My former editor at the Indian Express and later disinvestment minister Arun Shourie had a favourite phrase about those suffering from delusions of grandeur, and not having their priorities right, he would say that the person's sense of proportion was amiss. And he knew a thing or two about journalists and journalism. On Tuesday morning I saw the most incongruous story plastered on page 1 of the tabloid Mail Today. And what a news call it was. On a day when the entire country and media was seized by the failing monsoon and its import on India's struggling economy, Mail Today went with World Bank says global economy will shrink but not China and India's - India to grow faster than China by 2010. Kal Kisne Dekha? Ask Vashu and Jacky Bhagnani that same question and they will probably be squirming under a stone. But clairvoyance is an art form and extra sensory perception an even greater faculty. On a high density news day, this choice of lead written by someone called R Srinivasan intrigued me. Even more interestingly, Headlines Today from the same stable as Mail Today realised the import of the failing monsoon story and ran it right through the day. But that is to Headlines Today helmsman Rahul Kanwal's credit. He picked up the ball and ran hard with it.
Times of India led with Monsoon Fading: El Nino may hit UPA growth curve. TOI also had a Delhi budget story, an impending petro product price hike story, Air India's travails, Sarko on the burqa and many more good stories making up a solid page 1. HT too had a good story on the elusive rains on page 1, though it deserved better display. Now Mail Today is a Delhi specific tabloid. I guess the city budget would be important to the readers of the paper. The Air India story would definitely make for interesting reading, given that there is so much juice in it. I remember Ajmer Singh's hit job on Indian's (Airlines) CMD, my friend Vishwapati Trivedi when the paper was launched and this scuttled his chances of becoming the CMD of the unified National Aviation Company of India Ltd. To choose a World Bank report which is basing its assumptions on something as long way off as 2012 was truly bizarre.TOI and HT (page 1) also carried the WB report, but they didn't go to town on it. They reported it, without a byline mind you!
Mail Today devoted two full pages to the WB story, while there was no sign of the monsoon failing in the paper. Instead there was a rehash of an Edelweiss report and generally the usual mish mash on the business pages. What does a failing monsoon mean for India? As of Tuesday, I have learnt from authoritative sources in the ministry of earth sciences that the all India rainfall is 52 per cent deficient. As many as 28 of the 36 metreological sub divisions have recorded negative rainfall. Now all is not lost for July and August make up for as much as 76 per cent of India's total rainfall while 24 per cent or thereabouts comes in June and September. Last year India delivered a bumper wheat harvest which had a salutry effect on global gangbuster wheat prices and cooled the entire marketplace. Again I must take recourse to stats - 65 per cent of the kharif crop is rain fed, so think of the complications that a failed monsoon will have on India and its economy.
Jairam Ramesh who I have known for sometime once explained the import of India's monsoon. It doesn't matter whether it rains in Mumbai or Delhi. Yes, it helps in the power and water situation, but temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall in the key areas of cultivation is what matters. The efficacy and timing of rainfall patterns in key rain fed areas offers vitality to the farmers. I guess over the next couple of weeks, just about everyone will be looking skywards to see if Indradev smiles at his praja in India. I know that weather forecasters in India are getting the heebie jeebies over the disappearance of rain. While El Nino and La Nina, little boy and little girl are being blamed for the tragedy, the reality is that in 2004, it poured in June and then the rain vanished in the crucial months that followed leaving everyone to yank his or her hair out. In 2002 we had the last real drought. Agri numbers were dismal and GDP growth for the year collapsed. I think that was the last year when GDP numbers for the full year were below 5 per cent. So, we know what kind of thin ice we are treading on. Let me also reiterate that 2007-08 saw agri reporting excellent numbers, closer to 4.9 per cent. The last quarter we were bailed out by robust rabi crop numbers 2.7 per cent which saved the day for the full year, garnering 1.6 per cent or so. I don't want to sound a like a prophet of doom here, but Houston we could have a problem on our hands very soon if the rains don't show up. I guess the Lord Jagannath yatra begins tomorrow and as a rule, it pours buckets around that time.
Mail Today does a reasonable job otherwise, on Tuesday, it had a good package on the BJP's trials and tribulations, it has good grip on entertainment news and its daily thematic pages - finance, health, femail et al are all sound. It loses its way in business. Most of the top deck are ex HT (pre-Chaitanya Kalbag era variety) and are reliable deck hands. Its strength is sport where it scores over everyone else. Its Beijing Olympic Games coverage stood out. The paper has a good touch and feel and it is consumed well as a family newspaper. Its news calls aren't always right, but the tabloid format may well be a deterrent in this regard as one big story will have to be told everyday. But Tuesday's news judgement was a poor call and it marred the paper. You might argue that everyone can have a bad day, after all the Indian cricket team, worldbeaters and all that sank without a trace in the recent T20 World Cup.
The weather men are anticipating the worst, I hope it starts raining soon around where Mail Today is housed to understand how severe the situation is in the rest of the country. Particularly in the granaries of Bharat which provide us with food.
(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.)