Journalist | Writer | Analyst
Have a question for me? Leave it in the comments and I’ll answer. Be nice.
With Narendra Modi winning emphatically and caste based parties not doing well, do you see an evolution in the future toward a US style political system – for example Right wing versus Center Left? Will everyone in the “anybody but Modi” camp resolve to consolidate? Do you see future elections being fought based on definitive streamlined agenda? If not, is there a way to moot this idea by someone very well known like you (if you agree)? After all, Mr. Modi seems to be aiming for a few terms not just 5 years. And, all I can see is divided Center and Left forces fighting not only the Right but also each other.
I think it is too early to say how things will pan out but both the Centre and the Left in India need to introspect and renew themselves. It is not useful to think of how to cobble together an “arithmetical” answer to Modi’s victory.
Sir, thnku so much for ur previous response.. I wana ask how u perceive the future role of AAP in indian polity?? Do u realy feel aap made a significant contribution to the elections n was d only real opposition to bjp atleast in debating imp issues?
Lastly seeing the list of bjp mps it is quite obvious many of them belonged to congress n other parties so how will d governance b any different this time ?
AAP too needs to ask difficult questions of itself — its tactical blunders, its language, its ideology and politics.
As for Modi’s governance, the presence of Congress defectors is only one reason his administration is likely to be found wanting. His own style, and ideology and leanings, will also ensure that.
I have got three questions for you:
1. Do you think this win fundamentally changes the way elections are contested in our country? The presidential style of campaigning that’s designed to cover up much less deserving candidates and focus only on the ”look-what-he-has-done-in-Guj”?
2. What are your thoughts on Modi’s disposition towards much necessary electoral reforms? Do you think BJP will work towards providing a level playing field for all parties and thereby making it less a contest of monetary resources? And if not, can this be seen as the beginning of an unopposed Modi era – because without such changes and an unbiased media machinery in place, he can become invincible much sooner than later.
3. Do you see him fix/hijack the judiciary/other constitutional bodies like CAG, Lokpal etc, at the centre like he had done in Guj to bury all the dead and stinky affairs like fake encounters, land acquisitions, crony capitalism, snoop gates et al? Will the man become the de facto system?
1. I am not sure how durable this ‘presidential’ method of campaigning will be but unless the blatant and unlimited use of money is not checked, we will contrinue to see a repeat of the corporate sector seeking to drive the electoral process
2. Modi and the BJP will have no interest in electoral reforms, just like the Congress and others before them who won had no interest. Reforms will have to be forced by a janlokpal type movement.
3. Yes, Modi will try and pack the judiciary and other institutions. The Congress did too, but the BJP-RSS are much more more focused and have a larger poor of loyal folks to draw upon who share their ideo-political worldview. This is the real fear over the long haul.
sid completely agree that the first past the post system is flawed. but have you riled against it before ? a bit rich coming after the elections when it could have so easily gone against the BJP as well.
Here you are in your latest article on the website.
>> With the absolute majority Mr Modi has now delivered for the BJP, a new ledger of accounts has been opened. Any audit of his record will henceforth be on his own terms. >>
Are you saying nobody should now question Modi’s culpability in the mass murder, are you saying Muslims should just forget about what he and his cohorts did to them in Gujarat and Mujafarnagar ?
Stunning. You seem to be basically saying Modi can never be brought to justice now.
Should the muslims and other minorities in India just accept their lot as second class citizens like modi turned them into in Gujarat ?
Dear Ajit — I am making a statement of fact, even though the reality is utterly distasteful. Justice was not done for the past 12 years and it certainly will not now that Modi has become PM. I also argue that it will become impossible to even question or speak about this any more.
Only if you assume he will be successful in his job as PM. Atleast as successful as his stint as CM of Gujarat in crushing opposition.
In case any unexpected opposition materialises and things go wrong ( as it did for Rajiv Gandhi after 1984) , It may not end as well as you assume.
Your favorite books?
I wanted to pick some from your top ones for this month’s book budget.
If you wouldn’t mind 🙂
Start with Thomas Pikety’s Capital in the 21st Century, Manoj Mitta’s The Fiction of Fact-Finding and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s Gas Wars
Ah, thank you so much 🙂
Already got the first.
Could you throw a few favorite classics, too? Last bother.
Off the top of my head …
Jyotirmaya Sharma’s Hindutva
Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palance
Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull
Vasily Grossman’s A Writer at War
Antonio Skarmeta’s A Burning Patience
Daniel Yergin’s The Prize
This is a bottomless pit, you know that, right?
Thank you so much for these, truly!
Have a beautiful day.
This is in regard to your article about Modi’s “persecuted Hindu’s” comment published in Al Jazeera. While the Supreme court’s judgement stating that “Hinduism is a way of life for the Indian people” can be debated, Modi’s statement may not be objectionable, if we assume what the SC said is acceptable! The reason I say so is this –
I agree SC has differentiated between Hindu (people who follow the religion Hinduism) and Hinduism (which is actually the way of life for Indian people according to SC). So, essentially SC is saying that the word “Hinduism” does not mean religion anymore, it has transcended that. In fact it is what all Indians follow.
Now, if Hinduism has transcended the religious meaning, then logically I would have to believe that the word Hindu (literally means people who follow Hinduism) has transcended its meaning!! So, the word “Hindu” would indicate all people following Hinduism as way of life, which is equivalent to all Indians.
P.S. I am not a Modi supporter, but logically I did not understand why Modi was blamed for using the word “Hindu” in his manifesto, if we assume the SC judgement is acceptable [now I agree that the SC judgement is debatable].
But Harish, the SC itself distinguished between asking for votes on the basis of promising to uphold Hinduism (which it described as a non-religious appeal on the assumption that Hinduism could mean the way of life of the Indian people) and asking Hindus to vote for a candidate who is Hindu. In other words, the universe of “Hindus” cannot conceivably be the same as the universe of those who adhere to Hinduism when Hinduism is defined as the “way of life of the INDIAN people”.
Point #1 – Agreed. Huge difference between asking for votes on the promise of upholding Hinduism and asking Hindus to vote for a Hindu candidate. But the “persecuted Hindu” statement in Modi’s manifesto can’t be read in either context. Its simply a “vision” document or what BJP plans to do, once it assumes office. That statement is not asking Hindus to vote for Hindu candidate. Isn’t it?
Point #2 – Still confused! I’ll provide an analogy to present my point of view better. Today the word “google” means “to search using GOOGLE search engine”. In a few years, suppose the word “google” transcends its meaning and it becomes synonymous to the word “Search” (irrespective of whether GOOGLE is used or not). Then what will the word “googler” mean? I believe it should also mean “anybody who is searching for something”. When the meaning of one word changes, how can other words whose meanings are derived from the former, stay as it is?
1. Of course it is an appeal to Hindus for votes, but in a coded way.
2. Every googler is searching for something but everybody who is searching for something is not doing it on google. In any case, you are not seriously suggesting that the word “Hindu” applies to Muslims and Christians and people of other religions, are you?
Which loksabha constituency is Modi likely to vacate?
Assuming Modi wins both from Varanasi and Vadodara, which constituency will he likely vacate?
Can a loss/win by a narrow margin in Varanasi undermine Modi’s stature within the BJP, even if NDA crosses the 272 mark ? And even if Kejriwal wins in Varanasi, would not he run back to Delhi to fight for the assembly elections again?
I am fairly certain he will vacate Baroda.
If Modi loses Varanasi, the impact on his image and credibility will be enormous. And it would also galvanise AAP in the years to come. But Modi’s own position within the BJP will not be affected.
If Kejriwal wins Varanasi, the chances of him giving up the seat to become CM of Delhi are nil.
Can advertisement and marketing have such a tremendous influence in elections?
2 years back, nearly all the media houses were suspecting that a third front might come to power in 2014 (as UPA was losing ground rapidly and BJP was a divided house back then). 1 year back, when JDU left the NDA and Modi became the PM candidate, people said that BJP won’t be able to form alliances. In fact, Congress thought that with Modi as the PM, this could be their best chance to retain power as the minorities will consolidate behind them. Now today almost all exit/post-polls show Modi forming a majority government. If these polls numbers are to be true, its almost like the Modi craze in social media has translated to ground reality.
Would you agree that Modi’s PR machinery was instrumental in achieving this?
Let me add another point here. The media (social, digital and print) also played a crucial role in the emergence of AAP and its electoral gains in Delhi. So, will it be correct to say that parties with better media connections and social media presence are likely to do better than others in future? This can be worrying because manufacturing an image in social media and then marketing it across tv and print can make any one demigod!!
I do not think social media plays such a decisive role other than to replicate “word of mouth” dynamics, but that itself may be worth analysing in detail.
I think the media and PR blitz helps create a climate which sways undecided voters and fence sitters. In this case, the campaign also dangled the bait of a questionable economic model and the promise of “stability”. Those doing the selling knew the harder they sold the stability promise, the more self-fulfilling the promise would be.
Sir, i appreciate your forthright views u express at various various forums unlike most media persons.
I am very curious to know why most namo supporters are such hate monger intolerant and verbally violent on social media towards anyone who has a different view? Is it part of a larger strategy where top leaders talk of development and let lower cadres polarise n vitiate d atmosphere?
Secondly dnt u think if modi wasnt complicit in post godhra riots not being able to control realy reflects his lack of adminstrative skills?
The abusive nature of Namo’s followers is a big reason why Namo generates unease today, apart from his own track record.
The campaign clearly ran on two tracks, especially in Uttar Pradesh, where it was development at the top and chauvinism at the base.
As for the riots, you are right. Even assuming lack of complicity, his inability to save the lives of nearly 2000 people is a very poor reflection on his administrative skills.
I would like to organise an interview with you.
This would be for CNBC World.
Please let me know how I can message you full details.
My address is on my page at Shiv Nadar University
What would be your advise to Muslims in general and Muslim youths in particular with Modi at the helm and RSS behind the scenes. It’s too vague a question, but Muslims are lagging far behind in terms of education and economic development with no strong political leader to look up to and most of the time scared into voting so-called secular parties to keep communal forces at bay. Also, mislead by their own religious leaders.
How should they move forward henceforth if not given a level-playing field?
Don’t live in fear, fight for what is right, show solidarity with others fighting for their rights, stay far away from ‘religious leaders’…
I’m Abhishek Balaji (Your former colleague’s son) from Delhi. Over the past Two Months, I have been closely following all the developments relating to the GE 2014. I have read lots of articles relating to the various projected scenarios about what will happen if NaMo comes to Power. One thing which has not been covered adequately, I believe, Is the issue of Foreign policy.
Many of us here know that India’s Image globally has taken a lot of beating after 10 year’s of UPA. We have had it all. Indian foreign minister reading the speech of Portugese Fm, Pakistani PM calling MMS a “Dehati Aurat”(Allegedly) etc etc.
Globally many countries see Indian leadership under MMS as an extremely soft. In fact, the Time magazine launched a blazing attack on MMS by calling him an “Underachiever” on its front page [(Check this out: http://content.time.com/time/covers/asia/0,16641,20120716,00.html)%5D. So, I’m curious about your views on this issue and also please tell us what sort of change can we expect in the foreign policy if NaMo comes to power. If possible, write a full fledged article on this topic.
Abhishek Balaji (AB), 18, Student.
Super question, will be writing on this in the coming week.
I only wished to say that since gandhi, there has been no space for moderate hindus in mainstream, it is either secular, sangh/bjp,left or minorities. Is it not a fact that hindutva is not based on hindu theology, it is infact demographic nationalism, based on numbers,atleast advaita of narayan guru is peaceful, i am not for ban of any book, but there are things that moderate hindus will rightfully oppose and contest on the basis of content and scholarship alone,orientalsim is still at work. I respect your passion for justice, but please do acknowledge that there are moderate hindus still. if you can speak for us once in a while, it will do enough from breaking this forced illusion that bjp has on hindus in general, to look at others from the point of fear,demographic fear, for from fear comes hatred, and from hope comes compassion. There are not many since narayan guru who offer hope, the reason i believe gandhi was killed is for hindu leadership, with gandhi dead, that leadership went to rss. no one else spoke from within.I wish you and your whole family good health,prosperity and safety.
Thank you for trying to speak on behalf of justice
Thanks for your thoughtful message. I too regard myself as a moderate Hindu, as is my family. And I believe moderates are the vast majority of Hindus. They need to speak out and not let the extremists speak in their name.
yes, true, but their logistics are superior. Fear is a bigger motivator than reform and peace.It wud do gud if you let people know by one stray sentence every once in a while that they can fight for the just rights of their own community without hatred.Thank you very much,Wish you prosperity.
I believe that the blame for Narendra Modi acquiring a cult status in India should squarely sit on the ignorant populace, failure of rival political parties and corporate greed. I see moral bankruptcy of the entire country here. It is understandable that progressive Indians are scrutinizing and criticizing Narendra Modi. But, I feel that it has been a futile exercise, in fact counterproductive. Can the left come up with a better strategy than what has been in place since 2002? The results have been rather disastrous. Is there any hope? Or, this is it.
I personally do not see the Left making much headway in this election.
Thank you for your response. I actually meant everyone left of BJP when I said ‘left’. Do you see a strategy coming into play to keep BJP out? And what about a strategy to neutralize the Modi mania?
Everything is too late in the day now. What we have is what is already out there. The question then is about the politics fro 2014 onwards.
I just read your article “If Modi Wins…”. Its an excellent analysis of possible post poll scenarios! However, I was baffled with the first scenario. You seem to suggest, in the event if BJP wins 170-180 seats, BJP would not pitch for power at all, if some of its then possible allies (like TMC, BSP) insist on not having Modi as the PM. Frankly speaking, I believe, BJP is desperate to come back to power after seating in opposition for 10 years. For now, they have put all their eggs in the Modi basket, because that was their best bet. But if that does not work out, I would think the anti-Modi camp, which was sidelined earlier, led by LK Advani will resurface trying to head the new NDA coalition!! Even Modi supporters like Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh are excellent opportunists. I would not be surprised if they themselves throw their hats in the ring, if BJP is restricted to less than 180 seats.
Don’t you think the first scenario (BJP < 180 seats) can eventually boil down to a BJP government without Modi as the PM?
Titun – You underestimate the vice-like grip which Modi has over the BJP. I will stick my neck out and reiterate: There is no way the BJP can form a government without Modi as PM.
just read ur link on twitter..and its the exact answer to my question..thanks.
Keeping what you say in mind, can’t a distinction be made between Hindu’s in Bangladesh who are a minority being persecuted and Muslims who hold all rights in their country and are crossing the borders for a better life?
Surely, Muslims in our country are equal citizens in all aspects (and we are a better country for that) , whereas the case is not so for minorities in the Islamic republics of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The matter is really very simple, Dr Kaushal.
India should have a clear-cut refugee policy, derived from the UN Refugee Convention, which would commit the country not to return refugees to their country of origin if they have a well-founded fear of political, religious or other forms of targeted persecution. An economic migrant from Bangladesh, whether Muslim or Hindu, would not fit that criterion. Ahmadis in Bangladesh might if they start getting targeted by the Chattro Shibir or other fundamentalist groups, as would Hindus, if they can demonstrate that they have fled persecution and not poor economic conditions alone.
Despite Modi’s call of ousting Bangladeshi Muslims coming into Assam and W.Bengal having religeous overtones , the fact that the porous Indo-Bangladesh border has changed the demographics of these states cannot be belied and is a major concern for us.
It has been alleged that the political parties that win the elections have been abetting in providing voting rights to them.
Do you feel,that such large infiltration of non-indians should be reversed?
India can and must guard its borders against unauthorised crossings and has to regulate migration. Today, India has no policy of work permits. Thus, if a Bangladeshi comes to India for work, even if he has no intention of staying forever, he is forced to acquire the trappings of a citizen (ration card, even Voter ID) so that he can prove that he is not in India illegally. Better to grant work visas of limited duration and develop a method to monitor this than simply assuming the problem will go away with a border fence. It won’t.
As the elections are drawing a close, do you sense that Modi’s speeches are becoming more vitriolic?
When the elections were beginning, you could see how Modi carefully distanced himself from all controversial issues. Of course, he had his aides like Amit Shah and RSS cardres who worked on the ground to polarize the elections in favor of BJP. But, in this last leg of the election, Modi’s speeches, having Lord Rama’s picture in the background — all put together, its seems so unsettling! Especially his speech in Amethi was so scathing, even by his standards! Looking back, had he started this “dog-whistle” politics from the beginning of the election, do you think the results would have been different?
The vitriol is mostly for UP, Bengal and Bihar where the BJP hopes to benefit from polarisation. I think it is a product of their sense that the “Modi wave” may not be as strong as they hoped and needs some conscious topping up.
EC’s role in the 2014 lok sabha elections ?
EC has drawn some serious flak from parties like TMC and BJP. Although I do not pay much heed to the accusations leveled by parties on the EC’s role, this time around the EC also seems to have made some goof-ups during the Mumbai-Pune election phase where close to 10% of the voters could not vote because their names did not appear on the electoral rolls. How do you judge EC’s role in this election? Was it fair? Or, as some say, it had over-reacted at times, like by lodging a FIR against BJP PM candidate?
It is hard for someone outside the system to second-guess the EC… There have been systemic problems, especially with voter lists and, as this article by Anupam Saraph shows, the failure to have verified, audited voter rolls is a major problem that must be fixed. I don’t think the FIR against Modi was an over-reaction; Modi has pushed the envelope too far in his desire for publicity and votes and that seemed like an egregious violation.
Can you please place the link of this site on top of twitter or where it is visible to your followers. A Google search with Ask Siddharth Varadarajan or similar term does not come up with this site. There is only one tweet regarding this site in your timeline. The people who have read that tweet will have to bookmark it in their favorites but what about others who do not know.
Will try to figure this out with the help of a colleague, Rafat.
Can we have Indian Judicial Services on the lines of other central services like IAS, IPS and others? Has any effort been made in the past on these lines? Also can this step help in raising the level of judges in lower courts and reducing backlog of cases?
I think you have identified a genuine problem … the state of our lower judiciary is really quite bad. Perhaps an IJS may be one way to plug the gap in judicial administration. But I haven’t studied the topic so would hesitate to commit myself to this!
Don’t you think the recent utterances by Mr. Modi and his henchman Amit Shah in this last phase of polling, which are aimed at gaining more votes, have also created more anxiety in minorities rather than allay their fear. No amount of image makeover is going to change the truth that Mr. Modi has deep revulsion for Muslims. I hope I am proved wrong once he is in power or at the very least he and his henchmen do not keep spewing venom now and then.
I have a piece on this in the Economic Times which will appear on Tuesday. I will post it on my site tomorrow.
With Dr. Manmohan Singh’s term as PM coming to an end, how would you assess the Indo-US Nuclear Deal (an agreement that is often touted as his most significant accomplishment)? Would you agree that the benefits of the deal were oversold to the Indian public and have not been realised 5 years into the agreement? Further, do you see PM and AEC’s ambitious plans on civil nuclear energy as realistic, given CAG’s concerns about pricing of nuclear energy and the crisis of confidence in the safety-record of AEC in India (not to mention the legacy of Bhopal)?
Well, the nuclear deal should be understood at four different levels, two positive, one neutral, one negative.
On the positive side: (1) recognition of the fact that India had emerged as such a potentially important player in the world that some way had to be found to accommodate the country in regimes and processes which had until then excluded it. (2) Allowing India to import nuclear fuel. This has already pushed up the capacity utilisation of Indian PHWRs, belying the claim that the nuclear deal has not yet added a single MWe of power.
Neutral: (3) Allowing India (actually, requiring India) to buy latest technology Light Water reactors. This is ‘neutral’ because while India can use the energy and technology, these reactors are expensive and the liability regime in the event of an accident is still murky
Negative: (4) The US wanted to use the deal to leverage arms sales and greater Indian cooperation in the military sphere. Here, we have bought at least $10 billion worth of military hardware from the US already and there is more in the pipeline. But the kind of strategic congruence or proximity the US sought has not been forthcoming.
Of course the benefits of the deal were oversold, both in Delhi and Washington. Today, we should look at it as an enabling agreement rather than a blueprint. A door was opened for India, we are now able to buy reactors from abroad. But whether we do so should be on the basis of a careful cost-benefit analysis.
How good were BJP’s chances of coming to power, if Modi was not a PM candidate ?
As you suggested in the article “The cult of cronyism”, corporate agenda and media support together propelled Modi’s rise. But I believe that if Modi becomes PM, it should be largely attributed to UPA’s total failure in curbing price rise and corruption. I see that the Modi fanatics are hyper active and that is why we tend to overestimate them. There is also a strong silent neutral or anti-Modi camp, which is so disgusted with congress, that they had decided to go for BJP this time. But by bringing in Modi as the PM candidate, there is also a strong consolidation of minorities votes against Modi.
And that brings me to the question, given that there is such a strong anti-UPA mood, if some one else was elected as BJP PM candidate, wouldn’t BJP have actually done better? True, BJP cadres would not have been so enthusiastic, but they would have still garnered the anti-UPA, pro-BJP votes along with the minorities votes as well. What’s your take?
No I don’t think the BJP would have prospered under anyone else. The reasons are two-fold. Someone like Sushma Swaraj has excellent leadership credentials but her contemporaries would almost certainly have worked against her had she been projected. Second, India Inc wants someone like Modi in power who knows how to cut corners and get the job done quickly. His ability to transcend inner-party and intra-institutional contradictions is what they are banking on.
Who would you rate as the best prime minister India has ever had by far? Or maybe you could judge them on different fronts like foreign policy ,domestic politics, S&T etc.?
Too huge a question for me to even attempt an answer here! And there is a huge difference in the accomplishments of the same PM on the foreign and domestic front…
What is your take on a string of violent attacks on AAP campaigners in VIP constituencies like Varanasi, Amethi and more? While it will be anyone’s guess as to why media/BJP/Cong are not reacting to them but why is EC not taking suo motu action in such reported cases? Isn’t creating and maintaining a conducive environment for free and fair elections, the ECs responsibility?
I think the attack on AAP volunteers by goons affiliated to established political parties is one of the most shameful aspects of the current campaign. Collecting visual evidence of the attackers may hopefully lead to the EC taking action but whatever remedial steps they take will likely come too late to make a difference in this election.
Arvind Kejriwals interview in Aaj Tak vs Modi’s rigged interviews?
I don’t know much about journalism, but I do believe that before and after any interview, the interviewer and interviewee can both engage in healthy conversations or debates as long as the interview is conducted in the right spirit. That is why I found AK’s interview at Aaj Tak was acceptable, because hard questions were put forward to him. But AAP and AK were utterly abused across the social media.
On the contrary, I don’t see many things spoken about Modi regarding his rigged/ “mushy mushy” interviews on India TV and other channels. Forget Gujrat 2002 riots, not even a single question was asked on snoop gate incident, fake encounter cases or rapid environmental degradation in Gujrat. Instead we have stupid questions on Narendra Modi’s dressing style! For once, I appreciate Rahul Gandhi for daring to come out and face some hard questions just once. The fact that he was disastrous is a different point altogether.
What’s your take on these interviews and what should be the ground rules that one should follow? Also, why are so many journalists so afraid of asking hard questions and getting under the skin?
First up, on PP Vajpyee’s interview with Arvind Kejriwal, the controversy generated was a totally manufactured one. Most interviews invariably involve pre- and post-encounter banter in which the interviewer tries to soften up his or her subject. And it is not unusual for the interviewee to say, oh, my answer to x was good, that should be highlighted, and for the interviewer to say, Yes, Yes, even if he or she has no intention of complying.
The Modi interviews, however, are in a different league altogether. Most of the interviewers don’t do their homework, are unable or unwilling to ask follow-up questions when contradictions emerge and generally give the man an incredibly soft ride.
Are all the statistics thrown at us during the debates actually valid and properly verified?
As news channel viewers, these days we are bombarded by statistics from left, right and center. When Rahul Gandhi says land is sold at a throw-away price to Adani and Tatas, BJP responds by emphasizing Gujrat’s 24×7 power supply, growth in small and medium scale industries, high agricultural growth, etc. Congress, BJP, AAP everyone back themselves with proper numbers and statistics. Now, none of the news channel says which report is true, which one is twisted or fabricated, if at all ?
This is a tough one to track because there is usually hardly any time to go into the accuracy of the figures or challenge a person on the source of their statistics. Don’t look to the channels to educate you. A good data site like indiaspend.com may offer you some insight. Or op-eds by respected economists who don’t have a dog in the political fight.
Dear Mr. Vardarajan,
Am I right in my assessment that the concerns of the liberal intelligentsia about the secular fabric of the country if Mr. Modi gets elected to power are rather unfounded? Note, that this is not because I’m wearing rose-tinted (saffron-tinted?) glasses and believing that the leopard has changed its spots. This is because of the fact that Mr. Modi will remain under this scanner for the rest of his life, and any incidence of communal tension, or of blatant anti-minority policies, on his watch would practically finish his political career. With this in mind, he would double down on overt communalism in his own party and broader organisation (the Sangh Parivar). Am I just being cynically optimistic, or is there weight in this argument?
The issue is not just of secularism vs communalism but a broader set of concerns. I am writing a piece tentatively titled ‘If Modi wins…’, which will address the kind of questions you’ve raised.
Why do primarily print journalists like you participate in panel discussions on television?
I ask because as one of your many readers, I prefer learning your opinion from the articles you write than from the views you verbalise. I feel it affords you more words to communicate your opinion to your readers, something that a panel discussion, on account of the time allotted it and the number of panelists involved, does not, which is why I am curious about the incentives that induces journalists such as yourself to be frequent panelists on television.
Also, why do all television channels, seemingly without exception, continue to offer multiple panel discussions to viewers every night at primetime?
I ask because I feel that most of them generate more heat than shed light, a view, I believe, is shared by many. Yet, there seems to more, rather than less, of them, which is why I am curious about the reasons that compel channels to persist with them.
It’s a two-way street Srijan. Yesterday, wrote a piece in ET on the absence of political spending limits in Indian elections. Today, Latha Venkatesh of CNBC and Karan Thapar of Headlines Today — two of the best anchors in the game — had half-hour discussions built around the questions I raised, in which I participated along with SY Qureishi and others. Speaking personally, I find appearing on TV and responding to questions and debates sharpens my own thinking on various issues.
As for why all channels have switched to multiple panel discussions, I’m guessing this is what their bean counters have told them to do. It also makes for cheaper programming since you spend less money on news gathering from the field.
I read that piece. It reminded me of Lawrence Lessig’s TED talks on campaign finance reform in the US.
That two panel discussions were built around it proves your point that television news channels seem happier reducing – if I may be so harsh – their prime time broadcasts to debating societies, of sorts, than commissioning comprehensive field reports for such slots. No wonder, then, that the former President of the Cambridge Union excels in anchoring them.
Sir what are your views on our foreign policy? Do you think it is a aggregation of ad hoc responses with no central consistent theme. which project our long-term world order vision, running through it ?
This is too huge a question to address in this forum! There is a lot of ad hocism but it would be wrong to conclude India lacks a long-term vision of the world and its place in it. I think Shivshankar Menon’s speeches, which you can find all over the Internet, articulate this vision pretty clearly. Here is a recent one he made to the Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents in February 2014.
Thank you so much for your response.People like you and pratap bhanu mehta keep my belief in our country intact.. Keep it up. 🙂
You were recruited by N.Ram only 10 years back for the Delhi Bureau of THE HINDU and chosen by him only to succeed him as editor of THE HINDU 2 years back . How the relations turned worse with in 2 years leading to your leaving on your own when a family member was appointed as editor . The KSL board had then given you complete freedom to lead THE HINDU . Was it due to the dwindling sales of THE HINDU everywhere , you had to leave or the so called anti Modi coverage in the HINDU under you as editor . .Also , THE HINDU did not spread in east as per your expectations in your tweets last year and editions in Patna , Jamshedpur etc failed to take off . Were you not given freedom to expand THE HINDU in the way you liked .
The facts are very simple. In 2010-11, N Ram fought with his brothers and teamed up with his cousins on the KSL board to get a 7-5 majority. That board made me Editor and also hired a professional CEO to look after the business side. In October 2013, N Ram made up with his brothers and teamed up with the 5 to make it 6-6 on the board and brought back his brother, N Ravi as Editor. The CEO was also ousted in the same meeting as this branch of the family reasserted control over all aspects of the company’s functioning.
While I was editor, I had complete freedom on the editorial side. Incidentally, there was was no dwindling of sales but an increase across all markets, especially BLR, HYD and North India. The KSL Board retained the right to open and shut editions and they did not clear my proposal for editions in Patna and Guwahati. Their focus was on getting the Tamil Hindu launched. As for Modi coverage being a factor, see my answer to Victor R. below.
About two months back , you spoke in the Mumbai press club at the end of which you said that you are working with others on launching a new project . Are you all planning to launch an english daily .?
If so , it is the most important and welcome decision if such daily is launched simultaneously in Bombay , Madras , and Delhi in particular where the current no 1 and 2 english dailies are dishing out news which are not interesting to most of the readers .
The daily launched thus shall have a new variety of news contents .
We enjoyed THE HINDU under your editorship though many of us thought then that you were very harsh towards Modi and BJP and showed partiality to Congress related news .
No, a daily is out of the question because the money involved is prohibitive. The idea is for a website, one that can give the dailies a run for their money.
I am sorry about your perception about The Hindu’s coverage but I don’t agree with you. We were equally harsh editorially on the UPA. Have you forgotten all the great stories we did on Vadra, the KG basin, 2G? It was also during my editorship — and only during my editorshp — that pro-Modi writers like Swapan Dasgupta and Ashok Malik were published on our op-ed pages. And do read the findings of The Hindu’s independent Readers’ Editor when he received a set of complaints from a group of readers about the alleged ‘anti-Modi bias’ of the paper.
Looking forward to the launch of your website and best wishes! I have been following and enjoying scroll.in but a much better version is possible. Will you be including pieces by relatively unknown people? I read a lot of stuff by ‘Aam Janata’ in the Hindu under your tenure. Articles by a few professional writers make for monotonous reading after a while though the content of course is much better.
Why there is a dearth of liberals in India?
Do you think so? I don’t think so. I think liberals and progressives and democrats are by far the majority.
What you are saying is true in few urban cosmopolitan settings. But elsewhere the pull of traditions is so much that it blinds people of most obvious sense of natural justice.And our ruling elites too hesitate to come out straight in favor of progressive legislation for example gay rights.There are left-liberals, there are right-liberals, but there are very few liberal-liberals.
There I agree with you. No party was willing to speak out in favour of Wendy Doniger’s right to publish a book and even a party like AAP developed cold feet on the question of gay rights in its election manifesto. Prepare for a long hard fight on all issues surrounding personal liberty.
The AAP candidates , leaders and volunteers are attacked frequently but that is not
becoming talking point in media. Is it deliberately ignored or it is not serious. The AAP people are common people who earlier stayed away from politics , just to avoid these type violence. Shouldnt EC be talking stringent action against violent people to keep level playing field. Already money is playing major game in elections. This type of violence will scar people coming to politics. What is your opinion on this, Sir.
The violence against AAP leaders and supporters has been one of the most disturbing elements of the present election. More than the EC, which can only act if there is tangible proof that the goons doing the attacking are linked to parties like the BJP as the AAP folks frequently allege, this is something the local police, and, ultimately, the leadership of the BJP ought to take up in a very serious manner.
I only home the aam janata coming forward is not deterred. They knew that challenging the dominant parties with their money and muscle power would never be an easy task.
Economics seems to be the BAIT which is used to justify & encourage the rsie of dictatorial leaders & theiri ambitions bit it Hitler or Indira Gandhi(Emergency)… so do you think ecomics has become the new religion of the masses.
Well, people have economic insecurities which are very real, and politicians will play (or prey) on those. The current crisis — of inflation, lack of jobs, slowdown — is the fault of UPA mismanagement and corruption, which Modi is saying he will reverse. If he wins on May 16, this means people have decided to test his claims.
What is your take on foreign investment in print media (in India)?
No strong views either way though there must be a check against monopolisation of the media by any company or group, Indian or foreign.
I believe giving selective permission to quality news papers like NYT, Guardian etc. to start Indian Edition will bring depth and diversity to the Indian English newspaper industry which is dominated by TOI and its clones. It will create more job opportunities for journalists.
What i find difficult in literate People that they have this whole idea about India as country for Hindus and others are just happen to part of it. You can go many places and talk to different People specially from Northern India, some of them don’t like Muslims. There is this deep divide that i find. What have caused this? And how can we overcome this? If we will not be able to solve this divide, we will have lot of difficulties ahead.
This sort of thing distresses me too and I reckon it is a product of the kind of values we provide children in schools or through the wider social and political processes which operate.
I think you are right Sir, the education that we give to our children and the all inclusive environment we shall provide is very important and essential. India as nation survived because we recognized that there are people of all kind. And one must have respect for others. I think part of our majority have to realize that minorities interest needs to be taken care of. We remain democratic because of Secular thought that underlines our constitution.
You are mistaken , Manmohan Singh said “minorities, particularly the Muslim minority” , If BJP or Modi issues a statement that favours his core constituency , it is dubbed as communal however when top Congress leaders issue statements or perform actions which favour the minorities specially (and mostly) Muslims , it is dubbed as progressive.It was clearly a statement meant to appease the Muslims.When ‘secular’ parties launch development schemes to favour only one community as is the case in UP or Karnataka why blame the Sangh parivar for polarisation ?
Here is the full quote from the speech Manmohan Singh made to the NDC in 2006:
“We will have to devise innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority, are empowered to share equitably the fruits of development. These must have the first claim on resources,” he said in his address at the 52nd meeting of the National Development Council here.
Again, I say there is nothing wrong with that statement since Muslims, among the minorities, are indeed the worst off. Let me repeat my question: if a government sets up a help line for women, would you call it “appeasement”? Governments must come up with schemes and programmes to help historically disadvantaged or vulnerable cohorts of the population overcome problems they face.
Setting up a helpline for women is not appeasement as women from all communities will be the beneficiaries , however in a land with a history of religious conflicts and a communal divide ,coming up with schemes like “The ‘Bidai (farewell) scheme’ in Karnataka for poor Muslim girls as if there are no poor Hindu families is appeasement.To visit riot victims of only the Muslim community and ignoring the Hindu riot victims as it happened in Muzzaffarnagar is appeasement.
Of course women “from all communities” will benefit but men can say why no helpline for us? We are also victims of crime. Why are women being appeased (vis a vis men)? The fact is that there is a specific social, cultural, historical context to why certain cohorts in the population are worse off than others. And coming up with ways to redress that imbalance is perfectly good. Not only is it NOT appeasement but it is enlightened policymaking.
As for politicians (presumably SP, BSP and Congress) not visiting Hindu victims, this is because these parties, like the BJP, play politics with religious communities. BJP leaders like Amit Shah will go amongst the Hindus and SP folks will go amongst the Muslims. In 2002, the only time Modi visited Muslim victims of the massacres was when Vajpayee took him to the Shah Alam camp.
Dear Sir, i am young ambitious Muslim.
Do i really have to worry as Narendra Modi is inching closer to hold India’s top post?. The news reportage is giving an impression that he (Modi) will not spare us (Muslims) and will go to any extent to teach us a lesson for allegedly crimes committed by Ghazanis, Akbars, Auranzebs etc etc.
The sense of fear among my community is so high that even my 70 year old granny is talking about Modi nowdays. Community mindset is so engrossed by Modi that jokes like ‘pack your bags Modi is coming.” My mother termed her grandchild childish acts as ‘Modi ho gaya hai kya.’
Lastly, my worry is whether I am going to get a good job? Will I be safe and secure while living in my Hindu neighborhood because most of them have become ardent supports of Modi?
Hostly speaking I am dead scared of May 16!!!!
You should not be scared, Aqsa, not because your perception of Modi is wrong, but because the people of this great country of ours are not going to allow the BJP or any other party to tamper with the basic structure of the Constitution or with the right of every person to live in peace and security. But we do need to be alert. Let me mention as an example – not so much for your benefit as for other readers who may not empathise with your fears – an early pointer to the kind of leader Modi is. There was recently a controversy over Praveen Togadia advocating violence to evict a Muslim family from a so-called Hindu neighbourhood in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. Modi, under pressure, issues a tweet the next day aimed at distancing himself from this controversy. He doesn’t name Togadia and mainly indicates he is upset because this sort of controversy “distracts” from the campaign being waged by the BJP in the elections. But Modi had nothing to say about a family in distress in the state of which he is CM and Home Minister, no words of reassurance for them that he would ensure their right to live as they liked and where they liked, no words of condemnation or admonition for the foolish residents of that locality for demanding something so blatantly illegal as the family’s eviction. Had Modi done so, I am sure you and many other Muslims and Hindus might have felt a little less worried at the prospect of his becoming PM. But he did nothing of the sort. This is what shocked me more than Togadia’s nonsense.
Why do a lot of people in India do not consider serious criminal record of a candidate an issue while voting?
Why do people not ask political parties to declare their donors?
I think people would prefer not to vote for a criminal but often times end up doing so for a variety of reasons. But I heard the story from a friend in Mumbai who’s aunt lives in Navi Mumbai and she wanted Modi for PM but could not bring herself to vote for the Shiv Sena candidate who had a criminal record so she voted instead for the NCP chap.
And a second Question too sir,
Much was made of Modi keeping a distance from the media,especially the English TV variety of it.Now that he is widely expected to win, one can see a perceptible change in the line taken by the media houses.
As PM, do you think that Modi may be justified in ignoring media houses that he earlier deemed to be unfair to him? Afterall we are more interested in getting the PM’s message rather than the medium/channel through which it comes .
It is every politician’s right to try and manage his or hew own media overage and Modi has been careful not to give an interview to someone like Karan Thapar. If people want their news media to simply carry the “Modi’s message” or the “PM’s message” then this strategy of Modi’s will work. But if he comes to power, the average Indian will surely want the media to play the role of a watchdog. Those channels which don’t, because their proprietors and editors are too scared or too biased, will gradually lose credibility.
Come may the 16th, Mr Modi may or may not become the PM but what amazes me is the way media has reacted to him. Some journalists are vehemently pro Mr Modi others are vehemently against him. Why do you think this has happened? A simplistic explanation would be he is a divisive figure. He may be divisive to the uninitiated but from the media a more nuanced approach was expected and was hardly found. Again the argument of AAP of bought media seems to me to be very simplistic. I would like for you to correct me if i am wrong or to provide reasons for this media phenomenon.
That’s a thoughtful question, Vineet, but we need to guard against any neat slotting of journalists into pro or anti Modi camps. Journalists who persist in asking questions that have never been answered (about 2002, about fake encounters, corruption and land grabbing, etc) cannot be called “anti-Modi” just as journalists who look at other aspects of Modi’s rule and see something positive should not be labeled “pro-Modi”. Then, a lot of what passes for journalism in India is highly unprofessional or lazy reporting or analysis. However I should say that the OTT reaction of Modi supporters to anything that is not ‘on message’ is the main reason Modi has emerged as a ‘divisive’ politician. If someone writes a reasoned piece saying Rahul Gandhi is unfit to be PM, his supporters may be unhappy and will challenge or rebut the writer but chances are that he/she will not be labeled ‘anti-Rahul’ or anti-national or communal. But if a piece appears questioning Modi’s credentials for the job, the Modi bhakts go berserk.
AAP is wrong to say the entire media is bought but a section of the media, perhaps even a major section, is hedging its bets and playing it safe in the event that Modi becomes PM. How else can one explain the bizarre case of DNA taking an anti-Modi oped down after it has been published and liked by thousands?
Why should part of media even hedge itself against a possible Bjp govt?This itself indicates media is not allowed to function independently.
Because they don’t have faith in Modi’s tolerance level. I am not making a value judgment here, just stating a fact.
The congress party’s structure is such that despite one’s qualifications/credentials one has to be subservient to the Gandhis.Even a Pranab Mukherjee/Chidambaram from an earlier generation or a much more educated Sashi Tharoor defending Mr.Rahul Gandhi on various TV channels.Even for the BJP in post Vajpayee years,the pecking order was Advani and then all others,who were equals(Mahajan,Jaitley,Swaraj,Modi)..It was Modi’s 3 election victories and of course his marketing his achivements that has got him ahead of the BJP’s 2nd generation.Don’t you think Congress would have been better served if they had been led by a better leader, not necessarily a gandhi.
You’ve hit the nail on the head, Dr Kaushal. This was the point I wanted to make last night on Karan Thapar’s show, if only he had let me! The media is now speculating about Priyanka and arguing she may be a better choice than Rahul, but the fact is that unless the Congress becomes a truly democratic party with a clear sense of what it stands for, it will continue to flounder. Mukul Kesavan has a good piece on this broad theme in today’s Telegraph
Could you please throw some light on the possible reasons behind the scant coverage given to ‘Gas Wars: Crony Capitalism and the Ambanis’ in ‘The Hindu’?
If I am not mistaken, beyond a couple of reports about the legal notice sent to the book’s authors, no other report, editorial or op-ed on the book, its contents, or the Ambanis’ use of SLAPP has appeared in the paper. Contrast that to the front-page articles on ‘The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh’ and ‘Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths’, and the numerous opinon pieces on the pulping of ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’. Then, why this apparent blackout on the coverage of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s book? It is all the more suprising because P. Sainath, who rails against the Ambanis, writes for ‘The Hindu’ and the paper itself has covered, extensively if memory serves, Gurudas Dasgupta’s allegations against the Ambanis.
I know I should direct this question to the paper’s current editor, but since Ms. Parthasarathy seems be on a hiatus from Twitter, I decided to ask you, its former editor and one of the panelists at the launch of ‘Gas Wars’.
Srijan, I really am not in a position to answer this. However, The Hindu is one of the few newspapers with an active book reviews section and I am sure a proper review of Gas Wars will appear there in due course. I do know that Sainath, whose integrity no one can question, is on long leave from The Hindu.
Speaking generally, and not in respect of The Hindu, about whose inner functioning I am no longer privy, I can say that there is a reluctance on the part of proprietors and editors to run articles that are critical of the Ambanis, especially Mukesh Ambani. When I was editor, we bucked the trend by covering the KG Basin issue in detail. But coverage elsewhere was scanty.
Thank you for the prompt reply.
If a book review of ‘Gas Wars’ is all that is likely to appear in ‘The Hindu’, then as a subscriber of its Hyderabad edition for almost seven years, I am disappointed. Despite that, I will continue subscribing to it because ‘The Times of India’ and ‘Deccan Chronicle’, in my opinion, are worse.
If I even gave the impression that I was questioning Mr. Sainath’s integrity, please perish the thought. He is, in my opinion, the greatest living journalist in India today, followed closely by Mr. Guha Thakurta.
But, on your larger point, precisely what are proprietors and editors afraid of? Law suits, withdrawal of advertisements, hostile takeover, or worse? Are there actual cases of Mukesh Ambani making people pay for printing articles against him or is the likelihood of that happening, in and of itself, a deterrent? And when, under your editorship, ‘The Hindu’ did cover the KG Basin issue, what sort of pressure, if any, was brought to bear upon you and Mr. Ram?
Lawsuits are a worry for many proprietors, of course, but I wouldn’t underestimate the power that social links between proprietors and the Ambanis and other top corporate houses can have.
There was never any pressure on me while I was editor of The Hindu though Shri PMS Prasad, the top gas man in RIL< once flew down to Madras meet me in my office and complain about our coverage. Our Business Editor and I gave him a patient hearing; we underlined the fact that our coverage was fair, our reporter always tried to get RIL's p.o.v. but the problem was the company usually failed to respond. He promised to remedy that but nothing really changed on that front.
Which journalists / websites do you recommend following so that one can get a good objective sense of what really is happening in the country? It’s difficult for common people like me to assess the content given the credibility / integrity of media as it is today. I have stopped watching television and only skim newspapers. I get my dose of news through internet. But there is so much rubbish around that its a waste of a whole lot of time to find good articles. Any recommendations from an insider and trusted editor like you would be highly welcome and would save me a lot of time.
That’s a tough question Amit, so tough,in fact, that some colleagues and I are working on coming up with a viable new media platform for objective reporting, news analysis, reportage, etc. Watch this space! Meanwhile, one little know but under-rated site is indiaspend.com. I also visit scroll.in, moneylife.in, kafila.org. Among so-called mainstream media platforms,The Hindu and NDTV are pretty good. [Disclosure: I worked for the former, and now write for the latter]
Thank you for the response. I already follow Scroll and Kafila. I like the reportage of Caravan as well. Good to know that some of you are thinking of a new media platform – looking forward to it. A few suggestions – please either don’t allow comments (like Scroll) or have it well-moderated (like Kafila) or any reasonable comment will get drowned in the sea of unreasonable ones. Also, one way of protecting the journalist is by not publishing the name of the author (like The Economist does although they probably do it for some other reason).
Mr Varadarajan, your thoughtful articles are much appreciated.
Would like to bring your attention to this Council Of Europe’s ‘Media and Elections Handbook in particular-
Click to access Media&Elections_en.pdf
And COE’s publications page on media in democracies in general-
Would request you to publish articles on media reforms/ standardization, and push the case with some urgency. We, the citizens of India, have very few trustworthy publications/ channels remaining, and the 4th pillar needs safeguards to protect it from further rot.
Many thanks. Please continue your good work.
Thanks for the links, appy. Media reform is a growing concern nationally and something I closely follow, so yes, I will be writing on this theme.
I have been trying to understand the Indian audience. A movie like Taare Zameen Par , Ship of Theseus do not drive in as much traffic as a Dhoom 3 , Chennai Express or Dabang. However there is a growing audience for movies like GOW , Queen , Kai Po Che etc.
The congress shifts between being a Lagaan (2004) to a Ghajni (2009) and now possibly to a Talaash (2014). Lagaan was an underdog , while Ghajni had the right ingredients where as Talash had some content but not very good marketing.
The BJP was clearly RA One (2004) to a Jab tak hai Jaan (2009) and now possibly to a Chennai Express (2014). Chennai express was successful however the content was not as enriching as a Lagaan or even a Talaash.
The AAP appeared to be a Taare Zameen Par however the negative marketing has clearly taken them down to appear to be a Dhobi Ghat in 2014.
Beauty clearly lies in the eye of the beholder. However do you agree that marketing does make a huge difference as if not then why would a RA One and a Chennai express do so well in Bollywood ?
You’ve lost me there, Adil, since I’m not familiar with all the movies you mention or how well they did at the Box Office. But marketing and propaganda can and does make a difference i politics. It did in the past too, up to a point, but I feel we are today in a qualitatively new zone given the massive spends witnessed today, especially by the Modi campaign.
Would not it be rubbing salt on the wounds of the Gujarat riot victims if Modi becomes PM. Would not it reflect that the majority of people have bought into his con and are blinded by the development or Hindutva plank, whatever way you see it. Have we as a nation lost our moral compass?
Let us wait and see what happens on May 16. One thing is clear, thanks to First Past the Post, that winning a pluraity of seats for oneself or one’s alliance does not mean winning a plurality of votes. So I think it will be very difficult to conclude that the “majority of people” have decided this way or that. As for those who vote Modi, the vast majority will be those who are disgusted with Congress’s misrule at the Centre and have bought into the well sold Modi message that he will provide growth and development. Modi himself has been careful not to fight this election on the plank of Hindutva, even though sangh parivar assets have been deployed to peddle hate messages at the local level especially where the race may be tight.
When Manmohan Singh said “Muslims have the first right on the national resources” , why was it not condemned in ‘secular’ India ?
Manmohan, if I am not mistaken, said “minorities have the first claim” (and not just Muslims) and I personally see nothing very wrong with that. Would you argue if he said, “Women should have first claim”? Or if he said, “Dalits and adivasis should have first claim”? The fact is that we have large sections of our population that have suffered because of social, economic or gender exclusion and there is nothing wrong in the government coming up with schemes and programmes to address this problem. You may find this piece I wrote in 2006 useful.
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