Pulling their punches on Manmohan Singh

IN Opinion | 17/03/2015
Among the editorials on the former PM's arraignment, two newspapers chose to keep totally mum.
DARIUS NAKHOONWALA asks, what the hell? Pix: theviewspaper.net
You don’t say! 
Darius Nakhoonwala
If I have said this once, I have said it a hundred times: I just cannot understand why some newspapers – different ones each time of course – get tongue tied when something important happens, like a former prime minister becoming a co-accused in a corruption case.

So when Manmohan Singh became accused No 6 in the coal allotments case, the Hindustan Times, not known for bravery since 1975, kept quiet. But then a Birla is in the dock. Not just any Birla but the Big B himself so it can be given the benefit of the doubt.

But what about the Indian Express which also adopted a stony silence. Imagine this from a newspaper that at one time used to make a meal of sitting prime ministers, never mind formers ones. As youngsters say, WTF?

As to those who did write, the Hindu, with unusual alacrity, wrote on the same day. It said it was “baffling that Dr. Singh is being summoned to face criminal prosecution, based solely on material evaluated by a judge, without an investigating agency recording an adverse finding against him.”

Oh, dear, the paper forgot that Dr Singh was the coal minister at the time. As such he was responsible for everything that bore his signature. Nothing else really matters for becoming an accused.

But it somewhat corrected itself in the last sentence. “The summons and impending prosecution show that political accountability is not the only consequence of inaction or the failure to do the right thing when in power.” Quite so, Madame.

The Times of India, writing a day later, was able to comment on the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress march to Manmohan’s Singh’s residence. It made a neat point that “it suggests that the party can’t distance itself from the 10-year long tenure of the former PM…to some extent the entire Congress and its top leadership are on trial since decisions taken by a government cannot be the act of an individual but are the collective responsibility of the entire power structure at the time.” Absolutely. But what about extra-constitutional sources of power?

The Pioneer was toeing the party line (BJP) and merely noted that “It would be premature to pass a public verdict of ‘guilty’ against the former Prime Minister, and the law must take its own course. Mr Singh will have every opportunity to present his defence, and so it is up to him to clear his name.”

Then it proceeded to cook Dr Singh’s goose by saying “But certain facts cannot be denied” and reiterated them at length, including the key issue. 

“The legal debate is whether the former Prime Minister can be tried for criminal culpability or whether his decision was merely a case of presiding over wrong policy and its subsequent fatal implementation. Nobody has suggested so far that Mr Singh had derived pecuniary benefits from the decision. But those rooting for his prosecution say that his consent for wrongdoing, which resulted in a loss to the exchequer, amounts to criminal offence per se. The Special Court judge has, “prima facie”, found a case of criminal conspiracy. This is from where matters proceed from now on.” True. 

The Tribune reminded everyone that Dr Singh is “the second former PM after PV Narasimha Rao to be listed among the accused in a criminal case.” The rest of the edit was a recounting of fact without helping the reader reach any conclusion. 

The Economic Times, in an exhibition of sheer ignorance of the law, wrote a sarcastic edit. “It is a pity that the court does not take aim at the two real culprits in India’s sordid saga in the allocation of coal. One is the state monopoly in coal, enacted in 1973…the other is the opaque, non-institutional funding of politics...The new government has the majority to scrap the state monopoly in coal, but still persists with captive mines.” 

The Financial Express got to the bottom of the issue, which is Dr Singh’s proven ability to never stand by his convictions. “What makes the case ironic is that, at the time when he was the coal minister - Singh has been summoned for his role as coal minister, not prime minister - Singh was in favour of auctioning coal blocks as opposed to the then practice of allocation through an opaque process. Ironically, in the 2G scam, also under Singh’s watch, the same thing happened with the prime minister pushing for auctions but not able to restrain.”
The Telegraph bestirred itself a few days later, lazily remarking that “The former prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is innocent till he is proved guilty.” That was the first sentence so I didn’t bother to read the rest of the edit. 
Such articles are only possible because of your support. Help the Hoot. The Hoot is an independent initiative of the Media Foundation and requires funds for independent media monitoring. Please support us. Every rupee helps.
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More