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.)


Has the failure of the 2G Spectrum laid to rest all the controversy?

The 2G spectrum auction might have ended up as a failure but the government’s stand on the issue is far from being vindicated. Firstly, the failure of the auction has definitely dampened the notional loss figure of the CAG which pegged the amount at Rs 1,76,000 crore but there has been a significant development to make note of as 22 licenses which were recently auctioned via bidding fetched the public exchequer a total of Rs 9,400 crore whereas earlier, all the 122 licenses which were allocated through first come, first serve basis fetched the government only Rs 9,200 crore.

Secondly, the controversy is far from being laid to rest as many of the curative petitions of those firms who played by the rules during the earlier held allocation process are still lying with the Supreme Court and the apex court is yet to adjudicate on the matter. It’s very much possible that those firms might have intentionally stayed away from the bidding process as they expect the Supreme Court to provide them with relief. It’ll be interesting to observe the moves of these firms in case the Supreme Court rejects their curative petitions. Will they then jump in the bidding fray or will they abstain?

Thirdly, in the case of the review petition filed by the Government, although the Supreme Court had ruled that auctioning wasn’t the sole possible way of selling scarce public resources but then we still don’t have a very precise and clear cut idea as to what constitutes larger public gain in such matters. We still need to ponder over what is of more value to us. Is public welfare subservient to revenue maximization or it’s the other way round. Fourthly and most importantly, the fact of the matter is that in this particular case we can only go by notional articulations and analogies. A lot of time has went by and it’s nearly impossible to predict as to how would the firms have reacted had the 2G spectrum been auctioned instead of being allocated in the first place. In order to objectively access the government’s erstwhile policy of ‘first come, first serve’ we need to go back in time and evaluate the telecom sector’s performance since 2007 by scrutinizing the effect which the previous policy had on tele-density, customer services and industrial gain. 


Conflict Between Institutions is Dangerous for Democracy

Democracy is near decimation when intense institutional conflicts begin to arise. The contemporary scenario of democracy in India is indeed very critical. The Union Government is locking horns with the Army Chief in the Supreme Court of India and is engulfed in a tussle with the ex-chief of a premier space organization. Political chaos also resulted in the CAG revolting against the Government and that too in public domain. We had people occupying the power corridors accusing the judiciary of overreach during the CVC fiasco and also when the judiciary questioned the policy of “first come first serve”. In states like Karnataka we’ve seen the CM embroiled in a bitter war of words with the Governor and a virtual fight erupted between the Gujarat Governor and the State Council of Ministers on the issue of the appointment of the State Lokayukta and the matter ultimately went to a court of law.

Union Ministries and Agencies like Finance, Home Affairs, Rural Development and Planning Commission also appear to be in a mood of conflict, various states governments are also on collision course. State governments of Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been warring with one another on the issue of the Mullaperiyar Dam and Kerala has even accused an empowered committee appointed by the Supreme Court of bias. Innumerable confrontations are taking place between the Central Government and various State Governments with the States accusing the Centre of acting in a step motherly manner and the Centre responding by accusing the States of non-utilization of the funds granted by them. The ugly brawls between the Centre and States are visible threats to the principle of federalism. The list doesn’t seem to end. Such tussles need to be terminated to ensure that democracy doesn’t get subverted.

Active Advocates in Parliament – Conflict of Interest?

Ever since a lot of legal professionals have forayed into politics, we have witnessed politics drenched into legalism which has resulted into administrative inaction, freeze in decision making, policy paralysis and governance deficit.

Lawyers practicing as politicians inside Parliament and as legal luminaries in law courts is a lethal combination but along with themselves lawyers have brought an inseparable and intrinsic aspect of their profession inside Parliament and that is of delays and pendency. But is this thing really worth caring about? Because if you delve deep into the history of politics of any democratic country with India being no exception, you will find out that an overwhelming majority of politicians happened to be lawyers either by degree or profession but the worrying factor is that earlier active politics provided no space for any other sort of activity to be carried out simultaneously but now scenes of politicians putting on their black robes when the Parliament is not in session is a very frequent phenomenon.

This dual tasking maybe a healthy prospect for money making but it raises certain serious questions which are primarily related to another indirect encroachment on the institutions of Parliament and the Executive by judicial officers. Is India’s judiciary (comprising of both lawyers and judges) being the law maker, law enforcer and also the one interpreting laws ?