Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Ghost named Arnab Goswami

“Conceal your intentions”, wrote American strategist Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power, “Keep people off balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them for enough down the wrong-path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.”

These words perhaps narrate a story about the success of news-channels in India. The country has been witnessing a media revolution ever-since 1987 when the state offered to bend from its controlled media and expose the country to private media. In the recent years however the competition has grown stiff. 

News channels have mushroomed all over the country in English, Hindi and the regional languages. It has also given rise to news-casters and an increase in news-analysis over English news prime-time segment. While traditionally news-channels have been soft towards the government, the state domination seems to have relaxed to an extent over recent few years. At least to a common man’s eye. It however remains rare to see a journalist of spine face challenge in the spirit of the core values of journalism. 

So...When a journalist of Assamese origin feels outraged and dares to ask tough questions on the most watched news-analysis show on Indian television, fellow editors feel uncomfortable, politicians grounded and anti-state actors question his national interest. The monopoly of the English TV media in India has faced a challenge in Arnab Goswami. 

Goswami, claimed to be the most visible face on television in India today is loud and clear in his opinion and doesn’t conceal his intentions on live broadcast; instead he is quite direct in his arguments or agenda. For that very reason, he is an easy target among the critics and even the journalists. He has stood apart from the other two most visible faces and change-makers in English TV news – Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt. Not merely because of his loud animated voice with an equally cheesy background score. The paradigm shift Goswami brought to the TV news approach is unquestionable. Yes, a thousand questions may be directed at him, in the nation-wants-to-know style but he won’t smell of a bias, least of all a political bias.

Activist turned stand-up comedian, Gursimran Khamba in his mild-sarcasm filled open letter to Arnab Goswami in 2010 wrote, “Your critics say, a one horned Rhino gets poached in Kaziranga every time you open your mouth on television. I say they are all jealous of your success.” Perhaps they are. Another reason being a letter Goswami wrote to his employees shortly after 2G scam surfaced in media and alleged tapes of Nirra Radia with well-reputed editors became public.

“This is a low point in the news business. It’s downright shameful,” wrote Goswami in an open letter to his employees, “We believe in fierce editorial independence and complete personal honesty. Our standards have to remain impeccably high. In your interactions at any level, remember that you are ambassadors of India’s number one news channel.”

“…no disrespect to the organization that you represent and the group that we are all a part of, no loose talk, no flexibility on values, will be accepted. If I hear of any, we will come down hard, and no exceptions will be made...,” he further wrote. The public letter took a stand amidst silence of almost the entire media in India. It surely would have given birth to foes with vengeance in mind. The ethics of the media however remain buried till date deep inside an ocean full of precarious silence. 

The fancy power behind an editor today is immense, which often skids on way to success. It translates to insensitivity over issues of national importance. The scathing criticism of some editors over social networking websites has only increased over the recent years. Ignorance and above all arrogance would certainly not help in a situation as grave as this in the present significance of social media.

In India, news-channels have to now cross these infant years to a more important mature stage to lead a democracy out of its lacuna. It is imperative for media in general to have a collective conscience. Yes, certainly it’s hard in the times of corporate ownership of majority media.

'Remember, for a journalist, credibility is like virginity. You can lose it only once', veteran journalist Vinod Mehta wrote in his memoir, The Lucknow Boy. The notion of credibility has long lost its value in media. Indian media cannot be burdened with this responsibility alone till we have Rupert Murdoch who won’t let the sun set easy.

Till then at least, a ghost named Arnab Goswami will continue to haunt the power-breakers, with an intention which doesn’t hold a chance to be ignored by one and all.

Aditya Raj Kaul is the India Editor of the monthly The Indian published from Sydney, Australia. He can be reached at kauladityaraj@gmail.com

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Are you alone?

Do you walk alone?
I do.

I walk into the night. There is an uncomfortable silence.  I am alone. The deafening silence is choking. It pours tough questions into the thought process. It mingles with the blood inside my veins sending shivers across the body. It is the darkness of the world. With my head bowed before the evil silence I walk distraught. I walk into the congested woods. The thorns lash at my body. Tears from this journey burn all along. Yes, the pain is unbearable. The truth of this pain has been swallowed. It lies buried inside the ocean of fear, even as the moon is witness.

Am I afraid? 

Has the world left me to walk alone?

Will I be pushed to the corner forever?

Time is a great healer. I however won’t wait for time to transform into a touch of solace. I will walk amidst dark clouds. I will cross the path of fear. The frozen river of hope will have to melt in my presence.  I will talk to the devil into the eyes. The burning rage inside my heart won’t spare the evil silence. I will tear it apart alone. No, the bullet won’t be my guard. The sun will envy my patience.

I will walk alone. I will answer the silence equivocally. I will bring to light the fire of hope. I will conquer the stormy night of discomfort. The gloomy wind will cry at its fate. I will walk alone if the world turns its back to me. I will.

I will drink the tears of sorrow. I will forget the pain of separation. I will burn myself to bring the truth to the surface. I will let an astonished time stare at my actions. I will walk alone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Batla House encounter, just an election recipe?

Published in the Daily News & Analysis (DNA)

Union law minister Salman Khurshid made a major blooper with his unnecessary comment that the pictures of the Batla House encounter brought tears to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s eyes. After getting flak from his party, he retracted, saying he had only meant she became ‘emotional.’

For political commentators, a swift Congress strategy to lure the minority in the Uttar Pradesh elections was visible. While the comment may have been emotive for a significant part of the minority community, it raises the larger question of political discourse in India, where secularism merely has been glued to the paper of the Constitution.

On September 19, 2008, in an encounter at Batla House, Jamia Nagar, Delhi, senior inspector Mohan Chand Sharma and two suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists, Atif Amin and Mohamed Sajid, were killed while two other suspects Mohd Saif and Zeeshan were arrested. Another accused Ariz Khan managed to flee. Sharma, who was awarded the Ashok Chakra later, had played a crucial role in cracking the Parliament attack case.

On August 29, 2009, a bench headed by Delhi high court chief justice AP Shah rejected the plea of an NGO, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, seeking judicial inquiry into the encounter. On October 30, 2009, in the Supreme Court, a bench headed by chief justice KG Balakrishnan dismissed the NGO’s plea challenging the earlier verdict. When the petitioner for the NGO, Prashant Bhushan, submitted that the encounter had shaken the faith and confidence of a large section of a community, the bench expressed its displeasure saying, ‘You need not identify any section of society... Criminals are criminals. Why do you identify a community?’

Identity and religion have run deep in the politics of India since Partition. As the controversy over the issue died, Congress leader Digvijay Singh found an opportune moment to raise it in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh’s minority hotbed on the eve of polls in Rahul Gandhi’s presence, saying that he always believed that the Batla House encounter was ‘fake.’

Home Minister P Chidambaram, saying there was no scope of reopening the case, called the encounter ‘genuine.’ If the Congress is keen to address the grievances of the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association and other political outfits who’ve raised doubts over the encounter, why doesn’t the party bring consensus among their own leaders? Or, is the issue a deliberate attempt to cultivate an election recipe to milk the minority vote? Muslims too are human, not to be singled out as a vote bank.

The malady of this plank has corrupted the nature of political discourse in the country. Not far from this political game, a war has taken shape as a campaign over the internet, run by JTSA as a ‘fight against state and its agencies’, since ‘they refused a free and fair enquiry into the encounter.’

The JTSA theory of a ‘fake encounter’ hasn’t had many buyers. University of Delaware’s Director of Islamic Studies, Muqtedar Khan, slammed the ‘intellectually dishonest’ representatives of Muslims who ‘live in denial.’ ‘They first deny there is such a thing as jihadi terrorism,’ Dr Khan wrote, ‘resorting to conspiracy theories blaming every act of jihadi violence either on Israel, the US or India. Then they argue that unjust wars by these three nations (in Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir) are the primary cause for jihadi violence; a phenomenon whose very existence they have already denied.’

The Congress strategy in Uttar Pradesh has suggested a broader framework to ‘living in denial’. The party is following in the footsteps of the Samajwadi Party’s formula of minting votes through minority appeasement. It was seen when Khurshid announced a sub-quota for the minorities in Uttar Pradesh, demolishing the Election Commission code of conduct.

Will we remain entangled in this cynical web of politics? The political class — both ruling and the opposition — needs to introspect on the techniques being adopted in the system. There is certainly more to elections than winning votes.

Reservations as a policy for uplifting the backward sections haven’t been effective. Prof Purushottam Agrawal of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2006 presented the Multiple Index Related Affirmative Action as opposed to the reservation policy. While several academicians have supported the idea, the HRD ministry has remained ignorant till date. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who recently aired his support to the MIRAA framework on Twitter, may bring hope for the beginning of a solution.

In India, politics has to be rescued from the clutches of the skull cap and tilak. Religion has its sanctity, which should not be mixed with politics. The implicit non-secular planks in the name of secularism only go on to demonise democracy.

The writer is the India Editor of The Indian monthly published from Sydney, Australia. 

Listed on the Best Indian Blogs Directory

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Celebration or mockery of freedom in Kashmir?

It was August 24, 2007. Independence Day was still fresh in the memory.A group of politically aware girls pursuing journalism from the prestigious Kamla Nehru College in New Delhi, in association with a youth forum, Roots In Kashmir, were about to screen a documentary, ...And the World Remained Silent, by filmmaker Ashoke Pandit to question the state’s silence on the ethnic cleansing of exiled Kashmiri Pandits. On the eve of the screening, the organisers called it off. At Roots In Kashmir, the activists, mostly Pandits, were distraught. Again their voice had been silenced.

The organisers, however, quietly invited another filmmaker, Sanjay Kak, to screen his controversial film, Jashn-e-Azadi, which had been denied a public screening certificate by the censor board. It became clear within hours how some powers had changed the schedule. It didn’t need a political analyst to guess who had silenced the voice of the Pandits in exile. Though, as expected, the Delhi police asked Kak not to break the law and the screening was cancelled.

Yet another screening of Kak’s film has now been withdrawn by Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce in Pune after the special branch of the police wrote to it asking it to refrain from showing the film during its three-day seminar, Voices Of Kashmir. 

Activists from the local ABVP unit also objected to the film’s provocative content. The college has organised the event in association with the University Grants Commission, which also received complaints against the director.

Kak, who has raised an alarm in the media over this apparent scuttling of his ‘freedom of expression’, was, however, singing a different tune a few months ago against the first literary festival planned in the Kashmir valley. The organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival had planned a similar exchange — Harud Literature Festival — last September. While news agency AFP described it as “another sign at easing tensions in the revolt-hit Himalayan territory”, London’s The Independent described it as the “cultural rebirth” of Kashmir and “an attempt to aid the area’s cultural renaissance.” The Times of India wrote that the “valley had turned a page” and related the event to the fact that Germany had lifted its travel advisory against visiting Kashmir.

But normalcy wasn’t acceptable to a few fringe groups, who took it upon themselves to confront the free flow of ideas among writers from across the globe who would have assembled in Kashmir. Fundamentalist groups told the media that stones would be thrown at the venue. Kak and a group of cheerleaders became part of this campaign asking the organisers to cancel the event.

Before amnesia sets in, it is important to narrate how dangerous half-truths on Kashmir came into being. It all began on the evening of March 13, 2007, at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi where Kak invited the cream of cultural and social activists who were regulars on the Page 3 circuit for the premiere of his much talked about documentary on Kashmir — Jashn-e-Azadi (Celebration of Freedom). On the front seat of the jam-packed auditorium was a frail man in his early forties. He was the centre of attention of the organiser all through the evening.

Yasin Malik had never been a film buff or social crusader. He had never been seen behind the camera either. Often, cameras were directed at him for all the wrong reasons. In 1989 he was part of a large group of Kashmiri Muslims who were brainwashed and sent to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) for training on Kalashnikovs that would later that year and the following decade be used against the minority Kashmiri Pandits, who were seen as Indian agents.

Malik’s Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which was banned till 2000 as a terrorist outfit, had the main role in orchestrating the forced exodus of Pandits after their selective killings in the valley increased. And here was the revolutionary of freedom among an elite audience to witness a film revolving around the separatist movement. Kak, main organiser for the evening, had already ensured that Pandits were denied entry into the auditorium. As a result, several young and old Pandit scholars, professionals, journalists and activists stood outside the closed main gate.

Malik, one of the lead characters in the film, says India wants to impose Brahminical imperialism in Kashmir. Does he even know the meaning of the term ‘Brahman’? The most significant mischief played by the film is with the portrayal of statistics. It says 200 Kashmiri Pandits were killed and 1,60,000 exiled. It goes on to support the Kashmiri separatist claim that 1,00,000 Muslims were killed since 1990.

Rashneek Kher of Roots In Kashmir, who was among those asked by Kak to remain outside the auditorium, says in his account published in Greater Kashmir: “When I asked Sanjay Kak the source of these figures, he said he had obtained these from some joint secretary in the MHA, New Delhi. The movie director being a respected man, I had no doubt that he had got them from the Government of India (GoI). When I asked him what’s the source of his figures, 1,00,000 killed in Kashmir since 1990, he strangely had no GoI statistics to support his figures. Who believes GoI anyway? I have received a reply to an RTI saying only 16,455 civilians have been killed in Kashmir since 1990. Now who would believe that? If GoI would have been sacred as Kak wants us to selectively believe, we wouldn’t have the movie in the first place.”

One of the flashes in the film says “Kashmir is the most militarised region”. Maybe it is. What then explains the presence of army and paramilitary forces when, till 1989, it hadn’t even seen an armed policeman? The forced exodus of Pandits also took place in 1990. The film does not mention why the army had to be placed there after 1989. Isn’t it imperative for a filmmaker to show the complete picture and not half-truths?

Jashn-e-Azadi didn’t face protests only at its premiere. In August 2007, Mumbai’s anti-terrorism squad received inputs about a secret screening being planned at Prithvi theatre. The police raided the premises and sealed DVDs of the film. The senior officer who ordered the raid was martyred by bullets of terrorists from Pakistan in the 26/11 attack. Kak faced similar police action in Gujarat, New Delhi, and other places.

“It wasn’t a film on Kashmiri Pandits,” remarked an angry Kak when challenged by an equally angry audience at a screening at Stanford University in the US last year. There can be no disagreement on this. But why then did he use Pandits for a minute or two in the 138-minute documentary? The film gives a falsified account on the Pandits, not just by statistics but by showing images of abandoned houses for a few seconds to rub salt into their wounds.

“A good documentary does not take sides, it simply documents and presents facts as they are, the director is never seen to be endorsing or negating what he shows. When Sanjay Kak explains the meaning and essence of the term shahadat, the swell of adrenalin is clearly audible in his voice, that’s when he moves from being a director to an invisible but strong spokesperson of his concept of what constitutes the celebration of azadi. To prove his point of view he has even borrowed footage that makes it look exactly like the sexed-up PowerPoint presentation that the USA made to the UN as its premise for attacking Iraq. History is replete with neo-converts going that extra mile to prove which side of their bread is buttered, but I believe the director wants to walk all through the Safar-e-Azadi to prove his loyaltyto the only leader of Kashmir, Yasin Malik,” writes Kher.

In 2010, on Independence Day, Mumbai’s Free Press Journal carried a feature on young Kashmiris and what they felt about India. A bright girl, a budding artist from Srinagar, spoke frankly about the concerns of ordinary Kashmiris and praised chief minister Omar Abdullah. Soon, all hell broke loose. Through a Facebook group called BekaarJamaath (Idle Group), and on e-mail and phone, she was threatened and abused by fellow Kashmiris. She was so scared that she went into hiding and sought help from security agencies.

Kak wouldn’t know of such stories. He couldn’t care less. Terrorists who have changed colours to suit their careers are important for his screen space. Kak won’t ask for their conviction under the law for killings against humanity in Kashmir; he would rather showcase them as ‘Gandhian activists’.

Ordinary Kashmiris have always been overshadowed by separatists who are given space by New Delhi-based intellectual mercenaries, making it a mockery of freedom. The spin doctors have made business out of Kashmir just as self-styled activists have worked for an ‘agenda’ unknown to the common man searching for peace in the valley.Is there any spring of hope for this intolerance to end?

Aditya Raj Kaul is India editor of the monthly The Indian published from Australia.