When Karan Thapar forgot about the Modi interview

The date was 18th November, 2013, and the world’s largest democracy was inching closer to holding its General Elections in the following year. At that time, I was an undergraduate student of Journalism at the University of Delhi. A couple of days back, while casually browsing on the web, I came across an important bit of information from the perspective of a curious media student. The famous Australian talk show ‘Q&A’ was coming to India and was scheduled to hold a programme to be telecast live on ABC and Doordarshan.

In order to participate in the programme, one was supposed to register with Q&A and forward their questions to their team via email. Six renowned public figures from India and Australia were chosen as panellists – Shashi Tharoor, Karan Thapar, Swapan Dasgupta, Shoma Chaudhury, Stuart MacGill and Pallavi Sharda. I had previously been to several talk shows, including NDTV’s much-celebrated programme ‘We The People’ ,but so far, I had never got an opportunity to participate in an international talk show. Hence, I prepared a set of questions and forwarded them to Q&A.

I prepared five different questions for the panellists. Thereafter, I received an email stating that one of my questions had been selected and I was supposed to come to Kingdom of Dreams situated in Sector 29, Gurgaon, on 18th November, 2013, to pose my question to Shashi Tharoor.

The day finally arrived and I decided to travel to Gurgaon via Delhi Metro. This was my first visit to Gurgaon and I must admit that I was impressed on seeing the infrastructural might of the buildings in the city on my way to Kingdom of Dreams. After reaching the venue, I was received by crew members of Q&A who handed over to me a cue card on which my question had been printed. It read the following: “For Shashi Tharoor — Unlike Indian democracy, Australia isn’t infected with dynasty-ridden politics as exhibited through realpolitik feuds between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. In your article, “Shall We Call The President”, you had advocated that a Presidential System would provide India with much needed political stability, but will it be able to institutionalize inner party democracy in India’s dynasty-plagued political system?”

After a brief interaction with the organizers, the audience was ushered into the auditorium much before the arrival of the panellists. The organizers saw to it that the ones whose questions had been selected were seated in different parts of the auditorium and that the boom mikes were well in reach of them and so were the cameras. The programme began at 3 PM with Tony Jones as the host. During the course of the programme, the panellists deliberated over a range of issues starting from the retirement of cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar, to the safety of women in India.

One of the most polarizing points of discussion was concerning the current India Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At that point in time, Modi was BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, and far from having achieved the tally which he did during the elections. A certain Mr. Ajoy Roy questioned the panel in regards to Modi and Rahul in the context of 2014 General Elections. He said, “What does this panel know about the credentials of Mr Rahul Gandhi and Mr Narendra Modi and its implications for the people of India and Australia if one of them is elected as the next Prime Minister?”

The question provoked sharp responses from the panel members. Reacting to this query, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor claimed that the “disregard for historical facts that Narendra Modi shows every day has rubbed off on his fans.” On the other hand, right wing commentator Swapan Dasgupta supported Modi and suggested that his emphasis on minimal government, high growth and honest leadership were the reasons why he happened to be “a favourite to win this election.” Dasgupta also drew comparison between Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot.

However, this did not go down well with Aussie spinner Stuart MacGill, who said, “You can’t go on criticising our Prime Minister and comparing him to a man that has been involved in something that was really quite offensive to a big part of your population.” Soon after, news anchor Karan Thapar too shared his views in regards to the subject. He declared that neither Modi nor Rahul deserved to be the Prime Minister. He said that Modi carried the “moral responsibility” for what happened in Gujarat during 2002. He added, “The Supreme Court had gone on record in April 2004 in a specific judgement — it wasn’t just a comment made in court — to call him and his government, modern-day Neroes.”

This statement was factually disputed by Swapan Dasgupta who claimed that “it was not a judgement” but “was a stray comment of a judge.” Dasgupta’s fierce opposition infuriated Thapar who went on to say, “Forgive me, April 12th, 2004, the Zaheera Sheikh judgement in the Best Bakery case. I assure you I am right. After the show is over, I will send you the judgement.”

The programme soon concluded and went off-air. I wasn’t able to pose my question as the show had run out of time, but I thoroughly enjoyed the lively discussion. Thapar and Dasgupta immediately left the auditorium, but I wanted to talk to them in regards to the subject which had generated a war of words between the two. I followed them on the way out and managed to tag alongside them as they were moving towards the main gate. I reminded Karan Thapar that in his famous Narendra Modi interview, wherein the then Gujarat Chief Minister made an unceremonious exit, Thapar had referred to the same quote of the Supreme Court wherein the Gujarat administration had been referred to as “Modern Day Neroes”. I, however, insisted that during the course of the interview, Thapar had claimed that that particular statement of the Supreme Court was an observation and not a part of the judgement.

Thapar disagreed with me and asked me to check the judgement online. He said that he referred to that quote as a part of the judgement of the Supreme Court, and that it was Modi who disputed it by claiming that it was an observation. I said that I would willingly do so but then I told him that I clearly remember him agreeing with Modi on the subject and saying that it was an observation. Thapar, being in a hurry, left early and so the conversation came to an end.

After I came back home, I once again saw the much talked-about Karan Thapar — Narendra Modi interview. On seeing the video, I realized that I was correct. When Thapar brought up the issue of the Supreme Court drawing parallel between Modi and Nero, Modi rebutted by stating, “I have a small request. Please go to the Supreme Court judgement and is there anything in writing, I’ll be happy to know everything.” Thapar responded by saying, “It was not in writing. You’re absolutely right, it was an observation.”

But the story does not end here. I researched further and tracked down the Supreme Court judgement Thapar was referring to. To my bewilderment, I realized that the Supreme Court judgement in the Best Bakery Case (2004) indeed makes certain crude remarks against the Gujarat government and said, “The modern day Nero’s were looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and women were burning, and were probably deliberating how the perpetrators of the crime can be saved or protected.” I was stunned. The pressure of delivering news consecutively for 24 hours and on all 7 days of a week is so huge that even iconic television news moments like Karan Thapar interviewing Narendra Modi end up being factually incorrect.

Who would believe that during the course of the interview, both Modi and Thapar were wrong on facts? Who would believe that Thapar doesn’t even remember what he said during that interview which won him so much of journalistic appreciation? Who would believe that Thapar would advocate to have said something else? I wouldn’t! Would you? The point over here is that both television anchors and politicians awfully get their facts wrong in today’s age of incessant media coverage. What is worse is that a couple of years down the line, they tend to claim that they had said something else!


(This article was originally published in Youth Ki Awaaz.)

Confusion prevails among DU students in post-FYUP era

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Despite the fact that Delhi University set out guidelines for the restructuring of FYUP five days prior to the commencement of the new academic session on July 21, the existing academic situation at DU remains far from satisfactory. (Image: The Hindu)

It has been nearly two months since DU Vice Chancellor Prof. Dinesh Singh scrapped the contentious Four Year Under Graduate Programme (FYUP) on June 27 following a bitter standoff between Delhi University and University Grants Commission. The Vice Chancellor’s press statement which declared the rollback of FYUP opined that the varsity considered protecting the “interests of the students” as “of paramount importance”. However, the post FYUP era has yielded several dilemmas for the students of DU with the university failing to allay their apprehensions.

Despite the fact that Delhi University set out guidelines for the restructuring of FYUP five days prior to the commencement of the new academic session on July 21, the existing academic situation at DU remains far from satisfactory. Students at the varsity still remain sceptical of their course curriculum and are raising questions in regards to the arbitrary removal of the programme.

Inter-disciplinary learning and the opportunity to graduate in more than one subject had encouraged Amit Jha to enrol for pursuing his higher education in Hindi at Delhi University. Under the FYUP, he studied subjects like Business, Entrepreneurship & Management and Science & Life as part of Foundation Courses (FCs) which gave him the confidence that he would be able to pursue his post-graduation in Commerce. However, the sudden rollback of FYUP has crushed Amit’s hopes of inter-disciplinary education which he believed would open up multiple areas of study for him in the future. Amit says, “The rollback of FYUP has substantially diluted career prospects for those students who were heavily dependent on Foundation Courses for their overall development.”

Aditya Nair, a student of BCOM (Hons) at Delhi University, who although satisfied with the shift in focus towards core papers in his course, says, “The students are confused as the books concerning the revised syllabus are not yet available in the market.” He drives home his point by citing the example of books on Corporate Law which do not contain information about Companies Act, 2013. He adds that “rules and regulations in regards to awarding of marks and credits for attendance and NSS-based activities have not yet been clarified.”

One of the main selling points of FYUP was that it sought to technologically equip the students to carry out research and other academic activities. Journalism student Parikshit Joshi is one among many who have had to face great difficulty because of colleges asking for return of laptops which the students were provided with in the first year. Parikshit also complains about the hasty manner in which the course has been redesigned by saying, “In journalism, advertising has so far constituted an independent paper but under the new course structure, it is being taught as part of a paper named Integrated Marketing Communications.” He adds that the vastness of the course has even left the teachers bewildered with them using Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s words “Kya bholun, kya yaad rakhun” to describe the scenario.

Ansh Goyal who played a prominent role in the Save FYUP campaign is utterly dissatisfied with the prevailing academic environment at DU. While his efforts helped in saving the interests of many as the university decided to continue BTECH courses for the batch of 2013-17 in which several students like Goyal had taken admission, Goyal himself labels these students as “guinea pigs” who had been “subjected to a crude year long experiment” as DU has scrapped BTECH courses from the ongoing academic session and has reverted to offering three-year long BSc degrees.

Much like the students of Delhi University, the faculty too seems to be far from being satisfied with the newly structured three year under-graduate programme. Sudhir Kumar Rinten, Assistant Professor of Journalism at DU, states that while the cornerstone of FYUP’s syllabus was issue-based learning, the revamped syllabi lacks in practicality and hands on learning though it provides ample theoretical exposure to the students. With Delhi University having announced the datesheet for the forthcoming semester examinations, the confused students at the nation’s premier varsity are left with no option except for coming to terms with the revamped course structure.


(This article was originally published in The Indian Economist.) 

A response to Hindu Rashrtra & Idea of India

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Representational Image via TCN

In an article published for The Millennium Post titled “Hindu Rashtra and the idea of India” (25th August, 2014), Delhi University Associate Professor Dr Sangit Ragi argued, “A river is always identified with and known after the dominant stream. So is the culture. When RSS talks of Hindu Rashtra it signifies the majoritarian makeup of this nation, which defines both its character and distinctiveness.” If we try and reconcile this analogy of Dr Ragi with the idea of India then we would but obviously conclude that India as a nation represents a culture which is Brahminic in nature, masculine in terms of gender and heavily tilted in favour of Hindi-speaking and comparatively fair skinned North Indians.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that this interpretation of India is flawed since it only takes into account the dominant groups and conveniently ignores the innumerable minorities and linguistic tribes whose traditions are now intrinsically intertwined with the DNA of India.

Dr Ragi’s article is premised on justifying two controversial statements of RSS Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat which were made when he was addressing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Dr Ragi has carefully broken those two statements into three broad points which he identifies as the following, “India is a Hindu Rashtra and Hindutva is its national identity. Secondly, Hindutva has the unique capacity of assimilatory integration which no other religions have. Thirdly, the role of the Sangh should be to see that the Hindu society does not suffer from the social vices of untouchability and economic disparity. Hindus must come together leaving aside their social prejudices.” In order to justify these three points, Dr Ragi adapts three distinct lines of argument which can be classified as a classic rant of those who have come to be associated with the Hindu right wing movement in India.

In regards to the first point, Dr Ragi mentions that RSS’s claim of India being a Hindu Rashtra is nine decades old and that it “does not sync with the left liberal framework of interpreting India which is highly influenced by colonial and missionary historiography.” Dr Ragi argues that while the left might not identify India as a Hindu Rashtra, it is an idea which was even shared by Mahatma Gandhi whom Dr Ragi says the leftists “consider the father of the nation.” The veiled sarcasm which this statement contains clearly shows how apprehensive are RSS ideologues in regards to Gandhi’s stature as the Father of the Nation. They find themselves juxtaposed as they tend to argue that their conception of India is philosophically Gandhian while simultaneously trying to sympathize with the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi ie Nathuram Godse, formerly an RSS man.

Dr Ragi then delves into the beliefs of Gandhi and states how he considered India to be a nation much before the arrival of the English and goes onto mention Gandhi’s opposition to the Aryan Invasion Theory. He lists out a series of public figures and intellectuals whom he terms as “cultural nationalists” and those “who all subscribed to and located the nucleus of the Indian nation in Hindu culture and Hindu civilization.” Interestingly, on analysing the work of several people whom Dr Ragi has mentioned, it can be easily said that those persons themselves can be accused of Islamophobia. For example, in his book Satyarth Prakash, Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati has related the Islamic concept of paradise to that of a brothel. In an interview to the Editor of Prabuddha Bharat (April 1899), Saffron saint Vivekananda while talking about conversions and re-conversions declared, “And then every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy the more.” In two successive articles titled “Myths about the Swami”, Arun Shourie, another mascot of Hindutva, discusses about Vivekananda’s views on Islam, Quran and Muslims wherein he quotes him as saying, “For instance, the Mohammedan religion allows Mohammedans to kill all who are not of their religion. It is clearly stated in the Koran ‘Kill the infidels if they do not become Mohammedans.’ They must be put to fire and sword.”

Even Mahatma Gandhi cannot be completely absolved of harbouring Islamophobia since he had his own prejudices in relation to Islam/Muslims. In an article titled “What may Hindus do” (Young India, 19 June, 1924), Gandhi writes, “The Mussalman generally being in a minority has as a class developed into a bully. Moreover, being heir to fresh traditions he exhibits the virility of a comparatively new system of life. Though in my opinion non-violence has a predominant place in the Quran, the thirteen hundred years of imperialistic expansion has made the Mussalmans fighters as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit.”

The larger point pertains to the fact that if these “cultural nationalists” were so bigoted in their thinking and dared to associate Islam with brothels, violence, terror, intimidation and bullying then how their beliefs in regards to the idea of India be considered as supreme? The idea of India is too complex and massive to be associated with the thinking of a particular set of people. It resides into the hearts, minds and lives of a billion plus Indians and not merely icons whose ideology matches that of the RSS.

Going further, Dr Ragi quotes Nehru to suggest how India’s first Prime Minister associated Indian culture with Hindu culture and applauded the assimilatory nature of the religion, an argument which was simply echoed by Bhagwat. In the next couple of paragraphs, Dr Ragi praises the culture of debates and open thinking in Hinduism while debunking the Semitic faiths of Islam and Christianity as “intolerant towards others” simply because they “operate through revealed ideas, through one text and one prophet.” This is one subject wherein the Hindu nationalists tend to be highly ignorant.

Probably they are unaware of the fact that there are multiple interpretations of the Bible and the Quran. In the case of the Bible, there is even difference in the text of the revealed book belonging to the different denominations. Biblical criticism is no alien to Christian civilization and they can in no way be considered as inferior to Hindus in terms of engagement in religious debates and scriptural criticism. Similarly, Islam has also had its fair share of debate and discussion. Besides the Quran, Muslims refer to several Hadiths which are an account of the Prophet’s sayings and actions. Different denominations hold different account of Hadiths to be authentic and hence exists heterogeneity which is overpowered by the homogenous belief in but one God.

The Hindu right’s attempt to portray Semitic religions as parochial is an argument in vain. Christian and Islam are not premised on one idea. There are multiple ideas concerning belief in God, worship, rituals, pilgrimage as also other things like marriage and sexuality. The ideas are flowing not from solely Muhammad and Jesus but from the life and teachings of numerous prophets including Noah, Abraham and Moses. These ideas are enunciated in the Holy Book ie the Bible and the Quran, respectively and further enumerated in other books authored by human beings. Hadiths and Seerahs can be a case in point. How is this tradition different from Hinduism? In Hinduism, Vedas are considered to be the revealed text and other books serve as an extension to the Vedic ideology. This shows that the Hindu nationalist is being dishonest when he is trying to relegate Semitic religions to an inferior intellectual status.

Every religion has been engaged in tussles which have led to large-scale bloodshed. When Dr Ragi drags in Nehru to say that religious fanaticism was alien to “Indian culture” (to be read as “Hindu Culture”), why does he not mention about the gruesome persecution of Buddhists at the hands of Brahmins during the time of Pusyamitra Sunga? Dr Ragi speaks of Hinduism’s assimilatory nature by referring to Buddhism and Jainism but why does he not refer to the Jain community’s struggle of being granted minority status instead of being identified as Hindus? Why doesn’t Dr Ragi try and explain the reasons because of which Hinduism’s assimilatory nature has failed to take within its ambit the Dalits and other lower castes? Every religion and religious community faces its own issues. To hold Semitic religions as barbaric and intolerant and to do nothing apart from singing praise of the Hindu civilization is an act of intellectual dishonesty.

In one of his concluding paragraphs, Dr Ragi says, “It (RSS’s idea of Hindu Rashtra) does not ask Muslims and Christians and other religious denominations to dissolve their faith and start following the Hindu religion. It is merely asking the non-native faiths which emerged due to conversion of the native population at certain point of history not to denigrate their forefathers and share and own up the common cultural tradition.” He cites the example of Indonesia and mentions how the country has honoured its Hindu past and tradition by referring to the country’s national symbol and airlines. While speaking of such practises, he says, “That neither has weakened Islam nor have they belittled Islam.”

By referring to Indonesia, Dr Ragi has made a grave error. He probably doesn’t know of the length to which Indonesia has gone to safeguard its minorities and make them feel secure. A case in point could be the fact that during the drafting of the Indonesian Constitution, the word Allah in the Constitution was replaced by the word Tuhan which even the Hindus of Indonesia could relate with. RSS men might argue what’s in a name but when they insist Muslims and Christians to identify themselves as “culturally Hindu”, they are inadvertently doing the right opposite of what Indonesia did, a country which even BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani too has praised in the past.

In an article which spans over 1,600 words, Dr Ragi has only devoted 167 words while talking about what the Sangh Parivar is doing to end untouchability and create greater cohesion within the Hindu community. The word count is reflective of the dichotomy which faces the Sangh Parivar. Instead of devoting their energy and time in trying to prove why India is a Hindu Rashtra, why Hindutva its principle identity and why all Indians are culturally Hindus, the Sangh Parivar should concentrate on breaking the barriers of caste within the Hindu community. They should help in the evolvement of a Dalit narrative in this country and not subscribe to the age-old Brahimic supremacism. If they do so, they shall certainly justify their claims of working towards cultural assimilation because their other objectives are far from being assimilatory but are rather overtly polarizing.


(This article was originally published on TwoCircles.net)