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Those inscrutable Indians - The Indian Express

Shekhar Gupta ()
October 7, 1998

Title: Those inscrutable Indians
Author: Shekhar Gupta
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: October 7, 1998

Introduction: The Private correspondence of Anna and Rupert
Murdoch. lair is in my back pocket. Even the mighty Chinese
are now reasonable: taking BBC off the air, jucking that silly
Patten's book was a small price to pay. New York's Major
Giuliani loves me. But look at these Indians.

Dear Anna,

It is just as well that you stayed on as a partner in my
business even if it did not quite work out perfectly in our
personal lives. There are times when I feel so low so confused,
so bewildered that, believe it or not, I even feel defeated and
you know how much I hate to lose.

What is it worth being the world's greatest media baron without
a foothold, if not control, in India, the second largest
consumer market outside the western world and I am still out of

I have already sunk more than $200 million there. My people tell
me the money has been judiciously spent. It has been used, I am
told, to buy up India's creative classes they must be pricey.
It is also being used to sustain a whole media industry in such
recessionary times. And yet, what have I got in return?

A warrant from a court in Bombay for ducking summonses in a case
filed by one Tooshar Gandhi complaining that someone Called
Nikki Bedi insulted his grandfather who, I believe, goes by the
first name of Mahatma. Now, why would I want any of my TV
channels to insult anybody's grandfather? And you know better
than anyone else that I never had anything to do with Nikki
anybody. So what choice do I have? Either I present myself in a
stinking small-time court in Bombay and seek bail or forget all
about visiting India. As if that was not enough, somebody gets
me summoned in New Delhi by a court run by a judge called Prem
Kumar who, I am told, is a particularly tough sort. So tough,
he has made the going very difficult even for P.V. Narasimha Rao
who, until the other day, was that country's prime minister.

Narasimha Rao. That reminds me of something. Of the dream visit
we made to India together in 1994. You remember, Anna, the way
those media barons fawned and fell all over us? The bureaucracy,
the chattering classes. You would remember also that I has done
my home-work on Narasimha Rao who was then prime minister. My
people told me he was not particularly interested in television
but crazy about Carlos Saura films. How much time and effort it
took us to retrieve those eight Saura VHS tapes from the
archives. And didn't the old man's eyes light up when I
presented him these? But then, what happened? Before we could
even get a foot in, his people said India was in the election
mode and tricky decisions, such as allowing foreign investment
in the media, would have to wait. Now it seems India has been in
election mode ever since. Hell, democracies have their faults.

Among them was one gentleman called Deve Gowda whose first name
sounded like some sort of a spelling mistake. That, however,
wasn't such a problem. My people told me in the south of India
(such a complicated country this one) the second name is usually
also as good as the first since the initials mainly say who your
father was and where you came from. Also, there wasn't great
scope for becoming too familiar with him as he did not speak or
understand much English.

But he was reasonable. He understood my problem with the Bombay
court and the answer was easily found: I would fly in our
Gulfstream directly to Delhi, meet him quietly and leave before
the magistrates in Bombay got too worked up. I even promised to
make a huge investment in some place called Hasan which, my
people told me, was his home town or pocket borough.

But he would answer all questions with "no problem, boss" and
all complaints of delay and bureaucratic hurdles with "What to
do? We are like this only". What that meant, I don't know. But
soon he had lost his job to somebody who, I was promised,
happened to be India's most media-friendly prime minister ever.
So friendly, indeed, was that fellow called Gujral that he not
only allowed my people to hold the inaugural function of my 24-
hour news channel on the lawns of his official residence, he
even presided over it.

And yet, just three months earlier, in midnight intrigue of the
kind not seen even in the Kremlin, his bureaucracy scuttled the
one concession I needed from him, the notification allowing
Direct-To-Home (DTH) television after which I and my Star would
have ruled the airwaves in India. Forever.

Print is another matter. They say they will never allow a
foreigner to buy even a single share in an Indian newspaper
because a 1956 Cabinet resolution prohibits it. Now, this isn't
quite the United States, so a foreigner can 'almost never
acquire an Indian passport. Except, I believe, if he is a
Bangladeshi. Hopeless.

This, Anna, is why I write to you to seek your advice. I am at
my wit's end. Last week, my people told me it was a good idea to
get myself invited at this breakfast ol' boy Henry (Kissinger)
was holding in New York for yet another Indian prime minister,
now a fellow called Vajpayee. His English was quite fine and he
himself seemed quite all there, but he wouldn't spare more than
a minute for me. In fact, exactly as much time as he would spare
for the CEO of Hertz, a piddly car rental company. Then I was
made to spend 45 minutes with the lady who runs their
information ministry. My briefing papers told me her idea of the
ideal TV channel is Discovery. So you can guess how far I would
get with her even in 45 minutes!

This, Anna, is a tough one. I have the world all sewed up. I
have Tony Blair in my back pocket. He even writes for that rag
I own, The Sun. He calls his Italian counterpart Romano Prodi to
help me along in my bid to buy Silvio Berlusconi's media empire.
Even the mighty Chinese are now reasonable: taking BBC off the
air and junking that silly Chris Patten's book was a small price
to pay to enter such a large market. Now it seems even the
English lumpens have lumped my purchase of Manchester United.
New York's Mayor Giuliani loves me. But look at these Indians.
And we called the Chinese inscrutable!

I don't know how to handle this one. I hate to lose.

Yours, Rupert

Reply from Anna:

Dear Rupert,

Don's give in so quickly. There may be one option. Forget the
media for the moment and buy up Mohun Bagan or East Bengal Club,
or probably both. Our people tell us there is no ban on
foreigners buying football clubs. Also, if you read British
history, a foothold in Calcutta can take you far. So cheer up
and be patient.


(This correspondence is entirely a figment of this writer's
imagination. Any resemblance with Rupert or Anna Murdoch's real
thoughts is purely coincidental)

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