Do  the elite society play any notable role in the public life of India?

In the Western societies, including USA and Western Europe, in France and other liberal democracies  there are who are commonly called public intellectuals. They are either academics or even philosophers or literary figures who speak out openly for the common  public good. There are so many examples. They are usually independent-mind  thinkers or writers, poets and art  and culture people.

Jean Paul Sartre

Jean Paul Sartre

Jean Paul Sartre was the most famous among these people in our opinion who dared to reject the Nobel Prize awarded to him. Such was his power and popularity ,he became a cult figure   for a generation or more. There are many other names too. Picasso, the famed painter was another such such figure and they have all helped to shape the public taste and belief systems. That is why these countries are called liberal societies and earned much respect and  status in the international arena.

Intellectuals help shape public opinion and an enlightened public opinion raises the quality of public life. In India we have experts, scientists and economists but these experts don’t talk on issues of public importance. The difference between experts and intellectuals must be clearly understood. Here we see still a sort of slavish mentality, among the bureaucracy, why even the uneducated or poorly educated mass of people who get seized by mass frenzy, get attracted my demagogues.

That is one reason why extremist politics too thieves at certain levels of society. So, let us understand the public intellectuals whose roles are very critical for a liberal society culture. Even in India we see, in West Bengal and Karnataka, some sections of intellectuals called by those in power to consult and gauge public opinion. Recently, the West Bengal Governor called the members of the intelligentsia for tea! To discuss public issues! Very fine indeed!

Why, even in Communist countries like China and Russia there are even today daring such individuals. The Opposition leader in Russia was barred from standing against Putin, the current President and  there are such daring opponents of the regimes. In China too we have such individuals who are put behind bars.
England is known for its liberal traditions, Karl Marx himself found a safety net only in London!

How far India is a country that tolerates such dissident, independent minded intellectuals. It is a matter of much regrets that in recent times some of the dissident writers were killed by opponents. The rise of Hindutva is one recent phenomenon.

Usually, the Rightwing and the Leftwing are seen as opposition forces. They need not be. Rich nations like the USA is also now seen as a violent society. Gun culture there is a new phenomenon.
The rise of terrorism is another feature of modern world.

The point is that as education spreads there must be more appreciation of different points of view and there must be more elite groups, well-off middle class and also an open society of sorts. The dury of the elite sections is to see that this culture of open debate and discussion at the universities or cultural sabhas  are giving  society a new  open society culture.
It is a matter we have to discuss more and more freely.

The common man must feel elated by the freedoms he enjoys and also the other classes, from the upper strata to the middle and  lower sections helps to build  harmonious social climate.
Any society that wants to earn the respect and admiration of other societies have to keep this larger good as their goal of development.

Even now, China with all the restrictions on freedom of expression and other freedoms allows the Chinese people, the common man much freedoms, you know?

When we visited China not long ago we spent time in Shanghai city and there in the Nanging street every evening and even other times, we saw people dancing, singing and other concerns in the public spaces drawing people in large numbers.

The point here is that only public debate and  discussions and open society atmosphere can help people, the common citizens to grow in mental and moral  health.

Public libraries and a book policy are all important, so too the various national level cultural bodies, Sahitya Academy, Sangeetha Nataka Academy and Fine Arts body must all have the right type of leaders and spokes persons. Women leaders must play a more pro-active, prominent roles in these bodies.
We have to encourage such a secular and open society culture here too. Freedom of the media is already creating a positive environment.

The quality of public life, eradication of corruption in politics and business and high sense of individual morality etc are all important.

Any link?
Are we lacking in culture and good behaviour in public? In our governance sphere?

Are protocols for the people or for bureaucratic bungling? See how the film awards are distributed!

Ram Nath Kovind

Ram Nath Kovind

The controversy over the President’s film awards! Why are these mismatches over the protocol in ensuring all get the awards from the hands of the President? Should media follow some etiquette and manners?

Many media outlets, print and electronic reported the controversy in not an elegant manner. We seem to be becoming a not evolving cultured society but a sort of a shameful one. See the amount of time spent on debates on such damaging stories on rape, violence and many other irrelevances. Cricket reporting is big business and so much money and energy is wasted. We leave it to experts to debate our distorted set of media priorities.

Yes, we as a nation are film crazy people. But as the Oscar Award winner Resul Pookutty said as to why the  national film  awards this year got into a controversy because the President denied the one minute glory to the rest of the technicians and others to get the award from the hands of the President citing lack of time! It was very much resented by the film industry.

The talents in culture needs to be nurtured and  fostered and the cine artistes, not just the glamorous faces of actors and actresses by the men and women behind the cameras, the technicians, one like the Oscar winning Resul Pookutty, who had come out with a scathing attack. Cultures is such a vast impactful area and let us not repeat this practice of following the wooden rules of protocol but display some creativity and originality and win over the most vital springs of culture and decency. Are we improving or the reverse is happening? It doesn’t cost much to ask some questions, right? The many freedoms we take for granted like freedom of speech, writing and expression, in fact are not the freedoms we forget to be used and practiced in our everyday life.

The global media watchdog, Reporters without frontiers(RSF) has put India at the 138th country out of 180 countries. Anybody has spoken about this shameful state of affairs, asks one Newspaper editorial(Deccan Herald).While we write  these lines there is almost non-stop electioneering in Karnataka where the Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi and even the former Prime Minister Deve Gowda are fighting for a place in the sun, so to say. But none of the top leaders had commented, let alone press freedoms but also other events, local and international.

So, India as a country and a society and more so as the world’s biggest democratic state, has simply come down to street fight for a few states to form the state government. And what spectacle we see? The much controversial persons, the Reddy brothers for instance share the dais with the PM who promises to clean  the society and polity.

But the language we use to clean up the system is far from a language of freedom and culture and refinement. How do we hope to serve the country in this fashion?

It is very distressing that even the minor courtesies, even minor protocols and ways of doing the business of the government seem to be uplifting for the common citizens. Which ministry must be worried over the deterioration of standards? Obviously, there is the ministry for information and broadcasting. Why we seem to be still struggling to fix things up like giving India a public broadcasting system on the lines of the BBC?

Everything can’t be done with a profit in mind. Indian TV news channels industry is exploding, if that is the right word. You have to evolve a culture of governance. Do propagate the government schemes but do it in a non-partisan way. So too honouring the artists and intellectuals. The National Film Awards ceremony was held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan but done in a clumsy manner.

The President’s protocol doesn’t give  the President more than one hour so he skipped midway, it seems;  the awards were then presented by the controversial Smriti Irani. Of course, she did in some style. But let us realize even the very strict protocol has to be further practiced so that everyone concerned feels uplifted.  Indian TV news industry is neither a cultural experience or has any other educational or other values. The news that the President’s event to distribute the national awards for the 68 film industry personalities was boycotted by these artists is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in such a national perspective.

It looks from what we see on the TV screens that the industry seems to be booming. More channels are joining  the channel waves and this in an ideal scene must be much more enriching our viewer pleasure and must be creating a more elevated sense of purpose and leisure content. But alas! We see the reverse. The same old tired  face or faces from some ageing actors projected as the brand ambassadors. Are not people a bit tired of seeing the same face every day and also in every other ad? And , oh, the cricketing fraternity and the gambling  instinct turning the cricket game also into a high stake  gambling.

In Bangalore for instance,  the other day or why for a few days the very Chinnaswamy stadium was packed with long queues, most  of the fans, why the every crowd is from youngsters with very few signs of any sort of formal education or even the knowledge about who were the stars, Indian or foreign and yet the stadium was overflowing. And to cap it all, the very owners, the BCCI is having a stiff fight with the authorities about democratic or transparent administration.

And for the quality of TV news culture or other forms of entertainment, the less said the better. There is now in the media space, all sorts of uncomfortable news or scenes and sights are aired. And, what is really galling is the sort of India, the Indian society and events that are highlighted. All news are news breakthroughs.

So much noise, so much cruelty or cruelties in society, the violence, the accidents, the rape stories make us, we believe, to see ourselves as a sick society. A society which has no order and restraint and we see the new generation leaders, of course we mean the political leaders holding forth on some very funny topics, from science and technology in Ramayana and Mahabharata and also opinions on Charles Darwin and other luminaries who according to these lightweights  were right or wrong  depending upon how they are brought to link with the puranas and ithihasas!

In a recent apex court plea by The Wire the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra reminded journalists that they can’t write as pore their imagination and deliver sermons like the “Pope sitting in a pulpit”.

Dipak Misra

Dipak Misra

This was a very important case in which very high profile persons were involved. The son of Amit Shah, Jay Shah is involved and therefore there was a great deal of interest in the case.  Apart from other considerations, the high political tensions prevailing in India and that too on the day next when the by elections in Gorakhpur and Phupur and even from Bihar were out and the first shock defeats of the ruling party were uppermost in the minds of the countrymen.

So, the very case and also the very casual observations, we think of the CJI were taken in very different meanings by all the interested persons and groups.

CJI’s every word and utterance has the power of   the law and has many implications. So, every word counts.

Media freedom too is not a simple word or phrases either. Also the timing is crucial. CJI’s remarks came at a most vulnerable time for the BJP. Is this the freedom of the humble scribe, the paid employee or the pay master’s very many needs?

And nowadays, media functions have become very sensitive issues.
How many people in India know that in recent years there have been much violence and murders of journalists and writers? There is enough statistics to show that we can’t take media freedom lightly.

And also, the very face of the media culture, the industry, and the new investors in the media are all undergoing changes.
Expressing opinion freely is not yet a reality in the Indian context. So, we need more careful discussion. The editors’ guild and the newspaper associations seem to be lying low. We may be wrong and we stand corrected. Let experts speak out.

For newspaper owners, the traditional conservative medium today   how the news appeared. We just looked at three major newspapers, one established for long in Madras, one established in Bangalore and the one established as the dominate paper in Mumbai, how they reported this very important court proceedings?

The most conservative one from Madras left out the news on the next day, Thursday! The one from Bangalore reported the news in full. The news appearing in the Mumbai edition and its regional editions, the one from Bangalore, we read the news where the full report was not there. Only in the Bangalore edition, the use of the term “Poe in a pulpit was reported.

Also the names of the high profile lawyers, Kapil Sibal, A.M.Singhvi and also Raju Ramachandra were all given in the Bangalore newspapers but not in the Mumbai newspaper
All these small details matter in such a sensitive case for the reputed lawyers, the countrymen know are very expensive talents and a small media like The Wire can’t engage them normally, right?

What does this convey? It shows the importance of the case and also the issues involved and also the combatants and what they represent by way of ideas and ideals. You see the media industry is thriving in some areas and also face resistance in some other areas.

First, the government media is really gagged to borrow from the CJI’s observations. The citizens have no way to know of what the government does from either the Doordharsan or from the very functioning of the Prasar Bharati.

So, where the government media is gagging the news from a liberal point of view what islet?

Second, the electronic media on which the CJI concentrated, is now controlled, some of the channels, including the most popular ones are controlled by big business. So, this class of channels too are afraid of the government.

What is left out now?
Only one or two rare and daring individuals who want to feel free to report and comment in an unrestricted atmosphere.
So, what space such rare individuals can do?

Already one or two such individuals facing torture by the vested interests. So, we feel like telling that the real media freedoms come or possible for only “those who dare and act success comes, success possible. Such rare and dare individual comes also rarely. Not every day you can see such light to d shine on the otherwise highly controlled society and the country.

At the international level too India doesn’t rank high in the media freedom. So, what conclusions we can draw?

We have to live like this with fear in the hearts and consternation in our thoughts we have to live the life of second class citizens?

Who cares for such fears and thoughts?
There has to be a wide debate about the sort of ideologies the political parties subscribe nowadays?

It is all power grabs that captures the eyes. The Rajya Sabha is fast turning into rich men’s club and no one cares or asks questions. Also, the reporting from New Delhi is becoming sketchy and unreliable as we have pointed out here itself. May be the role of social media and  the fake news etc must lead to expert debates on the very like future of media freedom we often routinely talk about when we superficially claim a big role for India’s democracy.

In the world itself we see the rise of authoritarian tendencies in all major countries.

So, we say: It is at the end of the day, it is the public perception, it is the public opinion, however restricted and however government-directed that matters.

So, we ask the public to form their own opinions and draw their own conclusions. Media freedom in India is at the crossroads, to put it as a cliche.

There are risks and dangers ahead. There are temptations for moving in a fascist fashion. Fear can be easily injected into the political system. Please resist, please allow some more freedom of action and noise from the people.

Let us all realise that rallies like the kisan rally to Mumbai from Nashik was a positive sign. All parties concerned, the kisan, the organisers, the state government, all behaved in an exemplary manner. Mubaikars, the public, the youth, the helpers all spontaneously to the event.

This is tolerance and expression of freedoms of the people.

On allegations and mere suspicions!
It sounds a bit odd and discomforting?

Sikka Sharma

Sikka Sharma

Yes, it is a sort of news you don’t expect in normal course of business. And in a business like banking, that too high profile banking, you need much discretion and discrete actions. Not you announce in the media that too by such sensitive agencies like these ones.

This time, there has been lots of news where the much feared CBI and the ED  are at a relentless pursuit of the corrupt and the  illegal activities of the rich and the powerful.

Only in India we seem to be obsessed with the rich and the powerful. The humble and the marginalised lot, say, the farmers never make it to the front pages unless there is a sort of large scale suicides. This too sometimes happen and unfortunately, lately, we have come to be reconciled with this reality of the countryside too. So, the poor really make for front pages.

AS WE WRITE THE LARGE SCALE PROTESTS OVER THE SUPPOSED OR SUSPECT
dilution of the SC/ST prevention of atrocities act are competing for front page news or prime time news on the TV screens.
Yes, suddenly put of the blue, it seemed, the two otherwise fine banks, private sector banks at that, run by two high profile and well-regarded and efficient banks with all the modern styles of management and prompt services banks came in to scrutiny.

What surprised the public as we see is the sort of overseeing by the apex bank, namely the Reserve Bank of India? Only recently we felt compelled to comment on the sort of arguments that went on between the Finance Ministry and the RBI over their own responsibility in supervising and controlling the management of the PSU banks.

One PSU bank, the second in the set of the PSU banks, went on to report cheating and large scale looting of public funds, tax payers money and deposits by one big, any two diamond merchants running to the tune of Rs.15, 000, or nearly to this much of funds spirited away and the t duo left the country to avoid action by the CBI and the ED.

What the government did b y way of prompt action?
The Board of Directors of this large PSU remains in place and everything goes on as if nothing had happened?
It this the way a government functions? Only the public wondered and otherwise no one raised any counter voice!

Is there fear in the system, in the country, among the general public?

It is for readers, experts and others to respond and give some light to the otherwise dark passages!
Now in the case of the ICICI and the Axis Bank there are reports of some irregularities.

But then, the counter arguments in the public domain and also from the regulatory regime, the very many agencies and the experts who appeared at the TV debates is that, yes, there looks to be some deviations, the CEO and MD’s family members are beneficiaries and if so the concerned official should have rescued herself so that the alleged conflict of interest could have been avoided. But then there again counter arguments for this. First, already the allegations had been made and the RBI had already probed the ICIC’s Bank loan to v Videocon Group in 2016.

Much more than these technical and subtle issues of good governance at the bank, is the public perception that the Board of Directors of this big private bank had probed the allegation and came out with a clean chit.

Axis Bank had thrived under Sikka Sharma for the last 10 years and had made a mark retail base and won laurels.
Normally, a private bank or business must be left with freedom within reasonable limits. Why the CBI comes in?

Some government agency must have promoted it?
It seems so?
Then the question arises why  the RBI is silent? The finance ministry is silent?

For those matters, so many other regulatory agencies are also silent?
The public would ask such questions. It is not the government that should be doing the work of other regulatory agencies, right?

Anyway, also two high profile ladies whose reputations are hit.
It is no good for the society to be informed of such drastic public exposure to a charge that is yet to be proved.

By looking at it from the public interest point of view that the exposure in such a highly sensational manner is not good for anybody’s interest. The trust and confidence and much else seem to be hurt in a manner that is unlikely to go away so easily.  Private business must thrive in an open and trustful manner. Doing business must be an honest pursuit. Too much intrusion into one’s freedoms is no trait of a liberal and open society.

Indian democracy? Towards transparency, accountability and ensuring citizen’s  freedoms?
What is Modi’s new talk of New India?
Can Indian democracy succeed without fighting corruption and black money menace?

Mr.Modi after the series of victories in the Assembly elections seemed to have changed his goals too. He was till now, that is, in his first two years was promising many things. Many pet schemes. Swatch Bharat etc. Now, suddenly he started talking of New India.

Also, after the third meeting of the Niti Ayog meeting with all the chief ministers in attendance, the Prime Minister started talking about his three year action plan, seven year development plan and fifteen year vision plan!

Even the traditional jargon had been dropped and new words and phrases had come in. Is this enlightening? What the assembled Chief Ministers had told in the meet? No information, no news. What sort of transparent governance is this? This is very unsatisfactory.

Also, suddenly, the Supreme Court had ordered to create the Lokpal, the top anti-corruption institution that is hanging fire for a very long time. (Add from the previous writing). It is unlikely that this would be complied with.

It is time India brings about  proper political reforms to ensure that the Parliamentary system adheres to the British model of the two party systems. Two major parties, the ruling and the Opposition party and the rights and privileges of the Opposition party’s functioning. Now, there is a certain distortion.

The ruling party with an overwhelming majority with a strong-minded Prime Minister tries to dominate and over-ride the checks and balances and tries to drown the voice of the opposition in many ways.

And if this comes at a time when the leader of the opposition, not the formal front faced but the real power concentrated, as it is, at the hands of a dynastic member like Rahul Gandhi and when Rahul Gandhi is perceived to be weak and temperamental and highly arbitrary, then, the parliamentary system falters. Why, now even in the media, on TV screens there are open debates about sidelining Rahul Gandhi and bringing to the centre stage either Mamata Bannerjee or Nitish Kumar as the new face of Opposition unity. Whether this would work or Mr.Modi might find new ways to scuttle the opposition unity?

This is the big question. As it is proved right now in India there are still discordant voices in the ruling combine as well as in the opposition ranks.

India has a legitimate role as a leading democracy of the parliamentary type in the world outside UK. Even in the USA there is no such clear demarcation of the roles of the ruling and Opposition party.

Or, the various coalitions, we find in the UK. There is the Liberal Democratic Party in the UK with a long history and pedigree of liberalist political tradition. In India, we had had some Left socialist parties in the beginning of our Republic. But now, they have gone and in their places are the very many regional parties, many smaller, splinter parties like JD(U) and JD(S) besides the left-over other small outfits, including the two Communist parties.

The Indian polity is also highly polarised after the emergence of the BJP. But our religious communalism is very different to the Islamic communalism, the extremist, violent and terrorist parties and groups. The point here is that while democracy is spreading everywhere, the spelling out of the basic core values of democratic practices are not yet fully made clear.

In fact, in our time, there are not enough clarity, no theoreticians have emerged or high profile critics have come forward to clearly define what are the next critical steps to deal with this worldwide crisis in the democratic systems and practices.

Russian democracy in crisis.
In Russia Mr. Vladimir Putin, the incumbent president is perceived to be authoritarian, war monger and also using intelligence to interfere with other democracies, in the USA, now in Turkey and even in France.

In India itself we see these various distortions making democracy and an open society highly corrupt, so many criminal cases pending before a delayed judicial system and also the media curbed and subtly terrorised and of course much false propaganda and brainwashing also noticed.

In  Russia, for instance, we see the suppression of democracy in a more brazen manner.
The Russian Opposition leader ,Alexei Navalny,(put Navalny picture here)who conducted some popular protests in Moscow and elsewhere, where his protests drew big crowds, he was arrested and handcuffed and his hand tied to the policeman guarding him in the court was highly publicised abroad and had earned Vladimir  really bad name!

So, this type of democratic government  can be also a big power in international arena.
There is no Opposition party in Russia, recognised in the constitution, we believe.

17 years as president?
blogVladimir Putin is in power for 17 years. Putin also changed his roles, first as president, then as prime Minister and then again reverted to President Office! But then Russian democracy is  hugely corrupt.

Only now, it seems the Russians are taking to the streets, to protest against corruption, the Opposition leader had faced three criminal trials in the past  six years. Charges for what? For organising protests! The Putin is criticised for spreading intrigue  abroad and not facing challenges at home.

There was an online video by Mr.Navalny accusing the number Two, Dimitry Medvedev, prime minister and one of Mr.Putin’s most loyal lieutenants, of a huge scheme of corruption that allegedly brought him to own large luxury estates and vineyeards.

There is a tradition of suppression of political rights of citizens. Even before the 1917 Communist Revolution. Even in the pre-revolutionary Tsarist Russia. There even now, the Russian citizens are also a bit politically apathetic. May be the authoritarianism practised under Putin.

72 per cent of those aged between 18 and 24 voted for the Russian military occupation of Crimea in 2914.Russia is not bothered about the world opinion on this blatant military  adventure. Are the Indian citizens politically more awakened than the Russian citizens? Better, we study this question in India.

Leading political parties in India must set up research wings  and study a comparative party systems and politics in some of the big nations, say, Russia, USA and China?
There will be many useful lessons for us.

So this is not a democracy as we know it. In India also we see many distortions. The Congress party, the historic party that won political freedom in the last 70 odd years, had progressively deteriorated  into a third rate family dynasty.

Sonia Gandhi’s incompetency is coming out, as she tries to hold her supporters together. Almost every day, some senior leader is deserting her or being “sacked”! What a leadership  she is displaying?

The ruling BJP  is becoming more and more aggressive and trying to consolidate its power of the party and government in many novel ways. The Opposition, especially, the Congress is being marginalised by several forces, a series of electoral defeats, the new corruption scandals linking Vadra and Gandhi family. Also, other senior leaders of the Congress are also drawn into the corruption scenario, thus making the attempt to forge Opposition unity impossible. As commentators have noted that Mr.Modi might find Rahul Gandhi, to retain him as long as possible, is the best bet for him to remain  as the only alternative before India.

Times are ominous. Indian democracy’s biggest challenges are here, right now!

Note: Excerpts from a forthcoming autobiography of Mr.V.Isvarmurti, M.A.Visva Bharati) M.A.(Oxon) former Member, Madras Legislative Council, formerly of the AICC, 1962-1967. Worked with Kamaraj, Atulya Ghosh, Sadiq Ali and others.