India Insight

A Republic Day to forget for India’s opposition party

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched India’s 61st Republic Day parade in the New Delhi sunshine on Wednesday morning, senior opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were in a Jammu prison, where they had spent a night under arrest.

Detained for attempting to lead thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers into India’s northern state of Jammu & Kashmir to provocatively raise the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule, Swaraj and Jaitley’s politically-driven mission had ended in failure.

Workers of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold national flags and shout slogans during a protest on a bridge at Madhopur, in the northern Indian state of Punjab January 25, 2011. Thousands of Indian Hindu-nationalist opposition supporters massed on a bridge to the disputed Kashmir region on Tuesday as officials sought to stop a flag-raising ceremony that could spark violence. Police faced off with flag-waving BJP workers as authorities sealed routes into Kashmir to thwart the planned raising of the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

The BJP appear to have thought that the nationalism-drenched plan to hoist the flag in the centre of Srinagar, the state capital, would galvanize their Hindu support base, and show the ruling Congress party as ineffective in defending the disputed state from separatists who rile against New Delhi’s rule.

Thursday’s media post-mortem strongly suggested that they failed on both counts.

“Omar steals a march as BJP flag mission foiled,” summed up Mail Today on Thursday, as the opposition’s plan to paint the Congress-backed state chief minister as a weak leader spectacularly backfired.

Does the Indian media overplay Indo-Chinese tension?

New Delhi’s flat-out denial of the most recent reports by state authorities of Chinese military incursions across its border with India in Jammu and Kashmir may show a tendency to gloss over such seemingly insignificant events — in favour of bigger strategic and trade interests — that the media appears to ignore. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (L) talks to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a signing of agreements ceremony in New Delhi December 16, 2010. Wen pressed on with a charm offensive in India on Thursday, vowing "friendship and cooperation" a day after striking business deals with his hosts worth more than $16 billion. REUTERS/B Mathur

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (L) talks to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a signing of agreements ceremony in New Delhi December 16, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

On Monday afternoon, amidst a lull in the seemingly endless Indian news cycle, all major TV news channels flashed a breaking story of Chinese troops crossing the Indian border in the disputed northern state.

Forget journalistic ethics. The Radia tapes have wider implications

British press magnate Lord Northcliffe once stated: “News is something someone wants suppressed. Everything else is just advertising”.
Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, attends the annual general meeting of Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai July 2, 2010 REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files
It’s interesting, then, that in a season of multi-billion dollar scandals that has seen India’s 24/7 news machine at its probing, questioning, investigative best, one — perhaps bigger and more serious than all the rest — has failed to make the hourly bulletins.

Taped conversations involving corporate lobbyist Niira Radia, anonymously leaked from a reported set of around 5,000 recordings made by India’s Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax authorities, appear to reveal the unholy nexus between India’s business leaders and the political policymaking machine.

But due to the embarrassing proximity that the Indian media elite have to the most controversial dialogues amongst her web of business, political and journalism sources, full-blown coverage has not been seen.

Back to the Lalit Modi saga

Lalit ModiIn India, a thin line separates bravado from infamy. In a country that swears by its Bollywood potboilers, it does not take long to turn a one-time hero into a villain.

And the perfect example is Lalit Modi — once head of India’s $4 billion cricket premier league, he was first removed from his post after a tax scandal and later booted out of the cash-rich Indian cricket board.

Media reports on Thursday say the Enforcement Directorate (ED) issued a ‘blue alert’ against Modi, after he failed to make himself available for interrogation in the corruption allegations.

TOI’s Volkswagen ad: the new convergence?

On Tuesday morning, when readers of The Times of India opened the newspaper, they were in for a surprise.

The supplement of the main paper carried a ‘talking’ advertisement of Volkswagen, which plays a recorded voice when a reader opens the page.

It came as a surprise to many and soon Twitter and Facebook were full of comments, from awe at something so “innovative” to despair at a “lame” attempt.

No criticism please, we’re Indian

Suddenly, it is not cool to be against the scandal-plagued Commonwealth Games.

A commuter walks past the Commonwealth Games 2010 mascot in New Delhi October 3, 2009. REUTERS/Parth SanyalThe CWG was meant to be Delhi’s big coming-out party, India’s assertion that it is a global powerhouse capable of doing what China did with the Beijing Summer Olympics two years ago.

Instead, the Games, scheduled for October, are turning out to be a costly embarrassment, with daily revelations of corruption, fraud and political wrongdoing that has triggered big headlines and much hand wringing by outraged citizens, sportsmen and even politicians.

But suddenly, being against the CWG is almost unpatriotic.

In an “emotional appeal” with a visual of the Indian tricolour published in all leading newspapers on the weekend, industrialist Subrata Roy flayed the “recent continuous and negative media coverage” that has left organisers and volunteers feeling “totally demoralised and dejected”.

A rare news conference by the PM

NUCLEAR-SUMMIT/INDIA“The prime minister of India rarely gets to speak, face-to-face, with the people of India,” writes historian Ramachandra Guha.

We might add the next-best-possible substitute ‘the media’ to this plaint.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will indeed have a rare conversation with the media on May 24, while presenting a report card on his government’s first year in office.

Moral brigade, media trials and law

In what is being seen as a significant judgement, India’s apex court recently dismissed all charges against south Indian actress Khushboo for her alleged remarks on pre-marital sex in a 2005 magazine interview.

KhushbooThe Supreme Court said her comments were her personal view and that she was entitled to express them.

Many in the country believe the verdict heralds a welcome but a difficult and slow change. Nevertheless, it reinforces our claim to democracy, secularism and above all freedom of speech and expression, of course with its riders.

What’s love got to do with caste, class or countries?

Love and marriage have always been subjected to societal norms in most communities and this is especially true in India with its myriad structures of caste, class and a historical rich-poor divide.

A couple chats on Valentine's Day in Bhopal February 14, 2005. REUTERS/Raj Patidar/FilesThe recent media glare on honour killings in northern India put the spotlight on the traditional system of local “khap” councils, who do not allow persons from the same sub-caste or lineage to marry.

Sometimes even marriage between two consenting adults from different gotras (clan or lineage) is banned if they are from the same village, and the diktat of the khaps can lead to ostracism and banishment to even honour killings.

Indian Army Day: Road to reform?

INDIA

January 15 is celebrated as India’s Army Day each year. Sixty-two years ago on this day, the first Indian officer took over as Commander–in–Chief of the army.

Lately, the Indian army has been under constant scrutiny. From modernization of equipment to the moral character of the organisation, many believe the army is facing too many problems at the same time.

In the recent past, there was a media frenzy about Chinese incursions and violation of Indian air space along the Line of Actual Control and also speculation whether the army would fight the growing left-wing extremism in its own country.

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