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Nidhi Razdan vs Barry Gardiner: A spectacle of shamelessness

"Today's Delhi rape case: of @NidhiRazdanNDTV / Congress, by Brit MP Barry Gardiner," tweeted Pinstorm founder Mahesh Murthy. It was one of the many tasteless moments in a Twitter storm around the supposed "humiliation" of Razdan at the hands of Gardiner, the politician who is making headlines for inviting Narendra Modi to address the House of Commons.

Of course, abnegation lies in the eyes of the beholder. Modi bhakts viewed the interview as a well-earned schooling of a liberal journalist by an articulate foreigner -- his Western credentials making the spectacle just that bit more delicious. How much more wonderful to see a British politician offer a stirring and heartfelt defence of Modi than some paid BJP spokesperson.

But the lay observer would likely see no more than a botched interview by a journalist wrong-footed by a hyper-aggressive guest. Razdan opens with a standard question -- Why did Gardiner decide to invite Modi? -- and moves on to the obvious follow-up, but phrased in the most convoluted fashion possible:

A grab from the Nidhi Rzdan-Barry Gardiner interview on NDTV.

A grab from the Nidhi Rzdan-Barry Gardiner interview on NDTV.

But you know he is also an extremely controversial figure here in India, and around the world. There has been so much controversy over him even in the UK, where there was a boycott of him in a sense until last year. He's still not been given a visa to the United States. He is a controversial figure. You realise this would create controversy.

The question is clumsily worded, but also entirely valid. Modi remains a controversial figure to liberals and liberal organisations around the world; Godhra riots had made him a pariah to Western governments, including the US and UK, until recently. Here is the Guardian on High Commissioner James Bevan's meeting with Modi

Britain has ended a 10-year diplomatic boycott imposed on a controversial Indian politician accused of failing to stop anti-Muslim rioting that left at least a thousand people dead….

The 2002 violence led to a de facto travel ban imposed on Modi by the UK, the US and some European nations, as well as the boycott by all but junior officials. In 2005, Modi was refused a US visa as someone held responsible for a serious violation of religious freedom. The British decision to break ranks was described by local journalists as "a major boost to the pro-business leader's quest for mainstream acceptance".

It's therefore absolutely fair to ask Gardiner about the UK government's change of heart, and possible pushback from those who continue to oppose the move. Gardiner, however, responds by stoutly and disingenuously denying the facts.

"There has never been a boycott of any Indian politician of any party. And that should be quite clear to all of you," he says, opening with an outright falsehood. Yes, there was no official boycott but it is misleading to deny the fact that Modi has been unofficially cold-shouldered by the UK for the longest time -- which is why the Bevan meeting was big news.

When Razdan points out the same -- as any journalist would in her position -- Gardiner responds by moving the goalpost: "It's a matter for the people of Gujarat who have now reelected Narendra Modi in successive elections since he was first elected in 2001. They have seen fit to restore him to office. And it is not for me as a foreign politician to interfere in the process in any way."

None of which answers Razdan's question. Modi's electoral triumphs in 2002 and 2007 -- which also represented the will of the Gujarat people -- were certainly not sufficient to sway the UK government. The fact is foreign politicians across the West kept Modi out in the cold until his prime ministerial prospects became unmistakably bright. Gardiner instead continues to obfuscate by switching to the sizable UK investments in Gujarat, and then praising Modi as a "dominant figure on the Indian political stage."

Razdan doesn't nail him on any of this, but continues to flail, trying to get Gardiner to acknowledge Modi is indeed "controversial" because of Godhra. She was caught off-balance when he brazenly denied the boycott, and never recovers her footing again. She could have easily gone after Gardiner by shifting the terrain, asking him knowledgeable questions about home-base calculations that motivate his ardent support, which is not about principles but numbers. This good MP represents a constituency that is 51 percent Asian (the largest community in North Bent) and 32 percent Hindu. No prizes for guessing which side of Mr Gardiner's electoral bread is buttered.

Razdan instead allowed him to lie, dodge, and finally attack her patriotism, and in the most shameless fashion possible.  The lesson all journalists ought to learn from Razdan's experience: Always do your homework.

You can watch the interview on YouTube here:

Her last and definitive blunder is the moment when she raises Modi's "human rights record" -- not questions or doubts that still remain about his role in the 2002 riots. By wrongly suggesting that Modi has a legally established record of violating human rights, she opens the door for Gardiner to deliver an astoundingly presumptuous lecture on good citizenship:

…It seems you have no respect for your own Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of India has looked at those allegations, I believe, on a number of occasions. And has absolved Mr Narendra Modi completely from those allegations. For you to be bringing them up on Indian television is extraordinarily strange.

What is extraordinarily strange is a British MP telling Indian citizens and journalists what they may or may not "bring up" about their elected leaders -- more so, one who is campaigning to be Prime Minister. Imagine an Indian politician scolding a British journalist for raising questions about Gordon Brown or David Cameron.

Razdan could have said so, instead she makes a weak statement about democracy, and tries to flee off air. Smelling fear, Gardiner moves in for the kill: "You are very very keen to talk over me rather than conduct an interview. But if you think democracy is best served by not observing the views and judgments of your own Supreme Court then I am most surprised."

In other words, a British MP is telling us that all good Indians need to shut up about Godhra already. That's is just plain outrageous.

Supreme Court rulings aside, many Indians continue to have doubts about Modi's role, and even in the absence of clear guilt, they see the riots as a blot on his record. Rightly so or not, this is their right as citizens of a democracy. To question that right either as a fellow citizen or, worse, as a foreigner is way beyond the pale. That so many self-styled 'nationalists' are rejoicing at Gardiner doing exactly that ought to be a sobering wake-up call for all of us, offering a suitably shameful epilogue to this spectacle of shamelessness.

Correction: We've been informed by Ms Razdan that she has not been on Twitter for the past 2-plus years. The copy has been corrected to reflect the same.

Firstpost is a part of the Network18 group which owns news channels that compete with NDTV. 


Updated Date: Aug 16, 2013 16:27 PM

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