Atanu Dey On India's Development

Mr Ram Jethmalani asks Questions that Mr M J Akbar Has Not

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What do you call a flying Sindhi moving at high speed through air generating a high pressure region in front? Ramjet-malani. Pardon me for the silly joke[1]. I just couldn’t resist. Seriously though, it’s high time that someone points out how emasculated most of the high-profile Indian journalists are. Ram Jethmalani, one of India’s most celebrated lawyers, says it like it should be said.

I just read a piece he wrote in The Sunday Guardian (Dec 5th), “Some questions for Prince Charming.

In the first part of his article, he quotes from a letter he wrote to Antonia Maino[2], aka Sonia Gandhi, the day after Nov 26th, 2008 deadly Islamic terrorists attacks in Mumbai.

Yesterday’s incidents in Bombay are proof of your government’s incompetence. The names of your corrupt Ministers are freely circulating. Don’t think that you are not yourself the target. The country is on fire and it needs consolation and security… Neither you nor your son whom you are projecting as the future Prime Minister of India are the solution or even a ray of hope…

He correctly notes that the Congress Party is essentially a bunch of cattle. Driven cattle. Actually, I don’t fault Antonia, aka Sonia, for that. The cattle starts at the level of the people. They vote for anyone with the last name “Gandhi.” This is known by all those who want power. So they — such as Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram — make it their business to suck up to the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty so they can make hay from the reflected glory of the nasties.

Things did not register any significant change. I watched with dismay how the party of illustrious statesmen who led India into freedom has virtually turned into a party of dumb, driven cattle, without courage to call their leaders to account. I was more contemptuous of large sections of the press, which had lost its critical faculty and wholly jettisoned the obligation to disseminate the truth, however unpleasant, to keep the political sovereign updated and informed.

Mr Jethmalani ends his piece with a few obvious questions that Raul Vinci, aka Rahul Gandhi, should be asked but the journalists don’t.

Mr Jethmalani obvious questions have equally obvious answers. Perhaps we should answer them on behalf of Mr Raul Vinci aka Rahul Gandhi.

1. We have no objection to your mother’s ambition to see you installed as India’s Prime Minister. Obviously she did not entertain this ambition either for herself or any of her children in 1991. Are you prepared to take the nation into confidence and disclose the qualifications you have acquired since then to take into your hands the destiny of this complex and most populous and poverty stricken democracy?

2. Do you agree that the best available statesman in the country should fill that post? If yes, how have you convinced yourself that you are the one? We would not mind if your mother answers this question. We hope you will not turn to our dear friends Mani Shankar Aiyar or Abhishek Singhvi to ghost write the answers.

3. We are highly appreciative of the Election Commission which compels candidates for public office to disclose their material assets.

We wish they logically mandate the disclosure of intellectual assets as well. But if democracy is all about transparency, would you kindly let the nation know what academic qualifications you have acquired, when, how and from which institutions. It will help if you also tell the curious Indian nation what books you have read during the last five years; have you published any articles or any readable material on politics, economics, terrorism, war and peace? Is there any speech in Parliament, to the local Rotary Club or to a bunch of tiny toddlers with a single quotable quote that illumines or inspires and gives us some clue to your intellectual attainments? We know quite a few talented young men in the Congress party and naturally people would like to be satisfied that you are better endowed than them all. That your mother is Soniaji or your father was Rajivji is not enough evidence.

4. There have been oft-repeated charges of financial impropriety and worse against your family, including by the president of Janata Party, Subramanian Swamy, Swiss magazines and, most unusually in a book on the KGB. Why have you not responded?

If you plead ignorance of all the stuff mentioned in the questions you do not deserve to be India’s Prime Minister any way.

I think that the journalists — like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vir Sanghvi — also know which side of their bread is buttered. So they are busy brown-nosing and cannot be bothered to ask these questions.

I therefore disagree with what Mr M J Akbar, a journalist of some distinction, wrote in his blog post, Scripture of Deceit (Dec 5th), about journalists.

I am continuously amazed by how little journalists understand politicians. Perhaps it hurts their sensitive and inflated egos to get the simple fact that politicians treat most media with disdain, precisely because they understand how it works. And they have nothing but contempt for cozy collaborators who think they have arrived because they were invited to the parlour for cocktails, although they were never permitted into the dining room for dinner. A few of them indulged the hallucination that they were enjoying the intimacies of the residential bedroom. You could hear the sound of hearts being broken when the tapes revealed that it was only a transactional exchange rather than true love.

That purr in the ear isn’t the music of your back being scratched, darling; it’s the crackle of your slim wallet being emptied of ethics.

Mr Akbar sets himself apart from other journalists as if he alone is immune from the blindness he attributes to them. I read the first line quoted above as “I am continually amazed by how little journalists (except myself) understand politicians.”

Journalists are also humans. They are routinely bought and sold. The prostitution of journalism is perhaps as old as the second oldest profession in the world.

Mr Akbar then claims that businessmen don’t understand politicians. I cannot fathom that. The most successful Indian business people are successful precisely because of their understanding of politics and politicians. It is a consequence of the licence-quota-permit-control raj that our dear Cha-Cha Nehru and his progeny love so much. If you can somehow get the licences, you make huge money. I don’t believe that Mr Akbar does not know that. So my conjecture is that here he is being a journalist of the kind that he bemoans in his piece.

By the time dessert is served the dinner party has become completely exclusive, for it is offered only to a chosen few. That is why Prime Ministers, of all parties, and super Prime Ministers like Mrs Sonia Gandhi, take a personal interest in selecting which journalists are given Padma awards and what is the pecking order of the deemed honour. These are personal grace-and-favour anointments.

The other great mystery is the naïveté of successful businessmen. They simply do not understand the labyrinths through which political power travels towards a decision, and hence their endless quest for either a presence or a guide through the maze. They are bewildered by the systems of Delhi’s crime and punishment, reward and banishment, and frustrated by the numerous Chinese walls that block their approach. They deploy cash, but are uncertain about what they have purchased. A few think that the Rajya Sabha opens the door to Delhi, and discover that it was constituted for something quite outside their requirements. This is why the allure of a corporate lobbyist becomes irresistible.

I think that the next time Mr Akbar interviews Raul Vinci, aka Prince Charming & Rahul Gandhi, he should take the time to ask the questions that Mr Jethmalani has so helpfully supplied for journalists to ask.

Until then, I will have to believe that Mr Akbar’s lament is not sincere.

NOTES:

[1] The old joke goes, “What do you call a flying Sindhi?” The answer is, “jetmalani.” I claim that here I have updated that joke — included “Ram” in the answer. Now do you believe me when I say that I am really clever? :)

[2] I mention the real names Antonia and Raul for the same reason that newspapers while referring to people and organizations with several identities routinely mention the aliases they go under.