Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Strongest Lokpal

Anna Hazare and Team have confused and confounded discussions about the proposed Lokpal by equating its strength with executive independence and authority.

They have talked of “wiping out corruption” by enabling the Lokpal to investigate all branches and levels of government, including the Prime Minister and the judiciary, and giving it the power to suspend officials on its own findings, before conviction in a court of law. To give clout to that unconstitutional combination of police and judicial functions, Team Anna wants to put the Central Bureau of Investigation under the Lokpal.

No other country has such an institution. In fact, there is only one parallel in all of history: the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church who loosed murderous persecutions on the hapless people of medieval Europe.

Unlimited and fawning television coverage of Team Anna has prevented anyone from questioning its fundamental premise that a “strong” Lokpal requires a new overweening power centre within the constitutional structure of the Indian State.

Such a power centre would be prone to corruption, and if the Lokpal turned out to be an ambitious and unprincipled individual, it would open the door to an entirely new level of evil, subverting the democratic system.

The strongest Lokpal could be one with no executive, police or quasi-judicial functions, but one empowered to investigate, report and recommend action on any matter under the purview of the State.

Appropriately staffed, such a Lokpal would have enormous moral power. Every other organ of government, every official, would feel the pressure to be honest. Far more than an institution that joins in the scrum of power, such a Lokpal would be an effective check on corruption.

India's Post Colonial Overhang

Just as government spokesmen voice the suspicion that foreigners are behind the Koodankulam anti-nuclear protest, comes the news that the rules restricting foreign investment in Indian media organizations are to be relaxed.

Will the real Government of India please identify itself?

No one has explained why foreign investment in the mass media is being  "liberalized" now. If it is merely to show that there is no policy paralysis in Delhi, it is ill-advised. Having foreigners in control of our mass media will unnecessarily complicate a task that must be taken in hand sooner or later: getting rid of the country's massive post-colonial cultural and intellectual overhang. It has remained largely unexamined, except in travelogues by people like Dom Moraes and V.S Naipaul.

The failure to address the issue is obvious in the embarrassingly low quality of our English language newspapers. (For some examples see herehere, here. here, here and here) It is also evident in the imported sewage spread 24/7 by "entertainment" broadcasters.

A quick scan of the Western films and television series on offer will show that I am not engaging in verbal overkill. It's mostly vampires, werewolves, zombies and serial killers (under which category I would classify the James Bond, Rambo, and other cowboy fantasies). These genres reflect the Western socio-economic experience (especially the relationship with the rest of the world), and have no cultural meaning for Indian audiences.

What pases for Indian cultural content on television is pitiable. There are soaps with lavishly overdressed characters, and low-quality retelling of stories from the epics. There is a cluster of channels providing wall to wall religion. There is the Cartoon Network with adventures of "Chota Bhim" and the blue boy "Kris." (This should effectively kill any possibility that the Indian devotional tradition, the sheet-anchor of our civilization over the millennia, will continue in the young.)

With the honourable exception of Aamir Khan's movies, most of the output from "Bollywood" is no longer "Indian" unless the term is stretched to include outright trash subversive of our cultural mores. (I have too little acquaintance with films in other Indian languages to make any judgment.)

As for "news," all the major English language broadcasters are hooked up to foreign companies and reflect their biases. Only Doordarshan tries to analyze international news but makes a hash of it, mainly because producers seem to have little knowledge of the subjects. (A talk show about the India-China relationship had as panelists a Chinese journalist spouting the Beijing line and a JNU academic who agreed with everything he said.)

The fact that nothing in our media environment provides an Indian perspective on the world is an untenable situation for a democracy with a growing role in international affairs. If the opening up of our mass media to foreign investment is intended to signal to the now dominant Western elite that India will be a team player and will not seek to have an independent view of things, it is extremely shortsighted.

The acute political, economic and environmental problems now threatening world order indicate that industrial Western Civilization is in a state of terminal crisis. India's traditional civilization, as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out in Hind Swaraj, offers a path of escape; in fact, it is the only one.      

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dim Witted Strategy

Pragati: The Indian National Interest Review” is the publishing equivalent of the commercial in which grotesque kids pretend to be adults.

Although it describes itself as “a publication on strategic affairs, economic policy and governance,” the contents of the monthly tend to be a strange muddle of right-wing ideology and – how can I put it kindly – stupidity. Much of the writing is by NRI academics in Singapore, Canada and Britain, and the funding of the evidently well-endowed non-profit is a mystery.

The magazine’s website currently has a piece that declares, “Food Security Bill and the Bhagwad (sic) Gita: There is a connection between the two.”

What is the connection?

It lies in a quotation from one Pratap Bhanu Mehta who in a 2003 book, The Burden of Democracy “identified” the following “trait” of the Indian State:

“The Indian state almost never evaluated policy by consequences, almost always by its own intent; if the tribunal of its own intentions had been satisfied, nothing else mattered. If it thought rent control helped the poor get housing, or curbs on investment were producing more prosperity, this was so regardless of whether it, in fact, did; particular projects were a success simply because the state had made an allocation for them, not because they reached their intended targets and beneficiaries. The habit of state officials to respond to every query — say why child labour exists — is simply to say that a law exists to deal with the problem. This is not just a last-ditch defensive gesture, it is symptomatic of the way in which the state can become oblivious to the concrete efforts of its own action or inaction. The state has internalized the message of the Bhagwad (sic) Gita: only intentions and not consequences matter.”

An anonymous Pragati editor adds approvingly: “The NAC’s Food Security Bill is in total consonance with the message of the Bhagwad (sic) Gita: only intentions and not consequences matter. How can anyone ever argue with that? The NAC wins. India loses.”

I wonder how many people saw that bit of nonsense before it was immortalized online. Did no one object to the silly caricaturing of the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, one of humanity’s grandest statements of philosophy and faith?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Austerity Measures Could Lead to Depression

Economic austerity measures imposed by governments could land the world in a Great Depression.

That is the unvarnished warning from two parts of the UN System that usually have very different takes on policy matters: the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In a new Policy Brief, UNCTAD has explained that warning. It noted that because of lack of consumer demand several advanced economies were “hovering on the brink of a second bout of recession,” but their “political attention" had "turned to ways to cut fiscal deficits and reduce the domestic public debt.” If they continued with that effort it would make it impossible for the private sector to grow and "de-leverage" its own massive debt.

Without “a rapid policy turnaround” said UNCTAD, the world is “in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1930s.”

“During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the United States had experienced “two sharp downturns in succession.” Recovery from the “first wave (August 1929 to March 1933),” began “after President F.D. Roosevelt took office, in 1933. However, another severe downturn set in during 1937-38. That second downturn, UNCTAD said, was the result of “poor government policy, especially the decision to tighten up fiscal policy too early in the recovery.”

UNCTAD called on countries “threatened by recession and deflation” to “avoid intensified austerity measures because these are unlikely to produce the intended outcomes and could propel the world into a renewed bout of recession, or even into an outright depression.” (It did not address the possibility of hyperinflation if governments continued massive stimulus policies by simply printing new money.)

Given today’s highly integrated world economy, the “impact will not be limited to specific sectors or to well-defined regions.” Further, a “lost decade” for the world economy would “throw into question the ability of democratic governments to tackle the most urgent challenges of our age.”

Not to mince words, that is a warning that a Depression could bring fascist demagogues to power.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Il Jong's Death

It is now eight hours after the North Korean announcement that Dear Leader Kim Il Jong died last Saturday. Since then, both BBC and CNN have suspended normal programming and broadcast nothing but analysis and commentary about this unexpected development. (Dear Leader was known to be ailing, but his death was generally supposed to be years away.)

Indian television broadcasters initially took note of the North Korean dictator's death in crawlers, then as a back item in the headline announcements led by cricket, and finally, as important news. I have yet to see any attempt to explain the importance of the news, so the higher billing was probably purely imitative of foreign broadcasters.

Why is the news important?

The primary reason is that it introduces a new level of uncertainty in a region of high and multi-layered tensions. Pyongyang has been given to a high degree of paranoia since the 1950-1953 Korean War, and in recent years it has repeatedly raised the spectre of war in response to what it sees as aggressive moves by South Korea and the United States. It has specifically held out the prospect of nuclear war, the capacity for which it has developed, along with missiles capable of hitting Japan, its other hated enemy in the region.

The "Great Successor" to the dead dictator is his son, the almost unknown Kim Il Un, reported to be in his thirties, with little experience in matters of State. His relationship with the military, the centre of power in North Korea, is unknown.

There are many imponderables in the current situation. What might happen if the Great Successor encountered challengers? How would China react if the ensuing power struggle threatened its strategic stake in the country?

What effect will these developments have at a time when economic factors are threatening to destabilize China itself? In recent years the number of "mass incidents" -- as Beijing describes widespread public unrest -- has been running over 180,000 annually. The sizable "village" of Wukan (population 20,000) in southern China has been on strike since September, and it has managed to drive out the local Communist Party functionaries. Throughout the once-bustling southern provinces the rage of workers has been erupting in increasingly larger demonstrations as factories close for want of foreign orders.

If Wukan sets the pattern for the national unrest that will be inevitable if the world dips further into a recession, we could be seeing events of earth-shaking significance. There are some 160 million migrant workers in China who have been deliberately kept as an underclass, without residential rights in cities and forced to live on hardscrabble wages.

What effects such changes will have on South Asia are also completely up in the air. With Pakistan on a razor's edge and Tibet in a slow boil, the chances of conflict are high. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might be right in his belief that China does not intend to attack India. But what if conflicts in South Asia persuaded Beijing that it had no choice?

The possibility of war is certainly on the minds of Chinese leaders. AFP reported on 13 December that Chinese President Hu Jintao, speaking to the powerful Central Military Commission, had "urged the navy to prepare for military combat, amid growing regional tensions over maritime disputes and a US campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power." The speech was posted on an official web site, so it is not a case of Western sensationalism.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Where the Moon Don't Shine

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is not required to be an orator, and none of the 8 men who have held the office has been an inspiring public speaker. However, all except the incumbent, Ban Ki-moon, have had the good sense to deliver professionally written speeches; although generally soporific they did not make audiences wince, at least not in print. Ban’s speeches, even in print – perhaps especially in print – are squirm inducing, for he suffers from the fond belief that he can write his own material – and that he is funny.

The UN Press corps, except for Undiplomatic Times, has been generally kind in taking note of the disastrous consequences, but now Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch, who blogs at Foreign Policy, has posted a priceless piece about Ban’s efforts at humor. In “It’s OK, You’re Allowed to Laugh,” he strings together some of the unbelievably awkward things Ban has said in his efforts at humor. It’s definitely worth a click.

 As I have had occasion to note in previous blogs, Ban imagines himself something of a songster. When still a Secretary-Geleral-elect, he appeared at the annual UN Correspondent’s Association Ball and droned out “Ban Ki-moon is coming to town” to the tune of the Santa Claus song. Colum records a more recent attempt to escape the bounds of prose:

“In an Oct. 2008 speech before the United Nations Association, Ban took inspiration from rap star and producer, Jay-Z, who was being honored for his humanitarian works, and delivered a rap homage to the association's then-president, William Leurs. ‘I will try to be a bit courageous and creative myself,’ Ban said. ‘Since one of the honorees is my man Jay-Z, I think I'll try his language tonight. It is a foreign language to me, but one which I love, so please bear with me’."

Global Classrooms are a cinch
With the help of Merrill Lynch
When you put the org in Google
Partnerships go truly gloooobal.
There is hope for Earth's salvation
With the Cisneros Foundation
With Jay-Z there's double strife
Life for children and water for life
Human health will get ahead
With the valiant work of (RED)
For the poor and doing good
Stays the job of Robin Hood
UN stays on the front burner
Thanks to our champ Ted Turner
And whole revolutions stem
From the work of UNIFEM.
But tonight my special shout-out
Goes to one I can't do without
We have travelled up and down
Frisco, Atlanta, Chicago town
Yes, the king of all the doers
Is my trusty friend Bill Luers
Bill, I cannot say goodbye
So take the floor and take a bow.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ambassador Bill Luers.”

 Colum's piece ends on a note of pathos only UN correspondents can fully appreciate:
“In recent months, Ban, who was reelected this summer to serve a second five-year term as U.N. chief, likes to joke about the lukewarm support he receives at home. This is clearly one of Ban's favorite jokes, and he's used it more than once. Speaking in August at the Denver University Korbel School's annual dinner, Ban recalled "I was deeply honoured that the General Assembly supported my re-election. The vote was unanimous: 100 percent. But then a Korean reporter asked my wife how she would rate my work as a husband and father, she said, ‘Well, I'd give him 70 percent.' So I lodged a protest -- a strong protest. I thought my daughter might support me. But she said, ‘70 percent sounds rather generous.' So I have decided that my first priority for my second term is not foreign affairs-- it is domestic policy!

 "Ladies and germs, he'll be here all week. Make that five more years.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Do Indians Have Less Freedom Than Americans?

Another piece of feel-bad journalism  came our way on 11 December from The New York Times blog on India.

Business Standard columnist Nilanjana Roy made the case that Indians have less freedom of expression than Americans. “The framers of the United States Constitution so highly valued free speech that they enshrined it in the document’s very first amendment” she wrote. “India, the world’s other mammoth democracy, has a first amendment too, but its intent and meaning are quite the opposite.”

 She quoted from a “sharp” analysis by one Lawrence Liang, a “legal expert” who had noted the “irony” that in the United States the phrase “the First Amendment” refers to the “almost absolute” right to free speech, while in India, it is a reference “to the attempt to ‘strengthen state regulation over free speech’.”

While allowing that India had a freer Press “than countries like Iraq, Malaysia, Afghanistan, China and North Korea,” Ms. Roy noted that New York-based Freedom House placed India 77th in its national ranking, “along with Bulgaria and East Timor, behind South Africa, South Korea and Lithuania.” Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres put it even lower, 122nd, “below Congo, Indonesia and Nepal. Ms. Roy seemed unaware that both organizations are essentially purveyors of propaganda.

 Recalling that New Delhi had first constrained the Indian Constitution’s pledge of the fundamental right to free speech and expression in 1951, she said it reflected “not just political expediency, but perhaps a larger and very Indian discomfort with the idea of untrammeled freedom of expression.” From that ignorant tarring of a culture that has for three millennia encouraged an uninhibited examination of every topic under the sun, Ms. Roy then descended to the minutiae of book banning in independent India.

“The 1955 ban on Aubrey Menen’s “Rama Retold” revealed a discomfort with religious parody and inquiries into faith. A ban in 1959 on Alexander Campbell’s “Heart of India” was an early indicator of a very Indian prickliness about “outsider” histories that show the country in a bad light.”

She did not mention the political background to those developments, namely, the communal bloodshed the British masterminded to create their proxy, Pakistan. It killed a million Indians and left a huge raw wound in our political system that has only partially healed. Since independence, Britain has continued a relentless campaign to subvert India, using religion to manipulate people.

Meanwhile, British "historians" have generated a ceaseless flow of propaganda to mislead and confuse Indians. Censorship is the least desirable way to try and prevent such manipulation, but that seems to be the best our inept politicians today can do. It is regrettable but necessary.

Ms. Roy also avoided any mention of book banning by American authorities, federal, state and local. The list of texts that have come under challenge is not short. It includes books ranging from Candide, The Decameron and Tropic of Cancer to Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22 and the Pentagon Papers. These and a multitude of other bans have been overturned, but only after much legal wrangling. Fanny Hill, written in 1749, was not cleared of obscenity charges until 1966.

During the McCarthy period (1950s), the Committee on Un-American Activities of the United States Congress effectively banned not only books but writers, actors and other film personalities, driving many to penury and some to suicide.

 Those were, of course, the bad old days of the Cold War, but can we say that such atrocities will never be repeated when 13 media organizations in New York felt it necessary a few days ago to complain jointly that city police were preventing them from covering the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters?

As a writer for the online media report Fishbowl reported, “there were many journalists barred from covering the eviction, and some were even dealt with physically. Josh Harkinson, a writer for the website Mother Jones, said he was 'violently shoved', another reported that it ‘was getting scary’ and a New York Post journalist was allegedly ‘in a choke-hold,’ according to NY1′s Lindsey Christ. Animal New York added that last night it witnessed a NBC reporter having his press credentials taken away by police, and The New York Daily News just had a reporter arrested.”

In conclusion, it is necessary to note that comparing India and the United States is a fruitless task. The two countries are completely different in culture and circumstance, and decisions such as curtailing free speech cannot be subjected to a common measure. Having said that, I must add that despite the sobering constraints on my own blog, India is doing pretty well.

Occupy the Global Black Market!

The Times of India on 10 December had a front-page story explaining why Britain had refused to join a European Union deal to move towards closer economic cooperation. It said that Prime Minister David Cameron had been unable to “secure a halt in ongoing EU efforts to curb the City of London’s huge financial services sector.”

It quoted Cameron saying he had failed to get “safeguards” from EU colleagues. French premier Nicolas Sarkozy noted that the British had asked for “something we all judged unacceptable – for a protocol to be inserted into the treaty granting the United Kingdom a certain number of exonerations on financial services regulations.”

None of them – Cameron, Sarkozy or TOI – explained what exactly the British were trying to protect. A keyword Internet search yielded not a single story, Indian or foreign, that spelled out the matter.

This is not because the issue is too difficult to explain.

The City (financial center) of London is the Wild West of international finance, where drug runners, organized crime groups, dictators, mega-corporations and garden-variety tax cheats can all invest with the greatest of ease. What Cameron wanted to protect was Britain's role as the manager and epicenter of the global black market. Without exemption from EU regulations, that cannot continue.  

Among the many interesting questions that float around this situation is how, given the much touted “freedom of the Press” in democratic countries, this total media blackout has been achieved.

There are several factors. One is that the rich won’t talk about it, and the poor can't. Another is British propaganda presenting London as the center of virtuous “free enterprise.” A third is that most media bigwigs probably have a secret stash in some tax haven.

There is no one to bell the cat.

In this situation, the London Olympics offers civil society activists an unprecedented opportunity to draw attention to the black hole of criminality in The City. It would be a perfect time to launch "Occupy the Global Black Market!"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Internet Censorship

Media reports invariably say that Union Cabinet Minister Kapil Sibal’s meetings earlier this month with representatives of Facebook, Google and Microsoft were an “attempt” to censor the Internet. In fact, the government has gone well beyond that; the Internet is effectively being censored right now, and in ways that strike at the root of our democracy.

I can vouch for this from first-hand experience, for the problem of restricted access to this blog reported earlier seems to be rooted in the “Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011” the government published in April this year.

As Heather Timmons of The New York Times reported on 7 December, the Rules “require ‘intermediaries,’ companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo … to respond quickly if individuals complain that content is ‘disparaging’ or ‘harassing,’ among other complaints. If the complainant’s claim is valid, these companies must take down the offensive information within 36 hours.”

Timmons cited an unpublished study by the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore that concluded the Rules were already “chilling” free speech on the Internet in India. That finding was based on the responses of major Internet service providers to bogus notices sent by CIS claiming to be offended by third party content; in six of seven cases, the supposedly offensive pages were removed without question. One of the censored items was an entirely legitimate comment on a news report about the Telengana movement; the “intermediary” removed it as well as 14 other comments on the story.

In my case, the block has been on the entire blog as well as on several items critical of the mass media. Who asked for the restrictions remains a mystery; Google does not respond to emailed enquiries from lowly bloggers, so I have no quick way of finding out. My guess is that it is The Times of India, which has a track record of trying to stifle critical blogs.

The Rules that make this situation possible are broadly and badly phrased. Internet service providers are required to act on complaints that content is “harassing, blasphemous, defamatory” or “derogatory.” Content that “threatens … friendly relations with foreign States” or is “insulting any other nation” is likewise on the hit list. These are all grounds that in the normal course of law would require a judicial finding that weighs a set of complex factors. No procedure is set out to assess the legitimacy of a complaint. Nor is there a provision for the owner of the content to present a defence. In fact, there is none even requiring that the content owner be notified of the action.

As they stand, the April Rules are indefensible. Their ministerial promoters and apologists, sworn to uphold the Indian Constitution and the integrity of our democracy, should be ashamed of themselves.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Next World War

With the Eurozone teetering on the verge of collapse and the export-led Chinese economy facing a disastrous crash, it is more than likely that the world will slip into another Great Depression. That will require national elites to recalibrate their perks and priorities, setting off furious power struggles that could, as in the 1930s, tumble the world into a global war.

The epicenter of the war will be in Afghanistan where, in fact, it has already begun. Arrayed behind the current confrontation between the United States and Pakistan are all the major Powers of the world, albeit without much clarity of declared purpose.

We can expect the lack of clear ideological lines to continue, for like the First World War, the coming conflict will be widely seen as a confused power struggle undisguised by Good versus Evil ideologies. However, the stakes are high, for the struggle will pit Britain, China and Pakistan, nations that have an established record of subverting and opposing democracy, against the United States, India and Russia. (Moscow is a founding member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that aims to exclude extra-regional players from Asian geopolitics but it has moved quietly into the democratic corner as the crisis in Afghanistan has deepened.)

The rest of the world will play a secondary but important role. Most of the nations of the Asia-Pacific will support the democracies; the recent summit in Bali showed the depth of regional misgivings about Beijing’s increasingly brusque use of power.

Africa will also support the democratic side, for neocolonial Europe has been in retreat across the continent for two decades, and as the recent anti-Chinese tenor of elections in Zambia indicated, there is growing outrage at Beijing’s predatory version of “South-South cooperation.”

Despite the efforts of al Qaeda in Brazil (where it has taken root in the sizeable Arab minority), and the pro-British drug cartels of Colombia and Mexico, Latin America will also be on the side of the democracies.

Iran’s recent confrontation with Britain shows where that important nation is likely to line up; and the inchoate struggles of the “Arab Spring” will probably be decisive in determining the alignment of the rest of the Middle East.

 It looks like an unequal struggle until we factor in Britain’s enormous corrupting influence as the primary manager of the global black market. Not only does it give the Axis Powers command of organized crime groups and terrorist movements around the world, it gives them the hidden support of elite groups in every country that have hidden their “black money” in British run tax havens. Powerful interests in the United States, India and Russia will thus be primed for treachery.

In addition, British propagandists, by far the most accomplished in the world, will be able to blur perceptions about the true nature of the struggle and create confusion globally. In that, Britain will be able to count on the reach of its own media organizations and of proxies in most of the democratic countries. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s pose as an “Islamic” champion will continue to confuse the Ummah and Beijing will be able to mobilize the support of “Leftist” sympathizers in many places. India will have to contend with all three factors.

Although New Delhi has wisely rejected the concept of anti-China military cooperation with the United States and Australia, it would be folly to ignore the realities of the current situation. In a period of supposed relaxation of tensions, China has been building up its forces all along our northern border; it now has a permanent presence in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. The thaw in relations between Islamabad and Delhi is in the context of American pressure on Pakistan; it is unlikely to lead to anything meaningful. Britain continues its long-standing effort to subvert India through its political, corporate, media and Naxal proxies.

In dealing with the coming crisis, official India is handicapped in many ways. The most serious problems are the lack of strategic direction in our fractured political culture and the subservience of much of our “elite” media to British interests. In combination, those two factors have created a sense of national drift and growing disillusion. Unless our political class mobilizes to meet these and other challenges that lie ahead, the country will be in great danger.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Indian Retail: Paging Dr. Kurien

Amidst the first week of furor after the Central cabinet approved foreign investment in Indian supermarkets, the Universe sent us a small but important signal: Varghese Kurien turned 90. 

The life of the US-trained engineer who quit a government job in 1949 and went on to fashion the cooperative of milkmen in Gujarat that became Amul, now a Rs. 10,000 crore dairy group, has important lessons for the retail industry.

Kurien turned on its ear the conventional wisdom of his day that the future of the milk industry lay in large, well-funded farms using the latest technology. The “White Revolution” he engineered left the ownership and care of cows in the hands of traditional herders – Amul now has 30 lakh milkmen organized in 15 district cooperatives – and focused on the modernization of processing, distribution and marketing. Widely imitated around the country, the model that made India the world’s top milk producer ended all talk of the need for giant “modern” dairy farms.

We can do the same with the Indian retail industry, but we need a band of genius entrepreneurs to incorporate producers, middlemen and retail outlets into a new business model revolutionizing the linkage of rural and urban economies. It will require action on the following five fronts:

1. Grouping of retail and service shops into neighborhood mini-malls developed according to a standardized building, lighting, and display model (allowing for easy replication around the country). Street hawkers can be incorporated into the operations of these mini-malls to perform their home delivery function. All the small businesses involved would retain their individual ownership and decision-making capacity, but in every urban area, a single agency staffed with professional managers would oversee the building and organization of these mini-malls. The businesses would also have support from four other agencies representing their shared interests: 

2. A common purchasing agency, also professionally staffed, to represent all the mini-malls in an urban area; it would procure supplies from nearby farmers, artisans, and SMEs and be responsible for matching supply and demand.  

3. An infrastructure development agency working with existing middlemen to minimize waste of farm products, arrange for standardized packaging, and timely delivery of supplies.

4. An agency to work with producers to establish cooperatives focused on maintaining environmental and quality standards and ensuring a fair return.
 5. A financing agency to work with banks in creating a new investment product, the micro-bond. Marketed to the populations served by different parts of the new system, micro-bond issues can finance every aspect of its development and operations, building and keeping wealth within the community.

Such a reorganization of the retail industry would resolve the issue of foreign investment by making it impossible for any mega-corporate model to compete with it. It would also support strong, equitable economic growth and keep prices firmly under control.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Creepy Crawly Feeling - 2

As a result of the item that someone was blocking my blog and main website, Netsparx, the Goa-based company maintaining unceremoniously dumped me as a client. In the process I discovered the actual ISP is in Haryana. Netsparx has not responded to repeated queries whether information to access my site was given to anyone else.

Google reported on 2 December that its crawlers received the 404 error (not found) response from the entire blog site as well as from the following specific items:

1. The Indian Press - 6: The Press as Business (posted July 2011)
2. The Indian Press- 7 a: The Foreign Hand (posted August 2011)
3. NYT Blog Asks Why no Indian Steve Jobs (posted October 2011)
4. What Are They Advertising? (posted October 2011)
5. Posts relating to keywords India and China.

The list indicates an attempt to restrict access to what I have to say about the Indian mass media, advertising, and their foreign connections. (By the way, The Indian Press - 7 b: Foreign Links, has been delayed by the need to further research the very extensive ties that bind our media to Britain.)

Meanwhile, according to a Google report on 2 December, the visibility of the blog on the worldwide web continued to be restricted by 343 robot.txt files. (Those files signal search engine "crawlers" not to report the contents of the site.)

Who is responsible for this?

It is difficult to say right now. Will post on any discoveries as I continue to ask around.

Meanwhile, would appreciate reposting by readers who do have access to the blog.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best Reason to Avoid Retail FDI

The best argument against allowing foreign direct investment in Indian supermarkets is that it will open the door to virtually unrestricted entry of Chinese manufactures.

Giant Western retailers like Walmart source much of what they sell from Chinese small and medium companies, and that is unlikely to change if and when they move into India. It is also possible that a Chinese company -- perhaps the government itself -- will invest the $100 million necessary to get into the Indian market and open the sluice gates for sub-standard products.

Under WTO rules, once India sets the rules for FDI in multi-brand retail, it cannot discriminate on the basis of nationality or for strategic reasons. Chinese SME (small and medium enterprises) will be able to enter the Indian market as a matter of right, on equal terms with Indian companies, letting loose a flood of the substandard and poisonous products for which China has become notorious in recent years.

It is futile to hope that Indian regulators will be able to deal with the flood of hazardous products from China. According to a new book by Peter Navarro and Greg Autry, “Death By China,” even the United States, with its much better regulatory system, has been unable to do so.

The book begins with a chapter that examines the extent to which Chinese products now dominate American supermarket shelves. There’s seafood from aquaculture farms in the heavily polluted Yangtze river, the most bacterially infected waters in the world, into which the Chinese pour massive amounts of antibiotics. Frozen chicken, fruit juices, canned fruit, honey, garlic and numerous other food items also carry into the United States the residual poisons of one of the most polluted environments in the world.

With China producing some 90 per cent of the world’s Vitamin C, nearly three-quarters of its penicillin, half of its aspirin, a third of its Tylenol, and much of the drugs, enzymes, and other ingredients that find their way into a wide range of products, there is little escape even for the most health conscious consumer.

“These statistics should disturb all of us for one simple reason” say Navarro and Autry: “Far too much of what China is flooding our grocery stores and drug emporia with is pure poison.” And that is so despite the fact that Chinese imports consistently top the list of substandard products held up at their borders by American and European regulatory agencies.

How confident can Indian consumers be that we will fare any better?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Creepy Crawly Feeling

A few days ago I finally figured out how to get Google Webmaster Tools to divulge traffic statistics about this blog, and made a rather unexpected discovery: someone is trying to block access to it.

A report I downloaded on 25 November said – if I am reading it right – that there had been 363 recent cases of “restricted by robots.txt,” “Not Found” responses had been returned five times, and “Unreachable” once.

That cleared up the mystery of the small “Web page cannot be found” sign that always floats over some part of my blog even when the page is open and readable. (I had paid it no attention, thinking it was caused by the slow speed of my Photon link,)

After some research I discovered that the “robots.txt” file is meant for outdated pages that site-owners do not want search engines to find. It is the Web equivalent of a No Entry sign; the page thus marked does not show up on keyword search results.

Who would want to block a private blog that is admittedly opinionated but hardly a threat to anyone?

I discovered a number of anomalies also on the website, which has of late been difficult to update because of what I had thought were technical glitches.

As Google's Blogger is beyond the reach of direct queries from users of its free services, I sent off an email message to the company in Goa, Netsparx, that has arranged for the hosting of That was yesterday. No response yet, but I have a creepy crawly feeling that it won't be good when it comes.

If readers of this blog have any advise about what to do about this problem I would be grateful for advise to:

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Only Thing Worse Than a Fool ...

Markandey Katju seems bent on demonstrating the truth of Mark Twain's observation that the only thing worse than a fool is an earnest fool.

In a Times of India Op-Ed piece last Saturday (25 November) the former Supreme Court judge and new Chairman of the Press Council of India blathered on about the need for freedom in the context of Indian industrialization, which alone could "abolish poverty and unemployment -- the main causes of crime and terrorism -- and get us respect in the world community."

The piece proceeded in a cascade of similar idiotic statements to this:

"I wish to clarify that I am a strong votary of liberty and have been misunderstood. However, liberty cannot be equated with license to do anything one wishes. Should one be given the liberty to spread superstitions, to fan caste or communal hatred, or put overemphasis on film stars, pop music, fashion parades and cricket in a poor country like ours? I think not."

The dummkofp doesn't seem to realize that to propose the need to restrict coverage of cricket and film stars because India is a poor country is to be quintessentially against liberty. It is to adopt the logic of the Taliban who, in the name of God, ban music and film.

Further, to put the fanning of communal and caste hatred on par with cricket and film coverage is cynical overkill in an attempt to justify his extremist views.

The man is a menace to Indian society in his current position and should be dumped.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Democratic Change in Burma/Myanmar?

Indian mass media coverage of developments in the strategically important country on our troubled eastern border has been dismal.

Of the four newspapers I get in Puducherry – The Hindu, The Times of India, The New Indian Express, and The Deccan Chronicle – only the TNIE has made any attempt to provide perspective.

In a perceptive edit-page piece in TNIE on 12 November, Whiff of Spring in Myanmar, Sridhar Krishnaswami, Head of Media Studies at the SRM University in Chennai, put the surprising reform initiatives of the new civilian government in the context of the Arab Spring and peer pressure from the Association of S.E. Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma/Myanmar is a somewhat pariah member. Naypyidaw (the junta's new jungle capital), wants the rotating chairmanship of the group in 2014.

 The other three newspapers have done no more than publish Western news agency reports, with The Hindu characteristically providing also an Op-Ed reprint (19 November) from The Guardian in Britain. In keeping with the general tenor of British media coverage, the piece struck a sceptical and disbelieving chord. That is understandable, for the junta has very little credibility; but readers are left wonderning what is happening and why.

The closest TOI came to providing its own coverage of the matter was a preachy, muddled edit-page piece on 15 November, Towards an Asian Century, by a “current affairs analyst and former CEO of a public sector company.” It exhorted India to “shed its hallmark lethargy and stupor” and make Burma/Myanmar a land bridge to China, which it portrayed as having a commanding position in the country. (China has seen its position significantly eroded as newly installed President Thein Sein, bowing to popular pressure, cancelled without warning or consultation a major dam project Beijing had funded in the expectation of getting 90 percent of the hydroelectric power it generated.)

 So what is really happening in Burma/Myanmar? (The two names are, respectively, of colonial and junta origin, one sharpening and the other blurring national identification with the country’s dominant tribe.)

 To get an informed view of recent developments I called up Vijay Nambiar, the seasoned Indian diplomat who is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Chef de Cabinet and has worn a second hat as special envoy to Burma/Myanmar ever since Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria left the post in some ignominy in February 2010. (In an oblique but acid comment on Gambari’s performance, a writer in Irrawaddy magazine called on the UN to appoint someone who would not “spend his time at Rangoon’s Traders Hotel nursing hangovers after late-night drinking sessions with Burmese girls.”)

Nambiar had just returned to New York from the Asia-Pacific summit at Bali when he took my call. There was no one reason for the changes that were afoot, he said. The government was impelled by a desire to move into the ASEAN mainstream, get increased economic support from the West, and avoid over-dependence on China. Equally important was a change of attitude on the part of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democratic opposition.

“I’ve met her three times now,” he said. She originally dismissed what was happening as a “parody of democracy,” saying it’s “worse than outright dictatorship” because people were fooled into thinking the situation had improved. Her National Democratic League (NDL) had split after it decided not to participate in the elections; a splinter group went on to field candidates and win a few seats as the official party procured a two-thirds majority. At their last meeting, Nambiar had suggested that a more receptive attitude on her part might help bring about real change, and she had altered course.

 Nambiar thought that the reforms were real and meaningful. Some political prisoners had been released, and there was talk of releasing all of them (a total of 500 according to the government, several multiples of that number according to the Opposition). The government seemed to be heading towards the “Indonesian model” of democracy. International agencies and important Western governments had acknowledged the government's sincerity by initiating a general thaw. The UN Development Programme, the World Bank and the IMF were all preparing to extend support; Hilary Clinton would visit the country in December.

New Delhi has not publicly pushed Neypyidaw towards democracy despite overt pressure from Washington; but India has obviously been a positive and supportive influence, especially in balancing a heavy-breathing Darth Vader-like China. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi last summer and President Thein Sein’s recent visit to India were both important markers of progress.

What are the chances the reform process will stall and go into reverse as it did under Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in 2003? Although the third ranking member of the junta and in charge of Intelligence, Khin Nyunt's tentative moves to relax the political situation in the country ran into opposition from other Generals and he was eased out.

In trying to understand the headwinds facing reform in Burma/Myanmar it is useless to look for information from sources bound by the prevailing Western omerta regarding the international criminality of its elites, or from the UN, which is religious about the Hear-See-Speak-no-evil rule when it comes to the underhand dealings of powerful member States.

To find an explanation we have to begin by looking at how the country fell under military rule and why the junta has remained so implacably hostile to democracy for half a century.

The story begins in the times of Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, the widely popular leader of the Burmese struggle for independence. He had allied himself initially with the Japanese to drive the British out of Burma in 1942-1943, and then, at the end of the war, switched sides. The British signed an agreement to hand over power, but six months before the scheduled date an assassin armed with a machine gun massacred Aung San and all his senior aides. A few low-level British officers were among those tried for the murders – the assassin's weapon was of military issue – but there was no actionable evidence against higher-level British officials who were obviously involved.

The xenophobia generated by those events gathered strength as the British continued to back armed uprisings by Burma’s secessionist tribes and the CIA’s “secret war” in Laos made the country the world centre of illicit opium production during the savage struggle for Viet Nam. That happened in the 1960s, just as the British began to develop, as a replacement for their dissolving Empire, a second imperium in the form of a global black market. The Burmese Generals became key players in the opium trade and heavily invested in the new underground British money management system.

After the end of the Viet Nam War, as opium production shifted to Afghanistan to fund another supposedly clandestine war (with the ISI as Britain's local drug runner), the Burmese share of the illicit trade dropped to about 15 per cent. However, trafficking the country's rich lodes of gemstones and hardwoods took up the slack, not to mention the junta's take from above-ground trade surpluses; the latest statistics show Burmese exports of $8 billion and imports of some $4 billion annually.

As with the ISI in Pakistan, Britain has provided the Burmese junta with solid financial incentives to remain firmly opposed to democratic rule.

In these circumstances how realistic is it to expect Burma to become a democratic country?

The answer lies not so much in the jungle lair of Naypyidaw as in The City of London. If the current American push to democratize lands long under autocrats propped up by Europe's neo-colonial elites extends to British bankers, there is hope. If not, we can expect the process in Burma/Myanmar to stop well short of meaningful democracy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Katju Displays More Ignorance

Markandey Katju’s “clarification” of his outrageous comments about the Indian people and mass media has confirmed that his ignorance is multifaceted and extends to history.

 Consider just one paragraph in the long excerpt from an interview published by The Hindu on its OP-Ed page on 16 November.

 In it Katju says India is making “a very painful and agonizing” transition from a “feudal agricultural society to modern industrial society.” Europe during a similar transition from the 16th to the 19th Centuries experienced “turbulence, turmoil, wars, revolutions, chaos, social churning and intellectual ferment. It was only after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe. India is presently going through that fire.”

The unexamined, undigested quality of that assessment is breathtaking. How did this man ever ascend to the Supreme Court!

 First, Europe and India are in no way comparable. Our societies, histories and experience of modernity are all completely different.

Second, Europe’s “turbulence, turmoil” etc., had nothing to do with the advent of “modern society.” The agonies of Europe reflected the impact of a set of racist, violent, materialist philosophies. Insofar as Europe dragged India into its affairs we have been affected, but as a society, we have not endured anything comparable.

 Third, the “modern" values Katju esteems as the product of painful European transformation actually emerged from the American Revolution. The subsequent French Revolution also proclaimed the “rights of man,” but bloody tyranny submerged them quickly. The European “scramble for Africa” in the 19th Century brought back slavery, colonialism and genocide.

Fourth, it was not until Gandhi took up the cause of Indians in South Africa that the European darkness began to lift. Gandhi’s attack on racism in Africa and colonialism in India let loose the modern human rights revolution. The values Katju ascribes to industrial modernity are Indian and homegrown.

 Fifth, European societies did not embrace “modern" values voluntarily or enthusiastically. The onset of the Cold War in 1946 allowed Britain and France to shape-shift into "free-world" good guys, but their international policies continued to be dank with blood and corruption. Both societies have continued to glorify their colonial past, brushing under the rug a record of violence, oppression, exploitation and genocide.

There is much else in Katju’s “clarification” that reflects a fundamental ignorance of Indian and global realities. He should be dumped from the Press Council.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Frisking Abdul Kalam

The frisking of former President Abdul Kalam by New York Airport security has incensed Indians. Especially because the insult was both deliberate and egregious: Security officers followed him on board an Air India flight and asked him to remove shoes and jacket for inspection.

The Indian Ambassador in Washington has been instructed to protest officially, and the Press has taken note that she herself has been patted down in the past by overzealous American airport cops; also, our Ambassador at the United Nations was asked once to remove not only his shoes but his turban.

Some parliamentarians have called for reciprocal treatment of American VIPs; one recalled on television that on a visit to Brazil a couple of decades ago he found that arriving United States nationals were required, purely as a tit for tat arrangement, to form a separate line at Immigration, to have mug shots and finger prints taken. Foreign Minister S.M Krishna has noted the possibility of retaliatory action in the most diplomatic terms.

 While such action might be necessary, Indians should keep in mind some American ground realities. The United States has been “a national security State” since the beginning of the Cold War in 1946, its constitutional structure subverted and corrupted by an incubus put in place by the “military-industrial complex” (to quote President Dwight Eisenhower).

The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 further empowered that command centre and brought into the open many of its fundamentally un-American activities; one might almost describe them as anti-American activities, for they are deeply harmful to the country’s democratic ethos. Ordinary Americans have seen their rights trampled in the process, and the country has seen two stolen presidential elections.

In this situation, the constitutional officers of the country are essentially powerless. The State Department has already issued a formal expression of regret about the treatment of Kalam, but neither Foreign Secretary Hilary Clinton nor indeed, President Barack Obama, can promise that it will not happen again.    

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering Guru Nanak

Two saint-poets stand at the beginning of the Indian renaissance that is still gathering force. One was Kabir, a Muslim foundling raised by a Hindu, the other was Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion.

Both of them revived the distilled excellence of Indian tradition, freeing it from centuries of meaningless ritualism.

They were born (Kabir 1440 and Nanak 1469) before Columbus made landfall in Hispaniola and Vasco da Gama came ashore in Kerala; but their legacy is very much part of the modern Indian mainstream.

Both were “Bhakti” (devotional) poets, part of a movement rooted in the Gita that was revived in Tamil Nadu during the long, slow decline of Buddhism, first by the Saiva Nayanars (5th-10th Century) and then the Vaisnava Alwars (6 to 9 Century).

Spreading to North India as Islam made inroads into Indian society the vibrant faith of the Bhakti poets sustained Hinduism as it came under foreign assault and, especially in Kabir and Nanak, sought to enfold the invading religion.

Kabir’s impact on India was spiritual and literary; that of Nanak was more: like the ancient Rishis, the Buddha and Sankara; he set the wheel of Dharma moving anew. The rise of the Sikhs as a warrior community sparked that of the Marathas under Chatrapati Shivaji, and together they doomed the Mughal Empire. To say that is not to slight the Mughals, who were by then thoroughly Indian by blood and vision; but they were, barring Akbar, firmly of the country’s past as Nanak and Shivaji betokened its future.

On 10 November, Nanak's  542nd birth anniversary, all Indians owe it to themselves to consider the significance of his life, for he set India as a whole on the path to rediscovering its own lost self.

He preached a rigorously sensible faith scorning caste and Hindu-Muslim divisions, and asserting without philosophical complexity an intense devotion to the loving, universal and indivisible reality of God.

Almost uniquely for his time, serving the poor was always a special concern to Nanak. At 12, when his father tried to initiate him in business and gave him some money to invest, he fed a number of poor people, declaring that “true business.” The gurudwara of Sacha Sauda now stands where he fed the poor.  

He accepted followers from all backgrounds, declining only those who lived ascetic, isolated lives outside society, a rejection that emphatically located spiritual life within the household. His teachings were an antidote to the weaknesses of India’s fractured, caste-ridden society that had made it possible for Arab, Persian and Afghan invaders to make slow inroads into the country, bringing with them the missionary religion of Islam.

Nanak addressed frontally the new split those invasions had caused, beginning his career as a religious leader in 1496 with the dramatic proclamation: "There is no Hindu there is no Mussulman. I follow the path of God who is neither Hindu nor Mussulman."

His own relations with Muslims were always close: at 16, he went to work as storekeeper for the Muslim ruler of Sultanpur, where he befriended the much older Sufi minstrel, Mardana, later his boon companion as he preached across the length and breadth of India. Nanak went as far as Assam in the east, Kabul in the north, Tamil Nadu in the south and beyond Sind to Mecca in the West.

The scope of his travels underlined his desire to reform the whole body of Hinduism rather than to create a new sect. Islam was as much his object of reform as Hinduism: the story is told that in Mecca, when upbraided for sleeping with his feet towards the Kabba, he asked his inquisitor to point them in the direction that God did not exist.

Did Nanak fail in his wider aim of reforming Hinduism and Islam? Does the existence of the Sikhs as a minority religious community mean that the rest of India has remained and will remain unaffected by his distillation of all that is best in our traditions, Hindu and Muslim?

The answer must be categorically in the negative. If there is one overwhelming lesson from the Indian past, it is that history does not move in a straight line. It has subtle detours and byways, triumphs that turn into long term defeat, weaknesses that evolve into strengths, contradictions that resolve themselves in magical new unities.

Nothing exemplifies that as much as the transformation of Nanak’s legacy. When he died in 1518, the Portuguese were the only Europeans in the Indian Ocean and Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, was still a youth in Afghanistan. In the time the Mughal Empire rose to its intolerant peak Nanak’s peaceable community changed under nine successive Gurus into a cohesive society of warriors, and that had a direct influence on the upbringing of Shivaji in Maharashtra.

The rise of the Sikhs and Marathas doomed the Mughal Empire, laying India open to the stealthy invasion of the British, who sought to strengthen their tenuous control of the country by setting its people against each other on the basis of religion and caste.

In the aftermath of that era the Granth Sahib, containing the hymns of the ten Gurus and of 22 Hindu and Muslim sages, offers the nonsectarian vision that is at once the best of Indian tradition and the hope of our future. For an India committed to the physical welfare of its people yet sustained by its spiritual core it is an invaluable guide. In moving towards that goal, the following extract from one of Guru Nanak’s hymns should serve as an essential adjunct to Satyameva Jayate:

 “Though man perform lip-devotion, penance, and austerities,
   Dwell at places of pilgrimage, bestow alms and perform acts of devotion,
   What are these without the True One?
   As he sows so shall he reap; human life is lost without virtue.
   O silly one, happiness lies in being a slave to virtue.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jug Suraiya's New Book

Jug Suraiya bills his new book, JS & The Times of My Life, as “a worm’s eye view of Indian journalism.” That might make you think it dishes up gritty stuff about a profession – trade rather – that has long been the receptive home of drunks, cynics and misanthropes. It does not; the book is an elegantly written memoir of a person who declares, “I never wanted to be a journalist” and is far too gentle at heart to say anything mean about the interesting menagerie of the newspaper industry. In fact, he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on the decent (if not always admirable) people who came his way during four decades in journalism. There are, however, many oddballs and eccentrics, finely observed and presented with the deft economy of style that is the hallmark of his “Jugular Vein” column in The Times of India.

 For many readers, especially fans of the now defunct JS, India’s first break-the-mould “youth magazine,” the book will be a trip down memory lane. Jug was one of the small group that launched the weekly in 1967, initially with the irredeemably square name Junior Statesman. In a city caught in the tumultuous, angry rise of the CPI (M) to power, the JS tried to be “fun” in a derivative, campy, Carnaby Street way, but with enough of desi spice to earn an ardent young following. However, it could not escape a host of dour well-wishers: those who willed it into a well. The critics were particularly annoyed because the editor who launched the magazine was the multi-talented and irreverent artist Desmond Doig, large and pink and very much a remnant of the Raj, except that he wasn’t. The Brits in Calcutta, especially those who administered The Statesman, looked down on him as chi-chi, their term for Anglo-Indian. Unlike them, his heart was firmly in India, or perhaps more accurately in its northern hills.

 Jug describes the early mad, desperate days of JS when a handful of us – I was part of the gang, along with “Dubby” Bhagat – took on the job of putting out a profusely illustrated weekly magazine without a day of experience in what needed doing. “Months of planning, of preparation, of stockpiling articles, and pictures, and comic strips, and columns, had culminated in this. And suddenly all the planning and all the preparation were as though they’d never happened at all. … How had zero hour come about? It all seemed a blur. The four of us – Desmond, Dubby, Papa and I, with Desmond leading, always – had done all the work. Desmond had planned, designed, done layouts, selected the pictures, drawn illustrations. Dubby, Papa and I had written and written some more. … That was the easy part. The hard part was the blocks, and the physical and social structure of The Statesman.” The “blocks” were the lead plates that went on The Statesman flatbed press; we had to lug them down from the etching shop to the Job Department and bring back the page proofs when they were ready. Strictly speaking, that was the job of the paper’s army of “peons,” but they were by then strictly unionized, and entirely unenthusiastic about the additional work for the JS. In Jug’s description of The Statesman social hierarchy we inky writers were the “Shudras,” the “untouchables.” 

Jug’s account of what happened at and to JS is valuable historical material, not least because of his description of the diversity of interesting characters the magazine attracted or brought into focus. At one extreme there were Mother Theresa and Edmund Hillary, at the other the schoolboy duo of M.J. Akbar and Shashi Tharoor, early contributors to the Schooltalk column. There is Jayaprakash Narayan, there is Rekha the Sonagachi prostitute, there are Dev Anand, Shirley Maclaine, Zeenat Aman and Boris Lissanevitch, ex-ballet dancer who had come to India with Diaghilev’s troupe and done a bunk to marry and settle in Nepal as Kathmandu’s first European hotelier, running the famous Yak and Yeti. [Unfortunately, Jug has left out Desmond’s favourite anecdote about how Boris, put in charge of hospitality for visiting Princess (or was it Queen?) Elizabeth, had found too late that the flush in the royal loo did not work; he arranged for a Nepali boy to keep watch through a peephole and pour down a bucket of water whenever necessary.]

The book has a priceless description of C.R. Irani, the Managing Director who took over The Statesman when Andrew Yule & Co. sold it. “The new MD exuded a military air, as pervasive as the musky scent of the Aramis cologne that he wore. He sported a safari suit, with epaulettes. From his pockets, crammed with cartridge-like ballpoint pens, dangled metallic fobs, like wartime medals. The lens of spectacles flashed with combative zeal. He did not walk; he quick-marched to battles only he could see, a short, strutting Napoleon in the making. He scared the shit out of me.”

After Mrs. Gandhi declared the “Emergency” and took to arresting journalists, Irani grew paranoid. “Each morning the MD would come to the JS, tucked away on a mezzanine floor of The Statesman building. Striding into Desmond’s cabin, he would as for the JS team to be summoned. All of us would troop into Desmond’s cabin. … The MD would address the congregation. ‘Desmond, boys, they’re coming to take me away. I expect them at any moment. But even after I’ve gone, remember: Keep Fighting the good fight, keep the flag of freedom unfurled. That’s all. Thank you and God bless till we meet again.’ Then, heels clicking counterpoint to the silent strains of ‘We Shall Overcome,’ the MD would march out, presumably into the arms of the waiting constabulary. They never came. In the afternoon, Desmond would phone the MD’s secretary, Gaver, to ascertain his fate.

 “‘The MD’s gone’ she’d confirm.

“‘To Lalbazaar lockup?’ Desmond would ask.

 “‘To the Bengal Club for lunch, she’d reply.”

 Irani soon became the man that Statesmanwallahs most loved to hate; and they had their reasons. For the JS crew that reason was the manner in which he closed the magazine. They got word of it when Johnny Angel, the man Desmond had hired to carry the “blocks” down to the Job Department, returned one morning to say there would be no more JS

 Jug’s description of his next super-boss, The Times of India’s Samir Jain, is kinder, but equally revealing. The account of his life and times at the Times as the paper arced down in ethical and editorial quality is probably less judgmental than many would like, but then, that is Jug. The stories from Delhi are more diverse and broader in scope than those from Calcutta, and for me it was a reintroduction to someone I had lost track of during four decades away in New York. I am glad to say he has not changed centrally. He has managed in the book, as in his column, to maintain his integrity as a person, to keep his beloved wife Bunny in view, to stay in touch with his humanity in a world that often loses sight of it, to give voice to Brindle the street dog that became part of his family, and to keep a fascinating story flowing effortlessly from cover to cover.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Expose! A Katju Television Network!

According to a wild rumour that we do not believe for a moment, the Honourable Markandey Katju, newly installed chairman of the Press Council of India is setting up his own television broadcasting organization. KTN-1984.

According to a document in our possession that is obviously fake but too sensational not to report, the following is the pitch that KTN-1984 is making to potential investors:

KTN-1984: Television With a Difference!

KTN 24-hour News Channel is being launched to set an example of what television programming in India should be. Under the expert guidance of Honourable Markandey Katju  a staff of journalists imported from developed countries, all certified heavyweights in philosophical and scientific thought, will seek to enlighten the 80 to 90 per cent of the Indian population that is steeped in superstition and ignorance.

The programming for KTN-1984 will report cricket and other sports news but will not cover matches live because Caligula in ancient Rome is reported to have given Romans circuses instead of bread. Of course, this might not actually result in additional bread in 21st Century India, and the overwhelmingly ignorant Indian population might express some discontent, but television should observe strong moral standards. No cricket coverage!

KTN-1984 will report the daily news with a strongly educational slant. There will be regular "How To" programming prepared by our imported crew of learned journalists on gutting priests, drawing out their entrails, and strangling kings. It is not envisaged that we will run out of priests any time soon, there being a very large supply in the temples and other religious institutions that spread superstition and ignorance. However, India being a democracy, there will be a shortage of kings. It is envisaged that people like the new Nawab of Pataudi can be prevailed upon to volunteer for the "king" roles. It is the principle that matters.

Our coverage will ignore terrorist attacks or pretend that they are accidents for which no one is responsible. If the Police issue a statement saying they suspect a certain organization we will not report it, as that will be divisive. In the interests of social unity, the imported philosophical heavyweights reporting the news for KTN-1984 will evolve a secret code, the meaning of which will be understood by the 10 per cent of Indians who are enlightened. The 90 percent steeped in superstition and ignorance will not notice what is happening, so it will not matter.

Panelists on KTN-1984 talk shows will not interrupt each other or raise their voices. A panelist who interrupts someone will receive one warning, and then be expelled from the show. Those who raise their voice will have a gag placed over their mouths.

Under a plan submitted by KTN-1984 to the government, with a copy to the major opposition party, other broadcast organizations will be terrorized into adopting similar programming. Their shows about astrology, worship, and other feeble-minded pastimes like film, sports and gossip about film actors and actresses, will be replaced with instructional programming produced by P. Sainath about farm suicides and rural migrant labour.

P. Sainath will be the only Indian journalist allowed on KTN-1984. His method of manipulating statistics out of context will be held out as an example for all the benighted Indian journalists of other channels. Particular attention will be paid to not providing international comparators showing that the Indian suicide rate is about the same as in the United States or any other large country. Sainath's analyses of migrant statistics extracted from the incomplete reporting of  2011 Census data will be held out as a particularly elegant illustration of Mark Twain's observation that there are "lies, damn lies and statistics."

Cuts in government advertising and delicensing of broadcast organizations will be the means by which KTN-1984, with the cooperation of the government and the main opposition party, will instill fear in Indian journalists and make them subservient in dealing with politicians.

Friday, November 4, 2011

TOI Editor Needs Psych Help

The Times of India editor responsible for matching the photographs to editorial content in the following stories is obviously in dire need of psychological help. Or perhaps he just needs to get laid. If anyone starts up a fund for that, count on support from me.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

7 Billion Would Fit in Paris

People have been led to believe that 7 billion people make for a crowded planet. Not so. They could all fit into Paris. Or with less elbow room, into Manhattan.The web site has a series of maps illustrating the area 7 billion would occupy if their density were equivalent to that of existing urban areas:

The "population problem" is actually a "consumption problem." If 7 billion were to consume per capita as much as people do in developed Europe, the global ecosystem would be sent into a rapid and disastrous decline. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Indian Morality Tale

There was an interesting little morality tale in The New Sunday Express on 30 October.

Shampa Dhar-Kamath in her column Unfaithfully Yours told about Ram Singh, a family servitor in Delhi’s Safdarjang Enclave who was “aghast” at receiving an air gun with instructions to shoot pigeons disturbing the sleep of his aged and ailing “master.”

“Wracked by superstition at the best of times,” wrote Dhar-Kamath, the old servant said he “would be sinning, and his soul would be cursed forever for taking lives.” However, he proceeded gingerly with the task, at first trying to scare the birds away from the window, then, reluctantly, killing a few. His attitude changed after workers at an adjacent building site offered to buy his kills, “Many lives have been lost in the last one month,” the column concluded: “Commerce versus conscience; it’s a one-sided battle.”

That little tale is ponderous with significance, especially Dhar-Kamath’s use of the term “wracked with superstition” to describe the context of Ram Singh’s stricken conscience. It relegated belief in karma to the level of magical thinking. That she should express this view so casually, without feeling the need to explain or justify, indicated the expectation that her readers would receive it without challenge.

That is truly mindboggling. Yet, it is very likely to be true. If it were not we would not be so neck deep in elite corruption. If we ask why this has happened, the unavoidable answer is that it is the result of Western contagion: “education” in India has meant acceptance of a view of “modernity” that is the enemy of the best in our tradition.

That sad truth flashes at us from every aspect of “shining India,” most explicitly in commercial advertising. “Greed is good” declared the moronic ad for a mobile phone company that nestled at the bottom of the Doordarshan screen during much of its coverage of the recent ODI series against Britain. Greed is not good. The Bhagavad Gita places it among the triumvirate of tamasic delusions at the root of evil (the other two being fear and anger). If we stop to consider the value-content of commercial advertising, much of it is negative by traditional Indian standards.

That brings us to the other staggeringly casual assumption in Dhar-Kamath’s column: that the struggle between conscience and commerce is unequally weighted. There is, of course, much evidence that this is true. In the case of poor Ram Singh, conscience was silenced with a mere Rs.15 per bird. Yet, it could be argued that a kindly providence was washing his sin of negative karmic content: he was no longer killing to please his “master” but so others could eat.

There is no such comfort for Kiran Bedi who cheated petty cash from those who admired her and now stands exposed as a hypocrite; nor are there any extenuating circumstances for the celebrity residents of Tihar Jail caught in the web of their own egregious greed.

In that lineup, only Ram Singh is on record as expressing fear for his immortal soul, and it points to a larger difference between him and the others. For belief in karma is only one element of a larger dynamic worldview, of the universe as a moral construct. In the Indian scheme of things all things have dharmic content, even Time; it is moral quality that determines the passing of the great Yugas.

The individual soul progresses towards self-realization through that moral matrix, and it was Ram Singh’s primary concern. Not to believe in that concept is to deny the existence of the Param Atman, the Universal Soul, God in common parlance.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Who Killed Mrs. Gandhi?

It is amazing how unexamined Indira Gandhi’s death remains 27 years after her assassination. Almost everything I have read on the matter skips critically important detail; in fact, the accounts are so unvarying in the details they do provide the authors could well have been working from a shared template. To help the generation now coming of age to understand what happened, I present a non-template version below.

In June 1984, the Indian Army ousted a band of heavily armed terrorists occupying the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar. The operation damaged the holiest of Sikh shrines, deeply offending the community and setting in motion a decade of troubles in the Punjab, bringing to its knees India’s most prosperous state.

With support supposedly from the Sikh communities in Britain, Canada and the United States a terrorist movement emerged almost immediately after the assault on the Golden temple. Pakistan’s ISI was also rumoured to be helping the terrorists. The most vociferous centre of external support was in London, where a Sikh activist called for the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi on a BBC broadcast. India lodged a formal diplomatic protest but the British government said it could not interfere with the freedom of the Press.

 On 31 October the same year, two Sikh members of the Prime Minister’s security detail assassinated her. They were standing guard at a gate she had to pass through to get to a BBC television crew set up for an interview. The occasion for the interview was the visit to Delhi of Princess Anne, with whom the Prime Minister was to dine that evening. The interview was delayed a half-hour at the last minute, just the time needed for one of the two assassins to begin his shift at the spot where the killing occurred. Initially, suspicion fell on one of Mrs. Gandhi's aides for making the change, but the official inquiry exonerated him. The investigating judge noted the involvement of a foreign intelligence agency without explaining what that meant. As a part of the report remains secret we cannot say definitely if there was mention of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). For what it is worth, the BBC interviewer waiting for Mrs. G on that fatal day was the actor Peter Ustinov who was not entirely unconnected with British Intelligence; at the minimum, he had a family connection: his father was a British spy.

 When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in Delhi for Mrs. Gandhi’s funeral, Indian reporters asked her about Britain’s earlier refusal to take action against the man who had openly called for the assassination. She responded: “Whether or not what he [the Sikh on the BBC] said actually amounted to a possible crime was a matter for the director of public prosecutions and the police, not for a politician. But I believe they looked at it, looked very carefully at what was said, and came to the conclusion that they could not in fact prosecute. You know there are sometimes very difficult cases. But whether they decide to prosecute or not is a matter for them. But they did not and that must have been because there was in their view not a sufficient case to prosecute.”

A reporter asked if there was not a case “for tightening up or altering the law” on “incitement to violence.” She replied, “Incitement to violence – I think the law is fairly clear. Sometimes it is not easy to get the precise evidence but we will have a look at it if need be. … But we must recognize again what is an apparent paradox, that if you are a free country then you are free to say what you think within the law, but a free society offers many more opportunities for doing the wrong thing than of course a tyranny. But then of course, who would wish to live under tyranny? And there are occasions when you do have a difficult question to ask. Do you resort to the methods of a tyrannical society in order to preserve freedom? You can see the paradox. Now I believe that we have got just about the right answer in Britain. But we are very well aware of the difficulties of violence and of the difficulties of getting evidence sufficient to enable our police and those who are responsible for indicting these people to bring cases to court.”

For the record, the BBC has never been an exercise in independent journalism; it was, from its founding, an organ of State propaganda and the World Service continues to be funded from the Foreign Office budget. Some prominent BBC "journalists" are clearly spies; see

A month after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination and anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, a set of multiple safety-system failures at Union Carbide’s chemical plant at Bhopal caused the “world’s worst industrial accident.” There was every indication that it was sabotage, but the new Rajiv Gandhi government sagely decided not to publicize that angle for fingers could have pointed to a Sikh employee; clearly, whoever sabotaged the plant wanted to set off another assault on the community.

A few months later, in June 1985, another atrocity was blamed on “Sikh terrorists,” the blowing up of Air India Flight 182 over British waters as it made its way from Montreal to Delhi. All 329 people on board died. Canadian prosecutors are still trying to prove the heavily circumstantial case.

In the light of these facts, it would be well to keep in mind that although Mrs. Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards shot her, those who plotted and arranged for her death were most probably British. To understand why the British would want her dead we have to look at Britain's role as the Cold War "manager" of South Asia -- and that must be a story for another day.

Dump Katju from Press Council

Judge Markandey Katju, the new chairman of the Press Council of India, a governmental watchdog body mandated to oversee print media, wants to expand his purview to broadcasters and get a new set of teeth.

Speaking to Karan Thapar, anchor of The Devil's Advocate on CNN-IBN, he put on display a set of arrogant opinions founded in such a blunt understanding of Indian realities (not to mention the principle of Press freedom), that it should set off alarm bells and lead to his immediate dismissal. 

This is not to deny that there are serious problems with broadcast media but  he is the wrong person to lead an effort to address them.

A lightly edited transcript of the interview follows. I have highlighted in red some of his more ill considered views:

Karan Thapar: Are you disappointed by the media?

Justice Markandey Katju: Very disappointed.
Karan Thapar: And therefore, do you have a low opinion of the media?
Justice Markandey Katju: I have a poor opinion about the media.
Karan Thapar: And you really mean this?
Justice Markandey Katju: I mean this. They should be working for the interest of the people. They are not working for the interest of the people. And sometime they are positively working in an anti-people manner.. ....

Karan Thapar [referring to a speech Katju made to newspaper editors]: you said, ‘One of the basic tasks of the media is to provide truthful and objective information, that will enable people to form rational opinions.’ Is that not happening altogether, or is it not happening sufficiently and effectively.
Justice Markandey Katju: See you must first understand the historical context in which we are living. India is passing through a transitional period in our history -transition from feudal, agricultural society to modern industrial society. This is a very painful and agonising period in history. When Europe was going through this period the media played a great role, it was of great help in transforming the European society from feudalism to a modern society.

Karan Thapar: Is that not happening in India?
Justice Markandey Katju: No, just the reverse. In Europe, great writers like Rousseau, Thomas Paine and Diderot. Diderot said, ‘Men will be free then the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest’.
Karan Thapar: Compared to them, what is the role the Indian media is playing during this transition India is going through?

Justice Markandey Katju: Indian media is, very often, playing an anti-people role. Let me give you that in three respects. Number one, it often diverts the attention of the people from the real problems which are basically economic. 80 per cent of the people are living in horrible poverty, unemployment, facing price rise, healthcare etc. You divert attention from those problems and instead you project filmstars and fashion parades and cricket as if they are the problems of the people.
Karan Thapar: So the media uses fashion, film stars and cricket almost as an opium?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes. Cricket is an opium of the masses. The Roman emperors used to say ‘if you cannot give the people bread, give them circuses’. In India, send them to cricket if you cannot give them bread. Many channels, day and night, are showing cricket as if that is the problem of the country.
Karan Thapar: You said there were three respects in which the media is being anti-people, to use your phrase. You’ve given me one, what are the other two?
Justice Markandey Katju: Second is, very often the media divides the people. You see, this is a country of great diversity because it is a country broadly of immigrants. We must, therefore, respect each other and we must remain united. Take for example, whenever a bomb blast takes place, in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, within a few hours almost every channels starts showing that an e-mail has come or a SMS has come that Indian Mujahideen have claimed responsibility or Jaish-e-Mohammad or Harkat-ul-Jihad, some Muslim name. You see e-mail or SMS any mischievous person can send, but by showing it on the TV channels and next day in print, you are in a subtle way conveying the message that all Muslims are terrorists and bomb throwers and you are demonising the Muslims. And, 99 per cent people of all communities, whether Hindu, Muslim, are good people.
Karan Thapar: Is this an instance of the media being careless or the media deliberately not using its guard and not using its intelligence to double check? Which is it?
Justice Markandey Katju: I think it is even worse. I think it is deliberate action of the media to divide the people on religious lines and that is totally against the national interest.
Karan Thapar: You are saying the media is deliberately diving people?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, because what else is this? When you are demonising the Muslim community within a few hours of a bomb blast showing that SMS has come, e-mail has come from some Muslim organisation, what does it imply?
Karan Thapar: You said you had three examples of the media being anti-people. You’ve given me two, what’s the third?
Justice Markandey Katju: Third is, as I said India is passing in a transitional period from feudal society to modern society. So the media must promote scientific ideas to help the country move forward, like the European media did in the period of transition in Europe. Here the media promotes superstition, astrology and so on. You know, 80 to 90 per cent of the people in the country are mentally very backward, steep in casteism, communalism, superstition and so on. Should the media uplift them and bring them up to a higher mental level and make them part of enlightened India or should the media go down to that level and continue and perpetuate their backwardness? The media through many TV channels show astrology which is pure humbug. Astrology is total superstition that if you wear this colour shirt today it will be very good for you, what is all this?

Karan Thapar: You began by saying that you had a very low opinion of the media, that you were deeply disappointed by the media. I get the impression that, in fact, you don’t think very much of the media at all.
Justice Markandey Katju: There are some very respected media people I can tell. For example, Mr P Sainath, I have very high respect for him. He has written many articles showing the farmer suicides. In fact in The Hindu, that quarter million farmers have committed suicide.

Karan Thapar: You’re talking about the front page article in Saturday’s Hindu?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes.
Karan Thapar: But apart from naming a few individuals, of the media as a whole you don’t think very much of them?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, the general rut is very low and I have a poor opinion of most media people. Frankly, I don’t think they have much knowledge of economic theory or political science or literature or philosophy. I don’t think they have studied all this.
Karan Thapar: So the media, in effect, is not just living up to its expectations, you would say it is letting down India?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, absolutely because the media is very important in this transition period. As I said, the media deals with ideas. It’s not an ordinary business dealing with commodities, it deals with ideas. Therefore, people need modern and scientific ideas.
Karan Thapar: And that’s not happening?
Justice Markandey Katju: The reverse is happening.
Karan Thapar: The media is making India more superstitious, more casteist, more communal; you really mean that?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, absolutely. You see the TV channels, so many of them showing astrology ‘yeh raashi hai, wo raashi hai’, what is all this?
Karan Thapar: Alright. I’ve understood and heard your attitude and opinion of the media, let me now put to you one of the common complaints made of the media by ordinary people and ask to what extent as the Chairman of the Press Council you agree with those complaints and to what extent you disagree. People often say that the media is not always accurate, worse they say the media distorts facts; it twists people’s opinions and quotations. Do you hold that view as well?
Justice Markandey Katju: Absolutely, if you’ve heard of the scandal of paid news in the year 2009 elections, you know what happened. You know earlier the journalist would go to the candidates in elections and ask for money, ‘You give me Rs 10,000 and I will publish news in your favour’. Then it appears that the proprietors got a wise idea that why should these working journalists make money why should we not make money. Then they came forward saying ‘you give me one crore and a package will be given to you, front page headline news will be in your favour’. And an astounding thing happened in 2009 elections. Candidate A in the front page of the newspapers says he’s winning by a large number of votes, by a large majority; and the lower part of the front page paid for by the rival candidate says that candidate A is losing his security deposit. So you see on the same page he’s winning by a thumping majority and he’s also losing his security.
Karan Thapar: So what you’re saying to me, whether we are talking about paid news, whether we are talking about your claim that the media distorts and twists facts ; you’re saying the media can’t be relied upon when they claim something to be true – it may not be true, it may just be false?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes absolutely because if you are paid to write something you are not writing something which you factually observed. You are being paid to write whatever you are told to write.
Karan Thapar: Now a second criticism made by ordinary people of the media is that it frequently damages the reputation of innocent people by either misrepresenting them or, worse, by suggesting or claiming or proclaiming that they are guilty without reason and without evidence. Again, is that a view you agree with?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes and may I give you an example? In one TV channel, which is a reputed TV channel so I will not name it, on two consecutive days the photograph of a high court judge, where I had been Chief Justice, had been shown next to the photograph of a notorious criminal. The allegation against the high court judge was that he had illegally grabbed some land. I made personal enquiries and I found it was totally false. He had brought land in a rural area, in the open market at the market price, I have all the documents, and this man was weeping when I went there. He said he was going to resign, I said, ‘Please don’t resign. I will try to do something’. Just see this, you condemn a corrupt judge, I am with you, but why should you condemn an honest judge when he is totally upright?
Karan Thapar: So you’re saying the error in this instance was the publication of an honest judge’s picture alongside that of a criminal and the suggestion that the two are similar?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, just see how demoralising it is for a judge who is honest. You condemn a corrupt judge, I am fully with you, I have done it myself. Why should you condemn an upright judge?
Karan Thapar: And you’re saying that often the media, through carelessness or maybe deliberately damages the reputation of innocent people?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes. You want to sensationalise something you want to capture without proper investigation. You must do proper investigation and research before you publish all this.
Karan Thapar: So the media does no research, no investigation?
Justice Markandey Katju: Well sometimes it may be doing but sometimes it doesn’t. in this case evidently they had not done.
Karan Thapar: Let’s focus a little on news television. There is a lot of concern about the quality of debates on television channels. Are you an admirer of those debates or are you a critic?
Justice Markandey Katju: See very often I find those debates totally frivolous. First of all there is no discipline. If there are four people on the panel, all speaking at the same time, is this the way disciplined people should behave? When you speak, I will never interrupt you. But why should you interrupt me when I am speaking?
Karan Thapar: You think anchors are always interrupting rudely?
Justice Markandey Katju: Not anchors, the panellist, the four persons. One person is speaking, the other simultaneously starts speaking, whom are you to hear?
Karan Thapar: People often say that the big problem with debates on television is that they only generate heat, they don’t shed light, yet their job is to shed light.
Justice Markandey Katju: That’s quite often correct. You should shed light in this age, you should educate people, you should express rational opinions. It’s not a shouting contest.
Karan Thapar: So all this criticism that the ordinary people have for the media, whether it’s to do with accuracy, whether it’s to do with damaging reputation, whether it’s to do with the quality of debates, do you as Chairman of the Press Council agree with all of them?
Justice Markandey Katju: Not all of them. As I told you there are some very upright media people. I named Mr P Sainath and there are many other names.
Karan Thapar: But the generality of the media you believe is falling?
Justice Markandey Katju: The majority, I’m sorry to say, are of a very poor intellectual level, media people, I doubt whether they have any idea of economic theory or political science, philosophy, literature, I have grave doubts whether they are well read in all this, which they should be.
Karan Thapar: More often than not, media people are of a very ordinary level.
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, that’s right.
Karan Thapar: Justice Katju, let’s talk about steps that you believe are necessary to improve news television. Primarily you believe news television and the electronic media as a whole must be brought under the ambit of the Press Council. Why do you think the media’s attempt at self regulation by the News Broadcasters’ Association headed by Justice Verma is not good enough?

Justice Markandey Katju: I don’t see any effect of that move. The media has to be educated They must be told that you are living in a poor country where you have to address the problems of the poor people. What do you show? Lady gaga has come. Yesterday I saw it on TV, read it in papers. Is this the problem of the country? Kareena Kapoor has seen her Madam Tussauds statue and she says she loves it. This is what is on TV and in the headlines.
Karan Thapar: So you’re saying that the News Brodcasters’ Association’s attempt to self regulate under Justice Verma simply isn’t working?

Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, it is not working at all. One of the reasons is there must be some fear in the media.
Karan Thapar: Absence of a stick means the media gets away with it?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, absolutely. As I said in many interviews, stick will be used only in some extreme situations.
Karan Thapar: But the need for the stick is there?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, the fear must be there. Bin bhay hot na preet, Swami Tulsidas has said in Ramcharitmanas.
Karan Thapar: So in other words, there must always be a sanction the media fears. Otherwise the media will not fulfil its role and act, in your eyes, properly?
Justice Markandey Katju: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Now, so far what steps have you taken or what steps do you propose to take to bring news television or the electronic media as a whole under the ambit of the Press Council?
Justice Markandey Katju: Well, I have written to the Prime Minister that electronic media should be brought under the Press Council. It should be called the media council and also should be given more teeth. Those teeth will be used in an extreme situation. I met Mrs Ambika Soni, the minister of Information and Broadcasting, to whom I gave the letter addressed to the Prime Minister and I have received a reply from the Prime Minister that they are considering it. On Friday, I met Mrs Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the Opposition, and I gave her the copy of the letter and I said unless there is consensus between both the national parties, the bill will not go through.
Karan Thapar: What response did you get from Mrs Swaraj?
Justice Markandey Katju: She said in this case, probably there will be a consensus.
Karan Thapar: Now, you said that you’ve received a response from the Prime Minister. What did he indicate in his response? Is he open to your idea?
Justice Markandey Katju: No, he just wrote that we are considering it. I got a written letter, I haven’t met him. I have sought an appointment with him.
Karan Thapar: But the Prime Minister has said that he’s considering it?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, he’s considering it and Mrs Sushma Swaraj, in fact, when I met her yesterday, I told her that look, this was your suggestion in Parliament. She said, ‘Yes it was my suggestion that electronic media should be brought under Press Council.’
Karan Thapar: So the position is as follows: the Prime Minister is considering your suggestion, which suggests, that perhaps he’s open to the idea.
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Mrs Swaraj has in a sense endorsed it, which suggests that the BJP supports it. Have I summed it up correctly?
Justice Markandey Katju: Yes, that’s right.
Karan Thapar: Now you’ve also asked for greater teeth for the Press Council. You think it needs to be able to bite more effectively. I know you are going to use it only in extreme situations, but what sort of additional powers do you want?
Justice Markandey Katju: I want powers to stop government advertisements, I want powers to suspend the license of that media for a certain period if it behaves in a very obnoxious manner. I want powers to impose fines, all this in extreme situations. Normally, if a media commits a mistake, I’ll call them, I’ll discuss with them that this is not proper and 80 per cent people can be reformed by persuasion.
Karan Thapar: But this is to be used if the media proves to be, to use your phrase, ‘incorrigible’?
Justice Markandey Katju: That’s right.
Karan Thapar: Now in fact your exact phrase was if the media proves to be incorrigible, harsh measures may be required, some people think that’s a threat to the Freedom of Press.
Justice Markandey Katju: Listen, everybody is accountable in a democracy. No freedom is absolute. Every freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions. I’m accountable, you are accountable. We are accountable to the people.
Karan Thapar: And the media must be accountable as well?
Justice Markandey Katju: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: And that means the media must accept and respect restrictions?
Justice Markandey Katju: That’s right.