Posts Tagged ‘The Wall Street Journal’

50% can’t read, 75% can’t be hired, 100% bull

9 April 2011

Every third lie is a statistic, and the provisional figures of the 2011 census brings home the truth. In the decadal account book, literacy is up by 9.21% in India that is Bharat over the previous ten years, to stand at 74.04%. Time to bring out the sherbet?

Not quite, writes Geeta Anand in The Wall Street Journal:

“India projects an image of a nation churning out hundreds of thousands of students every year who are well educated, a looming threat to the better-paid middle-class workers of the West…. But as India liberalized its economy starting in 1991 after decades of socialism, it failed to reform its heavily regulated education system.

“Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension. Government keeps tuition low, which makes schools accessible to more students, but also keeps teacher salaries and budgets low. What’s more, say educators and business leaders, the curriculum in most places is outdated and disconnected from the real world.

“Muddying the picture is that on the surface, India appears to have met the demand for more educated workers with a quantum leap in graduates. Engineering colleges in India now have seats for 1.5 million students, nearly four times the 390,000 available in 2000, according to the National Association of Software and Services Companies, a trade group.

“But 75% of technical graduates and more than 85% of general graduates are unemployable by India’s high-growth global industries, including information technology and call centers, according to results from assessment tests administered by the group.

“Another survey, conducted annually by Pratham, a nongovernmental organization that aims to improve education for the poor, looked at grade-school performance at 13,000 schools across India. It found that about half of the country’s fifth graders can’t read at a second-grade level.

“At stake is India’s ability to sustain growth—its economy is projected to expand 9% this year—while maintaining its advantages as a low-cost place to do business.”

Read the full article: India graduates millions, but too few are fit to hire

Also read: Yella not OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning

Don’t gift them fish. Teach them how to fish

Can Azim Premji do what the government can’t/ won’t?

Do our netas, parties really care about education?

When will our kids start questioning? Don’t ask

11 reasons Right to Education is not what it seems

Why we mustn’t ban the book on the Mahatma

31 March 2011

TRIDIP SUHRUD writes from Ahmedabad: The debate surrounding Joseph Lelyveld’s biography of Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi’s Struggle With India, is a sad reflection on the nature of public discourse.

None of the commentators in this country claim to have read the book (which is yet to be published in India).

The entire controversy is based on one review by Andrew Roberts in The Wall Street Journal in which the reviewer drew his own inference that the author of the Great Soul had described Gandhi as a ‘racist’ and a ‘bi-sexual’.

***

As one of those who have in fact read the book, I would like to place on record that Lelyveld at no place in the book has described Gandhi as a racist.

In fact, as one of the foremost authorities on apartheid and racial discrimination, Lelyveld has shown the cultural distance that Gandhi traversed in a short span of only four months in his understanding of the ‘native question’ in colonial South Africa.

The book records with empathy and understanding Gandhi’s role in the Zulu rebellion and public advocacy on behalf of all people of colour.

***

Gandhi’s correspondence with Hermann Kallenbach has for decades been part of the public domain, ever since the government of India acquired these in an auction in South Africa.

These letters are housed at the national archives of India and were published as volume 96 of the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG), a project of the publications division of government of India.

The editors of CWMG in their preface to the volume write that the acquisition and publication of these letters have brought home “ whole invaluable new world of Gandhiji hitherto not glimpsed by historiographers.”

They further state:

“Running through the letters to Kallenbach is the Gandhi-Kasturba story, told with complete openness, sometimes with love, sometimes with wounded pride, and yet at other times in sheer desperation.”

Kallenbach, according to the editors of CWMG, viewed Gandhi as “a friend, and companion, mother and mentor”. They also mention the secret pact between the two to address each other as “Upper House” and “Lower House.”

They state that with Kallenbach, Gandhi shared a “rare intimacy.”

We should also be reminded that a historian and a biographer of Gandhi is hampered as only a part of the archive is available to us. Gandhi destroyed most of the letters that Kallenbach wrote to him, hence we have only half a story.

Lelyveld relies on these letters to write the story of the Gandhi-Kallenbach relationship, which he does with sensitivity. His is not the voice of salacious gossip, in fact he warns against any such reading. He also is at pains to point out that we as a culture might have lost the ability to comprehend rare intimacy between men, which is not of the sexual kind.

***

As we seek to ban the book on the ground that it constitutes insult to the Father of the Nation, we should remember that the book itself makes no statements of the kind which are attributed to it. But, that cannot be the sole ground on which the decision to ban or not ban a book rests.

No civilised, democratic society can ban a book, however blasphemous or salacious. The only response to a book can be a book, a counter-argument.

We should also remind ourselves that for Gandhi and his associates his experiments on brahmacharya were not part of their secret lives.

Brahmacharya (conduct that leads one to Truth) was for Gandhi an experiment with truth and Swaraj. As an experiment in truth it was incumbent upon Gandhi the Sadhak, to place in the public domain his striving to attain perfect Brahmacharya.

This openness of Gandhi allowed a Nirmal Kumar Bose to provide ‘thick description’ of Gandhi’s brahmacharya experiments during the moving march of Noakhali.

Sudhir Kakkar and Bhikhu Parekh have also tried to understand and explain Gandhi’s sexuality and his experiments with brahamcharya; the former providing a psychoanalytic frame and the later seeking to draw our attention to the relationship between spiritual potency and political power.

I make a plea to lift the ban on the book and allow for a discussion on the book with equanimity.

Also read: ‘Bisexual’ Gandhi, bachelor Modi & ‘author’ Moily

You can stand up for Tom Hanks, not Aamir Khan?

Philip Pullman: The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ

‘Bisexual’ Gandhi, bachelor Modi & ‘author’ Moily

31 March 2011

VINUTHA MALLYA writes from Ahmedabad: The ban masters are back in business. And as usual, vibrant Gujarat leads the way, but this time the Centre is not too far behind.

Narendra Damodardas Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat and renowned terminator of artistic freedom, has just announced the State’s “ban” on the book, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India by Pulitzer-winner and former New York Times journalist, Joseph Lelyveld.

The book’s sin: to have elicited reviews that hinted at the Mahatma’s bisexuality, despite the author’s denial of it.

Modi won the dash to the ban on Wednesday after Union law minister (and alleged author), M. Veerappa Moily, had announced in Poona earlier in the day that the Centre too was considering proscribing the book.

As the man in charge Gandhi’s homestate, “hands-on” Modi obviously couldn’t let somebody else be seen to be protecting its asmita before him. (For the record, the Congress government in Shiv Sena land, Maharashtra, too has announced a ban.)

None of the crusaders of Gandhi’s reputation have thought it worthy to read the book before publicly denouncing its content and conclusions:

“We have to think how to prevent such writings. They denigrate not only a national leader but also the nation,” said Moily.

Anyone remember Article 19? Anyone remember that Moily is both a lawyer and an author.

Modi, an old hand at ban baaja, has used this strategy in the past to his advantage: Jaswant Singh’s book on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and his support in the unofficial banning of the films, Parzania and Fanaa, to name just two. While in the three instances, the issue was of inconvenient truths, in this case, he is angered that:

“The apostle of truth, peace and non-violence has been represented in a perverted manner”.

Look who’s talking about the apostle of truth, peace and non-violence, when Gandhi’s own great grandsons—Gopalakrishna Gandhi and Rajmohan Gandhi—and great grandson Tushar Gandhi have no problem!

Appropriating Gandhi is as fashionable as “denigrating” him, it seems.

***

More than the politicians pavlovian response to a book they haven’t seen, read or understood, it is the Indian media’s faithful participation in the process leading upto the ban that is the most disturbing. It is action replay of the ban on Salman Rushdie‘s Satanic Verses in 1989 based on a review of the book in India Today.

The question the Indian media need to ask themselves today is: Are reviews in Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph or The Wall Street Journal the last word on books or on Gandhi? Should we not read and make up our own mind as a mature democracy? At the very least, should we not expect the proscribers to know what they are talking about?

Gujarat’s (and Maharashtra’s) ban on the Gandhi book comes despite Lelyveld ‘s clarification that he had not said anything about Gandhi’s bi-sexuality, and that had he not claimed in his book that Gandhi was a racist.

So, what gives?

In Pratibha Nandakumar’s story of reactions from Bangaloreans in the Bangalore Mirror titled ‘Fashionable to slander Gandhi’, she states without provocation: “If this was a strategic publicity campaign, his agent gets full credit. Everybody wants to get a copy.”

At this rate, we just might not.

Lelyveld is no lightweight, fly-by-night author trying to rack up some sales by creating some buzz. He is a two-time executive editor of the New York Times whose previous tome was on apartheid in South Africa.

Yet, he finds his book banned despite his clarification to the Times of India in a story it ran on 29 March 2011.

In the ToI report, Ahmedabad-based Gandhian scholar Tridip Suhrud was reported not only to have interacted with Lelyveld when he was researching the book but also as having read it:

“He (Suhrud)  is aghast with the reviews and swears by Lelyveld…. Suhrud goes on to give full marks to Lelyveld and the book. He says it is the first political biography of Gandhi by an expert on apartheid,” says the ToI report.

This did not stop the world’s most-selling English daily’s city supplement, Ahmedabad Times, from posting two pages of “reactions” from “celebrities” on 30 March. Not one of them had read the book, and of the 19 celebrities interviewed only three were aware that the author had denied having made any of the claims that were doing the rounds in the UK and US media.

The others reacted variously to what they had read in the media, that it was wrong (of the author) to talk of Gandhi in this way. A sketchy paragraph that did not clarify the issue introduced this photo feature. The paper did not make it clear to the reader that the author had denied having called Gandhi a bisexual or racist.

Nor did it differentiate between the book and the reviews, making them both sound synonymous.

One wonders if the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) had access to the book when it quoted passages in the story it ran on 28 March, or if it simply borrowed the passages from what was floating around online.

On 30 March, in a comment appearing on Hindustan Times online, the writer reproduces a quote by Suhrud that appears in the book (“They were like a couple”) by dropping a key word (“They were a couple”), completely misrepresenting Suhrud in the process. Such is the rush of the press.

In an interview to The Indian Express on 29 March, Lelyveld told journalist Mandakini Gahlot:

“The reason Western media reports are highlighting the ‘bisexual and racist’ aspect is ‘because of the atmosphere we live in where anything is plucked off and reported everywhere as news. The news aggregators are full of it this morning. There is no real reporting, people have not even read the book.”

The God is in the details though.

Whether or not the author questioned Gandhi’s sexuality, Indians have always been uncomfortable with Gandhi’s own honesty.

At a seminar on Gandhi, which was organised by the women’s studies department of NMKRV College in Bangalore in the late 1990s, two young students were at the receiving end of Gandhians’ ire. Their offence was to publicly discuss, from a feminist perspective, his nocturnal experiments with the teenaged nieces.

When they wondered aloud, just as any young woman would (should?), if he had considered the impact of his experiment on the young 17-year-old’s mind, many members in the audience stormed out of the auditorium.

No debate, no discussion.

The latest ban is proof that nothing has changed, only the players have.

Photograph: Mahatma Gandhi (left) with the jewish bodybuilder Hermann Kallenbach (right), with whom he is alleged to have shared a relationship even while being happily married.

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

21 July 2010

Sadanand Dhume in The Wall Street Journal:

“The Gandhis are probably the most opaque major politicians in the democratic world. They rarely speak to the media, and when they do it’s not to critics.

“Their views on the pace of economic liberalisation, the nature of the Maoist threat, or the roots of Islamist terrorism must be gleaned from a scrap of information here or a stray rumor there, say a book on counterinsurgency recommended by Rahul Gandhi to the prime minister, or his mother’s packing an influential advisory council with assorted tax-and-spend do-gooders.

“Most Indians haven’t the faintest idea about whether the Gandhis see the rise of China as more of a threat or an opportunity. Or whether they think American influence in Asia is in India’s interest or not. Or if, for them, the trouble with India’s economy is too much capitalism or too little reform.

“For the family, this opacity clearly has benefits. It keeps them above the fray of petty politics. It allows them to exercise power without responsibility. It gives them the flexibility to change political course on a dime. But smart politics doesn’t always generate good policy. Fostering a culture of opacity and public second-guessing about sensitive policy matters is no way to lead a major economy and an aspirant for great power status.”

Also read: Jesus, Mozart, Alexander aur apun ka Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi‘s ascension: A foregone conclusion?

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

Only one question anybody should ask Rahul Gandhi

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

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

‘The Lone Ranger of Loony Hindutva’ versus…?

1 March 2010

A somewhat tenuous peace has been achieved in the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party after the “nasty jolt” it received in the May 2009 general elections. But a detente eludes journalists aligned with the BJP, who are still losing sweat over Babri masjid, Narendra Modi and garlands of gajar, tamatar and baingan adorning the new BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari.

This, above, is the public exchange of words between the columnist Swapan Dasgupta and the Pioneer associate editor Kanchan Gupta on the microbloging site Twitter.

The provocation? Dasgupta’s piece in the Wall Street Journal on reinvigorating the BJP.

Also read: For the BJP, is the pen mightier than the trishul?

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

‘Indian media holding Indian democracy ransom’

7 May 2009

The Wall Street Journal‘s bureau chief in India, Paul Beckett, has a major piece on the rampant corruption in the media in the election coverage, with advertising masquerading as news for a fee, and  neither readers nor voters being told about the transaction.

Brokers, he writes, are offering package deals for coverage in newspapers, for front-page pictures, for interviews, for printing press releases verbatim, etc.

Thankfully, Beckett reassures us that “the best-known English-language dailies typically don’t do it so blatantly”.

Beckett quotes the former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami as saying that he had heard of newspapers having a rate card for positive coverage and another for not negative coverage, and that this is not something that can be ignored.

“The nation’s newspapers usually play either vigilante cop exposing wrongdoing in the public interest (on a good day, at a few publications) or spineless patsy killing stories on the orders of powerful advertisers. Many papers also engage in practices that cross the ethical line between advertising and editorial in a way that is opaque, if not downright obscure, to readers.

“But it is of another order of magnitude to see reporters, editors and newspaper owners holding the democratic process to ransom. A free (in every sense) press is an integral part of a vibrant democracy. A corrupt press is both symptom and perpetrator of a rotten democracy.”

Read the full article: Want press coverage? Give me some money

Also read: Forget the news, you can’t trust the ads either

Sucheta Dalal on selling news and buying silence

The scoreline: different strokes for different folks

Salil Tripathi: The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility

In prosperous Gujarat, everybody can buy media


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