Media setting up Rahul – Modi contest for TRP ratings

BY SAEED NAQVI

Conventional wisdom being forged by lobbies is veering around to the view that there shall be either a UPA-III or an NDA-II after the 2014 General Elections. In which case why this high decibel clamour for Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidates for the BJP and Congress respectively?

Of course such a facile scenario would simplify matters for the talk show hosts, the TRP hunters: just place faces in those six boxes on the screen and trigger a daily diet of prime time cacophony, as riveting as a street brawl.

The channels miss the point that there is so much else to clarify to their viewers in the run upto the 2014 election that naming of prime ministerial candidates at this juncture may be a trifle premature.

For example, several states have to face the electorate this year, by end November. Please analyze these states. These include four states in the North East, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Delhi.

If the Congress in Delhi, under Sheila Dikshit’s leadership, wins for the fourth term, only a very perverse system would keep her out of higher office. This line of thought will immediately be challenged by Congressmen themselves, in whose ranks ironically we may find Sheila Dikshit too. The Congress principle at this stage is that the first right of refusal for the prime ministerial slot belongs to Rahul Gandhi.

All of this, as I have indicated earlier, is premature for a simple reason: UPA-III entails a coalition. Who the coalition partners will be and what bargains they strike will depend on the hand the electorate deals out to the players at the table.

Shrill demands for Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate is equally premature in an era of coalitions. If the BJP in its deep heart’s core is inclined to field him as its candidate for Prime Minister, the situation will clarify of its own accord when Modi does or does not campaign for his party in the coming state elections.

Modi and Rahul are distinct political entities. Modi is an extrovert who intimidates and repels prospective coalition partners; Rahul, an introvert, is, on current showing, shy of coalitions. This aversion to coalitions is being rationalized as a tactic to wait, even beyond 2019, when the electorate will become so disenchanted with coalitions that it will produce a Parliamentary majority for the Congress. What underpins this enchanting pipe-dream is the purposive manner in which Rahul’s team proposes to build the party brick by brick.

Reconstruction of the party edifice visualizes ruins, like Macho Picho, on which masonry is being undertaken. A more valid image for the Congress in disrepair derives not from architecture but from gynaecology. The caste parties now in play were once inside the Congress womb. How does a weakened mother fight her own children?

The Congress led the nation to independence representing a federation of interests behind a programme for freedom. Purshottam Das Tandon and Abul Kalam Azad were in the same party. During an election in the 1960s, S.K. Patil and Krishna Menon were Congress candidates from separate constituencies in Mumbai. Patil represented big business while Menon was more on the fringe of the Communist Party. Over a period of time, this diversity had to break ranks and find independent political platforms.

Let us not forget, barely twenty years after independence, in the 1967 elections, Indira Gandhi lost power in eight states. A weakened Indira Gandhi, split the Congress in 1969, throwing a cordon of Left of Centre Congressmen around herself and thereby creating a distance from the conservative party bosses in the states.

It was this conservative streak which mingled with the RSS and socialists under the banner of the Bihar movement led by a retired Gandhian, Jay Prakash Narayan. An unnerved Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency, and later proceeded to lose the elections.

Before the emergency, the press maintained a balanced, adversarial attitude towards the establishment. The theory was something like this: In a democracy, people elected the government. The government could represent the Centre, Right or Left. The media’s job was to respect the people’s verdict, report objectively, and accord “critical support” to the government elected by the people. The emergency destroyed this balance and the distortion continues.

Political parties which do not ponder this question will have abdicated power and placed it in hands exposed to influences, both within and outside.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Military leadership and trial by media

BY MAJOR GENERAL MRINAL SUMAN

Health of democracies is directly proportional to the degree of independence enjoyed by their media. If India thrives as a vibrant democracy, a great deal of credit goes to its media, both electronic and print. It has been highly active in exposing weaknesses in governance and decay in societal standards. Even India military has not escaped its inquisition. Being a vital instrument of the government that consumes considerable resources, the military is as answerable to countrymen as any other public institution. Therefore, there can be no two opinions about subjecting military to public scrutiny.

Media coverage of any episode can be broadly divided into three phases. As the phases invariably overlap, they cannot be distinctly delineated. However, their distinctiveness can be easily discernible by their dissimilar attributes.

They are as follows:-

  • Breaking News Phase: It is the phase in which the opening salvo is fired. As limited facts are available in public domain, conjectures are flashed as news from ‘reliable sources’. Every media house tries to sensationalise the issue by inventing imaginative and sometimes totally unrelated headlines to outdo others in TRP ratings. Though unfair to the affected people, media can be pardoned for such misdemeanors to some extent as it becomes a professional compulsion for them to make an impact. Thus this phase is characterised by half-truths and speculation.
  • Detailed Coverage Phase: This is generally a much longer phase during which the events/issues are analysed repeatedly by inviting ‘experts’. Some media houses do try to moderate their stance as more facts get revealed and they become aware of the truth. In a subtle manner, they accept their earlier mistake and try to make amends. However, their number is highly limited. Most media houses find it undignified to change track and continue to harp on half-truths to justify their earlier stand and coverage. They continue with the vilification of hapless victims, despite availability of newer information to the contrary. Ego ruling over ethics is the hall mark of this phase.
  • Closure Phase: No media entity has ever bothered to analyse an issue/occurrence in retrospect to correct its earlier coverage and communicate truth to the environment. Such introspection can help media become aware of pitfalls of unsubstantiated reporting and thereby protect its credibility. It will also help redeem the reputation and provide solace to victims of its smear campaign to some extent. To admit mistakes requires a great deal of sensitivity for others and Indian media has yet to attain that state of maturity. Unfortunately, this phase is conspicuous by its absence.

As there is a very thin line that separates investigative coverage from unfounded vilification, media houses readily sacrifice truth and objectivity to grab maximum publicity and viewership. In many cases, need for sensationalism forces media to create media hype by coining highly outrageous and absurd slogans. Terms like ‘Ketchup Colonel,’ ‘Booze Brigadier’ and ‘Frisky General’ are decidedly unfair and derogatory.

As soldiers are very conscious of their public image, unfair media coverage causes immense pain to them. Two cases (the Sukhna land case and the Adarsh Society case) in recent times have dented the image of the army officers and shown them as unethical and scheming persons for monetary gains. As reasonable time has passed and considerable specifics of the cases are available in the public domain, it will be educative to review them with respect to the above mentioned three phases.

Sukhna Land Case

The whole case revolves around issuance of ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) by a Corps Commander for the construction of a residential school for girls on a nearby privately owned piece of land by a civil entrepreneur. He did not consider the proposed girls school to be a security threat and issued the said NOC.

During the ‘breaking-news’ phase, every media house tried to out-score others by calling it by various names. They were unanimous in terming it to be a scam of monumental proportions. Some channels went to the ridiculous extent of estimating the value of land involved to further sensationalise the issue. Rational thinking was sacrificed to garner more publicity. The Army Headquarters (AHQ) added to the graveness of the case by stating that the case had brought disgrace to the Army, thereby obliquely accepting transgression and misconduct.

During the ‘coverage phase’, truth started trickling out and many media units softened their criticism. There were others who continued to question the integrity of the commanders involved and virtually ran a campaign for their conviction. AHQ chose to go along and failed to put the whole case in the correct perspective to the nation. In a first of its kind, the Corps Commander was ordered to be court-martialled on seven charges including ‘intent to defraud’. The General Court Martial (GCM), while dropping all the four charges relating to ‘intent to defraud’, found him guilty on three counts – issuance of NOC, signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the entrepreneur and not keeping the superior Headquarters informed.

As per the media reports, words of the Presiding Officer of the Court while pronouncing verdict were very revealing. He stated, “There is no evidence that the accused could have gained anything or caused injury to anyone… There was no deceit or secrecy in the signing of the MoU.” On the contrary, the Court noted the fact that efforts had been made to safeguard the interests of the army by ensuring that the security was not compromised and by seeking reservations for the students and families of the army men in the proposed educational institution. However, the Court found his failure to seek approval of Headquarters Eastern Command to be an act ‘prejudicial to good order and military discipline’.

A corps commander is the second highest field commander in the hierarchy of the Indian army, commands over 50,000 troops and is assigned responsibility to ensure defence of a large tract of national territory. GCM of a corps commander is no trivial matter. It is certainly justified for acts of treason, cowardice or moral turpitude but not for failure to keep higher authorities informed of an administrative decision apparently taken ‘in good faith’. He may deserve a reprimand but no country court-martials such a high ranking military officer for an act of indiscretion and misplaced initiative.

Regrettably, not a single media house has considered it to be its moral duty to carry out an honest closure of the issue by apprising its viewers of the final developments. They should have called involved authorities in their discussion programmes and grilled them. Was a Court of Inquiry (C of I) warranted for this lapse and on what basis did it recommend disciplinary action? Who suggested Summary of Evidence (S of E) and who advised a GCM? On what evidence was the officer accused of intent to defraud, a very serious allegation? Are the concerned officers being held accountable for subjecting a senior military commander to unwarranted humiliation and for unnecessarily bringing disrepute to the army?

Adarsh Society Case

No other case has besmirched the image of the army as much as the Adarsh case. During the ‘breaking news’, media went berserk tarnishing the character and military reputation of retired service chiefs and other senior commanders. The complete officer cadre of the services was projected a bunch of unscrupulous and greedy characters. It was alleged that a piece of defence land meant to rehabilitate Kargil-widows had been misappropriated by a few service and defence estate officers through falsification of records in order to construct a residential building.

Although it was a simple case of a few officers forming a society to seek allotment of land from the state government, the media chose to call it ‘Kargil for Profit’ scam and insisted that Kargil-widows had been swindled out of their entitlement by devious officers. Worse, the Defence Minister and the Chief of the Army Staff repeatedly asserted that the land belonged to the defence ministry and vowed to take action against the wrongdoers. It amounted to an implied admission of culpability of the officers involved. The media attack was so vicious and unrelenting that every serving and retired officer felt hurt, slighted and let down.

Some sane voices were heard during the follow up ‘coverage phase’. However, many channels decided to continue with their misplaced tirade against the service officers. Every group discussion castigated the army leadership for falling standards. Retired service chiefs were called land sharks and equated with land mafia. As is its wont, AHQ failed to clarify matters to let the truth be known.

Multiple enquiries and the court case have revealed many astonishing facts. The defence ministry has admitted in an affidavit submitted to Mumbai High Court that it has no record of the land in question to prove ownership. It has also accepted receipt of a letter from the state government in 1964 declining transfer of Block VI Backbay Reclamation to the defence ministry. In addition, state government has repeatedly claimed ownership of the land in the state assembly and justified its sale to Adarsh society.

Where does the case stand now? If the defence ministry has no records to prove ownership of the land, why were the top defence officials misleading the country? On what grounds has the army ordered enquiries? What is its locus standi to question purchase of land by a society from the state government? As regards grant of environmental clearance and other sanctions, it is purely a matter related to civilian governance and is being investigated by the civil agencies. It is time media initiates ‘closure phase’ and hauls every single authority that alleged misappropriation of defence land before its viewers. They should be asked to explain reasons for making false claims and denigrating the officer cadre.

Finally

Military leadership is very conscious of its public standing and highly sensitive to unfair character-assassination. Undoubtedly, there are some black sheep and they must be given exemplary punishment.

However, three suggestions are offered here.

One, it should be obligatory for the media to carry out an introspection through the ‘closure phase’. It should have the moral courage to correct itself. In the process it will gain credibility for itself.

Two, retired service officers, who are called by the electronic media as ‘experts’ for discussions should apprise themselves of the rules and facts of the case beforehand. They should advice restraint till enquiries unearth the truth. Tendency to pass condemnatory comments without adequate knowledge must be curbed. AHQ must keep the environment informed of true facts of the case. It must realise that unwarranted media attack on serving and retired officers dents the image of the army as an upright institution.

Finally, media coverage of Sukhna and Adarsh cases over the last two years have caused immense pain to all serving and retired officers. Both the media and AHQ have let them down. They have been made to feel small in front of other segments of the society. It is unfair to look for scams where none exists. Reputations once lost are very difficult to redeem.

(Maj Gen Mrinal Suman is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII. This article, written by him, first appeared in the Indian Defence Review)

RSS forms committee to select Advani's successor

Tired of the escalating infighting in the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) over the leadership issue, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has decided to take the matter of deciding the next Leader of Opposition (LOP) into its own hands.

According to sources, the Sangh has formed a committee under the leadership of its senior leader Madan Das Devi to select L K Advani’s successor. Other RSS leaders who are in the committee include Shrikant Joshi, Madhubhai, Suresh Soni, and Indresh Kumar.

The need for forming a committee arose after it looked clear that it would be difficult to maintain the unity of the BJP in the current circumstances where various factions were proposing different names for the post of LOP.

Earlier on Sunday, senior RSS leaders met L K Advani in the presence of BJP President Rajnath Singh and inquired about his choice for the post of LOP. Advani is believed to have given the names of Jaswant Singh and Sushma Swaraj, which sources say, are not widely acceptable in the party circles.

It was then decided that Advani would remain as the Leader of Opposition till a consensus is reached on the name of any leader.

Sources told Canary Trap that the present arrangement suits Rajnath Singh. Singh realises that it is impossible for him to hold the position of party president and LOP at the same time.

According to them, Singh wants Advani to remain as the LOP till the end of 2009. Interestingly, his terms as party president also ends during that period. Singh hopes to succeed Advani as the LOP after that.

Advani is the only leader in the BJP who has held the positions of the party president and the Leader of Opposition at the same time.

Meanwhile, party sources told Canary Trap that in such challenging times a senior and experienced leader like Murli Manohar Joshi is the best bet to lead the party in the Lok Sabha. Joshi has held various senior positions in the party organisation, including the post of party president between 1990-1992.

BJP sources say that Joshi is not preferred by either Advani or Rajnath Singh.

While giving an interview to a news channel after the poll debacle, Joshi targeted Rajnath Singh and said that the party’s ticket distribution could have been “better” and it should have had some Muslim candidates.

Joshi did not even spare Advani when he said “If Advaniji says anything he says it in the interest of party members. He is the most experienced leader in the party. This cannot be criticised if he has taken the responsibility for the loss,” said Joshi.

He further added that the veteran BJP leader is setting a good example by expressing his desire to step down from the post of the Leader of Opposition.

The RSS leaders met Advani in the midst of all this infighting. According to party sources, even the RSS thinks that it would be better if Advani retires now than he does after a year or two as that would not give enough time to the new leader to prepare for the next general elections.

Now all eyes are on the RSS committee which will deliberate on all the aspects and decide the name of the leader who will succeed Advani.

Keep tracking Canary Trap for more such information on the ongoing crisis in the ‘party with a difference’.

Sri Lanka releases pictures of Prabhakaran’s dead body

The Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, General Sarath Fonseka, has confirmed that LTTE chief Prabhakaran’s body has been found on Tuesday morning by the Lankan troops.

The terror chief’s body was found by the 53 Division troops led by Major General Kamal Goonarathne, Sri Lankan military sources said.

A Lankan military spokesman also said that Prabhakaran was in uniform and there were bullet wounds on his head.

Canary Trap brings you exclusive pictures of Prabhakaran’s body released by the Sri Lankan Army.

1. Sri Lankan troops surround Prabhakaran’s body.

Prabhakaran - 3

2. Sri Lankan army soldiers lifting the body of Prabhakaran.

Prabhakaran - 2

3. Prabhakaran’s body was recovered from the battlefield on Tuesday.

Prabhakaran - 1

Earlier, the Lankan military also released a photo of the body suspected to be of Prabhakaran’s eldest son, Charles Antony. According to the sources, Antony was the head of Information and Technology department of the LTTE.

Charles Antony - 1

The Lankan military claimed that they have positively identified 18 bodies of senior LTTE cadres. The list of identified LTTE leaders include:

  • Pottu Amman: LTTE’s Intelligence Wing Leader
  • Bhanu: LTTE military leader
  • Jeyam: LTTE military leader
  • B Nadesan: LTTE’s Political Head
  • S Pulidevan: Head of LTTE’s Peace Secretariat
  • Ramesh: LTTE special military leader
  • Ilango: LTTE Police Chief
  • Charles Anthony: Eldest son of LTTE chief V Prabhakaran
  • Sudharman: Aide to LTTE leader’s son
  • Thomas: Senior intelligence leader
  • Luxman: LTTE military leader
  • Sri Ram:  Senior Sea Tiger cadre
  • Isei Aravi: LTTE female military leader
  • Kapil Amman: LTTE deputy intelligence leader
  • Ajanthi: Female LTTE training in charge
  • Wardha: LTTE mortar in-charge
  • Pudiyawan: Secretary to the LTTE leader
  • Jenarthan: Special military leader

Photos of Prabhakaran with wife, son and daughter

Canary Trap brings you the exclusive pictures of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran’s family.

The photos have been released by the Sri Lankan defence ministry.

1. Prabhakaran and Madivadini in an undisclosed location in India during mid 80’s.

2. Prabhakaran and Madivadini at their wedding.

3. Prabhakaran’s celebrates the sixth birthday of his youngest son Balachandran.

4. Prabhakaran and Madivadini with their most favoured son in an undisclosed location in Wanni.

5. Prabhakaran with family members.

6. Prabhakaran with his son in a swimming pool.

7. Prabhakaran with his family.

 

8. Prabhakaran, Madivadini and children on a sea tiger boat at the Iranamadu tank.

 

 

9. Prabhakaran with son Charles Antony.

 

10. Prabhakaran’s son (Charles Antony) and daughter.

 

Controversey surrounds Rahul Gandhi’s MPhil

The Congress party on Thursday served a legal notice to The New Indian Express for publishing what it called “wild allegations and sly insinuations” on the educational qualifications of party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi.

“Deeply distressed by your wild allegations, sly insinuations and self-serving innuendos, all premised on complete falsehoods and steeped in malice, a notice is being issued,” party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi told reporters at the AICC headquarters in the capital.

Singhvi quoted a letter from the University, which stated that Gandhi was a student at the institution as a member of the Trinity College from October 1994 to July 1995 and was awarded an M Phil in Development Studies in 1995.

Earlier, Rahul had also said in a press conference that he will serve a legal notice to the newspaper for writing the article.

Below is the article that the Chennai based newspaper published. Will keep you updated on any further developments on the issue.

(The article, dateline Chennai, was published in The New Indian Express on April 7, 2009. It has been reproduced here with proper permission)

Truth about Rahul Gandhi’s MPhil

Rahul Gandhi appears to have been economical with the truth on his affidavit while filing his election nomination papers in Amethi this weekend.

In the affidavit, he states that he obtained an MPhil from Trinity College of the University of Cambridge, UK, in 1995, in Developmental Economics. A certificate from the University shows that not only has he got dates wrong, he has even got the name of the course he took incorrect.

Worse, the man touted as a future prime minister failed one of his four papers.

Rahul got 58 percent in “National Economic Planning and Policy” (according to the grading scale given in the certificate, 60 percent is the minimum for a pass).

The certificate, shown alongside, was issued a year ago by Diana Kazemi, the secretary of the department of Development Studies (and not Developmental Economics) in which Rahul Gandhi studied.

He enrolled under the name ‘Raul Vinci’, a pseudonym given by the British authorities in a common practice as there are a good number of VVIP wards from around the world enrolled at British educational institutions. The pseudonym came to light during the 2004 elections in the Telegraph and the Hindu.

According to the University, Rahul read for the MPhil in 2004- 05, and not in 1994-95, as stated in his affidavit.

His affidavit’s other claim, to have obtained his Bachelors from Rollins College in Florida, USA, is true (and is a departure from earlier claims by ‘supporters’ that he graduated from Harvard). He also briefly attended St Stephen’s College in Delhi, gaining admission through the sports quota.

His mother (and Congress president) Sonia Gandhi was also in a minor controversy in 2004 over her educational qualifications.

Her nomination papers’ affidavit claimed she obtained a certificate in English from Lennox Cook School, University of Cambridge, in 1965. After it was revealed that the school had no affiliation to the University, Sonia claimed that the error on the affidavit was the result of a secretarial typing mistake.

Rahul Gandhi Certificate