NDTV Did No Favour To Modi Govt By Holding Back Chidambaram’s “Drivel”

R Jagannathan

Oct 12, 2016, 12:32 PM | Updated 12:32 PM IST

P Chidambaram (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
P Chidambaram (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
  • . . .because if you notice, Chidambaram’s views on the surgical strike are no different from Kejriwal’s. If the latter’s views can be aired, why not the former’s? 
  • Palaniappan Chidambaram’s criticism of the media for “falling like nine pins” under pressure from (presumably) the Modi government is a bit rich. His reference to the media came in the context of NDTV’s decision to yank a Chidambaram interview given to Barkha Dutt on the government’s “surgical strikes.”

    Chidambaram told The Indian Express today (12 September) that his interviewer (ie, Dutt) informed him that, despite her request, the interview was scrapped. NDTV boss Radhika Roy told The Wire, not exactly a Modi government fan, that “political mud-slinging regarding the surgical strikes without a shred of evidence was actually damaging to our national security” and that she was not “obliged” to publish every “shred of drivel”.

    First things first.

    This writer does not support the scrapping of any bit of opinion, even if it happens to be Chidambaram’s “drivel.” Some of the previous bits of opinion aired by Chidambaram, which his detractors could well label as “drivel”, include his stand on his doctoring of the Ishrat Jahan affidavit which compromised anti-terror intelligence (aired by NDTV), his claim that the last election verdict in J&K, which brought the PDP-BJP coalition to power, was not “acceptable” to Kashmiris (aired by India Today TV), and that the 18 per cent middle rate on the goods and services tax (GST) should be put into the constitution (carried by every channel). No channel has so far refrained from publishing “drivel”, so making an exception of the latest bit makes no sense.

    Secondly, NDTV did no favours to the Modi government by refusing to publish Chidambaram’s “drivel”. Questioning the government’s claim of surgical strikes has been the pet subject for spokespersons of all political parties, and not invented by Chidambaram. NDTV actually had no reason to hold back just this piece of “drivel” and not the rest, from every other party. In fact, one could argue that NDTV has essentially made Chidambaram into a free speech hero, which is questionable. Chidambaram was the man who famously walked out of a CNBC TV-18 channel interview merely because the channel’s boss had the temerity to ask him an uncomfortable question about his budget when he was finance minister. Free speech mavens don’t run away huffing and puffing just because questions are asked – and questions are what he claims he wanted to ask the government on its “surgical strikes.” He should be free to do so. His questions have, in fact, got more airing after his interview was canned.

    Thirdly, Chidambaram gave the usual “yes, but” response to the government’s “surgical strikes.” He told the Express: “My stand is quite clear. I said, we support the government. We believe the Army and the DGMO. And whatever pre-emptive action the government of the day will take, as a responsible opposition, the Congress party will support the government. Now I said draw a line there, that subject is over. Then go to the next subject. There have been demands from quarters that evidence must be released. That is not questioning the army action. That is a suggestion to the government so that we can call the bluff of Pakistan.”

    Now, where have we heard that argument before? Wasn’t that exactly what Arvind Kejriwal said about the “surgical strikes?” This is what Kejriwal said in a tweet: “BJP, I’m convinced that strikes took place. But int’l media publishing Pak propaganda that no strike took place. Let’s expose Pak propaganda.”

    Juxtapose Kejriwal’s tweet with Chidambaram’s statement thatPakistan’s bluff has takers in some quarters, The New York Times, Washington Post, some sections of the social media, even that forgotten group called United Nations Observers Group.” Is Chidambaram saying anything substantially different from Kejriwal? It would appear that Kejriwal and Chidambaram had the same idea, and would like to give credibility to foreign media who were taken on a conducted tour to spots specially chosen by the Pakistani army. It is not good enough to say that we trust the Indian army, which made those disclosures, but not the government which empowered the army to do so.

    Coming back to NDTV’s decision to not air Chidambaram’s interview, it should do so unequivocally. Chidambaram wants to put that interview on Youtube. NDTV should do that on its own. The best antidote to “drivel” is to show the “drivel” for what it is.

    Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.

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