Last Sunday, I wrote about a celebrated editor, MJ Akbar’s unwavering anti-Congress mindset and how it affected his ability to be a professional journalist. This Sunday, I am writing about another celebrated journalist Swapan Dasgupta whose known – and intentionally unpublicized – BJP leanings often force him to make severe compromises with his otherwise brilliant skills as a journalist specializing in politics. I am referring specifically to his article in today’s Sunday TOI “Burning Lanka doesn’t always work out well”.
Almost all of Swapan’s analysis of the Lankan issue is correct. And almost all his political attacks are wrong. I agree with his statement “India’s foreign policy — a field that is the sole responsibility of the Centre”. That’s how it should be. I also agree when he says “The ire of Colombo will not be directed at the US which sponsored the resolution. Washington is too powerful and too remote for Sri Lanka to even attempt any meaningful retribution. The blow will fall on India. India’s economic and strategic interests in Sri Lanka will suffer and the beneficiary will be China” and “More to the point, India’s foreign policy will be perceived as wildly erratic and susceptible to sectional pressures, even of the disreputable variety.” So far so good. All this is indeed correct. China will benefit. India’s policy will be seen as being erratic. I also am with him when he asks “Would the Government have dared contemplate a resolution attacking China for its assault on Tibetan identity? Why did Parliament contemptuously repudiate the Pakistan National Assembly’s gratuitous resolution on Afzal Guru?”.
This far, it’s the noted journalist Swapan Dasgupta writing an analysis of how India mishandled the Sri Lanka issue at the UNHRC. But from this point on, Swapan goes downhill. He suddenly remembers that he owes it to his masters in the BJP that he write something denigrating the Congress. He cannot be seen as having lost an opportunity to attack the Grand Old Party in the country’s biggest English newspaper. So he suddenly changes tracks. Suddenly, his analysis goes haywire and his political obligations take over. Here are some bizarre statements from the piece
“This cynical grandstanding, aimed exclusively at preventing Congress stalwarts from losing their Lok Sabha seats at the next election, made India a laughing stock in the region.” Why was this just the Congress’s grandstanding. Why has he not called his favorite BJP leader, Narendra Modi’s great friend in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha’s demands also as grandstanding? Why has he not mentioned that actually both the Dravidian parties – DMK and AIADMK – were responsible for India becoming the laughing stock; that the Congress’s hand was really forced by their positions? For before the two parties raised the ruckus, the Congress had already decided to dilute the motion against Sri Lanka.
I would expect Swapan to appreciate the reality of politics in India; the compulsions that coalitions put on the principal party. What would he suggest the Congress should have done? Ignored its ally and done what it thought was best? In that case, wouldn’t Swapan have written a piece on how the Congress didn’t know how to handle allies, and how it mis-treats them? Is it Swapan’s point that the Congress should have sacrificed its government? Is that the way he suggests India should be governed in the future as well, when similar coalition structures are expected to continue? Should India go the Japan or Italy way with constantly changing governments? All so that the leading political party can claim that it “wont succumb to ally pressures”???
Swapan then goes completely political “That the UPA leadership chose to unsuccessfully placate the DMK which used the Sri Lankan Tamil issue as a ruse to sever an alliance that had otherwise become a liability is revealing.” And “It suggests that there already weak central command structure of the Government has become almost non-existent. The Government gives the appearance of being a replica of the later-Moghul Empire where a nominal badshah in Delhi lacked authority and was buffeted by different regional pressures.” Come come Swapan Dasgupta. You are sounding like an ordinary Indian who wanted India to take a more thoughtful stand at the UNHRC. But when this ordinary Indian reads your piece, he seeks enlightenment. An appreciation of the political challenges before the country, and your suggestions for how things could be better handled. But no where in your piece have you written about that. No where have you suggested what the Congress should have done. Should it have resisted pressures from the DMK and sacrificed its government? You will argue that the DMK has anyways walked out of the UPA, so what difference would it have made? Let me tell you – though I am no one to tell a shrewd analyst like you – that the Congress continues to woo the DMK not because of its present compulsions, but because it knows it will be forced to partner it again in 2014. Its chances of allying with the AIADMK are remote, given that party’s strong affinity for Narendra Modi. That’s why the Congress did the flip flop. I would have liked to read you analysis of the Congress’s compulsions, and admitted that your favorite party – the BJP – would have done no different.
And when you end your piece with “Elections may be a year away but more than ever India needs a government with a mandate. And, if possible, a Prime Minister with clout.”, you expose your real agenda. That you are writing on behalf of the BJP. That you are always on the lookout for a way to attack the PM. The PM’s clout has been demonstrated amply, but you choose to ignore it. You would rather say Vajpayee had clout, though he was unable even to restrain his own party’s hangman, Narendra Modi in Gujarat, and had to be satisfied by merely reminding him of his “raj dharma”. That was a resolute, powerful PM, but the present PM is a weakling for you. Why? Because he is not as good an orator as Modi? Or because he keeps a low profile? C’mon Swapan Dasgupta. Pull the wool out of your eyes and remove the wax from your ears…..you will become a better journalist….
The real truth is that Swapan is cheating his readers (and admirers….like me) when he allows his independence to be taken over by his political ambitions. He has a right to choose his politics. He has a right to write about them. But in a blog. Not in a newspaper. As a “friend of BJP”, not a noted editor. But if he insists on continuing, he should put out a disclaimer “This is the piece written by a BJP-supporting Swapan Dasgupta, not the noted journalist and editor”. That’s all….