Monday, July 30, 2007

Essaying India's Media (A): India v. Media

Etymology of the word ESSAY: 1597, "short non-fiction literary composition" (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from M.Fr. essai "trial, attempt, essay," from L.L. exagium "a weighing, weight," from L. exigere "test," from ex- "out" + agere apparently meaning here "to weigh." The suggestion is of unpolished writing. Essayist is from 1609. The more literal verb meaning "to put to proof, test the mettle of" is from 1483; this sense has mostly gone with the divergent spelling assay (q.v.).

Gentler souls have often dissuaded me from writing about the Media: apparently, it is one of the “Three Holy Cows” of Indian society that mustn’t dare be criticized (the other two, if you’re interested, are the Judiciary and Religion- in that order); consequently, the ideal relationship- infact, the only relationship- one can have with the media has got to be one of abject adulation: with one’s lips firmly puckered to its butt even if it decides with all solemnity to shit all over one’s face.

Forgive the scatological imagery but I’ve been there only too often to know what I’m talking about: even before the Central Bureau of Implication (more commonly known as the CBI) charged me with murdering a political-nobody whom I hadn’t heard of before, a news channel, Aaj Tak, had graphically shown me- or atleast an actor who was suppose to look like me- committing the crime in cold blood in its popular primetime program “Hatyara Kaun?” (Who is the Killer?). I suppose it doesn’t make any difference that the Court ultimately acquitted me after I had spent exactly one year locked up in jail. I mean what’s a person’s life compared to TRPs, right?

There are those who see this phenomenon- of a hyperactive media- as Progress: the Fourth Estate, after all, gives Voice to the People. That is indeed true. But the more important question is what kind of ‘people’- and why?

To understand, let’s look back at the last Lok Sabha Election (2004). The mainstream media was unanimous in its prediction that the NDA would return to power with an absolute majority; as a corollary, its rival, the UPA, was slated to be wiped out. When the exact opposite happened, the erudite journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, then political correspondent of NDTV, introspected that ‘it was the duty of the media to disbelieve; and we didn’t’. Disbelieve who?

I suppose he meant politicians. Or more specifically, the propaganda-machinery headed by the late Pramod Mahajan with its hard-selling of the NDA’s “India Shining” campaign. This machinery was cleverly named ‘National News Service’ (NNS) when infact it functioned solely as the ‘NDA’s News Service’. For one thing, it had more professional journalists and reporters on its payrolls than any other news organization in the nation (the Times of India group included). In Chhattisgarh, for instance, it was headed by Ramesh Nayyar, a former editor with the Chandigarh Tribune. Many, like my father, considered him to be the very embodiment of Nehruvian Socialism. After his stint with NNS, he has now become the principal ideologue of Dr. Raman Singh’s government.

NNS had seemingly unlimited resources and a remarkably sophisticated infrastructure at its command to conduct its massive media-blitzkrieg: Feel Good comprised only one part of its operation; a far more lethal side involved making its enemies Feel- and look- Bad. Its CCTV-wired hi-tech headquarters located on the third floor of Delhi’s posh Dhawandeep Apartment building were filled with dossiers containing damaging propaganda on virtually anyone who was considered a threat to the NDA: ‘target-specific’ websites mushroomed in seconds; passwords were hacked and emails intercepted; a virtual cyber war was waged. Even more curiously, millions were raised from the ‘Overseas Friends of the BJP’ and other similar sounding associations of sympathetic NRIs: this extraordinary largesse might well be symptomatic of an émigré’s effort to ‘rationalize’ (again, forgive the Freudian analysis) a deep-rooted sense of guilt- a feeling that springs from having left one’s Motherland for a better life elsewhere- by funneling money into the BJP’s oft-voiced ultra-patriotic agenda of making India ‘Great’ (presumably by annexing Pakistan, Srilanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Afghanistan into an amalgam called ‘Akhand Bharat’).

More conventionally, hundreds of crores of rupees were spent on buying ‘television talktime’, and ‘coverage space’ in the print media. All of this with one very convenient rider: they weren’t suppose to be shown as paid-advertisements; but as neutral, objective ‘news’, ‘surveys’ and ‘exit polls’. Any reference to their being sponsored was reduced to fine print one could barely read; later, many news organizations dispensed with even this fig-leaf.

Under these circumstances, it would be foolish to expect the media- well, most of it anyway- not to simply play along. Unfortunately for the NNS, the People didn’t.


Now, supposing that the media provides the interface between the People and their politicians, telling the former what to think and the latter what to do, the Lok Sabha results meant that the People were simply not taking this carpet-bombardment of ‘news’, ‘surveys’ and ‘exit polls’ seriously: after all, they didn’t do what the media was telling them to do, i.e., vote back the NDA to power. For a majority of Indians, most of who continue to live outside cities, “India Shining” didn’t make any sense at all: many of them genuinely believed that six years of NDA’s rule had led to their pauperization; to put it differently, the rich had gotten richer while the poor had been, well, forgotten.

It was the media’s job to tell this to Mr. Mahajan. It didn’t. Instead, it believed Mr. Mahajan’s NNS machinery, and parroted word for word what he was saying. Maybe, this was because the media itself had no idea how the people really felt?

Here, let’s stop to look at the United States, where Gallup Polls are far a more evolved ‘science’: in 2000, barring Rupert Murdoch’s ‘conservative’ media-empire (including the Fox TV network), everybody had predicted an Al Gore win; likewise, most of the ‘liberal media’ was not in favor of President George W. Bush’s comeback in 2004. The Economist sought to explain this ‘disjunction’- between the Press and the People of the world’s sole superpower- in terms of: ‘exurbias’. A vast majority of those who lined up to vote for ‘W.’ didn’t live in the big cities: they lead self-contented, some might say insular, lives in nice, little, self-contained townships that are coming up all over North America. Sociologists see this phenomenon as part of the larger ‘exodus’ from big, overcrowded, over-polluted, crime-infested, possibly even ‘immoral’ cities, and a yearning to return to the Jeffersonian vision of yore (as opposed to the Hamiltonian one); hence, I guess, the term exurbias. The genius of Mr. Bush’s campaign team- and more specifically, its manager, Karl Rove- lies in identifying and ‘reaching out’ to these extremely significant entities who were in a way fleeing the negative effects of ‘the liberal ethos’ that has come to grip most big cities, and which were largely neglected by the mainstream media.

As it turns out, this explanation provides a rather perceptive insight into the predicament of India’s Press. All that needs to be done is to replace the term ‘exurbia’ with ‘villages’ and ‘townships’. While India may live- or which is more likely, die- in her villages, its media is ensconced in the cool comforts of its blooming cities. Editors who shot to fame telling the world about starvation deaths in remote parts of Assam are now happily pontificating on the virtues of goose liver making the best foie gras. Perhaps, it would be unfair to blame them entirely for this. The fact is that news about what’s happening outside the metros doesn’t sell. It’s simply not profitable for the corporations, who now own most of the media and almost certainly, cough-up all of its advertisement-revenue (next only to Government- which fact led Noam Chomsky to call media ‘bludgeons of democratic governments’): how many villagers, after all, are rushing to buy Coca Cola when they have to worry about getting work to pay for their next meal?

One boy gets himself stuck in a well in a town near Delhi on a Sunday (which is a relatively ‘news-free’ day), and the entire national media goes agog: in minutes, crores of rupees are generated in SMSs and ‘relief funds’. On the other hand, hundreds of tribals are being killed in the Dantewada district of south Bastar since the inception of Salwa Judum in 2005, and the nation’s biggest magazine- India Today- hasn’t had one word to say about it to date.

Truth be told, there are two Indias really; and the one the media now caters to isn’t the one in which most of our fellow citizens live. In other words, the mainstream media is no longer representative of the nation.

And if that is so, then what- or whom- does the media represent?


End of Part One
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Village Diary Preview: Pictures from Tala

Note: I am grateful to Mr. SNT, Mr. Anuj Sharma and Mr. Ardhendu Mukherjee for the following photographs from their one-day visit to see me at Tala; Dr. Saibel Farishta has written his account of the trip, which can be read on his blog.

L-R: SNT, Saibel, Self, Ardhendu at the entrance to the Garba Grha of the Devrani Temple, 29.07.07

Rudra Siva as seen by Ardhendu Mukherjee, 29.07.07

A Room with a View: A Donga on the Maniyari

Self aboard the Donga (also seen: the MLA Mr. Siyaram Kaushik's back, Gopal Aggrawal and the village sarpanch's back)

Tour Guide: Self explaining the intricacies of an early Haihaya sculptor to the Chhattisgarhi superhero, Anuj Sharma (seen here in his underpants) and the BAG correspondent, Ardhendu Mukherjee

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Personal: A Letter to the RSS & its Reply

The current edition of the RSS publication, ORGANISER (July 8, 2007), editorialises on the UPA Government's alleged 'bailing out' of its political supporters. Both my father and me are cited as examples of this. As anyone who has been following this blog knows only too well, this is not true.

I, therefore, wrote a letter to the Editor of Organiser, Mr. R. Balashankar, giving him the factual position. He has been gracious enough to reply. Below is the full text of this correspondence.


Sent: Saturday, July 14, 2007 10:54 AM
Subject: ref: This regime is about bailing out swindlers

Dear Sir,

With respect to your editorial (This regime is about bailing out swindlers), there is no truth in the assertion that "Ajit Jogi and his son are other beneficiaries of such mercy". For the record, I was arrested by the CBI on 1st July, 2005- well after the UPA had come to power. As the agency's chargesheet shows, all 'evidence' allegedly recorded against me was also done after the formation of the UPA government. No stone was left unturned by the agency in its prosecution- persecution?- against me: an audio tape recording of the case's Investigating Officer, Mr. AGL Kaul, offering bribes to a person to turn approver against me exemplifies this spirit of witch-hunt. Not only this, I was named in the Judeo case chargesheet by the CBI while I was languishing in jail (needless to mention, the UPA was still in power at the time). Ironically, no action whatsoever was taken against me when the NDA was still in power!

My acquittal, therefore, has nothing to do with 'acts of mercy' by the UPA. It was a decision of the court based on unimpeachable documentary evidence (which the CBI did its best to suppress). On the contrary the CBI under the UPA did everything in- and beyond- its power to see that I was locked up for life.

Amit Aishwarya Jogi

Anugrah, Raipur

From: editor
Date: Monday, July 16, 2007 3:44 PM
Subject: ref: This regime is about bailing out swindlers

Dear Amit Jogi,

Thanks for your mail. I stand corrected. There was no intention of malise (sic). I can understand the agony of an (sic) young and upcoming political activist caught up in a legal impasse. And also appreciate the fact that you are a free man after a due process of law. I wish you all the best and I will carry your response in the next issue of our publication.

Thanks and regards.

R Balashankar,
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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


A recently cyclostyled letter, circulated by the Hon’ble Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mr. Lal Krishna Advani, among members of Parliament and state legislatures (who constitute the electoral college for the presidential election), contains his party’s by-now clichéd recitation of charges against the UPA presidential candidate, Ms. Pratibha Patil, and ends with a plea ‘to exercise a vote of conscience’ in favor of the incumbent Vice President, Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. He clarifies that any defiance of a party policy-decision does not come under the purview of the Anti-defection Act since, technically speaking, parties cannot issue whips in a presidential election; ergo, if a member of the UPA decides to vote for Mr. Shekhawat, he can do so with impunity.

Poison Pen
Now, this is the same man who only three-and-a-half years ago had condemned my- and my father’s- alleged role in attempting to split the newly-elected BJP legislative party in Chhattisgarh in what is more commonly referred to as ‘the cash-for-MLA exposé’, as “the darkest chapter in India’s democratic history”. Apparently, the abovementioned logic of technicalities didn’t seem to apply in those days. It is worth mentioning that the Anti-defection Act, as it then stood, recognized the legality of a split if the number of defecting MLAs exceeded one-third of the party’s total legislative strength; so, technically speaking, had 17 tribal members of the BJP decided to form their own separate outfit yielding to their conscience-call to elect a tribal chief minister, they could also have done so with impunity.

In this respect, the letter written by my father in his capacity as the then leader of the state Congress legislative party, extending support to this hypothetical breakaway faction of the BJP, cannot be considered any different from Mr. Advani’s own letter inciting UPA members to cross-vote: at the time of their writing, both letters sought to ‘embolden’ elected-representatives to defy their respective party-lines on the basis of ‘conscience’; and neither attracted the punitive provisions of law. Yet, for some peculiar reason, Mr. Advani puts his letter on the pedestal of collective conscience while condemning my father’s.

Something About Living in Glass Houses
While Mr. Advani, and his principal-polemist, Mr. Arun Shourie, are more than happy to launch a comprehensive assault on Ms. Patil’s past, his letter doesn’t tell us one very important thing: why exactly should one vote for Mr. Shekhawat? Perhaps, Mr. Advani believes that by putting Ms. Patil in the dock, his own candidate would, by contrast, come across as ‘holier than thou’. That ofcourse would be the most obvious explanation. But there are two other, far more disturbing, reasons.

kahin pé nigahein, kahin pé nishana?

First, the vitriolic against Ms. Patil is intended to deflect attention from the nation’s biggest political story: the END of the NDA. As things stand today, with the exception of the Akali Dal, the BJP’s coalition partner in the Punjab, all of NDA’s former allies have jumped ship. The UNPA, a new political ‘third front’ comprising most of NDA’s ousted regional allies, has decided to abstain.

Secondly, Mr. Advani’s diatribe is also intended to conjure a diversion from Mr. Shekhawat’s not-so-illustrious past. It would seem that at the time when the young Ms. Patil, and her future husband’s family (also, Shekhawati like the Vice President) were fighting our British suzerains, the equally youthful Mr. Shekhawat, then a hot-blooded policeman in the service of the Raj, was busy raining lathi-blows on them. For this, he was duly rewarded with a promotion. There are those who might be tempted to argue that he was only doing his duty. Alternatively, they could adopt his friend and former Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s defense. When confronted with his approver’s testimony, which, as it turned out, landed at least six freedom fighters in jail for a term of 10 years R.I. (rigorous imprisonment), the great man proclaimed: “jawani ka adhkacharapan tha” (it was youth’s folly).

Youth’s Folly might also be used to justify Mr. Shekhawat’s subsequent acts. Not too long after ‘the stroke of the midnight hour when…India awoke to freedom’, he was caught red-handed taking bribe for letting a caravan of local salt-merchants pass through a toll-tax checkpost near Sikar. Needless to say, this act unwittingly transformed him into an avant garde trendsetter for things to come: Mr. Shekhawat is, in all probability, the first policeman to be suspended for corruption in our nation’s post-colonial history. Thereupon, in what appears to be the fulfillment of Oscar Wilde’s prophesy that ‘politics is the last resort of scoundrels’, he entered public life, and climbed his way to eventually become Rajasthan's chief minister.

Rajasthan, as we all know, is an arid state. To this day, its major lifeline continues to be the Indira Gandhi Canal. To build this intricate network of waterways, private land had to be possessed. Needless to say, compensation was also paid. One such person to whom compensation was paid happened to be the nephew of the then chief minister. There was only one problem: he didn’t own the land for which he received payment. The issue was raised in the Vidhan Sabha. In his reply to the House, the chief minister claimed that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had investigated the matter, and found nothing in it. Again, nothing wrong with this answer except that the CBI was never asked by anyone (Government of Rajasthan included) to look into this affair. Not only had the chief minister deliberately misled the Assembly to save his nephew’s skin, he had also perjured himself before the People.

Doesn’t it seem ironical- even unfortunate- that atleast two men who collaborated actively with the British to send their countrymen- freedom fighters, no less- to jail should go on to occupy two of our nation’s highest political offices whereas those who they got imprisoned are conveniently forgotten, erased from history, as if they never existed; that a man who willfully perjured himself to indulge in shameless nepotism now aspires to the Office of President of our Republic?

Even more perplexing, is the now-deafening silence of Ms. Patil’s backers. It would be ridiculous to attribute credence to Mr. Advani’s fictionalized ‘chargesheet’ against her. Apropos her role as chairperson of a district cooperative, the following facts need to be noted: one, she is NOT the founder of the district cooperative society, as has been alleged; two, no loan was sanctioned to any of her relatives during her tenure as chairperson; three, it is true that three of her relatives had defaulted on their loans, but as every agriculturist knows only too well that given the vagaries of monsoons, such things are not only commonplace in our rural hinterland but to construe them as ‘illegal’ is akin to calling all our nation’s farmers robbers; four, all three did repay the full loan-amount with interest, as far back as 1999; five, Ms. Patil’s cooperative was among 181 others in the region that were closed, so surely there were other more universal factors, such as crop-failure, in operation.

Six, the complaint-case now pending before the Bombay High Court regarding Ms. Patil’s husband’s alleged role in the death of a school principal is outrightly bizarre: in his so-called suicide note, the deceased alludes to the fact that he had written several letters to Mr. Shekhawat (Ms. Patil’s husband), who was the chairperson of the school’s Educational Trust, requesting a transfer, but to no avail. Now, while the death itself is unfortunate, surely Mr. Shekhawat receives several correspondences of such nature, and he cannot be prosecuted under section 304(B) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)- enticement to commit suicide- for not responding favorably to one of these requests. Lastly, another complaint-case has very recently been filed before the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court seeking institution of proceedings under section 302 (IPC)- murder- by the widow of a rival district-level Congressman. While judgment is awaited, the timing of this complaint is itself suspect: what was the aggrieved party doing all this time; why did she decide to file the complaint only after Ms. Patil’s name came up for President?

Are Umpires always Right?
In all this, the role of the Media has been, for lack of a better word, one-sided. Rather than simply report the allegations against Ms. Patil as they ought to have done, most editorialists (with the notable exception of The Hindu and The Outlook) hastily went on to pronounce verdict against her, thereby becoming parties to the conflict. Now, it is a fundamental principle of civilization that ‘a person is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty’. As things stand, Ms. Patil has not been deemed guilty by any court of law, and as the preceding paragraph shows, there is very little chance of that happening. This reminds me of the pre-poll surveys conducted by the nation’s mainstream media in 2004, when all of them showed the NDA as getting a clear-cut majority in the Lok Sabha election. When the results were out, and it was clear that the UPA will form its government, Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai, then with NDTV, introspected thus: “as the media, our primary duty is to disbelieve; the fact is we didn’t.” Even a newspaper like The Indian Express, which prides itself for its ‘journalism of courage’, failed in this primary duty, dutifully publishing word for word what the BJP fed it.

There could ofcourse be another reason for this pervasive (if not perverse) lack of disbelief. With the old-school ‘Nehruvian’ generation of journalists long gone, and the current crop of editorialists completing their metamorphoses from socialists to socialites, could it just be possible that a significant majority of the new breed secretly sports khaki-shorts under their carefully-creased trousers?

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On Forgiveness: Reginald Jeremiah

Et Tu...
A certain amount of post-acquittal exuberance, edging perhaps towards a nascent-belligerence, is understandable: the Trial Court’s decision to initiate proceedings under section 194 of the Indian Penal Code- i.e., “giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence”- against a former college mate, Reginald Jeremiah, must therefore be seen in this context. After dealing at considerable length with his deposition, the hon’ble Court finally arrived at the following surmise in paragraph 452 of its mammoth Judgment:

“[In this way,] the evidence of Reginald Jeremiah (PW-85), who is an approver against a co-accused, is extremely evasive and contradictory. In all important facts, he is not corroborated either by circumstantial or any other evidence. His evidence is suspect, weak and false. After careful scrutiny of this evidence, it cannot be said that the charge against accused Amit Jogi, Chiman Singh, Yahya Dhebar, Abhay Goyal and Firoz Siddiqui that they conspired to kill Ram Avtar Jaggi at the hotel Greenpark on 21st May 2003, is proven relying on the sole testimony of this co-accused approver. [These other co-accused have been convicted of having conspired at another location. It is therefore ironical that they should be sentenced on a charge for which they did not face trial- AJ] The statement of this witness is extremely weak and full or errors. Witness is not reliable. Hence, it will not be judicious to hold the accused liable for conspiracy on the basis of his evidence. Everything that has been stated by Reginald Jeremiah in his evidence, is untrue. Nothing he has said in court is true. There is no doubt he has said all these things against Amit Jogi because of personal enmity, because after being fired from Akash Channel, he expected Amit Jogi to recommend his name for reinstatement to Rohit Prasad [the Director of the said channel], which the latter did not do…Hence, it does not seem proper to rely on any of this witness’s utterances.”

Accordingly, the Court has summoned him to appear tomorrow, the 5th of July, 2007, to face Trial for the aforementioned offence, punishable with life imprisonment.

The Ides of March
I recall, vividly, the catharsis that was Reginald’s testimony. It was the day after the festival of colors, Holi (which Reggie, the self-professed puritan of Scottish descent, deems a heresy). He entered the witness box at 4:30 p.m. sharp, half an hour before closing time. Armed personnel of the state police’s crime squad encircled him. He didn’t once look me in the face; not even when the then learned judge asked him to identify me.

Upon his return to Delhi, he was celebrated as a “hero”- the ideal prosecution witness in the Age of Zaheera Sheikhs- most enthusiastically by the NDTV correspondent, Sunetra Choudhary, who was enticed by her ‘sources’ in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to do a primetime story on him: “At a time when witnesses in high-profile criminal cases are turning hostile," Ms. Choudhary proclaimed, "one young man has withstood threats to testify in the (Ram) Avtar Jaggi murder case”. Finally, justice had been done to the Mafiosi-son of a high-profile politician: “Jeremiah’s statement is enough to nail Amit.”

Indeed it might well have been so. Fortunately for me, we were able to establish beyond a shadow of doubt that everything he uttered that day in the packed courtroom was nothing but lies, dictated to him by certain officials at the Bureau. For the record, the meticulous demolition of his evidence has very little to do with oral testimonies (or as the popular expression goes, ‘with witnesses turning hostile’); on the contrary, it is based exclusively on unimpeachable “documentary evidence”: Passports- verified by the Indian High Commission at London in pursuance of information received from Her Majesty’s Home Department- proved that atleast three persons who had allegedly played a pivotal role in the conspiracy according to Reginald on the night of 21st May 2003 at the hotel Greenpark in Raipur, weren’t even in India; Telephonic Call Details (obtained unwittingly by the CBI, no less) and Newspaper Reports disproved Reggie’s claims on other material points; even the Bureau’s Case Diary did not come to his aid. With every word that escaped his lips, Reginald willfully perjured himself.

Even now, I cannot say why he did what he did: lying when he knew only too well that his lies might well become the noose around my neck? Was it fear; possibly greed; or a bit of both? I will never really know. One thing is for certain: Reginald’s actions have forced me to question everything I thought I knew- and cherished- about Human Nature: the things that make us ‘human’. However, there have also been extraordinary kindnesses, too many to recount here, that are more than enough to heal this most unkind cut.

Honourable Men
Under the circumstances, what can I do? For me, one of the most difficult things about this Trial has been to come to terms with Reginald's act. As a Christian, I feel myself bound by the following passage, not from the retributive prophesies of his namesake (the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah) but from that most humane of Gospels, Matthew:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”
(Matthew 18:21-22)

Tonight, when I go to sleep, I want to do so with a clear conscience: having forgiven Reginald, I now leave him to God’s- and the Court’s- Judgment. May the Lord give me the strength to do so.

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CONTACT ME. मुझसे संपर्क करें

Amit Aishwarya Jogi
Anugrah, Civil Lines
Raipur- 492001
Chhattisgarh, INDIA
Telephone/ Fascimile: +91 771 4068703
Mobile: +91 942420 2648 (AMIT)
Skype: jogi.amit
Yahoo!: amitjogi2001