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Ask Him No Questions

Salman Khurshid’s press conference said more about our media than it did about our politicians.

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If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing. – Napoleon Bonaparte.

Politicians world over have taken this Napoleonic dictum to heart. Perhaps Indian politicians more than most in a democratic context. How many times have we heard Manmohan Singh claim that there would be zero tolerance for corruption in his government? During the Lokpal debate, speaker after speaker swore allegiance to the “no-corruption” principle. The most effective among them occupies the highest position in the country now.

But has that brought about any change in the everyday political ambience in the country? I leave it to the readers to judge.

It would be more than apposite to recall Shankar Dayal Sharma, not regarded popularly among the most distinguished holders of the office of the President. His finest hour came when Sheila Kaul, one of the governors and a close relative of the Gandhi-Nehru family was accused of having indulged in corruption – nowhere near the magnitude of what we witness everyday in the contemporary context. For political reasons, the then-Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao, was reluctant to take any action. Sharma put his foot down and insisted that Kaul be dismissed as “Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion”. And that is what happened.

Is there a lesson in this for the politicians of today? Obviously not, if the “press-conference” held by the Law Minister Salman Khurshid is an indicator. Was it actually a “press-conference” at all? Half-way through, an observer could be forgiven for mistaking it for a pugilist slug-fest.

The esteemed Law Minister of this country has been accused by an established media house of among other things:

– Falsely claimed to have run distribution camps for the physically challenged on behalf of the Dr Zakir Hussain Trust which he heads and of which his wife, the former journalist Louise Fernandes, is the Project Director.

– Not submitted the utilisation certificates as required as the Trust was using government funds allocated to it.

– Presented a list of beneficiaries who were after investigation found to be fictitious.

– In support of application for funds from the government presented a sworn deposition from a government official which the supposed official refused to recognise as his (This official is now, I believe, officiating as the Registrar of Lucknow University).

– Again, in support of the same application presented an official letter by a senior bureaucrat supposedly dated 2 months after the said official had retired.

Quite a list indeed.

He commenced the “press-conference” by stating that he would not answer any questions posed by Arvind Kejriwal whom he described in offensively supercilious terms. Then he went on to state that he would confine himself to establishing that the camps were held and that he would not field any interrogatory on other matters. Those were the confines of the conference.

The renowned US attorney, Alan Dershowitz, describes the American expression “chutzpah” as the state when you murder your parents and plead clemency on grounds of being an orphan. Khurshid displayed classic chutzpah – a person accused of serious criminal misdemeanour attempting to decide which of the accusations he would answer with a degree of feigned ignorance and hurt. And the astounding fact was that none of the journalists actually objected to this. I am sure no politician in the United States or United Kingdom would have even dared to lay down such egregiously rotten terms.

As the “press-conference” progressed it became abundantly clear that Khurshid’s main purpose was not to clear the air, but to avoid uncomfortable questions by brazening it out and attempting to deflect the blame on to Aroon Purie, the head of the India Today group for “lack of journalistic ethics”. He stated that he would face any enquiry, but would like Aroon Purie to face an enquiry as well – a monstrously inept proposition if there was any.

In case Salman Khurshid has forgotten, Aroon Purie is not a public servant. He does not rely on public funds. If indeed, as alleged by him, that Purie has deviated from the journalistic code of ethics, there is always the Press Council he could have relied upon.

As if this Alice in Wonderland scenario was not enough, Khurshid dramatically declared that he would resign from the Cabinet if Purie resigned as the editor of India Today! Was he seriously suggesting that Purie, a journalist, had the same public culpability as the Law Minister of the nation? The suggestion was so surreal that I expected the media-persons to react. They did not.

Then he went on to produce a few pictures in which the alleged official who had denied the signature on the deposition, was present at a distribution camp. This again was a crude attempt to mislead the journalists and the viewers. The official had never denied his presence at the supposed camps of which the pictures were produced – he had simply said that the deposition was a crude forgery. And as it was under oath, it constituted “perjury”, which the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines as:

– the voluntary violation of an oath or vow either by swearing to what is untrue or by omission to do what has been promised under oath.

And this is a designated felony under most statutes carrying lengthy prison sentences. In other words, the Law Minister of a country was being accused of having committed a felony. And he did not wish this to be within the purview of this “press-conference”. His defense was again unconvincing and weak. He stated that the Trust had already asked for an enquiry into this matter as well as into the spurious letter supposedly written by an official post-retirement – and that he would not field any questions on these issues. It was only later I learned that Khurshid was playing games here as well – he had already been alerted by the India Today Group that they were aware of the forged deposition and the spurious letter a month prior to the supposed request by the minister’s spouse to the UP government to conduct an enquiry. In other words, the request to the UP government was just a clever or not so clever ploy.

Which raised more questions than it answered. Now that it has been established that the submitted deposition was spurious, would it not be appropriate for the Minister to demit office without delay to enable free and fair investigation? Shankar Dayal Sharma had demanded this from Sheila Kaul in the incident I had cited earlier. People may need to be reminded that the Law Minister has a say in the running of the CBI, the premier investigating agency of the country.

Then came the most disastrous performance of all. Khurshid when reminded that the perjury issue was central to the case against him suddenly became unacceptably obnoxious and bossy. He ordered the reporter to be evicted and threatened that he would never be allowed to attend another press conference.

I began to wonder if we were indeed living in a “banana republic” where politicians could dictate terms in this manner and get away with it. Not a single journalist protested against this, which I must admit distressed me. In any other democratic setup the journalists would have staged a walk-out and boycotted this arrogant politician until he apologised.

In the early Eighties, I recall the Defense Secretary of the UK, John Nott appeared on a one-on-one interview by Sir Robin Day – a very tough interviewer. He got annoyed at the very first question, switched off the microphone and walked out. That was the beginning of the end of Nott’s career, despite the fact that he apologised to Sir Robin the very next day. Do we have the intellectual and professional standing among the journalists to enforce this? I would like to believe that we do.

Khurshid is well within his rights to threaten libel, as he did several times. But the fact remains that he has been permanently tainted in the eyes of a discerning observer despite slogans of the cheerleaders he brought to this meet – and who exercised their vocal cords once we walked out after nearly 100 minutes.

To sum up, Khurshid lived up to the well-earned reputation of politicians in India. But did the journalists come out any better? The whole “press conference” was a dismal commentary on the state of journalism in India. I would like the journalist community at least to awaken themselves from a state of comfortable slumber and servitude to the politicians in India. That is a sine qua non for a democracy to remain healthy. And I would sincerely wish to believe that we have the capacity to do so.

As for the likes of my fellow Oxonian Khurshid, I am reminded of Henry Siedel Canby –

Arrogance, pedantry, and dogmatism; the occupational diseases of those
who spend their lives directing the intellects of the innocent!

 

 

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More from Dr. Ashoka Prasad


  • Geetanshdutta

    Excellent article Dr. Prasad. And about khurshid, WHO MADE THIS GUTTER WORM LAW MINISTER OF THE COUNTRY. Does law minister speak in language of- “I LL SEE YOU IN COURT, YOU ARE FINISHED, I WILL NOT REPLY TO PEOPLE WHO BELONGS TO ROAD, THESE ARE THIRD-GRADE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!” It was so disturbing to see that lawbooks of the country rest with such impotent people who can’t sit quietly and answer questions with levelheadedness. If he has some problem with purie, then better settle it through other avenues than to opt for a public discourse which on first place doesn’t allow for such analogies to be made. One more reason to feel ashamed of being associated with India.

    • madhu

      Please post again without abuse “gutter worm” and we will be happy to keep your post. Newslaundry does not accept any abuse. Sorry.

      • Geetanshdutta

        if you are madhu trehan, then listen carefully, Have you asked salman khurshid to not use the word “guttersnipes” for likes of common citizen of arvind kejriwal sort or later on to news channel to not repeat the word again and again and make feel common man of this country like me about what their leaders who survive on taxpayer’s money think of them? If you have not then you have no right to ask me which word should i select or not for these kind of people who have called me THIRD GRADE PEOPLE.. Its your website, if you want it , just delete it lady. Why are you asking me on first place? And you are so naive to think that deleting it on this page will delete it from my mind or from my vocabulary. No it wont. So please keep on remolding the policies of your website on the lines of Firstpost and with essence of kapil sibbal. Delete my comment right now, but don’t ask me to rephrase it, i shall not. And re frame your definition of “abuse”. Abuse lies more in the actions of a person than just words. Forging documents in the name of public servants and amassing wealth in the name of disabled is the real abuse than a verbal riposte. .I wonder do you even work objectively on this kind of policy. On another page of . Jonathan S. interview, a commentator has abused the whole indian race with such expletives which has tendency for inheritance, and other commentator has asked newlaundary to moderate it. Well newslaundary is still sleeping on that and is quite comfortable to see the whole indian race getting vociferated on the basis of gene makeup and here they are feeling pain for a man who has called us ” PEOPLE ON ROADS”. This speaks huge volumes about the selective application of such policy even if it was ever present before this article on salman khurshid. And most importantly it informs me that Objectivity is certainly not always at its best use on newslaundary. Nevertheless, its your site, so go ahead and delete all my comments, but i ll not change them.

      • Ruchi

        this is the cheapest way to intimidate a commentator. Shame Shame Shame

      • deepika

        Oh here is a woman who call herself a journalist- someone who should just put facts forward and leave the value formulations to the leader. But she is very much comfortable with salman khurshid calling me and my fellow citizens ” guttersnipes” but gets inflammatory when same is given back to this politician. Madhu, you might be ok with working as subservient to these kind of people and under unsaid monarchy. but we are not. You might be ok if you think anybody can call you guttersnipe or you think you don’t belong to that strata of society which khurshid has labelled as guttersnipe, but today’a youth are not that incompetent to take orders from impotent leaders and their bosses. Time has changed. Show off your this dictatorship attitude somewhere else.

      • sudhanshu

        listen ! now if someone writes on your site that” let salman come to abc and lets see how he goes back” So will you get on your knees and beg in front of him/her with folded hands -” please rewrite your comment as i found it obscene ?” You keep on bouncing in every interview about your glorious years of journalism and how it has declined now. Well let me inform you you are no better than present day paid journalists of likes of vinod sharma, kumar ketkar, rajdeep sardesai, barkha dutt as you also have soft corners for all the politicians of this country because all of them are part of elite club to which you belong. So you are high on pitch with your fakeness when you project almost in every interview as if you care the most for the last surviving man in this country. If you were real then you would have never ever asked this boy geetansh dutta to comment again. Everyone of your journalistic community is afraid of these corrupt politicians as they control your strings. Like every other democratic institution in this country, the proliferation and growth of media (which people hold in great spirits) is not normal but cancerous which has contributed nothing to this country but have only sucked up blood and life from it. Does your community dare to ask for the resignation of pathological law minister of this country who is openly threatening to kill a common citizen.( LAHU, WAPIS JA KE DIKHAYEN, SAWAAL PUCHNA BHUL JAYENGE, GUTTER KE KIDON PER KYA MAANHANI KA DAWA), or you have got your orders from him that he thinks it was quoted out of context or you ll be the happiest person on earth with in next three days when NL TEAM interview some under 19 cricket team captain or some spokesperson. No. you people can’t. Because community of journalists is suffering from incurable Impotency and thus can’t produce what is expected out of them. You people beg to get an interview with some oxford/Harvard/Stephens read hooligan who have nothing else to prove but just that he once was there by default. You guys run behind zero personalities of likes of Rahul Gandhi or Akhilesh Yadav with drooling tongues who have no track record because you are paid for it. An IGNOU studied like me has far more restrain and ethics while conducting myself physically in public then this hooligan law minister. Your community is the bearer of gramsci’s ides of hegemony but common man of this country has became aware of it now. Your community is habitual of taking shit on their face but a common citizen won’t do that anymore. Its so shameless and preposterous of you to ask someone to rewrite their comments because it was against those who accompanies you on golf grounds or evening parties. You people just need to be boycotted like politicians because you all are same breed. Losers.

  • Neel

    INDIAN JOURNALISM IS A SLUT WHICH IS F****D DAILY BY INDIAN POLITICIANS

  • http://www.facebook.com/shivanand.shahapur Shivananda Shahapur

    Excellent article, very well written. The fact that he keeps quoting things like that he taught at Oxford, he is a very senior minister, his neighbour is CAG etc., demonstrates his supercilious behaviour. I wonder where we are going with these kind of daily drama unfolding when other countries are innovating and racing away from us :(

  • Roark

    Another superb piece by Dr. Prasad….But it is simply distressing to witness such a malignant behaviour from a cabinet minister and that too against a media group which has its standing from almost 4 decades….It is impossible to imagine the plight of a common man whom they represent, if he ever gets to face there wrath in person…But the bigger worry is the silence enveloped in favouritism by the other journalists who were present in the PC…The fact is , he dared to behave in such a manner because he knew the divide within the journalistic community…that he can pit them against each other to push his own agenda….How the hell can you imagine a Law Minister behaving in such a way hurling expletives and issuing threats in an open PC in front of the camera…?..Who is he to talk about journalistic standards when he himself don’t have the human standards to behave in public..?
    And, why is he answering a question with a question…?..what does he mean to say…when he claimed that he is an oxford professor so he can’t embezzle funds..?..or…he will not put his reputation on stake for such a meagre amount..?…How can he claim exoneration on such lame logics which stand evidence in no court of law?..If we go by his logics than Rajat Gupta could have never been framed in US courts..as he is far more educated than Salman Khurshid…
    But my bigger worry is that, even after being openly exposed in PC and facing strong criticism from all sides in public..he shall be re appointed to parliament and maybe proposed for a higher berth in the cabinet after next elections….and I don’t even understand…whether to call it the irony of democracy…irrationality of the citizens..or helplessness of the patriots…in the very first place…???

  • Ayushmaan datta

    Sir, do have a look at the video showing the uninterrupted, unedited telecast of the press conference..the journalist Deepak Sharma went hammer and tongs after Salman Khurshid to the point of deliberately inciting and provoking him. I have absolutely NO bias for Mr. Khurshid, but if journalism in the present day is this..we need to follow some basic ethics

    • shikha

      you better ask those who are indulged in crores of corruption to first follow the ethics of democracy, politics and if none of these then at least of basic humanity. then talk about other kinds of ethics. Your PR machine is not going to work anymore in this country. Better leave your job with 10 Janpath and try to find some honest profession where you ll not be asked to sell yourself to your masters.

      • Ayushmaan datta

        Excuse me ms.shikha, i am not some PR person from 10 janpath indulging in slanging match with Deepak Sharma.. before you make such sweeping statements.I am equally sickened and disgusted by the blatant misuse of power by the hands of powerful people. All I wrote were some of my observations regarding the press conference. All I said was there could be some dignity in asking those questions. By repeating the same question 10 times..it shows the lack of basic ethics. And your comment too reeks of judgmentalism , please exercise restraint!

        • Shikha

          Listen Mr. Ayushman, the dignity first has to be exercised while framing and implementing public policies by public representatives. You expect the common man of this country who is looted daily by the malafied intentions and actions of these kind of politicians to inculcate dignity even while questioning them how and where their taxed money has been misused. HOW DEMOCRATICALLY PATHETIC IS THAT ? Deepak Sharma asked the question in same manner in which a common citizen of this nation want to ask. They say 71 lacs is nothing for likes of khurshid, yeah it must not be great for those who siphoned off 50 % of amount of every public sector schemes of lacs of crores for their normal survival. You talk about lack of basic ethics for asking a question for 10 times, what about basic ethics of ingesting money meant for differently able people. And please don’t give this worthless argument that probe is going on and xyz. We know what happens to probes of like this. All the leaders have looted this country and still sitting in parliament for decades. Listen Mr, whoever you are, whether educated in studies of DISSENT, PROTEST and REVOLUTION or not, you should inform yourself first that when people are deprived of their basic fundamental rights and left on streets to rot, they have nothing to do but express their anger like this. You need to be bit reserved while commenting on issues like this when everyone knows where lies the fault. Anger in Deepak Sharma’s voice has resonated with billions of people who come across this kind of corruption daily. So you better educate yourself first and then talk about what i should do or not. I don’t think so you have an intellect or judgmental value system to advise me anything. You can show or excercise your allegiance wherever you like, i hardly bother, but don’t tryn preach a common citizen anything. THEY DON’T NEED TO BE TAUGHT ANYTHING ANYMORE.

          • http://twitter.com/mayank2408 Mayank Batra

            Again saying they might not be. And ill stand with u in line to blame Salman Khurshid, but dont blame the person above of being against you just because he pointed out a fact. Lets try to take him along instead of trying to have a fight by picking him up

      • http://twitter.com/mayank2408 Mayank Batra

        Shikha let us not become like political parties. Not biased and hate politicians especially around this time in Indian history, let us not shoot the messenger of opposing view like political parties do. Congress blames BJP and BJP blames congress back. The issue is did the journalist go guns blazing. Yes he did and he was right to do so, because if u call a press conference, you are opening yourself to answering questions. And a journalist has every right to ask sharp questions on which you would say “NO COMMENT”.

  • romit

    Great article Dr. Prasad.

  • Bharat Dangi

    I saw live conference. Fellow gernalists were even asking Deepak to stop asking questions. gernalists who go to conferences are not intellectuals. You talking about unity among indians ? Forget it !!

  • Arm Chair Activist

    Dr. Prasad. I appreciate your commentary on the state of affairs about the fourth state. I agree with you completely. However, I would like you or Madhu Trehan/News Laundry to keep a disclaimer about her connection to the India Today group and Aroon Purie in particular (in this case related to Salman Khurshid only).

    About Salman Khurshid less said is better. His reaction or rather the weak defence that he put up for the “ghar jamai” of India was reflective of his integrity. You have to just check the fortunes of people who work very closely with him, if that is any indicator, you can imagine what kind of fortune he would have amassed. Any journalist can check including his association with DPS society.

    • madhu

      Yes, we can put in the disclaimer. Aroon Purie is my brother but our business – India Today and Newslaundry have no connection with each other whatsoever. Thank you.

  • ASadIndian

    I weep for the future of this country.

  • Harsh

    Excellent article! My head’s been abuzz with these thoughts after watching footage of the ‘press conference’. Just how is he getting away with calling Kejriwal ‘man on the street’ and ‘ gandi naali ka keeda’! Borrowing another parallel from the UK, the media and parliament are outraged by Andrew Mitchell calling a guad a ‘pleb’ and he will probably have to relieve his position. Here while civil society activism is peaking with gems like Kejriwal, the nadir of a democracy is seen in Khurshid’s high handed behaviour.

  • madhu

    Could you possible say the same thing without the obscenities? I’m sure it’s possible. Newslaundry has a no obscenity policy. Thank you

    • Neel

      My answer to you is same as given by Geetansh Dutta above. And i would like to stress most on the last three sentences of his. i am not going to say the same after using eraser. You can be selective about what should be there on your website and what should not be, So please, you can do whatever you like to do , its you site. Go ahead and delete my comment.

    • manu

      Shame on you madhu and on newslaundary. You are talking for a person Who is completely shameless and have no right to be called law minister of this country. If you have any humanity left inside you, watch IAS officer ASHOK KHEMKA crying on CENTER STAGE on HEADLINES TODAY yesterday. You should know you are absolutely wrong asking/advising people to phrase their sentences in a particular manner. I ask you madhu- Who are you to decide what people like geetansh dutta or neel should speak or not? Who gave you that authority that you are hell bent upon excersing. If you owe such recommendations to the fact that its your blog, then you should be mature enough to know that once you have put in public domain like internet where people can come and comment then your right to dictate cease at that very moment. Otherwise , you keep it upto yourself, conduct inteviews and watch yourself only, write articles and read/comment yourself only. This will make you the happiest person. Whats wrong with what both these boys have said. Is it not the reality of india. Selling one’s soul is far far more inhumane than selling one’s body. Doesn’t radia tapes and eventual actions or rant of paid journalists on news channels every evening short of any supply of individuals for sale. You belong to this community and apart from TOI, you see no fault in any other news organisation. You talk about obscenity in language, what about obscenity of langauge when haryana MLA says that rapes are consensual. Don’t exhibit if you have any brief or not. I am not interested in that. So don’t try to play moderater when you are completely incapable of it. Mind your sentence and its essence next time if you ever decide to play the same next time. Or don’t behave as if you have capacity to call a spade a spade. You can delete my comment as well if you don’t like it. It hardly bothers me. It won’t change the reality. Got it. Shame .

    • Radhika

      Who are you madhu to suggest anyone what wrong and right. Do you have an authority to do that. Are you an Omnipotent and i-know-all philosopher who can offer a definition of OBSCENITY. Let me ask you how do you define Obscenity? Isn’t it just in the way of oxford or chamberline. That’s your shortsightedness. Obscenity is more into one’s actions than just words. Depriving poor of their rights, Maligning CAG , harassing honest public servants , calling citizens of the country “third grade people”, calling a 65 year old nation a ” banana republic” is Obscene and not calling a whole community of sycophants- functional s**t” . Expand your horizons Madhu. You need to educate yourself more. or just shut down your this blog..

  • Vivek Gupta

    Salman Khurshid.. the respectable, the intellectual, the sensible, the educated, the dignified, the suave… and what not he used to be called. Exclusives and Walk The Talks with him on TV news channels cemented his position as a moderate face as he calmly fielded ‘tough’ questions from the pioneers of TV news. Look at him now. A Deepak Sharma armed with xerox copies of Khurshid’s doom was all it took to the bring the mighty Law Minister to the lows only (and famously) politicians can manage to touch. It is said ‘if you can’t face the heat, get out of the kitchen’. Instead, the minister tried to ‘cook’ a dish and spat into it before serving it to the press. And when the press tried to confront him, he came after them with everything but the kitchen sink. Khurshid can give his ‘jaan’ for the Congress president, just like his Trust managed to give a hearing aid to someone who had a problem in his leg. Let’s hope India Today is not ‘finished’ as the minister threatened to do. Let’s hope Khurshid learns some manners. And let’s also hope that in future, journalists sitting in press conferences of politicians don’t just end up taking notes, but instead, take them on. Thank you, Dr Prasad, for a well-written piece.

    • Abdul Latif

      Why do the people have to pass such false comments on a learned man with strong nationalist background.is it because he is a Muslim

  • indianajones

    Even more disgusting is the reaction of ex Justice Markandeya Katju who holds the position of head of Press Council of India. He wants Indian Today group to be investigated “Murdoch style” ! I have always maintained that Katju is exactly the wrong person to head Press Council of India, with the other notable being, perhaps, Kapil Sibal. Katju has never raised his voice against the oppression of the free speech by the incumbent govt. I am not sure how the head of PCI is appointed but I can clearly that the Congress party has succeeded in appointing a stooge to this position, effectively neutralizing the Fourth Estate. Post CJI SH Kapadia’s retirement, I am not sure about what direction the honorable SC will take under new CJI who I have seen to be equally controversial (like Katju) in past delivery of justice. Congress party has successfully destroyed every instrument of democracy in last six decades. Hence the behavior of the journalists at Khurshid’s conference and Khurshid’s arrogance is hardly a surprise.

  • Abdul Latif

    Just read this stupid,ill-informed and malicious garbage. The writer has maligned Salman Sahib in an idiotic manner without the facts. Salman Saheb is the grandson of Dr.Zakir Hussain. His father Khurshid Alam Khan was a genius and a nationalist, His background is such that nobody should raise fingers. The writer is an ignorant man who probably has never heard of these great men. There are few people with better family background. And Salman Saheb has had an Oxford education. The man who wrote this would not have even dreamt of going to Oxford. I think Salman Saheb is being maligned just for being a Muslim.

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