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Columns Of Ignorance

Columns Of Ignorance

Author: R.V. Pandit
Publication: Outlook
Date: February 18, 2002

Some recent news and views:

* L.K. Advani, 74, is alleged by a Pakistani newspaper, The News, to have been involved in a September 1947 plot to murder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Jinnah died on September 11, 1948, after an illness.

* Yukio Hatoyama, president of the Democratic Party of Japan and leader of Opposition in the Diet, visited India on January 10-11 and laid wreaths at the building of the National Assembly of J&K at Srinagar and at Parliament House, New Delhi, as a mark of respect for those who died in terrorist attacks on October 1 and December 13 respectively.

* Harish Khare, of The Hindu, wrote an editorial page article in his paper of January 23, 2002, titled "The General and the Minister" with a sub-head: "The fraudulent deshbhakts who preside over New Delhi ought to be slowed down in their heedless quest for making India into a garrison state," whatever that meant!

Prominent Indian newspapers today claim prime readership from the 20 to 40 age group, and their contents, including the luscious Page 3, are designed for that age group. Thus, the bulk of their readers would not be familiar with events of the '40s. The Pakistani newspaper report about Advani's alleged involvement in a 1947 plot to murder Jinnah was naturally big news in our newspapers, but not a single newspaper pointed out that the home minister was not even 20 when that plot was supposed to have been executed! Incidentally, Advani had visited Karachi in 1978. If he was involved in so dastardly a plot as to murder the Qaid-e-Azam just thirty years earlier, how come the Karachi police did not detain him then? The report thus had inherent credibility problems, but our newspapers failed to point these out. Negligence? Carelessness? Then how about The Hindustan Times headline for their front-page report: "Pak rakes up Advani case". What case? Yet, The Pioneer had the very appropriate "Theatre of absurd! Advani on Pak list" as the headline for their front-page report of the same story.

Yukio Hatoyama is likely to be the prime minister of Japan in the near future. The Japanese, until Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to Japan in December 2001, were not very understanding of the Indian position on Kashmir and cross-border terrorism. Hatoyama was the first G-8 leader to visit Kashmir in a long time-and the first to denounce terrorism from those two spots where India bled. It made headlines in Japan, but several national dailies, including The Times of India, ignored the visit, though some did carry brief reports. How does one explain this? Ignorance? Neglect? Yet, our PM had a 45-minute one-to-one with Hatoyama, followed by a delegation-level meeting with the visitors for another 45 minutes. Is the press informed?

The provocation for "A General and a Minister" in The Hindu by Harish Khare was clearly the statement by the defence minister on the evening of January 11, soon after the pre-Army Day press conference by General S. Padmanabhan. Whatever be the merit of the army chief's televised statement (it was undoubtedly a clear-headed presentation) and the surprise follow-up by the defence minister, Khare's diatribe-"...unwittingly the General invited comparison with the circumlocutory external affairs minister, with the discredited and inconsistent defence minister, not to mention with the halting and pausing Prime Minister, and with the always-full-of-himself home minister"-demonstrates how prejudice and hate dictate what is written by editorialists these days. The deliberate ignoring of the breakthrough success of the vigorous and sustained diplomatic campaign in the West, in Moscow, in Beijing, and even in Tokyo to make the world understand our stand as regards Pakistan is symbolic of the refusal of the press to learn.But can it?

This short piece has been occasioned by the reactions to the booklet-in-the-news, "The Whole Truth with all the Documents, About the Aluminium Caskets Bought by the Defence Ministry in 1999-2000", authored by me. The booklet exposes, with documents-none secret or confidential in any manner, and all available to any enterprising journalist-the untruths that the national dailies led by The Times group papers published, prompting the politicians to mouth the same untruths even louder, and disrupting Parliament for two days. The booklet has provoked the Left and the Congress to demand George Fernandes' resignation for giving this writer "secret" and "confidential" documents. Nonsense. Jaipal Reddy goes so far as to allege that the documents quoted in the booklet had the legend "secret" deleted from them! Somnath Chatterjee has found fault with the booklet joining issue with the CAG and the press for their misdemeanours. But neither the CAG nor any of the publications of The Times group have questioned the veracity or rebutted what this writer has written. Strangely, the politicians are rushing to their defence by attacking Fernandes and my little booklet. The truth is not allowed to prevail! How, then, can the press inform or educate?

On February 4, 2002, the newspapers carried large-size advertisements about the Shram Awards function that day: "Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Hon'ble Prime Minister, honours 28 workers for exceptional contribution to nation-building with Shram Awards on 4th February 2002 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi", the headline proclaimed, listing the 28 winners. But the advertisement featured the photographs of only the PM flanked on either side by the labour minister and the minister of state for labour and employment! Can the media inform and educate when government information is so irrelevant and frivolous?

(The writer is a senior journalist and former editor of Imprint)

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