Either The Times of India has a wicked sense of humour or it has utter contempt for its readers. Consider this story which appeared on page 1 of the paper on April 8. It said that “the showering of petals and affection on Rahul Gandhi as he rolled into Amethi has definitely helped Congress´ stock”, quoting a new Times of India poll, conducted by TNS, which reportedly tracked voters in 10 cities. The reader is not informed exactly how many voters were “tracked”-and where percentages are mentioned but figures of how many were actually asked are not mentioned.
Based on these mythical percentages, I want my readers to believe that throughout the country there has been a substantial change in voter preferences. This is doing poor service to readers and poorer to journalism. The Times of India and for that matter any paper is free to have its political preferences but for it to use its columns for what is a patent attempt to influence voters does not speak highly of journalistic ethics.
Whenever a poll is conducted, it is customary to mention how many were questioned and where. The Times of India failed on these grounds. But what on earth persuaded The Asian Age (April 8 & 9) to go for Sonia Gandhi´s blood? First, on April 7, editor M.J. Akbar ran a lengthy and friendly interview with Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani. The next day came the big blast: Seema Mustafa´s interview in Stockholm with Detective Superintendent Sten Lindstrom that implicated, howsoever indirectly, Sonia Gandhi. But why Sonia Gandhi? And why Sonia Gandhi now? According to The Asian Age (April 9) “In 1997 Interpol revealed the Italian connection in the Bofors case. Shri Lindstrom has reaffirmed in this exclusive interview that there was a link between Ottavio Quattrocchi and Mrs Sonia Gandhi over the years, and that this link had a direct bearing on the Bofors payment to Mr Quattrocchi. The payment was made despite the fact that Mr Quattrocchi had absolutely nothing to do with the business transaction. Mr Lindstrom added that there was a connection between Quattrocchi and Ciaou, the parent company for A.E. Services.”
The Indian Express (April 9) felt aggrieved because it felt that The Asian Age was merely repeating what it had revealed six years ago. Chitra Subramaniam, speaking for the Express, wrote: “Sweden´s top investigator is not a game of ´political football´ for political parties to toss around at will, but a serious matter that needs proper investigation in India.”
Lindstrom reacted suitably. The Asian Age (April 9) quoted him as saying: “While this is not the first time I have suggested that Sonia Gandhi needs to be questioned, this is the first time I have detailed, in my own words, the reasons why that step is very important to find out the truth. This is also the first time that I have written about my difficulties with the investigations and the reasons for those difficulties. It has always amazed, and it continues to amaze me, as to why Indian investigators did not take that obvious step. If you example the logic in the documents on the one hand, and the direction of the cover-up on the other, that is the obvious step to take.”
Having said that Lindstrom added for good measure: “It is important to note that while everyone seems to be informed about the revelations, they are unfamiliar with the elaborate cover-up that went on in India and Sweden. In particular, requests to black out certain critical documents, the spreading of false or irrelevant information, the delays etc, were all part of this. This is the first time I have put pen to paper to place the whole thing in perspective to show the logic as we uncovered it. I have also talked for the first time about the details available with Interpol. This was unknown to us in Sweden when we were working on our investigation.”
More damning a statement it would be hard to get. The Government has no other option but to set an investigation going. Obviously not much can be done until a new government is elected and a Ministry formed. Whether the story will have any effect on the elections depends upon the extent to which it will be made an issue by the BJP. In the normal course of things the BJP should pick up the story and go full blast against the Congress which has been highlighting Rajiv Gandhi´s innocence in the Bofors case. What is intriguing is that it should be The Asian Age which has been highly critical of the BJP to put out the Lindstrom interview. Has its editor, like Mr Amitabh Bachchan, fallen out with the ´family´? Has the ´family´ slammed its doors at Mr Akbar as well? And fancy Seema Mustafa, another virulent critic of the BJP, going for the kill! But apparently more and more people are finding virtues in the BJP they had never exspected before!
Ashis Chakrabarti, writing in The Telegraph (April 8) for instance refers to the fact that “the BJP is winning hearts and minds more than, it is winning seats in Bengal”. Says he: “(Mamata) Banerjee is still the leader of the alliance (with the BJP) but her moral authority is clearly on the decline… . The BJP, on the other hand, is increasingly seen and spoken of as a more serious, more acceptable, party. In upper class homes and cocktail circuits, where issues like the Ram temple or the ban on cow slaughter would draw the stiff upper lip until recently, there is a sudden surge of ´cultural nationalism´. It is no longer a matter of shame to openly support Narendra Modi. The carnage in Gujarat is approvingly mentioned as a turning point in India´s political history. Any defence of minority rights or secular ideals is derisively dismissed. For the first time, the Bengali middle class is increasingly speaking in the political idiom popularised by the BJP ideologues.”