The stand-off in Delhi between the AAP govt. and the IAS Association (now broadened to a Joint Forum to include Dhanics and Delhi state officers also) continues. I cannot recall a similar confrontation between the bureaucracy and an elected political executive in the last three decades. And herein lies a story. It is not in the nature of the IAS, which is usually a willing or coerced bed-fellow of the politicians, to react so strongly. It has been able to dig in its heels in Delhi only because it has the tacit support of the BJP govt. at the centre and of the Lieutenant Governor who are their controlling authorities. And the BJP’s position is inspired by its long standing and vitriolic hatred of the AAP: this confrontation is the perfect opportunity to embarrass the AAP and expose its anarchic core. The BJP is no white knight in shining armour here – in the past it has also done its best to intimidate and brow beat this same service into toeing its anti-Kejriwal line by raids on senior officers, filing of FIRs, transfers and postings and implied threats (though admittedly it has not yet beaten up any of them).
Interestingly, the central govt’s new-found love of the IAS and of its independence and apolitical status is being tested in UP even as the Delhi drama proceeds to its denouement. Readers will recollect the furore created in BJP circles sometime back by Raghvendra Vikram Singh, the District Magistrate of Rae Bareilly, when he berated on Facebook “the trend to enter a Muslim-dominated area and raise anti-Pakistan slogans.” This was in the days following the Kasganj rioting where precisely this had happened. (had written about this in an earlier post – A DISTRICT MAGISTRATE SPEAKS UP). As I had explained at some length Mr. Singh had not violated any conduct rules of the service. But now the UP govt. has issued a charge-sheet to him, and to the Sub-divisional Magistrate of Amethi, for these writings – obviously with the blessings of the same Union Home Ministry which is shedding tears over the manner in which the IAS is being treated in Delhi! Another outstanding and upright officer is being similarly hounded in Kashmir: Basant Kumar Rath, IPS, Inspector General of Traffic. His sin is that he has written a few articles on subjects such as the nexus between politicians and the mining mafias, the Hashimpura police killings, the condition of Indian jails and criminality of certain elements within the police forces – all areas of grave concern for all administrators. Once again, he is not in violation of the AIS Conduct or Disciplinary Rules which permit a member of the service to write on subjects of official concern provided the writings are not critical of any govt. policy. Rath has nowhere criticised any govt., state or central, but has simply highlighted the rot in the system and stressed on the need to take corrective action. The BJP govt. at the centre is insisting the state govt. take action against Rath. But there has been not a whimper of protest from any IAS or IPS Association over these two instances – they know which side their bread is buttered and they don’t want to burn the toast! But it does put the BJP’s support for the Delhi officers in proper perspective.
I don’t see the Delhi imbroglio ending anytime soon because it is not in the interest of the BJP to end this foreplay before the climactic by-polls to the 21 seats. It is also not in the nature of Kejriwal to set aside his ego and apologise. Delhi’s bureaucrats would be well advised, however, not to depend too much on BJP’s support which does not stem from any love of ethical values or principles of administration but from rank political opportunism.. They should beware of Greeks carrying gifts, as the Trojans learnt to their cost !
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I had thought that our electronic media could stoop no further. But last week they plunged to new depths in their handling of the Sridevi story, displaying an insensitivity bordering on necrophelia. Without any regard for the truth or the feelings of the family or any respect for the poor dead woman these despicable anchors spun off all kinds of sordid theories of their own: that Sridevi’s marriage had been on the rocks, that her husband was in dire financial straits, that he was using her as a milch cow, that she was on drugs, alcohol and anti-depressants. Some channels even recreated the scene of her death graphically, bath tub and all! A couple of channels left no one in doubt that they considered her death to be a murder, with her husband as prime suspect. One politician even opined that it was a “hit job” by a hired professional. And all this when there was not a shred of evidence to support such bizarre conclusions. Even the autopsy report of ” death by drowning” was dismissed haughtily, primarily because the word “drowning” was mis-spelt!
With this episode our TV channels have crossed the line between journalism and voyeurism, between reporting and scandal mongering. They have justifiably attracted the condemnation of international mainstream media such as the BBC, Washington Post, Khaleej Times, to name a few. The problem is that some anchors have bigger than life egos and sense of their own self importance. They no longer preside over ” News” channels but over ” Views” channels. And the views are neither objective, rational nor factual; they are coloured with the prejudice of either the anchor himself or of the corporates who own them. And they are projected with an astonishing degree of arrogance and insolence: news and discussions are presented in a biased manner, no one is allowed to contradict their views, those who still do so are shouted down, their mikes switched off or the speaker thrown out of the studio. I would go so far as to say that the conduct of these channels goes way beyond even scurrilous pseudo- journalism: they are actually spreading hatred and venom, pitting communities against each other, one region of the country against another. They have converted freedom of speech into licence to demean, distort and deprave. Yes, it is their job to ask questions-the right ones, which they never do – but it is not their job to supply the answers. It is also not their job to broadcast their political biases under the garb of journalism
Unfortunately, these dishonest and thoroughly compromised channels will continue to thrive because ours is an inert society when it comes to protecting values. There is no push back from either the public or from the corporates whose advertisements sustains these channels. We need to learn a lot from those countries which value journalistic ethics and whose public consistently boycotts news organisations (and products) which offend societal sensitivities. Just recently H+M, the Swedish retailing giant, had to withdraw an entire ad campaign showing a young African boy in a hooded jacket with the tag line “The Coolest Monkey in the Jungle!” because it was seen as being racist. And last week UNILEVER, the largest FMCG company in the world, has served notice on Facebook and Google that it will blacklist them if they do not devise a policy to filter out violent, misogynist or hate content from their platforms. And the two internet giants are listening!
It will not happen here for many more years, if ever. Because our unrepentant news channels offer the justification that they must be doing something right since they top the TRP ratings. I guess that’s true. But they would do well to remember that in a sewer line its always the scum that floats on the top.