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The evergreen hero and India’s first superstar

Pankaj Vohra

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Without a doubt, Dev Anand was the first mega star of Indian cinema, who over a period of time, influenced the lifestyles of multiple generations. Although a part of the troika comprising him, Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, he had a fan following that was mind boggling. If Raj Kapoor was considered as the greatest showman and Dilip Kumar the tragedy king, Dev Anand was the quintessential romantic hero. Girls would swoon over him and boys copied his hair style or tried to dress like him. Each and every movie starring Dev Anand would be eagerly awaited and the black market of tickets for the first day, first show was higher than any other contemporary star of his time. Even when Rajesh Khanna and later Amitabh Bachchan attained a superstar status, it was Dev Anand alone who survived their phenomenal rise, and continued to have his box office appeal. 

Having interviewed him on several occasions, one could safely conclude that he was a power bank of energy and enthusiasm. He would always be on the lookout for new scripts and new talent and was obsessed with making films. Many of his critics during his last years, wanted him to give up acting, but in his inimitable manner, Dev Saheb, as he was addressed later, would shoot back and ask, what was their problem when he was spending his own money and time in doing what he liked the most. Together with his brothers — Chetan and Vijay — he had set up the Navketan films, under whose banner, he acted in multiple blockbusters. His movies were trend setters and many were even ahead of their times. Guide, for instance, is regarded as probably his most memorable movie, so far as his performance goes, but his appeal always remained undiminished. Tere Mere Sapne and Hare Rama, Hare Krishna were exceptional, as were Taxi Driver, CID, Hum Dono and Jewel Thief. He enthralled his fans by his performances in Johnny Mera Naam and Gambler and innumerable films before that. When Prakash Mehra decided to make Zanjeer, he made Salim-Javed write the script keeping Dev Anand in mind. However, the actor turned down the role and Amitabh stepped in to make history. The principal reason why Dev Saheb outlived his generation of actors in the silver screen was that he kept abreast with the times and looked after his appearance. He told me once that since childhood, he was administered Chyawanprash by his mother and he continued to have it.

 Dev Anand had a mind of his own and politically was never afraid of taking a stand. He was one of the very few stars who came out against Emergency in 1977. He was romantically linked to many actresses of his time, Suraiya and Madhubala in the early years and Zeenat Aman in the later phase. However, he did not allow that to affect his work. In an interview, he told me that he would tell me about his heroines one day, but that opportunity never arose. A product of Government College, Lahore, where he was a batchmate of my father, Dev Anand was specially invited by Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he as the Prime Minister undertook his historic Bus Yatra to Lahore. He became a hit, across the border as well. For him, there was no singer who could sing ghazals better than Mohammad Rafi and lighter songs better than Kishore Kumar, both of whom were his favourite playback voices. Most of the films produced by him had music by Sachin Dev Burman, in whose abilities, he had immense faith. However, many others also composed hit songs for him in his various other starrers. When he fell ill, he went to London for treatment since he did not wish any of his fans to see him in the condition he was in. It is not surprising that he breathed his last in the British capital where his last rites were also performed. While remembering him on his 97th birth anniversary on Saturday, we must never forget that Dev Anand was the man for all seasons of the Indian cinema. A phenomenon who left an indelible imprint on the celluloid. 

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EKNATH KHADSE’S RESIGNATION WOULD HURT BJP IN MAHARASHTRA

Pankaj Vohra

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The decision of former Maharashtra Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse to quit the BJP and join the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has not come as a surprise. In fact, the saffron party’s strongman from Jalgaon, who had been elected six times from the Muktainagar Assembly segment, had been unhappy with the manner in which he had been treated by former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and therefore, it was natural that he accused him of ruining his political career, after joining his new party. Khadse has been one of the unsung architects of the BJP in the state, and many had even considered him at one point as a possible Chief Minister. However, politics has its own uncertainties and when the time came, the party’s central leadership preferred Fadnavis over him, and he had to settle for a ministerial berth to begin with. His rivalry with Fadnavis persisted and in 2016, Khadse was forced to resign from the Cabinet, following charges of corruption levelled against him. It was alleged that as the Revenue minister, he had brokered a deal where his family members benefited. The allegation could never be proved and the matter is still pending. The resignation put a blot on Khadse’s political journey, and prevented him from aspiring for any major position thereafter. Matters became worse for him when he was last time denied an Assembly ticket. His daughter-in-law, Raksha Khadse, in the meantime, was elected as a BJP candidate from the Raver Lok Sabha constituency in 2019. She continues to be with the BJP, though Khadse, who is likely to join the Maharashtra Cabinet, has started his new innings under Sharad Pawar.

Fadnavis has been on the defensive ever since, and has been trying to explain how he had no role in pushing out Khadse from the party. The damage has already been done. The former Chief Minister’s supporters are of the view that his leaving the BJP would not make any difference. They may be totally wrong. Whenever a strongman of any party parts company with the organisation he has helped to build, there is always a huge cost. In 1977, when Jagjiwan Ram along with H.N. Bahuguna and Nandni Satpathy resigned from the Congress and formed their own party, Congress for Democracy, Indira Gandhi knew that it would be extremely difficult for her to win the Lok Sabha elections. Rest is history since the sitting Prime Minister lost to her opponent, Raj Narain, from her traditional Rae Bareilly seat. In Delhi, Madan Lal Khurana left the BJP briefly but the result was for everyone to see. The BJP has never won the Delhi Assembly for the past 22 years. Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s resignation from the Congress sealed its fate in the undivided Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, there are many examples including those of Dushyant Chauthala in Haryana where the parent party got affected due to the activities of its own people.

Khadse should have been treated with the dignity he deserved. His example should help the BJP and its rivals to learn some elementary lessons. Loyalists of the party should not be sacrificed in power politics. If that happens, every political party should be prepared to pay the price.

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Time to shatter the glass ceilings in our minds

The emancipation of woman is not possible without the emancipation of man. As women aim to shatter the glass ceilings outside in professional spaces, men need to look inwards and shatter the glass ceilings of prejudice, regressive conventions and patriarchy.

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Do glass ceilings exist only in professional spaces? Look around and think again! Glass ceilings exist everywhere: In professional, social, emotional, physical and material contexts as constructs to subvert female views and ideas, needs and desires, egos and identities.

We bring up our boys and girls in an all-pervasive misogynist culture, where boys are raised to entitlement and girls to submission. Sometimes, it is subtle and, at other times, explicit in both the formal education mores at school and the verbal and social transmission of education in homes.

“Boys will be boys” is the idea used as a dictum for the normalisation of several things. For instance, boys’ sexuality blossoming too rapidly in middle school is a topic parents shy away from considering. The boy enters a box of rehearsed patriarchal learning and a script to abide by for the rest of his life which tells him that licence for sexual activities is to be taken for granted. It teaches him that once “the adolescent sex drive is triggered”, even he himself isn’t responsible for where it leads him to and that taking “no” for an answer is an impossibility.

The normalisation of a licentious, free-wheeling sexual exploration, that is allowed and acceptable for boys, creates a position of the male as the active and the female as the passive. However, female sexuality is taboo, if explored by the female herself. It is only to be at the mercy of men, to be tampered with or even exploited. Hence, there exists the huge pop culture industry in India normalising phallocentric language in songs and erasing the need for “consent” in the portrayal of man-woman relationships in movies: “kudiyon ka laga hai buffet, jo chahiye, karlo choose”.

Girls and boys grow up singing these songs and unconsciously plotting in their consciousness the notion of women being “meat” for display, for objectification, for “physical gratification”, for “lustful enjoyment” as it were, and a “piece of flesh” which has no right to say “no”, thus rehearsing the same patriarchal script of rules over and over again. Young girls if found to be consuming adult literature are penalised hard, but for young boys, parents look the other way for the same so-called “violation” committed, because “it’s just a part of growing up”. “Boys will be boys”, after all!

In other words, patriarchy is not promoted and preserved by the man alone. The woman too, in her own way, contributes heavily through the various inhibitions, social mores, folklore, customs and glass ceilings which she religiously holds on to as a “normal” in her life, besides teaching her daughter to accept the same as a given in hers, instead of something to be shattered and done away with. Therefore, it is no wonder that the battle for women’s equality is mired in so many obstacles, when a woman’s mother, mother-in-law, neighbour, grandmother, sister, aunt, teacher, and boss are up against her, simply because she dares to dream of achieving everything that a man is capable of.

Many argue that equality is slowly and steadily making its way into our lives, citing how the gender divide is tilting in favour of the fairer sex, especially in urban India. Is that so? Equal doesn’t necessarily mean identical. A woman and man are essentially different in their sensibilities, physiologies, social and emotional aspirations, even in terms of the yardstick of professional gratification and hence it is not as simple as just switching a man with a woman and vice versa, while overlooking the immense responsibility every woman is also occupied with generally, whether mentally or physically or on the home front.

Equalising a woman to liken a man in terms of cloning his ways of working or simply exchanging gender roles is just another way of reiterating patriarchy. And that is neither equality, nor liberation for women. A woman needs to be treated as a “human equal”, not a “man equal”—and our professional spaces, both public and private, are still far from it. Male subordinates still cringe while taking orders from female bosses, especially if they are in technical fields and the female boss hails from general administration. Females are also expected to be nice and humble, and not behave in a matter-of-fact manner and professionally in their work spaces and are even criticised for possessing these qualities, whereas a male boss is deified for being curt and “professional”. Glass ceilings are being shattered by women painstakingly in the professional world, but what about the glass ceilings that exist in the patriarchal minds of both men and women? Is there a way to shatter those?

The answer lies perhaps in education and social awareness, where the media has a big role to play. Education needs to encompass more life skills like conflict management, critical thinking, communication skills, problem solving, emotional intelligence, stress management, sex education, etc, rather than rote academic skills. Education needs to aim at nurturing humane and human equals rather than clones of each other in the name of equals. Misogyny is a mindset that is embedded in childhood through lesser and under-dignified chores and routines reserved for daughters. Females are only regarded as passive bearers of everything sanctimonious or paradoxically unholy on earth. Hence, all slangs and cuss words are shaped after them, abusing their body parts. Thus, education, instead of helping in perpetuating the status quo, needs to purge itself of these blemishes and emerge as a bridge between the different sexes—male, female, transgender—to help build a stronger nation.

In this regard, the media needs to promote idols who have shattered the glass ceiling in different fields: Social workers like Kailash Satyarthi, who has been working for the cause of children for decades, and Harish Sadani of MAVA (Men Against Violence and Abuse), who has been working relentlessly for women’s causes, coaches like Pullela Gopichand, who mentors super girls like P.V. Sindhu, and fathers like Mahavir Singh Phogat and Harvir Singh Nehwal, who raised daughters like the wrestler Phogat sisters and shuttler Saina Nehwal. The media needs to reiterate their vision and portray instances of equality that is achievable and worth emulating, instead of only the utopian mirage of urban prototypes in nightclubs with no holds barred on intoxicants and excesses or the placard-brandishing feminists who cry foul at the very mention of the word “man”—both of whom are an exaggeration and an exception in a country where the heart still resides in small towns and villages where patriarchy is still the order of the day unfortunately.

Sophocles had said in his famous tragedy, Antigone, “If my body is enslaved, still my mind is free.” For women, things will look up only when she herself learns to look up, when she learns to unshackle her mind and think in terms of solutions to problems instead of avoidance or endurance of them, for the biggest of battles are first won in the mind.

Two things that can make her think along those lines are education (both vocational and academic) and economic independence, however miniature in form and structure it may be, because with every penny she earns, she earns much more in terms of self-confidence, courage, and dignity of labour. The various educational and vocational training provisions of the government therefore need to orient themselves to serve that end, whereby it is important that the authorities do not treat this as an isolated women’s issue but as a family welfare issue since the woman is the nucleus of the family unit. Her physical and mental wellbeing affects the family at the micro level and the nation at the macro level. The concerned authorities should, therefore, envisage long-term and short-term programmes enabling the rural family unit to emancipate organically as a whole, and not by imposing some utopian hired foreign model upon them for quick magical results. The emancipation should also be “organic” because India is a heterogeneous society with variant social, economic, cultural and political ambient features which play very significant roles in determining the success or failure of such schemes and operations.

The way forward is through collaboration. The emancipation of woman is not possible without the emancipation of man. As women aim to shatter the glass ceilings outside in professional spaces, men need to look inwards and shatter the glass ceilings of prejudice, regressive conventions and patriarchy that often exist in their mind spaces.

Debaroopa Bhattacharyya is founder and editor-in-chief of Tribe Tomorrow Network. The views expressed are personal.

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TIME FOR INDIA TO START FORMALISING RELATIONS WITH TAIWAN

Joyeeta Basu

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Amid unconfirmed reports that India could be pursuing a trade pact with Taiwan, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has asked New Delhi not to forget the “one China principle”, according to which the island nation of Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. Beijing also reminded New Delhi that this principle is “the political basis for China to develop ties with other countries”. The statement was the latest in a series of gratuitous “advice” that Beijing has been offering not only to New Delhi but also to the Indian media about Taiwan. This tone is expected to get shriller and threatening once a possible trade pact is taken out of the realm of speculation and given shape. It is hoped that such threats will be ignored, considering India has started thinking of its own interests for a change, instead of worrying about angering China. Any such pact will mark an important step towards formalising relations at the government to government level between India and Taiwan, and could be the meeting ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen’s New Southbound Policy, which aims to enhance trade and cooperation with countries in South East Asia and South Asia. That the two countries have started giving a lot of importance to the relationship is apparent from the senior level appointments that the two have been making at their respective offices in the two countries. Taiwan’s last representative in New Delhi, Tien Chung-kwang, was made Deputy Foreign Minister of his country after his India stint. India-Taiwan relations have a lot of potential since Taiwan is a technological powerhouse, apart from being a good listening post for all that is happening in China. Strategically too, as part of the first island chain, Taiwan is an important line of defence against an expansionist China. Amid this, the One China policy is a drag. It is India’s interests that should determine its foreign policy and not the burden of history when a non-visionary leader hurriedly put his stamp on One China. Following this policy for seven decades has not helped India develop a stable relationship of mutual cooperation and understanding with China. Moreover, accepting One China policy means, by implication, accepting China’s position on Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims to be its own—and now even Ladakh. Who knows where this will stop, especially if, as consensus is building that China is eyeing to control the whole of the Himalayas with the intention of controlling the water there and choking India, so that the latter does not pose any threats to its ambitions in Asia. Being sensitive to China’s concerns has not got India anything except for Doklam and Galwan, apart from the constant threat of war hanging on its head. In fact the kind of aggressive rhetoric emanating from Beijing is bizarre. It’s strange that a world leader of Xi Jinping’s stature will ask his troops to start preparing for war. Which responsible leader uses such rhetoric? But then Xi’s China has got away with murder, literally—the murder of hundreds of thousands of people by unleashing the Wuhan virus on the world. And if the world does not stand up to it, Xi’s China may think it will get away by pushing countries such as India into a war as well.

The One China policy is a drag. It is India’s interests that should determine its foreign policy and not the burden of history when a non-visionary leader hurriedly put his stamp on One China. Following this policy for seven decades has not helped India develop a stable relationship of mutual cooperation and understanding with China.

This being the situation, it is heartening to see winds of change blowing through the corridors of India’s rather circumspect foreign policy establishment. It appears to be acquiring the much needed edge, keeping with the requirements of the time. If it were business as usual, Australia would not have got the invitation to participate in the Malabar Exercise, much to the chagrin of China. It is hoped, now that Mike Pompeo is visiting India a week ahead of the Presidential election in the United States, substantial progress will be made in the signing of the third and final foundational agreement needed for deeper India-US military cooperation—Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which has been forever in the making. It is also hoped that some movement will be made towards the formalisation of the Quad. It’s only a united world that can tackle the Chinese Communist bully. India seems to have woken up to this reality—as long as it does not flatter to deceive.

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Why India fails to have an industrial renaissance

Most of our graduates are becoming coders for the software industry. Even our ITI-trained turners and fitters refuse to work on the shop floor. Should we blame them? No, not as long as a stock broker earns more than an engineer, typing code is mistaken for technology and governments do not amend antique labour and land laws.

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In a country which invests barely 3% of its GDP in education, we have education departments buying smartboards, tablets and smartphones, when they can’t even pay salaries to their teachers. Why do we need tutoring apps for children? With different types of tutoring, education will no longer be a means for upward social mobility. True education has to be through personal interaction and we are being stupid falling prey to these apps, which can prepare students for examinations and tests but not for life. 

A large portion of our economic growth in the last four decades has been in the services sector, predominantly the IT sector. Barring some of the large companies, most IT startups are platforms for aggregation of services, which essentially produce nothing. Their claim to bring in efficiency and provide services at cheaper rates actually pushes down the earnings and wages of the workers, forcing them to work on inhuman terms, while at the same time cutting into the profit margins of enterprises engaged in real, physical economic activity. The question here is: Who are these cheaper prices for? Is it really for the people who can afford to pay more, even at the cost of fair wages and humane working conditions for the deprived? It is the latter who need more money, to buy more and kick-start the economy. A little redundancy is actually good. It not only generates jobs, but it also ensures better conditions for our working people.

Do we know who bears the cost of frauds in the banking sector? While financial institutions aim to cut their transaction costs by employing less people, the cost of frauds is transferred to the customers who end up paying larger processing charges and get lower rates of interest on their deposits. Once again, we are pushing more money into the hands of those who have enough and grabbing it from the smaller man whose job has been taken away under the guise of technology. Worse, there is a whole new breed of criminal entrepreneurs who make insane amounts of money by compromising sensitive data and communications. In the US, companies are now quietly paying off hundreds of thousands of dollars to organisations that trace, negotiate and settle stolen money. Security frameworks are becoming more difficult with cloud services bringing in enormous complexity and security challenges. It has become a scary war of wits between nation states and crime syndicates playing for big bucks. The criminals invest unimaginable amounts of money in finding vulnerabilities and writing algorithms to break passwords and even compromise OTPs.

In a country which invests barely 3% of its GDP in education, we have education departments buying smartboards, tablets and smartphones, when they can’t even pay salaries to their teachers. Why do we need tutoring apps for children? With different types of tutoring, education will no longer be a means for upward social mobility. True education has to be through personal interaction and we are being stupid falling prey to these apps, which can prepare students for examinations and tests but not for life. 

Am I against technology? No, I am only saying that we have to be awake and clear about our priorities. Our priority today is to create jobs for millions, not to bring in technology to enrich a few. Yes, we must master the latest technology but also use it judiciously for high-end research and innovation, not for reducing jobs and making people poorer.

When it comes to innovation, my first observation is that all the major inventions and discoveries like electricity, telephony, the internal combustion engine, thermionic valve, transistor, LCD, LED, etc, had been made before the 1960s came to an end. Since then, the game has been to scale up processor speeds and integration to keep increasing computing power. New research is expensive and time-consuming and, with state funding drying up, meaningful research has taken the back seat. The result is that we are seeing more applications than inventions and discoveries. 

There is also the growing realisation that these technologies, if you can call them that, are playing havoc with social equilibrium. Countries are concerned over the concentration of power in the hands of companies like Apple, Amazon and Google. What is also worrisome is that IT and social networking are perpetuating stereotypes, reinforcing perceptions and prejudices, instead of challenging them. Emerging infotech is fuelling global inequality, while increasing social tension and dividing humans into hostile camps. They are doing a tremendous disservice by pushing people into pigeonholes where they can be classified and controlled. 

It is sad to see that many of our bright engineers can only think of apps when considering ideas for startups. The super efficiency promised by these apps is a chimera—it is bad for society. Can we use human-scale technology, in sync with nature, without being obsessed with efficiency? Fair wages for employees, humane working conditions, social security, education, health and shelter for the families have to be a part of the human cost, not forgetting a component of leisure, recreation and upgrading of skills. Check why American farmers are increasingly opting for old-fashioned tractors, like the John Deere Model D of 1923, instead of modern fuel-efficient models. They want machines which are simpler to maintain with no proprietary software and expensive spares. Also, we can no longer shut our eyes to the ecological damage, destruction of biodiversity, fatal addictions, malnutrition, organ damage, violent conflicts, inhuman working conditions, suppression of wages and profiteering which are being normalised by many oil companies, pharmaceuticals, fast food chains, armaments, financial institutions and rating agencies.

We have world-class technology institutes. They should be leading an industrial renaissance. But instead of that, 80% of our graduates are becoming coders for the software industry. Even our ITI-trained turners and fitters refuse to work on the shop floor. Should we blame them? No, not as long as a stock broker earns more than an engineer, typing code is mistaken for technology and governments do not amend antique labour and land laws. A correction here can be a game-changer. I am reminded of how Bajaj Auto emerged as a world leader in building the 100-cc engine motorcycle. They started by offering more attractive packages than the software-wallahs to suitable students from good engineering colleges. These were students with a passion for engineering. Bajaj Auto built a formidable R&D capability with these engineers and, together with TVS and Hero, they are now global leaders in the motorcycle market. We also saw how Sundram Fasteners became one of the top ancillary manufacturers for General Motors and Mukand became a major stainless steel manufacturer. There are many such stories of what can be achieved if leaders in positions of authority can get the big picture. Let us do it now.

The writer is an Indian civil servant and a former Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The views expressed are personal. This is the third of a five-part series that will appear over a period of time.

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The crisis of credibility facing Indian media

The phenomenal growth of the media in India, including the unregulated arena of social media, has brought with it a significant decline in accountability and reliability. A solution to this lies perhaps in the setting up of a new Media Commission.

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The media in India is facing an unprecedented crisis of credibility. Its exponential growth coupled with diminishing accountability has underlined the urgent need to draw up an agenda in the current scenario for the media to fulfil its constitutional obligations.

The media has a crucial role in promoting democratic and social values, waging a crusade against aberrations and imperfections in the polity and strengthening the edifice of democracy and ensuring good governance.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, guaranteeing the freedom of speech and expression, empowers the media to serve the people with news, views, comments and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased, sober and decent manner. But the moot question in today’s context is about who will define the “public interest” and whether the media can be goaded to follow any selective interpretation of this phrase.

The government and regulatory mechanisms like the Press Council of India (PCI) think it imperative that the media learn to differentiate between matters of “interest to the public” and “those in public interest”, remaining unbiased not only in covering latest developments in political, social and economic fields but also in highlighting the real issues agitating the masses, such as economic disparities, social discrimination, gender inequalities, child abuse, sanitation, environment, poverty, unemployment, education and healthcare, rather than thriving on non-issues.

But this “imperative” too can’t be enforced either by law or through an executive order. The right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) (a) is limited by the “reasonable restrictions” contained under Article 19(2) on eight vital grounds on which laws can be made. But Article 19(2) in no way takes away the right of the media to promote its own interests within these reasonable restrictions, especially in this era of liberalisation.

In Bennett Coleman & Co. v Union of India, the Supreme Court held that freedom of press entitles the media to achieve any volume of circulation and freedom, both in its circulation and content.

In the landmark case of Sakal Papers v. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution permits the imposition of reasonable restrictions only within the grounds expressly stated within Article 19(2). These include security of state; friendly relations with foreign states; public order; decency or morality; contempt of court; defamation; incitement to an offence; and sovereignty and integrity of India.

The apex court opined that if a law does not fall within these grounds and abridges the right to freedom of speech and expression, then it is liable to be declared void.

Several professional bodies, including the Editors’ Guild of India, are seriously concerned about the behaviour of a section of the media and the inevitable fall out of all this is that “others” now seek to regulate. The media industry too is not oblivious of the tremendous pressures to self-regulate and set its house in order.

The NDA government has been adopting a very cautious approach in dealing with the highly sensitive Indian media. So far it appears to favour persuasion rather than the imposition of statutory regulation in any form. Even the previous UPA government had been unhappy about a “free-for-all” in the name of free media.

Lord Denning, a famous British judge, in his famous book, Road to Justice, observed that the “press is the watchdog and that even the watchdog may sometimes break loose and has to be punished for misbehaviour”.

The government, which sometimes appears eager to rein in the media, may like to study the report of the Lord Justice Leveson public inquiry which was set up by then British Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the infamous phone hacking scandal. The Justice Leveson public inquiry was asked to look into phone hacking and police bribery by the News of the World. It alsoconsidered the culture, practices and ethics of the wider British media. The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid News of the World was found involved in the phone hacking scandal, which rocked the British government and jolted public opinion across the world. Several high-profile heads rolled when the story behind the scandal unfolded. The Justice Leveson inquiry recommended a statutory independent regulatory mechanism with powers to enforce its decisions on the media in all its manifestations. The report castigated the British media for its behaviour which it said often “wreaked havoc” in the lives of innocent people. 

The Indian media has also often drawn flak from various quarters for “sensationalism” and “trivialisation”. Intemperate language used by some politicians and social activists reflecting their gender and community bias has invariably underlined the need for the media to scrupulously avoid devoting precious time and space to “non-issues” which may be of interest to certain segments of the society but do not serve the public interest.

Several professional media bodies have been pressing for the setting up of a Media Commission on the lines of the First Press Commission and the Second Press Commission for an extensive review of the entire media industry. The proposed Media Commission may recommend, among other things, the setting up of a Media Council of India, replacing the existing Press Council, which has the mandate to regulate only print media. The jurisdiction of the proposed Media Council may include all types of media—print, electronic and the Internet/social media. But the idea has failed to take off in the face of stiff resistance from the industry.

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), a private association of different current affairs and news television broadcasters in India, and the Indian Newspapers Society (INS), representing the print media industry, for long have enjoyed considerable clout in the corridors of power. Together they have been lobbying hard against the setting up of a Media Commission which may review the functioning of all segments of the media and address other important issues including cross-media ownership, paid news syndrome, press-politician relationship, monopolistic TV rating points, concentration of advertisement, the wage structure for employees in the media industry, etc.

The first Press Commission set up by the Nehru government in 1952 looked into the control, management and ownership, the financial structure as well as other aspects of the newspaper industry. It recommended the appointment of the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI), setting up of a Press Council of India and the enactment of the Working Journalists’ Act, besides other things. The Second Press Commission was set up by the Janata Party government, headed by Morarji Desai, in 1978. The Commission in its report wanted the media to play a responsible role in the development process. The Press Council of India was reconstituted as per recommendations of the Second Press Commission.

The media industry, both electronic and print, would like us to believe that the question as to how the media can and should focus its enormous strength and reach on developmental reporting and positive news interests could be addressed only through self-regulation. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is India’s apex organization of television broadcasters. It promotes the interests of the Indian television industry and provides a meeting ground to ensure that its members work in consensus to achieve common goals and have a common platform to air grievances and arrive at solutions. The IBF has adopted a programme code. It has empowered the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC) to impose fines on TV channels found violating the programme code.

A few channels have already been faced with financial penalty for screening obscene content and directed to tender an on-screen apology for violating the programme code. The BCCC has also been regularly issuing advisories to TV channels cautioning them about their content, particularly depicting victims of incidents of rape and acid attacks on women and girls, stereotyping of women in general and the portrayal of minority communities. But all these measures on self-regulation appear “clumsy” and the paradigm of self-regulation needs to be strengthened by reviewing this model.

It is a catch-22 situation. Self-regulation without a statutory binding to enforce it among all the players of the game will be a half-hearted attempt to make the TV channels accountable to the people. And any legal framework would be rejected by the industry as violating the right to freedom of speech and expression. A way out has to be found for an effective and smooth functioning of the media as a potent weapon to strengthen Indian democracy. And then there is the phenomenal growth of the unregulated social media with the potential to breach privacy, create social disorder and pose a threat to national security.

An answer lies perhaps in the setting up of a Media Commission (another Press Commission) for a fresh look at the whole gamut of media functioning in India. It is the need of the hour. It may be headed by a sitting or retired judge of the Supreme Court of India and its findings binding on all the stakeholders. The proposed Media Commission may recommend a truly representative statutory Media Council in place of the existing Press Council. The proposed Media Council may encompass the media in all its dimensions with adequate provisions to enforce strict vigilance and discipline.

It may be possible sooner than later. What is required is a powerful public opinion in its favour and a strong political will on the part of our lawmakers.

The writer is a senior journalist and currently a part-time member of the Prasar Bharati Board. The views expressed are personal.

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IT’S NOT JUST POLITICAL, IT’S ALSO PERSONAL

Priya Sahgal

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The state of Bihar is all set to go to the polls next month but equally there is another interesting battle that will take place around the same time. This is the slew of bypolls slated for 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh where the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government rules with a wafer-thin majority. Of these 28 seats the BJP needs 9 seats to cross the halfway mark on its own; and just two seats to continue in government with the help of its current allies: Currently, the BJP has 107 seats in the 230-strong Assembly. It also has the support of four Independents, two BSP MLAs and one suspended SP MLA. Since these are fickle allies who will switch sides with anyone who has the numbers, the BJP is keen to get a simple majority on its own and is targeting nine seats at the very least. For a government in the saddle, that is not too difficult an ask.

But the Opposition led by former CM Kamal Nath seems surprisingly confident, though the Congress has a much more difficult task. After Jyotiraditya Scindia defected to the BJP with his faction, the party is now reduced to 88 seats. Ideally it should win all 28 to cross the halfway mark, but even if it wins around 20 odd seats, it is confident of wooing away some of the smaller allies and independent MLAs from the BJP to wrest back the government.

However, this is not the twist in the tale for until now this is just a fight between an incumbent and a former Chief Minister. The story gets interesting when you add Scindia into the mix, for unlike Chauhan versus Nath which is a straightforward electoral battle, the Scindia versus Nath fight is very personal. Even before Scindia destabilised the Nath government, the two were rivals, for the former always saw himself as the rightful claimant to the CM’s chair while both Nath and Digviijaya Singh saw his as a bit of a pretender who whiled away his time in Delhi and only showed up to claim the prize. This interestingly is a turf war that dates back to Jyotiraditya’s father, the late Madhavrao Scindia’s time when Nath backed Digvijaya’s candidature as Chief Minister over Scindia senior’s claims in 1993.

These bypolls are as crucial for Jyotiraditya as they are for Shivraj and Kamal Nath. As many as 16 of the 28 bypoll seats are from the Gwalior-Chambal region, which is touted as his stronghold. The BJP tickets have been given to the Congress rebels who switched sides with him, thereby upsetting the BJP leaders in the area. Most of the thwarted BJP candidates have been accommodated by Nath, either within the Congress or they have his support as independents. According to senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai, “Nath has deputed a party worker for every 20 voters, he has a band of two lakh fifty thousand workers for these 28 bypolls.” This is the same formula he had used to win the 2018 state polls as well, taking on Amit Shah’s panna pramukh model with his own.

Since Scindia has not yet been accommodated in the Modi cabinet, a lot will depend on how he performs at the ground level. The cabinet reshuffle at the Centre is slated to take place after the Bihar and MP elections. And apart from Nath, he also has to take on the discontent within the state BJP which is not too happy to have ‘Maharajah’ thrusted upon them. Both the PM and the Home Minister are staying out of the bypolls, preferring to focus their energies on the Bihar elections. This leaves the field clear for the state BJP which recently came out with a star campaigners list that had Jyotiraditya as low as Number 10 with others like V.D. Sharma (state BJP chief) and Narender Singh Tomar above him. The message is not lost on those who recall that when he was with the Congress, Scindia headed the campaign committee. Equally telling is the fact that Scindia’s face is not there amongst the official BJP posters.

For Nath too, the stakes are high. This could be his last shot at relevance for one is not sure if the Congress would project him as the CM candidate in the next state elections due in 2023. He knows this and has been working hard throughout the lockdown. His team seems confident of winning at least twenty of these bypolls. and though there are WhatsApp videos being circulated by the Scindia camp to show the empty seats at Nath’s rallies, the latter’s supporters point out that these are seats at the fag-end of the tent and that too during corona times. They instead talk of his confident body language and the fact that he is leading the campaign from the front. And there are also WhatsApp videos of Scindia being greeted with Murdabad cries that are in circulation, only one is not sure whether these are from the Congress or sent by his newfound BJP colleagues.

And so while the media focus is on the Bihar polls, there is an equally interesting and high voltage battle being fought in Madhya Pradesh with the theatre of action being the Gwalior-Chambal region

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