Madhu Trehan is the founding editor of India Today, founder of Newstrack, senior journalist and writer, and also founding partner of newslaundry. She found the time to author the book - “Prism Me a Lie Tell Me A Truth, Tehelka As a Metaphor”. No. She couldn’t think of a shorter title.
Response To An “Angry Tweeter”
Blog post: Dear Madhu Trehan
Posted on http://ratiparker.blogspot.in/ on May 14, 2012
Dear Madhu Trehan
Just finished watching your interview with S Vardarajan of the Hindu, and the chat on the Aarushi/ Hemraj case, with Pinaki Mishra, Harinder Baweja (Shammi?!) and Sonia Singh….
I came away disappointed………I have held you, Ashok Malik and S Vardarajan (in that order!) a tad higher in journalistic proficiency and integrity, over the likes of Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose, Sonia Singh, Nidhi Razdan……..Arnab ( poor fellow) seems to have lost his equilibrium after Timesnow was hit with the Rs 200 crore law suit, and to make matters worse Vinod Sharma ( Cong fixture) plays nanny and wags his finger at Arnab, every time he strays….
Amidst this cesspool, Newslaudry [sic] was a breath of fresh air…but the stench seems to be creeping in. Your discussion with Vardarajan came across as dismissive and disparaging of your consumer/audience, the “angry tweeter”!
I wonder if you realize that this “angry tweeter” that u condescendingly refer to, is nine times out of ten, better educated, better informed, better qualified than the so called “luminaries” of your fraternity?…The fact that each one of you is “somebody’s” daughter, son, wife, sister, girlfriend cannot be ignored and is the reason why mediocrity is ruling the roost in Indian media today………and is the only differentiating quotient from the “angry tweeter”.
Pinaki Mishra ( respects), in the chat about the Talwars was lamenting that Judicial jurisprudence demands that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but in this case the media seems to have tried them , declared them guilty and the onus of proving innocence is now on them!
You and Shammi(!) sympathized and agreed with him, I could buy that…but Sonia Singh of NDTV?!! She and her channel have run a campaign against Narendra Modi for the last TEN years…tried him on their channel and declared him a “mass murderer”, regardless of the SC and the closure report filed by the SIT……what happened to “Innocent until proven guilty”?
“Credible” characters like Teesta Setalvad and Sanjiv Bhatt are paraded on Primetime and their word is Gospel…..SIT’S Raghavan, of unimpeachable integrity, appointed by the SC has not been able to find prosecutable evidence against Narendra Modi after TEN years….the Amicus Raju Ramachandran has agreed with most of what the SIT report says except on the Sanjiv Bhatt issue…Sanjiv Bhatts mobile records speak loud and clear….
Bhatt’s contention that Modi said “hindus must be allowed to vent their anger” to his officers ( his phone records show that he was not in that meeting in Gandhinagar at the time!) is enough to pin Modi. Whereas Rajiv Gandhi’s quote during the Sikh riots “When a big tree falls, the earth will shake” is legendary…but its ok to pay homage to his Italian widow?!
Siddharth Vardarajan’s heart bleeds for Geetaben…so does ours…but was it Modi who did it? Riots in Gujarat have been bloody and violent and recurrent, since Modi was probably running around in his nappies! Maybe we should try him for those too…..
Vardarajan’s heart selectively beats for Geetaben…but not for those women and children that were BURNED ALIVE. Is it because he saw photos of Geetaben and none of the charred BODIES? His heart does not beat for the 5000 Sikhs killed in Delhi in 1984, because there are no graphic and gory pics…or is it because it was so long ago…or is it because it can’t be pinned on Modi?!
Teesta and Sanjeev Bhatt are kosher… regardless of how many lies and false affidavits she produces, or the plotting and planning she does via email with Bhatt, or the fairytales Bhatt fabricates…. The “Ceasar’s wife” principle kicks in only with Anna, Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi……
Ah well…Mr Vardarajan……there are activists and then there are some… Teesta is after all a Padma Shri…any guesses who gave it to her?!
Vardarajan saw photographs and spoke to some Gujarat victims and has concluded that Modi MUST be tried. I wonder why the SC bothered with the SIT and Mr. Raghavan for years, at all? Siddharta Vardarajan knows best…they should have just referred to him! After admittedly reading ONLY 100 pages of the massive report, he had the temerity to come and trash it on NDTV (yes! Any surprises?!).
Proof is actually the casualty of these kangaroo courts of the media… In the Bofors case there is conclusive proof against Quattrochi, but its OK with the media that he disappears with our money with no retribution. Sonia Gandhi and Quattrochi… there some connection? REALLY?!…on the other hand Modi must be tried personally even if there is no direct link to him….contrive a connection!
Why was there total silence in the media, both print and electronic, on the Abhishek Manu Singhvi CD episode? …the High Court injunction was only for airing the contents of the tape…there was no restriction on discussing the issue…the “tweeters” simply took it away!
I hope you get an idea of why “angry”?
Madhu Trehan, I would expect more pithy and pointed questions from you… u must keep the fish on the hook…
Or else we Tweeters will have to be “angry” with you too!!
MADHU TREHAN’S RESPONSE:
Dear Rati Parker,
In all fairness, you have been asking me to answer and now there is time before I plunge back into work. It required channelling a serious thought process. Probably the worst format for discussing Narendra Modi and 1984 is twitter. The medium challenges the message on all counts. So I’m glad that you blogged on this. It needs airing on all sides. You say you are disappointed in me. I do see an element of “Why don’t you think like me?”. Well, I am sorry, I just can’t. I cannot measure up to someone else’s thinking. I am, I would guess, three times your age with a journalistic-bent life and a cynicism about politicians that excludes supporting any particular one.
I will have to answer you point by point.
1. But first I must handle what you wrote in your third paragraph:
“The fact that each one of you is ‘somebody’s’ daughter, son, wife, sister, girlfriend cannot be ignored and is the reason why mediocrity is ruling the roost in Indian media today……’
Yes, I will admit I am my father’s daughter. So are you. When I started the magazine India Today with my father VV Purie in 1975, he owned and ran a printing press (Thomson Press). He visited me in New York and brought a dummy magazine that he and his friend ML Bhardwaj had decided to start for NRIs. This was something my father wanted to do to help his friend who was retiring as Director of the Press Information Bureau. I had graduated from Columbia School of Journalism and was working. I told him his dummy was awful, and on my dining table I made a dummy of the magazine with the red border with my graphic designer friend, Rohit Modi (He was never paid for the logo). My father then suggested that I come to Delhi to start this magazine. At that time, Aroon was busy with the printing press. We were told by Aroon’s accountant, Mr Agarwal, that he had run the figures and there was no way this could make money. My father ignored Agarwal and said, “Let’s put the money in and see how it goes”. It was his vision. I implemented it. Soon after I got it going (with four very young, lovely people – Sunil Sethi, Dilip Bobb, Shirley Joshua and my sister Mandira), I decided I had had enough and wanted to go back to New York to my husband and start a family. In fact, when we did the second issue on over-population, I instructed Mandira to find a pregnant construction worker for the cover. She looked all over Delhi and funnily enough couldn’t find anyone. So my pregnant stomach was put on the cover. My father recognised my hand and was puzzled and half-furious.
Our office was a partitioned area and the loo was so bad that I had to wait to get home for any relief. After I left, a series of editors were tried and all failed miserably. Politically-affiliated and sycophantic. Then the Emergency was lifted. Aroon got interested and he made it the success it became. He has great editorial instinct. My dear Rati, it was work. We started from scratch, with nothing. I had to go to the layout guy’s tiny room in a haveli and beg him to come to work. There are many horrific stories, not least the pressure from Indira Gandhi during the Emergency. Albeit, I come from a background of privileged education but what about the failure of so many children of famous people who never make it? My father was not famous. He abhorred fame for himself and found the pursuit of it downright tacky. But he had vision and guts. And he was grossly irreverent, a trait I adored. You forget that the nature of some professions is that they need readers, viewers, an audience. The consequential result is that you get into the public eye. That fame is a side effect not a goal. Enough of boring you with my story, but I had to answer your point.
(Okay, some detective work for you: What part of the story drops a point, left in a loop and never closed? What’s left out?)
I disagree with you about how everybody who has made it is someone’s relative. They do get a jump-start but it does not ensure success. The wonderful part of this decade is that if you look at the really great young journalists now successful, they all come from what would be called “humble” backgrounds and small towns. It is a new India where the cliques that my generation had from growing up in the same elite schools and social circles are quickly vanishing. I am optimistic about true merit and drive taking over.
2. I do not recall at any point showing any empathy for the Talwars. I do have to allow people with a different point of view to speak. Personally, purely on gut instinct, I believe there is something fishy about the whole thing. I am not comfortable about the Talwars, and their behaviour in my frame of reference and experience does not exude innocence. They worry me. But, since there has been no serious unbiased investigation from the start – in fact, the start of the investigation was seriously botched – I cannot come to any firm conclusion.
3. When we spoke about the “angry tweeter” it was about the deluge of compartmentalisation one sees on twitter. There is an element of Bushism -either you are with us or you are the enemy. Or, you are a paid journalist. If their views do not match yours they have sold their soul. Are Modi supporters paid too, then? Why can’t we just disagree? As a journalist, I must clarify I fall into neither side. I categorically refuse to be part of any team or political party. Each incident and situation calls for a different response. The Godhra incident, whoever was responsible, cannot but elicit grief and pain at the gruesome deaths. The press, in my view, did not take it up as intensively as it could and should have. We wait for official investigations, which in my view, can be tainted. Justice Tewatia’s Inquiry Commission in April 2002 declared that the attack on Sabarmati Express was pre-planned and pre-meditated. In September 2004, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s committee consisting only of UC Banerjee, the former Supreme Court judge, stated that the fire was accidental. In October 2006, the Gujarat High Court ruled that the panel was “unconstitutional, illegal and null and void” (Wikipedia). There is no reason for journalists to have not carried out their own investigations to come to their own conclusions. That did not happen. There were barely any interviews of survivors of the Sabarmati fire on television channels. I do not recall interviews of families of those who died, which normally should be done. The story developed fast and there was a quick move onto the killings of Muslims. There is a herd mentality where journalists rush to where others have been, instead of going where they should: where no one has been.
4. When I spoke to Siddharth Vardarajan about his article, it was just that – a discussion about his article. It is rare to find a hard-boiled reporter react with emotion and I see that as a good thing, regardless of what moved him. It was excellent writing. Perhaps there is an element of journalism that lay people find difficult to understand. I have a picture in my home where I am standing next to LK Advani and policemen at the time of his arrest. Someone asked me how I could possibly keep a picture of someone who was responsible for the Babri Masjid destruction and the subsequent communal divide and violence. For me, it was the moment for a journalist. There is a sense of detachment in experiencing such events live.
5. The reason that you and many others see a liberal bias in the media is because there is one. Most journalists that I know do not support killings of any one community, nor fundamentalist ideas, nor violent methods to achieve one’s goals. What you see as Narendra Modi being trashed comes from a belief that mob violence is ugly and unacceptable. There is no evidence to show that Muslims in Gujarat had or have Modi’s sympathy or protection. There may have been many riots in Gujarat earlier, but both sides got killed. This one was a pogrom. As we all know, politicians have started riots for political gain. We do not know who started this one. Shouldn’t the followers of Modi too expect the best from Modi as their leader? As we demanded answers in 1984, it is the right of citizens to question 2002.
Can you please answer this, Rati – Should people like you and I accept the killings of one community, shrug and move on? I will not accept the violence on the Hindus who died in the Sabarmati Express and I will not accept the reaction with killing. I know of a bureaucrat in Gujarat who told his family details of what was happening and how he too had participated, encouraged by the atmosphere in his government. His college-going daughter does not speak to him to this day. She lost a friend.
So the question remains: Should we consider Narendra Modi guilty of tacitly encouraging the riots? Or, should we say: there was nothing he could do? Or, he did not know what was going on? Or, should we say: he did his best, but nobody listened to him? Or, can we say he was pained to see Muslim Gujaratis killed and raped by fellow Gujaratis? Or, can we say he has expressed any regret? Should he be tried? I don’t think so. It would be better for voters to show that a leader who can ensure there will be no riots, killings, massacres, would be their choice. And, when a tacit approval is given through ishara, no one is stupid enough to leave a trail of evidence.
6. Regarding Narendra Modi, first, I believe that he was misquoted or rather mistranslated in his statement. His statement on record was, “Kriya pratikriya ke chain chal rahi hai. Hum chahaté hai ke na kriya ho, aur na pratikriya (A chain of action and reaction is going on. We neither want action nor reaction)”. This is different from what was widely reported. The second sentence was barely reported at all. But, from what I have read of and heard from Narendra Modi, it is quite clear that he has an antagonistic view of Muslims. That troubles me.
I will back up a little bit. There was a time, probably when you were too young or not born, when Hindus were perceived as a passive lot and indeed we were. We were a beaten bunch. Not proud of our country, not confident to stand up for ourselves, our religion or country. Indian Muslims could commit the cardinal sin of cheering for a Pakistani cricket team and no one would react, no matter how much they seethed inside. There was a general acceptance of Muslims who believed in Religion before Country. I found this disloyalty unacceptable. Everything changed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The militant Hindu was born. Muslims now go out of their way to prove their loyalty to India and if it is Religion before Country, it is done with trepidation and secretly. As for cheering for the Pakistani cricket team? Nobody wants to be lynched.
I do believe that loyalty from citizens is an essentiality to living in any country. We may criticise, rant, catch corruption, rue the useless politicians, but we do it from the root of loving India as one’s own. Could we have brought about the change in Indian Muslims of placing Country before Religion without violence? I believe so. Violence only begets little Osamas being born, set for revenge. I think it is bad strategy, besides the burden of not being humane. India has a history of a country gaining independence through radical philosophy and ideas of non-violence. The nation was moved to action through Ideas and Concepts, new to the world. Who would have thought that Mahatma Gandhi’s tactics, which were considered harebrained by many, would actually work? How and why did we regress into following the worst methods to become proud Hindus? Americans have seduced the world with their capitalistic products: food, soft drinks, film, music, books, science and research. We Indians successfully transformed ourselves from a begging bowl to proud Indians by giving the world brilliant techies, amazing films, bump-and-grind music that plays in uppity stores in New York, food now as common worldwide as Chinese restaurants, fashion that inspires Karl Lagerfeld, an export garment industry that reached the far corners of the market, authors who win international prizes and have bestsellers around the world. We now export cars and I must confess I felt a twinge of national pride when I saw train bogeys, in a small train station in England, with Tata Steel emblazoned on the side.
I am reflecting that we have had choices that we have not seen. We have been blind to options in taking a direction that the world has not taken. With the liberalisation of the economy, we have absorbed the worst of the capitalistic system; greed without a care for other humans or civic and social responsibility. The side effects are the epidemics of crime, rape, road rage, twitter rage, as well as political and corporate corruption. An intangible atmosphere can create disastrous tangible results. We had the choice of creating a humane society while using the benefits of capitalism, and still keeping core values as the cornerstone of our lives.
In every way, we fall into stereotypes unthinkingly. I think of my father who in 1946, after fleeing from Lahore, seeing my grandmother’s Lahore house in flames, losing everything, still going back to Lahore every year to maintain his close friendships with his now-Pakistani friends. I do not advocate turning the other cheek. I do advocate that our confidence and strength come from a sense of morality, humanity and joy of life and goodness. Mahatma Gandhi, the biggest spin doctor of them all, sold an emotion: a sense that we Indians can govern ourselves, we can take decisions, we can sort out our own country without a white boot on our backs.
My question is: do we have to kill Muslims and make them fear us to gain our Hindu identity? I think not. We gained our new self-confidence of being Indian through positive means. There is no reason for us to go around destroying masjids, killing Muslims to gain that self-confidence. I view us Indians as better than that. We were capable of it through the independence movement and we are capable of it now. It requires imaginative leaders who understand the importance of creating a national character by demanding action from the people, based on a humane philosophy where we collectively take responsibility for every human around us. Right now, we are all behaving like spoilt brats complaining about the government. It is a colonial-native attitude ingrained in us. We have not put our own stakes in. We still consider the government as one who has to deliver everything. Yes, of course, but what are we as citizens contributing? We see the government as alien, not ours. No government has been courageous enough to demand from citizens. They are afraid, so in turn we get sops to quiet us down; like brats do when they whine too much.
No mass violence can take place without the approval of the leaders. Rajiv Gandhi made that clear when he made the statement: “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes”. It was and is unacceptable. His personal grief translated into ordinary men becoming killers. I don’t need an investigation or committees that sit for decades to tell me that. His statement tells me all I need to know. He created an intangible, revengeful atmosphere and that statement was more than enough to prove it. Nothing can condone killing innocent people at random to teach a community a lesson. A lesson can be taught in so many other creative ways. (Why did Nelson Mandela come up with the novel idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee? Didn’t the black South Africans want to take revenge on their White torturers and rapists? The earth could have shaken and there could have been a chain reaction. But, Mandela turned it around and pulled his country together.) 1984 cannot be a justification for Gujarat 2002. There can be no justification for either killing. I don’t need official reports to decide who was right or wrong. I only have to see what the leaders said and how they behaved at that time. I know that I do not want my country to endorse massacres of any community. Today it is Sikhs, then Muslims, then Christians, then Biharis, then Marwaris, then Punjabis, everyone’s turn can come. Bringing up Teesta Setalvad, Sanjeev Bhatt etc and tit for tatting by choosing which committee reports and judgments match one’s own beliefs, ignores the larger picture for India.
So whether Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi were directly responsible for the massacres is an irrelevant point. Was an atmosphere created by both leaders that turned good men into evil killers? I would say both were responsible. Hannah Arendt reported for The New Yorker in 1961 covering Adolf Eichmann’s trial. (Arendt followed it up with her book, The Banality of Evil.) She wrote that evil does not appear as a monster. It comes in the face of ordinary men. Arendt wrote about how very ordinary people can become quite actively guilty of horrendous crimes. Men who would normally not think of committing heinous acts, but a culture is created where they are made comfortable enough to believe that it is the right thing to do. They know they are safe to do so in that milieu. When a man acts alone (perhaps in a spontaneous, emotional reaction), it is seen as murder. If a crowd does it together, it is seen as “the earth shakes” or a “chain reaction” and therefore acceptable. Leaders of depth and vision could not react like that. Diehard Hindus such as AB Vajpayee and Arun Shourie did not condone 2002.
Am I prepared to overlook Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi’s statements because they could be (or have been) good leaders, which Modi certainly is? No, personally, I am not and will not. I want more for India. Of course I would like Modi to bring investment into India, create infrastructure, have a government that actually works, spread electricity without blackouts – like he has done in Gujarat. But, I want all that without the threat of violence and ethnic division. I want us to stick to the Constitution that our country was based on and not become another Pakistan. I want a confident India who leads the world in ethical and moral superiority. I want to maintain an India that has welcomed all; where minorities’ minds are without fear so we can hold our heads high. I am naïve enough to want it all.
And yes, I am cheesy enough and naïve enough to include this poem:
Where The Mind Is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Image Source [http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronin691/3649638353/]