Advantage Modi-15-2015 (Ambedkar Jayanti) 14 April 2015
An opportunity lost
To start a debate you need a measure of sobriety, not name-calling. Mature leadership demands the encouragement of conversation, not a chilling effect on speech by using words and language best left to anonymous trolls on social media.
Two separate remarks, one by the prime minister and the other by the minister of state for external affairs, seem to have raised the pitch in a polarized environment. In a nation of perpetual outrage, the words-‘five star activist’ by one and ‘prestitute’ by the other-have erupted in controversy. And the fact that they stem from the top political leadership is cause for concern.
Modi’s cryptic reference cautioning the judiciary against ‘five-star activists ‘ made at a conference of chief justices and chief ministers has led some commentators to conclude a case of legislative overreach; other believe that it is a call to the judiciary to delivery judgments without fear or favour to prevailing public sentiment.
In contrast, Singh’s use of the word ‘prestitutes’ has no ambiguity and is so reprehensible that even his party has distanced itself from it. By choosing to use it to describe a critical media, Singh has managed to mitigate the excellent work of his ministry in evacuating citizens from Yemen. It leaves him open to being branded as an immature hothead, unsuited to diplomacy.
Perhaps Singh was smarting from the insinuation that attending a Pakistan Day function in New Delhi to which separatist leaders from Kashmir had also been invited was ‘anti-national’. The questioning of the former army chief’s patriotism by the Times Now channel was certainly out of line. But with ‘presstitutes’ the general has scored a self-goal.
These are valid questions and must be asked in a vibrant democracy. Equally germane are questions about the media’s rapidly falling standards. Paid media, the trivialization of news, a cosy proximity with sources, the failure to self regulate, media trials, and the lack of accountability are genuine concerns that must be debated if any semblance of public credibility is to be restored.
But to start a debate you need a measure of sobriety, not name-calling. Mature leadership demands the encouragement of conversation, not a chilling effect on speech by using words and language best left to anonymous trolls on social media.