Saturday, March 16, 2013

Shameful – MJ Akbar’s politically motivated article in TOI….

MJ Akbar is a renowned editor. He has been in the business of journalism for decades. I have heard him speak and he is amazing to listen to. One expects a senior journalist like him to bring a certain gravity to any discussion; and an unbiased viewpoint. To shun politics and to tease out the real issues from a messed up politicized opinion. When Akbar wrote about the Italian marines issue in today’s TOI “Falling for yet another comic con”, I hoped he would cover the subject with at least a modicum of intellectual honesty. Unfortunately, he has let his well known anti-UPA bias come in the way.

Akbar appears to have forgotten that vision is 20:20 in hindsight. Once something has transpired, it is always easy – even for fools – to criticize decisions that didn’t go off well. No one criticized the government or the Kerala HC when they let the marines go to Italy for Christmas. If someone had a genuine vision better than the government, he should have criticized that decision. To criticize now is the easiest thing to do. Akbar unfortunately has done the same thing in his article. He speaks from such a high altar of righteousness that he in fact ends up sounding a trifle desperate. His piece in fact, appears to be the “comic con”.

He writes “What did UPA “threaten” to do? It wanted to expel Mancini. This would have been the perfect complicit coup between Delhi and Rome”. See, this is the desperation I mentioned earlier. Everyone knows that this kind of a situation, when the ambassador of a decent, civilized, democratic country lies to the highest court of another country, has never arisen anywhere in the world. Its not that difficult to understand – if one wants to – that an angry government would consider every possible action, including expelling the ambassador, the standard diplomatic protocol in such situations. The government was right in at least considering that option. To say that every option the government considered was action it had decided to take is silly; if it didn’t the same Akbar would have accused the government of not “keeping its mind open” or “thinking outside the box”. To say that the government only decided to keep Mancini back because the SC ordered so is also not factually true. There were already stories in media that the government was considering that (remember, the question of possible contempt of court and consequent actions the government could take was already being debated in media, even before the SC ruled). The fact is that it was the SC that had been conned; and it was the SC that had the authority to decide what was the most appropriate action to take. Why talk of conspiracy theories then?

Akbar then says: “The UPA wanted him to escape through false dust. Once he left India, Congress could have officially begun to chase him with the same dedication and diligence it has shown in pursuit of Bofors-accused Ottavio Quattrochi”. Now this is a purely political statement. Its easy to imagine Arun Jaitley or Narendra Modi making it….but Akbar??? I am surprised that Akbar appears to have forgotten that he is a noted journalist – committed to providing his readers incisive and truthful opinion – and not a blogger like me who is allowed to take a one-sided political line. In the past also, the one common thread in all of Akbar’s pieces is his anti-UPA line. Why doesn’t he then have the honesty to declare his dislike for the UPA upfront?

He then adds: “A clearly upset Supreme Court, acting on the intervention of Subramaniam Swamy, sabotaged this neat ploy; otherwise Mancini would have been dancing all the way back to another posting”. How does Akbar know the SC was “clearly upset” (it never offered any insights into its emotional mood)? How does he know that the SC “sabotaged” some plan; apparently a “neat” plan? Again, the basis of this assertion appears to be more his anti-UPA mindset and consequent affection for Subramaniam Swamy than anything more substantial.

Continuing to take his swipes at the UPA, Akbar finds another excuse to attack the PM. This time, using ex-foreign minister SM Krishna, for whom I never realized Akbar had so much regard. He writes: “The Prime Minister had no grounds for complaint against Krishna. Krishna faithfully implemented the PM’s soft line on Pakistan, despite the usual sequence of provocations”. And then he ends with “Why was Krishna dropped?” Aha. So its not real affection for Krishna (how can it be; Akbar’s affection is reserved only for the NDA); its just a round-about way to attack the PM. Soft line on Pakistan? Really? And what did the NDA do when it was in power? When, after the Parliamentary attacks, Vajpayee readily engaged Pakistan in a substantial dialogue with Musharraf and others? Did Akbar call it a soft line even then? Of course, he didn’t. How could he? His loyalty to the NDA forbade him from doing so.

As if this were not enough for one article, Akbar continues “Could it be that Congress needed a pliable foreign minister who could be trusted not only to collude with Italy in a delicate pirouette, but also to hold his tongue for all time in the future?” Collude with Italy? Hold his tongue in the future? C’mon – now this is just political rhetoric, nothing else. My simple question to Akbar is: Sir, on what grounds are you making this assertion? Can you please throw some light on the matter?

Akbar is also wrong when he writes “The surprise is that the Supreme Court proved so gullible”. The SC and other courts routinely release people on bail and parole. Many of them (thousands if a recent story in the TOI is to be believed) betray the trust of the courts. Does this mean that we should scrap the system itself or try to fix the loopholes? Because a few people run away, should we punish all the others and not allow them even the most basic of privileges that any civilized country affords its convicts? Akbar conveniently forgets that India and Italy have traditionally shared a good relationship; and diplomacy demands that we trust each others. The Italians could also be expected to be generous towards India in similar situations. The SC was not gullible, nor was it wrong. But its not as if Akbar doesn’t understand all this; he simply doesn’t want to acknowledge it given his anti-UPA mindset. The opportunity to lampoon the UPA is far too juicy for him to let go. Journalistic ethics be damned.

Its shocking how India’s journalists have chosen to take political sides. These days its easy to identify the line a journalist will take on a subject simply by knowing who the journalist is. If its Swapan Dasgupta, MJ Akbar or anyone from the India Today group, the line will be anti-UPA. If it is Vinod Sharma, Kumar Ketkar or anyone from the Outlook group, the line will be pro-UPA. What is going on here? As if the rot in our TV news business isn’t enough, is the same rot going to manifest itself in our newspapers also? If these noted gentlemen want to show us their political affiliations, then why don’t they just stop calling them journalists, and become bloggers instead?

The real truth is that more and more noted journalists are abusing their privileged public positions and taking political sides. They don’t even declare their biases; and pretend instead to be neutral observers who just happen to be taking a certain line. In doing so, they are cheating their readers. How good can a journalist be if he cannot even hold the trust of his readers? I wish Akbar didn’t go in this direction. I have always like him as a journalist and I hope it stays that way….

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