Last week was momentous news wise, both nationally and internationally. The Election Commission announced the schedule for the 16th general election. As The Hindu editorial pointed out, for the first time, one State, Andhra Pradesh, will go to the polls as a united State, but the voters will in effect be electing two governments — one for Telangana and the other for residual Andhra Pradesh.
Major political parties are not sure of the outcomes of constantly shifting alliances. Some alliances, defying political pundits, have unraveled, such as the one between the All -India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Left Front comprising the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Others are busy stitching new alliances. Some parties are left with no allies. Every day, some news that may impact the government formation later this year is emanating from various quarters.
We witnessed a near fantastical submission before the Supreme Court. Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati and Additional Solicitor- General K.V. Viswanathan maintained that the reason why fresh elections had not been called in Delhi “is because it is possible that the Congress and the BJP may come together to form a government.”
At the same time, there was a major international development. What is happening in Ukraine today, according to some international analysts, has the potential to bring back the global politics of attrition akin to the Cold War days. One of the regular writers to my office, Alan Herbert from Auroville, wondered if I could reflect on the choice of items for the front page of The Hindu in my forthcoming column. He felt the development in Ukraine was the most important global news story and deserved front-page treatment.
He wrote: “As the biggest threat to European and world security since Yugoslavia, if not the Cuban Missile Crisis, I would have expected it to feature on the front page of The Hindu. Yet, apart from a small banner at the top of the front page, it has always been relegated to the international page… After all, if there is a conflagration in Ukraine, it will certainly affect India as well.”
Another writer asked what made the Indian media look inwards while advocating a bigger role for India on the global stage. His contention was that there was a need to balance in the front pages of a national newspaper like The Hindu significant national developments and an international development that may have far-reaching consequences. One of the arguments was that the Indian media’s reaction had been muted because the Indian state was yet to assess the situation and formulate its responses to the Ukraine crisis, and that in the matters concerning larger foreign policy, the Indian media tended to take a cue from the official position. According to this writer, there are only two exceptions to this practice — developments in South Asia and developments in the United States. He felt that the Indian media should have taken the lead and explained the crisis in detail, forcing the government and the policymakers to reflect and take a stand on the crisis so that India can be counted as a player in world politics.
My reading is that if this week did not unfold the way it did, Ukraine would have found a place in the front page of The Hindu. But the newspaper did not miss out on the significance of the issue. The coverage has been extensive in the international pages of the newspaper. Apart from inputs from international agencies, there have also been despatches from the newspaper’s correspondents in Moscow (Vladimir Radyuhin) and London (Parvathi Menon). These in-house despatches provided some of the missing links in the international story. The newspaper carried a sharp editorial titled ‘Cold war redux’ in which it said in an unequivocal manner: “Russia’s de facto annexation of the Crimea — which President Vladimir Putin says is a humanitarian intervention — has exposed ugly motives all round.”
Further, the newspaper’s formal arrangement with The New York Times brought to the readers articles like ‘U.S. gas diplomacy aims to counter Russia’ which gave an insight into Washington’s thinking. This explained how the crisis in Crimea was heralding the rise of a new era of U.S. energy diplomacy, as the Obama administration tries to deploy the vast new supply of natural gas in the United States as a weapon to undercut the influence of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, over Ukraine and Europe.
In this context, I believe Alan is stretching it when he claims: “Or can we expect that World War three will be announced in The Hindu only by a short reference in the weather section to ‘temperatures being higher than normal for the time of year’?”
*The column has been corrected for an editing error.