There’s more sleaze in Congress cupboard
Congress leaders are in a state of shock over revelations on Digvijay Singh‘s secret love life with a married TV journalist. They are worried that more such skeletons will tumble out of their leaders’ cupboards.
There are indications that BJP supporters may soon release sex and sleaze information about two Central ministers involved with two journalists.
As is only to be expected, a number of journalists figure in former Economic Times, Times of India and Financial Express journalist Sanjaya Baru‘s book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister‘ (Penguin), on his days as the PM’s media advisor.
In May 2005, as the UPA approached its first anniversary, reports began to appear that the PM was reviewing the performance of his ministers.
On 9 May, when he was in Moscow, NDTV ran a story that external affairs minister Natwar Singh had secured a ‘low’ score on the PM’s ‘report card’ and was likely to be dropped from the Cabinet.
Natwar was most unhappy and took the day off on ‘health grounds’.
This news reached the PM in Moscow when he was in the midst of a briefing at his hotel. He asked me to find out what exactly NDTV had reported.
When I brief him he burst out angrily, ‘Tell Prannoy to stop reporting these lies.’
I called Prannoy Roy and had just begun speaking to him when the PM asked for my mobile phone and spoke to Prannoy himself, scolding him like he was chiding a student who had erred, saying, ‘This is not correct. You cannot report like this.’
Indeed, the relationship between him and Pranny was not that of a PM and senior media editor but more like that of a former boss and a one-time junior,. This was because Prannoy had worked as an economic adviser in the miistry of finance under Dr Singh.
After a few minutes, Prannoy called me back.
‘Are you still with him?’ he asked
I stepped out of the room and told him that I was now alone.
‘Boy, I have not been scolded like that since school! He sounded like a headmaster, not a prime minister,’ complained Prannoy.
Rupert Muroch (of Star TV and News Corp) tried a trick to secure an appointment (with the PM).
Having failed on one occasion to meet Dr Singh, he made a second attempt by letting it be known that he was not interested in talking about his media business. Rather, he wanted to talk about China.
The PM was amused and granted him an appointment. Murdoch did duscuss China and explained where he saw China going. But, as he got up to leave, he expressed the hope that the Indian government would be more receptive to his media plan than China had been.
Within the PMO, (former national security advisor) Mani Dixit’s imperious style inevitably came into conflict with my own more freewheeling and irreverent style of functioning.
Our first disagreement was on who could travel with the PM on his official plane.
Seeing the name of Times of India journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, who later served as editor of The Hindu, on the media list, Mani sent me a note informing me that Siddharth was not an Indian national but an American citizen and, as a foreign national, was not entitled to travel on the PM’s plane.
I was aware of Siddharth’s citizenship, since this matter had come up when I had hired him as an assistant editor of the Times of India.
I chose not to make an issue of it then and Samir Jain, vice chairman of Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, the publishers of The Times of India, who took particular interest in the hiring of editorial writers, did not object either. Now the matter had surfaced again.
I arranged a series of breakfast meetings with important editors, publishers and TV anchors. As an early riser Dr Singh would schedule his breakfast meetings for half past eight being late to bed and late to rise, editors and TV anchors would protest but turn up on time.
When I invited a group of publishers, the only ones to arrive late were Shobhana Bhartia of Hindustan Times because, as she tole me, she took a long time to dry her hair and Indu Jain, chairperson of the Times of India, because she had to finish her morning puja.
Also read: Kuldip Nayar on Shekhar Gupta, N. Ram & Co
The BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” Narendra Modi has, at best, enjoyed a tenuous relationship with the media and media professionals.
Although media houses which he spurned are now eating out of his hands, the Gujarat chief minister continues to be generally more comfortable with owners, whom he gives helicopter rides or calls on personally while visiting their cities.
Simha, who created a stir with his blazing Saturday columns at the Rajeev Chandrasekhar–owned Kannada Prabha and previously at the Times of India–owned Vijaya Karnataka, was the alleged target of a “terror” plot in 2012, in which a journalist was named. The police claim, however, fell flat.
Let the record show that a journalist who had never seen the sun rise, now begins his day at 6 am.
Let the record also show that at extreme left is the former Karnataka minister S.A. Ramadas, whose threat to commit suicide was caught on live television.
Photograph: Karnataka Photo News
Mainstream Indian (print) editors today are usually at their nattiest best, wearing carefully chosen Fab India kurtas if not designer clothes, trendy watches and slick spectacles, with not a strand out of place on their mane.
Guess who this newspaper editor is?
From Buzzword, the gossip column of The Sunday Guardian:
The Communists in Kerala were left red-faced when the CPI(M) newspaper Deshabhimani carried a full page advertisement by Narendra Modi‘s Gujarat government. The advertisement, highlighting Gujarat’s Mahatma Gandhi Swachchata Mission, features a huge Modi portrait.
When taken to task, the newspaper management defended their act by saying it was a government advertisement.
The associate editor of the newspaper went ahead to say that it did not matter if the ad was from the Narendra Modi government, or from Mamata Banerjee or Oommen Chandy. However, CPM bosses have told the newspaper to stay away from accepting all Modi advertisements.
External reading: Madhyamam
Also read: Is Modi media biased against Rahul Gandhi?
Khushwant Singh, the self-proclaimed “dirty old man of Indian journalism”, has passed away at his home in New Delhi, at the age of 99.
Ironically, Dhiren Bhagat was to predecease Singh by 24 years, and Khushwant Singh ended up reviewing a collection of his work for India Today in 1990.
Below is the full text of Dhiren Bhagat’s “obituary”, written for the February 13, 1983 edition of The Sunday Observer.
I was saddened to read that Khushwant Singh passed away in his sleep last week. What a quiet end for so loud a man.
How the gods mock the mocking.
Contradictions surrounded Khushwant at every stage of his life. He strove to give the impression that he was a drunken slob yet he was one of the most hard-working and punctual men I knew.
He professed agnosticism and yet enjoyed kirtan as only few can and do.
He was known nationally as a celebrated lecher but for the past thirty years at least it was a hot-water-bottle that warmed his bed.
He devoted his last years in the service of a woman who decisively spurned him in the end.
He made a profession of living off his friends’ important names and yet worked single-handedly to diminish that very importance.
Empty vessels make the most noise but Khushwant was always full of the Scotch he had cadged off others.
He was a much misunderstood man. So before the limp eulogies start pouring in (how Khushwant would have hated them!) let me set the record straight.
As Khushwant once said, the obituary is the best place to tell the truth for dead men file no libel suits. (An agnostic to the end he didn’t believe in the Resurrection.)
Khushwant was born in 1915 in a rich but not particularly educated home. They were Khuranas from Sargodha who made good in Delhi.
His father, Sir Sobha Singh, was the contractor who built the city of New Delhi and who in consequence received a knighthood. In 1947 it used to be said (somewhat inaccurately it must be admitted) that ninety-nine per cent of New Delhi was owned by the Government and one per cent by Sir Sobha Singh.
After his initial education Khushwant was sent to England to appear for the ICS. He didn’t make it.
Later he would tell a story of how he had made it to the Merit List but how that year there was a reserved place for a non-Jat from Phulkian state (later PEPSU) and how some-one with less marks than him filled that place. But Khushwant was always a great raconteur so it is difficult to know what to believe.
Once bitten, twice shy. Khushwant didn’t try for the ICS again but instead enrolled himself at the London School of Economics from where in the course of things he acquired a BA.
The examiners decided to place him in the Third Class. After his degree Khushwant read for the Bar where he was equally successful. (His brother Daljit, now a businessman, was always the better scholar of the two.)
When Khushwant came back after six years in England a family friend asked his father: ‘Kaka valaiton kee kar ke aayaa hai? (What has the boy done in England?) Sir Sobha Singh replied ‘Time pass kar ke aaya hai jee.’ (He has been marking time.)
It is unlikely the canny contractor was joking.
After the Partition Khushwant joined the Indian Foreign Service and this phase of his career took him to London, Ottawa and Paris. In this period he began publishing short stories on rustic themes.
In 1955 he shot to fame when a novel of his won a large cash award set by an American publishing house in order to attract manuscripts. It was a mediocre Partition quickie called Mano Majra (later published as Train to Pakistan).
Years passed. Khushwant kept writing books, on the Jupji, on the Sikhs, on India, stories, translations: many of them provocatively titled and indicative of his deepest desires, “I Shall Rape the Nightingale”, “I Take This Woman” etc. Some of these attempts were successful.
But success and cosmopolitan living did not spoil the earthiness of the robust Jat.
He continued to down his Scotch with a ferocity that made his hosts nervous. He
continued to tell stories that revealed his deep obsession with the anal.
He had a theory that all anger was a result of an upset stomach and instructed his son to ask his mother if her stomach walls troubling her whenever she scolded him.
In his more smug moments he attributed his own iconoclastic calm to the severe constipation from which he had suffered since childhood.
In 1969 Khushwant took over the Illustrated Weekly of India and embarked on the most controversial phase of his career. On the editor’s page Mario Miranda drew a bulb and Khushwant sat in it, along with his Scotch and dirty pictures.
Sitting in that cross-legged position Khushwant took the ailing magazine from success to success, all along illuminating millions of readers on the more outre aspects of the world’s brothels.
Once in a while he tore into a friend’s reputation. So great was our prurience that he became a household name in a short while. Fame he had, honour he sought.
In the early seventies an eminent Muslim journalist friend of Khushwant’s approached Rajni Patel. Could Rajnibhai fix Khushwant with a Padma Bhushan? If the honour didn’t come his way soon Sardarji would have a heart attack. Patel flew to Delhi twice and fixed it. Later Khushwant showed his gratitude in strange ways.
Then came the Emergency. Khushwant’s friends and admirers were very troubled by his stand: IndiraGandhi was Durga incarnate, SanjayGandhi the New Messiah and the highways of the land were clogged with smoothly running Marutis.
Many explanations have been offered for his position but I believe I am the only person to know the right one. (Khushwant in an unguarded whisky-sodden moment once opened up to me and told all.) And since it is only in obituaries that it is proper to disclose the little-known details of a man’s personal life I shall come out with it now.
Impotence had claimed Khushwant back in the fifties. At first he had been sorely troubled by this condition (most Jats are) and had tried several remedies, mostly indigenous. This accounted for his immense knowledge of jaree-bootees and his disillusionment with quacks.
When he had finally given up all hope of lighting the wick he had turned to other pleasures with a vengeance. (Exposing his friends’ affairs was a favourite pleasure: it was envy compounded with righteousness.)
It must be remembered that Khushwant’s lechery was of the mildest order: he as a voyeur, he could do nothing. Scotch was a palliative, but in the end even that failed to make up the loss.
It was Sanjay’s power that finally did the trick. So great was the vicarious pleasure the ageing Sardar felt that it went to his head. And after Sanjay’s death Khushwant lost his vitality, his vigour. He grew listless.
And then the quiet end. A lively man all in all. Even as I write this I am sure Khushwant is busy looking up the angels’ skirts. And since angels are constitutionally condemned to celibacy that should suit Khushwant fine.
Photograph: courtesy The Hindu
External reading: The journalism of Khushwant Singh
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
There are 12 media personalities in the Indian Express list of the most powerful Indians in 2014—“ie 100″—for 2014, but 10 of them are proprietors, only one is a journalist and the other is a former journalist.
As usual, the most interesting part of the prospective list are the factoids accompanying the profiles.
# 19, Mukesh Ambani, Network 18: Mumbai Indians player Dwayne Bravo calls him ‘Madam Boss’s husband’ (after Nita Ambani)
# 21, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Sakshi TV: He has a personal videographer who records every moment of his public life
# 38, Anil Ambani, Bloomberg TV: He has been a teetotaller except for one swig of champange at his wedding to Tina.
# 51, Samir Jain and Vineet Jain, The Times group: Last year, as part of their cost-cutting initiatives, they launched what they called Operation Rajnikant and Operation Dark Knight in which they set such impossible targets for employees that only a Rajnikant or a Dark Knight was likely to achieve them.
# 56, Kumar Mangalam Birla, India Today group: He quit from the RBI central board to avoid conflict of interest with his banking license application.
# 68, Shobhana Bhartia, chairperson, Hindustan Times group: She speaks fluent Bengali and also reads the language. Every morning, a Bengali newspaper comes to her for her to read.
# 72, Aveek Sarkar, editor-in-chief, Ananda Bazaar Patrika group: Sarkar is a regular at the Wimbledon every year
# 80, Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief, Times Now: He is India’s most famous Assamese by a long way
# 87, Uday Shankar, CEO, Star TV: A JNU alumnus, he started as a journalist with Down to Earth magazine from CSE
Among the 27 exiting from the 2013 list are press council chairman Markandey Katju and Sun TV boss Kalanidhi Maran.
The Indian Express power list
Also read: 12 media barons worth 2,962, 530,000,000
In his first formal powwow in 20 years, in a special issue on Marwaris in the business magazine Forbes India, the chairman of the Express group, talks fondly of his grandfather, the late Ramnath Goenka, and even poses with his son Anant Goenka in a photograph (above) in the paper’s presses.
Viveck Goenka tells Forbes India:
# “Ramnathji taught us never to compromise on editorial values and freedom… to be fearless and not to be aligned to any political party. I have had a whole lot of people threatening me.”
# “There was one thing clear about Ramnathji. ‘If I have an end-goal, I don’t care how I reach that…’ I agree with him but not everyone does.”
# “I see myself as a proper Tamilian Brahmin [Goenka grew up in Tamil Nadu], that’s my upbringing.”
The chairperson and editorial director of Hindustan Times, Shobhana Bhartia; Subhash Chandra and his son Punit Goenka of Zee; Gulab Kothari and his sons Nihar Kothari and Siddharth Kothari of Rajasthan Patrika, are the other media Marwaris featured.
The interviews give an inside view of the austere and conservative business and management ethic of the original media Marwaris, which later generations are eagerly dismantling.
# Shobhana Bhartia: “When we started innovative advertisements, my father [K.K. Birla] was taken aback. ‘No, we can’t do this. You can’t affect page one, can’t place something in the middle of it.’ I can understand that his generation was not used to these things. He felt colour pages would be more like a comic book.”
# Anant Goenka: “[As a Marwari, I have] an inherent drive to spend wisely and to build wealth. Whether large or small, [the 2,500 sq ft bachelor pad he bought after running up hefty hotel bills] is our own. It’s a Marwari thing. We are obsessed with appreciation.”
# Punit Goenka: “It is clear that we are in the business to make money; we are not here for charity or for building power or influence.”
# Gulab Kothari: “If you borrow money for growth, I believe you can’t reverse that decision. The question is, do I give my children 100 per cent of the business or leave them to deal with an outsider who I sold a stake to? My view is, expand less and gradually… we don’t need to jump the gun by taking debt.”
Photograph: courtesy Forbes India
As the 2014 general election campaign gathers steam, the masks are beginning to come off, as journalists who make no pretence of their political and ideological inclinations (without disclosing it publicly) walk over to the other side, just as they did in previous elections.
Ashutosh of IBN-7 is officially the Aam Aadmi Party’s candidate from Chandni Chowk; Manish Sisodia of ex-Zee News has already done a stint as Delhi education minister; Shazia Ilmi of ex-Star News could stand against one or the other Congress or BJP heavyweight.
The buzz is a number of scribes are being tapped by AAP to make the switch.
Both in the 2004 and 2009 elections the BJP had no shortage of journalists, columnists and editors advising it from inside and outside. And 2013 is proving to be no different.
At a recent event in New Delhi to release a book titled Moditva, former Telegraph editor M.J. Akbar and former India Today managing editor Swapan Dasgupta (both columnists for The Sunday Times of India) were helpfully at hand, making no bones about where they stand.
The Telegraph, Calcutta, reported the BJP president Rajnath Singh‘s address thus:
“When I first heard of the book, I was certain it was authored by a politician or someone wanting to get to the Rajya Sabha or acquire a post when our government is formed….
“I was amazed to know that this young man [Siddharth Mazumdar of Columbia] was not a politician or a political aspirant” added Rajnath, before looking long and hard at a group of panellists who had taken their seats for a discussion.
For the record, the other members at the book-release panel were economist Bibek Debroy, former Delhi police chief Kiran Bedi (a likely BJP Lok Sabha candidate), the BJP’s stormy petrel Subramanian Swamy, and BJP treasurer Piyush Goyal (who is already a Rajya sabha member).
Also for the record, M.J. Akbar is a former Congress member of Parliament from Kishanganj, Bihar. His name was mentioned in 2008 as a potential BJP member of the upper house along with former India Today editor Prabhu Chawla.
Photograph: courtesy The Pioneer