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Mukul Roy should have 'done a Karunanidhi'

Who is Mukul Roy?

If the question had been asked two days ago, you would have been clueless.

In the last two days, however, you’ve had an overdose. You’ve heard his name, you’ve read his name and you’ve seen his image any number of times.

And it’s not a great picture.

Across TV channels, in news clips and on shows and debates and in newspapers, Minister of State for Railways Mukul Roy of the Trinamool Congress has been referred to as ‘callous’, ‘apathetic’, ‘insensitive’ – and virtually every synonym of any of these words in the context of the two railway incidents on the day, resulting in 60-odd deaths and numerous injuries. If the incidents were not enough provocation, here was a Minister of State who did not visit the site immediately on hearing the news.

 Mukul Roy should have done a Karunanidhi

DMK supremo MK Karunanidhi refuses to speak in any language other than Tamil – and there’s nothing the media can do about it. Mukul Roy (above) should have ‘done a Karunanidhi’ and spoken in his mother tongue. Parthajit Dutta/AFP

Roy, in his first interaction with the media, explained that all those who had a direct role in relief, repairs, etc, were already at the spot, and that he was 1,000 km away, and, if “necessary”, he would visit the spot.

The news media – especially the English news media – tore into Roy and his Trinamool colleagues. In the current climate of ‘activism’, Roy was a sitting duck.

“The PM is the minister, it is a decision of the ministry who will visit, and according to the decision, chairman, Railway Board… are all on the spot,” Roy told reporters.

The media pounced on Roy again, asking whether the deaths and the injuries did not make it “necessary” for Roy to visit the accident site.

Roy’s defensive reaction made him put his second foot in his mouth – “I’m only the Minister of State, the Prime Minister is the Railway Minister…”

Later in the day, Mukul Roy’s colleagues tried their utmost to clarify his statements – but the media would have none of it. Roy was insensitive, callous, irresponsible, etc.

There are two elements that contribute to the demolition of Roy.

The first is his lack of confidence and comfort with the English language. I’m sure that if Roy were asked the questions in Bengali and had been allowed to answer in Bengali, while he would have still been hauled across the coals for not ‘rushing’ to the accident site, the reputation-besmirching adjectives would not have been applied to him. The same is true of Roy’s colleagues; if the interviews had been in languages that they were confident in, their defence of Roy would have been more articulate and robust.

The second is his lack of media savviness. Roy obviously does not have the experience with media trained to harp on one word or sentence, or a media trained to interrupt and cut you off in mid-sentence once their purpose has been served and once they have the magical quote that can destroy their target. Neither did many of Roy’s colleagues. It’s a lesson for the Trinamool – identify and train spokespersons or the embarrassment could come again and again.

We’ve seen the same, over the last month, among the DMK spokespersons attempting to defend Raja and Kanimozhi. They’re asked questions in a language that they’re not fully comfortable with and have to answer with the same level of discomfiture. And they say things which are fodder for a press that’s hungry for shame and scandal and failure.

We’ve seen this happen often with politicians, sportspersons and celebrities and the English media. English media asks questions in English – knowing that most urban Indians would rather exhibit whatever little command that they have over English than admit that they are uncomfortable with it or that they know very little of it.

There are those, such as the DMK supremo MK Karunanidhi, who simply refuses to speak in any language other than Tamil – and there’s nothing the media can do about it. Roy and his colleagues should have ‘done a Karunanidhi’ and spoken in their mother tongue – and the media could have done nothing, and Roy could have saved himself a considerable amount of embarrassment.

This is asking for the moon, but perhaps English news media needs to ponder the unfairness of this practice and encourage their guests to speak in languages that come easily to them – and have interpreters present to translate into English.

The ask seems to be greater than expecting honesty from the politician – expecting fairness from news television.

In a completely unconnected development, applicants will be able to write the Civil Services exams in Indian languages. Well done!

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Updated Date: Jul 12, 2011 13:39:59 IST