingers of the left hand not knowing what the other fingers of the same left hand are doing.

In an interview with Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, for NDTV’s walk the talk programme, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah takes a few questions on Nilekani’s predicted candidature. The responses are mighty revealing.

Is Nandan Nilekani going to contest one of the three Bangalore seats?

He has not discussed this with me, but it is news which has appeared… Don’t know whether he is contesting or not.

Do you think it is a good idea if he contests ? Will you be happy?

I don’t know because I have not discussed it with him. And he has also not discussed it with me. About 15 days back we met, but he did not discuss it with me.

As a friend, will you advise him to contest, or not?

It is for the Congress to decide. If he wants to contest, then the Congress has to take a decision now.

But will you recommend his name?

Let him say whether he is interested or not. I do not know whether he is interested.

That’s the problem with your party, everybody has to go and ask.

If he comes to the party, I will welcome him. But I don’t know whether he is ready to contest or not, he is willing to contest or not. But ultimately the high command has to decide.

So, not yet an MP, does Nandan Nilekani stand a chance of being PM?

Dream on.

Photograph: courtesy Namas Bhojani/ Forbes India

Also read: Can Nandan Nilekani win from Bangalore South?

Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

Gavaskar vs Vishwanath = Tendulkar vs Dravid?

12 October 2013

20131012-121925 PM.jpg

Although they were part of the same Indian team—sharing the dressing room, sharing partnerships, sharing victories, defeats and draws—cricket fans detected a faint undercurrent of competition and conflict between Sunil Gavaskar and G.R. Viswanath.

On one level, this was the old battle between two stellar domestic Ranji Trophy sides, Bombay and Karnataka, playing out subliminally through its two leading lights, one a fearless opener who faced the fast and the furious without a helmet; the other an artist who wielded the willow like a brush.

On another level, it was a deeply ingrained stereotype, that “Sunny”, for all the records against his name, was a selfish, mammon-worshipping run-machine with one eye always on the right-hand column of the scoreboard, as opposed to the selfless “Vishy”, who put the team’s interests before his own.

It would have been easy to blame the media for the Gavaskar vs Vishwanath row, but this was in pre-television, pre-internet India of the 1970s and ’80s.

Gavaskar’s pathetic gesture of batting left-handed, down the batting order, in a Ranji match Bombay were losing against Karnataka only confirmed the worst suspicions of cricket followers, but all was forgiven when Gundappa chose Sunny’s sister Kavitha to be his wife.

Action replay.

Was there a similar vibe between Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid? The former, a run-machine from Bombay who adored Gavaskar, and the latter, a touch artist whose idol was Vishy?

Like their icons, Tendulkar and Dravid were kingpins of batting. Without the other, each would have had less to show; without both, the side would have suffered. They played hundreds of matches, scored thousands of runs together.

Still, was it all hunky-dory between the two?

Did Dravid have his team’s interests when he declared the Indian innings in Pakistan even as Tendulkar was within striking distance of his first double-century? Did Tendulkar conveniently lose his form when Dravid was captain?

Two days after Tendulkar announced his pre-retirement from the game, Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta writes:

“My most revealing journalistic Sachin moment came in an NDTV Walk the Talk.

“‘If you had to take one stroke from each one of your four great batting peers, Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman, what will it be,’ I asked.

“‘It will be Sehwag’s cut, nobody cuts like him,’ he said, ‘Ganguly’s cover drive, Laxman’s flick off-the-hip and Dravid…’ he paused for a moment to think.

“And what will you take from Dravid, I asked, my mischievous journalistic sensors abuzz, thinking of the little issue the two had just had in Pakistan (Multan) when Dravid had declared with Sachin not out at 194.

“‘I will take Dravid’s defence,’ he said, ‘nobody has a defence like his.’

“I called 10 self-proclaimed cricket experts to ask if that comment was bitchy or brilliant. The verdict: 10:0, brilliant.

Now, wasn’t that a stroke of cricketing genius?

Photograph: Sachin Tendulkar takes a nap on the floor of the dressing room in 1989, as New Zealand swing legend Sir Richard Hadlee (right) and left-arm spinner, Saggi Venkatapathy Raju, look on (courtesy H. Natarajan)

Read the full article: Since 1989

Also read: India’s greatest match-winning batsman is…

Why some of us just love to hate Sunil Gavaskar

From Bhadravati, the Bhimsen Joshi of cricket

Sunil Gavaskar: India’s most petulant cricketer ever?

CHURUMURI POLL: Do journalists need education?

14 March 2013

He hasn’t quite spelt out which colleges we should go to, what subjects and courses we should take, in which language, or what pass-percentage is OK.

At least not yet.

But Press Council of India chairman Justice Markandey Katju‘s “order” on “some legal qualification” before one can enter the profession of journalism has been met with near-unanimous ridicule from mediapersons.

***

In the Hindu, Outlook* chairman Vinod Mehta calls the move “absolute rubbish”:

“Some of the greatest journalists the world has produced have been without university degrees. I am a BA fail and was academically the most undistinguished student in school and college. And I haven’t done too badly.”

NDTV group editor Barkha Dutt, who has journalism degrees from Jamia Milia and Columbia school of journalism:

“The best training is on the field. While I can see the arguments about ‘declining standards and quality in journalists’, I do not believe the answer was in ‘more degrees’. (paraphrased)

Sashi Kumar of the Asian college of journalism:

“Most hard-nosed reporters who do unconventional beats, break scoops and exposes, are in the regional language press. And they are not necessarily MAs or PhDs. This is an ill-considered move and reflects Justice Katju’s ignorance about the field, and strikes at the root of freedom of expression.”

***

In a letter to the editor of The Hindu, the veteran sports correspondent Partab Ramchand writes:

“It might be relevant to mention that I am a matriculate (second class) and I joined the profession virtually straight from school nearly 45 years ago without any training whatsoever in journalism and with just a knowledge of sports which I followed closely from my school days.

“I never saw the portals of a college and have never felt any regret in this regard.

“I have worked in various leading newspaper groups, heading the sports department on a couple of occasions, have gone on international assignments and am an author of 10 books on cricket. I fully endorse Barkha Dutt’s view that the best training is on the field which is exactly what I went through.”

* Disclosures apply

Infographic: courtesy The Times of India

Also read: ‘I have a poor opinion of most media people’

Editors’ Guild of India takes on Press Council chief

TV news channel editors too blast PCI chief

Has Justice Katju been appointed by Josef Stalin?

Justice Katju ‘sorry’ for calling journos idiots

Bonus: How much is one divided by zero? Don’t ask

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?

How TV channels will cover Aishwarya’s baby

8 November 2011

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: The priorities of the Indian media are in extreme sharp focus courtesy Press Council chairman Justice Markandey Katju, who told the world just what he thought of us: idiots and ignoramuses diverting the attention of the people by peddling filth and froth, and deliberately dividing the country on religious lines.

Justice Katju’s “irresponsible” talk has been shot down by the chairman of the National Broadcasting Standards Authority, Justice J.S. Verma, who believes that it is time to shut down the press council as it has been ineffective in carrying out its mandate of protecting press freedom and maintaining/improving standards.

All that is for public consumption. But, behind the scenes…

It is clear that TV channels, news professionals and their “handlers” have been rattled by Justice Katju’s demand for an expansion of the press council’s powers to include electronic media. Which is why Justice Katju’s appointment soon after remitting office as a judge of the Supreme Court of India is being openly questioned.

It is also clear someone’s watching—and waiting to strike. So, the Broadcast Editors’ Association has put out an “advisory” to TV news channels on how to cover—wait for it—Amitabh Bachchan‘s expected grandchild; the first child of his son Abhishek Bachchan and former Ms Universe, Aishwarya Rai.

According to the Indian Express, the 10 directives read like “a good-manners’ guide to TV journalism”:

# No pre-coverage of the event

# Story of birth of baby to run only after, and on the basis of, official announcement

# Story not to run on breaking news band

# No camera of OB (outdoor broadcasting) vans at hospital or any location related to the story

# Go for photo-op or press conference if invited

# Not carry any MMS or photo of the child

# No astrology show to be done on this issue

# No 11.11.11 astrology show to be done

# Duration of story to be around a minue/90 seconds

# Unauthorised entry into hospital not permitted

Obviously, these guidelines strike at the very root of Indian news television, as we have known it. So, will “your channel” follow these directives? Do you, the viewer, care if these guidelines are observed in the breach, or violated wholesale? And if it does, do you, the viewer, have the energy to write to the NBSA and lodge a complaint?

There is a media history to the Bachchans. Big B has had a mostly messy affair with the media. When he was in hospital, an Aaj Tak reporter (now with NDTV) barged into his room in nurse’s clothes. The Aishwarya-Abhishek wedding was covered in its minutest details. It was even alleged that Aishwarya had been married off to a tree to ward off a bad omen, etc.

Will the latest AB baby have a flawless entry?

And, speaking unsolicited for the baby, does it deserve such a meek, uncelebrated entry, given that the only thing that has sustained Abhishek’s and Aishwarya’s rather sad professional career has been the oxygen of manufactured publicity to the pop of the flashbulbs (when they are pushing some silly product)?

And will the new Bachchan carry the blame for the rest of his/ her life of having driven out India TV out of business?  (Just kidding.)

***

File photograph: Amitabh Bachchan followed by wife Jaya Bachchan, daughter Shweta Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan arrive to offer special pujas at the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi in 2006, on the eve of their wedding. (AP Photo/Rajesh Chaurasia)

***

Also read: When Prabhu Chawla called up Amar Singh

Amitabh Bachchan versus Mumbai Mirror 

When Amitabh‘s cold becomes hot news

Jug Suraiya takes on the mighty Bachchan

Sting camera that Amitabh Bachchan didn’t see

A home that housed four generations of genius

9 October 2011

For a decade after his demise, R.K. Narayan‘s lovingly built residence in Mysore lay unloved and uncared-for. The sight of the crooked teeth of excavators rapaciously chomping at its edges suddenly woke up everybody–the media, the intelligentsia, the government—to what they were about to lose: a slice of Indian literary history.

Eventually, the government jumped in to declare Narayan’s home a heritage building, with the promise to restore it to its original shape. On his 105th birth anniversary, Narayan’s grand-nephew, the journalist turned corporate manager Chetan Krishnaswamy, recaptures life as it used to be at 15, Vivekananda Road, Yadavagiri, Mysore 570020.

***

By CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY

Many years ago in Madras, reclining on an easy chair and chewing on a piece of clove, R.K. Narayan quite uncharacteristically said: “Although I have built the Mysore house brick by brick, I carry no emotions, no nostalgia about it…. In life one has to move on, you can’t simply dwell in the past.”

I don’t quite remember the details now, but oddly, that muggy afternoon, I thought I detected a streak of nostalgia beneath the veneer of cold pragmatism and bravado.

In a 2006 Boston Review article, Jhumpa Lahiri, the American writer of Indian origin, found similarities between French writer Guy de Maupassant and Narayan’s literary styles: “Both explore the frustrations of the middle class, the precariousness of fate, the inevitable longings that so often lead to ruin. Both create portraits of everyday life and share a vision that is unyielding and unpitying.”

In hindsight, I wonder: were Narayan’s comments on his house an extension of this rather passive worldview that Jhumpa articulates so well?

***

A 1952 picture of R.K. Narayan at home with his nephews and niece. Seated on a chair is his mother Gnanambal, standing by the door is his daughter Hema and younger brother R.K. Srinivasan. Photograph by T.S. Satyan.

The true magnificence of RKN’s sprawling bungalow on 15, Vivekananda Road in Yadavagiri, Mysore, lies in the lively people who inhabited, or were associated, with it throughout its 60-plus years of existence.

In 1948, the scrubby land measuring 180 x 120 was bought from a local Shetty at the rate of around Rs 2 per square yard. Narayan’s older brother R.K. Pattabhi had a share in it, too.

By this time, Narayan had already established himself as a writer and was attracting global acclaim. He had written  four novels: Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938) and The English Teacher (1945).

Two short story collections—Malgudi Days (1942) and An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories (1947)—both published by his own publishing house Indian Thought Publications, were out by then.

Mysore’s famous chief engineer Shama Rao (who had built the famous Krishna Raja Sagar Hotel and after whom a string of  buildings are named in Mysore’s Vontikoppal, including the shopping complex on 3rd main road called Shama Rao building), who was retired by then, was given the contract to construct RKN’s house in 1949.

In keeping with his grand and selfless desire to have his extended family by his side, Narayan designed a large, roomy home that would accommodate his brothers, their wives and their children. By this time, the cartoonist R.K.Laxman, the other famous sibling, had already flown the coop and was building his reputation in distant Bombay.

The extended family which resided at door number 963, Lakshmipuram, comprised brothers R.K. Srinivasan and Pattabhi and their families apart from Narayan’s daughter Hemavathi (his wife Rajam had passed away suddenly in 1939).

Reigning over the household was Narayan’s mercurial mother Gynanambal—expert cook, chess champ and tennis player all rolled into one. The other two brothers Ramachandran and Balaram were away in other cities, so were the two sisters.

Constructing a house in Yadavagiri—the hilly area was named thus by the famous administrator M.A. Sreenivasan, since the Melukote temple was apparently visible from this location—then a remote corner of Mysore was replete with challenges. [The last pradhan of Mysore, Sreenivasan's daughter Devaki married the social economist, L.C. Jain. Their son Sreenivasan Jain is an NDTV editor.]

The terrain was strewn with steep slopes and sharp dips, with absolutely no access to water.

The contractor had worked out a system where a bullock cart periodically rattled on to the site with drums of water drawn from Kukkarahalli tank, a scenic spot which had fuelled  Narayan’s creative instincts and offered him the “world’s best sunsets”.

At the building site, there was a stone grinder or chakki—powered by sturdy bullocks which mixed the lime and mortar that went into the construction of the house. Narayan intermittently visited the site and used the services of another civil engineer friend A.K.S. Raghavan to monitor and supervise.

Finally in 1952, the construction work was completed. The griha pravesha was a “grand affair” and the family carries sunny memories of the day. For the kids – trudging up to the new house in Yadavagiri -through the undulating landscape – was an expedition in itself.

Among the guests was Soma, a blind mystic who lived atop Chamundi hills and who had taken a liking for the family. On one occasion, the gifted Soma through his clairvoyant powers had accurately traced Laxman’s wife Kamala’s missing diamond ring, that had been swept away with the garbage.

***

R.K. Narayan, behind the wickets, playing cricket with his nephews Thumbi (R.S. Krishnaswamy) and Nokki (R.S. Jayaram), and niece Shanta, at their Lakshmipuram residence. Photograph by T.S Satyan.

And then came the unforeseen crisis, probably quite amusing in hindsight.

None of Narayan’s brothers were keen to relocate to Yadavagiri from the centrally located Lakshmipuram. This, despite the comforts of  a large house. An affectionate Narayan would plead and sometimes even shed tears but both Pattabhi and Srinivasan were unrelenting.

Meanwhile, a confused Gynanambal toed the line of her eldest son Pattabhi.

In light of this new dilemma, Narayan settled into a peculiar routine: After his breakfast in 963, Lakshmipuram he would go for a long walk, and after lunch be driven in his silver-grey Morris Minor to Yadavagiri by driver Rangappa, who was paid a salary of Rs 50 per month.

In the unbroken silence of his house, Narayan wrote profusely only to stir now and then to mix coffee, and munch on his favorite “Golden Puff” biscuits. This was the phase in which he wrote two of his novels: The Financial Expert and Waiting for the Mahatma.

By about 5.30pm, after lighting the lamp in the ‘pooja room’, Narayan would be back home in Lakshmipuram for his routine evening walk with brother Srinivasan. The walks would invariably be around bustling marketplaces and streets like Rama Vilas Agrahara.

Late evenings would be spiced up by gossip sessions with his family, which I have referred to elsewhere on churumuri.

The writer kept up with this routine for quite some time.

Eventually, for about a year, 15, Vivekananda Road was rented out to Henry C. Hart, a visiting professor of political science from the University of  Wisconsin, on a monthly rent of Rs 200. Hart was in India on a Fulbright fellowship, with his wife in tow.

Their legacy was an elegant piece of furniture custom made for the house: wooden seating that skirted the entire semi-circular perimeter of the large living room. After many years of service, and in the wake of sustained onslaught from a riotous bunch of kids, that primarily included my cousins, the furniture slowly disintegrated.

Narayan engaged a watchman cum gardener, Annamalai, who later became the subject for one of his short stories. He was given a room in the basement, and he would  often rustle up a deliciously smelling vegetable sambar in a pot balanced over a crude hearth made up of two stones.

During Narayan’s first visit to the United States of America in 1957, to undertake the writing of  The Guide commissioned by Viking, a strong Godrej padlock was installed on the front door of 15, Vivekananda Road.

There were numerous anxious and embarrassing moments when Narayan would misplace the keys and would be found standing in the porch helplessly. In due course, the writer spent his nights in Yadavagiri alone. He would be driven to the house every evening by his driver Majeed in a Standard Herald that he had bought by then.

Around that time, 15, Vivekananda Road, had a surprise visitor one morning.

The flamboyant actor Dev Anand accompanied by Yash  Johar (Karan Johar’s father) had dashed to Mysore, after giving a day’s notice to Narayan. The actor was there to negotiate for the filming rights of The Guide.

Narayan’s starstruck nephews were directed to fetch a breakfast of idli-vada and dosas  from Seshagiri’s hotel (Hotel Ramya now).  After thoroughly enjoying the meal, Dev is said to have whipped out his cheque book and asked “how much?”.

RKN feebly said, “I don’t know.”

Dev left after presenting the author with an advance of  Rs 5,000.

***

Finally, with the daughters of the house married and gone and brother Srinivasan moving out of  Mysore in pursuit of government service, a hesitant Pattabhi gave in. Much to Narayan’s relief Pattabhi moved to Yadavagiri with his wife and mother. Also in tow were Narayan’s young nephews R.S. Krishnaswamy and R.S. Jayaram, both studying at the Mysore’s National Institute of Engineering (NIE).

In 1973, Narayan’s mother Gynanambal passed away.

Among the longest residents of the house was Narayan’s nephew Jayaram and his family who lived there between 1974 and 1983. The writer’s grandchildren Srinivasan (Chinni) and Bhuvaneshwari (Minnie) also stayed in the house for a few years while pursuing academics in  Mysore.

***

The large, two storied house of around 5000 sq ft had five bedrooms, with attached bathrooms.  There was a spacious semi-circular living room with an array of  windows that brought in the sunlight.

The dining hall, kitchen, an unusually huge store-room adjoining a ‘pooja room’  formed another portion of the expansive house.

A winding, narrow flight of stairs led to Narayan’s airy room on the top floor.

The room was minimalistic – almost spartan- in décor. Apart from a single cot, there was this heavy easy chair and a solid walnut table from Kashmir on which rested an assortment of books and papers.

In another corner Narayan displayed his interesting collection of miniature owls, which he had picked up during his travels. On a wooden bracket fixed to the wall rested the Filmfare award (which the writer had won for The Guide) and other memorabilia. That he never though too highly of this award was another thing.

The room had a modest ante chamber where Narayan tucked away his veena. He played it well. The veena exponent Doraiswamy Iyengar, who was a close friend, played the instrument frequently for Narayan.

Some of the greatest musicians who were friends of the family had privately recorded for Narayan.

A number of them including M.S. Subbulakshmi (whom he affectionately called Kunjamma), M.L.Vasanthakumari, Semmangudi Srinivas Iyer and D.K.Pattamal visited the Yadavagiri home and stayed on for days, with the RK family.

One of these friendships turned into a matrimonial alliance, when Pattamal’s son married Pattabhi’s only daughter Shanta in 1967.

Narayan’s cupboards held a large collection of audio tapes, mainly Carnatic music. Some of them were recorded by the singers (without accompaniments) exclusively for Narayan.  There were times when the writer himself recorded the private renditions on his state of the art spool tape recorders, Grundig or Uher.

On the wall of his room was a framed picture of his late wife Rajam. He would regularly place a string of jasmine flowers on the frame every day. The room opened up to a cosy balcony, which was Narayan’s favorite spot. He sat there, hours on end, writing, watching the flitting birds and squirrels on the frangipani  tree that majestically arched into the compound, scattering its canopy of green.

Sometimes he would meditate and recite a version of the Gayatri mantra sitting here. Narayan  had revealed to my aunt Rajani, Jayaram’s wife, that this particular mantra was a revelation that was relayed to him from another spiritual plane.

Narayan had also procured an exquisitely carved six-inch Gayatri statue for his table from the “School of Sculpture’’ opposite the Kama Kameshwara temple at Hale Agrahara in Mysore. This rested inside his cupboard.

The other room, which usually accommodated guests and other relatives who were on an extended stay, had an unusual revolving wooden shelf, which originally belonged to Narayan’s academic father R.V. Krishnaswamy Iyer. The shelf creaked and groaned under the weight of the thick hardbound classics, some of which were rare out of print editions.

The house had a garage which at one time held Narayan’s Mercedes Benz, a gift from a publisher which he subsequently disposed off. There were also two make shift ‘sheds’ that in the later years were used to park the other automobiles in the house.

Narayan’s obsession  with coffee has been well documented, and it was a fact that he was finicky about his blend. He went to great lengths to get the right proportions, sometimes lecturing the household women on the correct way of making coffee.

The writer had eight coffee makers and percolators, with which he would constantly experiment, before finally settling for his tumbler of traditional filter coffee.

In 1987, after Pattabhi’s death, Narayan travelled into Madras and the US, periodically coming into Mysore. From 1991 onwards he started living in Chennai owing to his ill health. For many years, the empty house was taken care of by Narayan’s driver Krishnamurthy.

‘Krishnamurthy, saar‘, as we called him, came to the house in the evening on his Luna and left early next morning. A beat constable would appear every night and sign on a roster, hurriedly survey the compound and sometimes chat with the security guard before sauntering away.

Sometime in early 2000, the house was leased out to the cousin of a very powerful Congress party politician. The influential tenant used it as an office cum residence, altering certain facets and progressively destroying the old world charm of the house.

At one point, he stopped paying the rent and refused to move out. The family seemed helpless…

One fine morning, suitably galvanized by Narayan’s son-in-law Chandrasekaran, who lives in Chennai, I strode into the house determined to take on the truant tenant.

I was accompanied by a few friends including Vinay Ramakrishna, an old friend and long-time resident of  Yadavagiri.

After making us wait for a long time, the kurta-clad man came down and spoke to us in the most unfriendly manner, clearly indicating that he would leave the house when he felt the need to do so.

I left the house quite disappointed and reported the conversation back to Chandrasekaran. In a few months’ time, good sense prevailed and the man left the house but in complete disarray.

***

Today 15, Vivekananda road  stands forlorn, almost ghostly, echoing the laughter, the quibbles and the genius of four generations of an uncommon family that it has nurtured.

Patiently,  uncomplainingly, it waits for that fresh gust of wind to breathe again.

Photographs: courtesy M.A. Sriram/ The Hindu (top), and T.S. Satyan via Frontline

Also read: ‘Where is Malgudi? Where we all wish we lived’

R.K. Narayan on Mysore

Ved Mehta on a day in the life of R.K. Narayan

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

R.S. KRISHNASWAMY: A day in the life of R.K. Narayan

How R.K. Narayan passed the test to be an MP

CHURUMURI POLL: Anna Hazare and the media

21 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: The media coverage of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, like the movement itself, is a story in two parts—and both show the perils of the watchdog becoming the lapdog, in diametrically opposite ways.

In Act I, Scene I enacted at Jantar Mantar in April, sections of the Delhi media unabashedly played along with the establishment in a “crude and disgusting character assassination”, discrediting civil society members in an attempt to strangulate the joint Lokpal drafting panel, without  showing any remorse.

In Act II, three scenes of which have been enacted in the past week at Tihar Jail, Chhatrasaal Stadium and now the Ramlila Grounds, there has been no need to invoke Armani and Jimmy Choo, after the government’s spectacular cock-ups at the hands of high-IQHarvard-educated lawyers who recite nursery-school rhymes to wah-wahs from unquestioning interviews.

On the contrary, it can be argued that the pendulum has swung to the other end this time round.

The Times of India and Times Now, both market leaders in number termshave made no attempt to hide where their sympathies lie in this “Arnab Spring”, when the urban, articulate, newspaper-reading, TV-watching, high-earning, high-spending, apolitical, ahistorical, post-liberalised, pissed-off-like-mad middle-class gets worked up.

When the market leaders go down that road, the others are left with no option but to follow suit.

Obviously neither extreme can be the media’s default position. However, unlike last time when there was little if not no criticism of the “orchestrated campaign of calumny, slander and insinuation“, at least two well known media figures  have found the courage to question this kind of wide-eyed, gee-whiz reporting.

Sashi Kumar, the founder of India’s first regional satellite channel Asianet and the brain behind the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), in Outlook*:

“In the race for eyeballs, a section of the media—some TV channels in particular—give the impression of sprinting ahead of the story and dragging it along behind them. What defies imagination, even as it stretches journalistic credibility, is that the messengers become the lead players, directing the route the story will take, conjuring up twists and turns where there are none, and keeping the illusion of news-in-the-making breathlessly alive….

“The relationship between such media and their essentially middle class consumers is becoming uncomfortably incestuous. When respondents cluster around a camera for a vox pop, they are not so much required to offer their independent view on an issue as add to the chorus of opinion orchestrated by the channel. A photo op masquerades as a movement. Dissident voices get short shrift. It is more like a recruitment drive than a professional journalistic exercise to seek and purvey news.

“Increasingly, the channel’s role seems to be to trigger and promote a form of direct democracy by the middle class. Politics and politicians are routinely debunked; even representative democracy doesn’t seem to make the grade.”

NDTV group editor and star anchor Barkha Dutt too strikes a similar note in the Hindustan Times:

“Critics of the Hazare campaign have questioned the media narrative as well, accusing wall-to-wall TV coverage of holding up a permanent oxygen mask to the protests. It’s even been pointed out that Noam Chomsky’s scathing commentary on the mass media -‘Manufacturing Consent’ would be re-written in TV studios today as Manufacturing Dissent.

“But again, if the TV coverage of the protests is overdone, it only proves that the UPA’s perennial disdain for the media — and the diffidence of its top leaders — has given its opponents the upper hand in the information battle. There is something so telling about the fact that 74-year-old Anna Hazare made effective use of the social media by releasing a YouTube message from inside jail and the PM of India’s oldest political party is still to give his first interview to an Indian journalist.”

Questions: How do you rate the media role in crafting the Anna Hazare movement? Has it been too unquestioning, or has it played the role expected of it? Has it tapped into middle-class sentiment with an eye on circulation and TRPs?

Also readThe ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos on Anna Hazare team

3 deaths, 14 attacks on journos in last 6 months

14 June 2011

GEETA SESHU writes from Bombay: The killing of Mid-Day (special investigations) editor J.Dey on Saturday, 11 June 2011, was the third death of a journalist in India over the last six months. In all three instances, investigations are on but no arrests have been made; much less is there any headway as to the killers or their motives.

The impunity with which these attacks have taken place only shows that, in India, freedom of speech and expression cannot be taken for granted. “The Free Speech Tracker” set up last year by the Free Speech Hub to monitor all instances of violations of freedom of speech and expression reveals that attacks on journalists and intimidation of editors and writers continued unabated.

# On 20 December 2010, Sushil Pathak, a journalist with Dainik Bhaskar in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, was shot dead while returning home after a late night shift. The general secretary of the Bilaspur Press Club, Pathak is surived by his wife and two children. An investigation began into his death but till February this year, no headway was made into it.

Following sustain protests from journalists’ organisations as well as opposition parties in Chhattisgarh, the state’s Chief Minister Raman Singh ordered that the investigation be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

# On 23 January 2011, Umesh Rajput, a reporter with Nai Duniya was shot dead by two masked assailants on a motorcycle. A note, stating “Khabar chaapna band nahi karoge toh mare jaoge” (If you don’t stop publishing news, you will be killed), was found near the crime scene.

Apart from these deaths, there have been 14 instances of attacks on journalist in this year alone.

# On January 3, Sudhir Dhawale, dalit activist and editor of Vidrohi, a Marathi magazine, was arrested and charged with sedition and links with Maoists.

# In January, Somanath Sahu, reporter of Dharitri, was prevented from attending a press conference at the office of the deputy commissioner of police, Shaheed nagar, Bhubaneshwar, and threatened with dire consequences for writing reports that went against the police.

# Rajat Ranjan Das, a reporter of Sambad daily, sustained fractures and head injuries by alleged supporters of Saikh Babu, a ruling Biju Janata Dal leader from Pipili, Orissa in February.

# In the same month MBC TV reporter Kiran Kanungo and cameraperson Prasant Jena were roughed up by a group of BJD workers in Banki. And, in a separate incident the same day, OTV reporter N.M. Baisakh and his cameraman Anup Ray were beaten up by anti-social elements in Paradeep when they were covering a protest dharna outside the IOCL main gate by local people demanding jobs and compensation.

# In February, an NDTV team of journalists and camera crew were harassed and illegally detained allegedly by staff belonging to the Adani group when the were filming  a report on the large-scale destruction of mangroves in Mundra, Gujarat, due to the construction of a port by the company.

# In April, Bikash Swain, the publisher of Suryaprava, an Odiya daily alleged intimidation by police, following a series of adverse reports that he published. Last September, Swain was arrested by police and protests by journalists about vindictive action by police have obviously failed to have an effect.

# On May 3, ironically on world press freedom day, Goan Observer journalist Gary Azavedo was attacked and illegally detained by security staff of a mining company in Cauverm, Goa when he went there to cover the on-going agitation against mining companies.

# In May, three journalists were beaten up allegedly by CPI(M) supporters in Burdwan district in West Bengal.

# On May 8, in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, a group of youths, allegedly supporters of Nabam Tuki, Arunachal Pradesh Congress Committee president and State PWD minister, attacked several media offices, including the local office of PTI and a local newspaper Arunachal Front, apparently to protest a report in a leading daily involving their leader.

# On May 19, MiD-DAY reporter Tarakant Dwivedi, better known as Akela, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act by the Government Railway Police (GRP) for an article written over a year ago in the Mumbai Mirror that exposed the poor condition in which hi-tech weapons procured after the 26/11 attack were being kept by the railway security forces.

# On May 21, unidentified assailants waylaid V.B. Unnithan, Kollam-based senior reporter of the widely circulated Malayalam daily, Mathrubhumi, and assaulted him with iron rods. Unnithan was heading home after work on April 16.

(Former Indian Express reporter Geeta Seshu is co-ordinator of The Free Speech Hub at The Hoot)

Image: A roster of journalists killed in the line of duty, compiled by  Mail Today. Not surprisingly, “troubled” Kashmir and the northeast account for the majority of the 31 deaths in the last 14 years.

***

Also read: The unsung heroes who perished before J.Dey

J. DEY: ‘When eagles are silent, parrots jabber’

Is Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

21 April 2011


PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The Indian Express of Ramnath Goenka is an unputdownable chapter in the book of Indian journalism. Unlike many of its English counterparts—whose grammar was constricted by Wren & Martin, and the Raj—Express was the archetypal desi bully.

“Anti-establishment,” was the Express‘ calling card.

Its reputation was built on stones pelted at the power elite: taking on dictatorial prime ministers (Indira Gandhi for the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi for the anti-defamation Bill), slimy corporate chiefs (Dhirubhai Ambani of Reliance industries) and corrupt chief ministers (A.R. Antulay of Maharashtra, R. Gundu Rao of Karnataka).

“Pro-people,” was the Express‘ middlename.

Unlike its servile peers who crawled when asked to bend, Express‘ founder himself took part in Gandhi‘s march from Champaran and led the protest against the anti-defamation Bill. The paper backed Jayaprakash Narayan‘s Bihar movement, and battled for civil liberties and human rights, some times at the risk of closure of the company.

Whatever its other motives and motivations (and there were a few), the Indian Express sent the unambiguous signal to Indians that the Express was theirs; a paper that would speak truth to power, a paper they could bank on in taking on the bold-faced names of the establishment.

An Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Goenka accurately calls him a “crusader against government corruption”.

On his birth centenary seven years ago, Express launched a website on the “man who had the courage to stand up for truth.”

So, how would Ramnath Goenka look at his baby today, as its editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta leads an extraordinary ad hominem attack on the Anna Hazare-led “people’s movement” against corruption, pillorying NGOs, the middle-class and “civil society”—and allowing itself to be become the weapon of first choice in what Express columnist Soli J. Sorabjee calls the “crude and disgusting character assassination” of its lead players, the lawyers Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan?

***

Since the day Anna Hazare sat on the fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on April 5, demanding the constitution of a joint government-civil society committee for the drafting of the Lokpal bill—and especially after he succeeded in his mission—The Indian Express has bared its fangs in a manner that few would expect any independent newspaper to do.

At least, few would have expected an “anti-establishment”, “pro-people” paper whose tagline is “Journalism of Courage” to do.

Over a 16-day period (April 6 to 21), through 21 news reports, seven editorials, 15 opinion articles, three cartoons and one illustration, almost all of them variations of the same theme, the northern and western editions of the Express (the southern editions are under a different editorial management after the Goenka family split) has left no one in doubt on whose side—and which—side of the debate it is.

Against the sentiment on the street and in the homes and offices of its readers—and with the political-business-bureacuratic-fixer-operator cabal in whose interest it is to spike the bill in whatever form it may emerge, by tarnishing its movers and shakers.

The only place there has been any space for the other side in the Express since the protest began and ended, has been in its letters’ column, with one letter (from a former Express staffer) getting pride of place on the op-ed page as an article.

Otherwise, it has been a relentless torrent of scepticism, cynicism, criticism, distortion, inneundo, insinuation and plain abuse in The Indian Express. Words like “illiberal”, “fascist”, “dangerous”, “self-righteous”, “self-appointed”, “authoritarian”, “dictators”, “Maoist” and—pinch yourself—”missing foreskins” have spewed forth from the paper’s news and views pages to convince the world why the movement is the worst thing to have happened for Indian democracy.

Here’s a sampling of the headlines, introductions and blurbs over the 16-day period:

***

# April 6, news report, by Maneesh Chibber, headline “Activists’ Bill calls for Lokpal as supercop, superjudge”, text “The Jan Lokpal Bill…. includes a set of highly unusual provisions….”

# April 7, news report, by Maneesh Chibber and Seema Chisti, headline “Cracks appear in Anna’s team”, intro “Justice Santosh Hegde objects to ‘certain’ clauses’, Aruna Roy warns: can’t bypass democratic principles”

# April 7, news feature, by Vandita Mishra, headline “Anna’s fast, main course: feed politicians to vultures & dogs”

# April 7, editorial headline “They, the people”, intro “Illiberal, self-righteous sound and fury isn’t quite the weapon against corruption.”

# April 7, opinion, by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, headline “Of the few, by the few”, intro “Lokpal Bill agitation has a contempt for politics and democracy”, blurb “The claim that people are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. Anyone who claims to be the ‘authentic’ voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed”

# April 8, news report, headline “First political voices speak: cause just, method fascist”, intro “Self-selected can’t dictate terms, says SP; who will choose 50% civil society, asks Raghuvansh [Prasad]“

# April 8, news report, by D.K. Singh, headline “UPA problem: NAC shoe is on the other (NGO) foot”, text: “…the anti-corruption legislation looks set to land in the turf war between competing gorups of civil rights activists.”

# April 8, gossip item, headline “Lady in hiding?”, text “When the fiesty retired IPS officer (Kiran Bedi) was not seen, it naturally set off talk, with people wondering whether she had quietly withdrawn from the campaign.”

# April 8, editorial, headline “Carnival society”, intro “There is nothing representative about the ‘civil society’ gathering at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar”

#April 9, news report, by Seema Chisti, headline “Jantar Mantar core group lost out last year, struck back with Anna”

# April 9, editorial, headline “Make it better”, intro “This anti-politics juggernaut is both contentless and dangerous”

# April 9, opinion, by BaijayantJayPanda MP, headline “Cynicism vs hope”, intro “How odd that we should undermine democracy in this year of pro-democracy movements”, blurb “The Jantar Mantar movement is now poised at a crucial juncture. It could get irretrievably hijacked by those of Hazare’s supporters who have scant respect for politics. If wiser heads prevail—those who respect the institutions of democracy like parliament and the courts—then we could well be at the cusp of a magical moment.”

# April 10, news report, headline “[Baba] Ramdev attacks ‘nepotism’ in bill drafting committee: pita mukhiya, beta sadasya?”

# April 10, news report pointer, headline “Ally NCP speaks out: joint committee will be joint pain for constitution and democracy”

# April 11, opinion, by Mihir S. Sharma, headline “Not a very civil coup”, intro “Snuff out those candles: democratic society should trump civil society, every time”,  blurb “Let us not glorify middle-class anger when it is expressed as an antipathy to where democracy’s gotten us, as fury at not having more power than is gifted by the vote you share with a villager. That way lies the pain and disillusionment of a dozen cuddly dictators”

# April 12, editorial, headline “Rs 100, a sari, a bottle”, intro “That’s all Hazare says a vote means. Who gains from such disdain for democracy?”

# April 12, opinion, by Neera Chandhoke, headline “The seeds of authoritarianism”, intro “Democracy needs civil society. But not Anna Hazare’s version, contemputous of ordinary voters”

# April 12, opinion, by Madhu Purnima Kishwar, headline “Why tar all politicians with the same brush?”, intro “We need to reboot corrupt systems, instead of demonising our political class”, blurb “Politicians can be removed through elections, whereas we self-appointed representatives cannot be voted out when we exceed our brief”

# April 13, news clipping quoting New Age, view from the left, “Anna Hazare afterthought”

# April 13, opinion, by Seema Chisti, headline “We the bullied”, intro “Can our basic democratic procedures be so easily dispensed with?”, blurb “The quick and easy path in this case is also the more dangerous road, and it is one on which we have already embarked—all because there are some people around who talk loud enough to make claims about representing ‘the people’. We, the electors and those we elected, have just given them a walkover.”

# April 13, opinion, by Ashwini Kulkarni, “Governance comes before a Lokpal”, intro “For a Lokpal bill to work, you would need systems that create the paper trails necessary for prosecution”

# April 13, opinion, by Nityanand Jayaraman, headline “The halfway revolution”, intro “Am I wrong in suggesting that the candle-holding middle-class Indian is not very different from the Maoist in ideology?”

# April 14, editorial, headline “Over to the MPs”, intro “On the Lokpal bill, Veerappa Moily is falling all over himself—and could trip Parliament too”

# April 14, opinion, by Javed Anand, headline “Why I didn’t join Anna Hazare,” intro “In his post-corrupt utopia, we should look forward to leaders like Narendra Modi“, blurb “I do not wish to spoil the show for those celebrating the ‘second movement for Independence’ that Anna has won for us. But I cannot hide the fact that I, with my missing foreskin, continue to feel uneasy about the Anna revolution—for more reasons than one.”

# April 15, news report, headline “CEOs, banks, firms in list of donors put up on website of Hazare movement”

# April 15, news report, “Doubt your role as good lawmaker: SP leader to Shanti Bhushan”

# April 15, opinion, by Farah Baria, headline “See the spirit of Anna’s movement”, intro “Don’t nip our fledgling civic consciousness in the bud”

# April 16, news report, headline “Lokpal talks off to CD start”

# April 16, news report, headline “My view is keep judges out, says Anna, colleagues disagree”

# April 16, news report, headline “The other society: CIC, Aruna Roy, Justice Verma to hold parallel meet”

# April 17, news report, by Swaraj Thapa and Amitabh Sinha, headline “Lokpal should have powers to tap phones, prosecute: non govt reps”

# April 17, news report, by Seema Chisti, headline “Why the hurry, and do we really need more laws, ask legal luminaries, activists”

# April 17, opinion, by Meghnad Desai, headline “Which Hazare?’

# April 17, opinion, by Sudheendra Kulkarni, headline “MODI-fy the Lokpal debate”

# April 17, opinion, by Tavleen Singh, headline “Our sainted NGOs?”

# April 19, editorial, headline “law and lawgivers”, intro “So will Anna Hazare respect Parliament’s supremacy after all?”

# April 20, news report, by Pragya Kaushika and Ritu Sarin, headline “Bhushans get two prime farmhouse plots from Mayawati govt for a song”, intro “No lottery, no auction in allotment of two 10,000 sq m plots to Shanti Bhushan and son Jayant

# April 20, editorial, headline “Case must go on”, intro “The judicial process must remain disconnected from the Bhushans-Amar Singh spat”

# April 20, opinion, by A.P. Shah and Venkatesh Nayak, “A gigantic institution that draws powers from a statute based on questionable principles”, blurb “Clauses 8 and 17 turn the Lokpal into a civil court that will reverse the decisions of the executive such as grant of licences, permits, authorisations and even blacklist companies and contractors. This is not the job of an Ombudsman-type institution.”

# April 21, news report, headline “Mess spreading, Sonia washes her NAC hands of Lokpal Bill”, intro “Reminds Anna Hazare that he knew NAC was at work on Bill until fast forced the issue”

# April 21, news report, by Krishnadas Rajagopal and Tanu Sharma, headline “On plots allotted by govt, the Bhushans have high standards—for others”

# April 21, news report, by Tanu Sharma, headline “Shanti Bhushan may not have been in panel if plot known: Santosh Hegde”

# April 21, opinion, by Sandeep Dikshit, MP, headline “Whose bill is it anyway?”, intro “The fight against corruption cannot be appropriated by a clique”, blurb “The very reason why this committee was formed was because it was argued that we need more opinions and contributions to the Lokpal Bill. Having accepted this, can the protagonists then state that every opinion, every fear expressed by those outside this group is an attempt to sabotage this bill?

# April 21, opinion, by Dilip Bobb, headline “In search of civil society”, intro “Anna Hazare has given ‘civil society’ an identity card, but who qualifies for membership?”, blurb “Is civil society the preserve of groups predefined as democratic, modern and ‘civil’, or is it home to all sorts of associations, including ‘uncivil society’?”

# April 21, news clippings quoting Organiser, view from the right, headlines “Whose Hazare?”, “Check that bill”

***

It is no one’s case that the campaign for the Lokpal bill, or the clauses contained in the draft Jan Lokpal bill, is without its flaws. It is also no one’s case that those behind the movement are angels, who cannot be questioned or scrutinised.

But when viewed through a journalistic prism, the Express campaign raises two questions.

One, can a newspaper—notwithstanding its right to take a stand it likes on any issue—can a newspaper shut out the other side completely as if doesn’t exist? And is such a newspaper a newspaper or a pamphlet?

Example: on April 19, “civil society” representatives led by NAC members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander, condemned the campaign to malign Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. The Indian Express ignored the news item that found place in most newspapers.

And two, whose cause is the Express championing in indulging in such a hit job on a campaign that has struck a chord with millions?

Express fires from the safe shoulders of “democracy”—a word that invokes titters among many ex-Express staffers. But is the Express really speaking for the people, or has it become a plaything of the “establishment” which was shamed into acting on a piece of legislation that had been languishing for 43 years?

***

None of this is to downplay the first-rate journalism that the Indian Express still delivers on most days of the week.  Even in as messy a story as the Amar Singh-Shanti Bhushan CD in the current anti-Hazare campaign, Express demonstrated far greater rigour than its compatriots Hindustan Times and Times of India, which fell hook, line and sinker for the “establishment” story.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that Express has begun to play a meeker role in exposing corruption in high places.

In the last three years, Express has been wrongfooted by its compatriots on all the big corruption stories that have gripped the nation’s attention and spurred the campaign for the Lokpal bill: the 2G spectrum allocation (The Pioneer) and S-band (The Hindu) scams; the CWG, IPL and Adarsh housing scams (The Times of India); the black money and Swiss bank accounts story (Tehelka); Wikileaks (The Hindu); and the Niira Radia tapes (Outlook and Open).

Simultaneously, Express, which increasingly shares a strange symbiosis with Indian and American thinktanks, has veered disturbingly closer to the government, be it in reflecting the UPA government’s thrust for the Indo-US nuclear bill; its muscular approach to tackling the Maoist threat in mine-rich tribal areas; in demonising the Chinese, or in plumping for road, airport, dams, infrastructure and nuclear projects, overriding environmental and social concerns.

Indeed, from being a paper deeply suspicious of big business, it has become the go-to newspaper for corporate honchos seeking to put out their story. Ratan Tata‘s first interview after the Radia tapes hit the ceiling was with Shekhar Gupta for NDTV‘s Walk the Talk show.

And for a paper deeply suspicious of power, the paper now publishes arbitrary “power lists”, without ever revealing the jury or the methodology behind the rankings. (Shekhar Gupta was decorated with the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, by the UPA government in 2009.)

The question that arises is: are all these concentric circles somehow linked in the Express‘ astonishingly one-sided campaign against the anti-corruption movement and the people behind it?

***

Historically, in India, large publications (think Times of India and The Hindu), have tended to play along with the establishment because of the kind of business and other interests involved. But a small-circulation paper bending backwards to stroke the crooked and the corrupt doesn’t present a pleasant sight.

It doesn’t sound civil, but it is a question that must be courageously asked: has Ramnath Goenka’s bulldog of a paper become a lapdog of the power elite, luxuriating among the rich and famous, while peeing at the feet of the people it was supposed to defend?

In other words, has The Indian Express become a pro-establishment newspaper?

Illustration: courtesy C.R. Sasikumar/ The Indian Express, April 20

***

Also read: Arnab edges out Barkha on Express power list

The curious case of Zakir Naik and Shekhar Gupta

A columnist more powerful than all media pros

‘Editors and senior journos must declare assets’

NDTV, CNN-IBN and Mani Shankar Aiyar ‘Live’

14 January 2011

Reader Kollery S. Dharan forwards two screengrabs, shot with his mobile phone, of the 10 pm shows of NDTV 24×7 and CNN-IBN on Thursday, 13 January 2011.

Both channels carry the “live” logo on the top right-hand corner. And “live” on both channels at the same time on the same day is the diplomat-turned-politician Mani Shankar Aiyar.

For Barkha Dutt‘s show The Buck Stops Here (left), Aiyar, in a grey coat, offers his wisdom on the dynastic democracy that the writer Patrick French says India has become.

For Sagarika Ghose‘s show Face the Nation (right), Aiyar, now in a beige/ light brown coat, holds forth on Pakistan’s identity crisis. The two pictures were captured at 10.22 pm and 10.23 pm.

So, which channel had Mani Shankar Aiyar “live” last night? Or has Aiyar broken the time-space continuum?

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

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’

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

28 November 2010

By T.J.S. GEORGE

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

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

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

The journalists became her tools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full coverage:

Vir Sanghvi suspends Hindustan Times column

‘Quantitative growth versus qualitative improvement’

Has media credibility suffered a body-blow?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

BARKHA DUTT on the allegations against her

27 November 2010

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

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

***

By BARKHA DUTT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Disclosures apply

**

Text: courtesy NDTV.com

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

***

CHURUMURI POLL: Do you trust the media?

20 November 2010

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

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

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

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

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

* Disclosures apply

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

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

The Times of India and Commonwealth Games

3 September 2010

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The year of the lord 2010 has seen the The Times of India in uber-aggressive mode.

The nation’s largest English daily that rarely ever wants to “afflict the comfortable” despite its size, reach, reputation, resources and influence, has pulled out all stops in exposing the murky IPL dealings of Lalit Modi, Union minister Sharad Pawar and his MP-daughter Supriya Sule, and their NCP partyman Praful Patel.

In all those four IPL-related stories, Times provided blanket coverage and then let matters rest after a while. But if there is one story on which it has been relentless in the last couple of months, it is its attack on the Commonwealth Games (CWG)—and Pawar’s former factotum, Suresh Kalmadi.

Day after day, Times has employed reporters, editors, columnists, authors, even commissioned industrialists, to rip the games and the chairman of its organising committee apart, with the kind of first-rate journalism that ToI has condemned to play second fiddle over the last decade.

A cursory count shows that between 1 August and 2 September 2010, The Times of India (Delhi market) has published no less than 107 negative headlines on the Commonwealth Games (sample them here) with the author Chetan Bhagat just short of advocating a boycott of the CWG on the pages of The Sunday Times of India (in image, above).

Given how rarely ToI wants to rock the boat, the question that is naturally being asked in Delhi and Bombay is, why. What’s behind the Times‘ new-found aggro?

Legitimate journalism, is of course the easiest explanation for ToI‘s proactivism. The fact that the CWG is in a mess—inflated bills, corrupt deals, leaky stadiums, incomplete facilities, etc—is beyond doubt, and Suresh Kalmadi’s own culpability in this (and other) dubious deals is also beyond question.

After all, if politicians like Mani Shankar Aiyar can ask searching questions on the CWG, why shouldn’t a newspaper?

Yet, it is unnatural for a “feel-good” newspaper like The Times of India, whose advertised credo is to wake up the reader with a good feeling in his head, to rub in the bad news in the all-important Delhi market, day in and day out. Moreover, bigger scams involving more important people have been allowed to rest.

So, what gives?

There are no answers, just whispers.

But for over a fortnight now, journalists have been hissing about a four-page document that reportedly suggests that the Times‘ interest in the story may be more than just journalistic.

Now, it is up on Flickr (and Scribd).

The first page of it is a signed November 2009 letter from a director of Times of India group (C.R. Srinivasan) on a ToI letterhead to Suresh Kalmadi, outlining the “costumer connect initiatives” the group proposes to undertake.

“Kindly let us know of your decision to grant ‘official newspaper’ status to The Times of India at your earliest convenience,” concludes Srinivasan’s letter.

The second page is a signed note from Times Group general manager Gautam Sen to the additional director-general, communications, of the CWG organising committee, presenting a “comprehensive print proposal” (for Times of India, Navbharat Times, Maharashtra Times, Mirror and Sandhya Times) along with a rate-card.

For 2-page reports on five key milestone days (carrying a half-page ad of CWG at DAVP (department of audio visual publicity) rates and a half-page ad at commercial days); for six one-page reports (where in 65% of the page will have edit and 35% will be paid-for); and 12 full pages of advertorial at DAVP rates, Times proposes a Rs 12.19 crore package.

For a claimed combined nationwide circulation of 51.84 lakh copies for the five dailies, the breakdown is Rs 4.61 crore + Rs 3.31 crore + Rs 4.27 crore = Rs 12.19 crore.

The last-two pages doing the rounds—an unsigned note from a bureaucrat to a senior bureaucrat or to Kalmadi himself, explaining the fineprint of the proposed Times package—leave little to the imagination.

In summary, the ToI proposal has the following benefits:

# OC [organising committee] in totality pays for 16.6 pages and in return gets the leverage for 28 pages.

# It [ToI group] has the potential to form opinions of the public at large. It is also expected that with the influence that the ‘Response’ department has over editorial, the OC can get neutral and positive coverage from now to the Games.

# We can consider and extended and beneficial deals with ToI‘s other properties viz, TV, radio, internet, etc, including Economic Times (all editions) may be requested of ToI.

While on the face of it, the sum of Rs 12.19 crore may seem large, the benefits offered on a national basis are considerable and the proposal should be considered favourably.

Obviously, these notes and letters do not represent the full story and there is nothing—repeat, nothing—in them to suggest that the Times‘ coverage of CWG and Kalmadi has a connection with this and/or other correspondence.

But judging from the CWG coverage so far, it is fair to assume that ToI did not get the “official newspaper” status. (The buzz is that Hindustan Times has received that status with a lower than Rs 12.19 crore bid. At what terms HT secured the ‘My Delhi, My Games’ tag is not known, but Delhi’s two biggest English dailies do not come out smelling of roses.)

Judging from the hyper-ballistic coverage of CWG and Kalmadi on Times Now, it is also reasonably safe to assume that the plan to extend the deal to Times‘ other properties came to nought. (CNN-IBN swung the baton rights’ deal, unlike Times Now and the other aggrieved bidder, NDTV.)

Nevertheless, at a time when other Indian media specialities like “medianet, paid news” and “private treaties” have become the flavour of the season, the four-page ToI-CWG note lays bare the alarming interplay between editorial and advertising in Indian media houses like never before.

The two-page note appended to the Times‘ managers’ notes also shows how advertisers are confident of buying “neutral and positive coverage” if they can throw a few crores.

Conversely, the bottomline is clear: if an advertiser doesn’t play along, there is hell in store.

Also read: Why Delhi shouldn’t host Commonwealth Games

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Mani Shankar Aiyar ‘anti-national’?

Why Ram Pyari couldn’t take her daughter home

’40% Infoscions’ parents haven’t passed Class X’

10 August 2010

An American senator calls it a “chop shop“—a place where stolen cars are dismantled and parts sold separately. Meaning: the Indian company is taking away American jobs. Infosys is naturally distressed at the label, stating it has 1,300 citizens and permanent residents working in the US.

Around the same time, 55 of India’s top 1,000 companies including the Tatas, Mahindra & Mahindra and Godrej, decided to make “caste disclosures” of their workforce in their annual reports from the next financial year, in confirmation with CII’s code of conduct on affirmative action that was finalised in 2007.

Infosys is one of the signatories to the code but its HR director T.V. Mohandas Pai is quoted as saying: “We don’t ask our people their caste. Ours is a white-collar labour force. Ours is an industry where there are more jobs than people and we do not discriminate in whatever we do.”

***

Meantime, Infosys CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan takes questions from Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta for NDTV’s Walk the Talk show:

You recently said that nearly 40 per cent of your new recruits come from non-urban areas.

Kris: About 40 per cent also from families where one or both the parents have not completed class 10. So I strongly see this as a transformation that the IT industry is creating in these families. Suddenly, students from rural areas have access to good paying jobs, global jobs. They get to work with some of the best brands and names. It’s clearly a life-changing experience for them and is creating wealth in different parts of the country, and giving them an exposure to the world…

The number of women in your business has also been increasing.

Kris: Thirty-three to thirty-four per cent, and again, a significant change from 10 years ago, when it was 18-19 per cent….

India produces about four-and-a-half lakh engineering graduates and you take half of them.

Kris: Yes, at least half of them and that is a worry because as we grow, that number is only going to increase and it is going to become difficult. So that is a worry and there is a shortage everywhere: shortage of good carpenters, shortage of good plumbers, shortage of good drivers… We require 200,000 people in the industry every year.

Read the full transcript: Walk the talk

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is the H1B game over?

Happy birthday, and many happy returns (to us)

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Chidambaram a saboteur?

17 July 2010

Of all the millions of words that have been expended since Thursday night to examine and re-examine the collapse of the Indo-Pak talks into a slugfest between the two subcontinental S.M.s—Krishna and Qureshithe most incisive 1,042 words come from the editor of the Madras-headquartered New Indian Express, Aditya Sinha, who lobs the grenade the Delhi media cannot fine the ball bearings to: did Union home minister P. Chidambaram sabotage the dialogue?

How?

Even as Krishna is flying into Islamabad, Chidambaram’s top bureaucrat, home secretary G.K. Pillai, accuses the ISI of being behind the 26/11 attack in an interview with the Chidambaram-friendly Indian Express. Predictably, at the mention of ISI, Qureshi flies off the handle and accuses Krishna of taking orders on his cellphone, etc, and soon enough taglines like “Big Chill”, “Tu-tu-main-main“, “Aman ki Ashes” start crawling on TV screens.

Sinha’s entirely plausible theory sparks a bigger question: is the veshti-wearing, Harvard-accented Chidambaram what he is cracked up to be—a high IQ dude competently running his ministry unlike the bandgala-worshipping Shivraj Patil? Or is he just pursuing an agenda all his own that is often at odds with the weltanschaaung of the Congress and is perhaps even deliberately intended at causing discomfort to prime minister Manmohan Singh who has made foreign policy the signature tune of his second term?

The suggestion could have been dismissed off-hand if only if were the first such indiscretion. It isn’t.

# Witness the Telangana tamasha, manufactured mostly by Chidambaram’s breakneck speed in announcing the formation of a new State after TRS chief K. Chandrashekar Rao‘s fast-unto-death, that has turned Congress’ most profitable state into a liability.

# Witness the  operation against Naxals that has turned vast swathes of the hinterland into a graveyard posting for CRPF jawans. (Arundhati Roy has called him “CEO of the war” because he appears to be furthering the cause of his former clients by using State power to clear tribal land for their mining and business interests.)

# Witness the upsurge in violence in Kashmir after the CRPF, which is getting slaughtered in the Naxal badlands, opens fire on teenagers throwing stones and plunges the State into the kind of chaos not since the militancy began in 1989.

# Witness the Afzal Guru issue which again gained traction following a report (obviously in Indian Express) that the Delhi chief minister Shiela Dixit is sitting on it that causes further embarrassment to a party bending backwards to avoid it.

Chidambaram has, for long, been a slightly distrusted individual in the Congress. Partymen salute his obvious brilliance in dealing with complex issues like the Bhopal gas compensation, but he is seen as a bit of an upstart who left the party and became finance minister in non-Congress Third Front and United Front governments. There are some who whisper that the careerist very nearly joined the BJP.

Even if you put all that down to professional jealousy, it cannot be denied that he enjoys a fair degree of middle-class sympathy, especially among the NDTV viewing sections of it, especially for his muscular stance against Naxals and his “proactive” approach to policing by mouthing hollow American tripe like the “Buck Stops Here”. He is, in a manner of speaking, the English-speaking Narendra Modi, without evoking the same visceral venom.

Nevertheless, the Indo-Pak kerfuffle is a good time to ask if Chidambaram is playing his own tune in the government, (which is why he routinely runs afoul of party loyalists like Digvijay Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyar). Is he doing it on his own volition or to some higher power’s script? On the other hand, if Chidambaram is eyeing the “7, Race Course Road” address on his visiting card should such an eventuality arise, will such antics necessary earn points on the Congress high command’s scorecard?

Did Manmohan Singh miss a golden opportunity by not accepting Chidambaram’s resignation (not since offered) after the first Dantewada massacre of CRPF jawans?

Or is there something here that falls short of logic?

Also read: Is Chidambaram positioning himself for PM role?

The curious case of Zakir Naik & Shekhar Gupta

21 June 2010

The gentleman on the right of the frame wants India to be ruled by Shariat laws. He recommends death for homosexuals. He supports Osama bin Laden if he is “fighting the enemies of Islam”. He says revealing clothes make women more susceptible to rape.

Yet, the gentleman on the left, Shekhar Gupta, introduced him as the “rockstar of tele-evangelism” in March 2009, on his NDTV show Walk the Talk:

“…but surprise of surprises, he is not preaching what you would expect tele-evangelists to preach. He is preaching Islam, modern Islam, and not just Islam but his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world.”

In February this year, the paper edited by the gentleman on the left, the Indian Express, ranked the gentleman on the right 89th on its list of the most powerful Indians in 2010 (jury: unknown), ahead of  Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, with large numbers dripping all over:

“His sermons on Peace TV-English boast of a viewership of 100 million. The channel is aired in 125 countries. Peace TV Urdu has 50 million viewers. He has given 1,300 public talks including 100 in 2009, 10-day peace conference attened by 2 lakh…”

Now, with the British government announcing that the gentleman of such affection—the gentleman on the right, Dr Zakir Naik—will not be allowed into Britain because of numerous comments that are evidence of “unacceptable behaviour”, the journalist-author Sadanand Dhume writes in The Wall Street Journal:

“If you’re looking for a snapshot of India’s hapless response to radical Islam, then look no further than Naik. In India, the 44-year-old Dr. Naik—a medical doctor by training and a televangelist by vocation—is a widely respected figure, feted by newspapers and gushed over by television anchors….

“When the doctor appears on a mainstream Indian news channel, his interviewers tend to be deferential. Senior journalist and presenter Shekhar Gupta breathlessly introduced his guest last year as a “rock star of televangelism” who teaches “modern Islam” and “his own interpretation of all the faiths around the world.”

“A handful of journalists—among them Praveen Swami of The Hindu, and the grand old man of Indian letters, Khushwant Singh—have questioned Dr. Naik’s views, but most take his carefully crafted image of moderation at face value.”

But the Indian Express is, if nothing else, extremely touchy when its judgments are questioned.

With Dhume’s article doing the rounds, it has run an editorial in response to the British decision, curiously titled “Talk is Cheap”:

“By disallowing Zakir Naik from delivering his lecture in Birmingham, Britain has simply made him a cause and handed him a megaphone, ensuring that his voice is amplified on blogs, social networks and other forums where disenfranchised and angry Muslims gather.

“This is not to say that Naik’s televangelism is not entirely free of objectionable or sometimes plain ridiculous content…. Naik is simply one corner in a larger field, and his ideas have been debated, endorsed or demolished, as the case may be, on very public platforms…. Words must be fought with words alone, not clumsy state action.

“Zakir Naik talks of ideas that some might abhor, but some others take all too seriously. Not permitting open discourse is to constrict the free play of disagreeement and disputation.”

Photograph: courtesy NDTV 24×7

Read the full column: The trouble with Dr Zakir Naik

Follow Sadanand Dhume on Twitter

An open letter to home minister P. Chidambaram

20 May 2010

Dear Shri Chidambaram

This is in response to your repeated taunts in your NDTV interview that “civil society” must respond to the wanton killing by the Naxals. It appears that the interview was tailor-made for getting the consent of the Union Cabinet for more firepower and airpower to combat the Maoists.

The diabolic support of Arun Jaitley, by describing you an “injured martyr”, was designed to achieve his ambition through the support of the mining barons of the BJP-ruled states.

As a member of society, I hope I am being civil in disagreeing with you on your hard line approach against the innocent tribals. I also hope you will not find it too shocking for being accused of being largely responsible for the rise and growth of naxalism, as the following happened on your watch as finance minister.

# Is it not true that naxalism grew exponentially in the last 10 years to become the present menace ? In fact you have yourself identified the time frame of the last 10 years in your interview with NDTV.

# Is it not true that the rise in popularity of naxalism is also coincidental with the rise in iron ore mining profits which increased from around Rs 50 per tonne to over Rs 5,000 per tonne in the last ten years?

# Is it not true that the map of naxalism is also the map of the Indian minerals. These minerals belong to the people of India but have been handed over to mining barons and corporate in a relationship of mutual benefit, more appropriately described as crony capitalism. It is for this reason that Arun Jaitley is your staunchest supporter because the fate of four State governments ruled by the BJP is dependent on the money from the mining mafia.

# Is it not true that during your watch as finance minister for four and a half years, corporates raked in profits of over Rs 2,00,000 crore through legal and illegal mining, mostly in the iron ore sector? How was this profit shared?

# Is it not true that during your entire tenure as FM, the royalty on iron ore was not revised and remained at a ridiculous Rs 7 to Rs 27 per tonne ( depending on the type and grade of iron ore) with the average of around Rs 15 per tonne. This royalty was neither made ad valorem nor was it revised from year 2000 onwards when the international price of iron ore rose to dizzying levels.

# Is it not true that the minerals are owned by the people of the State? Is a meagre 0.5 % royalty on iron ore profits adequate compensation to the owner of the resources? Would you sell your Rs one crore property for Rs 50,000?

Did your fulfill the oath that you took as a Minister to abide by the Constitution, in particular Article 39 (b) and (c) of the constitution which directs the government to use natural resources owned by the people of the country are used to subserve the common good?

Would the Naxal problem have been there if 25% of the mining profit was spent on the poor and the tribal living in the mining area and whose life was uprooted by the greedy corporate/mining mafia with active connivance of the law enforcers and policy makers ?

What prevented the government from nationalising the iron ore mine industry and handing it over to a PSU or the national mineral development corporation (NMDC) whose shares of one rupee were lapped up at a premium of Rs 300 (30000% premium) and using the profit for benefit of the people?

Are you aware that even a resource-rich and affluent country like Australia with a low population base is imposing an additional 40% windfall tax on mining profits?

Can a poor country like India afford to forgo these windfall profits?

Will you reveal as to how many times you have defended the public interest through a public interest litigation (PIL) and how many times you have defended corporate interest during your professional career as a lawyer? The question is relevant because of your empathy for the corporate sector is in apparent conflict with that towards the toiling masses.

Is it wrong for “civil society” to conclude that both as home minister and finance minister you have been protecting corporate profiteers (by first allowing them to loot the mineral wealth belonging to the people and now securing these mines for them) and not protecting the interest of the poor and tribal people who are victims of corporate greed and crony capitalism of the political parties?

You in particular should have known better having been a director of Vedanta Resources!

In your appearance on NDTV you talked about the two-pronged approach and one of them having been weakened. It is the prong of development which has been weakened and is non-existent. The royalty collected is not sufficient to pay for the various types of direct damages done by the mining industry (health, environment, water, roads, rehabilitation etc) let alone the cost of security forces.

Is it not true that the killing of innocent security forces and tribal is the direct result of the policy of securing the mineral wealth for the corporate profiteers and political parties who share the loot?

It was shocking to know that you were more concerned about your CV falling short by a few months of completing five years as finance minister when you met your maker (refer the NDTV interview) than about the blood of the innocents that has been spilled on both sides as a consequence of corporate profiteering.

It is not surprising that all the State governments which get reelected on the money of the mining mafia are interested in using air cover to make mining safe and profitable ever after. You should know better the role of money in elections after having managed to squeak past the post while the DMK MPs romped home with handsome margin. Mr A. Raja retained his portfolio!

What is at stake is the credibility of the State: that it is using force to benefit the mining mafia and that it has a vested interest in the profiteering of the mining mafia which is prospering because of crony capitalism.

To restore its credibility the government should resume all the mines which in any case belong to the people and give a solemn pledge that a minimum of 25% of the mining profits will be used for the benefit of the local people. The solution is not only just but one mandated by the Constitution. It is only after restoring its credibility that the State will have the right to act.

That one hopes, will not be necessary because honest development based on the resources belonging to the people is the best contraceptive against the Maoist ideology. (One is happy to note that according to newspaper report the mining minister has made a similar proposal and not surprisingly facing resistence.)

What happened, Mr Chidambaram, you used to be a nice guy? You resigned over the Fairgrowth affair when you were not even guilty.

Life is not about arguing a brief in court for money. It is about arguing for what is right. You have wrongly accused us of being “neither clever nor being devious “ (refer interview with NDTV), because we are not capable of it. We cannot argue the way you do.

Your arguments in Parliament over the oil for food programme while shielding Reliance from being referred to the Pathak Committee were indeed “brilliant.” Were you being clever or devious in your arguments? ( Refer the book Reliance the Real Natwar written by the undersigned for deciding the issue).

Please do not use “civil society” as an excuse for your omissions and commissions. We have no vested interest except that what belongs to the people should go to the people and that innocents, whether the security forces or the people forced to join the Maoist, should not die for corporate profits.

We are not powerful to tie the State governments with legal cases on police excesses. Those trying to uphold human right violations do so at considerable risk to their life and liberty and deserve our respect and not condemnation as misguided romantics.

On a personal note, Sir, will you resign and argue my PIL before the high court involving Rs 3,00,000 crore of iron ore being gifted by the State to Posco and Arcelor-Mittal (as Nani Palkhivala did to argue the Minerva Mill case) . It will be difficult to lose the case because law, facts and most important you will be on the same side.

If you agree to do so, Sir, I am sure He will give you far more credit than He would for the extra six months that you missed out as Finance Minister!

In case you are interested I will send you a copy of the petition.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

For far too long you have been shifting the blame on “civil society”. We too need answers.

With warm regards

A.K. Agrawal, Bangalore

***

Also read: ‘Either you are with us or you are with them?’

One question I’m dying to ask P. Chidambaram

CHURUMURI POLL: Will the State beat Naxals?

Arundhati Roy: ‘What Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Congress’

How China changed the politics of Karnataka

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Reddy brothers quit?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Mittal Steel get the land?

The media, the message, and the messengers

8 April 2010

The Booker Prize winning author Arundhati Roy‘s 31-page, 19,556-word essay “Walking with the comrades” in Outlook magazine*, has produced a fast and succinct response from the journalistic Twitterati after Tuesday’s dastardly ambush of 76 CRPF jawans by said comrades in the jungles of Dantewada.

From top, NDTV English group editor Barkha Dutt, Pioneer senior editor Kanchan Gupta, Indian Express columnist Tavleen Singh, former Stardust editor Shobhaa De, and London based freelance writer, Salil Tripathi.  Tripathi also has a finely argued critique of Roy’s piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, the adman turned magazine editor turned columnist Anil Thakraney offers this take on his Facebook status update.

* Disclosures apply

Screenshots: courtesy Twitter

Check out more Twitter comments on the Arundhati Roy essay here

***

Also read: ARUNDHATI ROY: India is not a democracy

ARUNDHATI ROY: Election is not democracy

CHURUMURI POLL: Sonia, smarter than Indira?

14 March 2010

The passing of the women’s reservation bill by the Rajya Sabha last week is the beginning of its journey to become law, not the end. It still has to be passed by the Lok Sabha and be ratified by the majority of the assemblies before it becomes an Act. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the journey has begun, never mind the route and time it will take.

UPA chairman and Congress president Sonia Gandhi has justly cornered much of the credit for pushing the landmark bill through despite opposition from within her own party and across the aisle, although its impact on the Manmohan Singh government will only be known in the days and weeks to come—and although Sonia wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without support from the BJP and the Left parties.

The media has variously interpreted Sonia’s role in piloting the bill. One TV channel saw it as the emergence of a “firmer” Sonia, in the wake of recent reports that she was stepping back. A weekly newsmagazine asks the question whether Sonia is turning out to be smarter than her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi.

The reasoning is: the foreign-born Sonia has managed to resurrect a crumbling century-old party, put it back in power (twice), silently answered her critics, gracefully declined office, put a “professional” to run the country, been less pushy about her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, and above all pushed pathbreaking social legislation like the national rural guarantee scheme, right to information, right to education, and now the bill.

All this, presumably, being in contrast to Indira, who was at the centre of a party split, imposed the Emergency (with censorship), unleashed her son Sanjay Gandhi, mouthed cliches like garibi hatao, silently cultivated fundamentalist forces like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and then launched Operation Bluestar.

In other words, outside of the triumph in the Bangladesh War, Indira Gandhi is seen as a largely negative influence, although some opinion polls find her to be the best PM India has had. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi, although not occupying the high office (therefore enjoying power without responsibility) is likely to be seen by posterity much more kindly than her mother-in-law.

Question: Is Sonia Gandhi turning out to be smarter than Indira Gandhi?

Why ‘Venky’ Ramakrishnan took off his beard

5 January 2010

The 2009 chemistry Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan in an interview with Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta for NDTV’s Walk the Talk programme, :

“For long I used to sport a thick, full beard because I was too lazy to shave. At airport security, they used to “randomly” pick me up for screening each time without fail.

“My friend and scientist John Kurien, also of Indian origin, said it was because of my beard. I refused to believe him. He said, ‘You are a scientist, go ahead and check it out yourself.’ ‘So I experimented and took it off and I haven’t been “randomly” screened since.”

Photograph: Venkatraman Ramakrishnan delivering the centenary lecture at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore on Tuesday (Karnataka Photo News)

Because, like Elvis, they only show him waist up

24 September 2009

DSC01525

True, the Congress is in the midst of a Bogus Austerity Drama (BAD), but do its spokesmen have to drop their pants to make it seem real?! On a hot summer evening, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the party’s “Minister of State for Satellite TV”, does a “live” interview with a television channel from his residence in Delhi in kurta and shorts.

Obviously, since television doesn’t show the bottom-half of talking heads, it doesn’t matter. But how might Singhvi, a jovial Supreme Court lawyer man who loves splitting hairs even while having, say, a haircut, explain this wardrobe malfunction to Barkha Dutt tonight in his trademark pointwise summation?

“Barkha, three quick points: a) The mere fact that I am in my kurta-cheddi doesn’t mean I have been directed by the party to make a public display of my commitment to the austerity measures. b) Even if I have, merely because you can see my legs, you cannot conclude that these are the only austerity measures I am practising. There may be more, there may be less. c) And may I remind my learned colleague, since when did it become illegal to wear nothing below the waist, when the father of the nation wore nothing above?

“And, Barkha, Barkha, one last point, Barkha, regardless of whether I am in a kurta-pyjama or kurta-cheddi, surely it’s an invasion of an individual’s right to privacy for such pictures shot at the front porch of a private citizen’s private residence to be put out in the public sphere? Sure, Article 19(1) (a) as by law established guarantees freedom of speech and expression and we respect that, but let’s not forget it comes with reasonable restrictions insofaras public order, decency or morality is concerned….”

Also read: Are you being served, Mr Foreign Correspondent?

The Top-10 austerity moves India really wants to hear

Is that tap water the austere madam is drinking?

Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

For the BJP, is the pen mightier than the trishul?

13 September 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Four months after the “nasty jolt” in the 2009 general election (RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat‘s description of the debacle), the BJP continues to be in a flap over the role of “friendly journalists” in its defeat—and after.

Twice the party’s resident intellectual “for all matters requiring an IQ of 60″, Arun Shourie has trained his guns at the “Gang of Six”, once at the party’s national executive meeting and then in his NDTV interview with Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta .

On top of that, the “accused” journalists have been at each other throats unabashedly.

Now, the BJP’s official party mouthpiece Kamal Sandesh, edited by Prabhat Jha, a former journalist, has weighed in on “‘friendly journalists’, who cannot remain ‘insider’ for too long”, adding that the access and respect the journalists enjoy with senior leaders of the party causes envy among party workers.

An editorial in the journal makes the following points, according to The Pioneer, the Delhi daily edited and owned by Chandan Mitra, a Rajya Sabha member nominated by the BJP:

“There are journalists who wish that BJP should run as per their whims. Any person — journalist included — has a right to offer advice and opinion but how can it be that a political party should follow, without exception, the diktats of some journalists. If that doesn’t happen, the political organisation turns bad in their considered opinion….

“A scenario in which journalists should turn a tool in the hands of an individual politician does not augur well for either of the two. Our effort should be to create a healthy balance in which neither the journalist is a weapon in the hands of a politician nor should the latter have to act as a shield for journalists….

“It is true that it is their duty to report but the questions remains: how, when and where. This is a matter that these wielders of the pen should ponder over. They have to ensure that in the process of the performance this onerous duty to present the ideology to the nation, mutual confidence, faith and respect does not fall a casualty.

“We do understand that journalism cannot be a synonym for bosom friendship between a journalist and a politician. Yet, we have to stand firm at our respective post of duty.”

Read the full article: BJP laments stab by ‘insider journalists’

Also read: Who are the journalists running, ruining BJP?

Don’t laugh: do journalists make good politicians?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

How come no one saw the worm turn?

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

Advani: Prime minister maybe, but not a good sub


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