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Retrofit: Of news coverage and theatre of the absurd

Guest Column
Retrofit: Of news coverage and theatre of the absurd

Author | Sandeep Bamzai | Wednesday, Nov 11,2009 8:11 AM

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Guest Column<br>Retrofit: Of news coverage and theatre of the absurd

I guess it is good to be a peacenik in these troubled times, particularly when our neighbourhood is practically on fire. But then again, there needs to be some rational food for thought. Won’t you say? Yes, India and Pakistan need to be on the same page, but that is unthinkable as long as Pakistan ‘wages war’ on India. Am I being too intolerant? No, I don’t think so. For the wave of furious indignation that spread across the country after the 26/11 attacks has left indelible scars on the face of our psyche. The sheer trauma has been thrown into stark relief with the mind numbing coverage from the news telly guys.

Now, as we approach the first anniversary of 26/11, Pakistan’s vacuous response to our dossiers has infuriated us further. It makes mockery of our efforts to bring the culprits to book. Surely the Pakistani establishment must be laughing at us. We seem so helpless. Lives were lost, blood was spilt, our collective psyche was brutalised, and sadly, we have nothing to show for it, barring Ajmal Kasab, the key perpetrator of the coordinated attack. Despite having him in our captivity, we are unable to convince a blase Pakistan about their hand in the deed.

Yes, civil society would probably like to engage with Pakistan, but I am not sure whether even they would like to continue do so against the backdrop of 26/11 and their shenanigans thereafter.

When a senior journalist like Vinod Sharma of the Hindustan Times goes on national television (Lok Sabha TV) and talks of banality of the highest order, you begin to wonder whether any sanity is left around you. Sharma, in a discussion that I saw the other evening, wants India to engage Pakistan in a three-tiered dialogue, if you please. He wants Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) to talk to ISI, the Indian military to talk to the Pakistan Army, even as the Government of India talks to its Pakistani counterparts. Now this is the most incredulous suggestion that I have heard in a long time. It beats Prem Shankar Jha’s amazing hypothesis in the Hindustan Times, where he articulated that if His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, visited Tawang (which he did the other day), China would go to war with India. On Tuesday night as I write this, China is still to invade India.

Talk about incongruity. In school, we had these Height of so and so jokes, which used to do the circuit and keep everyone in good spirits. If Vinod Sharma’s amazing insight wasn’t so serious, I would have been rolling in the aisles. RAW opening a dialogue with the ISI and the Indian Army lining up to speak to the Pakistan Army. What next? Surrender?

Given the Pakistan Government’s unbecoming conduct and filibustering on 26/11, no sane analyst would recommend such a move. Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan included Kashmir, and when he wasn’t able to poach it, he sent the Afridis to take over the Valley. That festering sore has ensured that the edifice of Pakistan’s creation remains flawed. Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah’s secular ideals meant that Kashmir stayed firmly ensconced with India. But Pakistan cannot and does not understand this. It cannot accept India in its present avatar. We cannot give away Kashmir and so Pakistan continues to use the death by a thousand cuts stratagem against India.

We have fought wars since, superficial congeniality may have existed over the years, but the umbilical cord snapped with the brazen 26/11 attacks. Pakistan does not want to address the real issues that India has raised over the attack, it chooses to quibble over semantics – state actors versus non-state actors. It offers counter arguments like India being the sponsor of Taliban, I mean how absurd can it get in the biggest theatre of the absurd – Pakistan. So, Mr Peacenik, please ply your trade elsewhere, I don’t see a seething RAW or the Army taking part in a multi-tiered dialogue with Pakistan. We have tried everything – composite dialogue, confidence building measures, opened the road to Muzzafarabad – but what is Pakistan’s response? Zilch, nada, cipher. Agreed that all journos have their biases, including me, but the nation state overrides everything. I don’t know how many people watched this particular show and what their reaction to the programme was, but seriously, peaceniks need to wake up and smell the coffee on the eve of the first bitter harvest of 26/11.

Talking of incongruity and taking it to the next level of incompetence was another story that appeared in Hindustan Times last week. When I saw it first thing in the morning, bleary eyed I almost reached for the Atlas. Ireland was the subject of the treatise and I wondered why it had been given so much space in a national newspaper’s news pages. Editorial space is at a premium, isn’t it? More so when newsprint prices have begun their climb northwards yet again. Anyway, the headline was most apt – it said: ‘Desperate in Dublin - citizens grope in a ravaged economy’. Was the author, Gautam Chikermane, desperate in Dublin? Mr Chadda in Lajpat Nagar or Talwarji in GK-2 must have been as curious as I was that smoggy morning. I was reminded of what my famous editor and later Minister for Disinvestment, Arun Shourie, had once told me about someone – his sense of proportion is definitely amiss, he had said. And so was Chikermane and HT’s last week when they carried this piece.

The long and rambling piece on Ireland’s economy threw me into a tizzy, hey what is the connection with India, why are you writing this piece? I thought to myself, perhaps the head of state from Ireland was on the verge of visiting India, so this was part of some build-up campaign. In any case, Ireland is not exactly the US or Russia or Iran or even the UK. Maybe there was some strategic reason which I couldn’t fathom.

Strange seemed the wrong choice of word for a story which appeared on the front page of the business section with a huge turn inside. How did the editor let a story like this go? Did anyone check the story and its content before giving it the generous display that it got? One passage in the story deals with unemployment in Ireland, has the writer dealt with the same subject in the Indian context? I wish he had, for I get calls from people who I know who want a job or are seeking employment for their relatives who have been hit hard by the downturn in India. Another passage deals with suicides. Vidarbha or Andhra, anyone? The whole thing mystified me. As I said earlier, everyone has biases and everyone has done the odd plant, but Ireland in circa 2009 has me totally stumped. For I didn’t understand the provocation to carry this bizarre article.

This is how it begins: “For a country that ranks 11 in terms of its $45,000 per capita income (more than 15 times of India’s) the credit crisis-hit Ireland is, like its November weather, a gloomy-grey picture of government mismanagement and banker-developer greed. The victims: average people — laid-off workers, scrambling small businessmen, conservative shoppers. The 43-year-old Peter O’Hara (name changed) is the dark face of everything that has gone wrong in this island nation. The O’Hara story: I was a manager in a design company. In our company 60 per cent of the 300 workers are unemployed. The large profits the firm was making turned to no profits and then to losses. The sector was a major employer and we were building 100,000 homes a year. The government continued giving tax breaks to developers, who got almost free money from banks.”

Talwarji in Lajpat Nagar or Chaddaji in GK-2, who also bothered to read this insightful piece on the Irish economy that fateful morning, must be equally stumped at this lengthy treatise. It tells you where media is headed. Look at Mail Today, which is on a red hot streak these days – Madhu Koda, followed by Suresh Kalmadi being marginalised in the Commonwealth Games organising committee financial decisions, followed by the Manu Sharma news break. Yes, red hot.

All is not lost, it’s been a rollercoaster week ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime.

(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir.

The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)

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