Tag Archives: Rediff.com

When Shekhar Gupta met Dawood Ibrahim

In his Saturday column in The Indian Express, editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta recounts his encounter with India’s most wanted man, the Bombay-born underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim, when he was at India Today:

“I had had one long, and partly on-record conversation on the phone with Dawood Ibrahim before the Bombay blasts, set up through my colleague [rediff.com editorial director] Sheela Bhatt, who edited the Gujarati edition of India Today and was a veteran on the underworld beat in Bombay.

“This was in 1992, just after Dr Manmohan Singh, as finance minister, was freeing up the economy and opening up imports, even of gold. I called Dawood (in Dubai) and asked if this had not harmed his smuggling business. He said what we called smuggling in India was a legitimate business activity in Dubai, so he was breaking no law.

“He also said he welcomed what “Manmohan ji” had done, except that somebody should have done that much earlier. He did not regret losing some business, he said, as “my country benefited from such reform.” He was at pains to underline his patriotism.

“Even in cricket, he said, he always supported and betted on India and was so distraught (he spoke in language more colourful than this, but unpublishable) that India had lost to the West Indies in the World Cup that morning — that is why we know that the conversation took place on March 10, 1992, when the West Indies walloped India by five wickets at Wellington.

“He said any time I wanted a more proper interview, I only had to let him know….

“He spoke to Sheela Bhatt again after the bombings (published alongside my story in India Today, April 15, 1993) and said he was being victimised by Bombay Police. He fulminated over how badly Muslims were targeted in the Bombay riots, how their women had been humiliated and children burnt, but denied any role in the serial bombings whatsoever. If the government set up an inquiry consisting of RAW and the CBI in Delhi, but excluding Bombay Police, he would even present himself before it. Of course, no such thing was to happen as his gang’s role in the conspiracy became clearer by the day.

I decided now to take him up on his earlier offer of a more “proper” interview, and called him. He said he couldn’t promise that “right now”. But after some cajoling, he agreed to see me if I came to Dubai, though only if I agreed to keep the meeting off the record unless he agreed to come on record.

“I did visit Dubai in the first week of April, 1993 and presented myself at his “workplace”, the 17-storey Pearl Building housing many airline offices in the buzzing Al Fahidi Street, a kind of subcontinental shopping paradise then.

“Dawood and his brother Anees were at their 12th floor office, decorated with gold-inlaid paintings of Ajmer Sharif and Quranic verses. It was just around noon, but I was struck by the fact that the morning’s Times of India (Bombay edition) lay on his table — the don stayed in touch with the latest!

“He was in the news then and, of course, all references to him and Dubai in a front-page story had been blackened out by Dubai censors.

“Dawood was not willing to give an interview now. Not even to acknowledge that he was in Dubai. “When we do the interview, bhai,” he said, “you won’t come to Dubai just like this.” He would call me back again, he said, and then “my car will go and receive you at the tarmac and bring you to me… you will be my guest… and my people will also take you shopping” etc, etc. But for now, he said, please do not even mention that you met me here, “as it creates problems for my hosts”.

“I persisted, nagged and talked around him as reporters usually do, and all he would concede was that I mention I visited his office, without quoting any conversations. And then, as I turned around to leave, making no secret of my dismay and even reluctance, he sensed something.

Ai bhai,” he said, as I turned around, hoping somehow that he had changed his mind.

Dekhna bhai, likhna nahin maine jo kaha (see, brother, do not report what I said)”, “dekho na, achcha nahin hoga (see, it won’t be nice)”.

It felt as if the temperature had suddenly dropped 30 degrees below zero, and yet I was sweating on the forehead. That memory isn’t selective, nor is it convenient. And it hasn’t faded even a bit after two full decades.”

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

Read the full story: Lest we forget

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Africa-watcher Hari Sharan Chhabra is no more

On the pages of The Times of India in Delhi, the grim news of the passing of an Indian who looked at a part of the world most of the media doesn’t: Hari Sharan Chhabra, editor of Africa Diary and World Focus and a frequent contributor to the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW).

Chhabra’s elder son, Aseem Chhabra, has been one of the stellar names from New York covering the arts for Rediff.com, India Abroad and Mumbai Mirror, among a range of publications.

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Also read: Alfred D’ Cruz: The Times of India‘s first Indian sub

Tarun Sehrwat, 22 and killed in the line of duty

Chari, a lens legend at The Hindu

Harishchandra Lachke: A pioneering cartoonist

T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Jyoti Sanyal: The language terrorist and teacher

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

Sabina Sehgal Saikia: The resident food writer

M.G. Moinuddin: The self-taught newspaper designer

Naresh Chandra Rajkhowa: Journo who broke Dalai Lama story

J. Dey: When eagles are silent, parrots jabber

E. Raghavan: Ex-ET, TOI, Vijaya Karnataka editor

Prakash Kardaley: When god cries when the best arrive

Pratima Puri: India’s first TV news reader passes away

Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony

N.S. Jagannathan: Ex-editor of Indian Express

K.M. Mathew: chief of editor of Malayala Manorama

Amita Malik: the ‘first lady of Indian media’

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V.N. Subba Rao, an Express legend, is no more

K.R. Prahlad: In the end, death becomes a one-liner

M.R. Shivanna: A 24×7 journalist is no more

C.P. Chinnappa: A song for an unsung hero

Time, Sandesh and the six degrees of separation

As the row over Time magazine’s “Underachiever” cover line on prime minister Manmohan Singh engulfs primetime news, Mail Today cartoonist R. Prasad cuts through the post-colonial clutter.

New York Times‘ India website IndiaInk has a gallery of past magazine covers on India, while Rediff compiles a slideshow of previous Time covers on Indians.

Meanwhile, Prasad links the brouhaha over Time‘s cover with the kerfuffle over Union minister Salman Khurshid‘s comments in the Indian Express on the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a fresh cartoon.

Also view: After the full-page report, the full-page ad

The Indian cartoon offending the Aussies

‘Media doesn’t figure in society transformation’

Sheela Bhatt, senior editorial director of rediff.com and India Abroad:

“Where do the media figure in this turbulent transformation of Indian society? The plain truth is: Nowhere.

“Making loud noises is not journalism. There are over three million cases pending in India’s 21 courts and 26.3 million cases in the lower courts and a quarter of a million undertrials in jails. Do we care?

“Even our worldview is getting skewed as most English-language newspapers have tie-ups with Western media sources. They reprint the Western perspective on world events. Still we say that the Indian media is ‘influential’!

“Take the issue of dynastic politics or the maladies of Indian democracy. The Indian media has not been effective in generating public opinion against them. In fact, it has shamefully indulged in ‘paid news’.

“Many controversial members of Parliament are columnists and television panelists.

“Corporate influence on the media is evident. On an average, newspapers give half a page of news coverage to parliamentary proceedings. In the name of reader interest much is omitted, while cricket, cinema and entertainment get prime attention.”

Read the full article: Sheela Bhatt on the Indian media

Indian Express ‘C’ report: Scoop, rehash, spin?

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The front-page, full-page report in the northern editions of The Indian Express this morning, that two units of the Indian Army moved towards Delhi on January 16, 2012—the day the Army chief V.K. Singh‘s petition before the Supreme Court on his date of birth was coming up—has sent New Delhi into a tizzy.

The report, anchored by the paper’s redoubtable editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta, with reporting from Ritu Sarin, Pranab Dhal Samanta and Ajmer Singh—that barely disguises its attempts to hint at a “coup” that wasn’t—has been stoutly denied by the ministry of defence and an official statement from the defence minister A.K. Antony is due.

As the old saying goes, never believe a story until it is officially denied.

Still, is the Express story a “scoop” throwing light on something that was hidden or unknown; a rehash of previously published stuff; or just plain Delhi-style “spin”, against the backdrop of leaks and plants that have been coming in a torrent in the crossfire between the outgoing Army chief and the “establishment”?

To give Express its due, the three-deck, four-byline, eight-column banner headline suggests plenty of leg work. It gives  the context, the background, the colour and indeed the intrigue around the Army movement.

Still…

What blunts the edge somewhat on the Express story is that the Army manoeuvre was reported by Rediff.com’s R.S. Chauhan 22 days earlier—on March 13, 2012. What also muddies the waters is that the Army itself held an official briefing on the subject two days after that—on March 15, 2012—in Agra.

So, regardless of the official denials, is the Express story a scoop, a rehash or spin?

(An earlier version of this post mentioned March 10, 2012 as the date of the Army briefing)

Read the Express report here: The “C” report

Read the Rediff.com report here: Paratroopers meet their match

So many reporters, so little info on Sonia Gandhi?

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, scooped by Indian Express photographer Anil Sharma, as she leaves her daughter's residence in New Delhi on 14 September 2011.

Nothing has exposed the hollowness of so-called “political reporting” in New Delhi, and the fragilility of editorial spines of newspapers and TV stations across the country, than the Congress president Sonia Gandhi‘s illness.

Hundreds of correspondents cover the grand old party; tens of editors claim to be on on first-name terms with its who’s who; and at least a handful of them brag and boast of unbridled “access” to 10 Janpath.

Yet none had an inkling that she was unwell.

Or, worse, the courage to report it, if they did.

Indeed, when the news was first broken by the official party spokesman in August, he chose the BBC and the French news agency AFP as the media vehicles instead of the media scrum that assembles for the daily briefing.

Sonia Gandhi has since returned home but even today the inability of the media—print, electronic or digital—to throw light on just what is wrong with the leader of India’s largest political party or to editorially question the secrecy surounding it, is palpable.

Given the hospital she is reported to have checked into, the bazaar gossip on Sonia has ranged from cervical cancer to breast cancer to pancreatic cancer but no “political editor” is willing to put his/her name to it.

About the only insight of Sonia’s present shape has come from an exclusive photograph shot by Anil Sharma of The Indian Express last week.

In a counter-intuitive sort of way, Nirupama Subramanian takes up the silence of the media in The Hindu:

“That the Congress should be secretive about Ms Gandhi’s health is not surprising. What is surprising, though, is the omertà being observed by the news media, usually described by international writers as feisty and raucous.

“On this particular issue, reverential is the more fitting description. Barring editorials in the Business Standard and Mail Today, no other media organisation has thought it fit to question the secrecy surrounding the health of the government’s de facto Number One.

“A similar deference was on display a few years ago in reporting Atal Bihari Vajpayee‘s uneven health while he was the Prime Minister. For at least some months before he underwent a knee-replacement surgery in 2001, it was clear he was in a bad way, but no news organisation touched the subject. Eventually, the government disclosed that he was to undergo the procedure, and it was covered by the media in breathless detail.

“Both before and after the surgery, there was an unwritten understanding that photographers and cameramen would not depict Vajpayee’s difficulties while walking or standing. Post-surgery, a British journalist who broke ranks to question if the Prime Minister was fit enough for his job (“Asleep at The Wheel?” Time, June 10, 2002) was vindictively hounded by the government.

“Almost a decade later, much has changed about the Indian media, which now likes to compare itself with the best in the world. But it lets itself down again and again. The media silence on Ms Gandhi is all the more glaring compared with the amount of news time that was recently devoted to Omar Abdullah‘s marital troubles. The Jammu & Kashmir chief minister’s personal life has zero public importance. Yet a television channel went so far as to station an OB van outside his Delhi home, and even questioned the maid….

“Meanwhile, the media are clearly not in the mood to extend their kid-glove treatment of Ms Gandhi’s illness to some other politicians: it has been open season with BJP president Nitin Gadkari‘s health problems arising from his weight. Clearly, it’s different strokes for different folks.”

Read the full article: The omerta on Sonia‘s illness

Also read: Why foreign media broke news of Sonia illness

How come no one spotted Satyam fraud?

How come no one saw the IPL cookie crumbling?

How come no one in the media saw the worm turn?

Aakar PatelIndian journalism is regularly second-rate

Scam-buster Josy Joseph gets Prem Bhatia prize

Josy Joseph of The Times of India, who authored the paper’s big scoops on the Adarsh housing and CWG scams last year, has bagged the 2011 Prem Bhatia award for excellence in political reporting.

He shares the award with J. Dey, the crime reporter of Mid-Day, who was slain in Bombay recently.

Joseph, whose career took off at rediff.com, shifted to DNA before joining ToI. He was also credited with the paper’s 2G scam coverage.