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Updated: April 17, 2011 20:58 IST

Media support crusade against corruption

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S. Viswanathan
The Hindu S. Viswanathan

There can be little question that the news media, print as well as television, have contributed significantly to bringing the issue of corruption to political India's centre stage. The focus on the corruption of elections through ‘cash for votes' comes in tandem with the proactive intervention by the Election Commission of India during the April-May elections to State Assemblies. There can also be little doubt that the U.S. Embassy Cables, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, and the battery of cable reports and cable journalism have played a catalytic role, inspiring the anti-corruption campaign in India, as pointed out by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The huge response, especially in urban India, to Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign centring on the demand for a radical Jan Lokpal Bill, speaks to the centrality of the issue.

Aggressive role of tabloids

In the early years of independent India, corruption did not draw much attention from ordinary people, although from time to time mainstream newspapers came up with informed coverage of such issues. Unfortunately, the political establishment tended to rationalise the role of corruption in society, with even leaders like the personally incorruptible K. Kamaraj trying to convince the people that corruption and bribing officials were as old as the scriptures and there could be no solution for such problems. It was only the tabloids such as Mumbai-based Blitz, edited by R.K. Karanjia, a leading investigative journalist of his time, which probed corruption and misconduct aggressively. Interestingly journalists like Karanjia had a following among young people from the 1950s through to the 1980s.

Independent India's first dramatised financial irregularity was “the jeep scandal” (1948), which related to the purchase of army jeeps for the country. The charge was that the then Indian High Commissioner to Britain, V.K. Krishna Menon, bypassed protocol to sign a Rs. 80 lakh deal with a foreign firm. The case was closed in 1955 and soon Menon, against whose personal integrity there was not a shred of evidence, joined the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. The “cycle imports scandal,” reported in 1951, saw the first conviction in a major corruption case, when an ICS Secretary to the Government of India, S.A. Venkataraman, went to prison for accepting bribes and the conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Mundhra scandal (1958) made a big splash thanks to sustained media coverage. In fact, it was the press that first hinted at a possible scam involving a sale of fraudulent shares by a Calcutta-based businessman, Haridas Mundhra, to the Life Insurance Corporation of India. Sourcing confidential correspondence between Union Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari (TTK) and the Principal Finance Secretary, a senior member of Lok Sabha with excellent press connections, Feroze Gandhi, the husband of Indira Gandhi, raised a question in the House about the “share” deal. Prime Minister Nehru constituted a one-member commission headed by Justice M.C. Chagla to investigate the deal. After finding that a prima facie case had been made out against the businessman, Justice Chagla concluded that Mundhra had sold fictitious shares to the LIC and defrauded it to the tune of Rs. 1.25 crore. The businessman was convicted and sentenced to a long imprisonment and Krishnamachari was obliged to quit the Cabinet. A point to be noted is that in these early cases, the judgments came in an unbelievably short time.

Most complicated scandal

Two decades later came Bofors (1987-1990), which is considered the 20th century's most complicated political corruption scandal in the country. It involved a $ 50 million payoff of what was described as “commissions” into secret Swiss bank accounts for the purchase by the Indian government of howitzers from a Swedish arms manufacturing company. Readers may recall the role played by the press, above all, The Hindu, in digging out the truth and documenting it meticulously. But cover-up, obstruction of justice in various ways, and the weaknesses of the Indian criminal justice system ensured that the conviction at the bar of public opinion did not result in any legal conviction.

The 1990s witnessed an escalation of corruption scandals involving crores of rupees. These included Harshad Mehta securities and banking scam involving Rs. 5,000 crore, the Rs. 900-crore fodder scam, and the Rs. 1,500 crore Sukh Ram telecom scandal. The first decade of the 21st century witnessed over ten major Indian corruption scandals, including cash-for-votes during the 2008 confidence vote in the Lok Sabha and the 2-G scam spectrum allocation scam (Rs. 1,76,000 crore, as estimated by the Comptroller & Auditor-General of India).

It is distressing that rising India has become notorious for its corruption scandals. If you go by the reported cases of corruption across the country during this period, the state exchequer is believed to have lost a whopping Rs. 73 lakh crore (nearly forty times the 2-G loss), according to one estimate.

It is no surprise therefore that when Anna Hazare began his “fast-unto-death” at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on April 6, 2011, thousands of social activists descended on the venue to express their solidarity with the crusader against corruption and back his demand for putting in place a Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted through a civil society initiative. Thanks to extensive coverage by television channels and newspapers, thousands of people gathered around the fasting Gandhian. Similar support movements were seen in Lucknow, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and other major cities. After four days of talks, the Manmohan Singh Government conceded Mr. Hazare's demand and agreed to constitute a 10-member committee, with five chosen from the Union Ministers and the rest representing the civil society. The idea is to introduce the Lokpal Bill in Parliament during the monsoon session. The media would do well to keep its eye on this particular ball.

Anna Hazarre should preserve himself The present government will do what it wants since it has the entire navy, military and air defense machinery, In the old days wars were fought on the field and required strength. Now it's about power and money. The best thing for Mr. Hazarre to do will be to form an alternate Third Front and call it The National Workers group or something like that because using the work Party will only attract those who want to Party at the public's expense. He could form a liason with all able administrators of various states who are truly dedicated irrespective of their party affiliations. Although I see the need for the end of corruption, any group of people with no military back-up will not be of much real threat to this government and fasting is lost on people who are arrogant and drunk on their power. Also the real root of corruption is the big divide between 15% indians who shop at malls and the rest of the country that cannot afford to do so. Real estate is the greatest evil as a few people grab as much land as they can and block it till those who are desperate take loans and pay any price for it just to have a place of their own. The everyday government worker, laborer etc etc sees a group of people making lakhs by doing no other work than just hoarding land and this forces them ( in order to compete with the 15%) to take bribes and steal from the government exchequer or to charge exhorbitant rates for their goods and services. This bribe factor carries over into every department and service as people have to have a roof over their heads. These days when there is no more land to block and make big money with, the real estate mafia have entered into business with local government officials to forcibly take land from the poor or forest /animal reserves, on the pretext of development. Some ministers even pretend to donate land to the landless, take the signature of the landless for the land but pass the land to their real estate this goes on. If the guy at the government desk, (for ration card, building license etc etc) doesn't get his bribe how will he acquire the basic essential of a piece of land without the bribe when the real estate price keeps spiralling exponentially?. The lokpal bill will only hurt these small guys and if it gets passed and is effective, no one will apply for government jobs! The big industrialists sign all their contracts abroad and their cut is deposited directly into swiss banks and will not be mentioned in the contract here in India! Best solution for these days of global economy is to do away with all government.And to do away with Real Estate. Just have heads of various departments with top experience in their field of work in charge of their respective departments. Without a government and blood-sucking Politicians all the people of the world would prosper. A small group at the centre comprised of people who have had a track record of working for the community could oversee other areas such as judiciary, market,waste disposal, imports exports etc. ANNA HAZARRE should forget about his Fast and save himself as the people of India will need his support to rally together a group of truly enlightened people to lead this country in the future.

from:  Angela Alvares
Posted on: Jun 16, 2011 at 18:59 IST

It is interesting to see how technology empowered and disempowered powers. Indira Gandhi brought in state owned TV, hogged all the lime light and now the same medium is bothering the successors. Apparently there was no business model other than brand building in the introduction of TV. In the era of multiple channels, the DMK tried to control distribution instead of the medium, and thus found this closer to potential business models and hence is in trouble. Internet is the new medium and is outside the control of powers. This played a part in really attracting the mainstream media to the news worthiness of Anna's campaign. Shashi Tharoor may have been silenced by the rest of the party who are not savvy in this new medium. Antony made a very candid admission that politicians and officials are not ready for the new transparency regime. But these social media too can be manipulated. These media are 'word of mouth publicity' equivalents. Companies have twitter and face book accounts and do online promotion. Anonymity makes people a little bold and people will not support any thing blindly. The problem will be in identifying a real person and a pseudo person who is planted to promote a view. The abuse of this medium is yet to become a scourge.

from:  Narayanan
Posted on: Jun 13, 2011 at 16:09 IST

It is interesting to see how technology empowered and disempowered powers. Indira Gandhi brought in state owned TV, hogged all the lime light and now the same medium is bothering the successors. There was apparently no business model other than brand building. The DMK tried to control distribution instead of the medium, and found this closer to potential business models and hence is in trouble. Internet is the new medium and is outside the control of powers. Shashi Tharoor may have been silenced by the rest of the party who are not savvy in this new medium. But these social media too can be manipulated. These media are 'word of mouth publicity' equivalents. Companies have twitter and face book accounts and do online promotion. Anonymity makes people a little bold and people will not support any thing blindly. The problem will be in identifying a real person and a pseudo person who is planted to promote a view.

from:  Narayanan
Posted on: Jun 13, 2011 at 15:57 IST

One important thing, the educated, must realise that the whole country (India) is running with truthlessness, unreality and irresponsibility. These things are the result of the overall idea of nobody's country. The development of the individual and the country go simultaneously. Without the development of all, the country as a whole can't develop. Without the development of the whole country all the people in it can't develop. Infrastructure is the seed for the development of the country. While sowing the seed itself, if we eat half or more than that, how can we expect perfect and fatest development of the country. Those who it that seed are mostly the educated and not the common uneducated. Education is giving the talents of how to eat, so tactfully. The common man simply keeps his eyes and mouth open, when they are eating. In democratic countries elections have become a big quite unhealthy business. In this business at least the common man is expecting a small share once in five years. Even this unfair expectation too has not come to his mind, by itself. It has been tought by the contestant politicians. In this way the whole country is living in dirty mud, rather than living in cement & concrete structures. So it has become a difficult job for any body or for any organisation to pull these people out of mud is a highly difficult job. And in this process or the ego network, it is still more difficult.
So feeling or thinking like our country, our nation is a must at least now. Though the people study history, sociology and economics; they are studying for examination purposes rather than for building our own country. Some times the EGOs are growing faster than our degrees. These are main causes for our slow, low or no development.
We cant put our country in a right track by paying attention on only one item at a time. We need to think about all the issues of oue own country and findout the solution. Then we can find the solution ONLY by changing our mind going systematic studying of the situation of the country.
So these three are the important things to be tackled to build the country.1) Our country and WE (not I); 2)Throwing away the EGO in the bay of bengal; 3) Getting out of mud by holding each other and not fighting with each other.

from:  Laxminarayana Paladi
Posted on: May 8, 2011 at 04:53 IST

It is absolutely correct to state that it is only because of media pressure both print and TV the glare of corruption never shifted out of public focus and probably if TV and the 24/7 news channel would have been during the Bofors period it would have been different as the all the financial trail would have been brought out in the public domain due to mass coverage and consant focus.It is only the Hindu that can stand up spiritedly and one may even see the final end to the Bofors names as Mr Assange has in his latest interview stated that he may bring out the names that are in the CD given to him by Mr Elmer.The Hindu's fight might may finally bear fruit in the sense that the viel of secrecy is finally revealed and the men will finally be nailed and shamed in public domain.

from:  Saravanan Subramanium
Posted on: Apr 26, 2011 at 23:45 IST

Fight against corruption led by Anna Hazare has shown that there exists unity n integrity amongst people who hve joined hands together to fight for a common cause influencing every individual of the society and the country as a whole. The time has come for the justice to be done and it is high time that the Government should react positively to such a National Movement.

from:  Mahi Pokhrel
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 11:15 IST

The media in India especially English daily newspapers are not free from bias.Both the DMK as well as AIADMK are corrupt .What we saw during the current election scene was an indirect support to AIADMK and i fail to understand the logic.The left parties have to swallow the bitter medicine soon and i hope these newspapers will realise their follies.

from:  Kirubakaran
Posted on: Apr 22, 2011 at 06:52 IST

There is no doubt, political and criminal forces afraid of recent awakening and huge support of the common man to the Jan Lokpal Bill for curbing corruption are trying to create confusion and defame the peoples movement .The ever dependable 'THE HINDU' has already come out with a report on 14th APRIL titled 'Handful of people want to break up our collective power' by Aarti Dhar . Under such circumstances , other (ethical) media members like The Hindu must draw public attention to the smear campaign and efforts to derail the movement and urge the the Indian masses to remain united so that a stronger push is given to get the Lok Pal bill drafted , passed and implemented .

from:  VJ Nambiar
Posted on: Apr 19, 2011 at 17:42 IST

While appreciating the role of media and particularly 'The Hindu' I am sure you will concede that media too, is selective in its approach and usually hop from one scam to the other like scavanging vultures do from one decaying corpse to another. It leaves the bewildred onlooker wondering if the media is reporting corruptipn to keep its audience hooked or it is really interested in combating corruption. Despite all the rumours going round in Chennai about the unofficially acknowledged as the first family, using fair and foul means to make a foray into the real estate, leading local dailies including the esteemed Hindu would not even report it as from 'unconfirmed sources' or 'strongly rumoured'. I am sure all the so called decent newspapers had heard these rumours but did not care to investigate. Now the Radia tapes seemed to lend credence to these rumours. In the case of Bofors too after an initial spurt and rapid paced report and analysis, I was disappointed that 'The Hindu' too seemed to falter and lose steam somewhere and failed to follow up vigourously in consonance with the expectations raised, say about what the CBI was up to at various stages. In the case of Harshad Mehta scam several top bureaucrats' children employed by foriegn banks were reportedly involved and one never saw serious follow up in the Hindu and similar papers. I suspect that the Hindu is wary of annoying its patrons from the civil service. They do not mind reporting about the political class particularly if the politicians are in Delhi or some other state than in which the newspaper is based.
Of course I do admit that in a cascade of scams where scandal a day erupts a newspaper can only do so much. But I have a right to expect them to be more dispassionate and show no bias towards any section of society.

from:  R.Sundaram
Posted on: Apr 19, 2011 at 14:04 IST

Issues like corruption,population and illiteracy can not be addressed by individuals like Anna Hazarre. We need to two party system like Conservatives/Labour or Democrats/Republicans like in England and US respectively.Consequently number of politcal parties will comedown and corruption and chaos will come down automatically.

from:  Laxman
Posted on: Apr 18, 2011 at 19:48 IST

As a citizen of India I believe that every individual has to step out of their personnel domain to support the cause. See , Anna went for Hunger Strike for Lokpal Bill and not for Corruption. If he would have gone for it then there would have been a lesser support as it requires cleansing of moral principle of all individual - You want anything urgent, pay little extra.
People do not always think about Bofors, 3G, Fodder etc. because middle society do not get much time to think over those issues. What favorably happened here was perfect timing - Economic Bubble Collapse: Real Estate Valuation , BP Oil Spills : Stress in Fuel Price, WikiLeaks : Selfish West, West Asia Trouble : Fuel Prices Higher, Chinese Supply : Obama to regulate Imports etc. etc. that led the path of serious Inflationary pressure across globe. Now the "Aam Junta" was badly affected and not willing to compromise with 'Pyaaz ka Daam' and ' Cylinder ka Daam'; and they had a feeling that 'Bahot Tax dena par raha hai' because Raja wiped out all money and 'Sarkar befikar hai'. People thought that Lokpal will punish and then the things will improve. Have anyone asked the Aaam admi the Lokpal Bill and its functions? The Grievances are not about the 2G or Bofors but about the unregulated market, Costly and monopoly in Educational institution, Excessive charges in private hospital etc. The middle society is bounded in a domain of their daily life. For Lokpal Bill to address the concerns of 1.2 bn people is not a joke. It requires complete revival of economic and social channels. The bigger corruption operates in a highly confidential manner and involves people capable enough to digest the amount including the judiciary. The Big game happens seldom , but the nexus will make the path easy for the Big Fist to be captured.
Role of Media : Media is a medium of Sensationalism these days (except one or two). We Indians are very emotional and often respond in unity when it is handled properly. Both electronic / paper media played greater role in this issue. I believe that it is 'We' who need introspection. Are we more Irrational, are we more sensational, do we require change or simply it is 'we' who need a change.

from:  Rahil Ahmar
Posted on: Apr 18, 2011 at 16:55 IST

Dear Mr Viswanathan,

I could not agree more with your analysis with respect to the role of the media, and particularly the patriotic role played by The Hindu during the past few years that I have been reading it. And one hopes that The Hindu will continue to keep its intellectual search light unwaveringly focused on this most important area to the future of the Indian people.

There are of course many significant differences between the conditions that prevail in India in 2011 and those of previous times:

(1) The sheer scale of the scams as well as the endemic nature of bribery and corruption, and the accompanying harassment of the public on a daily basis, from cradle (or should I say from the time of marriage, eg marriage certificate) to the grave (eg death certificate), and all the stages in between.

(2) The fragmented media scene - not just newspapers, magazines, TV channels, films, but the INTERNET (Indian and foreign based websites, Twitter, texting etc) make it almost impossible for even the most dictatorial and draconian regime to control and manipulate the media 100%. [Take note - The benefits of owning media houses to manipulate public mood will increasingly diminish.]

(4) Almost instantaneous news coverage from anywhere in the world, which has made even an illiterate villager FEEL that he is a world-citizen, and raised his EXPECTATIONS.

(5) Consequential decrease in deference shown to the wealthy and powerful than in the past. People are not prepared to acquiesce as readily as they did in the past.

(6) Increased education levels of the general public, and the massive and burgeoning middle class, increasingly intolerant of being side lined.

And many other similar factors.

In summary, the genie is out of the bottle, as governments all over the world are finding out! The days of suppressing the truth (eg Wikileak) and the days of politicians (or anyone else) getting away with disseminating false information, suspect arguments, are strictly numbered (eg WMD). The pressure to deal honestly and transparently will ensure that any political parties that do not understand this will have the same fate as the Dodos. (Please note - smear campaigns and dirty tricks WILL boomerang - eg Watergate.)

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Apr 18, 2011 at 01:28 IST
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