Can anything be off-the-record when the prime minister of the largest democracy in the solar system has a rare celestial confluence with the stars and satellites of the media galaxy?
More importantly, should anything be off the record?
And merely because a media minder says so, should it remain off the record, howsoever important the issue?
Manmohan Singh, a television-era politician with a face for the radio (who hasn’t given a single one-on-one interview to any Indian print, television or digital journalist since 2004), called for a rare pow-wow with a dozen of the “second-most important people in India“, on Monday, 6 September, the year of the lord 2010.
Obviously, it was a belated attempt at getting some good press after the intimations of mortality some of his party colleagues have been giving him in morse code. More such interactions are to follow.
All went to plan till the paperboy flung the Tuesday papers into 7, Race Course Road.
The nation’s largest English daily, The Times of India, led with the headline: “China wants India to be in state of low-level equilibrium.”
ToI (represented at the meeting by its executive editor Arindam Sengupta) reported that in response to a question, the PM had:
“agreed that Beijing could be tempted to use India’s ‘soft underbelly,’ Kashmir, and Pakistan ‘to keep India in low-level equilibrium….’ China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect on this reality.”
Turns out the PM’s comment was off-the-record, and the PM’s description of Kashmir as India’s “soft underbelly” was actually the questioner’s.
The Wall Street Journal has a story today on how the prime minister was “furious” at the outcome.
What’s not clear is whether Mr. Singh’s bad experience with the media will force him back in to his shell. “The idea was our friends in the media should have access to the prime minister,” the senior Indian government official said. “This is a bit of a setback.”
Obviously, there were some pre-arranged rules for the interaction. However, was the PM too trustful of the media on the hot-button issue of the day (China) on which two of his ministerial colleagues (Jairam Ramesh and P. Chidambaram) sparred openly and noisily?
Or did the PM himself let it slip deliberately?
Read the full article: Will media setback silence Mr Singh?
Also read: Why Manmohan should talk to the media more