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Indian Media and its Misdemeanours — A Visceral Antipathy for Sikhs?

by Patwant Singh*

[* Eminent social scientist and author of The Second Partition (2007). Article reproduced from The Sikh Review, Jan 2008]

A recurring irony of history is that those who took an implacable stand against formidable odds in defence of their country are often resented rather than appreciated for their sacrifices, by those who cravenly held back when their country needed them the most. The resentment of such people is born out of envy, because while the Sikhs willingly gave their blood to save the honor of India – their motherland – at times of national peril, the timid lacked the nerve to stand up to the invaders and interlopers. Which is why their own dismal record continues to rankle. Yet the saving grace is that a great many do appreciate the Sikh sacrifices over the centuries.

Distinguished citizens like Dr. Kuldeep Singh, FRCS take a less than realistic view of conditions in India when they suggest that men like Shekhar Gupta, currently the Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express, should be honoured by the Sikh Panth@. Whatever Gupta may have written in 1984 in India Today, his bias towards the Sikhs keeps coming through more clearly now.

I have experienced it first hand. In the late 1990s, I contributed frequently to The Indian Express, and wrote, in one of my columns in 1999 – when Dr. Manmohan Singh stood for a Lok Sabha seat from South Delhi – that it was inappropriate for him to stand as a candidate of the Congress Party which was also giving tickets to men like Sajjan Kumar, Jagdish Tytler and others who had played a despicable role in the organised mob killings of innocent Sikh men, women and children in Delhi in 1984. Gupta withheld publication of my column. Why? It is for readers to judge. It appears he has also ensured that no review of my recently published book, The Second Partition, appears in his paper. Interestingly, a damaging self-indictment by Shekhar Gupta has appeared on p. 213 of a book just published, “When a Tree Shook Delhi – The 1984 Carnage and its Aftermath, (Lotus Collection – Roli Books), by Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka. This is the first authentic account, admirably written, of the moral squalor at the highest echelons of government in New Delhi which – first arranged and then – allowed the mass murder of Sikhs in the national capital.

Genocide – 1984
The authors of the book quote from an article by Gupta in which he wrote of the ‘damage control” steps taken by Rajiv Gandhi as the genocide against the Sikhs got under way. “The Congressmen whose names surfaced, or were even popularly mentioned in connection with the killings, all paid the price. Political careers of HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler, and Sajjan Kumar, never recovered from the taint of 1984 although no one was ever convicted.”

This is what Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka wrote to set Gupta’s report straight : “In reality, the political careers of Bhagat and Tytler, far from suffering on account of ‘the taint of 1984’, blossomed as if they had been rewarded for engineering the violence. Having won the 1984 election under the shadow of the carnage, Rajiv Gandhi immediately promoted Bhagat to the rank of cabinet minister, and inducted Tytler into the government for the first time as minister of state. Both remained in the Rajiv Gandhi government till the end of its tenure in 1989.” To honour a man like Gupta would be to make a mockery of our perceptiveness and sense of self-esteem.#

Gupta is not the only one allergic to my views on the state of our nation, and those who have reduced it to its present state. India Today, it must be said, has been consistent in its equally deep and ingrained hostility, and to add an extra dimension to it this time, it got The Second Partition reviewed by a man called Chandan Mitra, editor of the daily Pioneer and a camp follower of the Sangh Pariwar. The less said about him the better.

Whilst on the subject of The Second Partition, even a friend and respected newspaper man, like Kuldip Nayar, in his review of the book in The Asian Age opens with these words: “How well Patwant Singh expresses himself and how meaningful is his input when he writes on the subject he knows. Urban development is his forte and he can say with authority which cities are lopsided in their growth and how they can be improved…local bodies and governments have benefited from his advice. His experience is vast and his frankness evokes respect.”

Grim Challenges
But then Kuldip Nayar wishes to know why I have written on “
India’s problems of politics and economics [which] are so jumbled that those who have spent all their lives in analyzing them seldom get them right.” That is precisely why I have taken to writing increasingly on political, social and economic problems, because India’s present day editors, columnists, opinion-makers and others of their ilk are unable to get things right. They are unable to meet the grim challenges which our society faces today. Most of them, by aligning themselves with political parties, are incapable of arresting the degeneration of India’s political class, which callously spends hundreds of billions of our national wealth on the most sophisticated arms and killing machines, whilst the hungry, sick, homeless, uneducated and unemployed in India are driven to despair because their most elementary needs remain unmet.

While politicians preside with pride over misgovernance, militarization, corruption and an increasingly skewed political culture based on religious fanaticism, hundreds of millions of Indians are deprived of even the barest necessities of life because funds which could have gone for their uplift are channeled into fanciful schemes like Commonwealth Games, and such. By 2004 India was already positioned as number one in a listing of the world’s top ten arms buyers, ahead of Saudi Arabia, then China, Egypt, Oman, Israel, Pakistan, Taiwan, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

All of the above should be seen against a recent report based on a National Sample Survey which places 77 per cent of India’s population (equal to 840 million Indian citizens) surviving on an income of Rs. 20 (half a US dollar) a day. Yet Kuldip Nayar concludes his review with these words :Patwant should understand that the first 100 years of any country are bad. We became independent only 60 years ago”. He suggests I try and wait another 40 years for things to get better! I wonder where he got the figure of 100 years from? Nor do I understand why I should not question 60 years of bungling, distorted priorities and phenomenal waste?

Asian Tigers
To the best of my knowledge many Asian powers which are successful today had pulled themselves well out of the morass of deadly wars, shattered economies, phenomenal casualties, devastated cities, and much else, in less than 60 years. China was established as a People’s Republic in October 1949. The new Republic of South Korea was established in July, 1948. Japan became independent once again when the San Francisco Peace Treaty went into effect in April 1952, Malaysia achieved independence from the British in August, 1957 and Singapore became independent after separating from Malaysia in 1965. They are way ahead of us now and many of them have done it in less than 60 years. Are they more talented and hardworking than us? In the right conditions we would give them a good run for their money.

These are just a few of the many nations around the world whose leaderships refused ‘to wait a hundred years’ to pull their people out of poverty and degradation. Why are Indian leaders indifferent to the all-enveloping human misery which has been the lot of our people since India became independent in 1947?

Our media has provided no convincing answers to this. There are some fine exceptions in the English media in India, as there also are amongst the editors, columnists, writers and reporters. But their numbers are few because what India needs – and deserves – is a great many more of those who can stand up and be counted as persons of integrity, with a respect for professional and secular principles.

Overdue
Herein lies the opportunity for the Sikhs. To start an outstanding weekly newspaper – in a newspaper, and not a news-magazine format – which would establish worthwhile standards for purposeful, objective and fearless journalism, since such journalism is difficult to come by in India. If Sikhs have set an example in many other fields at difficult times, they must do so in this case as well. Now, before it is too late. People of the Jewish faith have shown how it can be done in the US through their – near total – control of the media. They have proved that no matter how few the numbers of a community, it can still have a dominant voice in the world of communications. And we live in the same world, don’t we?

So let Sikhs of intellect and enterprise come forward and make a beginning to establish an exemplary media presence in India. It is sorely needed if the country is to be helped to change from the self-destructive course it is on.

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