Ghar mein ghuske…

THE Caravan’s story on the BS Yedyurappa diaries, the full version of which is here outside the paywall, is intriguing — as much for what it reveals of the media, as for what it actually contains. But I’ll circle back to that early next week; for now, read the story.

While television (with the honourable exception of NDTV) was not merely ignoring the story but working assiduously to distract attention from it, I was intrigued by a small conversation I stumbled into on Twitter.

The issue is simple enough: The Indian government said it was boycotting Pakistan’s National Day celebrations. Fair enough, though it does raise the question of why, if this boycott had to do with Pulwama, the government was holding talks on the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, and why an official delegation is scheduled to visit Pakistan for more talks on April 2.

The MEA, aware of the cognitive dissonance in its actions, tied itself in knots to explain that the talks are not “a resumption of dialogue” — which means what, exactly? We are talking, but it is not a dialogue? Reminds you of that classic Sir Humphrey line from Yes Minister: “A clarification is not to clear things up, it is to put you in the clear.”

But that aside, revert to the main storyline: India boycotts Pakistan’s National Day. And its officials, in a show devoid of grace, stop people in front of the Pak Embassy in New Delhi to harangue them. (Former diplomat MK Bhadrakumar, who has served in the Indian Embassy in Pakistan, was underwhelmed — here is why). And then it turned out that PM Modi had sent greetings to his Pak counterpart Imran Khan on the occasion.

There was a scramble to explain this — and one of the first such explanations that caught my eye came from journalist Aditya Raj Kaul, who said Imran Khan had “twisted the words to suit his narrative”. I pointed out that Khan had actually put the words within quotations, so either IK had deliberately put words in Modi’s mouth, or Kaul was in damage-control mode. The exchange that followed was bizarre.

The thread is here, but briefly it goes like this: The text is in quotes. “Not the entire letter”. May I see the part that is left out? “Please ask the one you tagged”. That would be Imran Khan — and that would be a deliberate distortion because it was Kaul, not I, who tagged IK (and Modi before that). Kaul also suggested that I ask the MEA, the PMO, the man in the moon, everyone but him, though it was he whose statement I was questioning. And then said he had posted the relevant bit on his Twitter feed — only, he hasn’t; all there is, is his personal declaration of what he says the statement contained. And the crowning irony? This. Check the time of Kaul’s post, and ANI’s. And the similarity of the words. And, in passing, read this Caravan cover on how ANI carries water for the government.

The episode, brief as it was, reminded me of a long-standing discomfort with how the media — okay, a sizeable section of it — has abdicated its primary role of questioning, of speaking truth to power, and is busying itself with defending a government that will not speak for itself, when it is not coming up with distractions to divert attention from the government’s failings (Ask yourself this: If a BSY type scandal, whatever the provenance, had surfaced about ANY non-BJP politician, what would have been the subject of prime time debates last night?).

Distractions reminds me — read this piece by Mitali Saran (in fact, read every piece she writes). Among other things, that ‘chidiya dekho‘ phrase is a perfect fit for what journalism has, by and large, been reduced to.

By May 24, the counting will be done and dusted, and we will have a new government, of whatever stripe, in place. But the damage that has been done to the media in the interim is like poison — it ingested into the blood stream very rapidly, but it’s going to take a very long time to flush out.

ELSEWHERE: A group of some 25 men armed with sticks and swords attacked kids playing cricket, barged into their home, and beat up family members. Just because. See why I gave this post the headline I did?

A mob chanting ‘Har Har Modi’ assaults dalits in Farrukhabad. Just because they can.

A dalit student en route to an exam hall was tied to a tree and beaten, in Gujarat. The assaulters told him he had no business studying, and should instead find some work to do.

All of this happened in a span of around 30 hours or so. And all of this, and the dozens of such instances happening across large parts of the country on a daily basis, is — or should be — the central issue of this election. Rahul Gandhi may be a “pappu” to the paparazzi, but he got that right: This election is about the fabric, the soul, of this country.

Added at 10.45 PM: While watching what purports to be a cricket match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, I was browsing headlines and such and came across this:

Really? “Fight over cricket”? This is how you subtly shade your language to normalise behaviour that should be unacceptable in any civilised society. And it has become so common, we barely notice any more.

PostScript: Does anyone know a smart, innovative WordPress developer? Someone who understands media and can work with me to extend the feature sets, give this thing a different look and feel? I am happy to pay for the work, but I need someone good. Any suggestions/tips most appreciated, thank you.

Media matters: The Kulbhushan Jadhav episode

Of the many noteworthy events that occurred while I was away following the cricket, the one that sticks to my mind like a burr is the case of Quint and its story on Kulbushan Jadhav.

Briefly, Quint under the byline of one Chandan Nandy published a story citing two former heads of the Research and Analysis Wing to the effect that they were opposed to the recruitment of Jadhav, a former Naval officer, as a spy for the RAW. The story led to an outcry following which Quint took down the story. “The Quint is rechecking the Kulbhushan Jadhav story”, ran the headline over the website’s statement.

Since then, the story remains down. The statement has also vanished. And it is like nothing happened, nothing to see here, folks, move on.

But something did happen, and it should leave a sorry aftertaste in the mouths of anyone who is invested in ensuring that we get the media we deserve. The Quint-Jadhav story is one of editorial failure at multiple levels, with potentially dangerous consequences. And the subsequent silence of the website only compounds its initial complicity.

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Dotting the ‘i’

#1. The censor board, after consulting with its specially constituted panel, has decided to clear Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film — after the makers carry out 26 cuts. Oh, and change the name of the film from Padmavati to Padmavat.

Does it occur to you that as a nation, our collective “sensibility” is extremely fragile, and also extremely malleable? That these “sensibilities” are easily offended and as easily appeased? What is an ‘i’, more or less, among friends anyway?

Don’t imagine for a moment, though, that this is the last you are going to hear of a tiresome movie by a tiresomely pretentious film-maker — once the release date is set, now-dormant sensibilities in Rajasthan and elsewhere will be duly aroused again, and much ruckus will duly follow.

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WTFJH: The October 14 weekend edition

#1. It takes just one news story to meet, and exceed, the weekend’s whatthefuckery quotient:

Over two years after Mohammed Akhlaq was beaten to death on suspicion of consuming beef, the accused in the case, all of whom are out on bail, may soon secure jobs.

Moreover, the family of Ravin Sisodia, one of the murder accused who had died in jail of multiple organ failure, is soon likely to get Rs 8 lakh compensation.

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The News in Briefs: October 2

#1. In Agra, members of the VHP and the RSS, armed with guns, pistols and swords fired in the air near a temple in the Agra Fort region to “celebrate Dussehra”. The police have registered a case. The weapons, the firing, the communal slogans, all add up to calculated intimidation. And all the while, the RSS claims that it is the victim, not the perpetrator, of violence against its members.

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ATM thieves aka “terrorists”

The story received breathless play in the media: Pakistan’s NSA tipped off his Indian counterpart about 10 terrorists who had infiltrated into India. Manhunt launched. TV channels quote top officials to say three of the terrorists killed. Manhunt continues for the other seven. And so on. Turns out they were ATM thieves.

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