Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An open letter to Arnab....

Since I know Arnab, I am taking the liberty of writing this rather serious letter to him. Since he’s not a “friend” on facebook, I am going to send this post of mine to him over email. Since I know his levels of intelligence and maturity, I know he will understand what I am writing. Since I know how intelligent, well read and capable he is, I hope that he will pay heed to this letter and tweak a few parts of his style. This is a purely personal letter......it has nothing to do with his and my official positions in the TOI group.

Arnab, for a very long time, I have held that you have taken on a bitterly anti-establishment position. I don’t know if it’s anti-establishment or anti-Congress. In other words, if a BJP government were to take over, would you still remain anti-establishment or would you start singing paeans of the government. Since I think much of your present positioning reflects a strategic plan for your wonderful TV channel, I will assume for now that you will continue to remain anti-establishment even during a hypothetical BJP government. I also do appreciate that there is intense pressure in the TV journalism business.....and you have to do what you have to do.

Having said, assumed and understood this much, I still want to point out limits that a senior and seasoned journalist like you should draw. For eg., you raised a pointed charge yesterday to Kapil Sibal that the “Government’s Bill” itself had included the PM in its scope. When Sibal pointed out that it was not the Government’s Bill, but only a proposal by one minister and ministry, you pressed him further. He then explained that the proposed bill had not even gone through the “ministerial discussions”, nor thru the “cabinet discussions”....and hence it wasnt the government’s bill at all. It was just a point of view a single minister held.....which is fine in a democracy. You then let the issue pass. If you had had your chance to question a responsible and informed minister, why then would you grill a lame duck persona-non-grata like Renuka Chaudhury over the same question so many times later during the show? If your attempt was not at humiliating her and the ruling government, why would you embarrass her so much on the same question? I must also ask here: why do you even get a person like her on your show.....is it because she makes it easy for you to score your point? On the other hand, you get Ravi Shankar Prasad, Arun Jaitley and Nirmala Seetharaman from the BJP.....all excellent speakers. Do you believe that good oratory and good speeches make a point more correct? In cricket, if a cricketer speaks poor English, would you hold him down in regard and respect simply because he speaks poor English? Would you rather not go for content, than for packaging? Or if you like packaging so much, why wouldn’t you insist on getting an Abhishek Manu Singhvi or a Manish Tiwari everytime you got these speakers from the BJP? Since it happens again and again, I think it’s intentional.

Then let’s take this other bit in the show last night. You had Amar Singh.....and he made some points. I agree they were silly points and he needlessly personalized the issue. But he is still a senior politician. You owed him some courtesy. Instead, you had Prashant Bhushan giggling away.....and you yourself were laughing in disdain. Does this suit the seriousness of your show? You were mocking Amar Singh.....and maybe he deserved to be mocked last night.....but if you think his views are worthless, then why do you bring him on your show at all? Has your channel become a channel where politicians (especially those who cannot speak good English) are humiliated in public? Ridiculed because their views differ from yours or because they belong to a different political zone than yours?

And why would you not crib against the BJP in the same measure? Why haven’t you put the BJP in a jam over Karnataka? Why haven’t you grilled them about why they didn’t do anything about the Lokpal Bill during their six years? Why they did precisely nothing about the black money stashed abroad during their period of rule? Why didn’t they reject any mercy petitions during their time? Why is it that you suddenly turned so meek when you were interviewing Bal Thackeray? Is it because he is a politician everyone in Bombay fears? The night before last....when Harish Salve was saying that he didn’t support Anna’s “My way or Highway” style, and when he was arguing why he thought the PM and CJI should be outside the Lokpal bill, why did your “signal suddenly drop”? The debate dragged on for another 10 minutes.....surely the technical problems could have been sorted out in that much time? Just like you heap scorn on Congress leaders, why don’t you do the same on BJP leaders who mess up? You think Kalmadi is a scamster.....but you are comfortable that another politician......the BJP leader Vijay Malhotra.....has taken over the reigns at the Indian Olympics Association? Why these double standards???

Frankly, I don’t think any of us should be cynical and anti-establishment at all. Those who have not been in establishment should certainly not criticize it. If they feel strongly, they should join the establishment and change it. I like Mamata Banerjee because she’s fought her way to a position when she can change the establishment. Some would call your approach almost sensationalist – preferring to sit out and complain about those in power but not join the field yourself. I am strongly requesting you to join politics. You will realize that there are reasons why some things are wrong with our politics. Take political corruption for eg. I personally think that corruption to the extent of “covering election costs” should not be considered corruption at all. Your stand should be to correct the election funding problem.....rather than concluding that all politicians are born corrupt. I have stated in my earlier posts that the 3% surcharge that we now pay as “education cess” should be changed to an “election cess”. This will reduce the “absolute necessity” for even clean politicians to become “corrupt in a limited way”. I know a politician in the Delhi government who is clean.....but she is in a terrible financial position today. Take the corruption in babudom. You should argue in favor of increasing the salaries of babus. Instead, you cribbed when the poor souls got a little increment last year. Arnab, you know this. Even junior managers in the corporate world get salaries of Rs 1 lac a month.....why then does the Cabinet Secretary – the senior-most babu who has spent more than 30 years in service – get just that much? You will say that he/she gets massive perks including a house in Lutyen’s Delhi. But can he/she carry those perks with him/her after retirement? But even more than this, if there is a clean babu, will our society give him/her the badge of being clean? Most in our society – and media in particular – pre-suppose that an IAS officer is corrupt. A clean IAS officer would be assumed to be corrupt even if he/whe was clean. What motivation does he/whe have left to be clean then? I am sure you realize that this is the reason why the best brains are no longer joining the IAS.....they prefer to join the private sector where their salaries are more reflective of market realities. Those who are joining the IAS today are those who are comfortable with power politics and an environment of incompetence and corruption.....a majority of them come from Bihar.....a state notorious for this particular concoction. I think Arnab, you need to go to the root cause of corruption, rather than try and suggest some cosmetic changes here and there. That is what will help the country.....and grow your TRPs.

Yours is undoubtedly the no. 1 channel and you (like me) come from a highly pedigreed media group. We have no option but to be more balanced in our approach. I appreciate your aggressive style. But I and many I know think you are just too aggressive.

The real truth is that constant cribbing by our powerful media.....constant derision of the political class....taking sides....is not good for the country and for the media. Today, we are a fast growing country. We need media to support and cheer along.....even while pointing out the chinks and making sure they are corrected. Today, the world looks up to us....but we are internally so self critical that I fear that we may just be stopped in our tracks. Most people don’t realize what we have achieved in the last 60 years. I sincerely advise you to read Ramachandra Guha’s “India after Gandhi”. It will give you a picture of what condition we were in, in 1947. The first twenty years were spent in just keeping the country united. How many of your viewers know this? Let’s not forget that successive governments since 1991 (Congress mainly) have put the economy on the fast track. Do check out the economic growth during the 6 years of NDA regime and you will know what I am talking about. Let’s not ridicule the India growth story. Let’s correct what’s wrong.....not build a feeling that we’re all screwed up....


  1. Bravo, bhai saab. It's not necessary to agree with your views in order to respect them. I dont want to second guess anyone, but I have a feeling Arnab will read every word of yours and read it again.

    I have myself come in contact with several so called 'babus' in the recent months and cannot begin telling you how incredibly intelligent and smart they are. For all our glorification of the corporate manager-dom, many of us just dont know how to think as big as some of our much maligned babu's. And while we are on the topic, I can bet my hind quarters, not all babu's are corrupt.

  2. Prashant, I sincerely wish & hope that the so called Respectable/Intellectual/Responsible people in the position of being heard will seriously read this piece and for once think about their responsibility towards India as a nation and its people. Its the time to market our country well. We talk about TRP's/No. 1 channel etc etc to attract consumers, but we forget to do the same for our country. Thats like micro business strategy (short term, narrow biz plans). If we proclaim to be a Macro strategist, who has a wider vision, why don't we promote our country in the same vein as we do our companies. I personally feel 95% (may be more) people of our country are honest and would not like to engage in corrupt practices provided they are not forced.