Posts Tagged ‘Sudheendra Kulkarni’

How Amitabh Bachchan ‘saved’ an AFP journo

14 March 2014

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SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI writes: “Hi Sudheen, how are you?” the caller on my mobile phone asked me the day after I landed in Cairo last month. It was an Indian voice, also somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t quite connect the voice with the name.

It was Jay Deshmukh, a colleague with whom I had worked together many years ago ─ indeed, in the early 1990s ─ in The Sunday Observer and the Business & Politics Observer in Mumbai (Bombay then). I had lost contact with him after I moved to Delhi and I least expected to receive a phone call from him in Cairo of all the places.

Jay had come to know about my arrival in Cairo from the email sent out to mediapersons by the Indian embassy in Egypt, which had organised my talk on ‘Mahatma Gandhi in the Internet Age’ the following day.

We met the same evening at Hotel Flamenco, overlooking the Nile River, where I was staying. The view of the river, and also of the sprawling city of Cairo beyond the river, was enchanting from the tenth floor of the hotel.

Over cups of Egyptian tea, we spoke about ourselves and about the state of the world.

My admiration for Jay grew immensely when I heard about his journalistic journey since he first cut his teeth in the profession two decades ago in Mumbai.

Jay, who is now the Cairo-based Middle East correspondent for Agence France Presse (AFP), is quite simply the only Indian journalist who has worked in so many “interesting places” in West Asia.

For the past fifteen years, he has served as a news agency correspondent in Iraq, Iran, Libya and now in Egypt. Earlier he has also worked in Sri Lanka.

Three years ago, he was expelled from Iran because of his powerful reporting about opposition reports in that country.

It takes courage and a very degree of professional commitment to work as a journalist in this part of the world, especially in countries like Iraq and Libya when they were facing both external wars and bloody internal conflicts.

The risks involved in covering conflict situations are obvious. The risks are all the greater for news agency correspondents who have to be alert 24×7.

For Jay, money is clearly not the attraction for working in these places.

He told me: “I have consciously chosen to specialise as a correspondent in this part of the world because, as I have often told myself, why should only westerners be telling the story of Africa, the Arab world and other West Asian countries like Iran? Of course, as a journalist working for an international news agency, I am a thorough professional, but at heart I remain a proud Indian. And I strongly believe that there should be more Indian journalists working in different parts of the world. Indians should see and understand the happenings in the world from an Indian perspective. Indian media has not paid adequate attention to this aspect.”

I couldn’t agree with Jay more.

Jay recounted one particularly thrilling ─ or scary, if one were in his position ─ experience of his as a news agency journalist while covering the US war in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.

One day he was kidnapped by a militant group, which suspected him to be an American spy. They handcuffed him and dragged him to an unknown place. Their captors used various methods to extract information from him ─ who he was, what he was doing, what information he was passing on, and to whom.

Jay tried to tell them, in his broken Arabic, that he was a journalist working for a news agency, but to no avail. The day wore on, but there was no sign of him being released.

Then a new interrogator came and asked Jay, “Are you from Pakistan?”

“No, I am from India,” Jay replied.

“INDIA? Sholay? Amitabh Bachchan? You know Amitabh Bachchan?”

When Jay convinced his interrogator, through his knowledge of Hindi films ─ and particularly Amitabh Bachchan’s films ─that he was indeed an Indian, the ice suddenly broke.

His Iraqi captor’s attitude turned perceptibly warm. Thereafter he started telling Jay what a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan he was. He then told his colleagues, “This man is a friend of ours. He is from India. Let’s set him free.”

Amazing, isn’t it?

(Sudheendra Kulkarni is former media advisor to Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani)

Photograph: courtesy Asia One

Follow Jay Deshmukh on Twitter: @DeshmukhJay

***

Also read: Sudheendra Kulkarni on Russy Karanjia

Sudheendra Kulkarni ends his Indian Express column

Sudheendra Kulkarni ends his ‘Express’ column

26 May 2013

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Sudheendra Kulkarni, the former left-leaning Sunday Observer and Blitz journalist who became a close aide of former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee and BJP president L.K. Advani, has ended his column in The Indian Express.

Kulkarni, who was jailed for his alleged role in the cash-for-votes scandal and wrote a book on Mahatma Gandhi and the internet upon his release, writes in his farewell piece:

“I always tried to use this valued space to write what I believed in, and on issues of concern and interest to society.

“Although I have long ceased to be a Marxist, there is one maxim of Karl Marx which continues to hold a sway over my mind, and which consciously or subconsciously dictated, each time I sat down to write my column, that I should take this communication with my readers seriously.

“Ideas, Marx says, become “a material force as soon as they have gripped the masses”. And they grip the masses if they are radical (which, to me today, means if they are truthful in the Gandhian sense of Truth).

“To be radical,” Marx adds, “is to grasp the root of the matter. But for man the root is man himself.” Man-making, in the words of Swami Vivekananda, is the mission of all education—and journalism is nothing if it does not regard itself as an educator of society.

“I sincerely attempted through this column to accomplish two things. Firstly, I tried in my own very modest way to participate in the ongoing battle of ideas in Indian society, believing both that good ideas are what India desperately needs and good ideas are what ultimately will triumph.

“Secondly, with the hope that spurs every goal-oriented social-political activist who has access to some media space, I hoped that my words could influence some positive change somewhere in our society, even though this hope is increasingly giving way to the realisation that Gandhiji was right in exhorting that one can influence change in the world only after creating the desired change in oneself.”

Photograph: courtesy NDTV

Read the full article: Thank you

Also read: Do journalists make good politicians?

Is Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

21 April 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Indeed, from being a paper deeply suspicious of big business, it has become the go-to newspaper for corporate honchos seeking to put out their story. Ratan Tata‘s first interview after the Radia tapes hit the ceiling was with Shekhar Gupta for NDTV‘s Walk the Talk show. And for a paper deeply suspicious of power, the paper now publishes arbitrary “power lists”, without ever revealing the jury or the methodology behind the rankings. (Shekhar Gupta was decorated with the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, by the UPA government in 2009.)

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

Also read: Arnab edges out Barkha on Express power list

The curious case of Zakir Naik and Shekhar Gupta

A columnist more powerful than all media pros

‘Editors and senior journos must declare assets’

RSS feed: New BJP chief spikes journalists

21 March 2010

Coomi Kapoor in the Indian Express on the journalists’ contingent in the new team of BJP office-bearers.

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

Who are the journalists running, ruining BJP?

L.K. Advani: PM maybe but not a very good sub

Don’t laugh: do journalists make good politicians?

‘The lone ranger of loony Hindutva’ versus…

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

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.

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

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

How come nobody heard or saw the worm turn?

29 May 2009

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Hindsight, as the moronic aphorism goes, is always 20/20.

And we have been seeing plenty of hindsight dressed as foresight over the last fortnight following the announcement of the results of the general elections, which bucked the “anti-incumbency” cliche and put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance back in power.

# Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta has said the politics of aspiration trumped the politics of grievance. CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai writes that it is a vote for decency in public life. Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta sees it as a vote against hate and abuse.

# Journalists aligned to the BJP like Swapan Dasgupta have said the BJP failed to keep pace with the realities of a new India. The BJP spokesman Sudheendra Kulkarni has said stability won over change. Atanu Dey says the Congress managed the media better.

# Many analysts have seen in the surprise Congress win, a vote for youth. Political psychologist Ashis Nandy detects a vote against arrogance. The economist Bibek Debroy among others has attributed the Congress win to its social welfare programmes. Pratap Bhanu Mehta has said the era of votebank politics is over.

And so on and on.

And on and on.

The grim truth is that all this is post-facto rationalisation by media sages, policy wonks and psephologists, ever so wise, as so many of us usually are, after the event.

Like the blind men who felt the elephant, they touch different parts of the gargantuan electoral animal now that it has come to rest, and they feel different things.

The reality is nobody in our media—television, newspapers, magazines—and nobody at the top, bottom or middle, knew what was going on. And what we were being peddled for days and weeks was drivel as wisdom.

Why?

And how does this happen election after election?

In 2004, the media had “called the election” in favour of the BJP-led alliance and was acting as if “We, the People” should only go to the polling booths and fulfil their prophecy.

Well, “We, the People” decided to spring a surprise and put the Congress-led alliance in office.

In 2009, most media vehicles somewhat got the winning alliance right, but chastened perhaps by the 2004 experience, weren’t willing to stick their neck out beyond giving a wafer-thin margin for the UPA over the NDA.

In reality, the huge gap of over 100 seats between the victor and the vanquished; the surprise showing of the Congress in States like Uttar Pradesh where it had been written off; the number of first-time MPs belowed the age of 40 (58); the number of women elected (59), etc, shows that there is something truly, incredibly, unbelievably wrong in our mass media’s connect with the masses.

Of course, the term “media” is a loose, general one because there is no one, single media oeprating uniformly, homogenously in every part of the land. There are various shades to it, in various languages, in various forms, in various States and regions, etc. And then some more.

Still, how could almost all of them get so much so palpably wrong?

Did the tide turn in the favour of the Congress inside the secrecy of the voting booths preventing our esteemed men and women in the media from knowing what was happening?

Or was it building up slowly but we were too busy or distracted to notice?

If it was the latter, why?

Is there a disconnect between mass media and the masses? Is the undercurrent of democracy too difficult to be spotted? Or are our media houses and personnel not equipped with the equipment and wherewithal to detect these trends?

Given the poor presence and even poorer coverage of the mainstream media in the rural countryside, it is understandable that we were unable to get the rural countryside wrong.

Why, even the one English paper with a “rural affairs editor” was backing the wrong horse which, it turns out, wasn’t even in the race at all, all the while.

Little wonder, the electoral magic being ascribed to the National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREG) scheme and the farm loan waiver—moves which were dismissed as wasteful expenditure by the neoliberals in the “free market” media—went largely unnoticed.

But what about the urban pockets?

The powerhouses of our media pride themselves on being fiercely urban and urbane; serving the aspirations of the middle-class and the wannabes. Yet, the fact that so few of them could detect the ground shifting from underneath the urban, middle-class BJP’s feet shines an unkindly light.

The Congress and its allies (DMK, Trinamool, NCP) won all the metros—Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras—except Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Why, for example, was it difficult to detect the anger of the urban middle-classes against the BJP’s abuse of prime minister Manmohan Singh before counting day?

Or their thirst for fresh, young faces before they were elected and sworn in?

Certainly, the function of the media is not to serve as a soothsayer. It is not expected to tell us what will happen in the future. Nevertheless, it is expected to have a finger on the pulse. Two successive electoral failures suggest that we are consistently holding the wrong vein and coming to the wrong prognosis.

Indeed, on current record, we seem to be living in an echo chamber, hearing our own voices, and relaying it to the world as gospel truth. Or selling our space and airtime without batting an eyelid.

As a piece on the Satyam scandal on this site asked:

Is journalism that doesn’t shed light journalism?

Or puff?

Or PR?

Or Advertising?

Caveat emptor!

Also read: How come media not spot Satyam fraud?

Media owners, journalists holding democracy ransom

RUSSY K. KARANJIA: REST IN PEACE

1 February 2008

sans serif records with deep regret the demise of Rustom Khurshedji Karanjia, aka Rusi or Russy Karanjia, the legendary editor of India’s first tabloid newsweekly Blitz, in Bombay this afternoon, February 1, 2008. He was 95 years old. He is survived by his brother, the well-known film journalist, B.K. Karanjia, and his daughter Rita Mehta.

Russy was a special correspondent at The Times of India, before leaving to start Blitz in 1941. A small, delicately architectured Parsi, quite a contrast to his towering reputation, Karanjia prided himself on his interviews with world leaders from Anwar Sadat to Nikita Krushchev to Marshal Tito in the Nehruvian non-alignment era.

His interactions with the Shah of Iran resulted in a book The Mind of a Monarch.

But it was as the helmsman of a no-holds-barred tabloid that unabashedly took sides that Karanjia gained his true and lasting reputation, the only competition coming from Current, launched by another Parsi, D.F. Karaka.

In the infamous Nanavati murder trial—a handsome naval officer called Kawas Nanavati had shot dead his wife’s playboy lover, and more than half the nation thought he had done the right and decent thing—Blitz ran a parallel trial that not only took Nanavati’s side but also celebrated the elegant commander, writes Indra Sinha.

A self-declared atheist and Marxist, Karanjia tore into crooks and charlatans, and among his favourite targets was the Sai Baba of Puttaparthi. When Sai Baba gave him rare access and interviews, Karanjia turned around, and admitted he was wrong, and proclaimed him as a living god, even becoming his follower.

Blitz played host to several luminaries. Its back page was written for decades by the film-maker K.A. Abbas. The former media advisor to Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, Sudheendra Kulkarni, was a deputy editor of the tabloid. And the Hindu‘s rural affairs editor, P. Sainath, too cut his teeth there.

Karanjia was also a key figure behind one of India’s all-time-great women journalists, Olga Tellis.

Buoyed by the success of the weekly Blitz, Karanjia started a morning tabloid in Bombay called The Daily (“a bulldog of a newspaper”), which was later sold to the industrialist-politician Kamal Morarka. The Blitz group—comprising the Urdu edition of Blitz, and the movie magazine Cine Blitz—was later sold to the industrialist-politician Vijay Mallya.

A natty dresser, Karanjia, for a one-time Marxist, ended up modelling for Vimal Suitings of the late Dhirubhai Ambani.

Karanjia was known to accept contributions from young journalists after sending them a stentorian telegram which read: “WILL USE IF EXCLUSIVE TO BLITZ AND BLITZ ONLY”. And he always paid, sometimes even inviting them for dinner at his Marine Drive residence in Bombay, with his Afghan hound for company.

“He was an aristocrat by birth but believed in Marxism… he was never an ivory tower editor—his room was always open for people,” V. Gangadhar, the satirist who wrote a column for Blitz for 15 years, told the Indian Express.

Photograph: Mid-Day

TARUN VIJAY on Russy Karanjia

BACHI KARKARIA on Russy Karanjia

B.R.P. BHASKAR on Russy Karanjia

Mid-Day obituary

The Hoot obituary

Will this man be the next US Secretary of State?

25 April 2007

When Indian journalists like M.J. Akbar, Arun Shourie, Chandan Mitra, Sudheendra Kulkarni et al cosy up to politicians, tout a particular ideological line, stand for elections, grab non-journalistic posts, negotiate deals, etc, we look at them with a slight degree of circumspection.

Are they, you wonder, misusing their editorial positions and platforms to advance a personal, political end?

But no such critical examination seems to be in store for Fareed Zakaria, the Indian-born editor of Newsweek International, who is once again being spoken of as a probable candidate for the post of Secretary of State in the next US administration.

The subject came up four years ago when New York magazine profiled him in a piece entitled “Man of the World.” A writer for New York erroneously quoted Zakaria as saying his friends thought he was going to be secretary of state someday. (In fact, it was the writer saying that.)

The ghee-whiz, awshucks possibility of an Indian holding the high office continues unabated four years later.

In an interview to Jon Friedman of Marketwatch, Zakaria, 43—son of the late scholar-politician Rafiq Zakaria and Illustrated Weekly journalist Fatma Zakaria—says speculation about his occupying a cabinet post is “one of the strange burdens” of having such a prestigious reputation.

“I’m flattered, I suppose. But I’m not a ‘party man,’ and you usually have to demonstrate that kind of loyalty to be chosen for government office.”

I asked him bluntly if he would go to Washington. “I won’t be coy with you. I’ll give you an honest answer,” he began. “I’d always be intrigued. But again, it’s unlikely and I’ll die happily if I never have a White House pass.”

Ultimately, Zakaria said: “If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on this.”

Read the full article here: “President Obama? Meet Secretary Zakaria”

Photograph by Sigrid Estrada

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