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.

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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.


I sat down to write this piece as I watched some of the well-known faces of the mainstream media (MSM) erupt in an orgasmic frenzy because Tunde ke kabab in Lucknow closed on Thursday for a few hours as they ran out of beef. They couldn’t get the meat for their original shop in Chowk where they serve kabab of buffalo meat and had to make other arrangements. They are an 112-year old kabab joint, so they obviously hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Did someone force them to shut down? No one did. Were there any grievous injuries to the people in Lucknow because of that? No. Did someone die? Nothing of that sort happened, but some journalists from the ecosystem called Lutyen’s Delhi living roughly 488kms away began beating their chests and breaking their bangles as if someone really had expired. And with that, the Indian mainstream media dug another hole in the ground to bury itself another few feet into an early grave.

After 31 years in the media I look around me and wonder – Is this the same profession that I slogged in, putting everything – family, money and personal life – on the backburner for? Now that I am a work-from-home editor I can sit back and watch all this in a detached kind of way, as some elements of the mainstream media (MSM), among who are people who I once respected, go around behaving like a bunch of complete jerkoffs. Was this the biggest story around that sent them into a freaking frenzy, especially on the social media? I have no wish to take names but some of them tripped over their own feet to wail about the kabab joint closing as if someone had died in their family.

I have a lot of good friends in the media, they are all hardworking, almost invisible to the world outside. They do their jobs well, and I know they are damn good journalists because I have seen them at work. These are the journalists you won’t see on your TV screens. They shy away from the limelight, do their jobs, and go home to their families. We disagree on a lot of things, but I respect them and their views, and they mine. Because I know deep down, they are honest to their profession, just like so many doctors who take the Hippocratic Oath. Whenever I have called them for information on a subject I want to write about they have willingly given it to me. I respect them for that. I spoke to a couple of them when I started to write this blog, so a lot of the information here is from them. They will remain anonymous because that is how they would want it.

When I asked one of them (N) last night, what he thought of the over-the-top reaction of the media to the incident, he said. “I have stopped watching the news and reading their columns. I do my job honestly, go home and play with my daughter instead.”

Here is what another Muslim journalist from Lucknow, who I’ll call K, said to me over twitter, “Most people here including my learned journalist friends in the media do not know the difference between beef and cow meat. Beef is not necessarily cow meat, and I have never ever in my life seen a cow being slaughtered in Lucknow although we did get to hear about the occasional story of it being slaughtered in some remote Muslim dominated village purely to spark off communal tension.”

The problem, however, goes deeper. It is about do-gooder first-time chief minister doing what he promised and a bureaucracy which, in an effort to please its master, is going over the top, just like some journalists. The anti-romeo squad is another example of a good thing being messed up by over-enthusiastic volunteers.

“The new chief minister could have handled it better, but the bureaucracy went into overdrive to please him and undid things. There has been no meat available for the people in the last 48 hours, and butchers are scared they will be harassed. They have also been told by the police not to open their shops,” said N. “If the new CM really wants to save cows, he will have to.close the mechanised slaughter houses. Nothing else can save cows in the State not even this vigilantism,” he added.

The various town administrations should have created the right perception but instead, they went about indulging in populist measures to please the CM, which could backfire. They could have asked the civic bodies to determine how licenced meat shops have been functioning this long and could have passed an order that only the licenced ones operate within the prescribed limits. Instead, they have gone after all and sundry and that has created a huge shortage in the market and a lot of unhappiness among the locals.

Anyway, that is the problem of shortage at a kakab joint and meat in UP. What happened to the dumbasses in the media? Of course, this isn’t anything new. It’s been happening over the course of the past two years for very obvious reasons. It began soon after Narendra Modi forced his way into the Lutyen’s Delhi in May 2014 and hasn’t stopped. Every few months, be it an award wapasi, a protest at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, (JNU), or the uproar that erupts over the mindless incidents of some minister or MP shooting his or her mouth off, these incidents happen just around the time of an election and disappear once the results are declared depending on whether the objectives of the MSM and their masters ensconced in Lutyens Delhi have been achieved. There is, however, one common link to all these eruptions. They occur only in BJP-ruled states. Murders, assaults and riots are happening elsewhere in places such as Kerala and Bengal with monotonous regularity, but the MSM is oblivious to those. So, like all those earlier incidents of manufactured outrage, this too looks like just another award wapasi farce, only this time it was wrapped around a kabab.


People getting the vicious satisfaction of seeing so many “presstitutes” (their words, not mine) lose their jobs have very little understanding of how newsrooms and media houses are run. All media houses have editorial policies and every employee – no matter how high or low – has to follow that policy. It’s either that or his/her job.

All those who lost their jobs in the latest round of retrenchments were lower and middle-level employees who were simply making a living. They were workers in the printing departments, district correspondents, mofussil reporters and photographers. None of them were the decision-makers.

How many of those who were perched on the top of the industry ladder or were decision-makers were handed out pink. slips? For that matter, how many highly paid editors lost their jobs? I am pretty sure, NONE.

Like a lot of other lower and middle class people around the country who take the bus or the train to work every morning these people too slog to put food on the table, pay for their kids’ education through school and college, look after their aged parents, and wonder every day what will happen to their families if something were to happen to them. What is the fault of a photographer in a small town who rides on his scooter every day looking for the perfect photograph that will fetch him a pittance? And if the editor of the newspaper tells him he cannot supply that photograph to anyone else. he will have to scour the city for another perfect picture to supply to his next client. All this, just so that he can make a living. I know of stringers living in villages who are still paid per word. Imagine being paid Rs 300 or Rs 500 per article and have just two pieces appear every month. And for many, that is their only source of income.

I’ll give you my own example. I began working in a newspaper in 1985 and today I am embarrassed to say that if it hadn’t been an ancestral property from my maternal side, which we sold to buy a 3BHK, I wouldn’t be able to afford my own home on my salary.

Honestly, there is no such thing as a free press. As an Assistant Editor did I have the right to decide what stories we should use in the newspaper? No I didn’t. Yes, I could make a judgement call on a story that came in late at night, but even there the editorial policy was sacrosanct. I couldn’t just take a story that praised Rajiv Gandhi just because I liked him. I had to keep in mind that my newspaper didn’t believe in praising anyone.

Between 2000 and 2005, I worked for a newspaper that was going national with a vengeance. Did I have the right to decide on the kind of stories I could take? No, again. In neither of the two cities where I headed the news desk, could we carry anything that could hurt the ruling dispensation. Instructions were handed down to us on the kind of stories we could use. We couldn’t speak against the State government because it could hurt the business interests of the media house. Any stories that were against the State or the CM had to be vetted by the editorial department in Delhi.

Resident Editors at most of these mofussil editions are nothing but glorified bureau chiefs. Do they have the authority to take decisions on any stories that were inimical to the State government? Your guess is as good as mine.

There are stifling restrictions vis-à-vis reporting on stories that were inimical to the interests of the owners, various individuals or groups. Time and again, stories are killed or watered down for one reason or another. One cannot do a story about the corrupt practices of politicians…One cannot report on a fraudulent scheme run by a big business house… There were so many such instances.

I remember one story that we had in our pocket. It could have shaken the particular state government. The reporters put their heart into the story. It was a perfect story with not one fact missing, including the names of the big-time politicians involved in a huge scam. It went to HQ for approval. That was the last we saw of the story. When it finally appeared you wouldn’t have known if it was from some state of the Indian Union, or Timbuctoo. Why was the story watered down? Because the management was worried that publication of the story would have jeopardised its business interests. Would you blame the reporter for this? Of course not, but when it comes to cost-cutting that poor kid will be the first to go.

A former editor who I had worked with for a short while, lost his job because he wrote something against a chief minister. The chief minister wasn’t satisfied with the fact that the editor in question had been removed from his post, and wanted him out of the organisation, and he was hounded out. And it wasn’t as if the CM in question was clean as a whistle.

Some years ago a senior editor of a well-known newspaper, during another such retrenchment drive, told me that many of the senior staff who were being laid off by a media house had, in fact, been hired on fat salaries only to ensure they would not write stories that harmed the group’s business interests. Now that keeping these people on board was proving costly they were being shown the door!

While I agree that running a newspaper is big business and not social service anymore, someone in the higher echelons of power has to take a stand. That is something a lot of newspaper establishments never do. And that is where the lower- and middle-level employees suffer. And not just the journalists.

It’s sad, really, because journalists, photographers, DTP operators, designers, and all those involved with the business of publishing a newspaper have nothing to do with the policies formulated by the management. They are just small cogs in the big wheel, but they are the first to be sacrificed when it is time for the management to cut its losses. Think of the poor machine operator in the printing press. All he does is run the machinery that prints the newspaper. Is he a “presstitute”? Can he be blamed for the editorial policies of a newspaper? For all you know, the guy is a Modi supporter.

When The Telegraph announced there would be retrenchments I called a former colleague now working in that newspaper. He was just one of the senior editors, a family man, with wife, aged parents, and a teenaged daughter, doing his job to the best of his abilities. He was understandably worried that he might lose his job. I could feel the worry in his voice and I felt sorry for him. I haven’t had the courage since that day to call him to ask if he still has a job.

After three decades in the media I can honestly say that I have seen many of those in my profession give their blood, sweat and tears for a job which at the end of the day, gave back very little in terms of monetary recompense. None of these people were presstitutes. They just followed orders handed down to them by people who decided on how a story should be done, why, and who to target. Those guys are still around and prospering.


The other day, I was in the bank queue and standing behind me was a gentleman from Bihar, so we got chatting and he said “Bahut kathin hain, Modi jo koshish kar rahein” (It is very difficult, what Modiji is trying to achieve). I asked him to explain, and he said he had returned from his village in Bihar where no one wants Narendra Modi’s anti-corruption drive to succeed because they are happy with the corrupt way of life.

When you hear such things you know Narendra Modi is facing an impossible, nay herculean task, in ending corruption. His own party is neck-deep in it. It is ingrained in the system and some people don’t want to get rid of it. They will fight it to their last breath because for them, it’s a question of their very existence.

The Bihari gent said that in his village, dozens of fictitious Jan Dhan accounts have been opened by crooked bank officials in which money is being credited and withdrawn every month by nameless persons. The account holders, thekedars and bank officials take a cut and everyone is happy. Why should they want to change a system that fetches such returns without an honest day’s work?

When I told him about the cash being recovered from all over the country, he laughed. He said that schemes such as MNREGA were the biggest financial scams in independent India and even Mr Modi with all his good intentions can do nothing, because the rot has gone too deep.  And this is happening in Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, when he is backing the campaign against black money.

Like me, he too was despondent. “Chor hain sab. Is desh ka kabhi bhala nahin hoga.” (They are all thieves. The country will never improve).

The day before on Twitter I had an argument on the very subject with a journalist who said I could not base my example on one instance. Well, here’s another.

I am no economist, but as a middle-class Indian I see around me the willingness to change but there are three other groups of people who are fighting change. The first is the corrupt lot for whom demonetisation has been an avoidable disaster, and if they can’t save their money they definitely don’t want a system which won’t let them make anymore. Look at the way the bankers and lawyers have circumvented the system to issue trunks full of new currencies to all kinds of dubious people, while the common Indian frets and fumes in a queue.

The second lot is the so-called ‘left-liberals’, who share a visceral hatred for Modi. Irrespective of what he or anyone from his government proposes, they will close their eyes and oppose it. The gates are closed for any debate on the issue, and if there is one, it’s a monologue in which they are right, and everyone else is wrong.

For example. I hear people on TV channels trotting out the most bizarre reasons for not going digital. Some of the more absurd reasons I’ve heard by idiots in the garb of journalists, on why poor people can’t open bank accounts is, that poor people haven’t been inside a bank. Haven’t they been inside a post office or dak ghar as it is called in the villages? In a village in Uttar Pradesh, one man says no one in government told him he could open a bank account. In the past so many years if no one in government told villagers that they could open accounts even in post offices, who is to blame? If there are so few banks in villages, then who is to take the blame?

Then there is the absolutely bizarre justification from people against demonetisation. It would make me laugh if it weren’t so tragic. They will say that daily wagers have been the worst-hit because the small factory owner has been forced to shut down. Why the “small factory owner” was running a cash-and-carry business for decades, is something none of them have cared to ask that guy. And it’s not like he just started it. He’s been doing it for years and his father before him. Has he tried to open accounts for his workers in these last 30 days to solve their problem? No he hasn’t. He has preferred to shut down instead. It’s pretty obvious why.

Just go to some of the busy chowks in a city like Pune on any given day. Among the milling crowds are dozens of labourers. They aren’t all waiting for public transport. They, men, and women with babies, are waiting for a contractor to land up there and pick them out like cattle to herd them into a truck and take them to a construction site. Here they will work in the blazing sun and at the end of the day, they will get paid for a day’s work, from which they have to pay the contractor. You can guess what they end up with after paying that. That is, of course, not a concern of journalists churning out reports about the negative impacts of demonetisation. That’s not the angle they’re looking for in that story.

And finally, there is a fourth group – journalists – who are happy sitting in their air conditioned offices churning out stories from twitter feeds and Facebook updates and calling them ‘exclusives’. I remember joking years ago that some journalists could turn a press release into a byline story, but I never realised it would get so bad! They’ve gotten so used to sucking up to ministers and drinking subsidised booze at the Press Club that they’ve forgotten their primary responsibility – to question those in power, and keep questioning them, until they answer.

Not one journalist is asking this simple question of the politicians in and out of power – What was your party doing all these years?” Not one journalist is throwing up facts and figures in the faces of these politicians and asking them to explain the discrepancies. Some of the politicians have become millionaires and billionaires in five years. Not one journalist asks them how they made so much without any legal source of income, except their MP’s salaries. That is left to the analysts and opinion writers, who very few read anyway. So after a few hours of being stonewalled by the politicians, the journalists go back to the Press Club and order another drink, and move on to their next desktop exclusive.

I am sorry for being such a cynic, but I completely understand what the Bihari gentleman meant when he said, “Chor hain sab….”


Frankly, I am getting tired of people droning on about standing in bank queues and the time they have to waste, and all the wonderful or terrible people they meet. What the fuck were you doing when there were no ATMs? Did God come down on Earth to dole out cash to you? I think one of the biggest crimes any government committed in the last 70 years was the launching of ATMs. It made us lazy, it made us impatient, and most of all it made us forget the pain of standing in queues.

In the last three weeks I have been reading about people allegedly dropping dead in bank queues because they’ve forgotten what it was like to stand in a queue. And I use the world ‘allegedly’ deliberately. I am sure there are genuine cases too, and it’s sad, but I am sure by the time things are back to normal the number of deaths will come down to single digits, and many of those too, this sexed up media will realise, were unrelated to standing in a queue. Maybe, we should shut down ATMs every few months to let people live a more realistic life of the 1970s and 1980s where they stood in bank queues that sometimes stretched to the street outside. I know there are problems. It is a mind-boggling exercise which could not have been done any other way. There have been problems many un-anticipated. I am sure, in hindsight, even the government realises the process could have been better planned. I am sure villagers are the hardest hit, but to make it a doomsday scenario is stretching the truth a lot. And in this one has to blame sections of the media who are deliberately misreporting to create a panic. If the villagers are having problems the state and district administration should approach the centre and make arrangements to disburse funds. The problem is when bankers, government officials and politicians are themselves are corrupt, who do you trust? I know of labourers who have bank accounts opened in their name all of a sudden, with funds being deposited in them. Since when did one need to deposit Rs 50,000 in a savings bank account, when one can maintain a zero balance?

And I’ll be honest, my family too felt the sudden shortage of cash with banks running short, and wondering how we spend the old denominations. Fortunately, all three of use debit cards and wire transfers. Maybe it’s called being smart. I also connected to Paytm and have never been more relieved, because I have to carry even less cash around now.  I too had problems with my account in a co-operative bank. I waited for the problem to ease, and when it didn’t because they were giving only Rs 2,000, I wired money from there into the nationalised bank account I have and withdrew Rs 20,000. We cut down our expenses, saved enough last month to ensure we could pay the maids on December 1. So stop cribbing so much, and move on. I did.

I also know that the entire country cannot go cashless and neither is the government forcing you to. But can those who want to, do so, instead of having to read planted reports by a subjective media demonising the plan? Indians are so gullible that they believe anything and that is what the media is hoping it can achieve in its efforts to ensure this plan fails. This country is littered with stories of idiotic Indians falling for a con. Look at the way people fall for the dumbest trick around – the spam mail telling you that you have won millions of dollars. Or someone claiming to be from a bank asking for your ATM card and pin. The fact that the government has to release commercials on TV channels telling people not to fall for it should tell us what a bunch of idiots we are.

Which brings me to this whole engineered controversy about demonetisation being a waste of time, money and energy, because black money will not go away. It is bizarre. No, black money won’t go away. If it did, we would all be living in Utopia. Let’s face it, a thief will remain a thief. He will find new ways to break the law. Years ago, when we moved to Gurgaon, I went to buy a lock. I told the shopkeeper I wanted a big lock for the front door and he smiled and said “Taala sharifon ke liye hota hain, choron ke liye nahin” (Locks are meant for the honest (to tell them you’re not home), not for thieves). I mean, the police put up traffic lights, road dividers and lanes, in the hope that we will follow traffic rules. But some people think they are above the law. We can only make laws tougher. And it’s not like all the people who had black money got away. We are reading about sacks full of money being discovered and the arrest of bank officials who have been helping the unscrupulous change their currency.

As for the opposition politicians who are protesting the loudest, it’s obvious they’ve been hit the hardest. Now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stolen their ideas, reinvented them to suit his party, and put paid to their plans, they are hell-bent on getting rid of him. That is why people like Rahul Gandhi, Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Arvind Kejriwal, and now Mamata Banerjee, are indulging in hysterics. In which country did you hear of a state being taken over by the army, when there is a civilian government at the centre in power? You have to be a complete imbecile to come up with such an absurd fantasy. Rahul Gandhi accuses Modi of TRP politics, conveniently forgetting that he too was doing just that with his khat sabhas and the farce of standing in a bank queue to withdraw Rs 4,000. Doesn’t he know there is a bank and an ATM in Parliament House? Oh, but how would he, he is hardly there.

If this is the way Rahul, Kejriwal, Mamata and the rest intend to push forward their candidacy to replace Modi in 2019, then Modi can be sure of another two terms as prime minister. Also, we don’t need comedy shows on TV channels anymore, these political stand-up comics will do just fine as replacements.

As a tax payer I am happy even if 2 per cent of the crooks in this country are nailed. I would consider it worth every minute I spend in a bank queue.