Underachiever Manmohan: Is Time saying anything new?
I envy Time magazine. These guys don’t need to dig a single new fact on prime minister Manmohan Singh. They use all the masala that Indian journalists and commentators, and to their credit, several erudite pieces in the Economist, have stated in graphic detail on Singh’s moral and intellectual exhaustion. They repackage and rewrite what’s been said in equally elegant prose. In fact, all they seem to add is an interesting hashtag: #UnderAchiever. And boom! The cover story has the Yamuna on the boil!
Do a Google search on “Time+Manmohan+Under Achiever” and nearly 500 links (as we go into print) will tumble out. Search optimisation has ensured that the original article is nowhere in sight. (It requires paid subscription anyway!) Instead, you have hundreds of cut-and-paste jobs on which sound-byte samurais has what to state, Lalu Yadav alluding that Team Anna dictated the contents, the others accusing Time of over hyping a non-achiever!
Trust even business journalists not to let the opportunity to get even with the political hacks. In subtle plugs for government advertising, you’ll see a self-righteous number crunch on Time’s newsstand sales versus its subscriptions, minus its costs of distribution, factored by a fanciful assumptions that the desk editor would be too bored to question, leading you to estimates on the kind of profits the “Under Achiever” cover will achieve for Time Warner!
The import of all this hullaballoo is that to Indian politicos (and Indian journalism, I beg to state) Time matters more than most.
Before my friends in the international media shoot my head off, I take refuge in the story a little over 10 years ago, when Time described then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a bottle-scarred veteran, with two replaced knees and one faulty kidney…a man who “takes a three-hour snooze every afternoon on doctor’s orders and is given to interminable silences, indecipherable ramblings…,” who also takes snoozes not asked for by his doctor, usually during meetings, “much of the prime minister’s energy now devoted to the business of weight rather than weighty affairs of state”.
Not a word powering that wit was a scoop. In fact, each turn of phrase that the young bureau chief stationed in India called Alex Perry wrote, could be sourced to tipplers at the Press Club of India, if not those found in the surprisingly tiny bar facing Lodhi Gardens at Delhi’s India International Centre.
Yet, the heavens fell on the Indian establishment. Perry was dragged into trouble of a kind not quite “Indian” yet, including a summons regarding his British passport. Time, if I recall correctly, had to issue a statement fearing for their man’s safety.
I hope the current writer Krista Mahr, the current chief of bureau in India, has enough months on her visa. The place she needs to be wary of is a viral attack from a troll called Kapil Sibal, justified no doubt, for Time daring to lionize Narendra Modi just recently!
Jokes apart, the two events, show how little proliferation of the media has managed to impact our politico-journalistic discourse. We still need a “gora” to get us all worked up, and if his or her byline is in Time, depending on our political colour, we’re ready to implode with happiness or anger.
A bigger picture, to my mind more sophisticated and forward-looking than Mahr’s, lies in a piece by two of India’s most eminent economists, Jagdish N Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya. They question the long-term promise of the Congress party, hinging their incisive analysis around Sonia Gandhi’s failing health, the inability of Rahul to get going, and thus the fading brand-value of the Gandhi-Nehru clan. The piece has been largely ignored even though it’s on Project Syndicate, one of the world’s leading sources of multi-newspaper op-ed writing. Bhagwati and Panagariya go far beyond truism and the obvious under achievements of Manmohan Singh. Their argument has greater relevance on how we, the 1.2-billion people of the Republic, shall live our lives sans a left-of-centre, federal Congress party at the helm. But it’s written by two Indians, so we don’t quite care. It isn’t after all in Time either!
Tail piece: If Alex Perry was on the CIA’s pay roll - and so is Krista Mahr - it follows that the agency has had a change in editorial stance. Unless, as an Indian spook defended in time-honoured spooky tradition, CIA’s singular strategy is to destabilise India, irrespective of the ruling party. If that’s the case, why’re they bringing Modi to the fore? I thought the US still hasn’t granted him a visa, right? I remain confused and I’m running out past my word limit. So, someone please tell me, what does the bloody CIA (read Time) really want?!
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