Hafta letters: Tom Cotton's oped, KCR and Telangana, Indian politics on a chessboard
NL Dhulai

Hafta letters: Tom Cotton's oped, KCR and Telangana, Indian politics on a chessboard

NL subscribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!

By NL Team

Published on :

Mail 1:

Hi all,

I was a bit disappointed with the way you put down Shekhar Gupta’s The Print. If Iyer-Mitra writes for them, so be it. “If you think that’s your platform with bigots is your platform of choice...“ I would ask you to refrain from saying such things. Comment on your own platform, not others, because you do not know how they completely work. Making presumptions like “these organisations will go back to adverts" is again presumptuous. You can call them out when it happens, not make presumptions (like you did with Barkha). If they don’t, will you come out and say you were wrong?

Anand Ranganathan was bigoted even when he was at NL. I remember writing in a letter twice saying I am a Mangalorean or a Kannadiga because every time he heard something intelligent, he would say 'oh this guy/gal is Tamilian for sure'. Wasn’t that racist or regionalist? So you gave him the platform at that time. He has raised a couple of notches now. I am quite sure people in Republic or Times Now heard and read him at NL before asking him to come onto their Shit Show.

Nothing more to say, really, but I thought I should say this.

Mail 2:

Hi there,

In 100 words.

First it was less than 700 words.

Uske baad it became 500 words.

Uske baad it became 300 words.

And now it is 100 words.

This is an attack on the freedom of expression of us subscribers.

Anyways, I think you should have Hafta letters as a separate show like you were doing for a couple of weeks. Or have a Zoom call for these letters and I think it would be a good platform for subscriber views.

And my 100th word will be my name at the end of this email.

Best regards,

Dhiraj Bhandary

***

Hi NL Team,

Mehraj mentioned in the last Hafta (280) that subscribers should write on the topic of whether you should cover Dr Naresh Trehan's FIR case; hence, I thought of writing to you.

Let me start by appreciating the team for taking this up on Hafta and soliciting responses from subscribers. That takes a lot of courage. Here is my take and it may be wrong from a journalistic point of view. You can report the facts of the case (including the copy of the FIR and responses from both the parties) and consciously not including any opinion. You guys are the best judges to take the call though.

Coming to what Raman cited as an example of India Today, I noticed that Mr Poorie hardly gets any criticism for running pure propaganda through his channels as much as the other owners of the channels get (like the Jains or Subhash Kapoor of Zee) and rightly so. The anchors of India Today and Aaj Tak are called out very frequently on your platform, but not Mr Poorie. Do you think he does not have any visibility to what is running on his channels? Dr Trehan's case may not be important as news but India Today's garbage is important for NL as you are the media critic.

Also, I feel there is no point in putting a panel member with conservative/right-wing views for the sake of being perceived as neutral. Even when the four of you sit together, you all don't agree with each other and that diversity of thoughts is good enough. You had your experiences with one of your ex-consulting editors. Please bring in Ayush, Prateek or Basant in your discussion sometimes, they are such good reporters. Keep doing the great job.

Cheers,

Saugat Majumdar

***

Dear Newslaundry team,

I have been meaning to write to Hafta for a while but got lazy. As a result, this email is a compilation of a few different thoughts and is rather long, apologies in advance.

Wanted to start out the email with my two cents on the diversity of perspectives on Newslaundry discussion. Having two upper-caste Hindu men, one spewing right-wing ideas and another left-wing ideas, isn’t diversity of perspectives. Both these men exist in the same bubble: they would have led very similar lives, been educated in very similar institutions, exist within similar networks. These two men going at each other is not diversity of perspectives but an Ekta Kapoor drama.

Real diversity of perspectives comes from having and actively striving for gender, caste and religious representation who can bring their awareness and opinion to an issue from having different contexts and lived experiences, instead of swearing allegiance to a "wing".

And that is why I really appreciate Newslaundry’s aim to reach caste representation and Mehraj’s crusade against casteism and Brahminism on the Hafta. The British ruled India for about 300 years and we still keep crying about all the shit that went wrong and the problems we have inherited as a result of those years. The history of US slavery is 400 years old and we are currently witnessing the ramifications of that. We, the upper caste people of India, have subjected Dalits to arguably so much worse for an easy 3000 years.

You and I are spending each day of our lives worrying about Covid-19: returning to work, traveling, the economy, vaccine trials. Meanwhile, Dalits still manually scavenge each day among other dehumanising work: they’ve never had any PPE, they’ve contracted illnesses no one is bothering to treat. The Dalits of India would make up the seventh largest nation by population and we rarely bat an eyelid for their problems. You and I can’t begin to understand the trauma of being a persecuted group for three millennia with no justice in sight.

Therefore, till we get to the point of proportional representation in newsrooms and in other positions of power, it is our duty to relentlessly shine a light in that direction if we want to build a progressive India. I laud Mehraj for regularly reminding us of the "caste angles" of an issue because unlike what some others may think, if a system has existed for 3,000 years, rest assured that system’s bias and bigotry has very definitely infiltrated every thing and mind in present-day India.

The rest of the email is some unsolicited business development ideas for Newslaundry. Please feel free to ignore, have just been thinking about some of these things and wanted to share.

The entertainment industry often looks to anthropological studies to understand the human need/desire to belong and, as a result, be "fans" of something which helps build fandoms for franchises. The more a person is allowed the opportunity to contribute, the more they invest. The best examples of this are Chinese video platforms like iQiyi, Tencent and Bilibili which have created brilliant gamified ecosystems. Netflix India has followed a similar path and has created a freemium model with a vibrant ecosystem outside the platform allowing audience interaction which helps in creating a "sticky" customer.

So I was really glad to see the NL YouTube sessions, social media interactions, and subscribers getting to participate in NL vs NL, all of which helps in creating that "fandom" and sense of belonging. On the Awful and Awesome podcast, if you announced the major shows and movies you’d cover the following week, it is likely that many subscribers could spend some time watching them and write in, so in case Abhinandan or Rajyasree are unable to catch something, you’d still have other voices with reviews and opinions. Creating other such low-cost, high-engagement initiatives could, in my personal opinion, go a long way in converting the mufatkhors into paid subscribers. Because they would be paying not only to keep news free but also to gain a community — something we are all lacking in these Covid times.

I also think the team should relook into the pricing strategy. When Netflix costs Rs 200 per month, and Prime costs Rs 99 per month, it becomes hard psychologically for many people to justify a Rs 300 per month subscription even though fact-based news is a far more worthy product and much more deserving of money. But, at the end of the day, we’re still desis. A cheaper subscription plan might also enable subscriber demographic diversification which would be welcome, especially if you choose to pursue the "subscribers as board of directors" strategy. Because, as another fellow subscriber pointed out in Hafta 278, homogenous subscribers isn’t good news for the business of news.

Phew that was long, apologies again.

Hope everyone on the team is doing well.

Thanks,

Amrita Roy

***

Hi NL Team,

Hope you all are doing fine in this unprecedented time.

I am one of your new NL subscribers, although when I was living in Gurgaon, I was an on-and-off subscriber. But this quarantine and isolation has made me miss my homeland more, thus I am back to the Indian media.

Abhinandan, to you I would say I love your wit and snide comments; they often offer a sense of humour in these dark times. To Anand Vardhan, thank you for your deep and calming analysis. I think people like you are what is actually missing in the Indian news Industry.

Now I have two questions/suggestions to/for you guys :

1. Why are we outright ignoring world news in NL? There is no mention of the economic crisis that is happening in the Latin America right now, specifically in Argentina, where I currently work. To give you an idea, I am losing ~50 percent of my salary on a monthly basis just for breathing here!! (PS: The people and the country are still awesome, just to let you know even with the inflation and corona, I find this country much safer than India.)

2. Now to bring your attention to our Supreme Leader, Jahapana the 3rd, Modi Ji! I don't understand why you are trying to distort the perfect image of our beloved Pradahaan Mewak. Have you ever played chess?

You never go for the king directly.

  • Uou always start with the pawns (sipahi) like the likes of Srimati Sri Sri Sri Sadhvi Pragyaji, Sudhir Chaudhary, Shankar Choudhury (MLA from Radhanpur), and Jetha Dharwad (from Shehrae), caught in the Assembly watching porn, etc.

  • Then you go for the knight (ghoda), bishop (uth), rook (hathi) like Yediyurappa, Nirmala Sitharam, Arnab Gooooo..swami, etc.

  • After that, you go for the queen (rajkumari ki amma), Amit Ji.

  • When they all are removed from the chessboard, then you should ask for the gareeb aadmi to get their jhola and move.

Hoping the mail or suggestions weren’t too cocky. I love your work and the amazing concept to pay to keep news free. I have even started being VOCAL for LOCAL for your news website with the guys here. Please don’t share this mail with any BJP members, I am literally scared of the hooligans that work for the party (just kidding, I am an animal lover), I hope to see facism die in India very soon.

Gurkirat Bagga

***

Hello team,

So, regarding the handling of the Covid crisis in Telangana, I wanted to speak about it for a long time. The fact that KCR gets away with his statements is because he is the first CM of the relatively new state. As in, previously being part of Andhra Pradesh, the use of the word "Telangana" also was considered abuse, so much so that in the United Andhra Pradesh state Assembly, Telangana was changed to backward is in records. So there is a constant thing of wishing Telangana to fail, all of this leading to no one questioning him.

He is almost following the Modi government model minus the communalism. There is literally no sane voice who can question him factually. For example, the number of tests: the rumour is that state government has no money to even conduct the tests, but again comes the lack of an alternative political party in the state. With the Congress having no strong leaders, the Left, AIMIM siding with TRS, and the BJP not having a hold.

My suggestion is please try to interview Professor Kodandaram. According to me, he is the only sane voice in the state. He could have been a great Opposition voice had he not joined the alliance of the TDP and Congress in the recent election, due to which he lost his credibility.

Sumavarsha Kandula

***

Dear NL

You did suggest that I ought not to pull my punches next time.

In response to what you said.

- I reread Gaurav's letter, and I invite you to do the same. He makes the following points:

One, your reportage is more ideological, less extensive than those of the Print or Lallantop

Two, their reportage has greater depth and width.

Nothing about resources, except by implication. It's not that I don't get what Abhinandan was saying, but I would presume that your subscribers know this. Speaking for myself, I don't expect you to cover everything. But I do think that there are stories in your wheelhouse which you sometimes miss the chance to tell well.

Which brings me back to the Central Vista thing.

Please don't tell me why I didn't like a story. Hearing you tell me confidently that it was because it lacked human interest, or because the reporter is young, misses the point. I lay the blame squarely on your desk, for the way you handled the story.

Let me lay it out for you, so that there's less ambiguity.

First and foremost, please go and look at the tables. One is a timeline, masquerading as a table. Dates, decisions, and the problems they raise. Your desk took a decision to just dump this on us. Within this table, there are mistakes in grammar and syntax, but let's leave that be. Was HTML too much to ask for?

Second, the entire story lacks any passion. Neither the passion of polemic (which something like the Wire thrives on), nor the passion of loving the space itself (this, in relation to TR Vivek's love for the Kaveri, is the only part of your response I agree with). I disagree that this story could not but be dry and impersonal. You yourself have told this story well here.

Third, your story lacks focus. I don't think any of the activist outrage is unexpected, so I can't see why that deserved as much space as it got. Show me an issue, and I will show you an activist on each side.

Instead, if the idea was to talk about the fast-tracking, tell me why this is a bad thing substantively.

If you're talking about the choices made, Alpana's article contains the exact template at the end. Talk to 10 other urban planners and bureaucrats, and get them to tell you what it would mean to shift the Ministry of Agriculture to Bhopal, the Ministry of Tourism to Kumarakom, and the Ministry of Urban Affairs to Amaravati. What the infrastructure would be like, whether it would work, etc. Now might be an excellent time, given that everyone's been teleconferencing for a few months.

The story doesn't give me an idea of the problem that they're trying to solve. I keep hearing stories about how we don't have space to accommodate more MPs and that's one reason why we're stuck at 545.

Surely a larger parliament is essential, as our population grows?

And this is the time to do it, because we hope that this population is now going to stabilise?

At the end of the day, wouldn't it be a good thing to have buildings that aren't going to "catch fire" and destroy documents?

Wouldn't having a more sensible use of land (including car parking) mean that central Delhi would be less congested, and prevent the government from expanding inevitably into other public spaces?

To me, the Kidwai Nagar redevelopment is a beautiful thing. I know that area better than I know the Central Vista, and I take it as a model for how AIIMS could house its staff without having them live in the chawls of Gautam Nagar and Kotla Mubarakpur. Thus destroying the houseowners' mafia of those areas, and decongesting those spaces. I know many, many people who oppose it much on the same grounds as your article does.

I can't insist that you answer my questions. After all, you're not telepaths. And honestly, every story that I've enjoyed from you has been from something unexpected.

I just wish you had come up with your own, and set about answering them methodically.

Vijay Krishnan

***

Hello Newslaundry,

I recently read this book, The Curse of God by Harris Sultan, who is, in his words, a ex-Muslim atheist.

I found the book very interesting and highly critical of Islam. I am born a Muslim and find myself very dissatisfied with Islam and found the book soothing.

While you guys look at many issues from the angle of caste system in almost every Hafta, I haven't seen any articles or comments on Islamic extremism. While Abhinandan actually said in a Hafta or an interview that for those times, Muhammad limiting the number of women you can marry to four itself is revolutionary.

I wish you guys would write/talk about the book or Islam and extremism.

Keep doing great work.

Shehba Fathima

***

Hi NL Team,

Here’s a quick note about my thoughts on why this piece should never have been published in the first place and why I have no sympathy for the editor being let go:

I live in Brooklyn very close to the Barclays Center, where a lot of the protests have been happening for the past few weeks in this city. While I haven’t been out myself (prior heath concerns are prohibitive in a pandemic, though I wish more than anything to be on the streets right now), I have many friends attending these rallies across the country. I’ve been getting a portion of my news from Instagram feeds, like I did when the mainstream media in India refused to cover the Citizenship Amendment Act protests earlier this year.

The scenes were shocking: from seemingly peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, tackled down, and arrested; police “kettling” protesters into confined spaces before charging and beating them with their batons; and police cars driving straight through a sea of marchers. The protesters have been overwhelmingly peaceful too, which is besides the point, but an import caveat for this argument nonetheless. (I personally think that looting, rioting, and burning empty cop cars is an immensely effective show of anger and a legitimate militant protest tactic — similar to tactics like Chakka Jam or stone pelting at armed police in India often are. But these have been truly a small part of these nation-wide protests, and have been openly discouraged by organisers.)

Tom Cotton’s piece was reprehensible because it painted a dishonest picture, only covering looting and violence against police, even though instances of those were far less than the images of police instigation.

Your Hafta panel is very open in calling out the reprehensible views of Indian TV media and even the extreme opinions of Swarajya and the Print. In my opinion, calls for intellectual diversity by the Right are more often than not dog-whistles and laments about not being allowed platforms to air dangerous, divisive, and dishonest views.

We can venture into whataboutism as much as we’d like regarding NYT’s other opinion pieces, but Cotton’s call to bring in the military as an “overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers” seems too similar to “desh ke gaddaron ko…” and does, in fact, directly put the lives of American citizens, and overwhelmingly black Americans, at risk.

If the NYT wanted to cover such opinions, they should feel free to write a journalistic piece about it where the views expressed are subject to the fact-checking process. And on the other side of things, if they want a diversity of intellectual arguments to be made on the opinion section, they should try harder to find arguments from the Right that aren’t calls to violence (if those even exist).

Lastly, journalists at the NYT publicly voicing their opinions against the editorial board of their employer should be celebrated as a victory of labour and journalistic ethics, even if the firing of the editor was maybe a bit reactionary. I still can’t bring myself to feel bad about a white man losing his job over helping incite violence against black Americans.

This On the Media segment (it’s an NPR podcast so I can woo Abhinandan to my side of this argument) does a better job of explaining some of my issues against the column.

Thanks for doing the work you’re doing; you have in me a lifelong subscriber.

Shreshth Khilani

(I use they/them pronouns, but he/him are okay too.)

***

Hi Abhinandan,

I have been a long standing subscriber to NL, since Episode 50 if i remember correctly. I pretty much listen only to Hafta and don't find time for the other good stuff that you guys publish. Hafta is the fuel for my Sunday morning workout.

I am going to keep this short and just plug what I think may be relevant for a larger audience.

This is in connection with the last Hafta (280) where Anoo spoke about how celebs in India side with BLM kind of protests but don't utter a word when it comes to stuff that happens in our country. I am attaching a thread that my daughter (Devanshi Iyer, Twitter handle @aluminiummaiden) put out a few days back on the topic of actors promoting fairness creams on the one hand and voicing their support for BLM. It met with a mixed response, mostly positive, and she was super thrilled. I thought she did some good work putting this together. Here is the link :

As I said, being the father, I am an "interested party''. I will leave it to your professional judgement whether you guys want to use this in any way to build the dialogue on such topics. She is a philosophy major and graduated from Ashoka University earlier this year, so is bursting at the seams with all kinds of anti-establishment ideas in her free time!

Sriram Iyer

***

Dear Team,

I won't go into much of pleasantries and how much I like Abhinandan, Mehraj, Manisha and everyone on the panel, something on those lines. I would just say, you're doing something that every media outlet should be doing and the magnitude of the work is phenomenal. Kudos and keep up the good work.

I was listening to your latest podcast of NL Hafta and wanted to congratulate the team on calling out the brands who are funding the propaganda and hateful narratives dividing the nation. I vividly recall the backlash at Tucker Carlson of Fox News who claimed that white supremacy is a hoax. It happened after the El Paso Walmart incident (the Walmart is 10 minutes away from where I am doing my PhD). Over 20 advertisers left the show over Twitter outrage and other social media calling out.

I am glad to see that something similar is taking shape in India and these gas-lighting "news" outlets need to be called out for their bullshit. Soon, with enough number of people calling them out and a few sponsors distancing themselves, there maybe a small change in the narrative. I recall Laura Ingram was sent out on administrative leave after an incident in Florida where she decided to be a total asshat.

So keep calling them out. This is a good starting point and about damn time. I have been calling out my friends and family for anything that is slightly racist or bigoted. I get a lot of name-calling and cold shoulders but in the end, they come around and discuss it out to understand issues holistically.

Keep up the great work.

Vishaal Zade

Newslaundry
www.newslaundry.com