IT takes P Sainath of The Hindu (May 13) to expose liar politicians. But why is it that other journalists do not expose out liars when Sainath can-and does? In Delhi, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar informed the Rajya Sabha on May 7, that there had been just six farmer’s suicides in Vidarbha since January, Yes, just six. The same day, same time, in Maharashtra, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said that figure was not six, but 343. That is 57 time greater than Shri Pawar’s count. Either Shri Pawar is getting senile and does not remember how to count, or he is deliberately attempting to mislead the country.
It is well to remember that Shri Pawar’s numbers came in a written reply to a question in the Parliament. Both stories, Sainath reminds us, were reported by the Press Trust of India. Obviously very few people noticed them. That is only one part of the story.
Five days earlier, Sainath reminds us, Minister of State for Agriculture KN Thomas pitched his count at 23 suicides in Vidarbha since January 2010, but if we are to believe a report from Vasantrao Naik Farmers’ Self Reliance Mission in Vidarbha as many as 62 (sixty two) committed suicide in January alone. But hold on. The story does not end here. If Shri Pawar is to be believed, only 3,450 people committed suicide in India in the last three years. But according to Maharashtra Revenue Minister Narayan Rane, there have been 5, 574 suicides in Vidarbha alone! The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) puts the number of suicides in the last three years at nearly 50,000.
The NCRB further states that nearly 200,000 farmers have killed themselves between 1997 and 2008. Just as shocking it is to learn that in Maharashtra alone there have been 41,493 suicides since 1997. Will some one kindly tell us who we should believe: Shri Sharad Pawar? Shri Ashok Chavan? Or the National Crime Records Bureau? The trouble, it seems, lies in the definition of who a farmer is and when is death to be counted as suicide. One suspects that this can happen only in argumentative India.
Meanwhile elections have taken place in Britain-Great Britain-which have aroused considerable comment. According to Rashmee R Lal, writing in the The Times of India (May 6) the elections “barely figures on India’s collective radar”.
According to Dr Jay Dubashi, writing in Organiser (May 16) “Britain in no more the country it used to be and there is not much interest in what is happening there” and to that Dr Dubashi added: “Indian newspapers have hardly mentioned the elections and the man in the street couldn’t care less.” Dr Dubashi is only partly right. The man in the street really couldn’t care less. Britain is hardly on the common man’s radar. But the Indian media hasn’t completely neglected the elections. They have been reasonably well covered. What is true, however, is that the average Indian has probably lost interest in Britain. It is important to know why. Could it be, as Dr Dubashi very rightly pointed out, because “the empire on which the sun never set is now perpetually in the dark?”
Wrote Dr Dubashi: “Actually there is no empire” and because of that “there is no Britain” because the Second World War “finished the empire and eventually the country itself”. But can that be a good reason for India to write-off Britain-‘Great’ Britain?
As late as the sixties of the 20th century, Britain was important enough for leading Indian newspapers to station a correspondent in London. For a long time, the new defunct The Illustrated Weekly of India carried a “London Letter” as if it was important to know what was happening in Britain. It was almost mandatory for the London correspondent to report what was said by The Times (London), Manchester Guardian or even The Telegraph, on matters pertaining to or relevant to India. Who cares what these papers say or do not say, about India?
Again, those were times when it was expected of correspondents stationed either in New York or Washington to report what was said by The New York Times, Washington Post or Christian Science Monitor on India. No more. In the first place, no Indian paper has a foreign correspondent anywhere in the world. Time was when just The Times of India had a correspondent in Hong Kong, Colombo, Nairobi (of all places), Cairo, Bonn, London and Washington. And also, if one remembers right, in Karachi as well.
The foreign correspondent is now a dead species. Improved technology has made the character-or so is the claim-irrelevant. Which is very sad. True, any news get instant coverage the world over. But it is not enough to know what happened. It is more important to know what was the cause for the event to happen and what is its significance. That only a correspondent can do. But who can convince our newspaper proprietors?
According to Lal “the point about India’s apparent indifference to the British election 2010 and British politics in general is as comforting as it is dispiriting.” But the British, too, seem to have lost interest in India. Quoted is a Delhi correspondent of a leading British daily who recounted the lack of interest in Indian elections at his London news desk. The Indian indifference to Britain is probably because Britain has become Washington’s lap dog or poodle. Who wants to report on a poodle? The day Britain starts to have a vibrant foreign policy of its own and has the courage to tell the United States that its policy towards Iraq, Iran and Pakistan is basically wrong, Indian media and the Indian people will start looking up.
Hopefully the new British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, will understand that, which seems unlikely, though. But the elections did arouse some interest at least in our dailies. The Times of India (May 14) for example said that “for New Delhi, the change in government augurs well” and ” a Tory-majority government may be well disposed to cooperating with India on terror” and The Hindu (May 13) felt that “a Parliament that represented British public opinion with reasonable accuracy would never have allowed the illegal invasion of Iraq.”
Does that mean that a new government-and a coalition government at that -in London will try to fashion a new foreign policy? Who can tell? Time alone will. Meanwhile, during his talks with his counterpart in Pakistan, Shri Krishna, our external Affairs Minister hopefully will convince Pakistan that more journalists-apart from just two now permitted-will be allowed to cover Pakistan and vice versa. Presently only The Hindu and The Press Trust of India are allowed to cover Pakistan. Let the number of raised to six or eight. That is one way of bringing India and Pakistan closer.