India Insight

Ashutosh gears up for Chandni Chowk race; talks about ‘biased’ media

(Any opinions expressed here are not those of Thomson Reuters)

Aam Aadmi Party’s Ashutosh might have been a TV news host, but now he talks like an experienced politician. “I am enjoying” being on the other side of the microphone, the former managing editor of Hindi news channel IBN7 told India Insight during an interview in which he discussed his decision to stand for Parliament.

It probably won’t be easy. He is taking on Kapil Sibal, a Congress party veteran and influential government minister. Sibal, a two-time member of the Lok Sabha from central Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency, has a knack for landing in controversies. From trying to police social media to trashing a popular upsurge against corrupt politicians in 2011, he often has become a target of public wrath.

Ashutosh, who goes by a single name, said the media is being manipulated by political parties and corporations to make sure that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wins the prime minister’s race in May. Regarding his own former media company Network18, which accepted a large investment from Reliance Industries in 2012 in a complex deal, he had little to say. Nevertheless, he shared his thoughts on how he sees the media now that he is on the other side of the camera. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.

Why start your parliamentary race in Chandni Chowk?

For the simple reason because Chandni Chowk is the real Delhi. I don’t mean that rest of Delhi is not Delhi, but that is the real Delhi. The rest of Delhi expanded later on. Secondly, because you know Kapil Sibal. I was tracking the Anna movement for a very long time and I was associated also, informally. Kapil Sibal was the one man who ridiculed the Anna Hazare movement. When you ridicule Anna Hazare movement, that means a spontaneous mass movement was ridiculed by a cabinet minister who happens to be there, like he represents that constituency where this mass movement was happening. So that is insulting in a way democracy.

But you are also an outsider, don’t you think that will affect your prospects?

Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh slip in Forbes’ most powerful list

India’s top politicians Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have fallen out of the top 20 in Forbes’ annual list of the world’s most powerful people.

Gandhi, leader of India’s Congress party, was No. 21 on the 2013 list, down from 12 last year. Prime Minister Singh took the 28th spot in the list, also losing nine spots since 2012.

Gandhi was ranked third among nine women in the annual list of the world’s 72 most-powerful people — one for every 100 million people on Earth — which Forbes said is based on factors ranging from wealth to global influence.

Ambani’s vertical palace vs Premji’s horizontal giving

In a contest between who is the most celebrated Indian billionaire, a man who donates $2 bln to education versus a man who builds himself a $1bln home, the winner is obvious. Right?

The founder and chairman of infotech giant Wipro Ltd., Azim Premji, is India’s third richest man, said to be worth $17 bln. In one gesture, he has given away more than ten percent of his wealth to a fund for rural education. Surely such a generous donation is most noble and worthy?

And yet the act which has had the deeper impact on the public’s imagination is the recent show of wealth by India’s richest man, industrialist Mukesh Ambani.

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.

Third time’s the charm for Mukesh Ambani

Mukesh Ambani(UPDATE: Reliance Industries has gained an overseas foothold by agreeing to pay $1.7 billion to form a joint venture with U.S.-based Atlas Energy. India’s largest-listed firm will pick up a 40 percent stake in Atlas’s operations in the booming Marcellus Shale)

The ruthless efficiency and smooth execution that marked Reliance Industries’ development of the world’s largest refining complex in western India and its vast gas fields off the country’s east coast has eluded the top-listed Indian firm during its recent attempts at overseas takeovers.

Nevertheless, Mukesh Ambani, the world’s fourth-wealthiest man and the chairman of Reliance, is known for his doggedness and is unlikely to backpedal on his overseas ambitions after being rebuffed by two overseas firms — bankrupt petrochemicals maker LyondellBasell and oil sands firm Value Creation.

Forbes ‘most powerful’ list and the Indian connection

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is among four Indians who share space with U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the Forbes 2009 list of the World’s Most Powerful People.

Those who dominate the list were chosen based on the number of people they influence, their ability to project power beyond their immediate sphere of influence and their control of financial resources.

For Singh, a self-effacing economist who led a resurgent Congress Party to a landslide victory in the general election this year, the accolade is a reflection of how far he has come since his name was proposed as an obvious choice for the post of Prime Minister.

India’s richest man takes a pay cut

Mukesh Ambani has accepted a two-thirds cut in his salary in 2008/09 as chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries. His total compensation fell 66 percent to 150 million rupees.

The move comes just days after Corporate Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed warned firms against paying huge salaries to top company brass.

Ambani’s “desire to set a personal example of moderation in executive compensation” may be in line with the Congress government’s efforts to shore up public finances with an austerity drive of its own.

Is the media going overboard in its coverage of the Ambani feud?

The war of words between the billionaire Ambani brothers took an unexpected turn when younger sibling Anil offered an olive branch to elder brother Mukesh in a bid to resolve a feud over the split of the Reliance business empire in 2005.

The widespread coverage the Indian media has given to the squabble between the brothers has led to a debate on social networking sites such as Twitter, with some accusing news organisations of playing host to a reality show or soap opera that stars the Ambani family to boost ratings.

Prominent columnist Vir Sanghvi wrote through his Twitter account virsanghvi: “Do you think some network should plan a reality show on the Ambani battle? Or are they doing it already on the news?”

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