The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement protesting Rahul Gandhi’s remark in a press conference calling Smita Prakash, the editor of ANI, ‘pliable’ for her interview of Modi.
I am not a supporter of Rahul or his party (nor am I of any party), but cannot fault what he said.
I watched the 95 minute interview very carefully and was left with the impression that it was a carefully planned PR exercise by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ably assisted by Prakash. On the eve of Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP appears on the back foot because of recent reverses in the state assembly polls, was this not being pliable?
Yes, such words, and terms like ‘presstitute’ and ‘bazaru media’, grate but shouldn’t journalists in India do some serious introspection about the way many of them have conducted themselves in the face of authority?
Modi painted a rosy picture of his ‘achievements’ in the last four-and-a-half years, as if all was hunky dory during this period. But was it not a journalist’s job to seriously question him, the way Jim Acosta of CNN has repeatedly questioned President Donald Trump, or how Anderson Cooper questioned Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counselor, or how Farid Zakaria questions people?
No doubt Prakash did ask some relevant questions, but they were asked very weakly, almost apologetically and they were not followed up by more searching cross-questions when it was obvious Modi was being economical of the truth.
Here are some questions that Prakash could’ve asked the prime minister.
1. Prakash should have asked Modi about Lt Gen (retd) Zameer Uddin Shah’s statement that his army units were kept in Ahmedabad in 2002 when Muslims were being killed, instead of being allowed to enter the city to stop it.
Was Modi not responsible for the killing of more than 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat when he told police officers in a meeting in Ahmedabad that they should allow Hindus to vent their anger at Muslims? (This was recounted by the brave police officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who filed an affidavit to that effect in the Supreme Court and has been hounded ever since. He has been arrested over a 22-year-old case and has been refused even a bail hearing.)
3. She should have asked why not a single Muslim was given a BJP ticket for the 2014 Lok Sabha and subsequent state assembly elections.
4. Prakash no doubt asked about lynching, to which Modi replied such incidents were condemnable. But then, Prakash should have followed up the question and asked why an atmosphere was created in the first place for these horrendous incidents to happen (by hate speeches “ghar wapsi“, “love jihad”) by the Sangh parivar (to which Modi belongs).
5. She should have asked why unemployment has grown under Modi’s rule, when he promised during the 2014 election campaign that his government will create 2 crore jobs annually. In fact, it is believed that demonetisation alone destroyed 4 lakh medium and small businesses and 2 crore jobs.
1.2 crore youth are entering the job market every year, but according to the government of India’s own agency, the Labour Bureau, in 2014-2015 only 1.55 lakh new jobs were created, and in 2015-2016 2.31 lakh new jobs were created. The government refused to disclose the figures thereafter and it is believed that there was negative growth. In the IT industry alone, 3-6 lakh jobs have been lost.
Where will the 1.2 crore youth entering the job market annually go? Sell samosas and pakoras? Or become hawkers, street vendors, bouncers, stringers, beggars or criminals? This question was never asked.
6. India is home to about one third of malnourished children in the world. Child malnourishment has increased under Narendra Modi’s rule, but Prakash never touched on this issue.
About 45% of our children under five years of age are malnourished, 21% are categorised as ‘wasting’ i.e. their weight is extremely low relative to their height, indicating acute malnourishment, according to Global Hunger Index.
India’s ranking with regard to child malnourishment has been slipping since Modi came to power. Out of 119 countries studied, India was ranked 97 in 2016, 100 in 2017, and was at 103 in 2018. Several of our neighbours perform better. China was at 25, Sri Lanka at 67, Myanmar at 68, Nepal 72 and Bangladesh 86. Only Pakistan (at 106) and Afghanistan (at 107) are below us.
7. Prakash should have asked what the government has done about the fact that 51% Indian women are anaemic.
8. Modi said his government has worked a lot for farmers, who had a bumper harvest last year. She should have asked how this bumper harvest (assuming it took place) will help farmers when they do not get remunerative prices. What about his 2014 election promise to double farmers’ income, or implement the Swaminathan Commission Report guaranteeing minimum support price 50% above the cost? She should have asked why farmers are committing suicide and agitating repeatedly.
9. Modi referred to the Supreme Court judgment regarding the Rafale deal. She should have then asked why a wrong statement was given to the Supreme Court that the CAG report had been sent to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the parliament, why the price was increased, why Anil Ambani who has no experience in making fighter aircraft given the contract.
10. She should have asked why the BJP government in Manipur had jailed journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem under the NSA just because he criticised the government and its chief minister. In a democracy, do people not have the right to criticise the government?
And finally, she should have asked why Modi never holds a press conference and only gives interviews to fawning television channels.
Prakash and the Editors Guild, instead of posing like innocent victims who are being pilloried, should seriously introspect and ask themselves why the public has such a low opinion of Indian journalists.
Markandey Katju is a former Supreme Court judge and a former head of the Press Council of India.