October 14,2012, was a sad day for Shri Salman Khurshid, India’s Law Minister, and the “India Today” group , which owns a number of print journals and TV channels.
2.A non-governmental humanitarian trust for assisting physically disadvantaged people with which his wife Ms.Louise is reportedly associated has been the target of allegations of wrongful use of funds amounting to about eight million rupees sanctioned by the Government for humanitarian relief.
3.A Hindi TV channel of the “India Today” group and the India Against Corruption (IAC) group headed by Shri Arvind Kejriwal, a non-governmental activist, seeking to enter politics by highlighting instances of political corruption have been spearheading the campaign against Shri Khurshid on these allegations against the humanitarian trust.
4.The two campaigns have been trying to project themselves as separate from each other without any orchestrated co-ordination, but an undeclared, but evident convergence of objective between the two is discernible to any objective observer. That objective is to exploit the suspected misuse of the funds to cause public discomfiture to Shri Khurshid .
5. The agenda of the IAC against Shri Khurshid is obvious. Shri Khurshid as the Law Minister was in the forefront of a group of Ministers of the Dr.Manmohan Singh Government which had mounted a spirited public defence of Shri Robert Vadra, the husband of Ms.Priyanka Gandhi and son-in-law of Mrs.Sobnia Gandhi, the Congress President, who has been accused by the IAC group of accumulating huge wealth beyond his known sources of income. The IAC group is trying to use the allegations against the humanitarian trust for discrediting Shri Khurshid and disabling him from defending Shri Vadra. The agenda of the “India Today” group in its campaign is not clear to me.
6. A campaign whose objective should have been to ensure that public funds meant for humanitarian relief of the physically disadvantaged are properly used for their benefit has been submerged in an overall political campaign to weaken the credibility of the Law Minister and add to the public anger against the Congress and the Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh.
7. The allegations against the Trust are very sensitive from the point of view of the likely impact on the public mind. Any allegation or suspicion that the physically disadvantaged were sought to be exploited for individual financial benefit will go to the heart of any right-thinking person.
8. Shri Khurshid is a highly sophisticated Minister and individual with a sophisticated mind. He should have immediately realised the implications of the likely public impact of the allegations and taken action to establish the truth. The proper course of action for him would have been to step aside from the post of Law Minister by either resigning or asking the Prime Minister to transfer the portfolio to another Minister and to order an impartial enquiry into the allegations.
9. Instead, Shri Khurshid got involved in an unedifying and undignified slanging match with the IAC and “India Today” groups. His Press Conference on October 14, which was totally unnecessary, was a spectacle of outbursts of anger and intimidation unworthy of him.
10.The equally unworthy behaviour of the IAC group is understandable because of the political ambitions of Shri Kejriwal. What is not understandable is the unworthy and unprofessional behaviour of the “India Today” group in this controversy. One had never seen such media viciousness as one saw in the behaviour of this group.
11. A highly reputed and highly admired journalist member of the “India Today” family kept disseminating gleeful Tweets from the Press Conference about the discomfiture being caused to Shri Khurshid and about the way he was making a spectacle of himself through his self-righteous outpourings.
12. In a brilliant article in the “Hindustan Times” of October 13,2012, Ms.Barkha Dutt, Group Editor of NDTV, who is presently on a three-month fellowship to the Brown University of the US to write a book, has drawn attention to the phenomenon and perceptions of bias in the conventional media and the counter-bias in Net-based new media and social media networks.
13. Bias has always been there in Indian journalism since we became independent in 1947. This has become aggravated due to the growing polarisation of the Indian society. What is new is the growing viciousness in the Indian media. We saw an example of such viciousness directed against Shri Khurshid on October 14,2012.
14. There is a need for an introspection by the Indian media over the direction in which it has been going.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @SORBONNE75)