Even when one wishes to give some credit to the Social Genius for finally picking up courage to talk about the Gandhi family she spoils it by inviting panellists whose views on the topic are already well-known. Still, she does deserve credit for breaking the silence. Unlike a debate for an election contest or winning a prize, a debate on TV need not be for and against. It can simply be on established and verifiable facts against myths or lies. So Sagarika Ghose picks up the flavour of the season in “Does the Indian media steer clear of reporting on the Gandhi family”? Ordinarily, that question shouldn’t even need a debate. It is now established beyond any doubt that the Gandhi family is shrouded in secrecy except for old clips and some stray sound-bites, mostly from election campaigns. Secrecy about their travels, meetings, health – nothing is in the public domain.
You’ve got the home team in S. Vardarajan, (SV) or Vardabhai for short, of The Hindu. Varda and Vadra have a nice ring to it. You had Vinod ‘Smirk’ Sharma of Hindustan Trolls. You have Madhu Kishwar, Activist and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I got that wrong, it’s Jonathan Shainin of Caravan magazine. A what? Yes, that Caravan is a magazine of some sort. What a start from SG: “Charges are swirling around, we don’t know the veracity..”. That’s the first untruth from the host herself. Veracity? The charges, as she claims, against Robert Vadra, are based on public documents. Now, anyone can use help and verify authenticity of those documents and the contents of those documents. Those documents do suggest an absence of fair play in the financial dealings. Whether that is criminal or not is another story. Since RV has called the nation a “banana republic” he knows best how to harvest the bananas from the system.
On Smirk’s comments, which go back to the Rajiv Gandhi era, I have this to say: __________. His comments warrant no further assessment, there is only so much you can comment on forty licks. Debate rules should have made it clear that this is about the ‘current’ Gandhi family and not Rajiv Gandhi and earlier. Then SG refers to the ET report of March 2011 and asks why the media didn’t pick it up and take it further. You see, that’s the real problem. The bitchy competition between our media houses makes them ignore competing media reports rather than focus on the issues that come up. And then they go around asking everyone else why they didn’t act on that report. Answer by Vardabhai? “The transactions were unorthodox, unusual but not illegal”. Really? Then why didn’t The Hindu, at the very least, post a report on its assessment at that time? Wasn’t that the question? From 6.30 onward in the video SV is clearly stumbling and fumbling for an answer.
Then, when asked about travels and expenses, SV churns out even bigger untruths. He states that when it comes to Indian leaders, media is sensitive to their privacy. This is the nonsense that a host should point out to a panellist. SV states that even when it came to AB Vajpayee, after his knee operation, media were reluctant to show him coming down a plane? I’m sorry but I do have to call this a load of BS. Was Vajpayee’s knee surgery itself a secret? Was MMS’ heart procedure a secret? Was Nitin Gadkari’s weight treatment a secret? There were and still are abundant jokes on Gadkari’s weight and he takes it lightly. This is how Varadarajan lays eggs of untruths in defence of the sorry absence of reporting on the Gandhi family. Madhu Kishwar points to the absence of “investigative journalism” in the country. She’s right, but I have to say that those living on crumbs are unlikely to possess the nose of a real hound.
So in response SG asks Kishwar, who has filed RTI applications, why it’s important to know about Rahul Gandhi’s travel information. Alright! Let’s imagine LK Advani went to Pakistan on a private trip. Sure, we have no business to ask for information on personal trips. That’s the argument being peddled by most. While in Pakistan, LKA also decides to secretly meet Hafeez Saeed. Does that matter to you? Does that matter to the nation? LKA can turn around and say it’s his “private matter”. Is it really private? If the host herself is dumb enough to ask a question like this the debate loses value. The nation has a right to know where its representatives go and who they meet. A detailed report is definitely not required on every trip and meeting but a small summary would do. It is enough to say ‘SoniaG was in Venice and spent time with her family and friends’. No further information is required unless it is of national interest.
The problem with Sonia, Rahul and the Gandhi family is that nobody even knows. Even in the Robert Vadra case, even after so many debates nobody in the public knows where he is. In other circumstances it’s not necessary but since RV’s case has come up it’s important. In contrast, when Varsha Bhosle, Asha Bhosle’s daughter, shot herself every channel reported Asha Bhosle was in Singapore (October 8). See the difference? Asha Bhosle is a very prominent public figure too, probably more than some Vadra. In case memory deserts us there was this book by a Spanish writer Javier Moro about Sonia Gandhi titled “The Red Sari”. Oversexed Abhishek Singhvi reportedly made sure it wouldn’t be available in India. This WSJ article should serve as a good story for Vardabhai.
Madhu Kishwar says the media is “fawning” or “petrified” or simply just “so charmed” that they lose their wits. “Anybody who has had a cup of tea or dinner with Sonia or Rahul Gandhi, their hormonal balance is finished and damaged for life”. Those two sentences by her about the Indian media sum up what a million words cannot. The absolute truth about our crony media! Some samples were on the panel too.
On being asked why Sonia, Rahul don’t give interviews SV has a “simple” explanation: “In any party that has multiple leaders… “. If you laughed, it’s your own fault, not mine. Congress has “multiple” leaders? And then the BJP is more open because there are “several contenders” for the top spot while the Gandhis have no such incentive. That is brilliant “intellectualism” for you. And then he says “that’s the nature of the Congress party”. Well, Vardabhai that is precisely what is being debated. Why such a secretive culture? Why such cronyism? Why such sycophancy? SG should have explained the question to SV twice over before the debate. At 24.04 Vardabhai asks “when was the last time Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley were in live debates”. If he was ever guilty of moronery in the past, SV has exceeded that. Who said anything about being in live debates? Both Swaraj and Jaitley have given enough interviews in the last year, at least 3 each to major news channels that I can point to. After every parliament session they address pressers and both are regular speakers in the parliament. Of course, a “live parliament” debate does not constitute “live debate” for some foolish minds. Vardabhai would have you believe real live debates happen only on TVchannels. Once again, you laugh at your own risk.
Then Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who flies too, majestically states: If citizens don’t demand transparency there will be secrecy. What exactly are RTI inquiries on travels and expenses of SoniaG and RahulG? Inquiries by foreign spies? Not by citizens? SoniaG and RahulG not talking is one thing, even the state machinery refuses to release or even answer queries of citizens. What does that say about transparency?
SG points out that in the past 14 years SoniaG has given only 3 interviews, Rahul Gandhi – Sibal! Now, let’s be honest. Neither Sonia nor Rahul have any obligation to give interviews. If they accidently do, our media morons will tom-tom it as “Exclusive, exclusive” for 26 and half days. All that is being sought is information on their travel, their medical fitness or health and who they meet abroad or anywhere. And sometimes their views on policies since they influence those. Some of that information is definitely of public interest. If Robert is only the tip of the iceberg as someone mentioned, then who knows how many such sidekicks have made a financial killing? Lastly, TV debates are fine but calling too many panellists definitely robs the debate of any depth and inquiry into the issue. As for Vardabhai, maybe he should forget the Gandhis and tell us the status of N.Ram & Co. on the land-grab case and report on it. Let him not say nobody asked for information. The TV channels might wonder where Kripa Shankar disappeared before some scandal surfaces again. That doesn’t require the Gandhis or Vadras, does it?