Between PMO and Post, core issue of PM's failure is buried

by R Jagannathan  Sep 7, 2012 12:20 IST

#OnlyInIndia   #PM   #PMO   #Simon Denyer   #Washington Post  

So the media man in the PMO thinks The Washington Post’s Chief of Bureau in India has acted in an “unethical and unprofessional” manner.

From all the evidence available so far, it seems Simon Denyer did goof up by failing to attribute quotes from the PM’s former media advisor, Sanjaya Baru, and historian Ramachandra Guha, to a story in Caravan which carried the original quotes by these two gentlemen.

Denyer put himself needlessly in the grey area of ethics by not crediting the original publication to which these quotes had been made. (Read here)

But the larger point is this: it is the alleged transgressions of the journalist that have become the story rather than the Prime Minister’s incompetence and unwillingness to act in the interests of the country when confronted with mind-boggling corruption in his own government.

This is, of course, standard practice. When Team Anna raised issues about corruption, the government went into overdrive to prove that Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi weren't quite angels in some areas. Bedi was found to have fudged travel bills, and Kejriwal apparently had some money owed to the income-tax department for leaving its service before the contractual time. When Baba Ramdev started his yoga capers in Delhi, cases were launched against him.

Barring an occasional quote, one major interaction with a handful of editors last year, and the fleeting interactions with journalists who accompany him on his foreign junkets, the PM has done nothing to tell us his side of the story. Reuters

So, to wash the sins pointed out by a WashPo journo, its best to show the journo had an ethical deficit in some area. The core issues raised can now be safely buried.

This is a pity. For the last two years, everyone and his aunt has been writing about how the PM has completely failed to do his duty by sleeping on the job, or by turning a blind eye to gross corruption and has been largely ignored by his own party. Everyone also knows that the PM has a job only because Sonia Gandhi can’t trust anyone else, so whether he is called a “poodle” or a “tragic figure” or an “underachiever” – all descriptors used by the foreign media – is beside the point.

The PM has been called other things in the domestic media, but apparently criticism by the Indian media does not matter. They neither have access, nor are their views considered relevant to how the country is run. In this land that is Bharat, the outsider’s views have to be taken more seriously than your own people’s.

Another point is also worth mentioning. Most articles about the PM are, in fact, the result of secondary information gathered either from people who may know something about him or merely have an opinion on him. This writer’s opinions are based entirely on what one has read about the PM’s actions or inactions as reported by journalists with better information in Delhi.

What option did a Denyer have but to look at secondary sources? And even these sources may not have information relevant to the current situation.

While Sanjaya Baru, for example, did work closely with the PM in UPA-1, he cannot have much insight into the PM’s thinking in UPA-2, and is thus as much an outsider today as you and me. As for Ramachandra Guha, he cannot by any stretch of imagination be called an authority on the PM’s thinking, except if one is talking about how the PM may be perceived from the outside.

So Denyer could have talked to any man on the street and would still have got the same impression as that given by Baru or Guha.

Barring an occasional quote or Urdu couplet, one major interaction with a handful of editors last year, and the fleeting interactions with journalists who accompany him on his foreign junkets, the PM has done practically nothing to tell us his side of the story. We don’t know what he is about except by reading it second-hand.

The PM and the PMO have done nothing to remedy this, and so to accuse the Post journalist for not getting the PM’s side of the story is rubbish. There is no side to the PM’s story barring stonewalling.

In this scenario, it does not lie in the mouth of the PMO’s press advisor to criticise Denyer for unethical behaviour, when the focus should be on what could also be called the PM’s “unethical and unprofessional” conduct in his high office.

Is it ethical for the PM to seek to be kept “at arm’s length” on the 2G affair, when all along he knew what A Raja was up to when he allocated spectrum at sub-sea-level prices in January 2008?

Was it professional behaviour for the PM of a country to first decide to allot coal blocks through competitive bidding, and then not do anything about it for half a dozen years – till a scam surfaced?

Is it fair for a PM to claim he can’t do anything due to “coalition pressures” and the lack of “political consensus”? If the PM is impotent, why have one in the first place? The PM clearly loves his office too much, never mind if he can’t deliver anything.

A few days ago, the Supreme Court was exasperated to learn that the PM has not convened a meeting of the Cauvery River Authority, of which he is the chairman, since 2003 when the court had explicitly asked that a meeting should be held to sort out the water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. According to The Economic Times, the court noted: "Sometimes we are short of words when it involves the highest functionary of the government."

That's the Supreme Court talking, not the WashPost. The PM is doing nothing on a Supreme Court order for years on end and his office talks ethics.

The PM’s loudest silence came when the Supreme Court blasted his own office for giving him wrong advice – but one did not hear the PM defend his own officers. Was it because it would have incriminated him?

The Supreme Court censured the PMO for delaying sanction to Subramanian Swamy for the prosecution of Raja in 2G. The court said: “Unfortunately, those who were expected to give proper advice to Respondent No 1 (the PM) and place the full facts and legal position before him failed to do so. We have no doubt that if Respondent No 1 had been apprised of the true factual and legal position regarding the representation made by the appellant (Swamy), he would surely have taken appropriate decision and would not have allowed the matter to linger for a period of more than one year.”

The PM has not said if his office gave him bad advice, or failed to give him good ones. If they failed him, they should have been sacked or transferred. The PM also has not clarified whether the decision to delay Swamy’s sanction was his own decision.

What does it say about a PM who does not stand up to fight for his own officers, assuming it was not they who failed?

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