Posts Tagged ‘UPA’

Did R-Day Tipu tableau insult Kodavas & Jains?

28 January 2014

Photo Caption

ARUN PADKI writes: 65 years after to the day when the Constitution of India was adopted paving the way for the birth of Republic of India, has the government of Karnataka undermined the spirit of our democracy by displaying a tableau of Tipu Sultan?

Knowing very well that the antecedents of Tipu are hazy and not one that could be showcased as a symbol of the State or Karnataka’s pride, the government of Karnataka’s decision to make him the theme of its tableau at this year’s Republic Day parade is not in good taste.

The fact that this tableau was chosen over Kodagu-the land of warriors tableau is only rubbing salt over their wounds.

The contribution of Kodavas to this country is immense and on this community Tipu committed atrocities unimaginable that befits a king. Only a warlord or one with extreme perversion and hatred could do these heinous acts of murder, maiming and forceful conversion.

The other people who suffered similar atrocities during Tipu’s regime were the people from Coastal Karnataka, mainly Catholics and the people of Malabar who were forced to flee to a friendlier King, the Raja of Travancore and the rest staying back, after accepting a religion forced onto them.

The government could have chosen from and done justice to the citizens of the state and country by showing Karnataka in true spirit: The splendour of Mysore Dasara in the 18th century or the Saavira Kambada Basadi (thousand-pillared temple), a Jain temple that is spell binding.

Since Dasara has its own platform to exhibit’s the splendour, this can be given a miss.  As a true Mysorean, even I would not complain since we are a State with lots of diversity. One State, many worlds…indeed!

For centuries Jains in Karnataka have given more to the society than one can imagine.  If the monuments they have built, their generosity and the benign leaders of the past are one aspect, the education institutions of today and the charity work they are doing in today’s world is another.

They do not ask for favours from Government unlike others although the the UPA government has conferred them the title of ‘minority’ in an election year.

Tipu’s contribution to culture, literature, Kannada language and more importantly secularism is always questioned.  Kannada was replaced with Farsi language.  As far as making him a freedom fighter is concerned, biased historians have compromised on his correspondences with the French to overthrow the British.

The Government of Karnataka has played dirty politics by displaying a tableau of Tipu with the elections in mind.  It is for the people who are the target of appeasement here to understand the facts of about Tipu and not get swayed by these short term gimmicks.  Mutual respect and equality is important than being appeased or tolerated.

And today, Kodavas and Jains, being small communities, have become inconsequential to the politicians as they are not a vote bank.

Also read: Oldest book in President’s house is on Tipu Sultan

Should a University be named after Tipu Sultan?

CHURUMURI POLL: Tipu Sultan vs Kempe Gowda?

‘Most Hindus and most Muslims are communal’

Did the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ really tame a tiger?

Tipu Sultan and the truth about 3,000 Brahmins

Tipu Sultan left his last meal unfinished’

OPINION POLL: Should opinion polls be banned?

4 November 2013

Vinaasha kaale vipareetha budhdhi,” is a saying which captures the mood of the Congress-led UPA government very well. As it swerves into the final lap of its second term in office, as bad news swirls all around it, as the foreboding gets grimmer with each passing day, the 128-year-old party has turned its eyes, well, on opinion polls.

In a communication to the election commission, a party functionary writes:

“Opinion polls during election are neither scientific nor is there any transparent process for such polls… our party fully endorses the views of the Election Commission of India to restrict publication and dissemination of opinion polls during the election.”

Random surveys “lack credibility”, and could be “manipulated and manoeuvred” by persons with “vested interest”, is the Congress’ conclusion, which is broadly in line with attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati‘s legal opinion to the law ministry in which he said a ban on opinion polls would be “constitutionally permissible”.

For a government which has consistently trained its guns on free speech, the latest move is par for the course.

There is no question that many opinion polls are dubious exercises undertaken by fraudulent agencies with little no field presence; sponsors, sample sizes, date of polling, margins of error (all pre-requirements in reporting a poll) are opaque. There is also no doubt that many cash-strapped media houses are happily carrying polls with an eye on the future.

Still, is a ban the only solution? Would the Congress and UPA be in favour of a ban on polls if the Congress was doing well in them? Do polls really influence voters, who chose just the opposite of what opinion polls advised them in 2004 and 2009? Whether dubious or not, does a ban on polls restrict the media’s fundamental freedoms?

Above all, wouldn’t Indian democracy be healthier if a voter is exposed to what his co-citizens are thinking in other parts of the country, rather than being denied access to it?

Is ‘Modi Media’ partisan against Rahul Gandhi?

11 October 2013

In a cash-strapped election season which has seen “corporate interest and media ownership” converge, it is arguable if Narendra Modi is getting a free run. Every whisper of the Gujarat chief minister and BJP “prime ministerial aspirant” is turned into a mighty roar, sans scrutiny, as the idiot box ends up being a soapbox of shrill rhetoric.

In marked contrast, there is only grudging media adulation for the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi even on the odd occasion he does something right, like two Fridays ago, when he barged into a Press Club of India event to stymie an ordinance passed by the Congress-led UPA government, intended at shielding criminal Members of Parliament.

What’s up, asks Malvika Singh in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“The press and the Opposition leaders began to pontificate on the language used by Rahul Gandhi. They spent hours damning the use of the word ‘nonsense’, which only meant that something makes no sense.

“They were clutching on to whatever they could find to ensure they gave no credit for Rahul Gandhi. The bias was crystal clear and gave the game away.

“Why is the press distorting the simple truth? Is it because the press would have to doff its hat to Rahul Gandhi, about whom it has been rude and sarcastic? Why is the press being partisan? Why the double standards?”

Read the full column: Put an end to chatter

Photograph: courtesy Press Brief

Also read: How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18’s multimedia Modi feat, a promo’

POLL: Should FDI cap in media be enhanced?

22 July 2013

With the economic downturn threatening to turn into a full-blown recession and with the finance minister reduced to going around the world with a hat in hand, the Congress-led UPA government last week increased foreign direct investment (FDI) in telecom, defence, petroleum refining, etc, but…

But, not the media.

On the issue of enhancing FDI in media from 26% to 49% under the automatic route as proposed by a finance ministry panel, two separate ministries swung into action. First, the ministry of information and broadcasting sought the views of the telecom regulatory authority (TRAI) and the press council (PCI).

And then, the home ministry opposed the hike, favouring control of media houses by Indians. The Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted official sources as saying:

# “Opening up of current affairs TV channels, newspapers and periodicals dealing with news and current affairs may lead to meddling in India’s domestic affairs and politics.

# “Increase of FDI in broadcasting and print media may also allow foreign players to launch propaganda campaign during any national crisis as well as when interests of any particular country is harmed through any government decision.

# “Big foreign media players with vested interests may try to fuel fire during internal or external disturbances and also can encourage political instability in the country through their publications or broadcasting outlets.”

These reasons have been touted for 22 years now and will surprise nobody. Last week, The Hindu (which was initially at the forefront of the opposition to FDI hikes in media) reported that the industry was divided on the FDI issue:

“While certain big networks like Times Television Network, Network 18 and NDTV are broadly supportive, others like India TV, Sun, Eenadu and Malayala Manorama group have objected to an increase in FDI caps.”

The Centre’s decision to not go-ahead with FDI in media in an election year will not surprise anybody. After all, it wouldn’t want to rub promoters and proprietors on the wrong side, especially when powerful corporates (potential election donors) have substantial stakes in the media.

Still, the question remains whether the media can be given this preferential treatment and, if so, for how long? Will the home ministry’s fears ever vanish? Or, will the media which talks of competition and choice as the great leveller in every sphere of life, seek the protection of politicians in power to protect its turf?

Also read: India opens another door for FDI in papers, mags

Everybody loves a good FDI announcement

Why Food Security Bill makes parties insecure

15 July 2013

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The Centre’s food security ordinance passed hurriedly recently, and the Karnataka government’s Anna Bhagya scheme launched last week, have, in their own ways, provoked a fierce political reaction that is beyond bizarre.

While non-Congress governments and parties are understandably apprehensive that the Congress-led UPA might be rolling out a “game-changer” ahead of the elections, others see in the Centre’s move, an attempt to infringe upon state’s powers.

Other critics see trademark signs of profligacy at a time when the fiscal deficit is soaring although many of them seemingly have no problem if rich corporates and business houses get way-bigger incentives and write-offs.

As Melwyn Pinto writes at The Hoot:

Any populist measures of the government, especially those benefitting the poor, are looked at suspiciously by a section of the media. It does not matter if poor people rightly deserve such benefits from schemes as they have only the government to come to their aid. However, why should any help done to the distressed be seen only as a means to win elections? Isn’t it the government’s moral responsibility to side with the poor and work for their welfare?

Be that as it may, lost in the back and forth is the moral argument. The fact is there are millions of Indians going hungry. The fact is millions of tonnes of food grains go waste. And the fact is, regardless of what it costs, no civilised country can shut its eye to either.

As this picture of women queueing up to pick up their allocation of 30 kilos of rice at one rupee a kilo, at a fair price shop in the supposedly prosperous, post-liberalised “IT” city of Bangalore—in J.P. Nagar 2nd stage no less—demonstrates, parties and governments have much to be afraid of if the hunger pangs of large numbers of people who vote with their feet are suddenly sated.

CHURUMURI POLL: Will reforms result in UPA-III?

26 September 2012

A week is a long time in politics; ten days is an eternity. Ten days ago, the Congress-led UPA government was weighed down by the scams and scandals that have enveloped it since its return to power in 2009.  The economy was down, the fiscal deficit was up, the ratings were near-junk, the writing was on the wall.

It was deja vu 1991 in circa 2012.

But the partial rationalisation of diesel prices followed by the announcement of foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, aviation and broadcasting (followed by a slew of measures including one rank-one pension for Army wallahs, dearness allowance hike for government employees, etc) have changed the headlines.

Suddenly, the coal scam is off the front pages and nightly news.

Suddenly, the main obstacle to reforms (Mamata Banerjee) is out.

Suddenly, the “underachiever” prime minister is talking.

Suddenly, there is talk of a reshuffle of the Union ministry and Congress party apparatus.

And, on top of all that, the entire opposition from the left to right is united in its opposition to FDI in retail, citing the interests of everybody from the farmer down to the consumer, to dire warnings of economic slavery and colonisation of the mind. Even Narendra Damodardas Modi who has gone around with the FDI bowl in his hand to more countries than most chief ministers is warning of the “foreign hand”.

What last week’s Bharat bandh (in which UPA ally DMK too took part) and today’s BJP suggestion of a rollback of the FDI in retail should it come to power, have done is to willy-nilly paint the Congress as the only “pro-reforms” party in the country ahead of 2014, which is all the more surprising because this was the party which in the last few years had turned subsidies into an entitlement.

Questions: Will the reforms work in reviving the economy and will that in turn convince the electorate to plump for UPA-III? Or, is it just a desperate last-ditch effort by the Congress to revive its chances, one doomed to electoral failure? Will the aam admi see through the xenophobia, or will he let his wallet do the voting?

The New York Times: Reforms do win elections in India

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Pranab be a ‘good’ Prez?

23 July 2012

At the end of a long and distinguished career in politics, Pranab Mukherjee has finally ascended Raisina Hill to become the 13th President of India. Almost to a man, every politician, expert and analyst has doffed his hat to Mukherjee’s political sagacity and stamina, his knowledge of constitutional affairs, and so on.

Yet, there is an element of doubt about what his presidency is going to be.

Since 1984, Mukherjee has carried the accusation that he secretly coveted the prime minister’s post, which is why he earned Rajiv Gandhi‘s distrust, or at least of those close to him, with the result that he had to leave the Congress briefly. Although the Congress and UPA backed him four-square in the presidential campaign, some say he was never really Sonia Gandhi‘s first choice for the post (Hamid Ansari was the other); in fact, Sonia had snubbed an earlier attempt to become deputy PM.

More importantly, ever since he relinquished the finance minister’s post, a number of attempts have been made to tar-brush his record (his retroactive imposition of taxes on Vodafone, etc) and, although he was at the helm when NRIs were allowed to invest in Indian companies in the early 1980s, he is now being loosely called “India’s worst finance minister ever”.

Question: Will Pranab Mukherjee be a copy-book President, going strictly by the Constitution, or given his baggage with the Congress, is he likely to be a bit of an imponderable in 2014, when the time to swear in the next government comes?

CHURUMURI POLL: Abdul Kalam for President?

20 April 2012

It is a reflection of the current state of Indian politics that even as boring an exercise as the presidential election has all the markings of a heart-stopping show, which, to use the sage words of Ravi Shastri in an IPL season, “can go all the way down to the wire”.

The elections are still two months away, but the battlelines are getting drawn between the UPA and NDA, with more than a few aspiring (and perspiring) partypoopers lining up alongside. Result: Hopes of a “consensus” in the “national interest” are quickly getting “elusive”.

The Congress-led UPA, whose electoral victories are few and far between, obviously wants its candidate (vice-president Hamid Ansari, according to the prevailing wisdom) to get in, especially with general elections due in 2014. Ansari is suave, erudite, secular, has friends on both sides of the political fence, and oozes plenty of presidential air.

The problem is his conduct as chairman of the Rajya Sabha in the Lok Pal debate—when he called of the session without giving time for a vote—which seems to have rubbed the BJP on the wrong side.

Worse, as a “left wing intellectual” Ansari is anathema to the current diva of Indian politics, Mamata Banerjee, who is part of the UPA. She, it appears, is talking with Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajawadi Party and exploring the possibility of propping up former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam once again. Mulayam it was who had first suggested Kalam’s name in 2002.

Kalam’s name did the rounds at the end of his first term in 2007, but when the parties couldn’t reach a consensus, he dropped out. “Kalam Iyer” has given no indication that he is interested in a fresh tenure but by floating his name at this juncture, regional parties like Trinamool are giving every indication of a faceoff between a Tamil Muslim and a UP Muslim.

Questions: Will Kalam agree to enter the presidential race again? Should he? Does he stand a chance when the numbers are loaded against the Opposition? Could he end up becoming a pawn in the hands of small parties? Or, should the UPA consider him as the “consensus” candidate this time round given his role in defusing the Koodankulam anti-nuclear protests?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will BJP win Karnataka again?

11 February 2012

As if to show that India’s two biggest political parties are cut from the same tainted cloth, the Congress-led government at the Centre and the BJP  government in Karnataka have been slipping from scam to scam, crisis to crisis—and making a mockery of the people’s mandate—in a regular and nearly identical manner.

While the Manmohan Singh government’s scandal-marred second tenure, pockmarked with a brazen assault on free speech, is now part of political lore, the B.S. Yediyurappa-led (and now D.V. Sadananda Gowda led)  regime in the State has fared far worse with more than a dozen ministers under scrutiny for financial (and sexual) corruption.

The communal undertones of one regime is matched by the casteist undertones of the other. Both regimes survive from court order to court order. And both seem convinced that the wise voter is actually a silly fool, who doesn’t read, hear or watch the news; and that she will forgive and forget the excesses if she is thrown a few crumbs and a saree.

But there is one key difference. The BJP government’s conduct and governance in Karnataka makes nonsense of the party’s  sanctimonious posturing and fingerwagging about the Congress. Its always-vacuous claim of being a party with a difference, guided by high morals, is now a pathetic joke that cannot even be uttered in the presence of children.

The Congress’s big test will come in the UP and other state elections. But here’s the other question: will the BJP come to power in Karnataka if there is a snap election tomorrow? Or, like with the faction-ridden, leaderless BJP at the Centre, is the faction-ridden, leaderless Karnataka Congress in no position to exploit the pitiable state the BJP finds itself in?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

2 February 2012

In its second term in office, the UPA government of Manmohan Singh has been dealt several body blows that could have completely ennervated and incapacitated a lesser man. Scam after scam, scandal after scandal has hit the Congress-led UPA regime, but like in a C-grade Bollywood film, the protagonists have found the energy to wake up from every thundering blow administered by the courts and the constitutional bodies like the CAG, dust off the rubble and prepare to fight another day.

But could 2 February 2012 be slightly different?

In responding to pleas by Subramanian Swamy and Prashant Bhushan—cancelling 122 licences issued by the now disgraced telecom minister A. Raja; allowing the CVC to look at the functioning of the CBI and in giving a free hand to a lower trial court to adjudicate if home minister P. Chidambaram too should be made a party to the crime—the Supreme Court of India has virtually validated the Rs 173,000 crore 2G scam that had been described as a “zero-loss” scam by a fatcat lawyer in minister’s clothing.

And it indirectly validates the Anna Hazare campaign that has been floundering and looking for oxygen.

With the Uttar Pradesh elections around the corner, the SC verdict pulls the rug from under the feet of the Congress which has been going to town over Mayawati‘s corruption, even raiding her closest supporters. It also puts a big question mark over the future of the Manmohan Singh government, pending a judgment in the Chidambaram matter. With the budget session of Parliament looming and presidential elections around the corner, it also throws up interesting improbables.

Questions: Will the Manmohan Singh government survive? Or is it all over bar the counting? Or should the prime minister resign to protect what little credibility there is left to his once-clean image?

Also read: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still ‘Mr Clean’—II?

Has the middle-class deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still ‘Mr Clean’—I?

Can the paragon of virtue hear his conscience?

What if Steve Jobs were prime minister of India?

6 October 2011

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from San Francisco: India was a key detour in the earthly journey of Steve Jobs. He came to Benares in the early 1970s looking for what most hippies did back then: nirvana.

When he asked Kairolie Baba, a sadhu, on how to attain it, apparently all he got in return was a clean shave of his head on a hilltop.

From that experience, we can conjecture that Jobs probably learnt to always keep aiming higher, give people something they never knew they wanted, and to keep it all sufficiently mystical and secretive (and pricey).

Thus suitably enlightened, “Swami Steveananda” returned home to set up Apple Ashram, ushering in what he didn’t get in Benares—nirvana albeit of the digital kind—to millions of cultish disciples by marrying beauty with utility.

In the process, he transmogrified an almost-dead brand into becoming bigger than Google and vying with Exxon Mobil on the stock markets.

Maybe that was the easy part for someone who “lived at the intersection of technology and liberal arts“.

But what if Steve Jobs were in the position of Manmohan Singh?

After all, the Congress is in the shit-hole as Apple found itself in, when Jobs returned for his second stint. A once-good brand fallen in bad times with the younger opponents snapping at its heels, accompanied by diminishing public acceptance and street cred.

So, yes, what would Steve Jobs have done had he been in prime minister Manmohan Singh’s shoes?

1. Show who’s the boss: Steve Jobs was neither a hardware engineer nor a software programmer, nor certainly a manager, yet as its CEO and “technology leader” he was the face and voice of Apple, in good times and bad, and proudly so.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have stood up and be counted, instead of blaming the demands of coalition politics or hinting at a plot to destabilise the polity for his plight. Or running for cover from colleagues (like Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, Digvijay Singh or Mani Shankar Aiyar) constantly shooting him in the foot.

In doing so, Jobs would have cleared the negative perception among the people and within his party over who really runs the government: he, she or he.

2. Launch a killer product: Like a bad Indian restaurant which churns out everything from South Indian to North Indian food, with Chinese, Chaat, Continental and Mughlai thrown in, the Congress tries to do please all, in the process pleasing few or none.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have come up with one killer idea or concept, kept it neat, simple and minimalistic so that the voters would understand, and kept making it better till he perfected it in time for the elections.

And that killer concept can’t be foreign policy. It’s got to be something like iPod and iPhone and iPad: something which the people can see, touch, feel and connect with. A bit like NREGA from UPA-I.

He could even call it “i” something, “i” for Indira that is.

3. Make peace with the enemy: Here’s what they don’t teach you at Oxford and Cambridge (or at World Bank). If you are prime minister of India, there’s no point fighting with the people of India about how to deal with corruption when gigantic godzillas of scams are running amok.

Which is what Singh’s buffoons like Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Manish Tiwari, Renuka Chowdhury et al are doing vis-a-vis the Lok Pal bill nightly on television.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge would have clearly identified the enemy—which is corruption—and made peace with those who would like it vanquished—which is the people—and laid out a road map for Parliament to pass it, without sending the signal that the Congress somehow has a vested interest in protecting the crooked and the corrupt.

4. Talk to us: Whether he had good news to convey or bad, whether he was in great shape or not, Steve Jobs stood up on stage in his trademark black turtle neck pullover and blue jeans to deliver the message.

As Manmohan Singh, Jobs would have capitalised on his honesty and integrity to come clean, to clarify, to tell it like it is, instead of allowing those the people distrust and dislike (see shortlists above) to further tie his government in knots.

As Singh, Jobs would have shown plenty of passion, and made one stunning speech or given a great interview instead of hiding behind the anodyne speeches of his media advisors, delivered deadpan like a post-lunch lecture at Delhi school of economics.

Also read: 3 lessons from the life and times of Steve Jobs

:Amazon kindles a fire in a small Apple harem

It isn’t so easy to woo an iPhone4 user, sister

Adolf Hitler and the rise and fall of iPad

An Apple a day keeps Steve Jobs away from us

What if Microsoft, not Apple, had made iPod

11 similarities betwen Apple and Rajnikant

Is it time for Sonia Gandhi to be prime minister?

3 July 2011

The diagnosis of the UPA’s chronic illness since the 2009 polls has been markedly conventional. Everybody agrees that prime minister Manmohan Singh has messed up big-time, and that there has got to be a change at the top sooner not later, if “young” Rahul Gandhi‘s hopes are not to be dashed.

As for the aspirants, the usual names do the rounds: finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, the senior most leader in the party, whom the family doesn’t trust, home minister P. Chidambaram, whom the party can doesn’t trust, and neither of whom trust each other.

But do either Mukherjee or Chidambaram or anybody else in the party at the moment have in it in them to pull the Congrfess out of the hole and give it a push? In the Bombay newspaper DNA, editor-in-chief Aditya Sinha challenges the conventional wisdom, by suggesting that Sonia Gandhi should disregard her “moral voice” she first heard in 2004 with 2014 in mind:

“Perhaps the only thing left to be done that would undoubtedly shake everyone up and energise the government is for Congress President Sonia Gandhi to take over from Dr Manmohan Singh.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?

“She is, after all, head of the dominant party of the UPA. If any of the allies threaten to walk out, she can walk them straight into jail. Imagine: if she throws Sharad Pawar in jail, she’ll become the Queen of Anti-Corruption (after all, Anna Hazare earned his crusading credentials by opposing Pawar).

“Rahul Gandhi won’t evade ministerial responsibilities for he’ll want to help his mother steer the ship of government through the choppy waters of global recession. Sonia at the helm of government will boost the Congress’s chances in UP. And she can smoothly pass the baton to Rahul in 2014.

“So, Soniaji, we beg you: rid us of this prime minister and instead of replacing him with one of the usual suspects, take matters into your own hands (before Sharad Pawar takes matters into his). After all, you have little to lose, and everything to gain.”

Read the full article: Time for Sonia Gandhi to become PM?

CHURUMURI POLL: India, intolerant to dissent?

7 June 2011

After evicting Baba Ramdev‘s congregation in the dead of night, Delhi police have denied permission to Anna Hazare and gang from holding a protest against that eviction at Jantar Mantar tomorrow. The draconian move raises a simple question: is democratic India becoming a despotic republic?

Ramdev’s protest was nixed after the UPA government, which had wooed him publicly, suddenly discovered that he was a front for the RSS and that the gathering was upto no good. And now, the Congress leader B.K. Hari Prasad has used similar terminology to describe Hazare, that he was a face of the sangh parivar.

Be that as it may, seen in conjunction with the “establishment” reaction to tribal protests against mining companies (Orissa, Dantewada), farmer protests against land acquisition (Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh), Arundhati Roy‘s speech demanding freedom for Kashmir, etc, the question is: are we getting too thin-skinned, and intolerant of criticism?

If this is the government reaction for legitimate demands of the people—a mechanism for an anti-corruption law, the return of money stashed away in foreign banks—what is the reaction likely to be if protests were to break out for the overthrow of the government of the day?

The Hazare gang says it will go ahead with the protest despite the ban, setting the stage for a confrontation.

Are we no better than China in snuffing out dissent? Have Arab countries (Egypt’s Tahrir Square protest went on peacefully for 17 days) been far more mature in handling different shades of protest? And, are we really a “soft” state, or a very hard one in disguise, intent on protecting the old order even at the risk of the image of the country?

CHURUMURI POLL: Assembly polls, UPA or NDA?

10 May 2011

Friday the 13th, of May 2011, is clearly D-day in Indian politics.

The fate of the assembly elections in two States—West Bengal and Kerala—over which the Left parties have lorded over for decades will be known. While Kerala has been a five-yearly, on-off affair, it is Bengal that stands at the cusp. Will the Left step back from the abyss, or tumble over against Mamata Banerjee‘s Trinamul?

In Tamil Nadu, the ground zero of the 2G spectrum allocation scam—home of the DMK, A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, M. Karunanidhi‘s daughter Kanimozhi, and Kalaignar TV and Tamil Meiyyam and other dramatis personae—is facing an onslaught from Jayalalitha Jayaram and the AIADMK.

If the DMK-Congress pulls off a surprise win, and the Left is humbled in Bengal and Kerala, the assembly verdict will be a shot in the arm for the Congress-led UPA, which has been on the backfoot against a relentless torrent of corruption charges.

If the Left loses both States, it also means that the political centre well and truly belongs to the Congress and throws a big question mark over the BJP’s (and NDA’s) ability to capitalise on big issues like corruption.

What do you think is likely to happen? Is it advantage UPA or NDA? Is it a good thing for Indian democracy if the Left is wiped out from the political map? What does it say about the electorate if voters care two hoots for mind-numbing corruption? Or, are we all speaking too early?

(This churumuri poll allows you to post multiple responses)

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan, still ‘Mr Clean’?

17 March 2011

Manmohan Singh‘s unique selling proposition (USP), especially with the urban middle-class, has been his squeaky clean image in the “cesspool of Indian politics”. No scam or scandal or slipup under his watch begins without a mandatory mantra of the “prime minister’s personal integrity being beyond question”.

The artfully constructed scaffolding came unstuck last year with the 2G spectrum allocation and Commonwealth Games (CWG) scams although Congress’ media miesters rushed to certify that the PM had nothing to do with the scandals. Even that weak defence fell with the S-band issue and the nomination of the chief vigilance commissioner.

Now, in a further blow, the latest tranche of cables sent by American diplomats based in India, published by The Hindu, shows the huge pile of muck that lies rotting outside 7, Race Course Road.

“Five days before the Manmohan Singh government faced a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in 2008, a political aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a US embassy employee “two chests containing cash” he said was part of a bigger fund of Rs 50 crore to Rs 60 crore that the party had assembled to purchase the support of MPs. The aide also claimed the four MPs belonging to Ajit Singh‘s Rashtriya Lok Dal had already been paid Rs. 10 crore each to ensure they voted the right way on the floor of the Lok Sabha.”

The cable only confirms what had been public knowledge with the widely televised “cash for votes” scandal.

But read together with the JMM scandal of the early 1990s, when his mentor P.V. Narasimha Rao, bought the votes of MPs of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in a similar deal, it raises a few uncomfortable questions about Manmohan Singh’s “personal integrity”.

Is personal integrity just about physically receiving money, or does it extend to other parameters? Is silence an indication of collusion? Are the Congress and its allies (like NCP and DMK) using the PM’s image to make merry? Or is Manmohan Singh a master of the realpolitik, a pragmatic politician who knows how to balance various countervailing forces while doing his job as best as he can, inshallah?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh—still Mr Clean—I?

External reading: Madhu Kishwar on Manmohan Singh

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: Manmohan, PM till 2014?

6 September 2010

While almost every pundit worth his pixel is writing his political obituary on autopilot, prime minister Manmohan Singh has bravely stuck his neck out and said there is no question of his calling it a day.

“I am not aware of anything that can be called a disconnect between the Congress party and the Government. I can’t say that I will shut up every colleague in my Cabinet,” Singh has said.

Dismissing suggestions that various ministers were openly sniping at each other, Singh has claimed his cabinet was functioning with greater cohesion than even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru‘s and even suggested that he would go in for a cabinet reshuffle/expansion soon to reduce the average age of his cabinet.

The PM’s comments are designed to quell speculation (persistent since day one) that a) he might call it quits midway citing age or health, or b) may be given a quiet signal by the party to make way, or c) he might be sent off to Rashtrapati Bhavan to make the exit look more honourable, or d) fill your own conspiracy theory here.

Question: Will Manmohan Singh last out the full term till 2014 as he thinks he will?

External reading: Could Nandan Nilekani be a wild card?

Is Manmohan Singh near his ‘best-before’ date?

5 September 2010

Is change in the air in New Delhi?

First, everybody and his uncle have been attacking him for the bushfires raging across the nation—Telangana, Kashmir, Maoist terrorism, corruption, price rise, CWG etc. Then, his ministerial and party colleagues seem to think the government should be going in exactly the opposite direction he is taking it.

Now, with the nuclear liability bill out of the way, two commentators say it is time for Sonia Gandhi to step up to the plate and take charge if UPA-II is to not completely wither away. Even as Manmohan Singh prepares to meet editors in a PR exercise after becoming the third-longest serving PM.

Tavleen Singh in The Indian Express:

“The reason why I appeal to her to please take the job (if she thinks Rahul is not ready) is because wherever I go these days I meet people who say they are sick and tired of Dr Manmohan Singh….

“There is no point any longer in pretending that you are just a social worker totally uninterested in power and pelf. Everyone knows that you are the most powerful person in India at the moment and that the second most powerful person is your son and heir. Immense power cannot come without immense responsibility. Ruling from behind the throne worked in the time of kings and absolute rulers. Democracy demands power with accountability and under your government this rule has been broken for too long.”

Soutik Biswas in the BBC:

“The much-hyped diarchy—Sonia Gandhi’s prime ministerial apointee Manmohan Singh runs the government, and she runs the party—doesn’t appear to be delivering the goods. Mr Singh is seen as a hardworking, dour economist-technocrat, while Mrs Gandhi is seen as a somewhat distant, slightly enigmatic figure, who does not spell out her vision on most issues. The problem is neither seem to be interested in taking the initiative….

“Many feel it is time for Ms Gandhi to step out, assert her authority and take responsibility. Right now, the buck does not appear to stop with anybody in the government or the party.”

Also read: In one-horse race, Rahul baba is a two-trick pony

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

After Manmohan who? Chidu, Diggy or Rahul?

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

Jesus, Mozart, Alexander and apun ka Rahul

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

‘Politics is about solving, not evading, problems’

9 August 2010

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express:

“The scandal of Indian politics is not simply that the prime minister is politically weak; it is that those who are politically strong are constantly running away from political responsibility. This is diminishing the ability of the government to do anything imaginative.

“[This government] is also founded on the illusion that politics can be detached from policy. Andhra should have taught the Congress the lesson how quickly it can become vulnerable because of casual political judgments. But exempting Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from serious political responsibility is beginning to extract a toll.

“It is letting the Congress get away with the illusion that the hubris, callousness, even charges of corruption that are now sullying the party will somehow not affect its core image. It is as if in case the Commonwealth Games turn out to be a bit of a financial scandal, it has nothing to do with the party as such. Second, it has created a political culture where Congress politicians always seem stuck in a nether zone: many are smart, have independent ideas, but are simply unable to move. And it has sent a message: the purpose of politics is not solving problems; it is the evasion of responsibility.”

R. Jagannathan in DNA:

“It is a tragedy to see a Gandhi scion hiding behind mamma, shying away from the real challenges of life. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru battled sectarianism and put his political prestige on the line to fight Hindu traditionalists in the Congress party and outside.

Indira Gandhi took on all the party bosses to establish her power and take the country forward. She took the fateful—unfortunately, wrong—decision to storm the Akal Takht and paid with her life. But she did not shrink from taking a decision. Rajiv Gandhi learnt from her mistakes and handled the next Golden Temple crisis intelligently. He also tried to bring peace to Sri Lanka by sending the IPKF to deal with the murderous LTTE. He too paid for it with his life.

“The mark of a good leader is not that he or she always takes the right call, but that they are never afraid to take a decision in the national interest. In contrast, Sonia and Rahul have made no wrong move ever. They are courting power by abandoning the idea of leading. They are opportunists. This country needs leaders, not opportunists.”

A. Surya Prakash in The Pioneer:

“The situation in Kashmir has spiraled out of control. The preparations for the Commonwealth Games are a shambles. The Maoists have carved out their own State and hapless constables of the Central Reserve Police Force are routinely slaughtered by those leading the armed insurrection. Food prices have hit the roof and rail and air accidents are the order of the day. Members of the Union Council of Ministers have given a go-by to the concept of collective responsibility and flung governance and accountability out of the window.

“Suddenly, everything appears to be falling apart. Threats to India’s constitutional well being and territorial integrity unfortunately coincide with non-governance. Amidst all this chaos, the lead actor appears to have deserted the stage. That is why there is just one question on the lips of many citizens these days: Where is the Prime Minister?”

Also read: After Manmohan who? Chidu, Diggy or Rahul?

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

Jesus, Mozart, Alexander and apun ka Rahul

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

Rahul Gandhi‘s ascension: a foregone conclusion?

Everybody loves a cheap, vegetarian thali–II

6 August 2010

While the nation gets titillated this week by Suresh Kalmadi‘s ravenous appetite, last week by the Reddy brothers’, the previous week by Sharad Pawar‘s (and his adorable daughter Supriya Sule‘s), the week before that by Lalit Modi‘s, the fortnight before that by Madhu Koda‘s, Thiru Andimuthu Raja‘s in the one before that etc, spare a thought for how little food inflation seems to exercise the grey cells of our neta-babu log.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee managed to assuage Parliament by dipping into jargon like “adverse inflationary pressure” to explain what’s happening to prices. But if there’s one reason why the fattened calves of our demcoracy do not “get” what burgeoning food prices are doing in a nation where half the nation lives below the poverty line–836 million Indians get by with less than Rs 20 a day—it’s because they have little or no exposure to it.

The latest issue of India Today carries the menu card of the Parliament canteen, and it’s a reflection of the dream world our MPs and MLAs inhabit.

Tea: Re 1

Soup: Rs 5.50

Dal: Rs 1.50

Curd rice: Rs 11

Vegetable pulao: Rs 8

Rajma rice: Rs 7

Tomato rice: Rs 7

Fish curry: Rs 13

Chicken: Rs 24.50

Rice: Rs 2

Dosa: Rs 4

Kheer: Rs 5.50

Fruit cake: Rs 9.50

Vegetarian thali: Rs 12.50

Non-vegetarian thali: Rs 22

Chicken birnai: Rs 34

Chicken curry: Rs 20.50

Butter chicken: Rs 27

This, when the average worth of each MP is Rs 5.1 crore.

This, when the average salary of each minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet is Rs 7.5 crore.

For the record, price of rice between 2004-08 shot up by 45 per cent and the price of wheat went up by 60 per cent in the same period. Below are the 2009 rates published by Indian Express to show how much unparliamentary “food inflation” has caught up with Parliamentarians in the Parliament canteen.

Vegetarian thali: Rs 12.50

Non-vegetarian thali: Rs 22

Sada dosa: Rs 2.50

Masala dosa: Rs 4

Dal (assorted): Rs 1.50

Soup with one slice: Rs 5.50

Four chapatis: Rs 2

Boiled rice: Rs 2

Of course, on top of free food, MPs also get plenty of free phone calls, free air line tickets, free railway tickets and a little pocket money in the form of MPLADs to play around with. Plus, on the last day of Parliament they also vote themselves another hike in their meagre salaries.

Amen.

* Photograph used for illustration purposes only. The temple of democracy reserves the right to add, alter, switch items without prior notice depending on the day of the week.

Also read: Everybody loves a good, cheap vegetarian thali—I

An EGOM a day keeps the doc’s decisions away

18 June 2010

A standout feature of the accident-prone second term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been its seeming inclination to act first and think later, be it the creation of Telangana, the tabling of the women’s bill, or the insertion of a caste column in the census.

A concomitant feature has been the constitution of an “Empowered Group of Ministers” (EGOM) at the drop of a hat, as a device to buy time, to rectify hastily taken decisions, and to build consensus in what is at the end of the day, a coalition government.

At one time, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, for instance, headed nearly 50 EGOMs.

***

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in the Indian Express:

“The way in which the government uses the EGOM is unsettling…. The EGOM has become a peculiar institution. It is a backhanded acknowledgment of several things.

“First, that government gets into action only in a crisis which has in part been created by its own ministers. Second, the EGOMs signal a vacuum [on the part of the prme minister and the Cngress president] to fulfill one important function of government: to reconcile differences and be decisive.

“Third, the EGOMs may directly be contributing to skewed governmental priorities. Fourth, constantly referring to EGOMs is a signal that routine political coordination within the cabinet and party has broken down. An EGOM is more like a huddle in a crisis to broker deals than it is an instrument to promote public reason.”

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

Also read: Is Manmohan Singh becoming a rollback PM?

Who’s running the Feudal Republic of India? ANC.

30 May 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I met the Ace Political Expert (APE) at Cheluvamba Park doing his yogic walk. After a couple of rounds, he sat on the stone beach.

He beckoned me to sit and I asked him the question that was bothering me since the prime minister’s national press conference last week: “Who exactly is running our country?”

After taking a long breath, APE said: “There is a coalition government but there is collision at each and every step.”

It was a bad pun, but I let it be.

“Could you be more specific? Is Manmohan Singh running the country?”

“It is illusory to feel Manmohan Singh is running the country. He is running away from running the country, by visiting various countries. In effect, he is on the run most of the times.”

“He is not going anywhere. He himself said so during his press conference,” I interrupted.

“He meant Rahul Gandhi may have to wait a little longer to take his place as per the norms of the feudal democractic republic of India.”

“If Manmohan is not running the country, what about Sonia?”

“Well, Sonia is running the country and she is not! Let me explain. She wants the home minister to have a dialogue with Maoists. But Chidambaram is confused whether he should start a dialogue or act like Vedanta’s lawyer and box the Maoists for the bauxite. So he is doing nothing. Worse, he is doing a daily Q&A session with Barkha Dutt on 26 /11 forgetting there is an external affairs minister to do that job in S.M. Krishna.”

“This is all so confusing.”

“S.M. Krishna was busy monitoring and mentoring Shashi Tharoor who is anyway beyond mentoring and monitoring. That’s how he landed in a sweaty soup during IPL.”

APE continued: “Sonia wants the prices of tur dal and loki to be controlled but Sharad Pawar has apparently better things to do. He is busy getting new suits stitched for the post of ICC chief. So Sonia is not running the country either.”

“Sometimes it looks it is the opposition that is running the country.”

“That’s how it seemed to me too looking at the way Arun Jaitley supported the government to take tough action against Naxals and Maoists. I thought he was guiding Chidambaram. But Digvijay Singh’s bashing up of Chidambaram indicates neither UPA nor Congress is running the country. The much tom-tomed opposition unity on cut-motion fell flat on its face. So the opposition are not running the country either.”

I was getting desperate.

“The electronic media is all the time hysterical with their ‘Breaking News’ song-and-dance act. Are they running the country?”

“Sometimes I feel the troika of Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami are running the country. But their agenda is mostly restricted to the Ruchika case, Aarushi murder case, etc, followed by a lengthy acrimonious debate. If they don’t have any agenda, they bring in Lalit Modi’s IPL3 which always has something to offer—-cricket, Bollywood starlets, midnight parties, millions of dollars, match fixing , N. Srinivasan’s homa before the finals etc.”

“Could the armed forces be running the country,” I wonder.

“It looked like that when we won the Kargil war. But the fudging of records of Kargil war, painting heroes as villains and villains as heroes, and the periodic selling of our defense secrets like in the Navy warm room look belies such thoughts.”

“What about the ministers,” I asked.

“Mostly they are busy with their scams or tantrums. DMK’s A. Raja, the telecom minister is known more for his 2G scam. Instead of being a rail mantri, Mamata Banerjee is in Kolkata trying to overthrow the Leftists there, be it in the state, municipal, or panchayet  elections, or even a local football match. I don’t think ministers are running the country either.”

I was getting exasperated.

“If Dr Singh is running away from the country’s problems, Sonia has no idea, ministers are not running the country, who is in charge or are we on auto-pilot?”

“ANC,” said APE.

“You mean African National Congress?”

“No. The ANC here  is Anarchy, Nepotism and Corruption!” said the APE.

“Are they running the country?” I asked.

“They are ruining the country!” concluded the APE.

Is Manmohan Singh becoming a “Rollback PM”?

27 May 2010

Yashwant Sinha, finance minister in the former BJP-led NDA regime, had a well-earned reputation as “Rollback FM”.

Given the speed with which key policy decisions taken in haste are being “revisited” by the current Congres-led UPA regime—the creation of Telengana, the 33% women’s reservation bill, the insertion of a caste column in the census—is Manmohan Singh running the risk of earning the epithet of “Rollback PM”?

Cartoon: courtesy Prasad Radhakrishnan/ Mail Today

Also read: Anybody Dalit in the media and speaks English?

CHURUMURI POLL: Caste in the census or not?

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh

24 May 2010

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met the ladies and gentlemen of the Indian media for the second time in six years on the completion of the first year of his second term today—and parroted the usual cliches about corruption, Naxalism, “trust-deficit“, inflation, 2G, Rahul G and Sonia G.

The only time Singh paused to ponder in his monotonous 75-minute powwow was when he was asked whose advice he valued more: his wife Gursharan Kaur or Sonia Gandhi.  Otherwise, the whole thing went as his media meisters would have hoped, with longhops being deflected to fineleg.

What is the one question you would have asked Manmohan Singh?

Keep your queries sharp and pointed. And, as per Press Information Bureau norms, “no supplementaries please”.

Why Manmohan should talk to the media more

24 May 2010

B.V. RAO writes from New Delhi: On Monday, May 24, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address a press conference in New Delhi to unveil the report card of his government’s performance in its first year.

The press conference is going to be unlike any other before it.

It will not be limited to Delhi journalists. Reporters from Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Lucknow will be present by video to pose questions to the prime minister. Maybe a few questions will be taken from foreign capitals too.

According to Harish Khare, the information adviser to PM, about 250 news channels and 1,500 print journalists will cram Vigyan Bhawan, the venue.

Admittedly, to use a common television phrase, it doesn’t get bigger than this. This is quite the manna from heaven for any journalist, so why is it that you sense a lack of admiration or gratefulness in our mood?

Because this will be the first time in three long years and only the second in his six longer years in office that the prime minister will have deigned to subject himself to open scrutiny by the media. His interviews to Indian media have been few and far between while he has been generous with foreign media.

So we have effectively had a prime minister who is not only thought to be a puppet but a puppet on mute.

For a government that boasts of ushering in the Right to Information era in this country, that’s a dismal record.

World over heads of government have well established and structured interactions with their peoples through the media. The president of the United States talks every day to the nation through the White House spokesperson and comes on himself regularly to face the media.

These interactions only increase, not decrease, when in the midst of a national emergency, controversy or crucial debate.

These leaders talk to the media not to help it fill space but because it is their duty to reach the people on whose behalf they govern. We love to refer to the iron curtain of China, but ask any reporter assigned the PMO beat what opaqueness in administration means. For most part covering the prime minister means waiting out on the road outside his residence or office looking desperately for a byte like a hungry dog looks for a bone.

Of course, prime ministers are busy people and can’t be talking to the press all the time. That is why they have press advisors, mostly senior journalists from the print media. Their job is ordinarily understood as having to facilitate the media’s interaction with the prime minister or establish a routine for giving out information on his/her behalf.

On the contrary, they busy themselves exclusively with planting favourable stories in a media that is hungry for any crumbs from the PMO. The media advisors themselves become the great wall of China between the media and the prime minister. They think nothing of the instant metamorphosis from journalists seeking information to information advisors blocking information.

There are three people who matter most in the country and all three of them hardly speak. They do not allow themselves to be questioned on their beliefs, their core concerns, their crucial decisions, how and why they arrived at those decisions, etc.

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are politicians and can at least claim they talk to people directly and don’t need the media as middleman. But the prime minister is duty-bound to tell the nation why, for example, he decided to sack Shashi Tharoor or decided not to sack Jairam Ramesh or why he dare not touch A. Raja or reprimand Mamata Banerjee. Or why in three years his government has not written to the Swiss authorities asking for the details of the billions of billions of slush money stashed away there.

In the absence of first hand information from his office, all reportage of his work and thinking is hearsay. Right to Information does not mean the people of this country come in with their RTI queries only after the event is dead and done with.

A crucial component of right to information is the duty to reveal, duty to be answerable, sometimes even as things are unfolding.

So when on Monday and later you are told that this government has done something out of the ordinary by presenting its report card, don’t be swayed. Accountability is not a once-in-three-years media jamboree. It is being open every day of every year in office.

Sorry prime minister, we cannot be grateful for the crumbs that you throw at us.

Please talk to us more, prime minister.

Talk to us a damned lot more.

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

Also read: Does Manmohan Singh not trust the Indian media?


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