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P Sainath: The Anti-Mahatma?

Will Sainath ever move from chronicler to doer, crossing the line separating journalism from activism, man from Mahatma?

P Sainath

We are a harsh nation. Harsh because we have one million gods, but only one Mahatma. The gods we remember all year round; the Mahatma two days a year, both dry.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. We call him the Mahatma, and calling him so makes it convenient for us to forget that he was a human being. When we remember him – especially on those dry days – we remember him fondly, as a leader who gave us our freedom from British tyranny, fought tirelessly against the scourge of untouchability, and, despite being born in a nation stained with blood-splattered battlefields and consciences, taught us the concept of non-violence.

For all the newspaper eulogies and rose petals that we shower our beloved Mahatma with, what we don’t seem to remember very well is that, above all, he was a journalist (see the first article in The Hindu trilogy). And the reason why we forget this fact is that, in a leap of faith unbelievably exceptional, he transcended the line considered oh-so-sanctimonious for a journalist: just observe and report, don’t take part. Don’t jump the line.

Well, MKG did exactly that – he jumped the line, time and time and time again.

“To hell with writing a thousand word op-ed on caste discrimination, boys, I’ve had enough! Take good care of my goats – I’ll see you soon”, one can almost imagine Bapu telling his fellow-columnists, before he slipped his khadauns on and marched over to a temple demanding that it be thrown open for the oppressed and the denied.

Dozens of journalists may have written prior to Dandi about the ludicrousness and injustice of a salt-tax through their columns and editorials, but what is etched ultimately in our collective memory is not their beautifully worded protest or a critique of the British tax policy (“Wah! Kya likhtain hain, janab!”). What makes our hair stand on end, instead, is the image of a half-naked journalist walking briskly a thousand dusty miles just to raise a fistful of sand high up in the air for all to see and cheer. That is jumping in; that is crossing over the line which separates journalism from activism, observer from doer, man from Mahatma.

So the question is this: in a nation that cries out daily for a leader of some calibre, is it good enough for a journalist to merely observe and report and not lead those he is observing?

I talk here of P Sainath, a Hindu institution, and the man who could have been the Mahatma but decided in his own wisdom not to.

My argument, I understand only too well, is harsh – after all, who am I to criticise someone who has devoted his whole life to the cause of writing about Bharat? In fact, my arguments may disgust and pain Sainath, and for that I can only offer my apologies, but I am not going to stop now, sorry. Time is of essence. Before Rahul Gandhi readies his brood of fifty leaders who will rule us for the next few generations, I feel the time is ripe for the common citizenry to make their own list.

P Sainath is on my list. But first let me topple his giant cut-outs that adorn the entrance to his beloved Kasturi building.

When does a problem become so colossal and seemingly insurmountable that the nation demands a leader and not simply a journalist?

As famine struck with unparalleled ferocity, scores of farmers starved to death, and their children, with blobs of snot seeping down their noses, with their bellies distended and their bodies horribly mangled, the children looked at the bleak horizon with the sort of beseeching eyes one prays no one gets to lock into a stare. The villagers were dying; there was no money, no food, no water, and no hope. Forced to cultivate cash-crops by the ruthless State and the unforgiving landlords, the farmers realised to their collective horror that one can only sell a cash-crop, not consume it. But what happens when those buying the produce have fixed the price to their liking? The only way out is suicide.

This description is not of Vidharba or Kalahandi that Sainath has witnessed and described meticulously in his countless columns and essays for The Hindu. It attempts to depict, instead, the fate of the farmers of Champaran, Bihar, in 1917. What was true almost a century ago, before the advent of fighter jets and laptops and iPhones, holds true even today. Except that when a journalist came to know of the appalling state of farmers in Champaran, he dropped his pen and picked up his lathi.

Writing about state cruelty was no longer enough, doing something about it was what was needed. It was time to act on the misery, not catalogue it.

MKG established his base at Champaran, rallied the villagers, started schools and hospitals, led protests, organised strikes, was arrested, and promptly brought to court.

In court, hands clasped in front of him, bare-chested and with a wobbly stance, he looked at the judge and said: “As a law-abiding citizen my first instinct would be to obey the order served upon me. But I could not do so without doing violence to my sense of duty to those for whom I have come. I feel that I could serve them only by remaining in their midst…I have disregarded the order served upon me, not for want to respect lawful authority, but in obedience of the higher law of our being – the voice of conscience…I would submit without protest to whatever penalty that is imposed upon me.”

Tears wouldn’t stop, Sainath, tears wouldn’t stop, as I watched your film Nero’s Guests, as I saw you interview the families and children of the hundreds of farmers who had committed suicide. Their bellies weren’t distended, nor were their limbs mangled, but their eyes, Sainath, their eyes. And I saw you fill up form after form with your Reynolds as you sat across them like a census-walah. I saw you fill up their despair in empty boxes and empty spaces, after colons, before dashes, I saw you do all of that. I saw you take photos of them as they stood by their thatched shacks and stared blankly at the camera. You saw them through the viewfinder but I saw them through your eyes, Sainath!

They say it takes a lot for a man to cry, but they know nothing! It only takes a man to be an Indian to cry. And you, Sainath? You were stoic through it all, like a sarkari babu who goes house to house asking how many TVs do you have, do you have a scooter or have you graduated to a car, is this your house or are you a tenant…how many in your family have committed suicide?

And your labour of love, your reason to be alive, your “calling”, has been to go from village to village, district to district, and catalogue and chronicle and tabulate and tally and then write unimpeachable essays and columns. Is that all? Are you not perturbed, Sainath, by how you make grown men cry?

The soft clay that gets baked ultimately into a nation – our nation – Sainath, is the clay of untold misery. It is that same clay that trundles down our mountains and is washed over by the sin-obliterating waters of our holy rivers, and while you wait, Sainath, to receive that same clay, receive it in your trembling hands at Gangasagar before it is lost forever in the vast oceans of apathy, while you wait for that clay so you may shape it into objet d’arts so grotesque, so gut-wrenching, so monstrous, so eye-popping, that our leaders, our politicians may be moved to tears…

What eye-popping, what tears? They’re all blind, Sainath, every last one of them.

Ever since you started writing on farmers’ suicides, the suicide rate has only gone up. 10,720 farmers committed suicide in 1995, 15,964 in 2010. How many photographs did you collect in those 15 years? How many silent eyes are staring back at you?

If I am scathing towards you, Sainath, it is because I want more, much more from people like you. There are thousands of chroniclers in this country, didn’t you know! But there has only ever been one Mahatma.

So leave aside all those op-eds and columns that you write for The Hindu in the hope that caviar consuming cretins will sit up and take notice, abandon those lecture tours and talk circuits, stop wasting time on irrelevant planning commissioners who think restricted-entry toilets are the temples of modern India – leave all those column-yards for the pretenders so they may satiate their hypocritical need to curse capitalism and human enterprise and the western world.

Stand up, Sainath. Jump that line!

Contact-ranga

 

Image Source: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/vibgyorfilm/6778990364/]

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More from Anand Ranganathan


  • Shamanth

    Jump that line meaning you are beseeching him to join politics??

  • http://twitter.com/Sangbaran Sam-Gooner

    what an article!!!
    really really good work sir!!!
    I have followed the seminal work on the farming crisis by P Sainath(an institution by himself) and I revere and respect him for that.
    I really really hope he reads this article….if there is one journalist who can ACTUALLY make a change he is the one!!!

  • Vaidya2011

    Exceptional command over language and an even more exceptional statement of intent – brilliant article Mr. Anand! If this doesnt shake up Mr. Sainath, nothing can. He must act. NOW. And Mr Sainath, those who read and hear you, their tears are real – like the girl’s in the film above (00:01:48).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=645427705 Prakash Iyer

    Asking journos to do an MKG is a lil much. It would be enough if they maintain objectivity in their reporting and analysis. The problem in Sainath’s analysis is that he paints both the state and private sector as devils, but asks the state to intervene to solve almost every problem in the farming sector. Also, he considers all private enterprise to be a villainous Lala like they were depicted in hindi movies of 60s. Asking the state to do what they have been notoriously inefficient at, is not a convincing solution. The solution clearly lies somewhere in the middle, where we do have state regulations but not totally blocking private enterprise, and it is visible in most developed countries where farming subsidy coexists with bigbox retailers resulting in no suicides. But people like Sainath will never analyse solutions implemented in other countries, simply because they hate capitalism with a passion. Their ideology comes in the way of empirical analysis.

    • http://twitter.com/Jovial_January ¡Viva la Revolución!

      Can you give me some examples of countries where farming has risen substantially with private enterprise intervention? Also how much of the produce is of export quality & how much is consumed domestically? Statistics would really help understanding your point of view.

  • Sainath ji ke param bhakt

    P. Sainath is a sensible guy – knows much about farming in India than the agriculture ministers of the last 15 general elections put together and much more. Raganathan is fair in asking such a guy to play a much bigger role – why is Sainath wasting his time? But of course, the decision must be left to Sainath himself, if he doesn’t feel the need – it’s fine – I suppose he is doing a fine job in creating future leaders – but then – this would only be an assertion. I know Sainath has the capability – can’t say about the people that get inspired by him. Sainath ji, listening or not?

  • ritwam

    How about doing Newslaundry doing an Interview with P.Sainath. That would be more than a welcome change after repeatedly seeing the same clique of Delhi based armchair journos.

    • Deepali Sharma

      o! you have to listen to him in his talks… he will weed out each and every grain of your mental make up till date… One thing although you realize listening to him is that nothing that he says in news… we.. in the deepest darkest corners of our mind or heart do know that the broader framework of the topics he chooses to talk on is something very familiar to each one of us being Indians.. but like anyone else we are equally at fault for not sparing more than a single thought for all that’s wrong around us since that doesn’t affect us.. and since that guilt is contrived to not haunt us every passing day.. thanks to the people like us on influential positions.. making us believe in what is untrue.. One way or the other.. we are running away from the reality.. knowingly enough.. but that doesn’t bother since we don’t want to talk about it… however the questions still remains ‘Does that help the state?’.. Answer?? – No, it definitely will however increase the gap and make it more difficult for us to recover..

  • Humanity

    This is a nicely written article by Anand but lacks in analysis by his standards. Putting P Sainath against Mahatma is little out of relevance because of two main reasons : It is 2013 not 1940’s and now India is a democratic country. Let me explain implications of these two points in this case.

    1.In 1940’s there were two categories of Indians : extremely rich maharajahs and abysmally devoid poor.Today there is a third strata also: ‘The Great Indian Middle Class’.Today this strata is so busy in tapping on Indian growth story that ‘Self’ has diminished poor people into a statistic of BPL and national pride is at its nadir. I highly doubt that if MKG were to protest today for poor farmers he would have been able to mobilize people to such an extant for this cause.

    2. Anand Mentions that MKG left journalism and tried to do some ground work as journalistic space was a proliferated by such articles. Today How many articles, News debates and serious discussions can you find in mainstream media on farmers suicide. Sainath Himself says in movie that there were 500 accredited journalists to cover Lakme India fashion week but none covering farmers. In-fact in this context this is the first article on newslaundry itself.Indian Media is only to 100 million, by 100 million and for 100 million people, rest 900 million are shunted out of the process.

    If Gandhi were to present today, he would not have been Mahatma and this article could not have been written.

    Sainath spends average 250 days per year in poorest districts of India and his book “Everybody Loves a good drought” and his journalism is like a silver lining in this dark background otherwise.

  • Sainath ji ke param bhakt

    Okay, I see some comments here – which suggest that comparision with Mahatma is a “thought crime” – Mahatma was someday a “normal man” with good intent… Sainath has done some good work too… did not walk “bare naked” like Gandhi… but Sainath work is no less.. at least he is not sitting behind his computer, and commenting like you and me.. but providing hard evidence of whatever he writes…

  • irlmaks

    I completely agree with you. Gandhi was also not alone in the fight in Independence. There were many. The plight was not seen and started by Gandhi. He just led them. I do not think the backing for farmer’s issues is in a comparable range. I for one think Sainath is doing a brilliant job by spreading the word in the first place. I am sure that the message is being reached to many by his works. Media is pivotal in mass movements. I am not sure if media, whose target audience is a middle class and upper middle class citizens based out of cities and towns, would cover farmer related movements extensively. How much did Newslaundry itself write about farmers till now?

    • Bhogendra Thakur

      Newslaundry is a partisan media and loves sensalisism. Difficult for them to highlight and praise what P Sainath is doing.

  • Priya VK Singh

    I agree whole heartedly —– but: jump the line and do what???

  • http://twitter.com/NamitaWaikar Namita Waikar

    Anand – If you think that P. Sainath’s writing and work is only about “observe and report” you are grievously mistaken.

    There are several areas that have had an impact due to his work. Just simple searching would have led you to a few. Lets take the easiest – from wikipedia – His writing has provoked responses that include
    1) Revamping of the Drought Management Programs in the state of Tamil Nadu,
    2) Development of a policy on indigenous medical systems in Malkangiri in Orissa,
    3) Revamping of the Area Development Program for tribal people in Madhya Pradesh.
    The Times of India institutionalized his methods of reporting and sixty other leading newspapers initiated columns on poverty and rural development. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Agriculture Commission in Andhra Pradesh to suggest ways for improving agriculture in that state.

    An important and recent impact of his work was a supreme court judgement fining Vilasrao Deshmukh Rs. 10 lakhs – a judgement that quotes Sainath’s work in The Hindu at length.
    By demanding of P.Sainath to become a second Mahatma, I recognise that you mean to pay the veteran journalist a compliment but it is one with a bizarre factual basis, completely off the wall and achieves the opposite of the intended effect. Do you have any idea of the pain and trauma of visiting those suicide-hit households and what qualifies you to lecture a man who has visited over 800 of them, in order to keep the issue alive and confront the powerful and government with the facts while bringing them to readers?
    How is it that you feel moved by those stories – but think the man who wrote them is not!?
    Have you ever spoken to Sainath and asked him what it feels like to visit those households and what it has done to him and his life? What prevented you from doing so before writing this piece?

    You assume too much and I shall attribute it to your ignorance about what visiting a suicide hit household means. This is what you say to P. Sainath – “You were stoic through it all, like a sarkari babu who goes house to house asking how many TVs do you have, do you have a scooter or have you graduated to a car, is this your house or are you a tenant…how many in your family have committed suicide?”
    Do you have any clue about what the questions are that Sainath asks those people in the suicide-hit households? Do you know that none of those questions is about televisions or cars? And is it bad to bring rigour, data and analysis to reporting?

    You insult the intelligence of readers, especially those who have been reading Sainath’s work for years and know much more about the impact of his work than you do. Believe me there are millions of these readers not just here in India but all over the world.

    • virat pandey

      What kind of trashy analysis is this – completely disagree with you. Actually quite agree with one of the comments
      here by prashant iyer though I’m not as critical of sainath as him. He’s right when he says that sainath thinks private agricultural enterprise is a 1960s villainous enterprise – “ideology comes in the way of empirical analysis.” You and
      other jhola-types and biased MSM may laugh but you need to look at Gujarat and its agricultural policy and the way its agricultural growth is head and shoulders above the rest of India, despite being one of driest regions of the country. As far as i know there are no farmer suicides in gujarat. Yes, Sainath is a great journalist, but what is this you talk about, that his work has led to “revamping the drought…” “development of a policy…” “revamping of the area…” This is bull – seems to me classic NGO-speak. What has “developing, revamping etc” ever done to help the cause of poor in this country? We are masters of drafting reports and revamping and developing policies – amazing that you got bought by this crap. FYI Malkangiri and tribal areas of MP are the most neglected and poor regions anywhere in the world! And what is this “policy of indigenous medical systems??” Like roohafza and amrutanjan? I watched the film nero’s guests yesterday after reading this piece and the only overwhelming thought I had after watching the film was that this man sainath must *must* do more. like the article says, the suicide rate is all the time going up. If sainath’s articles were making a huge difference this couldn’t have been the case. Don’t you get it? Its that simple. So get off your high horse and stop being holier than thou. Its not only you who has read sainath’s books and his hindu articles ok. Sainath ji *needs* to lead from front – enough of writing.

      • http://twitter.com/Jovial_January ¡Viva la Revolución!

        “The numbers of farmer suicide in Gujarat saw a steep rise from 523 in 2010 to 578 in 2011.”
        (Source: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_failed-crop-sowed-seeds-of-37-farmer-suicides-in-gujarat_1740897 )

        “If people commit suicide due to losses in business, blame it on their fate. The same is the case with the farmers.” – BJP chief RC Faldu, Gujarat.

        Coming to Gujarat agricultural policy, A License is necessary for farmers to draw water.

        • http://www.facebook.com/yashwnt.narayan Yashwanth Narayan

          dude..http://sanhati.com/excerpted/5145/ you can check the table which shows farmer suicides from 2001-2010, compare it with farmer suicides from 1995-2010 ..and just STFU . “A License is necessary for farmers to draw water”…so u are for water misuse by rich farmers…clap clap clap?

          • kasyap

            suicides are commited by farm labour not farmers. govt doesnt understand this. They start giving sops to farmers. small farmers and labour are commiting suicides

    • Nicki Patel

      Very good point. Thank you for highlighting this.

    • Anand Ranganathan

      Dear Namita,
      Thank you for commenting. Can I please request you to refer to my response to John LeGrass’ comment – that’ll save me from repeating myself. Thanks. Just also to add that, clearly, your comment was heartfelt and you displayed the same amount of anguish that perhaps I did when I wrote the piece. Exactly how I’d like the readers of my articles to be. Please also understand that my idea is never to insult the intelligence of my readers – why would I ever do that? And I do take your point: yes, I haven’t visited a house where a farmer has committed suicide, but Namita, how many of us have? Am I not allowed to sense the grief and the desperation without having to experience the trauma first-hand? Didn’t Sainath allow us all to do that with his film? Lastly, please understand that I never stated that Sainath asks the farmers about TVs, scooters and stuff. There was, however, something very deeply unsettling about a printed blank form with fillable blocks and spaces being used for the purpose.

      Many thanks again for taking part in the debate and commenting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kasuprashu Prasanth Kasukurthi

    this could be a genuine request from the writer to Sainath to jump the line comparing his style with that of Mahatma. but reporting about the plight of the farmers in the so-called agricultural based economy is equally sane to that of Mahatma in present times. in 1940’s Mahatma, was in the position of leading the freedom movement, and thus he in his consciousness to fight against injustice and inequality had led the champaran farmers and Dandi march and others. Today, the elected government, the parliament,legislatures, and other institutions are in place to work for the people. The today’s leaders are responsible to the people and are supposed to be service to people. thus when such leaders, who could be very much the next generation of Mahatma, are taking different course and abusing the office(Not all of them). thus a responsible journos(not one) are required to report on the issues on ground, and forcing the lawmakers introduce reforms benefiting them.

    Thus Sainath’s reporting on the issues on ground is commendable in these times of irresponsible media, he can be rather a saint in the world of journos. Govt’s actions in various issues raised by Sainath as told by Namita Waikar highly suggests, that Sainath is a saint in this 21st century in India.

    Yes Sainath, could have jumped the line, and take the position of a lawmaker, as kejriwal decided in his fight against corruption. but one cannot take that position as he wishes, but have to go through elections or civil services(he is too old to take bureaucracy) to be a lawmaker—given the present state of politics, politics is a long way to acheive. to take up politics or not, it is entirely his prerogative. and maybe he can be right in his judgement(if he had a thought of it). only a politician need not be a person to address the issues.

    jumping the line does not necessarily mean taking up politics, there can be other ways like activism. At this juncture, lemme bring in Medha Patkar and dayamani barla, who are both activists and journalists and I think the writer calls it jumping the line. I wish P Sainath also follow the same course, leading the kisan movements. but he had gone beyond that and made governments make decisions on writing. both the courses are equally good. judging by the above observations, reporting and editorials can also be equated to a kind of activism, which the journo in the subject is doing.

    • Raden

      To Anandji the author of this article – Maybe next time just communicate your feelings directly to Sainath..Most of the people who have commented here, are spewing venom without even having understood what you mean!! In response to your article, I would say that everyone has different roles to play depending on what they are comfortable with. Maybe Sainathji feels confident simply about creating awareness, but would prefer to leave the implementation to someone else. Cant force him!! I am currently pursuing my MSc on farmer suicides, and the thing I told myself at the start, is not to get emotional during this project because I feel VERY BADLY about it. Maybe Sainathji feels the same way, he doesnt display emotions because he feels very bad about it…

  • Abhishek

    Every now and then we compare people with Mahatma and wish if we could get another Mahatma e.g. Anna, Kejriwal, Sainath and so on. The fact is that we can’t have another Mahatma. Let people get inspiration from the Mahatma and choose their own way to contribute. Sainath’s work too has inspired many and resulted actions as mentioned in the some of the comments also. When we expect someone to be like Mahatma, we often tend to delegate our responsibilities towards nation and society to someone others shoulder….

  • Sivaram

    Anand – you are obviously in thrall of Sainath’s lucid analysis and probably never bothered to verify the facts. The mainstream media (as opposed to the loony left Hindu) is much smarter and have ditched him long time back. He is very well known for fudging facts & numbers to fit his world view. He doesn’t even realize that the key to rural poverty is lack of access to healthcare and education coupled with colonial era restrictions on sale of agricultural produce. He praises the MGNREGA scheme which treats the rural poor as beggers, as opposed to investing the same resources in creating rural infrastructure which has a much longer lasting value. But the, long term sensible plans don’t sell news papers and are not translated into catchy Headlines. You are way off the base in comparing him with the Mahatma – He never lied and always had a long term vision, even if it was flawed.

    • bharat kumar nayak

      Fudging facts???got sense then check the sources he refereed to

  • Daa Dee Daaaaah

    Just because MKG jumped the line, it doesn’t mean that every other journalist can or should. There are so many other factors to consider, including personal (the personality traits it takes to be a peerless journalist do not translate to the personality traits it takes to being an iconic leader and politician) and political (India then was a very different place from India today).

    All in all, a very shallow analysis and conclusion. I expected better.

  • Dinesh

    Anand – While the anguish in your plea is understandable, your argument is flawed. Sainath is a beacon of hope in the hopeless and hedonistic journalistic community. The very fact that many are passionately debating is a testimony to his journalisitc acumen and razor sharp reporting. Request you to interview him and write a follow up piece atleast you would have adhered to one basic law of natural justice – “Hear the other side”.
    Regards
    dinesh

    P.S – Waiting for the second part of the Hindu Eulogy oops trilogy

  • naganaga

    I applaud you for kicking P Sainath in his shins, to get up and do something about all the injustices he writes about; but I castigate you for picking only him, and not the other journalists that cover development, rural affairs, agriculture etc. This makes me suspect your motives.

  • h pattabhirama somayaji

    Why grudge what he did professionally?
    While you have the language as well as the articulation, I haven’t come across to match Sainath’s writing.
    Should we presume, you wish to just brow-beat?

  • Anon?

    A well meant article, and thank you for bringing to light the deeply unsettling albeit important documentary about Sainath and his work (Nero’s Guests). However, I disagree with the call for asking him to jump the line. Just as science depends on individuals who describe a phenomena as much as on individuals who describe the mechanism behind the phenomena; the society too is as indebted to individuals who bring to light malpractices and neglected areas as much as it is to individuals who physically engage in the process of bringing about a change. I appreciate P Sainath’s steadfast dedication to his calling, which in turn has influenced development programs of at least some Indian states. Also, I did not find Sainath to be the “Sarkari babu” you describe him to resemble in the documentary. In the instance where he witnesses a farmer who has consumed pesticide being brought into the hospital or when he is interacting with the crew shooting the documentary, I see the angst and frustration of the individual working for a cause. When the Mahatma broke the salt law, there were other journalists to cover the incident, but if Sainath jumps the line, who do we turn to for reports? There may be thousands of chronicler’s in this country, but is any one among them another Sainath?

  • Vishal Patnaik

    Dear Anand, This has to be the worst article I have ever read. For a piece of armchair journalism, it has to be a classic. After decades of tireless and brilliant reporting on poverty in India, do you feel he is unmoved simply because YOU haven’t seen him crying all over the place in soap opera style? As for being a Mahatma, if you feel the need for one, how about you give it a go instead of outsourcing it to someone else? Of course, going by the shallowness of your writing the absolutely juvenille arguments you make, I doubt you’d make for a good Mahatma. P Sainath is a journalist who spends 200 days of the year in India’s poorest villages, a task that has had a serious impact on his health. He is a journalist who has won the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay for his work. So I don’t know what you mean when you say that all he does is document poverty. Are you demeaning journalsim as a profession?

  • Roop Kumar Shah

    I am shocked that News Laundry could publish such an idiotic article. How dare you suggest that P Sainath, who has covered rural poverty for several decades, is unmoved by what he has seen. Do you think that he would dedicate his entire life to the poor of the country if he were not moved by what he saw. Just because YOu haven’t seen him break down and cry in his drawing room, the way you broke down and cried, it means he does not feel for the cause as much as YOU do. This is a serious allegation. Your ridiculously shallow analysis of journalism shows how little you feel for the cause. Its very easy for an armchair critic to breakdown and cry when he sees the poor. A bit like Europeans who’s heart bleeds for Africa. Try going out on the field and doing a spot of work youreself.

  • Anand Prasad Sharma

    This has to be the worst article I’ve read in a long time. So Anand thinks journalism is a meaningless profession? What an idiot. Surprised that such trash is allowed on newslaundry. Lost all respect for the website.

  • Anand Prasad Sharma

    Trash! Who the hell is this twit. Never heard of Anand Ranganathan before. Glad I don’t read pulp fiction.

  • Human Grace

    Leave your armchair and do some real work, Anand. Breaking down every time you see the poor won’t eradicate poverty.

  • S D Sharma

    Who wrote this article ? “We” have 33.3982 Billion Gods. That is the approximate number of known stars/suns in existence at the time the last multi-verse collapsed. Fool !! Revise your basic Hindu cosmology before making such ill informed remarks. Sainath would not have made such an elementary mistake.

  • Human Grace

    This is a shameful piece of defamation against the country’s best journalist. Do you want P Sainath to walk into the homes of families of farm suicide victims and burst into tears? Do you think that would make it easier for the victims to bear their pain. And do you think that the suicides move you but not him, because YOU cry in front of your TV screen while P Sainath goes from village to village in the baking heat of summer in drought-prone Vidarbha interviewing people who have lost their family members.

  • Indian First

    Idiotic article. Defamatory.

  • rataionalindian

    Bloody insensitive &*&%^$%#! Piece of shit writing. Does a non-entitiy like anand whathisname want to cash in on sainath’s popularity?

  • Dilnavaz

    Very disappointed with news laundry for posting such a shabby article.

  • Nitesh Kumar Sharma

    Badly researched. Badly written. News Laundry is my favourite site. I can’t believe I’m reading such stuff here.

  • Nitya

    I just barfed all over this piece of crap.

  • Nikhil R

    Pathetic article. Newslaundry owes P Sainath an apology

  • Prakash Mohan Chintamani

    Is this author (WTF is he BTW) serious ? Obviously some foreign returned youngster wet behind the years with his white god gifted PhD with no work to do other than write this nonsense.

  • http://twitter.com/bpatnaik143 Bhaskar

    Sainath is the best journalist I have ever seen. Amongst the Barkha’s and Rajdeep’s of todays paid media. Sainath seems to be the last hope. You were right Anand you are no body to comment on him.

  • John LeGrasse

    I have to concede that the author’s very emotional exhortation to Sainath to jump that line is obtuse. But knowing Anand to be a sensitive writer from his earlier columns, I would like to hear from the author himself what he proposes that Sainath actually do after crossing the line. Those who surmise that by “jumping that line” the author is referring to taking the political plunge and floating a party – Kejri-style – may be guilty of oversimplification. Activism need not always be of a political hue. Even Gandhiji’s activism was frequently imbued with spirituality and social mobilization. There is a dramatic irony in this piece in that the author confers the ultimate praise on Sainath – the writer (“Are you not perturbed, Sainath, by how you make grown men cry?”), and then goads and mocks him for not taking the mantle of a leader (“…I feel the time is ripe for the common citizenry to make their own list. P Sainath is on my list.”). In a convuluted sense, one can’t help but agree with the author – on the one hand there’re panjandrums like Rahul Gandhi – symbolizing everything that is wrong with our ‘leadership’ – whom we are supposed to submit to with zombie-like stolidity year after year and then there are unmistakably noble men – like Sainath – whom, we, as grieving citizens, would willingly empower, if only they decide to take on a role of actively stemming the systemic rot (through political activism/social movement/citizen initiatives).

    And in an important sense, one can only wonder how much of the colossal wisdom contained in the monolithic body of writings produced by mankind has actually trickled down and guided the path of humanity. I recall Osho mocking the great world-teacher J Krishnamurti by saying “There are people who have listened to him for fifty years continually, and still they are the same people as had come for the first time to listen to him.” What the author is perhaps trying to ask is – and of course, my guess as good as the next man’s – do we overestimate the power of words? Ms. Namita’s points are well taken, but the question remains: can men of letters do more for the very causes that they espouse, having earned the respect of thousands through their writings, if they leave their pens aside and choose a different course?

    As for the ‘sarkari babu’ dig, well, that may be stretching it a bit too far and reveals an inherent logical ataxia (a stoic sarkari babu is not likely to be able to make a tear-inducing film about farmer suicides).

    • Anand Ranganathan

      Careful, John LeGrasse, I’m becoming a bit of a fan of your writings (they are no longer mere comments)! I think you’ve analysed my project – that’s what it was, I can now disclose, as opposed to being an essay or a piece on Sainath – so well that I find it difficult to add anything to it. I also confess that the piece was written almost immediately and in a hurry, after I had watched Nero’s Guests – perhaps that was intentional: I didn’t want the passage of time to delete out some of my thoughts that many may have found egregious or offensive – and they have, bless’em.

      When I picked my pen to write the piece I only asked one question: what if tomorrow Sainath was given a billion to spend, was given all the powers that he doesn’t currently have, was given legit, legal means, was given an army of people who’d listen to his command…what would he do? That was my premise. And if you were to extrapolate it a little further, then I’m afraid you’d have to ask as to why does Sainath not want to come into that position?! Would he or would he not serve those he’s spent all his life for better with all the money and the power? I understand, there are so many in the comments section here who don’t want him to leave what he’s doing…fair enough, nothing wrong in that. But in a way, what Sainath is doing presently, howsoever stupendously creditable it is, one can’t help but wonder why can’t it be more,MORE! As one commentator put it, mine was a call of anguish. What’s wrong with that?! I find status quo and the current leadership scenario intolerable. What’s so wrong in asking Sainath to add a little to his CV? RememberTawakkol Karman? The Yemeni journalist who kick-started the Arab spring that won her the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize (the prize is beside the point but still)? I stop right here before some start accusing me of “how dare you compare Sainath to Karman, etc etc”) But the larger point is that for everything in life there’s a window when one must act. I want Sainath to act!

      All other points and psychoanalytical juices you squeezed out from the piece perfectly.

      • John LeGrasse

        Haha, as soon as I read this I could tell that you must have done this piece immediately after watching the film – the cathartic intent of writing it perhaps forcing your hand before the winds of reason could enfeeble the choler.

        I am frankly surprised though that some of the syllogistic commenters here couldn’t forgive the polemics despite the fairly transparent intent behind this essay.

        • Anand Ranganathan

          Beware the Winds of Reason! They come in the way of people
          falling in love, or thinking with their ‘dill’, or, worse, prevent them from
          making mistakes.

          • guest

            Is “John LeGrasse” Anand’s alter-ego (NL account from wife’s laptop)?

      • Raden

        Anandji – Maybe next time just communicate your feelings directly to Sainath..Most of the people who have commented here, are spewing venom without even having understood what you mean!! In response to your article, I would say that everyone has different roles to play depending on what they are comfortable with. Maybe Sainathji feels confident simply about creating awareness, but would prefer to leave the implementation to someone else. I am currently pursuing my MSc on farmer suicides, and the thing I told myself at the start, is not to get emotional during this project because I feel VERY BADLY about it. Maybe Sainathji feels the same way, he doesnt display emotions because he feels very bad about this tragedy. We need a man at the top, with the vision, the will and the determination to bring about a change in the agrarian sector and we need him soon because we cannot eat cash crops…

  • one

    First thing is MKG was not mahatma, Mr. Anand and His Friends will find this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJs-BJoSzbo ) informative to know how long MKG’s JUMP was?

  • http://aamjanata.com vidyut

    I have blogged a reply to this nonsense. http://blogs.halabol.com/2013/03/13/nero-about-mahatma-sainath

  • Abhay Patil

    Dear Anand – you are a classic case of middle class escapist! You can’t bear what Sainath chronicles – let alone ACT on it. And so to camouflage your guilt you question Sainath for NOT acting. It is always nice to expect somebody else to be a Mahatma or a doer. Sainath is doing his part, within his limitations. Let’s applaud him and do whatever little we could do alleviate the misery he chronicles.

  • Kashinath Vaishampayan

    This trash of a piece beats sane logic, but has a perfect politically correct cadence. Author appears in absolute awe [uncalled for and undeserving] about Mahatma. It’s time we grew out of this cock-and-bull distorted history that allowed to sustain MKG’s Mahatmahood intact. An honest analysis can easily explain how dearly Mahatma’s [so-called] errors of commission and commission have cost this country and is costing more even today due to our muddled thinking and misplaced common sense. So, instead of advising someone like P Sainath to plunge into politics…why not try it yourself and clean the Augean stables of Politics and Journalism? Ponder over it instead of pontificating. K R Vaishampayan

  • Khushboo

    Isn’t this ‘logical’ derivation a little bit too limiting and simplistic in its scope and deduction: Mahatma=Journalist+activist, Sainath=Journalist, Therefore Sainath≠Mahatma. Each label is naive. Not only does it assume perfectly clean categories of exaltation, it also forcibly fits very complex individuals and their public work into these. There is a trend that I find extremely perturbing: We want heroes and we want them to be god-like, spotless, beyond mere human fallacies. And if they betray such vulnerabilities, then they must be reduced to those vulnerabilities. To say one expects more of “people like Sainath” implies some sort of divine selection, and not a conscious choice. A choice that is available to most of us.

  • RM

    NL posting articles that are little more than long bad jokes isn’t surprising or shocking anymore. NL has achieved success doing so and will perhaps continue in the mould it has made for itself. Similarly Ranganathan playing out his own politics and trying to trash The Hindu is understandable (he has a democratic right to do propaganda for his politics) and doing it in the manner he has is on expected lines too.

    What was unexpected was the level to which he’d stoop to act out his politics and that NL and its editors (who have at least some experience in how things work in journalism) would allow such a piece to be posted.

    Unlike what some commentators here have mistaken, Ranganathan is not praising Sainath. He doesn’t give a damn about who Sainath is or what he writes about or for that matter the fact that The Hindu remains the only newspaper in this country that has stood firm against paid news. He is mocking Sainath for doing what he does – report about the poor and unfed of this country. Problem is his honesty and integrity is at such a level (something even those who may disagree with him will unfailingly accept) that cheap propagandists like Ranganathan cannot dismiss him. So he’s resorted to dismissing his body of journalistic work by labeling him a Mahatma – an activist.

    Ranganathan should know that just anybody with a keyboard and the time to type out words does not become a journalist or analyst. Certainly not one of Sainath’s stature.

    I’m employed as consulting editor with a competing publication of The Hindu (one which is quite at the other end of the political spectrum) and hence unable to name myself in this comment. But I would request Madhu Trehan and Abhinandan Shekri to re-examine what they are doing by giving space to such riff raff. It will damage their endeavour beyond repair.

  • http://www.facebook.com/abhijit.prabhudesai Abhijit Prabhudesai

    Dear Anand, you are either naive, or worse! Try getting any member of the press in Goa to report the truth – when they are not busy polishing off scotch at bars owned by illegal miners and other criminals, or collecting their monthly cheques for brainwashing the readers …. The worst enemy of the land and its people are these mercenaries armed with pens. Sainath is indeed an exception, and this attack on him is really shocking, especially when the likes of Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt rule the roost.

  • Meap

    Such a silly article. Is Anand writing a film script? Or did he run out of ideas for an article but had a deadline to meet?

  • amita joseph

    Why dont you become that crusader Anand? – why do you want Sainath to? He is a journalist who has held a mirror to what is around us which we chose not to see. And he has done so with integrity, passion & feeling Anand. Why dont you leave your comfortable job & travel at least 20 days in Bharat before you can even be qualified to comment on someone who has spent his life on the cause. He has chosen his cause wisely – why dont you yours?

  • Apoorva Joshi

    I don’t know what it is I just read. I don’t see that I can label it as ‘armchair journalism’ like others have because, frankly, that term is senseless. If you’re a journalist, there are no armchairs in your life. If there are, something’s messed up. Honestly, the one main point I am concerned with is that the author himself mentions India’s wait for a leader and then asks a journalist to jump the line. Sorry, but isn’t that exactly what a journalist is NOT supposed to do? There’s a reason why every single journalism school in the world teaches prospective journalists the value of objectivity – the value of being the outsider and yet, reporting from within. If we jumped that line, we’d be activists. And no, there’s nothing wrong with being activists. It’s gotta be one or the other. Unless you have a split-personality, it’s not advisable to be both.
    Also, if the author felt the pain, the sting of what those families have been through, then why not get up and be an activist yourself? Why urge a columnist to do that?
    On some level, I understand part of the sentiment behind this article, I think but I don’t think it does a good job of clarifying just what the point here is. Plus, there’s a pretty strong emotional undercurrent here- enough to not be an ‘under’current really.
    Bottom line is, while I completely understand the social, cultural and global importance of activism, I just don’t think asking journalists, who witness difficulty and have seen thousands of stories unfold before them, to jump the line- is the solution.
    Maybe it’s different when the journalist in question is an op-ed writer and not ‘just a reporter’. But even then, he/she is still a journalist.

  • Raajaysh

    Dear Anand,

    I read your article and was willing to believe that it was your way of paying tribute to Sainath’s work. I am sharing a poem (Maa Teresa) by Javed Akhtar which you may have read
    or heard earlier. Please go through it just once more and see how the
    author puts himself in the line of fire. I thought you meant to do the same.
    However, your response to some of the comments cleared the air. I may
    not agree with you at all but appreciate your anguish and the lucidity
    with which you express it. Having said that, I must say that most of us
    (including me) are
    arm-chair activists shedding tears and wiping them away before we bite
    into our next burger. We are completely dispensable in this crusade for
    the farmers. But Sainath (whether as a ‘Mahatma’ or an ‘anti-Mahatma’) is absolutely essential as he is the lone voice
    today. May be it shows us the mirror one day and some of us may take
    the first steps. But without him doing what he is doing, you may rest
    assured that no one will ever cross the line that you referred to.

    Regards,
    Raajaysh

  • Avinash Chopde

    Mr. Anand, I have 2 points to make.

    1. Impact:
    If possible, do read/recollect the fairly popular starfish story before you proceed. I was a bright student from a NIT, worked at an Indian conglomerate for an year, completed an MBA from the 3th best B-School in India and joined a leading consultancy firm in Mumbai. In spite of being in some of India’s leading organizations, for well over 10 years of my impressionable life, I was neither sensitized nor inspired enough to help contribute to the development sector personally or even professionally. You may attribute this to my ignorance and I wouldn’t contest that. However what I would categorically contest is your claim- ‘saying’ is not ‘doing’. What if I tell you that Mr.Sainath’s work has been the greatest inspiration for me to think about make a professional leap. You not only undermine the professions that journalism is, but also those like academics (research & teaching) and civil society social work. And thus, the question- how do you measure impact for work that may not deal with strictly quantifiable parameters?

    2. Purpose:
    I understand from some of your comments that you welcome debate, counter-opinions and even critique. And I assume, why you do that is to honor the ultimate purpose of your written submission- to reach a greater plane of understanding over the topic at hand in order to enable quicker and better action. I am still puzzled about the purpose of your piece apart from your submission that ‘saying more’ is not equivalent to ‘doing more’ which is flawed in it’s first premise mentioned in point 1 above. If it means it’s not equivalent to ‘doing enough’, then I’d like to hear an alternative. Because a critique of something being inadequate is baseless if it’s not substantiated with an addendum or an alternative. Eager to hear from you on that.

    Lastly, somewhat alluding to the Peter Principle- ‘Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence’, I believe someone who is doing stupendously creditable work (your words) on this side of the line, should not jump it. Who then does the stupendous work on this side is question number one. And what does this man of limited expertise do on the other side, the value of which is greater than the opportunity cost of leaving behind what he did best, is question number two. Pardon a bit of management jargon, but I’m curious to know your view on this too.

  • Akshay Marathe

    What Anand has not accounted for is the millions that Sainath has inspired over the years to become doers. Phenomenal contribution.

  • Timbucktoo

    This is extremely well written and motivating. I had tears in my eyes after reading this article. I agree with the fact that journalist’s duty is not just documenting and portraying facts. It more about influencing the right segment of people in taking strategic decisions. But even a journalist has his own limitations and can’t fight single handed against an organised system.
    Mahatma belonged to the era where entire india was motivated to change the system and in the current scenario we can just have an anna hazare with thousands fb likes and not a dandi march across 1000kms. Going by the changing scenario we may say Sainath has already jumped the line. Its just a matter of time.

  • Vaibhav

    Why Sainath? Why not you?… as the Mahatma said “Be the change you want to see…”

  • indu

    Why not you anand? Why Sainath? Let him do what he is doing.. You become a leader awakened by his articles rather than questioning Sainath sir and demanding him. He is Nobel man India would ever see.. Dare you not use any shabby words for him.. And surely you also have the right to question your representative whom you voted in democratic India.

  • Swagato Sanyal

    I am largely ignorant of Mr. Sainath’s works. But it is not unbelievable to me that honest reporting alone, which involves collecting data exhaustively, meticulously analyzing them and putting them in a larger context, and which is pitifully scanty in recent times, has the potential to spark off struggles to change the scenario for the better. For a passionate person like Mr. Sainath who is trained in journalism, who has willingly made the non-standard choice of reporting about rural India and its people, and who has a wealth of experience gathered in course of his long career and visits to the countryside, it appears to me that the best way for him to do his own bit towards achieving the change he desires is doing what he is currently doing and what he is best at: reporting.

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