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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 28, July 2, 2011

Why Not Engage In Some Self-Introspection?


Sunday 3 July 2011, by SC


In his opening remarks during his interaction on June 29 with five editors of a news agency and newspapers (representing the PTI, Business Standard, The Tribune, Divya Marathi of the DNA group and Nai Duniya)—all handpicked by the PM’s Media Adviser—Dr Manmohan Singh made the following observation:
I think that there is a growing perception that this government is in siege, that we have not been able to deliver on our agenda. An atmosphere has been created in the country—and this I say with all humility—the role of the media today in many cases has become that of the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge.

Having spelt this out, he declared: “... that way no parliamentary democracy can function...”

The question arises as to why the PM suddenly and needlessly chose to attack the media at the meet, something he had refrained from doing so earlier. Was he hustled into doing so by his media Adviser who has several personal scores to settle with sections of the media? (Recall how the gentleman abruptly intervened to prevent a noted TV anchor from asking a supplementary to Dr Manmohan Singh last February on the ground that “you can’t interrogate the PM” blissfully unaware of the hostile press that greeted V.P. Singh as the PM in 1990 much before he had even contemplated of implementing the Mandal Commission recommen-dations with a young reporter going to the length of dubbing him as a “dubious fellow”; in contrast the present PM has all along been treated most generously, with kid gloves if at all, by the media which at times has even fawned before him for no rhyme or reason.)

Be that as it may, by that statement the PM made it clear that (a) the government was totally beleaguered and on the defensive on the issue of corruption (which covered a large part of his opening remarks and which, it needs to be pointed out, influential segments of the media have been boldly exposing with relentless tenacity that merits unreserved acclaim and warm compliments but the PM failed to convey those), and (b) he wished the media to be more pliant and agree with his contention that while his dispensation was being “described as the most corrupt government”, what had taken place on the corruption front were just ”aberrations” (even though he was forced to also concede that “some events—the telecom scam, the Commonwealth Games—have caused genuine concern among large classes of middle class opinion that cannot be wished away”).

Many observers are of the view that the PM’s media interaction was a damp squib. One begs to differ. True, Dr Manmohan Singh did not say much that was not already known. But he did, perhaps inadvertently, confirm what had been suspected all along: the perception of distrust between Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as he himself had asked the IB to look into the issue of alleged bugging of the FM’s office and report directly to him without keeping Chidambaram in the loop.

On the Lokpal too he repeated his “personal view” (of keeping the PM within the ombudsman’s ambit) that was at variance with the position of his Cabinet colleagues (who did not want the PM to come under the Lokpal’s purview) but eventually it was the latter opinion which prevailed. However, just as his comments on corruption indicated his effort to downplay the evil (of course he did not go to the extent of brazenly characterising it as a global phenomenon as the late Indira Gandhi did in order to undermine the seriousness of the scourge, even if his stand on black money did highlight the same ‘global phenomenon’ theory), by maintaining that the Lokpal was no penacea for all our problems he did try to minimise its importance as well as the urgency to enact the Lokpal legislation thus revealing, once again, the distinct disconnect between the public perception and the government’s line of thinking and thereby the government’s growing alienation from the people.

At the same time his warning against the emergence of a “police state” bringing back the licence-permit raj “which we sought to abolish in 1991” while decrying the prevailing environment of cynicism in the country, strengthened by the media projection, was indeed most unfortunate as it was a direct attempt to pander to the corporate-driven media lobby. A political personality (which the PM is obviously not) would never have made such an allegation. By this he completely overlooked the mass revulsion on the issue of corruption which is the source of the cynicism he has talked about. The question that must be asked to Dr Manmohan Singh is: who is responsible for this environment of cynicism? It is here that the conduct of the government that the PM presides over—heightened by its inaction on issues of vital concern for the public at large (as, for example, price rise)—needs to be brought under close scrutiny.

The PM’s remarks at his interaction with the five editors compels one to issue a note caution: physician, heal thyself first before taking recourse to homilies, or else...

There should be an endeavour on behalf of the PM and his colleagues in the Union Cabinet to engage in at least some self-introspection over whatever has taken place in the last few months. Regrettably that was missing in Dr Singh’s public pronouncements at the meet.

June 30 S.C.

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