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Posts tagged ‘Narendra Modi’

Lessons for “V d Tweeple” & “We the people” on forging India ahead

“Kuch Kar Guzarne ko khoon chala, koon chala” (The blood stirred to do something), is an immensely inspirational song from the Hindi film “Rang De Basanti”. Over the last few weeks, my blood has boiled, rather than stir, at an immense sense of shame over being a mute spectator to India’s cancerous growth of corruption. Corruption across public institutions and political parties in India is no news, its something we have lived with throughout our history. But the last few months have seen scandals of shocking magnitude been exposed with wide-reaching ramifications. Throughout our history, we have relied on a combination of multiple bodies to make sure that the corruption is kept relatively at check, exposed when out of control, and the guilty are brought to justice even if it is late in the day. These include, but are not limited to: the Central Bureau of investigation (CBI), the judiciary, the Comptroller Audit general (CAG), the Lok Ayukta, and principally the mainstream media (MSM) whom we relied on to give us a relatively accurate picture of what is going on. One by one, the integrity of these bodies itself, has been questioned, but today we face a very dark day when the integrity of the MSM is under immense scrutiny, and thus leaving the average Indians gaping at a cloudy prism of information, without knowing what to believe, and what not to believe. It all started with the leak of tapped conversations between Niira Radia, an influential corporate lobbyist, in the public domain, a few months back, and later by Open & Outlook magazines in mid November, 2010. These magazines exposed her conversations with politician, her corporate clients, and significantly, respected Indian journalists who mould public opinion, and throw a light into the intense behind the scenes activity and lobbying to place the right man in the lucrative telecom ministry of India in 2009, to tap financial benefit from having their man. That man itself, is Mr. A. Raja, who had to quit his post as telecom minister in November 2010, when it was established that the auction of 2G Telecom spectrum to operators, has been rigged by him, and has cost India at least 39 Billion USD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._Raja). He is from the DMK party, which is a Tamil regional party, which is an ally of the ruling congress party.

It is indeed a tragic irony, that India which has been a strong driver of the “Information age” that we live in, is in danger of being blinded and misled by the MSM, and collectively failed to deal with the truth on time, in what is known as the “Radia tapes” controversy. The controversy itself would not have been known to a majority of Indians, if the social media / twitterati / netizens did not find the courage, drive and intelligence to fight the organized mass media blackout, that was orchestrated to protect a few influential journalists from public scrutiny.

Today, there are many un answered and worrying questions that I attempt to structure and address them in one essay This would be a detailed, candid, deeply introspective, yet solution seeking blog. I would touch upon multiple aspects of the functioning of our media, corporate, political system and civil society, but cannot claim insider knowledge on many topics, and hence would leave you with probably more questions than answers.

First up, since this is going to be a very political and controversial subject, I need to add a disclaimer here. I write this, and all my blogs as a private citizen, and a common Indian. I do not represent any company, group, party, ideology or internet activism group on my blogs. There are multiple vested stakeholders and average citizens engaging in shrill discussions online with the mass media, and I do not support or oppose any particular view point. Rather, I believe each person is more than capable of speaking for himself, as I am doing now. For a further understanding of my identity to those who do know me, kindly read the section “About me” before you proceed further.

The big questions in our minds:

1. What are undisputed the facts of the matter, as established news publications, and as acknowledged by the public figures involved? What exactly are the accusations? Has any financial undoing been established, directly or indirectly? If, not why are some of us making such a big deal out of it?

2. Who are the broad constituents of MSM; those are relevant to this discussion? Is the state of affairs in regional / vernacular / not so big media houses, the same as MSM, better, or worse? How has the MSM reaction, coverage, and analysis evolved over the course of last few weeks? Are we saying that the entire MSM is rotten, or are there still very respectable voices we listen to? Now that the MSM has finally discussed the journalists’ names on print and T.V, is it necessary to air these tapes to the general public?

3. What are hashtags like #barkhagate and who created these terms? Are they by any means affiliated to any religious, political group, or informal entity such as #internethindus? If not, why is this categorization by the MSM dangerous to the civil society?

4. Why is internet community so shrill in seeking the sacking of specific journalists, and are they behaving like a “lynch mob”? What is the historical context towards the immense hostility shown by thousands of netizens towards the MSM? Why is one particular journalist, Barkha Dutt the face of the debate, when so many more people are involved? Don’t we know that everywhere in the world, journalists are bound to be ideologically biased, and seeking to further interests of corporate that have stake in their media houses? Are we netizens naive, or is there a reason in asking for a utopian level of ethics from our MSM?

5. What lays beyond the tapes, in terms of corporate – political – public institution corrupt practices? Isn’t the corruption and nexus cutting across the political parties Is a smoke screen being created by some to divert public attention to the Radia tapes, and ignore the massive government scandals?

6. Is the 4th estate completely compromised, or is there hope for it to emerge stronger? How can the MSM co-exist with the ever growing clout of the informal internet based social media activists (5th estate) , and is it possible to look at this as mutually beneficial and healthy relationship? What is the tremendous positive opportunity that this historic moment in our country presenting to the average citizen as well as the mainstream media? Should, and how should the so called or informal internet based social media co-exist with the organized media? In the age of wiki leaks, is it possible for traditional and informal media to live in isolation?

What are undisputed the facts of the matter, as established news publications, and as acknowledged by the public figures involved? What exactly are the accusations? Has any financial undoing been established, directly or indirectly? If, not why are some of us making such a big deal out of it?

Here, is a brief summary of what started off as a small story of leaked Radia tapes a few months back, and what spiraled into a fire known as #Barkhagate. The wikipedia page on the Radia tapes controversy captures the summary quite accurately “The Radia tapes controversy relates to the telephonic conversations between Nira Radia, a professional lobbyist and an acquaintance of the (then) Indian telecom minister A. Raja, with senior journalists, politicians, and corporate houses, taped by the Indian Income Tax Department in 2008-09. The tapes led to accusations of misconduct by many of these people. Nira Radia runs a public relations firm named Vaishnavi Communications, whose clients include Ratan Tata’s Tata Group and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries”.

The people whom Radia interacted with in the course of her work, and whose voices have featured on the tapes available in the public domain so far, read like a “Who is who” of Indian public life:

Politicians: Raja, former Telecommunication and IT Minister; Kanimozhi, Rajya Sabha MP; N.K. Singh, Rajya Sabha MP

Journalists: Barkha Dutt, Group editor, English news, NDTV; M.K. Venu, senior business journalist ; Prabhu Chawla, editor of India Today magazine; Rajdeep Sardesai; Shankar Aiyar, then with India Today Group; Vir Sanghvi, HT advisory editorial director

Industry Heads: Ratan Tata, Tata Group; Tarun Das, former CII head; (Mention of) Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Industries; Manoj Modi, Reliance Industries

Others: Ranjan Bhattacharya (foster son-in-law of former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee); Suhel Seth, management guru and columnist

It has to be said here, that from what has been leaked to the public domain of the 5,000 odd conversations that are available with the IT department, most conversations are not of journalistic, public value. These are everyday conversations X or Y could have. Some of the conversations show a strong degree of lobbying, while in some it is very mild innuendo, and cannot be taken as any gesture of wrong doing.

These tapes were first published in the Open Magazine, and then the Outlook magazine, in Mid November: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/some-telephone-conversations

http://outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268069

Outlook and the Wall Street Journal are the few publications of repute that have covered these conversations, view points, in great detail, and have sections of their online portals dedicated to this topic. There is a treasure trove of information on these sites, that I request you to read, and there is no way I can repeat them here. I salute the editors of these publications along with my social media friends, for contributing facts and views to this debate.

None of the people named in the tapes, originally disputed the conversations were authentic, or the voice was not theirs. As the public outrage grew, some of the journalists maintained that though the voices were indeed theirs, selective parts of the conversations were strong together to present a not so faithful account.

Here are examples of some of the late clarifications, after intense to very valuable critical view points for more than a week, a sufficient time to prepare a strong defense:

http://www.ndtv.com/page/?type=barkha-statement

http://www.virsanghvi.com/CounterPoint-ArticleDetail.aspx?ID=582

http://outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268162

The Congress party initially claimed these tapes cannot be verified, in a shocking statement of denial, and hasn’t followed that up with a more updated version of the truth, the last time I checked. The BJP made mild noises in the parliament on the tapes, but the fact that it hasn’t made as much noise as you would expect from the leading opposition parties, is probably a function of its house not being in order on corruption scandals and the anxiety that the other tapes, may feature potentially embarrassing conversations for its parties. More worryingly, it may not want to antagonize its already poor relations with the MSM. The BJP did however make a demand that the JPC probe into the 2G scam should feature the Radia tapes. We may probably never know the truth on why the BJP is so quiet on this and failing tactically and morally as an opposition.

Ratan Tata, has moved the courts to block the tapes from being accessible to the public, and gave an interview to Shekhar Gupta of Indian expressing discussing how potentially this was a ploy to divert attention from the bigger 2G scam: http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/walk-the-talk-with-ratan-tata/178312by

NONE of the conversations I have heard so far prove any direct financial mal practice or a quid pro quo, material wise. But most of the conversations reveal a broad agenda of Ms Radia to ensure that her clients benefited by having the right ministers in the right places, by having the journalists echo her clients’ view point in their columns or stories, and by using the journalists as go-betweeners or conduits between her corporate interests and the political party in power, the congress.

The broad issues that the critics of the journalists and MSM have pointed out, can be summarized as follows:

A. The journalists, have long been suspected of a strong left-liberal, pro congress bias, which by itself is perfectly fine, but something they have denied all along. These conversations indicate how close the journalists are to the ruling congress. Or at least, how close they claim to be.

B. As a journalist who was privy to an in depth understanding of how corporate were trying to lobby for ministries, favoring terms, this should have been the biggest journalistic story of their lives. Yet, none of them have published these stories, or hinted to the general public of the behind the scenes affairs. Thus even if they did absolutely nothing wrong, they failed massively in their duties as journalists of repute.

C. They promised acts that went way beyond their bounds as journalists. Thus, they misused the power of access that their employer gave them, for their personal agenda.

D. Once the tapes were leaked, by refusing to discuss them in their news channels, by refusing to air them on their channels or publish the transcripts on their papers, and by denying the critical public a credible explanation, until absolutely forced to by the social media activism, they have made what was a fleeting suspicion of wrongdoing, look like an attempt to bury the truth. There is absolutely no way to explain this attempted full black out, which is presently an attempt to massage the discussion in their favor

Who are the broad constituents of MSM relevant to this discussion? Is the state of affairs in regional / vernacular / not so big media houses, the same as MSM, better, or worse? How has the MSM reaction, coverage, and analysis evolved over the course of last few weeks? Are we saying that the entire MSM is rotten, or are there still very respectable voices we listen to? Now that the MSM has finally discussed the journalists’ names on print and T.V, is it necessary to air these tapes to the general public?

For the sake of discussion, I would refer to the large English newspapers, T.V channels, and their regional affiliates as the MSM. It is not possible for me to discuss the role of every regional news channel or newspaper, and hence the discussion would focus purely on the response, reactions of the MSM.

At the same time, I have to convey my inference from the few public debates I have heard on this debate, which the mess in regional and small news channels / papers is far worse, and there is a worrying lack of strong media guidelines being created, let alone enforced. The mess in Indian media, was captured wonderfully in the movie that satirized Indian media “Peepli Live”, and is India’s official entry to this years Oscars as the foreign film.

Outlook was one of the few credible MSM groups that ran the story with detailed follow-ups. Subsequently the only coverage it received (in rough chronological order) was from Washington post, Wall Street Journal, Deccan Herald, Express Buzz, The Hindu, Times Now, and CNN-IBN.

This is not to say that all of the Indian media is dumb and un ethical. Across the political spectrum of viewpoints, we still have active journalists like P. Sainath of the Hindu just to take an example, who remain loyal to their profession’s soul and write about topics we tend to ignore in a lucid, intelligent way. But, to the vast majority of the public, the NDTVs, CNN IBNS, Times Nows, Indian Expresses, Times of India, and Hindustan Times represent the English MSM

Last Friday, CNN-IBN had a panel show conducted by Karan Thapar, that was the first time that any news channel I follow, referred to Barkha, Vir, Venu, and Chawla’s names on air.

Sagarika Ghose of IBN, acknowledged the social media pressure that made her news channel take this up more seriously that it initially did on twitter, when she tweeted “OK twitterati please can you stop bombarding me with barkhagate. YES it’s a wake up call, YES we are all looking inward, YES we will all act!”

So, if by the time you read this blog, you have already heard a debate on this topic in public, and wonder why the hell I am making such a noise, please remember that if not for people like us, you wouldn’t have heard this story. I personally tweeted for weeks till my fingers ached, heard stories of people who tweeted and blogged taking leaves form work, and one impressive story of someone who was injured and immobile, and decided this was the most productive and useful thing he could do!

Some of the twitter conversations war filled with hate and rage, and some of the conversations revealed the simple minds of many Indians, but I stood along side all these people in pushing the media to the brink. The voices were shrill and perhaps the battle cries lost a lot of objectivity, but this had to be done, to ensure the media opens up and speaks about their holy cow. I have no sense of pride or shame about my actions. I felt I did what I had to do.

What are hashtags like #barkhagate and who created these terms?  Are they by any means affiliated to any religious, political group, or informal entity such as #internethindus? If not, why is this categorization by the MSM dangerous to the civil society?

#Barkhagate was the first hashtag created on Twitter to open up a social media debate on this topic. A Facebook group, and a blog with the same name was created, that went viral with thousands of people signing up, posting links / discussion, commenting on the same. I cannot say exactly who created #barkhagate (though I have a guess, but don’t want to reveal the person’s name as the MSM has in the past went after normal people to strike fear in the public). But as one of the thousands of people who tweeted day in and day out on the #barkhagate tag, I can only say we are all in it together.

Many of the people who were very critical of Barkha Dutt for multiple reasons (some I would elaborate on in the next section), felt that this was a catchy tag, and it spread rapidly. I am not for or against using that tag, and the strong suggestion that Barkha Dutt was the single person involved in a scandal.

Last week, after the #barkhagte tag trended on top for over a week, the twitter algorithm removed it from the top trending topics. Of the few active tweeters at that particular time there was a debate on whether to continue tagging #barkhagate, or create a replacement. I was of the opinion that a replacement tag would be a good idea and suggested #mediamafia for the following reasons: 1. It removes the suggestion of individual slander, and helps us remember that a larger section of the media is involved in the controversy either by featuring on the tapes, or by colluding with those on the tapes in the black out, 2. From a historical understanding of how I perceive the Indian media, I have no doubts that at times it behaves like a mafia, and is selective on the right to free speech, 3. In case of a proactive move by Barkha Dutt / NDTV to remove the tags associated with her name from Twitter, a generic tag name would not suffer, and the public debate would continue.

Since I floated the idea, the tag has been trending in top 5 for almost another week now, making the discussion of Radia tapes with multiple pseudonyms, the biggest story of the Indian Twitterati. And yet, this was blacked out by the MSM that runs 1 hour stories on 2 minute celebrity tweets, for far too long.

On all of these topics, the greatest positive for me was the coming together of a diverse set of Indians, who shared no common religious, political, ethnic, linguistic common ground. All of us were united in the media scrutiny, but as in a true democratic medium like twitter, deeply divided on our ideologies. I am emphasizing on this, as I was pained to discover the counter strategy by the MSM, and vested interests to paint all of us as a lynch mob of bigoted, right wing Hindus, funded by the Sangh Parivar. That is about the stupidest, most idiotic, and the most irresponsible statement I have ever heard on this subject.

The same applies to the thousands of Christians, Muslim, brothers and sisters who participated in these debates with me. Using divisive tools such as religion has been the way the British colonialists, and political parties have exploited us all along. Now the MSM has joined this deeply polarized, brazen escape route to deflect valid criticism. In the cloud of politically / ideologically / religiously motivated and abusive tweets by some, many of our sensible moderate voices, and highly relevant questions to the media, were almost lost.

Whatever action you may or may not take on the Radia Tapes, I request the MSM not to characterize everyone who questions you as a vested interest or a fringe elements / nuisance in the society. By doing so, you are not achieving any credibility for yourself in the long run, you are deepening the polarization in our society that many of us fight so hard to reduce, and you also reduce any potential chances of mutual trust between the average Indian and your fraternity. I cannot speak for all netizens, as the internet is a true democracy in action in terms of its sensible and ugly voices mingling together. I cannot speak for all, but anyone who searches these hashtags would know that amongst the many right wing Hindus (or #internerthindus as Sagarika Ghose of IBN categorized them) un-necesarily critisicising Barkha’s pro Kashmiri Muslim bias in this debate, there were so many thousands sensible voices of Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike asking very profound intelligent questions to the media

Why is internet community so shrill in seeking the sacking of specific journalists, and are they behaving like a “lynch mob”? What is the historical context towards the immense hostility shown by thousands of netizens towards the MSM?  Why is one particular journalist, Barkha Dutt the face of the debate, when so many more people are involved? Don’t we know that everywhere in the world, journalists are bound to be ideologically biased, and seeking to further interests of corporate that have stake in their media houses? Are we netizens naive, or is there a reason in asking for a utopian level of ethics from our MSM?

Most Indians hate or love Barkha Dutt, and there are very few people I know who were neutral to her. I had a lot of respect for her during the Kargil war coverage, where she made her name and earned her celebrity status. But I do remember thinking, as a naive college kid, if it is a security risk having live T.V coverage when the war was actually happening. I didn’t think much about it at that time, but subsequently understand that her war coverage has been critically analyzed by many public figures including those in the armed forces. I am not taking ay sides here, but would leave her Kargil war coverage as one of the many inflection points when people started getting really upset with her.

Subsequently her championing of many causes such as empathy to Kashmiri separatism, celebrity murder cases such as Jessica Lal (while not spending much air time on not so famous people who were murdered or raped brutally), the Tsunami coverage, and the coverage of the Godhra riots in 2002, left most people polarized. To some, she represented a journalist who told the human suffering angle in every story and that endeared them. To others, who had strong views on these subjects, they saw her as shrill, loud, and in constant belief that her view point was the only opinion that mattered (I personally think her viewpoint on quite a many things are valid, but that doesn’t matter when you don’t let the panel or audience talk when they disagree with you)

But to most, the most shocking incident came during the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Hers was not the only coverage that was shameful, but her T.V channel cannot deny that by revealing sensitive information, and live coverage of a counter terror strategy, they could have POTENTIALLY, UNWITTINGLY helped the terrorists in their mission.

While I was shell shocked, the biggest blow was to come later. A blogger called Chaitanya Kunte wrote a very critical blog after the Mumbai attacks against the T.V coverage of NDTV / Barkha Dutt. Mr. Kunte is a common man like you and me, and was obviously shell shocked and that reflected in the choice of his words, and some bias in his arguments. He is no journalist, and wrote a piece that most bloggers would consider good enough to publish. NDTV acted in a brazen manner, swooped down on him, forced him to remove the blog and issue an apology instead. Kindly Google his name, and check if you can see the original blog. Chances are you won’t, but nevertheless every Indian ought to know his name.

He is the face of the common man, who dares to question a bid media house, and a celebrity journalist, and got punished in the end. This was the symbol of the MSM’s bullying ugly face, and any one who challenges me why we use names like media mafia, would be urged to study this example. A mafia don would have been proud of such an attack on an individual who chooses to question his intelligence or authority. In my mind, he is the icon of our fight for a media soul searching drive.

Barkha has constantly questioned why people have attacked her more than anyone else. Well if she read this blog, she would know, but perhaps so sue me as well? I don’t know and I don’t care if she does. Its about time we stopped making heroes of these average journalists who sensationalize everything for TRPs, violate un-written yet well understood journalistic code of conduct, lose the plot from being a person who covers the story to being the story, wear their political biases so blatantly on their sleeves without ever acknowledging them and mislead the public, bully anyone who dares question them, and most importantly, do not have an ability to “JUST SAY SORRY”.

To me she is has fallen as a public figure, political commentator, and TV celebrity anchor even if no quid pro quo can be established in this episode. It’s for NDTV to decide what to do with her, and they can take the moral high ground, or believe that people can always “watch another channel if they don’t like her”, or that people will forget this fuss in a few months time. Trust me, we will stop watching your news channel, but not forget this episode for a long time to come!

As for Vir Sanghvi, you just need to listen to the tapes, and match it with everything you have read or heard from him. The tapes reveal the extent to which Vir is politically close to power centers, and the extent to which he can distort the truth so as to present his friend’s viewpoints. There is enough evidence to suggest that one his popular counterpoint columns., matches very closely what Radia dictated him to write. It is difficult for me to write any more on his actions without losing my cool, so would stop here. But, please do listen to the tapes featuring him.

As far as media ethics itself is concerned, none of us are living in a fairy tale land where all news is true. We do acknowledge that media houses are run by cooperates, and media interacts on a daily basis with the good and bad people, and there is no utopian world.

But here is why, in spite of working in a corporate myself and acknowledging the pressure the media houses may face, I still seek a soul searching amongst the fraternity:

A. The Indian media, probably has the most preachy, “holier than thou”, and wise tone when attacking political, or advising the public, or jumping to conclusions about political / public leaders in a jiffy. The choice I am asking you to make is to tone down the preachiness, or be subject to the debate yourself. You can’t have the cake and eat it too!

B. Most Americans or Europeans are smart enough to understand the political and corporate connection between each media house. Most Indians do not understand these subtleties. Most Republican voters would watch Fox News, and Democratic left-liberals would watch MSNBC, and it’s accepted as part of the game. Apart from Pioneer, and Outlook, none of the media houses I know of accept their political ideology and are categorical about it. In, short you can quote honestly that you are pro congress before you play 200 propaganda stories of Rahul Gandhi in a poor man’s house, or taking a train, or you maintain you are neutral and keep the news un biased. You are well within your right to be pro party, as long as you can explain your stance in a well informed and intelligent manner. I am not a left winger, but I admire Vinod Mehta of Outlook for always being categorical about his ideological bias. If you for example, love Rahul Gandhi so much or hate Narendra Modi , you owe the country a credible explanation in terms of books, documentary shows, etc that describe why. Today I may not vote for Rahul, but if I watch a T.V show that presents a critical study of his achievements, I may be inclined to. (I am just kidding, I know he has done nothing worthwhile so far, but still if he is the media darling., I’d like to know why)

C. You cannot have different rules for different people. In your TRP wars you play tapes of sex scandals involving god men, exposes of corrupt politicians, hate speeches, and seditious speeches again and again, but you have collectively blacked out airing the Radia Tapes. You can collectively brainstorm on how to be more responsible as a MSM in airing sensitive tapes, or you can say we will air all tapes immediately without verification. You need to have one consistent rule book in your game

What lays beyond the tapes, in terms of corporate – political – public institution corrupt practices? Isn’t the corruption and nexus cutting across the political parties? Is a smoke screen being created by some to divert public attention to the Radia tapes, and ignore the massive government scandals?

Most tweeters, bloggers would probably just seek Barkha or Vir’s resignation, and forget the rest of the people involved. That doesn’t apply to people like me, for in spite of whatever strong views I may have on these journalists, I know that they are very small fish in a large ocean of sharks and killer whales.

Every public institution in the country is under the scanner, and as Ratan Tata mentioned, it is quite possible that the tapes were leaked by vested interests in power to deflect the attention from the corruption scandals. I have tremendous respect for Ratan Tata to understand that he was seeking a level playing field in the political decisions of the telecom spectrum allocation, but by not allowing the common man to hear all the tapes and make up their minds, he is not helping us clear the air. Rather, the air has started becoming murkier.

There is long way to go before, India can achieve social an economic development that is good enough for it to be classified as a developed nation, leave alone superpower status. As discussed in my previous blogs on challenges facing India, having an ethical, intelligent, modern, and pro active media that gets its house in order is the critical first step in our long and painful journey to progress.

The media is the prism through which we view the society, nation, and the world, and today the prism is extremely distorted. Fixing the prism may not fix all the problems, and neither would breaking it altogether. But we need to collaborate in ensuring the media comes out of this dark episode in a healthier shape.

Is the 4th estate completely compromised, or is there hope for it to emerge stronger? How can the MSM co-exist with the ever growing clout of the informal internet based social media activists (5th estate) , and is it possible to look at this as mutually beneficial and healthy relationship? What is the tremendous positive opportunity that this historic moment in our country presenting to the average citizen as well as the mainstream media? Should, and how should the so called or informal internet based social media co-exist with the organized media? In the age of wiki leaks, is it possible for traditional and informal media to live in isolation?

Ayushmedh, a friend of mine, wrote a blog a while back wondering of the traditional MSM as we know would and shouuld be replaced by a 5th estate of informal netizens discussing news: http://jindagi-ek-pathshala.blogspot.com/2009/03/fifth-estate.html

He is not the first one with the idea, and neither would he be the last. We live in the age of Twitter, Facebook, Wiki leaks, Google, Blogs, YouTube etc, where it is possible to make news reach people in no time. It’s called “going viral” and more often than not it happens to bad news or ugly sensationalistic trash. But every now and then, such as the Mumbai Terror attacks, the IPL scandal, and now the Radia Tapes controversy, the 5th estate has shown its tremendous positive value to the society

But I live in no illusions of self grandeur, dreaming that I would run an internet based news agency one day that makes NDTV feel like an extinct dinosaur. I know that when the dust settles on this all of us would get back to our busy careers and personal live.  On the contrary, I strongly believe its time for both sides to acknowledge how they can compliment each other and make sure that in the Information era, credible, intelligent, ethical, and quick dissemination of information prevails.

Here are some rough thoughts, on how this should pan out in the long run:

A. Educate everyone you know to use traditional and social media pro actively. When a simpleton drinking tea and reading news in rural Tamilnadu, develops the intelligence to verify what he read in his Dina Thanthi news paper, by checking it on the latest internet connection he got at his home, you have forced the traditional media to improve its standards

B. The internet empowered generation can serve as a powerful conscience keeper, by constantly forcing the media to develop better standards and accuracy

C. The social media guys who do not get to interact with the news makers, can benefit from hearing what journalists who have that power access, say on social media forums

D. The fact that we literally FORCED CNN-IBN to have a panel discussion on this topic, is a positive sign for me that while the MSM can be very selective in its hearing, it is not fully deaf. Every intelligent person with international exposure, or curiosity to look beyond traditional media, that I know of, would vouch for you that the quality of shows, documentaries, panel discussions, and topics on channels like BBC, Discovery, National Geographic / History channel, even Al Jazeera, is far better than most Indian channels. I would personally blog about topics I would love to see discussed on Indian T.V, and when this sort of feedback is slowly but surely addressed, you have a winning formula

E. Public figures, especially politicians should be aware that if they were living in the west, they cannot get away from being silent on so many topics of national interest. I would love to see a panel show debate on topics like the NREGA, the Gujarat / Bihar development story (are these true, or are these illusions?), check back on previous corruption scams, India’s defense strategy, India’s approach to counter Maoism threat and ensure development in the tribal areas. Imagine if you could get Arundhati Roy and Chidambaram to spar at each other on the Maoism topic. Too many of our leaders and ministers get away from not airing publicly what their approach to any topic is, and I think that’s because they do not have any approach at all in the first place. The modern 4th / 5th estate can help us separate the wheat from the chaff and tell us who the credible leaders are across party lines. In fact one of the tweets, I shared, ran something like this” I dream 4 D day, when I can watch a pre election T.V debate b/w Mayawati, Sonia, Modi, Nitish moderated by Karan Thapar”

F. How many books have you read by our MSM celebrities? How many of them are capable of writing one on the topics they love to shout loudly about? How many of them have the ability to present a policy paper on engaging with China? How many people can tell you what REALLY happened during J.P Narayan’s socialistic movement, without living in the 1970s themselves? The answer is quite a few, but none that you and I may have heard of. There are like I said, many credible journalists, and perhaps it is time the MSM brought them to the fore, and the average social media geek read them first before jumping into a lets bomb China first discussion on Twitter

Like I mentioned earlier, this blog would perhaps have more questions than answers. But the very fact that many common men like me have these questions, and would eventually find an answer, leaves me with hope. In fact, I can state without doubt this rather dark blot in our history as a free speaking democracy, has actually given us a tremendous opportunity; It has given us a historic chance to blend the voice of the different India, and evolve a society that can discuss freely, critically yet non abusively about topics we had no clue about earlier; It has also given us the opportunity to wake up the middle class from its long slumber of indifference to the society, and placed in their hands, a chance to make up for days when we slept; It has given a chance for Hindus and Muslims to walk side by side in asking for more from its public figures; It ha s given a chance for the credible journalists to emerge even stronger in public view, while the tainted ones can either acknowledge their mistakes and improve, or live in denial and fade away; It has given a chance for the day when a villager in U.P or Rajasthan, would vote for a particular party or leader based on a well informed decision, and not because party X paid channel Y to make a hero out of leader Z.

This is not a dream, but a statement of hope. I pledge to make this hope come true for my future generation, would you care to join me?

Cheers!

Vasu

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What are India’s biggest challenges in our quest to become a vibrant, rich, progressive, and powerful nation?

There have been multiple inspirations to study in detail, where India stands in the world, and which direction it should head in. At some level you could say, it is an enduring fascination throughout my life. Self –assessment, benchmarking with peers, and identification of improvement areas is something I am obsessed with doing for myself. I extend that to other things I am passionate about, from the silly to the critical. As a natural extension to my relentless quest for personal and social improvement and change for the better, India’s growth and challenges is a perennial topic of interest to me

In fact, even on this blog, I have made multiple straw man lists, of issues that we face, and must improve on, individually, and collectively as a society. But like indicated in my previous blog, I have decided to structure, consolidate, and synthesize in a far more detailed way, and hence this attempt.

But perhaps the biggest inspiration, as well as catalyst to structure these thoughts, was Ramachandra Guha, an author whom I tremendously admire, though not always accepting his views (For that matter, I very rarely agree with anyone without a hard debate, so I guess for most parts, Guha convinces me as well as any one can). In addition to having reading most of his columns, and his book “India after Gandhi”, I stumbled upon his lecture in Canada, here on

YouTube:

The topic is “10 reasons why India cannot, and must not become a superpower”
If you are left-wing, or anyone looking for an excuse to bash India, here is a clarification: This is not India bashing, but a pragmatic analysis of India’s significant challenges, some well-known, and some not so well-known
If you are ultra patriotic / jingoistic / right-wing, here is another clarification: The authors of this blog, as well as Guha, are declared patriots, and love our country. But sometimes, it makes sense to be realistic in assessment of our flaws, so we can truly succeed. I love India tremendously, but like Guha, I am not blind to our gaping weaknesses.

So, I urge anyone reading this blog without vested interests, and anyone who is understanding India well, to spend good time listening to, and studying this speech. It’s an hour well spent, and would definitely lead you a bit more cognizant of understanding India.

Here is the list of 10 topics, which Guha broadly categorizes as significant challenges India faces:
1. Left wing extremism / Maoism violence in tribal belt
2. Right wing religious fundamentalism, that is presently under control, but may raise its head any time
3. Dynastic politics
4. Failure / corruption of public institutions
5. Growing gap between the rich and the poor
6. Degradation of natural / environment / resources
7. Media apathy
8. Political fragmentation and the consequent incoherence in policy
9. Un reconciled borderlands
10. Unstable neighborhoods

But why does he say “India should not” aspire to be a super power. I leave it to his articulation of the same, and it’s a brilliant analogy. It’s not something I agree 100% with, because as an individual, I am full of audacity, hope, and optimism. But I do, agree to a large extent that in the minds people in the world, “super power” has multiple negative connotations. I am personally of the view, that the world should NOT HAVE any super powers at all, rather a broad mix of strong countries with common values that manage the world and I would definitely like to see Indian in that club.

I broadly agree with Guha’s list, though my attempt is to structure it differently, and add a few points of my own. For example, I think we have all found it easy to use phrases like “India & Bharat”, or Rahul Gandhi’s naive, lame attempt of “There are two Indias,…”. It is too simplistic to use left-wing extremism / Maoism in tribal areas, and classify it as a rich India / vs. poor India debate. We are an extremely fragmented and diverse country, and that’s the beauty of the Indian experiment, which to me is still a dream. Hence, my list and future blogs would refer to the multitudes of India’s that live within one geographical mass that is the Indian sub-continent.

Before I go into my list, I would urge you to read about me, in order to make a valid comment. In most societies, it is possible to dissociate the identity of the author from his / her view, because my understanding of India and experience with social media and blogging suggests that it is better to have an upfront disclaimer of who I am

Here is how I would classify, India’s biggest challenges from becoming a superpower. Kindly note: 1. The list is not in any specific order of importance, 2. For each of the topics in the list, I would like to dedicate my time to develop my understanding significantly, so as to assess what potential solutions are the most pragmatic. As and when I have the level of knowledge of the topic I am confident about, I would dedicate a detailed blog to that and link it here, and 3. I have not included multiple challenges, where I have felt that the society, and polity is well aware and has made progress on addressing them:

1. The mess with our main stream media, and the far-reaching consequences :

Let me state this in categorical terms here: India’s main stream media is collectively un ethical, too light on substance, does not have the ability to look at itself critically and improve, is full of shallow journalists who sensationalize news in their attempt to become celebrities, panders easily to those with power and money and is far short of world standards when it comes to credibility and substance. All this and more I would be covering in very great detail, in my next blog, and this topic has risen to #1 in my priority list, based on the ongoing revelations of the 2G Telecom scam, Radia tapes leak, and the issue referred to as “Barkhagate”. The mess goes far beyond 1 or 2 people under great scrutiny now, yet there is a need to be empathetic to our mainstream media on the unique challenges their profession faces in India. As a society, we need to take this problem fare more seriously than we do, as we are completely unaware of how it affects decisions in life , that range from the trivial to the strategic: Be it investing in the market, or deciding which food to eat, or which party / leader to elect, our media has collectively clouded our judgment, and this has to be rectified soon.

2. Socio political challenges, mapped with our ethnic identities:

a. Why are we such suckers for a monarchy / dictatorship?
Our very deeply ingrained respect for authority, stemming from our idol worship / Bhakti culture, has had many positive effects in shaping modern India, but is it good in the long run? In present context, we have become a country of hero-worship, making and destroying celebrity heroes out of undeserving people. To me, we are perennially a few weeks away from becoming a fully functional dictatorship, which Indira Gandhi came very close to achieving, and which Guha only mildly refers to as Dynastic politics. While the Gandhi family, lives in a perennial dream of ruling the country forever as kings & queens, the last few decades have seen the cancerous spread of hero-worship to other political parties, corporate, god men / swamis, and even media personalities

b. Sustainability of our “confused democracy”:
For any political analyst, India is a rich country to study with its diverse range of political ideologies and parties. Yet, I am of the strong opinion that each of the political spectrums in our country has a sham of a party representing it
Left-liberal / Centrist: I am clubbing the Congress, the multiple Communist / Socialistic parties in this. Collectively they are a massive failure on the ground in the last 60 years, yet have the right media, muscle, and money power to portray otherwise. Nehruvian policies of international neutrality, socialism, were valid at that time, and while some in the Congress have moved on (driven by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is the best congress leader post Nehru), the left is still stuck in the 19th century. The biggest areas of Maoist / Naxalite problems are regions dominated by left-wing politics for 6 decades; Congress has won votes in the name of the poor, without doing any up liftment for the poor masses; and the Congress likes to play a good cop / bad cop game with us: If any populist scheme / governance mechanism is implemented successful it is due to the benevolence of the Gandhi family, if there is any failure, it is indirectly passed onto the Prime Minister, and the royal family is protected at any cost. The Congress also practices a Centrism of no – action: we will wait, wait, and wait forever and not take a stance lest it may affect our votes from a particular group, and finally we will make a small wound into a cancerous growth.
Right-wing: BJP is a party which has some ideological view points I agree with (national security, uniform civil law, a certain amount of pride and patriotism for the country, free market based economy, and meritocracy). And the last time I voted, I voted for Vajpayee, who was right-of center, and able to control the far right voices in the Sangh Parivar. Like it or not, the RSS is a non constitutional authority just like the Gandhi dynasty when not holding power, or Russians / Chinese dictating Communist in India (Ironically I have always light-heartedly maintained to my RSS friends, that if you split from BJP and have your extreme right-wing party, I would not mind that compared to sitting in Nagpur and bullying the BJP leadership in Delhi). BJP’s biggest emerging leader is Modi, and post Godhra he has constantly referred only to Gujarat’s development and infrastructure in his speeches. Has he shed the hard-line Hindutva agenda, or is this an illusion? If Modi never raises the communal issues, and Muslims vote Modi and BJP in Gujarat, Bihar, why does the media keep raising it – who is right, and who is wrong, or is there a grey area? What are the ideological views and governance experiences of the others in the BJP? There are many un answered questions to me, and the sooner these are addressed, and the sooner the internal leadership tussle in the right wingers is settled one way or another, the better it is for India., The next few years in Indian politics are absolutely crucial to our democracy, as we wait and watch if the right BJP would turn up. An extreme right-wing / tea party kind of party would be extremely divisive and polarizing, while a right of center, pro development party would be strongly welcomed to most in the public, yet under constant scrutiny of the media that is by and large strongly biased to the left liberals. If the right BJP does emerge, will they engage pro actively with the masses, minorities, and media to remove their present political untouchables / pariah status?

The parties that focus on specific ethnic / caste / linguistics identity, at best serve a short-term purpose of achieving social parity, but in the long run, unless they can reach out beyond their specific identity, they would not do any good for India. Without an exception, ALL political parties in India have a confused understanding of secularism, and purely use the word for getting votes.

Thus, a few parties that represent each valid aspect of the spectrum, is important for any democracy to thrive. Whether in power, or in the opposition, the BJP and Congress have a lot of internal cleansing to do, and do it quickly while the country loses its patience with its major parties.

The other key to making our present confused democracy into a thriving democracy, rather than a banana republic, lies with the citizens. Why is the urban middle class that is so quick to blog, tweet, and gossip about national politics, reluctant to take part actively in public protests, democratic, movements, or vote? When was the last time you discussed any political issue when hanging out with friends, and did not get a gentle suggestion to change the topic? How many more “Rang De Basanti” or “Swades”, do you need to watch before you stop criticizing the system, and did your bit to improve any one small part of the system?

3. Lack of concrete state, and efforts to reduce the polarization in our cultural / religious / ethnic identities
Here, I seek to rebut the simplistic, “two India’s” theory. Actually, we are a motley crew of extreme diversity. While “Unity in diversity” is a fantastic theme, it is a glorified dream, which we have somehow remarkably managed to sustain for 6 decades. The sharp differences go beyond Rich Vs. Poor: Marathis Vs Non Marathis in Mumbai, Tamil Vs. Hindi in Chennai, Economically progressive Southern & Western states vs. poor BIMARU states, Aryan Vs. Dravidian in the south, upper caste vs. lower caste vs. dalits vs tribals, the India that builds 50 storey buildings in Mumbai Vs. the India that is shockingly exploited in Chattisgarh, Kashmiri Pandits Vs. Kashmiri separatists, conservative and ultra religious vs. liberal and agnostic, urban vs. rural, patricidal men vs. increasingly empowered women, urban women who run companies vs. rural women married at 5 and serve as slaves to their families, and most critically Hindu Vs Muslim across India.

At any given points of time, there are massive separatist discussions and activism that happens, and we shy away from engaging with those on the other side of the fence. There are some issues we are aware of, and have solved in the past, but many of us live in total bliss, un aware that it could all fall apart quite quickly. While I am proud of this diversity, of late I am surprised that in this information age, our differences are becoming highly polarized, rather than blurring out and co-existing peacefully.

There are no easy answers, or short-term solutions, and I am yet to hear 1 Indian leader that can articulate a vision to bridge the multiple Indias. But at the personal level, a lot of us can open out and reach out to those people who have Indian passports, but look, talk, eat, and behave very differently from us. Since this is a complicated theme, I would need a dedicated blog that focuses on specific topics

4. Development & economy
Here are the broad problems that I see with the long-term sustainability of our economic progress:
A. Highly service and export oriented, without having enough focus on investing in bleeding edge technology
B. If the big global economies weren’t in recession, and the time right for exports, would Indian have seen such growth in the last few years? I am no economist, so i would take an expert who would challenge me, but if the answer is no, what happens to us when the other countries pick up steam
C. What is the next big economic idea to come out of India, that has not been adopted elsewhere already?
D. Is the “Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” being exploited by the rich to become richer, or used judiciously to foster inclusive growth?
E. Whether you buy a cell phone, pizza, or SUV, is the service quality or sales skills anywhere on par with international standards? (On a lighter but related note, my dad bought a Volkswagen recently in India, and was shocked at the service. He felt a roadside hawker selling Bhel Puri, would have done a better customer relations job, and that if not for the big brand and the actual car being good, none of these people would be in business!)
F. What are our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of progress: To many people, it is the number of Indians that feature in Forbes lists, and that’s total BS. Do we pro actively measure ourselves on measures that range from rural development, success of our schemes such as NREGA, infant mortality rates, health and hygiene numbers, number of graduates in India, etc? A lot of people could find this bit a little harshly critical, because in reality there are millions of intelligent people in the country that work at the grass-roots, but I still state it here, because when you sit in your 3 room central Mumbai house, and open your news paper, or switch on your T.V, or invite your business partner for lunch, I bet these topics don’t feature.
G. How many average Indians understand basics of money management, cash flow, investment & returns?

5. Our volatile neighborhood
On this topic, I am 100% in sync with Guha, so there is no need to repeat. Except to add that, in spite of having the misfortune of having Pakistan as our neighbors, we have to pro actively engage with our neighbors, while at the same time strengthening our security and military capabilities. If India shines spectacularly, while the rest of the sub continent is in shambles, it is not a recipe for long-term good.

Cheers!
Vasu

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