Posts Tagged ‘Atal Behari Vajpayee’

An example to emulate for Indian journalists

10 August 2009

basharat_peer

Not too many working Indian journalists are in the book-writing habit. At least not in English. Pesky bosses who don’t give leave from work, the effort involved in finding a publisher, the commitment entailed in pursuing a different form of writing, not to speak of the fear of failure, etc, all play a contributing part.

But it’s changing.

The former Indian Express reporter S. Hussain Zaidi wrote Black Friday on the 1993 Bombay blasts; Srinjoy Chowdhury, then of The Telegraph, wrote Flight into Fear on the IC-814 hijacking; The Times of India‘s Manoj Mitta brought home the horrors of 1984 with When a tree shook Delhi.

More recently, Harinder Baweja compiled a volume on the 26/11 seige on Bombay, and so on.

And there is the odd biography like Alam Srinivas‘s Storms in the Sea Wind on the Ambanis.

The former rediff.com and Tehelka journalist Basharat Peer, who did a scathing critique of Indian journalism’s allergy for “serious, well-researched, long-form reportage” for Columba Journalism Review in 2007, has written a book on his home-state, Kashmir.

Shivanand Kanavi, former executive editor of Business India, who wrote Sand to Silicon on India’s digital rise, reviews Peer’s attempt to fill a vital hole in Indian journalism—and finds three gaping holes.

***

Shivanand

By SHIVANAND KANAVI

Basharat Peer’s “Curfewed Night” is a welcome first-person account of Kashmir of the last two decades. Peer’s book is lyrical, intense, partisan and cynical in varied proportions at the same time.

A simple linear narrative of events since the 1980s as seen by a Kashmiri boy (the author), Curfewed Night will help in educating the vast mass of Indian people who are distant from Kashmir in every way, who are not activists of the human rights movement, and who are the chief target of the Indian State’s one-sided propaganda about what’s been happening in Kashmir in the last two decades.

The book begins at the beginning that is the author’s childhood. This part is lyrical and at times cute. It could have been the retold story of any articulate, sensitive boy from any Indian village to any urban or exotic audience. Then comes teenage and the romance of the Azadi movement; the blind fury and brutality of the security forces clearly reflecting their hate and an occupationist attitude towards the Kashmiris.

Peer tells the story of the emergence of the struggle of Kashmiri youth, armed and trained across the Line of Control (LoC) by our friendly neighbours and the impact of all this on their friends and families. The author’s own brief inner turmoil to cross or not to cross the LoC, the romance of a sexy AK-47, and the pressure from the family to follow a more traditional middle-class road and, above all, a concern for self-preservation, are all conveyed very convincingly.

Then comes the life of a self-exiled student and later of a young journalist in the 1990s, with a longing to tell the “untold story of Kashmir”; the evolution of the author with exposure to a normal life and ‘freedom from searches’; exhaustion setting in about indigenous militancy with no hope of a quick victory and so on, seems a little rushed.

Peer then gives us an invaluable, authentic picture of the emergence of jihadis from Pakistan equipped with laptops and satellite phones ready to unleash terror, where the random victims are not necessarily military targets, while a hapless population caught in the cross fire continues to grieve over the loss of a generation.

Peer excels when he brings out journalistic gems like the story of the ikhwanis, turncoat militants who became a part of Indian counter-insurgency; chameleon-like careerists who smoothly switch roles between militant, reformed militant and politician, a cryptic hint of the alienation of separatist politicians from the ordinary aggrieved Kashmiris; or the schizophrenia of a swaggering para-military officer who unexpectedly melts in a media room when Peer starts  recalling the life he spent in Delhi.

Despite these excellent points, however, there are some rough edges and glaring lacunae as well.

Peer’s style is very uneven and varies between the raw and the sophisticated. It is possible that the account has been written over a long period of time during which the writer himself has evolved. However, that does not absolve the responsibility of the publisher’s editorial team to play their role, which is more than spell checking.

Peer completely omits the Kargil war and is similarly silent about the Indo-Pak peace yatra that started with the Lahore bus trip by Atal Behari Vajpayee and has gone through its yo-yo moments.

These are glaring blemishes to ignore, especially from a trained journalist.

Peer stumbles often in maintaining distance and some circumspection regarding his own emotions and concerns. For example, there is too much shock expressed when a youth who is dandily throwing grenades and sniping armymen gets killed in an encounter.

Surely, Peer did not expect such elements to be given a medal by the army?

I am sure the militant himself was mentally ready for “shahadat”, even though youth are prone to feel temporarily invincible in the early stages of any insurgency. The fact of the matter is in such armed insurgencies there are very few armed men surviving till the end game (say in PLO or IRA).

Peer also exhibits a casual disdain for the changes that are occurring in India in the last two decades and rubbishes them with the label of a discredited “India Shining”, an affliction of many a blinkered anti-establishment writer.

In fact there is every reason to believe that these changes are also occurring at least in Srinagar and Jammu if not in rural J&K, albeit in a small way, and that is affecting the attitude of a section of Kashmiri youth (mostly born post-Gawakadal) who want to move on.

The fact that despite the hysteria of the Amarnath agitation in Jammu and Srinagar, the prime movers of the agitation on both sides viz BJP and PDP did not win either Srinagar or Jammu seats in the general election says something. There are long queues for recruitment into new BPOs opening up in Jammu and Srinagar.

Then again, the recent prolonged strikes in Srinagar post-Shopian and a suicidal destruction of the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris engaged in the tourist trade, tells us not to get carried away too much and that the old is still very much alive.

On the whole, Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night is a welcome addition to conte3mporary history, written with passion and pathos.

It is surprising that we have so few of these in India (at least in the English language). Why don’t we have more such attempts to tell the story of Manipur, Nagaland, Narmada valley, the jungles of Orissa/ Chhattisgarh/ Jharkhand, Dharavi, Emergency, Amritsar ’84, Delhi ’84, Mumbai ’93 or Gujarat 2002 in print or in film?

Why don’t we have our Norma Rae, Erin Brokovich or My heart lies buried at Wounded Knee? An Amu (Delhi 1984) or a Parzania (Gujarat 2002) are not enough.

Hopefully, more writers will follow Peer’s lead.

Photograph: courtesy Outlook magazine

Also read: How every journalist can write that dream book

Don’t laugh: Do journos make good politicians?

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

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

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 young journalists, 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 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 churumuri

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