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Black & White Republic

Although somewhat less smooth-locked and seemingly more burdened with the cares of entrepreneurial office, Arnab Goswami, the fiery supra-nationalist and iconoclast former prime-time television anchor of Times Now, is back on the 9 o’clock news. Last November Goswami, who began his idiot box career with NDTV in 1995, quit Times Now, citing lack of operational autonomy.  

On May 6, Goswami’s new 24/7 news channel Republic TV (RTV) went on air with a blistering all-day exposé of the fiscal shenanigans of Bihar’s durable master manipulator and former Union railways minister Laloo Prasad Yadav. The very next day — presumably to demonstrate his class-neutral credentials, Goswami went hammer and tongs after suave US-educated Congress politician Shashi Tharoor for having allegedly interfered with and virtually closing down, the suspiciously slow Delhi police investigation into the death of his socialite wife in a five-star hotel in the national capital.  

The big bang debut of Republic TV has divided the media community. A BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) India report stating that RTV captured 51 percent of the national English news viewership in its very first week, prompted a BARC boycott by the other English language news channels including Times Now. Their charge: RTV had fraudulently manipulated the electronic programme guide (EPG) of cable companies. A complaint has also been filed by the News Broadcasters’ Association with TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Association of India) even as Times Now has filed a suit against Goswami for theft of intellectual property (Laloo and Sunanda material).  

But while RTV’s mix of iconoclasm and hyper-nationalism (the Indian Army can do no wrong), has undoubtedly received the endorsement of the country’s English-speaking bourgeoisie, Goswami seems unaware of the larger implications of his populist agenda, i.e, greater military expenditure and possible nuclear Armageddon. Although RTV is broadcast in full colour, its celebrated anchor seems to be living in a simple black and white world.  


Caution! Amsterdam

In 1998 against all expectation, British writer Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam — a dark, brooding novel of dementia, deceit, betrayal and murder set in a media publishing environment and featuring “characters without personality, comedy without mirth” — was awarded the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for English literature, a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel, written in the English language and published in the UK.

Although media personnel and lay citizens of Amsterdam (pop. 2.4 million) — a city run with clinical efficiency — are almost certainly unaware, this dark, brooding city which often experiences four seasons in a day, but rightfully boasts  two great, contemporary museums featuring the carefully preserved works of two of its greatest artists — Rembrandt (1606-1669) and Van Gogh (1853-1890) as also the splendid tulip gardens of Keukenhof — for mysterious reasons is a danger zone for ageing Indian journalists. In the new millennium, two journalists of national renown — Arvind Das, assistant editor of the Times of India and Praful Bidwai, former assistant editor at Business India and ToI — died of sudden illness in Amsterdam. Some three years ago, well-known Delhi-based public affairs commentator and columnist (see p. 34) Rajiv Desai, fell violently ill and was administered emergency medical treatment at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. And last week, your very own editor contracted a debilitating viral fever, a condition in which this cautionary report is being written. 

My advice to visitors, especially those drawn to the seductive beauty of the Keukenhof Gardens, is to carry an umbrella, wear protective headgear and pop an anti-allergen before and/or after a visit to the city’s parks and tulip fields.

Prevention, I assure you is better than cure.   


Fall from grace

What a fall is there, my countrymen! Once one of the most honest and cleanest of the Indian Union of 29 states and seven Union territories, and where your now disenchanted editor went to boarding school several decades ago, Karnataka is the country’s most corrupt state. According to the 11th annual survey of the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS), released on April 27, 77 percent of residents of this once pristine state known for the probity of its public administration, said “they experienced corruption in accessing public services”. Next on CMS’ list of shame are Andhra Pradesh (74 percent), Tamil Nadu (68), Maharashtra (57), Jammu and Kashmir (44)  and Punjab (42).  

Veteran political scientists in Bangalore, the chaotic administrative capital of Karnataka, trace its steady descent to the reign of Devraj Urs, Congress party leader and chief minister from 1972-77 and 1978-80. In a sharp departure from the state’s tradition of appointing and promoting civil servants on the basis of merit, Urs initiated the practice of packing the bureaucracy with his educationally backward caste kith and kin, who imported the routine corruption of village India into government. Since then official corruption has struck deep roots in the state, especially in Bangalore where extortion of illegal “office expense fees” from citizens availing government services has become pervasive. 

According to Basavaraj Horatti, a former education minister in the state who heads a House Committee of Assurances of the legislative assembly, ten retired government officials accused in a Rs.3.36-crore irrigation scandal in 1994, have not yet been issued summons because, according to the police, their residential addresses can’t be found. This despite their continuing to receive monthly pensions from the state government. 

Speaking to The Hindu (May 23), Horatti listed 13 major scandals which have been swept under the carpet with accused officials going scot-free. The former minister says that in nearly 90 percent of corruption cases, action against the accused is deliberately delayed until retirement or death. A fall from grace indeed.    

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