I was in Islamabad just this week for the first South Asia Media Summit, and was invited by PTV as a guest on its show Newsline, which is moderated by Pakistani news anchor Mariam Chowdhary.
Krishna Prasad, Editor-in-Chief, Outlook; Sarmad Ali, Managing Director Marketing and Advertising Sales, Jang Group and President of APNS; and two other prominent journalists were also on the show. We were discussing how media on each side of the border reports developments and how the sense of proportion goes out of the window while reporting on neighbours. Chowdhary referred to former Justice and present Press Council of India (PCI) Chief Markandey Katju and his utterances on Pakistan.
I jokingly mentioned that even we do not take Justice Katju seriously and that PCI has been a toothless tiger. I then started reflecting on this and Justice Katju’s various viewpoints and utterances, and the reaction he gets from politicians and Indian media.
Justice Katju has been accused of the foot-in-the-mouth disease and shooting his mouth a little too many times; but this time, he can be blamed of no such utterances. Why some parts of Indian media went after him could be because of their proximity and affinity to Arun Jaitley.
The PCI draft report on the state of media freedom and his opinion piece in The Hindu on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi are food for thought. He wrote, “It is said by his supporters that Modi had no hand in the killings, and it is also said that he had not been found guilty by any court of law. I do not want to comment on our judiciary, but I certainly do not buy the story that Modi had no hand in the events of 2002. He was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time when horrible events happened on such a large scale. Can it be believed that he had no hand in them? At least I find this impossible to believe.”
Even I find it hard to believe.
That’s not all. Justice Katju has even challenged Modi's claim that during his tenure the state has registered spectacular growth.
When Leader of the Opposition and prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley finds faults in Justic Katju and says, “Should not a former judge who currently occupies a quasi-judicial office as Chairman of the Press Council of India, either quit before actively participating in politics or be sacked? Retired judges must remember that the rental for occupying a Lutyen’s bungalow post-retirement has to be political neutrality, no political participation”, he is best reminded that Justice Katju is also, after all, a citizen of the country. One cannot find faults with the fact that he has all the right to articulate his thoughts.
It almost seems strange, Jaitley perturb, that Katju has gone ahead and found loopholes in the goody-goody picture drawn by the BJP, as far as Gujarat’s development is concerned. It is also of much interest that the Opposition Leader has found no documentary evidence to put up against opinions placed on the table by Katju, the private citizen, instead has resorted to mudslinging.
On the other hand, the questions, the rationale and opinions that Katju has forwarded are based on facts. Who’s Jaitley to question him, I say.
Here’s a stark example of the post-Godhra riots that Katju has raised in The Hindu: “Let me (Katju) give just one example. Ehsan Jafri was a respected, elderly former Member of Parliament living in the Chamanpura locality of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. His house was in the Gulbarga Housing Society, where mostly Muslims lived. According to the recorded version of his elderly wife Zakia, on February 28, 2002 a mob of fanatics blew up the security wall of the housing society using gas cylinders. They dragged Ehsan Jafri out of his house, stripped him, chopped off his limbs with swords and burnt him alive. Many other Muslims were also killed and their houses burnt. Chamanpura is barely a kilometre from a police station, and less than two kilometres from the Ahmedabad Police Commissioner’s office. Is it conceivable that the Chief Minister did not know what was going on?”
Indeed, how ‘more factual’ can you get?
It is pretty unfortunate that a senior leader of the stature Jaitley is held in, has had to stoop to the levels of issuing harsh and unpleasant statements against Katju, and even politicising the affair – Jaitley has dubbed the former Justice “more Congress than Congress”.
One can only wonder that if the BJP can target a renowned person who also happens to be the PCI Chairman, what would have happened if an ordinary citizen of the country had raised the same questions that Katju raised. Even, then Prime Minister and a saner voice within the BJP, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who has gone silent since then, has expressed his shame and regret over the Godhra riots – it’s time the rest of the BJP accepts the truth.
It’s just not enough that the BJP continues to present a larger-than-life picture of Modi and tom-toms Gujarat’s development but at the cost of what? Inclusive growth? Democracy? Over the bodies of the innocent lives lost in the 2002 Gujarat riots? Please, I implore, give us a break. We have had enough!
Jaitley unleashing a war of words against Katju and the rest of the BJP following suite, only reminds us how intolerant our society has become, when a mere statement of facts is misconstrued as bias. What is it? Is it that the BJP is afraid that its prime ministerial candidate’s position will be weakened?
There is other side of the coin too. And that is dictated by the people and not by any political bantering. While what Justice Katju says about Modi may be right and only his own assessment, the fact that Modi has seen – and emerged victorious – three elections in Gujarat since 2002 cannot be the yardstick to measure his role in the pogrom. We all know how elections can be rigged in this country and we all also know the tenacity of the people of Gujarat in letting the past sleep and surging ahead. I have travelled extensively in the state and know how the Gujaratis value a new day, a surer road ahead to the future, and development is in their DNA. It is indeed a land when opportunities are something people look forward to and know how to make their best use.
By this very fact, just because European countries have showed a willingness to do business with Modi does not mean that he has been exonerated or that the countries are forgetting his for his past since. It’s just that other nations see the opportunity that serves their interest in the opportunities that the Gujaratis so much believe in.
Jaitley has further accused Katju of selectively targeting non-Congress governments in order to please those who gave him a post-retirement sinecure. That is a blatant falsehood. For one, the PCI Chairman has been critical of governments and political leaders, irrespective of which party they belonged to. Last year, when asked about corruption allegations, the Himachal Pradesh Congress Chief Virbhadra Singh threatened to break the cameras of TV reporters, the PCI Chairman slammed the rising intolerance of politicians toward a critical media and pointed to Singh’s “ugly display of temper” as the latest example.
Secondly, successive governments have been known to appoint retired judges to various statutory posts. Jaitley must remember that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance regime was quite generous in this regard.
Perhaps Justice Katju’s remarks come at an electioneering time. Perhaps what has stung the BJP most is that he dared to take on a figurehead who is surely to lead them to the forthcoming elections. Perhaps Modi is the only leader the BJP sees who could be elevated to the post and no one else.
Perhaps Justice Katju is right in accusing Jaitley of being “reckless”, of resorting to remarks “most unbefitting of a person who claims to be of his stature”.
The debate is still on and is out there in the public domain. If the BJP thinks that raising a stink over Katju’s remarks will in any way change the voting pattern in the coming elections, it is far, far away from the truth. It must realise, no slander, no brickbat, no accusations, no mudslinging, no twisting of the truth will change the electorate’s mood. It’s a little late in the day.