PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: He has been called Loh Purush, the Iron Man of our times.
Some even say the title of Prime Minister of India is reserved for him later this year. But till that stamp of popular approval arrives, is Lalchand Kishinchand Advani aka L.K. Advani deserving of anything more than a kulfi for “a lifetime of service to the nation”?
Like a piddling award, maybe, from our “p-sec” TV channels?
Every new year, a torrent of tamasha pours into our drawing rooms through our TV channels. And so it has been this year, with awards being given left, right and centre to the bold and the beautiful, by the bold and beautiful, among the bold and the beautiful, to fill up boring weekends.
Unfortunately, this year, the script has been marred somewhat by the television honchos having to include the untelegenic martyrs of the Bombay terror attack and their untelegenic relatives. Still, on 20 January 2009, in the midst of an avalanche of awards, Prannoy Roy‘s New Delhi Television (NDTV) called Advani on stage and handed him the “Lifetime Achievement Award”.
According to a news item put up on Advani’s website, the NDTV citation read:
“He (L.K. Advani) is a grassroot (sic) leader and is credited with having made the BJP a formidable force in Indian politics, through clarity of vision, precise statements and an astute sense of timing. Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister. BJP has named him as a Prime Ministerial candidate for the party and the National Democratic Alliance for the 2009 general elections.”
There were two surprising things about this:
1) Advani was being given an award (which he was only too glad to accept) from an English language television station that he and others of his ilk have firmly cast in the “pseudo-secular” mould, a cynical portmanteau that is Advani’s sad and singular contribution to the English language, all because it was willing to show and say they don’t want to see and hear.
2) The jury comprising, besides Roy, Anu Aga, executive chairperson, Thermax group; Fali S. Nariman, senior advocate, Supreme Court; William Dalrymple, historian and writer; Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator; Rahul Bajaj, businessman; Shashi Tharoor, former UN official, were reportedly not aware that such an award was being bestowed on Advani.
There is a third element that is even more unsettling: the unwholesome sight of a major journalism outlet handing out a prize to a designated prime ministerial candidate, by talking of his pro-media stand 33 years ago, while ignoring his more recent “contributions” to Indian scoiety.
The media website, The Hoot, run by Sevanti Ninan, wife of Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan, has picked holes in the ethics behind the handout.
“What exactly, some of us want to ask, have been Advani’s contributions to Indian politics which deserve an award? Setting in motion the events that led to the destruction of the Babri masjid? And contributed to a heightened communalising of the Indian polity?
“An award coming from a channel that helped to expose the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat which took place under the watch of a BJP government? The party Advani is leading into the elections this year? A channel that doubtless sees itself as a champion of secularism?”
The seven-member jury, according to The Hoot, had not voted to give Advani an award on awards’ night. It was also not made clear at the NDTV awards’ function that the jury had no role in choosing Advani for a lifetime of achievements.
Indeed, two members of the jury wrote to Roy on the issue, with one of them reportedly saying “he would not want to be associated with any award which gave prizes to communal hatemongers”.
(At least one member of the jury, Anu Aga, is known for having confronted Advani’s protege, Narendra Damodardas Modi, with the situation prevailing in the relief camps set up in the state for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.)
Roy reportedly clarified that it has been “normal practice every eyar for NDTV to reserve the right for its editors to select and present one or more non-jury awards.”
Just who NDTV’s editors picked in previous years is uncertain, but one of the strongest criticisms for this year’s choice has come from Siddharth Varadarajan, the strategic affairs editor of The Hindu.
On his blog, Varadarajan writes:
“After all, Advani was widely acknowledged as being one of India’s worst Home ministers when he held the job between 1998 and 2004. And he’s no great shakes in his current avatar as Leader of the Opposition either.”
Varadarajan then goes on to make a “brief list” of Advani’s “achievements” during just 11 years of his life, starting 1992, a period NDTV clearly ignored in its citation, while waxing eloquent on his “anti-terror” stance:
1. Demolition of Babri Masjid (contribution to conspiracy thereof), 1992
2. Hijacking of IC 814 and release of deadly terrorists like Masood Azhar, 1999
3. Massacre of Sikhs by terrorists at Chittisinghpora, 2000
4. Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg, March 2003
5. First-ever terrorist attack on Amarnath yatris, 1999
6. Terrorist attack on Parliament, December 2001
7. Godhra and the Gujarat massacre of Muslims, 2002
8. Terrorist attack on Akshardham and Raghunath temples in 2002
9. Harassment of media from Tehelka to Iftikhar Gilani
10. Failure to take any decision on dozens of death row mercy petitions pending before him from 1998 to 2004 and now demanding the Congress government move swiftly on the mercy petition of Afzal.
So,does L.K. Advani really deserve a “lifetime achievement” award? Should a media organisation be giving an award to a potential prime minister it might have to cover? Should a potential prime minister be so over-eager to receive it?