I met a couple of 21-year-olds last week. Let’s call them A and D. They were apprehensive about their names being revealed because they were in their final year in college and did not want any issue cropping up with the authorities. We were discussing the youth, their choices and their political views.

One of them, A, bluntly told me, “Every time a person from your generation scoffs at a millennial for being impatient they conveniently choose to ignore the facts staring them in the face. It is your generation that is destroying this world. Keep in mind, yours is the generation that set West Asia on fire, tanked the global economy and ignored a dying climate that will affect us – the millennial – not you, because you will probably be dead and gone by then.”

While I was still recovering from that, he said, the problem with the coverage of youth issues is that a bunch of 40+plus-year-olds is making decisions about what the youth want. “Take education. For all talk of reforms in the past 10 years, public education is sub-standard and private education is still not affordable. I don’t say this with smugness but with sorrow because I am a product of the same public education system. Having almost completed my graduation, I consider myself a survivor because nothing stifles a child’s creativity more than an SSC board education. When I visit my alma mater my teachers tell me, they would not ask the children to study in public schools like this one, so poor is the quality of education there now.”

He said he was fortunate that his parents had the resources for him to engage in private undergraduate education but there were so many of his classmates who wanted to be engineers and doctors who scored just as much as he did but could not get into a medical or engineering college because of reservations and just could not afford a private college. So they ended up doing BCom or BSc and are now working at a call centre. There are always exceptions such as Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai and APJ Abdul Kalam to this rule, but the system still puts its products at a disadvantage, he said ruefully.

“So, when we take these issues up with our elders they either point to some opinion polls and surveys on paper that reinforces the notion they already disbelieve or they dismissively ask us “why don’t you do something to change it?’ The answer to that is simple. It is not my job yet. It is the job of today’s ruling classes,” he said bluntly.

He said, however, that many of his friends actually would not mind still voting for the BJP but there are a few things that stick in their throat – one is the incessant need of the government to be the moral police in the country. “Look at the way goons attempt to disrupt a rock show or Valentine’s Day or Sunburn Festival. Or, when hooligans and vigilantes intimidate and thrash college-going couples because they are holding hands. I don’t claim they are state-sanctioned but it is obvious who they are. What gives them the right? And I am not objecting to the police stopping under-age drinking or drunk driving. That should be stopped along with the rampant use of drugs on campuses. But I do object to turning the state police into the ‘fun police’.”

By now he was in full flow. “Take the issue of internet porn or the attempt to censor content on Netflix and Amazon Prime. It might sound silly, but in this day and age, who is the government to decide what we should or shouldn’t watch? And please stop being hypocritical here. MLAs have been caught watching porn in the assembly and they are the ones who want a ban on it because ‘it corrupts’ the youth? Grow up, half the youths who have mobiles watch porn on it. And it is not males alone. Females too watch porn – a lot. Whatever their reasons may be to watch adult content, it doesn’t absolve the government of behaving like a policeman? And this government expects the youth to vote for them after behaving like controlling nannies? Of course, if we ask our elder siblings in previous governments if it was any better for them the answer would probably be a resounding ‘no.’”

“I will say one thing though, the censor board has become a lot more lenient since ‘sanskari’ Pahlaj Nihalani stepped down and Prasoon Joshi took over,” his friend D said.

So do you wonder why so many of the young people like me are disillusioned with politicians, D asked? “It is because neither of the two major political parties represents us or what we stand for – a better political system, an improved education policy, an end to stifling restrictions, curbing vigilantism of all types, and religious fanaticism. I don’t claim to speak for my entire generation. We have a diverse variety of problems but these issues do overlap for all of us. Take this state’s politicians. See the Shiv Sena, they act like idea-free ideologues. NCP combines the corruption of UPA 2 with the behaviour of the MNS. Congress, when it was in power proved to be toothless, incompetent and corrupt, and still is. And the BJP has not yet proved to be the change they promised.”

“The 2019 election is the first-ever I am going to vote in, and I could still vote for Narendra Modi because I believe he deserves one more chance to make the changes he had been promising. But what after him or what if something were to happen to Modi before 2024,” A asked? “A lot of people would like to see Yogi Adityanath as PM after Modi. If that happens, I will not vote for BJP again. The thought of an India under that guy scares the hell out of a lot of us.”

“So tell me, after everything we have told you, would you blame us for not voting at all? And if we decide to, can you understand our predicament?”

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I had tweeted this in a thread earlier today, but I just thought I’d put it in a blog…

I don’t know whether I could even call myself “middle class” in the 1980s and 1990s because I struggled to make ends meet with a salary of Rs 5000, from which I paid Rs 3500 rent, fed my parents, wife, son and myself with the rest. Later when we earned more I remember we paid for baby food and pampers for our son, paid his school fees, bought his books, while cutting out the ‘luxury’ we occasionally wanted, like eating out or buying clothes.

My first salary as a journalist was ₹660. It was ₹5000 in 1995 & ₹7000 in 1998. I used a decade as an average.

I’ve forgotten for how many years I wore the same clothes, stitched and darned because I couldn’t afford new clothes on my salary. If today, three decades later, I have enough to live a comfortable life and a little saved for a rainy day, it’s because I scrimped and saved, unlike third-rate upstarts such as Rahul Gandhi who lived off this country and his family’s fortunes.

In 69 years, if this is the state of the poorest sections of rural India, Rahul Gandhi needs to take a really good look at his own party and ask himself what it has done for the people before jeering at anyone else. He needs to introspect at the sheer callousness and incompetence of his government and his own family that has got rich beyond any Indian’s wildest imagination at the expense of the poor, the lower middle class and middle class Indian; for making promises they couldn’t keep, especially about eradicating poverty and illiteracy.

Yes, that same Indian who toils in the fields, factories and offices round the clock to put food on the table for himself and his family. For 60 years they were taken for the ride of their lives conned by the slogans and programmes they were promised would change their lives forever. Only, it made them poorer. Why didn’t the Congress party do more for the voter all these decades? Yes, the same voter who sent them back to parliament as their representative hoping they could better their impoverished lives. Instead, they never got anything more than a few hundred rupees and a sari during election time, which he or she gratefully accepted. Strangely, they never complained, accustomed to the five-year ritual, cynical that their lives would never improve but without options. Today we have that option.

But it seems we want to go back to the earlier option because, after three years of partying, the man who runs the government decided he wanted to help the others too. But so accustomed are we to living off government dole that we want him out because he didn’t give us enough and more. Maybe we deserve the earlier option where we stretched out our palms in desperation as our rulers dropped the pennies in, smiled indulgently and moved on, impervious to our plight. So, in 2019, let’s look ahead to another reign of the dowager queen and the clown prince. Long live the family, long live the ecosystem that survives on its crumbs.

And I know what I am talking about. Because for 30 years, I too was a blind Nehru-Gandhi loyalist.


At the Ek Bharat Shreshta Bharat brainstorming session in Delhi, which I was invited to in December last year, during a group discussion, when I said the Bharatiya Janata Party was taking the mainstream media (MSM) too lightly, a bureaucrat cut me short with these words, “That’s because the MSM has been made irrelevant by social media.”

I was amazed and appalled at his smugness. I wondered if the bureaucrats are aware of the seething anger among the MSM for being snubbed and ridiculed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and abused by his army of trolls on social media on a minute-by-minute basis over the past four years. Do they even know how the media, print, broadcast and online, can control the narrative on any subject of interest to the general public and how it can spin it around at its convenience and a time of its choosing? It seems, right from the letter that was signed by the members of parliaments and people of prominence against the visa to Modi, the ‘award wapasi’, and up to the Padamavat release it has been the media that has controlled the narrative.

It has been the media that has assiduously flogged the disgraceful campaign against the film by the Karni Sena, by going overboard in its coverage. At every step, it was the BJP that took a knock. Irrelevant media? How successful the media is has been proved by the fact that after every such orchestrated attempt, it has the government pinned to the wall, looking contrite and apologetic. As it turns out now Karni Sena wasn’t promoted by the fringe but over eager chief ministers of a couple of BJP-ruled states looking to make political capital only ended with egg on the faces.

As 2019 approaches, there is an unease among the mediapersons, even those who have come round to the fact that Modi is in for the long haul, that he is silent when goons and ‘fringe groups’ allegedly owing their allegiance to the saffron brigade run riot around the country. There is also an apprehension among those who dislike Modi that he could get re-elected and that the win in 2014 doesn’t look like just another flash in the pan.

A senior journalist friend I met in Delhi told me, Modi’s silence acts as encouragement for the goons. She gave the example of Hadiya (Akhila) who converted to Islam to marry a Muslim. Why are the people from the right-wing taking up on her behalf when she herself is not interested, she asked? What happened to the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law)? It’s her life so what right does anyone have to interfere? If she follows her husband to Syria and joins the ISIS and becomes a terrorist she will pay for it. Who gave some unknown entity the right to impose their version of the law? And when this happens Modi keeps silent, she said.

In an Islamic country where more than 98% of them are Muslims, imposing your will could work, but not in India where even if 79.8% of the population of India (2011 census) practices Hinduism, there is a sizeable 14.2% that adheres to Islam (2011 census), and 6% practices other religions (Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and various other indigenous ethnically-bound faiths,. Again, with its 22 national languages and 33 different communities and so many castes imposing one’s will in such a multicultural country could be a recipe for disaster.

The same journalist said, “You condemn Mullahs running countries with their fatwas and their Islamic laws, but you have no problem with a mahant as PM to replace Modi and want India to become a Hindu state? How different are we from them?”

A news anchor I also met the same evening said to me, “Rahul Gandhi is improving” when I asked what Rahul had achieved in 13 years in political life. By the look of things, large sections of the media who despise Modi don’t care what Rahul says or does, just how dumb he is or how dirty he plays, as long as his antics can help in getting rid of Modi – by hook or by crook. Take the most recent incident of his Burberry jacket which costs an astronomical Rs 79,000 (http://www.timesnownews.com/the-buzz/article/rahul-gandhi-indian-national-congress-bharatiya-janata-party-burberry-jacket-meghalaya-shillong-concert-rs-70000-narendra-modi-renuka-chowdhury-suit/194256). Social media was on fire ridiculing the Gandhi scion for his extravagance but did you see too much play in the media about it? Of course not, because everyone just glossed over it and most journalists and media houses ignored it even though it came from someone who spent his holidays abroad but claimed he wore a torn kurta! Contrast that to the furore that erupted when Modi donned the supposedly Rs 10 lakh monogrammed suit. It was presented to him so he wore it and it was later auctioned. Both the issues were not worthy of 5 minutes of airtime, but look how each incident got played.

This is what Rahul Gandhi is so smug about because except for the few who speak against him, the rest of the MSM is, by and large, glossing over every Rahul blooper. And by 2019 it will only get more open and defiant. The BJP and its social media/political managers have a battle ahead.

And there are enough disgruntled elements in their own party who’ll jeer from the sidelines as the Modi/Shah combine do battle alone against the formidable Congress ecosystem. Before that happens, Modi needs to handle the troublemakers and the motor-mouths in his party who are damaging his and the party’s prospects with their indiscriminate utterings and actions. Their two minutes of notoriety is costing the party dear. Like the recent case of the over-zealous right-wing activists who disrupted a Hindu-Muslim wedding even though the families were in agreement.

Then there is the agenda. A couple of years ago, a national newspaper carried this headline “Dalit boy beaten by 4”. Anyone reading the headline would assume the obvious in this day and age. However, the report stated that a Dalit boy was beaten up by four other Dalits. I called a friend in the newspaper and asked why they couldn’t say “4 Dalits beat up boy”. He said it doesn’t sell.

A few decades ago it was common knowledge that if there was a communal riot it usually involved the majority and minority community. Our seniors taught us never to mention either community in a communal strife to ensure we did not inflame passions further. However, today I see news reports that proclaim “Hindu kills Muslim man” I am okay with that because times change and the media need to change with the times. But here’s where the “agenda” coms in. Take the even more recent incident of the young man who was killed by his girlfriend’s family. The headlines didn’t say the boy was a Hindu and the girl a Muslim. Had the genders been interchanged, what would the headline have read? Your guess is as good as mine. There are umpteen such examples. The media is not exactly painting itself in glory with such biased coverage of news, but I think they are beyond caring what anyone thinks of them.

At the same brainstorming session, I also heard thinkers and journalists wax eloquent about integration, and a lot of other blah. My apologies, but it seemed to me that many of them exist in a bubble. I guessed that there were hardcore RSS and right-wing ideologues apart from some journalists and thinkers. Over and over again, they spoke about changing the “narrative”. The problem with that is, you can’t talk of changing a narrative that stresses on winning hearts and making India one, on the one side, and pretend everything is just ‘right’ when goons run amok riding roughshod over people’s ideas and beliefs just because it doesn’t agree with theirs. Or when paid hoodlums manhandle couples or young girls and boys under the pretext of imposing a moral code. Not acceptable. And add to this the frenzied publicity by a gleeful media to motor-mouths and “do-gooders” in the BJP. It will cost the BJP dear by the time 2019 comes around.

Also, to combat the left-liberal ideologues (and they are all over the place), the right-wing needs to come out with a fitting verbal response for every argument, not a slanging match. The right has some articulate speakers and I met some of them at the EBSB meet. There are others I’ve heard and read, but they need much more to engage in a measured debate with the left liberals who have often smoothly taken the debate away from them with ample help from the anchors. Shouting might win you an argument but not the match.

I read recently that the Information and Broadcasting ministry plans to set up more than 60 media units (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/eyes-on-2019-polls-government-plans-over-60-media-units-to-expand-outreach/articleshow/62716129.cms) across the country to strengthen the Modi government’s outreach to smaller cities and rural areas in the run-up to the 2019 general election. It is one of the sensible things being done to combat the left-liberal narrative but it should have been in 2015. But then, Smriti Irani wasn’t the Minister for Information and Broadcasting.


I joined Twitter in December 2008 and till about mid-March of this year I had a measly 770 odd followers. Then one day that month I got the shock of my life to discover that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had started following me. Suddenly my twitter numbers began to rise and the fun tweets became serious business. And from being just another twitter handle I was labelled a Modi bhakt!

So, it seems, following the prime minister and being followed by him has become a crime and all the ‘nobodies’ and ‘busybodies’ on Twitter have a view on that. Worse is the fact that whether I write for or against the PM I am still subjected to abuse from both sides. I have been ridiculed, insulted, abused in a language used by alcoholic lowlifes, my mother (God bless her soul) has been abused because I tweeted something where I didn’t even criticise Modi but those who criticised demonetisation. But because I support Modi, people think I’m a khaki-wearing, trishul carrying bhakt who mutters “mandir wahi banayenge” even in my sleep! Honestly, I couldn’t care less, about khaki shorts, RSS, trishul or a Mandir.

My father, Bishweshwar Prasad Sinha, was a part of Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement right from the 1930s as a youngster and while he didn’t agree with Nehru’s views he still regarded him highly. He even contested elections against the Congress from Phulpur and was the only candidate who didn’t lose his deposit. In those days, you could put up a lamppost as a Congress candidate and it would win. He was also a true blue Socialist like Ram Manohar Lohia, Madhu Limaye, Jaya Prakash Narayan and others. I remember my mother telling me how Lohia, who was a regular visitor to our home in Patna, would rubbish Nehru and his ancestry.

My mom Lakshmi, on the other hand, was a ‘dynasty fan. She was a diehard Nehru dynasty fan right from the days of Motilal Nehru. She would always speak glowingly of Jawahar Lal Nehru and how my father took her and my elder brother to meet Nehru in Delhi. Nehru supposedly hoisted my brother, who was then 3 or 4, on his shoulders and took him for a walk around the grounds of his home. Heck, she even named my elder brother Rajiv. When I was born, she was determined to name me Sanjay. Thankfully, my father put his foot down with “One Nehru/Gandhi in the family is enough!”

My mother’s family too seemed to have been big fans of Pandit Nehru and we even had Nehru staring down at us from our living room wall in our home in Pune, until, one day, I banished it into the storeroom and it stayed there until it was packed and crated with the rest of the stuff when we shifted houses. I never saw it again. And in those times, a Freddie Mercury or a Gabriela Sabatini poster held more sway than one of Nehru!

Meanwhile, my grandparents, Barrister Valoor Krishna Menon (not to be confused with Nehru’s man V.K. Krishna Menon) and Janaki amma, in Thrissur, named their new home Gandhi Mandiram after the great man stayed there during his travails around the country when he launched the Quit India movement. (see attached image for story and pic of Gandhi Mandiram, which is today a Homestay).

It so happened that some Congressman (see attachment) asked my grandfather whether he

would have a problem if Gandhi stayed at their newly constructed home on Dewan Narayana Menon Road (named after my great-grandfather) in Chembukavvu and he was more than happy to oblige. Gandhi Mandiram also played host to Babu Rajendra Prasad, Madan Mohan Malavya, Pattabhi Seetharamiah and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya. My mom, however, took her Nehru obsession a step further.

 

When my brother was getting married, imagine her delight when she heard the girl’s name was Sonia. She did something that she claimed was on a whim but I have my doubts. What she did a few weeks before the wedding was that she sent the wedding card to Rajiv Gandhi with a note “Somewhere in this world another Rajiv weds another Sonia. Won’t you grace the occasion with your presence and bless the young couple?” Expecting the PM to attend a wedding of a namesake was a far cry, I don’t think she expected even a response. When we returned from the wedding the maid told us the postman had been coming around and was refusing to hand over the letter to anyone but my mother. The next day the postman landed up and refused to give the letter without a hefty tip.

He said, “When I saw the Prime Minister’s seal there’s no way I could leave the letter here without a baksheesh.” The letter was a signed personally by Rajiv Gandhi. I was very impressed by the man’s class, but my mother treated the letter as some sort of proxy at the wedding reception!

Even in the elections in 1984, that followed the Delhi riots where Rajiv said those famous words, we still voted for the Congress. It was the first election I was voting and my mother made me promise I wouldn’t vote for anyone but Rajiv. Who could turn down a mother’s request, not that there was any other option in those days? So it was a custom in my family to vote for the Congress and all these years until 2014 I voted for the party. in 2014 too, I didn’t vote for Modi or the BJP/Sena candidate from our constituency. So what changed it?

In one para, the arrogance of the Gandhi family that they were above the law and above any regulations that governed this nation. That this family could do what it wanted, say what it wanted and like the royalty of old were protected by courtiers who would place a protective shield around them at all times, was something I found unacceptable. The fact that I can still question Modi but can’t question the family is something I find it hard to swallow.

Then came the speech by Sonia Gandhi in LS on the Food Security Bill where she said: “I don’t care where the money comes from…” I decided I could do without the Congress brand of appeasement politics and reservations without a thought for the taxpayer, and promised I would NEVER vote again for the Congress party. Kapil Sibal said it well enough with his “They are the Gandhis, blah blah…” Well blah you too. I am not even going into whether Rahul Gandhi is capable or not, but I’d rather vote for a Modi or anyone else this country can produce than a member of a family that believes it is not answerable for its actions.


In an earlier blog, I wrote about the unfairness of being labelled a presstitute – a sweeping generalisation made by people who had no idea of how a media house or a newsroom works. Of course, one can’t blame them because they go by what they see and their idea of media is the idiot box or the newspaper they receive on their doorstep, and whatever is published in it, and of course now on the social media, which as I told columnist Shefali Vaidya, bears a striking resemblance to Dennis the Menace. I hope this clears it.

There’s another good example of how little people on social media understand about the media. A few weeks back a journalist tweeted about how she was woken up by the sounds of temple bells whenever she visited Udaipur and stayed at the Taj Mahal Hotel. As usual, Twitter erupted for a lot of reasons. Someone asked her how as a journalist she could afford to stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Udaipur. I just want to get into one of the reasons, and not the rest, because they have no bearing on what I am about to say. Let me make it very clear, I do not know this journalist either personally or professionally, so I hold no brief for what she says or does.

Right through my journalism career, it is an issue that has always raised its head when it comes to journalists availing the hospitality of a client. How far can a journalist go? I am sure there are many journalists who seek favours from corporate houses. The Essar email leaks proved that there is no dearth of unscrupulous journalists in the country. But to label everyone as corrupt is pretty unfair.

What people don’t understand is that many journalists, at least the ones who live in flats and don’t own farmhouses, stay at five-star hotels not out of choice or because they can afford it but out of compulsion because the client books them in there if it invites them to cover an event. How else can a client impress journalists about the product he is launching? Trust me, most journalists, at least the honest ones, can’t afford 3-star accommodation leave alone a luxury hotel at their own expense. Can we tell a client we won’t attend if the press conference is at a five-star hotel? Frankly, as journalists, it is none of our business. Our job is to report the press conference in a completely unbiased manner. Yes, we can refuse to touch a morsel or have a drink and a lot of us have refused a drink. That would mean, finding a place to eat or catch a beer after the press conference late at night. It just isn’t worth the trouble.

Again, there are two sides to this story as well. If you have an evening presser, a lot of journalists expect booze to be served. I know of journalists who will only attend if there is liquor, and I also personally know journalists who refuse to touch a drop because they consider it unethical. I spent five years handling public relations for two software companies (when I was on a sabbatical from journalism) and during the launch of one, liquor was being served. A lot of my friends who I had called refused a drink and some others even refused the food. I was on the other side of the table now and it was an interesting view. They gave the launch more than ample coverage but still didn’t touch a drink.

As a managing editor of a couple of automotive magazines some years back, I was invited to the launch of a luxury sedan to Udaipur. A friend who then worked for a national newspaper and I were the only two from Pune covering the event, so we were driven to Mumbai airport, from where we were flown by a chartered aircraft to Udaipur along with other journalists. At Udaipur, the “lucky” ones got to the drive the car to the hotel, while the others were bundled into an AC coach and driven to the Leela Kempinski, which reeked luxury from every corner. The room I stayed in was the epitome of luxury. It even had bathroom slippers that made my feet sink in and carpets that made me wonder why I needed a bed. If I could have taken the bathroom home I would have! I asked the attractive marketing head how much the room cost for a night and she casually mentioned the amount.

I sat for a moment stunned at hearing the price – could I ever afford to stay at such a place on my crappy salary? And could I have refused to stay there? Could I have asked my company to put me up at more modest accommodations? Why would they, when they weren’t organising the event? The next time I travelled to Udaipur on one of the drives with the family, I stayed at the MTDC hotel where the room cost Rs 3,000/- with Rs 1000 for an extra bed. Just saying.

In my first job as a journalist, I was the Assistant Editor when I covered the Cricket World Cup in 1996. My newspaper told me they could not afford the plane fare so I would have to travel non-AC II sleeper and stay in single star hotels. Crazy as I was about cricket I agreed without a thought for the logistical problems I was about to encounter. Other journalists who were covering the tournament flew in and out, stayed in three- to five-star hotels because their media houses could afford it. At Gwalior, the first stop, I had a booking at a government guest house which was stolen from under my nose by a journalist from another media house. I was left standing outside without a room to spend the night. I was given accommodation by a lodge that resembled a hovel, in a space where they stored water, and there were rats and cockroaches scurrying around. I spent the night wide awake. It was a situation no human should ever find himself in even in the worst circumstances. But it was either that or the footpath. I remember rushing to Bangalore by sleeper bus the afternoon before the quarter-final against Pakistan, and asking my cousin if I could crash with him for the night because it was too late to look for hotel accommodation. I also remember picking up my press pass from a well-known journalist who was staying at a five-star hotel. He was later to be embroiled in the unsavoury match-fixing controversy.

And here is the other side. When the dates and schedules of that World Cup were announced, a soft drink major had a press conference in Mumbai where everyone from the sports media contingent was present. We were in a queue waiting to be handed out our complimentary press kits, which included a duffel bag, with a towel, shaving kit, pen, pad etc. A very well-known sports journalist was a few places in front of me, and he signed for his kit, picked it up and left. A few minutes later, I saw him again in the back of the queue. I assumed he was picking up the kit for someone else. As he reached the head of the counter, I heard the girl from the agency say, “But sir, you have already taken your kit.” He insisted he hadn’t and she persisted that he had, till she turned in exasperation to her manager and shrugged it off with a disgusted look on his face, and motioned to her to give him the bag. I was aghast by what I saw and heard.

So, you see, like every good journalist knows, there are two sides to every story. There are crooks and there are dishonest people in every profession. Journalism is no different.

All those ranting about Arnab Goswami today should watch the video where he spoke of his early life as a cub reporter with NDTV. He narrated an incident where he had to apologise to a union minister for asking what the minister believed was an incorrect question. He said he apologised not because he was wrong (he wasn’t), but he needed the money and the job. If he had not apologised he might have had neither. That’s life. So all those who think journalists should not accept hospitality from clients, please get a life. It is not always about being greedy, very often it is about being pragmatic. It is a job like any other for a lot of us.

Oh, I went to Goa recently for a four-day break where I stayed at Vivanta by Taj in Panjim. Are you wondering how as a retired journalist I could afford such expensive accommodation? Let me tell you how. My wife generously paid for it because she thought I deserved a break after slogging for the family all these years! It would have cost me a month’s salary.


Published in Firstpost Date: Sep 09, 2017 01:40 pm | Updated Date: Sep 09, 2017 02:06 pm

I keep six honest serving men. (They taught me all I know)
Their names are What and Why and When and Where and Who and How
– Rudyard Kipling

Ever since May 2014, stories have been manufactured, recreated, and redeveloped all to suit a narrative, in total disregard of any journalistic ethic. Be it church vandalism, lynchings, cow vigilantism, baby deaths, train mishaps and now the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh. Everything plays out not as a news story that should be reported with the facts but as an orchestrated attempt to somehow link the ruling party at the Centre and specifically the prime minister and those close to him, to the story.

Twenty years ago, with editors controlling the print and TV media, this might have succeeded. Today, with social media being a potent and completely uncontrolled force, these attempts are exposed and draw instant ridicule.

Take the latest example. Gauri Lankesh, editor of Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly was shot dead late in the evening on Tuesday, 5 September, outside her home in Bengaluru by unidentified assailants. We still don’t have a clue on the identity or the motive of the assailants. At least, most journalists who believe in the phrase “objective journalism” don’t, although conspiracy theories abound.

However, the alacrity (give or take 30 minutes) with which certain sections of the mainstream media reacted to Lankesh’s murder makes me want to ask them what happened to the 5Ws and H, which they learnt in their journalism course. Every young media student is taught about “WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW” when he or she enters a media school. Yet, none of these journalists gave any of the W’s a thought when they announced her death on social media.

The sensible ones stayed with the objective line that she had been murdered by unknown assailants, and mentioned her ideological differences with the BJP, stopping short of linking both to the murder. The others, however, smelt an “opportunity” and put the blame on “fascist forces” and the BJP. How did they come to such a conclusion? Did they have proof, evidence, eyewitness accounts? Or did they just follow the old dictum of “strike while the iron is hot” in the hope that some dirt would stick or some link would emerge? There could have been a host of suspects who might have wanted the firebrand journalist eliminated – jealous rivals, family, politicians, ideologues, – just anyone with an axe to grind. Didn’t that occur to these journalists? It almost seemed like they had decided the narrative this killing would follow the minute they heard about it. So fascist terror it would be and to hell with the facts – of which there were none.

And then, on Wednesday, they discovered that the brother of the slain journalist was a big supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa. Worse was to follow. Gauri’s sister blamed the right wing and the brother blamed the left wing. Suddenly, the plan to spin the narrative was falling apart. A curious fact was that not one journalist even made the symbolic gesture of demanding the resignation of either Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah or state home minister Ramalinga Reddy.

For a crime so heinous that they could organise nationwide candlelight protests and even blame the prime minister and the BJP for it, they didn’t think it important enough to ask for the resignations of the top two in the state? Objective journalism?

Then some 48 hours later, news anchors and editors woke up to the fact that objectivity did matter. They began asking politicians why they were accusing the BJP and other related organisations of the murder, conveniently forgetting that they were doing just that two days earlier. Someone told me on Twitter on Friday, that I was ignoring the “circumstantial evidence.” Where was it? Has the police found any even now?

We were always told by our seniors that there are two sides to a story, but it is unfortunate that in these past few years, there has been a deliberate attempt to build a one-sided narrative around every news story, almost like it is pre-planned. And even though an alert social media has uncovered these attempts, it hasn’t made the mainstream media any wiser. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot. I won’t even go too far back. Like the incidents of the stones being pelted at churches which turned out to be the handiwork of miscreants. If we were to believe the media, cow vigilantes on the prowl were lynching Muslims in trains and on roads, and anyone who ate or dealt with beef. There have been so many such stories which as journalists we can smell a mile away.

Now let’s come to the deaths of children in Gorakhpur. Did you know that in the past four decades,  25,000 children have lost their lives to encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh? This sordid fact was brought to light in great detail only after August, 2017 after the deaths at BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur. Some 274 children died in January and February 2017, before Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath took over from Akhilesh Yadav, but did you hear about them?

Before August, even more babies had been dying at this hospital (see graphic) yet no journalist reported it. This is not a case of whataboutery. It concerns objective journalism.

For five years, everything wrong that could be covered up by the media was, because it didn’t suit the narrative. From March 19, 2017, like a rash, reports of dead babies kept popping up. Didn’t the journalists, who suddenly discovered this morbid detail, know this had been occurring with monotonous regularity earlier? You can spin these fairy tales to the gullible and unsuspecting readers but not to journalists who have been around long enough to know the difference between an ‘exclusive’ and a press release converted into a byline story.

If media houses were that interested in doing stories about infant deaths in hospitals, they should have asked their correspondents around the country to send them stories about such incidents from their centres and do a package. It would have made one helluva story. I don’t need to ask ‘did they?’ because I am pretty sure what the answer is. They can keep up the pretence for as long as they want but to anyone with two eyes, two ears and a nose, the motive of the media was suspect.

Incidents of such deaths were emerging in other states, including Karnataka but the media wasn’t interested. It became more obvious that this was a hit job on Yogi Adityanath and the man who put him there. What happened to objectivity, people? If you were to believe the mainstream media, it was only after 19 March this year that India’s largest and most populous state had become a living hell. This should be an eye-opener for those who thought Uttar Pradesh stood for Utopia Pradesh.

Now, to this obsession with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On 7 September, 2013, I wrote a blog where I had said that the manner in which everyone from media to politicians had been hounding Narendra Modi, they were making a huge mistake. It reminded me of 1977 when the Janata Party set up the various Commissions to inquire into the excesses committed by former prime minister Indira Gandhi, her son Sanjay and their cohorts during the Emergency.

The wily Indira Gandhi, ever the astute politician, played the victim so convincingly that midway through the proceedings the tables had turned. By the time the Shah Commission ended its hearings she had everyone, including the media (with a few exceptions), eating out of her hand.

In the run up to the May 2014 elections, the UPA and every other party raised the 2002 bogey. And every time they did that, Modi talked development, jobs and a better life for the poor. He played the victim card to perfection. He did not talk about the Ram Mandir, Hindutva or the riots, while the Opposition had just one theme – Modi is a murderer, fascist, Hitler etc. That backfired as the results proved. Some journalists don’t seem to have learnt from that experience. Or can’t, or don’t want to, so deep is their hatred for the man. There is a fear that he may return in 2019, and then there is no saying how long the BJP will rule this country. Who is to blame for this state of affairs?

The public still believes that the fourth estate is someone it can trust but there are those who are playing with that trust. Frankly, some of the journalists set a pathetic example for their juniors and those who look up to them – and there are many, like me, who still do. Every day, in my classes I teach students how to be good journalists, but now I am not so sure if I can. Can these journalists see that in their unhealthy obsession to end the political career of one man and those around him, they are destroying their own credibility and reputation? The way things are right now, that man is winning the argument.

 


Watching some of the big names of the Indian media making a fool of themselves today reminds me of that old fable of the emperor’s new clothes. I didn’t think they would be hoist on their own petard so easily, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not just cornered the opposition, specifically the Gandhis and the Congress Party when he announced the nomination of Ram Nath Kovind, but the mainstream media (MSM) as well.

How else do you explain the way the MSM was made to look like utter idiots when the Bharatiya Janata Party announced Kovind as its nominee? First, they tried to bluster their way through with the “Kovind who?” and “Everyone’s googling Kovind” stunt. That fell flat because it turned out that not only was Kovind the Governor of Bihar, a two-term Rajya Sabha MP, a government counsel for many years, but he had also represented India at the United Nations. Then they mentioned the D word, about how Modi was using Kovind’s Dalit background to woo the community, but that didn’t cut ice either.

Nothing could be more apt than this tweet from a Biju Janata Dal MP who had worked with Kovind in pointing to the ignorance and condescension displayed by the MSM.

When that failed, they made disparaging comparisons between Kovind and Pratibha Patil who Sonia Gandhi had anointed president. Their point was that Kovind was a worse choice than Patil. Obviously, that did not matter when they were accepting hospitality and awards from President Patil.

Anyway, thanks to social media, the MSM found that its feigned ignorance of Kovind had been exposed. But that didn’t stop them. They went a step ahead and pulled out a 12-year-old piece where Kovind made his views known on the caste system and his views on Dalits and Christians.

Comparing the caste system to the trade guilds in feudal Europe (in that certain groups performed specific jobs), he added that under the caste system, persons acquire their trade at birth, while the guilds allowed job mobility.  Caste factors are now used to protect jobs and livelihoods more than anything else.”

Let’s be honest, he did not say anything out of the ordinary or very wrong. Not just in jobs but in many government-run educational institutions most general category students are denied admissions and are forced to opt for private colleges. It has affected so many middle-class families who don’t depend on their caste to get admissions for their wards in colleges and jobs thereafter.

When these barbs failed to hit home, the MSM subtly changed track. In more than two decades or so, Lal Krishna Advani was the man who had been vilified by the MSM as the face of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. It was his Rath Yatra that fuelled a sense of insecurity in Muslims all over the country and drove a wedge between the two communities, they said. He was also one of the conspirators who watched as kar sevaks climbed atop the mosque in Ayodhya and brought it down on December 6, 1992. The MSM never failed to remind us that this was the man who was singularly responsible for destroying India’s secular fabric.

However, in the past few years, just because Narendra Modi and Amit Shah had sidelined Advani, they forgot all that and had been writing pieces about what a nice guy he was and how sorry they were to see him being sidelined – all done purely to rile Modi. And now, just to oppose Modi’s choice of Kovind they also rediscovered his hidden charms, democratic values and ethics. Suddenly “A man who has the wisdom and courage to say sorry is someone I would trust to safeguard our democracy and our values as president.” Amen.

By the way, has Advani ever said ‘SORRY’ for the demolition of the mosque?

Conveniently forgotten also was the fact that just last month the MSM went after Kalyan Singh when the court named him as a co-conspirator in the Babri case, and rightly so because they believed he escaped trial as he was governor. But, now they had no problem letting Advani off the hook.

The MSM also suffered selective amnesia with the minor matter of Advani’s age. He is 90 years old. In their rush to pull down 71-year-old Kovind’s nomination, they forgot they had roundly criticised Modi when he forwarded the name of 76-year-old Najma Heptullah for governor. So, they were okay with a 90-year-old Commander-in-Chief of the Indian armed forces?

And finally, on June 22, when Congress President Sonia Gandhi decided on Meira Kumar as her choice for president, the MSM began promoting the former speaker, known only for her closeness to the Gandhi family and for being one of the most ineffectual Speakers of the Lok Sabha with her patented “baith jaiyee, baith jaiyee” which never really worked. Her other claim to fame is the fact that she is Babu Jagjivan Ram’s daughter. Oh wait, there’s another – she is a Dalit, which of course some well-known journalists, who were accusing Modi of using the Dalit card while nominating Kovind, now have no problem with. All these flip flops, twists and turns by the MSM are only because their hatred for Modi surpasses all else along with the fear of seeing him come back to power in 2019. SO HE HAS TO BE STOPPED AT ANY COST.

Really guys, your slip is showing. You can have your personal viewpoint about anyone or anything but your flip-flops on a daily basis in the public domain do no good to your reputation as journalists we once admired. I say this because as someone who interacts with students of journalism in media colleges I get asked this question very often. Can you make it any more obvious that the lessons on ethics and morality you speak to budding journalists about is something you have conveniently buried under the mountain of half-truths you’ve been peddling ever since Narendra Modi came to power? And, I am not even getting into the years before that.