Archive for September, 2013

Cynicism is defined as ‘an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others’. And the people who are defined as cynics are invariably journalists. They look for motives in anything. People look at some of us with disdain, because they honestly believe that things are not as bad as they look. They believe that we should see things as they really are. Unfortunately journalists see hidden meaning in everything that happens.

We are cynical because we think the economy is going from bad to worse. The rest of the world believes that if the economy has hit a trough, it will come out, any day now. There is no need to paint a doomsday picture of the whole thing. It’s been just five years or so. We have a new RBI Governor who is Superman, Batman and Spiderman all rolled into one, presumably wearing psychedelic colour undies, cape and mask. Presumably the last one was a moron who did not know the difference between a rupee and a toupee. This new guy, well he is good looking, so he should do wonders with the economy. So, be positive. That’s what this country might need soon – B Positive.

Journalists are labelled cynical because we fret about the rising fuel prices. The rest of the country believes that journalists need to understand that fuel prices are skyrocketing because global oil prices are also rising. After all, we are now in sync with the rest of the world’s oil markets. When fuel has to be given at a discount to politicians, their drivers, cooks and their relatives living a hand-to-mouth existence in the villages, prices will rise. And don’t forget all those poor farmers who drive Mercs who also avail subsidies. We need to provide for them. After all, someone else has to pay. Why should the tax-paying middle class complain? If they can visit malls and multiplexes every second day why do they need subsidies?

We journalists should also understand that if politics and violence are becoming a common occurrence it is because there is a realignment of forces taking place and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s been happening since 1947, it’s nothing new. It will end once the elections are over and a new government is in place. We journalists worry too much. So, nothing more than a few dozen homes and a few dozen people get killed. It happens all the time. Democracy is safe. It’s all these communal forces, who are at play. They don’t understand secularism. In political terms, secularism is a movement towards the separation of religion and government. Please note – separation NOT interference and favouritism. When youngsters say with disarming honesty that people of Gujarat should all die because they support Narendra Modi instead of Rahul Gandhi, we are supposed to pat them on the back instead of looking shocked.

Ignorant journalists must realise that skirmishes across three of our borders are now an everyday thing. It’s nothing, just politics. Soldiers, who protect our borders, keep us safe, and they will die doing so. They are supposed to die. It’s their destiny. That is why they are paid a handsome salary. So they must die. So when past and present generals squabble over the way the Army is being politicised, don’t get worked up. It happens. There’s nothing to worry about. Oh, and that occasional bomb blast is now a global phenomenon. People die from that too. People die everywhere. They are collateral damage. See what happened in Nairobi. We can’t give them better security, we are a poor nation. We need to spend those crores to improve the security for the politician. After all, they are the future of this nation. And please don’t ask irresponsible questions. Why can’t journalists ask more positive questions? Look at how the security agencies ‘arrested’ so many wanted terrorists.

Look at the way some journalists react to the act of the future prime minister of the country. When he says, “It’s rubbish, tear it up and throw it (the ordinance) away’, journalists should have started a symbolic movement and made a bonfire of the Ordinance. After all, Mahatma Gandhi did that during the Quit India movement, when he burnt British cloth, so why not another Gandhi? Cynical journalists fail to see how the party and the country have been energised by his act. So while some of us journalists think that Rahul Gandhi has reduced to rubble the post of the prime minister, with that one statement, the rest of the world sees the future prime minister taking the bull by the horns. In that one move, he tells the whole world that the Indian prime minister is the Bharat of Ramayan. Can’t we illiterate journalists see the sacrifice the great prime minister has been making this past decade so the real heir to the throne can be anointed soon?

And even in our personal lives we have become so cynical. Everyone around us is good, trusting, sweet. We are the ones with a deep distrust of people. It happens over and over again. We just don’t trust anyone. Just when someone begins to think they can trust us, we do something that negates that trust. Should we journalists put on rose-tinted glasses? It gives us such a wonderful, refreshing perspective of the world.


My friend Edwin Skau probably thinks I am inhuman for referring to Rajiv Gandhi the way I did in my previous blog. I still believe that if Rajiv Gandhi had wanted he could have stopped the violence after the assassination of his mother. After all, he was the prime minister, but whether he was forced to allow the massacres to continue by the hawks in his party or didn’t honestly know enough of what was going on in Delhi, is something we will never know. In journalist Tavleen Singh’s book she has documented that he knew.
It’s a coincidence that I wrote about it in my blog, because just a day later I watched Madras Cafe. The film is riveting. That’s the perfect word to describe it. It also brought back some very unpleasant memories. And just in case some people think that I dislike Rajiv Gandhi, I don’t and I never did. I think he was genuinely a nice guy, who I believe would have made a much better prime minister the second time around. Fate willed otherwise.
I don’t know whether Rajiv took any money in the Bofors deal. And if I remember right Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave him a clean chit in Parliament. That’s good enough for me. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to produce hard evidence, not innuendos and crazy assumptions, like some silly name like Lotus, which means Rajiv in English! Just like my friend Edwin, I refuse to accept that he was a corrupt man. Immature…maybe, naive..maybe, But crooked…I find hard to believe. And then he’s dead now, so he can’t refute innuendos.
I remember May 21, 1991 very clearly. I had left for home early from work that day, and I had just reached when my colleague Mathew Fernandes called me back to work. He said there had been a bomb blast and Rajiv Gandhi had been injured. By the time I reached the office all hell had broken loose. News was trickling in and it wasn’t good. Then we got an official confirmation on the wire and rushed off to redo the pages. Unlike today, page designing was a cut and paste operation, so it took double the time it takes today.
All the phones in the office were ringing simultaneously and, remember, we didn’t have 24×7 coverage as yet. I think STAR News (although I am not sure) was the first channel to have news coverage apart from Doordarshan, which had flashed the news. We didn’t have a photo service that could have flashed pictures to us then, so we had to depend on grabbing the image from TV connected on a desktop.
I remember people calling us up to confirm the news and breaking down on being told. I don’t think there were too many dry eyes that evening in the newsroom. When the pictures flashed on the TV and they showed the body of the former PM lying on its stomach, we were shaking our heads in disbelief.
What shook us all was the manner of his death and the fact that someone could have been so committed to taking a life and giving up her own with a press of a button. It completely freaked most of us out. I for one was deeply saddened. I remember telling my mother and aunt, that he was too young to die and this was a blow the country would never recover from. And I don’t think the nation has recovered from that blow. And I am not referring to those nonsensical advertisements published about his dreams by the Congress Party!
There was another reason I had a soft corner for him. When my brother got married in 1986, my mother sent Rajiv Gandhi a wedding card! You see my brother and sister-in-law had the same first names as the Gandhi couple! On returning from the wedding our house help told us that the postman had been bringing a letter everyday and had refused to hand it over to anyone except the person who the letter was addressed to — my mother! She, of course, hadn’t breathed a word of it to anyone, fearing a lot of leg-pulling from everyone.
The next day the postman arrived with the letter and imagine my shock when we saw the letter. It was from the Prime Minister’s Office and had his seal. The message inside left me speechless. It read “Dear Mrs Sinha, Thank you for the lovely invitation card informing us of the wedding of your son Rajiv to Sonia. Sonia and I wish the couple the same happiness that we have had in ours.”
My first reaction was “What a smooth PR guy!”
So as I watched Madras Cafe these memories came flooding back, and as I watched the scenes leading to the assassination, I felt sick in my stomach. I closed my eyes, only to open them a few seconds later. I didn’t want to miss THAT scene.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have all but anointed Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, but the only way he will ever get there is if he steps out from under the shadow of Lal Krishna Advani. Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? However, everything that has happened in the last few weeks seems to point in that direction. The only way Advani is going to give up his claim to the PM’s chair is till the verdict for 2014 stares him in the face. And maybe not even then! And don’t be surprised if he plots and schemes to ensure that Modi is discredited and disgraced, even after the party has backed Modi.

Observing the manner in which everyone – from media to politicians, both from the opposition and the BJP – has been gunning for Narendra Modi, reminds me of the days after the Emergency in 1977, when the Janata Party set up the various Commissions to inquire into the excesses committed by Mrs Indira Gandhi, her son Sanjay and their cohorts during the Emergency.

The Shah Commission was set up soon after the Janata Party came to power in the elections declared after the Emergency was lifted in 1977. Unfortunately, instead of putting Mrs Gandhi and her son in the dock for the manner in which they ran the country in those 21 months, the proceedings were hijacked by the duo and won for Mrs Gandhi the elections when the Janata Party collapsed.

What was interesting was the manner in which the wily Indira Gandhi garnered tremendous sympathy during the Commission hearings. I was then still in my teens but I remember pouring over reports of the Shah Commission proceedings in the newspaper. I think I got the Indian Express at home, and it was full of reports about the Turkman Gate incident, children being sterilised, people dying during such operations, the disappearance of P Rajan, a student from Kerala who had protested against the Emergency (incidentally, his remains are yet to be recovered). To a teenager it was riveting stuff. And then there was Vidya Charan Shukla, the then information broadcasting minister who had his stooges stationed in all newspaper offices that he believed were against his leader Sanjay. He also destroyed all (so he thought) copies of a film (Kirsa Kursi ka), which was a satire on the government.

When the Commission started its hearings, the wily Mrs Gandhi, ever the astute politician, played the victim so convincingly that midway through the proceedings the tables had turned. She attended the hearing everyday dressed in a simple cotton sari, sitting on a hard bench and even refusing water. It struck a chord. People began to feel that it was not her but her son who was the culprit, which in many ways he was. By then the newspapers too (we didn’t have 24×7 television news then) began to portray her as a woman wronged and from the accused she became the victim. It was now the Janata Party that was in the dock! What is happening today with Narendra Modi comes pretty close,

Look at the way everyone – politicians, activists, media – is going after Modi every time he opens his mouth. It borders on paranoia. It is either about his role in the Gujarat riots of 2002 or his claims of a development in the State or his remark about being a ‘Nationalist Hindu’ or the very loaded puppy remark. Anything he says gets mercilessly flogged by the politicians and picked up by the media. According to the dictionary the word ‘nationalist’ is defined as ‘Devotion to the interests or culture of one’s nation’. So what did Modi say that was so abhorrent, ask his supporters. Or for that matter his puppy remark. There is already a large segment of the population that believes Modi is being unfairly targeted. Just like the original Mrs G was. They would also have us believe that it was not Modi but others around him who should be held responsible for the pogrom in Gujarat.

It’s not like he is the only politician in the country who has allegedly ‘engineered’ a riot. Some former Congress prime ministers and chief ministers have watched as mobs have gone on the rampage, and quite a few ordinary politicians who are today part of the ruling dispensation, have been accused of not just inciting riots but playing an active role in them. What this is doing for Modi, is that it is making him a hero in the eyes of a large chunk of the population that believes that he is articulating their angst against everything that is wrong today.

For example, the tax-payer is angry with the UPA politicians for filling their pockets while they, the public, bears the brunt of rising prices. And no politician is bothered about them. Modi has, very smartly, stepped in to fill that breach. Like Raj Thackeray in Maharashtra who deliberately takes on the ruling establishment – be it the politician or the bureaucracy – Modi’s rhetoric has touched a nerve. And just yesterday I read that India Inc prefers Modi as prime minister to Rahul Gandhi. Must be a bitter pill to swallow for the Congress party.

Tomorrow he might turn out to be just another politician, but for now Modi seems to find support. And that worries the political class, including those in his party like Lal Krishna Advani. Coming from a politician who is part of the RSS, which has been known for its discipline, it speaks volumes of Advani’s desperation to become PM. Let’s wait and see whether Modi’s opponents who have been taking pot shots at him, find their target or just end up shooting themselves in the foot.

Remember the film Network’ where Peter Finch as Robert Boyle tells viewers to go to the window and yell “I’m mad as hell, and I am not going to take it anymore.” Well, In think the people of the country are getting there. And I am sure we don’t need a ‘Mad Prophet’ to make us feel that way. Although, I daresay, there are a few of our news anchors who come close!

Prices of everything are sky-high, crime is rampant, women and children are getting molested, raped, citizens or abducted. Activists are getting murdered in broad daylight. Incidents of road rage are pretty common nowadays. And while all these things are happening around them, the politicians, secure in their fortified bungalows and offices are offering lip sympathy.

I am angry not because the price of petrol has passed Rs 80 and I, like everyone else have to pay through my nose for it, along with the already steep prices of LPG and vegetables. I am angry because while I pay, the politician continues to live a tax-free existence. And if it was a hardworking, honest politician I wouldn’t mind, but most of these guys deserve (and I am sure 99 per cent of the tax-payers feel that way) to get nailed – since I can’t use anything more vituperative.

If there is an economic crisis in the country, how come only the tax-payer has to bear the brunt? Why aren’t elected representatives – MPs and MLAs – told they have to pay taxes, pay for their fuel, telephone usage and house rent, until the situation improves? After all it is they who are responsible for the sorry mess we are in today, so why should they walk away and leave us to carry the burden? The Centre’s logic of shoving it down the tax-payer’s throat even though they are the biggest culprits is only going to increase the anger among the public.

Manmohan Singh, for all his so-called personal integrity has turned out to be a dud as a Prime Minister. Well he is the prime minister, technically, even though Soniaji pulls the strings. For all his integrity, all he does is stand up in Parliament and defend the corrupt ministers and officials who work under him. So how is he any better than them? Has he even once asked his ministers or bureaucrats to limit their expenses on travel? Instead, he has warned the public that things will get worse! What a source of comfort he has been, in these troubled times!

You don’t need to be Einstein, for example, to see that the maximum wastage of fuel is at the government level. The common man, by and large, is careful, The government is not. So if the MPs, MLAs and bureaucrats are asked to pay for the fuel they consume, at least till we tide over the present crisis, there won’t be a crisis. But watch the cavalcade of cars these nincompoops travel with, and you’ll realise that they don’t give a damn if the rest of the country starves as long as they are mobile.

Take Pune itself. We have a terrible public transport system, but does the government care? The BRTS they planned is one of the worst-ever planned projects the city has had. It was supposed to ease the traffic congestion. Instead it has only brought on more chaos. Everyone took a slice of the pie and left the mess on the floor. Now the citizens have to drive through the mess.  It’s not the politician’s problem anymore. Now take the Metro. In the past six years since they announced it all that has moved is the cost of the project – upwards. E Sreedharan, the man who executed other Metro projects around the country, came to Pune recently and ripped the Metro project to shreds. Has it had any effect on the politicians? Ho hum.

As a nation we are in a shambles. In all these years, I don’t think I’ve seen so many issues hitting us so hard in one single year and there’s worse to come, I am told. The worse thing is the government seems to resemble a blindfolded man trying to figure his way out of a maze. All they need to do is take off the blindfold.

So I am angry, and I am sure, so are you. Some months ago I read that some women thrashed an amorous politician in public view. Today I read on FB that villagers in Gurgaon forced open the toll booth there because they were fed up of the bad service road they were being forced to use. They decided to take law into their hands. It’s coming, slowly and surely. The anger is building. God forbid, if one day this anger explodes into something more drastic. I guess, those who rule over us, would deserve that.

Having worked in journalism for 23 years and taught at various media schools for the past six, I’ve seen a lot of cases of plagiarism and fabrication of news. Some of the instances have been so blatant that I have really marvelled at the writer’s total disregard for ethics. I guess a lot of it has to do with our own mentality and our sense of right and wrong.

If one believes there’s nothing wrong with copying and pasting a paragraph from somewhere or someone else’s work, then one seriously needs to introspect on whether one is in the right profession. I’ve seen reporters picking up entire stories from foreign publications and passing these off as their own, after making the mandatory required changes in place, name and incidents! I once caught a reporter who lifted entire reports thrice! He had me fooled twice, till I went on Google and discovered the truth. Thank God for Google and Fact Checker!

Of course, there have been journalists and editors who have either lost their jobs or have been ‘outed’ in the public domain for doing that. Some of them continued in their jobs after expressing regret for ‘inadvertently’ sourcing their material from somewhere else. Can one really copy a report or even a part of it inadvertently?  But this post is not about famous people and their transgressions.

This post is about youngsters who think there is nothing wrong in copying material from the Internet.  I see some of my media students blatantly lift stuff and try to pass it off as their own. I have often given a zero or sometimes a 1/10 to some who have done that and a couple of them have tried to brazen it out, only to realise that they have taken on the wrong person!  They have complained in writing to the director of a media institute against me, only to have it blow up in their face. Like I always say in my classes – a little exaggeration is okay, but blatantly lifting from somewhere is unpardonable!

And this malaise runs deep – right down to the school level. The newspaper I work for recently started a contributory column for school children. They were given a few topics and asked to write an essay “in your own words”. I was appalled and alarmed to see so many children just copy entire reports from websites and send it to us, as their own. I wonder whether the expression “in your own words”, got lost in translation! I am sure every nine or ten-year-old boy understands the meaning of that. Don’t parents see what their children are up to? Or have we reached a stage where nine- year-olds function without any supervision from parents?

I have turned away quite a few such pieces that have been forwarded to me for publication. We are going to call up the parents and speak to them about it. My editor and I both agree on this point that if they are not told now, their children will continue to think it’s okay to copy. We published quite a few original pieces and some others that had some of the content ‘lifted’, because I understand that it is not easy for children to have all that information in their heads. It is only when the entire content was brazenly copied that I put my foot down.

I remember my son writing a really short fictional story when he was in Class II. Having poured through all the mythological comics we had given him, he invented the names and characters and made up a short story! The journalist in me initially refused to believe he had written it himself! He was almost in tears when he realised I didn’t believe him. Of course, a bear hug at finding that his work was completely original wiped away his tears!