Posts Tagged ‘Arun Shourie’

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

7 November 2011

“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief  of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post,  The Independent and The Pioneer.

With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and got paid Rs 500 for his services).

Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.

***

By VINOD MEHTA

Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].

The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.

Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.

A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.

While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.

‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.

It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.

Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’

And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.

***

On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.

That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of IndiaDileep Padgaonkar.

While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.

Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers, [Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.

Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.

Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.

I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.

When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.

(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)

Illustration: courtesy Sorit GuptoOutlook

Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla

Buy the book onlineIndia Plaza offer prize Rs 299

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Disclosures apply

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Also readS. Nihal Singh on Arun Shourie: Right-wing pamphleteer

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper

How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

‘Arun Shourie: a Hindu, right-wing pamphleteer’

3 October 2011

There are few more polarising figures in Indian journalism than Arun Shourie.

For many of his professional peers, he is everything a journalist should not be: a wonky-eyed, hired gun of the Hindu right, selectively and deviously using facts to push its ideological and political agendas.

Arrogant, intolerant, abusive, dictatorial, .

For multitudes more, he is the proverbial Sancho Panza, tilting at the windmills of political correctness, shining light on the dark corners of Indian political and business life, with his exposes and editorials.

Saying it like it is, without fear or favour.

In his just released memoirs, Ink in my Veins, the veteran editor Surendra Nihal Singh, who was Shourie’s boss at the Indian Express, dismisses Shourie as a pamphleteer who thought “a newspaper was a stepping stone to politics and political office… and used journalism to achieve his political ambitions.”

***

By S. NIHAL SINGH

My experience with Arun Shourie was not happy.

To begin with, he had got used to doing pretty much what he wanted because S. Mulgaonkar [who Nihal Singh replaced as Express editor at his recommendation] had been ailing for long and usually made only a brief morning appearance to do an edit if he felt like it.

To have to work with a hands-on editor who oversaw the news and editorial sections was an irksome burden for Shourie.

Our objectives collided.

My efforts were directed to making the Express a better paper, while he was basically a pamphleteer who was ideologically close to the Hindu right. Even while he oversaw a string of reporters’ stories, which drew national attention (for which he claimed more credit that was his due), his aim was to spread the message.

Goenka himself could be swayed by Hindu ideology. In one instance, he sent me a draft editorial from Madras full of all the cliches of the Hindu right. One of Goenka’s men in the southern city was S. Gurumurthy, a sympathiser of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a pro-Hindu organisation.

The issue was the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam at Meenakshipuram (in Tamil Nadu) in June 1981. I put two and two together and it added up to Gurumurthy’s handiwork. I threw the editorial into the waste-paper basket. And I did not hear a word about it from Goenka.

Shourie exploited his proximity to Goenka to terrorise the reporters and subeditors. As executive editor, he was the No.2 man in the editorial hierarchy but often assumed the airs of a prima donna. His office being twice as large as the editor’s room and far better furnished always puzzled me.

Shourie believe that rules were made for others, and our clash began when he took umbrage over my cutting his extensive opinion piece to conform to the paper’s style. On one occasion, I had to spike a piece he had written on Indira Gandhi, in language unbecoming of any civilised newspaper.

In an underhand move, he quietly sent it to the magazine section, printed in Bombay, without inviting a censure from Goenka.

To a professional journalist, some of Shourie’s arguments sound decidedly odd. He declared, “When an editor stops a story, I go and give it to another newspaper. I am no karamchari [worker] of anybody’s. Whether I work in your organisation or not, I really look upon myself as a citizen or first as a human being, and then as a citizen, and as nothing else. If I happen to work for Facets [a journal in which his extensive piece appeared as its January-February 1983 issue], I will still behave the same way. If you use my happening to work for you as a device to shut my mouth, I’ll certainly shout, scream, and kick you in the shins.”

Shourie told the same journal that he had no compunction in mixing his editorial and managerial function ‘because the Indian Express is in an absolutely chaotic state. Ther is no management worth the name. Anyone wanting to help it must also help solve the management problems.’

To give him his due, Shourie had many good qualities. He was a hard worker and often did his homework before writing. However, we could never agree on the paper’s outlook because, for him, a newspaper was a stepping stone to politics and political office.

For me the integrity of a newspaper was worth fighting for.

Goenka swayed between these points of view. He used to tell me: ‘Not even five per cent readers look at the editorials.’ He called Frank Moraes, a distinguished former editor of the Indian Express, ‘my race horse’. Shourie he once described to me as a ‘two-horse tonga‘ (horse carriage).

Shourie later distinguished himself in the political field under the banner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); he even Goenkaachieved the position of a cabinet minister. In effect, he successfully employed journalism to achieve his political ambition.

***

(Editor of The Statesman, The Indian Express and The Indian Post, Surendra Nihal Singh served in Singapore, Islamabad, Moscow, London, New York, Paris and Dubai. He received the International Editor of the Year award in 1978 for his role as editor of The Statesman during the Emergency)

(Excerpted from Ink in my Veins, A life in Journalism, by S. Nihal Singh, Hay House, 308 pages, price Rs 499)

Also read: Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

Arun Shourie: ‘Intolerant, abusive, dictatorial’

How Arun Shourie became Express editor

Arun Shourie: The three lessons of failure

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan—II

15 February 2011

Never the most articulate of speakers, a battered and beleaguered Manmohan Singh has reportedly decided to subject himself to a grand inquisition at the hands of the tigers of television. Tomorrow morning, if all goes as planned, a set of TV journalists will fling their questions at the prime minister.

And, hopefully, he will answer them. Live.

Unlike his previous interaction with the media, which came in the backdrop of naxalism, price rise, 2G and “trust deficit”, this time’s pow-wow comes in the midst of soaring inflation, “governance deficit”—and the S-band scam which has brought questions about his “conspiracy of silence, culpable inaction and gross indifference” to his doorstep.

Plus, there is the “Shankaracharya of Lavasa”, Arun Shourie‘s claim that he told the PM that the loot (in the 2G scam) was happening in his name, etc.

Hopefully, the ladies and gentlemen of the idiot box will not hurl soft-ball questions at the PM and will not stop with vague answers. Still, why give them a chance? What is the one question that the Arnabs, Barkhas and Rajdeeps should ask sadda Manmohan (provided they are invited, that is)?

Like, Mr Prime Minister, “the nation wants to know”, do you think it is all over for you? Like, Mr PM, why was Montek Singh Ahluwalia picked for the Padma Vibhushan?

Please refrain from keeping your queries longwinded and self-congratulatory, thank you.

***

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh-I

Have the middle-classes deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Manmohan Singh still “Mr Clean”?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh be PM till 2014?

Ratan Tata’s open letter to Rajeev Chandrasekhar

9 December 2010

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

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

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

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

***

Dear Rajeev

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

With warm regards

Yours sincerely

Ratan N. Tata

***

Also read: To: Ratan Tata. From Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Has Ratan Tata ruined the Tatas’ brand image?

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

Did Adolf Hitler fetch S.L. Bhyrappa’s freedom?

21 August 2010

The American humour writer P.J. O’ Rourke says the Soviet Union did not collapse because of Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher or Star Wars; it collapsed because of Bulgarian blue jeans.

The Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa who tilts at the windmills of history like a latter-day Don Quixote, is no humourist; even the Sancho Panzas who sit at his lotus feet wouldn’t accuse him of a sense of humour. But the “Arun Shourie of the South” can still crack a joke, with a scowl.

Speaking five days after the 63rd anniversary of independence—at the 72nd chaturmasya of Sri Visvesha Teertha swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt, go figure—Bhyrappa has declared, apropos nothing, that India did not attain freedom because of non-violence or hunger strikes.

But because, well, the British were bored and tired of staying on.

Maybe even plain pissed—in their Bulgarian blue jeans.

“The British did not leave India because of ahimsa or upavasa satyagraha. You can only cleanse your conscience with a hunger strike; you cannot drive out the British.

“After World War II, the British were sapped of all energy. Moreover, the troops stationed in India were agitated. This was the main reason for the British to leave India.

“At the time of granting independence to India, the then prime minister was asked how much ahimsa had been a factor. He replied very little.”

Implicit in this line of thinking is the belief that the independence movement was a passive one, not an active one. That freedom was something that the Brits gifted us, handed down to us; not something that Indians fought for and won. In other words, if the Brits didn’t want to give it to us, we wouldn’t have got it.

Implicit is the belief that all the wars, mutinies, marches, strikes, boycotts, sacrifices were futile exercises that we now humour ourselves with in Amar Chitra Katha comics. In other words, the Brits didn’t take any note of them and wouldn’t have at all if their energies and attentions hadn’t been otherwise diverted.

Implicit is the belief that independence was a sudden, spontaneous, off-the-cuff development. An event not a process. That after 200 years of rule, the Brits just woke up on 7 May 1945 and decided enough was enough. That none of the months and years that preceded it had any role in it. In other words, had it not been for WWII, we might as well have kissed independence goodbye.

In other words, we must thank Adolf Hitler for engaging the Brits in a war that fetched us freedom?

Above all, implicit in the quasi-rant against ahimsa and satyagraha is a palpable lack of belief in, and contempt for, Gandhian modes of protest. In other words, a vote for un-Gandhian aggression and machismo, sotto voce,  as chain-mailed by other patron-sants of the sangh parivar before, like this one here in 2008:

“World War II ended in the summer of 1945. In the general election that followed, Winston Churchill lost to Clement Attlee. With the war-torn economy a shambles, Britain was in no shape to hang on to the vast colonial empire. In March 1946 Attlee decided to grant independence to India.

“The following years saw independence granted to many colonies—Burma, Ceylon, Ghana, Malaysia, British Guyana and others—that had no history of freedom struggle. So it is correct to conclude that independence to India was a given with or without satyagraha.  The truth is that non-violence was inconsequential in achieving India’s independence. “

Of course, it is a point of view, one which those who hold it are well entitled to hold.

The only question though: would S.L. Bhyrappa‘s negative post-facto vote for ahimsa and satyagraha have turned positive had the characters behind them boasted different surnames or belonged to the other end of the ideological spectrum, one of whose brave members pumped three cowardly bullets at 5.45 pm on 30 January 1948 into the upper thigh, abdomen and chest of the man who was its apostle?

Photograph: courtesy S.L. Bhyrappa

Also read: S.L. Bhyrappa on Avarana

S.L. Bhyrappa versus U.R. Anantha Murthy

S.L. Bhyrappa on the N.R. Narayana Murthy issue

‘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

A picture for the personal albums of the sangh

30 October 2009

mohan bhagwat

A picture tells a thousand words; in this case it encapsulates the hopes of a billion.

The sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mohanrao Bhagwat, delivers his thundering addres to a near-empty audience in Delhi on Thursday. A photograph that must be framed and hung at the personal library of Arun Shourie, who only recently wanted the the RSS to take over the BJP.

***

S. Prasannarajan in India Today:

“Still trapped in the wreckage of two general election defeats, they [the BJP] seem to have no idea about the aspirations and attitudes of 21st century India. They have lost the culture war as well as the economic war—the two wars the Right has been fighting in most democracies. It invariably loses the culture war and wins the economy.

“The BJP still lives in a distant yesterday which is part mythology, part history, part nostalgia, and party fantasy. It doesn’t have the audacity to be truly “right” in the marketplace. And it doesn’t have the imagination to be creative in the social arana either.”

Photograph: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: ‘Brand’ blow to Bhagwat

The Top-10 austerity moves India wants to hear

16 September 2009

nanyantara

The Bogus Austerity Drama (BAD) has so far been confined to a) S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor moving out of their five-star Rs 1.5 lakh-a-day suites, b) Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee travelling economy class, c) Rahul Gandhi taking the Shatabdi, and d) a flood of drought-inspired sanctimony all over.

But the dictionary tells us that austerity is not just about hotel rooms and flight tickets. And it can’t just be about the Congress and its leaders. In its truest form, austerity needs to be a pan-national phenomenon in which everybody, everywhere, does less more even if it costs more to do less.

As Sarojini Naidu is said to have remarked about Mahatma Gandhi: “It costs a lot to keep him poor.”

Here are the top-10 austerity claims we hope to hear soon.

***

modi1) Narendra Modi: “Bhaiyon aur behenon, thanks to the lafda, what you urban, English-wallahs call kerfuffle, over the abrupt termination of oxygen intake by Sohrabuddin and Ishrat Jahan, I promise Vibrant Gujarat will have fewer fake encounters to protect its asmita. Or your trishul back, sharpened.”

2) Mukesh Ambani: “Arre baba, if nimma Nandan Nilekani who is worth 1.3 billion dollars has to shift to Karnataka Bhavan as part of the austerity drive, you think I am so greedy as to not respect my neighbours wishes and knock out the bottom-two floors of my ready-to-occupy, 2 billion-dollar, 27-storey mansion?”

janardhan_karunakar_bro_200908103) B.S. Yediyurappa: “In the name of development and governance, as per the honourable wishes of our poojya former future prime minister, I will have one Reddy less breathing down my neck. And I will ask them to use a helicopter pool instead of flying into Bellary individually whenever they feel like eating biryani.”

4) Arundhati Roy: “Instead of 6,000 word essays which I impose on Indians twice a year, I will impose 3,000 word essays on Indians eight times in two years, which is the same thing, of course, so I will get the systems wallahs to reinsert the “Wordcount” button I had gotten removed. No wait, ‘gotten’ is American imperial English, the “Wordcount” button I had got removed.”

arun_shourie_illus_200909075) Arun Shourie: “Instead of a 5-part series on Alice in Blunderland, Humpty-Dumpty and Tarzan which even I don’t understand, I promise to write a one-part series which even you won’t understand, but you will be too ashamed to admit that you didn’t understand because I quoted the great ascetic Swami Vivekananda with Edward Rice Burroughs in all CAPS bold with triple asterisks***, footnotes¼ and accent gravuresˆ to leave you confused to the power of ∞.”

6) Nayantara: “Since the well-meaning folk at churumuri want the world to do “less more”, I promise to wear “more less” clothes in my next Telugu film, ‘Noovu isthe, nenu tees konta‘” so that there is more fabric left to cover the uncovered masses in drought-affected Andhra Pradesh.”

namitha-37) Namitha: “The men are going in for six-pack abs. The women are going in for size zero. You look at me (go on, look at me) and you tell me honestly where I should start to do my bit for the country, and I will dutifully oblige. Let’s make it a totally interactive exercise. After all, I was born in the vibrant state of Gujarat which produced the great Mahatma whose interactive programmes won us freedom.”

8) Sagarika Ghose: “I will reduce fazing the nation with my hi-decibel, St Stephen‘s rat-a-tat which even the class teachers of Ishan and Tarini are saying they can no longer comprehend anything because they don’t know where the main clause ends and where the subclause begins, especially when Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Gurudas Dasgupta are all trying to sneak in a word between the end of the second sentence and the beginning of the third one, by which time we have to go for a short commercial break, while you watch the lively website ibnlive.com, you keep on voting, while we keep on counting.”

9)Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Gurudas Dasgupta: “As part of the austerity drive, we promise to be a little less economical with the hair-splitting.”

KPN photo10) Ambarish: “I will take less, work more. I will take less, work more. I will work less, take more. I will work less, take more. I will take less, work more. I will take more, work less.”

Photographs: courtesy vinfindia.com, Karnataka Photo NewsOutlook, dailomo.com

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

‘Arun Shourie: autocratic, time-server, climber’

7 September 2009

After exercising the limited IQ of his partymen with his mixed metaphors (kati patang, Alice in Blunderland, Humpty Dumpty, great pygmisation, Tarzan) for a few days, Arun Shourie‘s interview with Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s Walk the Talk programme, has slipped off the media radar.

Yet, the most significant part of that powwow was not the name-calling but Shourie’s call that the RSS take control of the crisis-ridden BJP. In the latest issue of Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury tracks Shourie’s “adumbral position between liberal knight, self-righteous crusader and unselfconscious fascist”.

Prabhash Joshi, the former editor of Jansatta, the Hindi newspaper of the Indian Express group, offer this crisp analysis of his Magsaysay Award winning peer’s use of a butcher’s terminology—jhatka versus halal—to haul it out of the coals:

“His suggestion to the RSS betrays the quintessential Shourie. He wants a democratic political party like the BJP to be chained lock, stock and barrel by an organisation that calls itself “cultural” and does not believe in parliamentary democracy or the Indian Constitution. And he wants this democratic party to be taken over by jhatka (sudden death).

“Who would want such a thing? Only an autocratic, dictatorial mind.

“Arun Shourie is a time-server and climber who wants to dictate whatever he considers intellectually superior into the democratic polity of this country. Any man who does not believe in democracy and is in politics is a very dangerous animal. Be very afraid of him.”

Photograph: Outlook

Read the full article: Acid dreams on dharma nights

Also read: ‘Intolerant. Abusive. Dictatorial. Vicious. Paranoid’

Arun Shourie: Oracle or opportunist?

Even a paper tiger roars when the ship starts leaking

BJP defeat is a defeat of BJP brand of journalism

Is the BJP so weak that journalists can damage it?

25 August 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Former Indian Express editor Arun Shourie‘s explosive interview with the paper’s current editor, Shekhar Gupta, while revealing the deep schisms within the BJP, has also once again thrown light on the less-than-professional role political journalists have been playing.

For the second time in two months, Shourie targetted “The Gang of Six”—a pack of half-of-dozen journalists who, says the Magsaysay Award winning investigative journalist, have been used (abused? misused?) by various different sections of the BJP.

On Gupta’s Walk the Talk interview for NDTV on Monday, Shourie said his letter to the BJP president Rajnath Singh demanding accountability in running the party had been dubbed as an act of indiscipline even though that letter had remained confidential.

There were leaders, he says:

“…who had been planting stories against L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and others through six journalists (and yet it’s not called indiscipline)”.

At the BJP’s national executive meeting in mid-June, shortly after the party suffered a “nasty jolt” in the general elections, Shourie had gone so far as to say that “the BJP was being run by six journalists” who were “damaging the party interest“.

On both occasions, Shourie hasn’t named “The Gang of Six”, but by repeatedly talking about them has set tongues wagging.

However, the questions remain: is the BJP so feeble a party to be felled by  mere pen-pushers? If BJP leaders are using them to “plant” stories against one another, are the journalists exceeding their brief by allowing themselves to be used?

Is ex-editor Shourie sanctimoniously crying wolf or is this par for the course in other parties too? Are editors and publishers of the publications where the “Gang of Six” work aware of their journalists being so used?

And if so, is it OK?

Photograph: courtesy IBN Live

Also read: Don’t laugh: do journalists make good politicians?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

Shekhar Gupta: No better time to enter journalism than now

ARUN SHOURIE POLL: Oracle or opportunist?

25 August 2009

In the cesspool that is Indian politics, Arun Shourie has lobbed a giant pebble in the stinking swamp that is the Bharatiya Janata Party. It could sink without a trace or it could throw muck all over his face.

The BJP’s resident intellectual for all matters requiring “an IQ of more than 60” has, with his trademark ability to mix metaphors, likened the party to a kite without a string, called its president Rajnath Singh “Alice in Blunderland” when not calling him Tarzan, and talks of Humpty-Dumpty.

Without mustering the courage to mention the name Lalchand Kishinchand Advani, Shourie says he sees no one in the party who have authority owing to involvement in cases like the cash-for-query scam.

# Shourie wants the RSS to “bombard the party headquarters” and replace the top BJP leadership with 10-15 nominees of its choice.

# Shourie wants radical transformation in the BJP: “My prescription is jhatka (one swift execution) not halal (slow execution). Saare, saare (lock, stock and barrel).”

# Shourie says the BJP is being treated as a private property, and any criticism of the party was completely walled out and not discussed.

And at the same time, Shourie’s gaze unwaveringly remains fixed on the “Gang of Six”—the half-a-dozen journalists who, he claims, had been planting stories against Advani, Singh and others.

The BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy has said Shourie was doing all this because his Rajya Sabha term is about to end and the BJP had nothing to offer as it was out of power:

“This is the problem with admitting people into the party who are apolitical. They want to have the cake when you are in power.”

Another spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad says this was wholly unexpected of Shourie who had been given two terms and even made a Union minister.

Questions: Is Shourie right about the BJP, or is the BJP right about Shourie? Is Shourie telling the truth or is he, like in his articles, being selective in his interpretation of facts? Is Shourie wise in advocating a political role for the RSS or is he being a bit of an opportunist by staying on the extreme right side of the fence?

Also read: Even a paper tiger roars when the ship starts leaking

Don’t laugh: Do journalists make good politicians?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

10 questions for the party of The Great Debators

19 August 2009

After watching Jaswant Singh‘s media powwow in Shimla following his expulsion from the BJP, PRITAM SENGUPTA in Delhi has a few questions for the BJP:

***

1) Like, is this how the BJP, a party sworn to protecting “Hindu culture and traditions”, treats a 71-year-old buzurg, a “loyal soldier of the party”, one of the early birds, who has served it for 30 years?

2) Like, isn’t there a culture of sending “show cause” notices and seeking a written or an oral explanation before summarily expelling someone? And doesn’t a suspension precede an expulsion in its constitution?

3) Like, if L.K.Advani could stay after his Mohammed Ali Jinnah faux pas and even end up becoming the “former future prime minister of India”, what is so great about Jaswant Singh‘s boo-boo about Jinnah being demonised that he should be sent away thus?

4) Like, if Advani and his ilk wanted a television debate with “weak, nikammaManmohan Singh in the run-up to the general election, how is it he and they couldn’t stomach an untelevised debate with a retired Major of the Indian Army?

5) Like, is Jaswant Singh paying the price for refreshing Advani’s memory on how he happened to board IC-814 that disgorged Masood Azhar and two other gentlemen in Kandahar? Or is he paying the price for slamming Arun Jaitely, with his “parinaam aur puraskar” jibe, when Advani’s blue-eyed boy was made leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha despite the “nasty jolt”?

6) Since “inner-party democracy” in the Congress often evokes sniggers among BJP folk, are we to conclude that such a concept doesn’t exist in God’s Own Party? That its members aren’t expected to think on their own? That all its members expected to hold only one view which the RSS sends from Nagpur using sparrows?

7) Like, if he did not bat for Jaswant Singh’s retention when Rajnath Singh and the parliamentary board moved to expel him, surely Advani deserves the lifetime achievement award for so systematically eliminating all his rivals?

8) Like, looking at how the BJP is conducting itself, while disintegrating at the same time, can anybody that this very party would have been in power if the EVMs hadn’t malfunctioned en masse?

9) Like, since Jaswant Singh was elected from Darjeeling on the promise of a separate Gorkha state, is that promise now consigned to the dustbin?

10) With Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie now out of the way, will there be a split in the BJP and will Narendra Modi form his own outfit?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is the BJP in total disarray?

19 August 2009

The Jinnah Jinx has hit the BJP once again. First L.K. Advani found himself very nearly ostracised from the saffron brotherhood for comments he made during a visit to Pakistan. Now, former defence and finance minister Jaswant Singh has been expelled from the party for his comments on Jinnah.

Is the BJP right in expelling Singh? Or is this just a smokescreen to take attention away from the deliberations of the chintan baithak? Is the expulsion of Singh a sign of a democratic party that believes in “debate”?

With Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha not invited to the introspection in Shimla because of their criticism of the leadership, with Vasundhara Raje Scindia being asked to resign for the poll defeat (while Advani and Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley stay on), with various state units pulling in different directions, with the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat issuing grand pronouncements on the way forward, is the BJP in total disarray?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Will the BJP ever come to power?

The only person to blame for BJP defeat is L.K. Advani

BJP defeat is a defeat of BJP brand of journalism

‘Fitting finale of five years of foolish opposition’

The Great Debator won’t take questions, thanks

12 August 2009

unny

For months, Lalchand Kishinchand Advani and his tribe teased and taunted “weak, nikammaManmohan Singh for a public debate on television. But the shock defeat in the 2009 general elections and the searing criticism of his leadership have dented the debating skills of the Loh Purush beyond repair.

So much so, that at the BJP’s very private, untelevised chintan baithak in Shimla, neither Yashwant Sinha nor Arun Shourie, are “invitees”. Clearly, “the former future prime minister of India” has no interest to “debate” the two former Union ministers who had questions on the defeat.

Or does he?

E.P. Unny in The Indian Express

Also read: ‘The only person to blame for BJP defeat is Advani

The Great Debator ducks out of a TV interview

Eight questions for The Great Debator

Five more questions for The Great Debator

Even a paper tiger roars when ship starts leaking

14 July 2009

Arun Shourie, the BJP’s resident intellectual for all matters requiring “an IQ of more than 60“—in the famous words of P. Chidambaram, presumably the Congress’s resident intellectual for all matters requiring an IQ of less than 600—has a piece in today’s Indian Express on the debacle of the BJP in the 2009 general elections.

The Magsaysay Award winning journalist, who has emerged as the third man in the dissident triangle after Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha, strikes the grand posture of speaking for all the parties but leaves little doubt over why the L.K. Advani-Arun Jaitley camp has begun to distrust him as to sideline him along with the other two.

“The factor most responsible for the rout has been the state to which the leader and his circle have reduced the party as an organisation, but that is the one factor which the leader and his cohorts will not admit into the discourse. Is the party seen as, is it in fact different from the others? Are its candidates any different? Is every unit of the party not riddled with factionalism?

“That these are the reasons for the setback is manifest to all. But the leader and his circle would have none of them — for that would immediately raise further questions. The party is no longer different from others? Who has allowed the party to sink to this level where it cannot be distinguished from the very parties it has been denouncing? The candidates are no better than those of the rivals? Who has selected the candidates? Factionalism has been allowed to continue? Each state faction has a line to some ringleader in the central cabal? Who has allowed the factionalism to fester and swell?

“They blame others — the rival party; the third party that has stolen their vote; the accidental reason on account of which a section whose vote was to have split got consolidated; the youth; the middle class; the poor who voted on money, the rich who did not vote; the holidays on account of which so many went out of town; the disenchantment with the party’s ally in one state, the absence of an ally in the other; the anti-incumbency factor against us in this state, the advantage that the rival party had in the adjacent state of being in office and thereby being able to use the state machinery; the ‘shameless’ use of money and muscle by the rival… In a word, everyone and everything other than themselves.”

Read the full article here: On the way down

Also read: Don’t laugh: Do journalists make good politicians?

‘Only a vertical split can save the BJP’

The only person to blame for BJP loss is L.K. Advani

BJP defeat is a defeat of BJP brand of journalism

23 June 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and SHARANYA KANVILKAR in Bombay write: The stunning defeat of the BJP in the general elections has been dissected so many times and by so many since May 16 that there is little that has been left unsaid.

What has been left unsaid is how the BJP’s defeat also marks the comeuppance of a certain breed of journalists who had chucked all pretence to non-partisanship and made it their mission to tom-tom the party, in print and on air, for a decade and more.

The Congress and the Left parties have had more than their share of sympathetic “left-liberal” journalists, of course. And for longer. But most were closet supporters unwilling to cross the divide from journalism into politics, or unwilling to be seen to be doing so.

However, the rise of the “muscular” BJP saw the birth of a “muscular” breed of journalists who unabashedly batted for the party’s politics and policies—without revealing their allegiance while enjoying its fruits “lavishly“—in a manner that would have embarrassed even the official spokesmen of the “Hindu nationalist party”.

Little wonder, Arun Shourie, the granddad of journalists turned BJP politicians, alleged at the party’s national executive meeting that “the BJP was being run by six journalists.” There are different versions doing the rounds on who the “Gang of Six” were, but some names are no longer in the realm of speculation.

# Sudheendra Kulkarni an assistant editor at The Sunday Observer and executive editor at Blitz, rose to be a key aide to both prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and prime minister-in-waiting L.K. Advani, even drafting the latter’s controversial Jinnah speech.

# Chandan Mitra, an assistant editor at The Times of India, editor of The Sunday Observer, and executive editor of Hindustan Times, found himself “mysteriously becoming the proprietor of The Pioneer, without spending a rupee thanks to the generosity of the BJP and more particularly that of L.K. Advani“.

# Swapan Dasgupta, the scion of Calcutta Chemicals (which makes Margo soap), rose to be managing editor of the weekly newsmagazine India Today, before emerging the unofficial media pointsman of sorts for Arun Jaitley and through him for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

# Balbir K. Punj, the sugar correspondent of The Financial Express, who churned out masterly theses on conversions and other sundry diversions for Outlook magazine, was nominated to the upper house of Parliament by the BJP like Mitra.

# And then there’s a motley crew of fulltimers and freelancers, including India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, Pioneer associate editor Kanchan Gupta, who did a spell in Vajpayee’s PMO, and weighty political correspondents and editors of The Times of India, The Economic Times and Dainik Jagran.

“Journo Sena” was what the tribe came to be called, an allusion to the “Vanara Sena” (army of monkeys) that helped Lord Rama fight the armies of Ravana in Ramayana.

However, in the unravelling political epic, the “Journo Sena” stands trapped in the crossfire of a party struggling to come to grips with a gigantic electoral loss, firing wildly at each other—or are being fired at by the big guns.

***

First, Sudheendra Kulkarni’s “candid insider account” in Tehelka, a magazine whose website was hounded out of business by the Vajpayee government, came in for searing criticism from Anil Chawla, a classmate of his at IIT Bombay, for blaming the RSS for the BJP’s plight.

“The patient is being blamed for all that has gone wrong, without in any way blaming either the virus or the team of doctors who have brought the patient to the present critical state,” he wrote in a widely circulated “open letter”.

Kanchan Gupta, who many believe was eased out of Vajpayee’s PMO by Kulkarni, took a potshot at his erstwhile colleague.

“Kulkarni who undid the BJP’s election campaign in 2004 with the ‘India Shining’ slogan and fashioned the 2009 campaign which has taken the BJP to a low of barely-above-100 mark has written an article for Tehelka, the magazine which tarred the NDA government, causing it irreparable damage, and is now the favourite perch of those who inhabit the BJP’s inner courtyard, blaming all and sundry except those who are to blame,” Gupta wrote on rediff.com.

In a rejoinder in Tehelka, Swapan Dasgupta welcomed Sudheendra Kulkarni’s mea culpa calling it “a welcome addition to the ever-growing literature on the BJP’s 2009 election experience,” but couldn’t resist himself from sticking the knife in.

“Kulkarni has provided some interesting insights but has also cluttered the picture with red herrings. This isn’t surprising.

There are many in the BJP who insist that the problem with Advani was Kulkarni“.

When former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha resigned from party posts, ostensibly miffed at the elevation of Arun Jaitley as leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha despite leading the party to defeat, Dasgupta rushed to Jaitley’s defence, wondering how the resignation letter had made its way to NDTV.

“TV editors I have spoken to have indicated that there were two parallel points of leak. The first was through an associate of Pramod Mahajan (who hates Jaitley) and the other was was the unlikely figure of a cerebral Rajya Sabha MP.

“I gather that the follow-up was done by a disagreeable journalist (one who signed the 20-points during the Emergency) whose nomination to the Rajya Sabha has been blocked by Jaitley on two separate occasions,” he wrote on his blog.

At the BJP’s national executive meeting, the “cerebral Rajya Sabha MP” Arun ShourieMagsaysay Award-winning former investigative journalist and author who became a minister in the Vajpayee government—”blamed six unnamed journalists who, he said, were responsible for articles damaging the [BJP] party interest.”

Whether the journalists were all members of the BJP or merely sympathetic to it, Shourie didn’t make clear.

In drawing attention to the journalists in specific, the former journalist may only have been indulging in the nation’s favourite sport of shooting the messenger but he was also underlining the role his compatriots were playing in the BJP’s affairs.

In his column in the media magazine Impact, Sandeep Bamzai writes:

“Arun Jaitley and his band of journalists-turned-politicocs misread the ground realities and the tea leaves completely. Buoyed by several wins in key States, this core team thought that the mood in the States would be mirrored at the Centre when the general hustings came along.

“Price spikes, terror threats and fulminations against a decent PM Manmohan Singh were the new imperatives crafted by Jaitley and his journo boys.

“The entire strategy fell flat on its face and all the journos who hogged prime time on new telly in the run up to the elections turned into disillusioned critics immediately after the results.”

In the India Today cover story on the BJP’s travails, Swapan Dasgupta’s former boss, Prabhu Chawla, seen to be close to incumbent BJP president Rajnath Singh, found fault with Singh’s bete noire Arun Jaitley for being spotted at Lord’s, applauding a boundary by Kevin Pietersen during the India-England Twenty20 match:

“Jaitley, a hardcore cricket buff, was in London with his family on holiday while his party back home was imploding, just like the Indian team.”

On a yahoogroup called “Hindu Thought”, the former Century Mills public relations officer turned columnist Arvind Lavakare, attacked Swapan Dasgupta, presumably for urging the BJP to junk the “ugly Hindu” image engendered by its commitment to Hindutva.

“After quitting a salaried job in a reputed English magazine a few years ago, Swapan’s livelihood may well be depending on his writings being published in a wide range of prosperous English newspapers which are anti-Hindu and therefore anti-BJP. If that is indeed so, Swapan simply cannot afford to project and push the Hindu line beyond the Laxman rekha. Poor dear,” wrote Lavakare.

The comment would perhaps have gone unnoticed, but Dasgupta gave it some oxygen by responding in kind in a post-script on his blog:

“I have no intention of affirming my credentials. To do so would be to dignify Lavakare’s personal attacks as a substitute for an informed debate on ideas.

“I merely hope that the attacks on where I write, who went to college with me and who are my friends are not in any way an expression of envy. It is a matter of satisfaction for me that I get a platform in the mass media (cutting across editorial positions).

“Engaging with the wider world is daunting but much more meaningful than gloating inside a sectarian ghetto. I strong recommend Lavakare also tries earning a livelihood out of writing for “a range of prosperous English newspapers”. It could be a humbling experience.”

Among the few journalists to have spotted the travails of the “Journo Sena”, or at least among the few to have had the courage of conviction to put it on paper, is Faraz Ahmed.

He writes in The Tribune, Chandigarh:

“When the BJP lost power in 2004, all the branded BJP editors—Kanchan, Swapan, A. Surya Prakash and Udayan Namboodri—were pensioned off to Chandan Mitra’s Pioneer. Today, however, each one of them is finding fault with Advani, the BJP and some even with the Sangh.

“These are ominous signs of the demise of a political party and reminds one of the slow and painful death of Janata Dal in the early ’90s when the ‘Dalam’ was dying and BJP was on the upswing and everyone was joining it or identifying with it because that was the most happening party.

“To be fair to these people who naturally represent the rising middle class, they waited patiently for five years in a hope that the UPA government would be a one-election wonder and would die a natural death in the next round. So much for their political understanding.”

Obviously, everybody loves a winning horse and doubtless the antics of the “Journo Sena” would have made for more pleasant viewing had the election verdict been the other way round.

Still, their antics in the aftermath of defeat raise some fundamental questions about their grand-standing in the run-up to the elections: Are all-seeing, all-knowing journalists cut out for politics? Do they have the thick skin, large stamina, and the diplomatic skills required for the rough and tumble?

From the embarrassment they have caused and are causing to their party of choice, it is clear that there is an element of truth to BJP president Rajnath Singh’s statement that he can “neither swallow nor spew out” the journalists.

Then again, L.K. Advani started his career as a journalist.

Also read: How come no one saw the worm turn?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

Advani: Prime minister maybe, but not a good sub

‘Don’t be afraid of Taliban. They’re already here’

28 April 2009

The clamour within the BJP for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi as the party’s next prime ministerial candidate is growing with everybody from Arun Shourie to Arun Jaitely to Venkaiah Naidu lining up in support even as L.K. Advani watches aghast and the Supreme Court inserts a small spoke.

In the India Today group’s newspaper, Mail Today, Jyotirmaya Sharma, a professor in political studies at the University of Hyderabad author of “Terrifying Vision”: M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS and India, takes on the demand for the anointment head-on, saying it has two things in common with Modi.

“The first is a certain brand of vulgar impatience and haste, a hallmark of the mob as well as the tyrant, born out of a sense of self-proclaimed purity and righteousness. The other is a misplaced sense of aspiring for such indeterminate goals such as ‘ progress’ and ‘ development’, a chimera that leaves everyone out of the equation other than the sort of worthies who stood on a stage and argued for Modi’s elevation as prime minister.”

But Prof Sharma makes a larger point. Using Modi’s challenge to prime minister Manmohan Singh to hang Afzal Guru to prove his strength, his sexist stereotyping of the Congress as budiya and gudiya, and his statement that he is ready to be hanged in public if charges of his complicity in the post-Godhra “riots” are proved, he concludes that the Taliban is already amidst us in India in the form of Narendra Modi and his zealots.

“There is an uncanny resemblance in all the three to what we have known all along as the Taliban’s preferred way of meting out justice. We frown on these kinds of barbaric acts and the Sangh Parivar often implies that there is a relation between these forms of barbarism and the religious affiliation of those who indulge in these acts….

“The Taliban of today is only a mirror image of the irrational and mindless rage of Ashwatthama, the son of Drona in the epic Mahabharata.  Modi is the inheritor of Ashwatthama’s rage. In the epic, Ashwatthama had to ultimately pay for his deeds. But before that he wrecked destruction and brought sorrow to countless people. Is Modi’s future and fate the same as that of Drona’s misguided son?”

Read the full article: The Taliban is already amidst us

Should India do to Pakistan what it’s done to us?

16 February 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Arun Shourie is one of the strangest cases on the Indian intellectual landscape if not its most disappointing. A living, walking, moving advertisement of how rabid ideology can addle even the most riveting of minds, stripping it of all its nuance and pretence; its very soul and humanity.

***

Once a fiery critic of Reliance Industries as editor of the Indian Express, he was happy to deliver a eulogy at Dhirubhai Ambani‘s first death anniversary; even changing the law as minister to benefit Reliance Industries, as alleged by the son of Girilal Jain, the former Times of India editor who held shares in the company, no less.

Once a symbol of middle-class integrity and probity for various scams unearthed his watch, his stint as disinvestment minister was pockmarked with allegation after allegation (although an unattributed Wikipedia entry claims he was ranked “the most outstanding minister of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government” by 100 CEOs).

A slow, scholarly, Chaplinesque demeanour hides a cold, clinical mind that piles the rhetoric and the stereotypes on the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised while taking up high faluting positions on terrorism, governance, internal security and such like, through long, meandering essays whose opacity could put cub journalists to shame.

And, as always, selectively twisting and turning the facts to fit his preconceived conclusion, and hoping no one will notice.

To paraphrase Ramachandra Guha, Shourie has become the Arundhati Roy of the right:

“The super-patriot and the anti-patriot use much the same methods. Both think exclusively in black and white. Both choose to use a 100 words when 10 will do. Both arrogate to themselves the right to hand out moral certificates. Those who criticise Shourie are characterised as anti-national, those who dare take on Roy are made out to be agents of the State. In either case, an excess of emotion and indignation drowns out the facts.”

But what should disappoint even his most ardent fans, and there are many, is how easily and effortlessly a pacifist penman has regressed from “a concerned citizen employing his pen as an effective adversary of corruption, inequality and injustice” (as his Magsaysay Award citation read) to a hate-spewing ideological warrior with fire blazing through his nostrils.

A son of a Gandhian who now openly advocates “two eyes for an eye and a whole jaw for one tooth” with barely any qualms.

***

At a series of lectures in Ahmedabad on Saturday, Shourie bared his fangs some more:

“India is still a passive country when it comes to taking a stand against terrorism….

It should, in fact, take an extremist stance and must prove that it can also create a Kashmir-like situation in Pakistan.

There are many places like Baluchistan, where a Kashmir-like situation can be created but, “hum abhi bhi Panchsheel ke pujari hain (We still worship the tenets of Panchsheel)”….

“Pakistan has been successfully carrying out destruction in India for the last two decades and has still managed to escape problems, while India on every occasion has failed to present a unified response to terrorism and has suffered as a consequence….”

Really?

An eye for an eye? Two eyes for an eye? A jaw for a tooth?

In the name of Swami Vivekananda, should India do unto Pakistan what Pakistan has done to us? Is this a sign of vision on the part of a man who some believe should be the next prime minister, or tunnel vision?

Is such barely disguised hatred and vengeance, hiding behind vedas and upanishads, going to make the subcontinent a better place to live in? Should the people of Pakistan, the poor, the marginalised, the disenfranchised, pay the price for the sins of the generals?

Should a great, ancient civilisation become a cheap, third-rate, neighbourhood bully?

Has Arun Shourie lost more than his soul and humanity?

Has Arun Shourie just lost it?

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu Business Line

Also read: How Shilpa Shetty halted the Chinese incursions

Crossposted on sans serif

How Shilpa Shetty halted the Chinese incursions

14 February 2008

China apparently made 146 incursions into Indian territory last year. The Chinese are preventing locals from going up to regions where they had been taking their animals for grazing. Even a statue of Buddha is off-limits. And “cartographic aggression”, in which Arunachal Pradesh is shown as Chinese territory, is assuming epidemic proportions.

When two BJP MPs from Arunachal Pradesh, Tapir Gao and Kiren Rijiju, raised the issue at a party meeting last November, the journalist-turned-politician Arun Shourie, who was reading a book Why geography matters too chipped in. So, all three were invited by president L.K. Advani to attend the party’s afternoon press briefing.

Shourie writes in The Indian Express on how the media reacted to a matter of profound national security. The hack-pack, he writes, is only too eager to get into a tu-tu, main-main; to pick holes in the motives and motivations of the messenger instead of probing the message. And, as he told Karan Thapar on CNBC-TV18 last night, The Times of India and the Hindustan Times were busy with two very urgent stories—longer working hours for bars and 24-hour shopping:

I had hardly concluded that the usual clutch—pro-Congress, pro-Left—was up in arms. “When was the book published?” one demanded…. “But what did the NDA do about the incursions?” another member of that clutch demanded… “No, Mr Shourie, but you have to acknowledge that there is no agreed international border between India and China. So…” That is the Chinese position as articulated by your paper often, I said. It has not been the position of any Indian Government…

An anchor from a news channel phoned. I saw your press conference, he said. We have been following this story for many months. Can you please come to our studio? No, I said, I really am very upset at what happened. But I give you my word, he said, we think this is an important issue, and we are going to follow it in the coming months also. I will send an OB-van to your house.

The van came. The late night news. The earpiece in my ear. All set. Delay—quite understandable: some new eruption in Nandigram. Eventually, the anchor and I are talking.

“But are you sure about the facts or is the BJP indulging in its usual fear-politics?” the anchor asks. But why don’t you ascertain them from the two MPs who represent the area? I respond. Better still, why don’t you send your own correspondents and photographers to the area? I inquire. “We will, we will, I assure you. I was just making sure…”

In any case, look at what the ambassador of China has himself said, I remarked. Remember, just days before Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, was to come to India, the ambassador declared, right here on Indian soil, that Arunachal is a part of China…

“But maybe he was saying it for rhetorical effect,” said the anchor.

Rhetorical effect? I skipped a heartbeat. Is the Chinese Ambassador also running after TRP ratings like the TV channels? Would an ambassador say such things just for effect? And that too the ambassador of China, of all countries? You mean an ambassador, you mean the ambassador of China of all countries would claim the territory of the country to which he is accredited, that he would lay claim to an entire state of that country for rhetorical effect? I asked. And remember, I pointed out, he repeated the claim in Chandigarh later. And look at the government of China — it has not distanced itself from the claim advanced by its ambassador. On the contrary, its ‘think-tanks’ have held ‘seminars’ in the wake of the ambassador’s statement. In this the ‘scholars’ and ‘diplomats’ and ‘strategic thinkers’ have declared to the man that Arunachal is ‘Chinese territory under India’s forcible occupation’; that it is ‘China’s Tawang region’; that it is ‘Southern Tibet’ which must be brought under the control of the Tibet Autonomous Region. And you call this rhetorical? That is just lunatic…

The anchor was off to the next item. “Be that as it may… Another controversy… Thank you, Mr Shourie. Always a pleasure talking to you. Moving now to a slightly less controversial story…” “SHILPA SHETTY,” he said, his voice rising, “has not been in the news since the famous Richard Gere kiss, but we have her back today. Here she is, SHILPA SHETTY…”

The sound on my earpiece cut. Shilpa Shetty had once again trumped poor Arunachal.

Photographs: The Daily Mail, London

Read the full article: Shilpa Shetty trumps Arunachal again

Also read: Kissing is not part of our culture? Pissing is?

Cross-posted on sans serif


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