Pepper me this
It doesn’t seem worth the candle. Writing about the near-terminal afflictions that plague our democracy is a futile, demoralising exercise. The anger seems like so much hot air. Take the ‘pepper spray’ session of Parliament. One would have thought that after all the scorn and censure MPs received from across the country by their conduct in the ‘temple of democracy’, some sort of corrective action would have been initiated. The expectation was that an urgent all-party meeting would be convened to hammer out rules of behaviour, with strong punishment for the miscreants included. So, what happens? After some perfunctory “something has to be done” lament, Parliament and its occupants go to sleep with the MPs running around their constituencies campaigning for the elections. The repugnant behaviour is forgotten, probably forgiven, in readiness for the next round of freestyle wrestling. I don’t know what you thought, but the sight of the prime minister and home minister reading their speeches in the Lok Sabha protected by a kind of praetorian guard should have brought tears to the eyes of most citizens. Is this what our Parliament’s been reduced to? Our honourable MPs constantly ask why they are held in such contempt by all sections of society. And quickly blame the media for promoting this negative perception. After their despicable behaviour in Parliament, I hope they will not feel the need to ask that question ever again!
Since the BJP is a party which upholds high moral values, one does not know if they subscribe to Henry Kissinger’s observation that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Nevertheless, power (or at least the prospect of it) has brought about a discernible bounce in the gait of the top brass. Everyone appears extra cheerful, confident and optimistic. I detect a new assertiveness in even the gentle BJP spokesperson, Nirmala Sitharaman. She is fast learning the tricks of the trade, the most important being the ability to dodge an awkward question by asking a counter-awkward question. Cabinet berths are already being distributed. The problem here is the Leader. NaMo doesn’t get on with most of the BJP First XI, except perhaps for Arun Jaitley. Sushma, Rudy, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Jaswant, Yashwant Sinha, Nitin Gadkari, even Rajnath Singh proclaim Modi’s praises out of compulsion. The ministry everyone covets is Home and Mr Jaitley believes it should go to him because of seniority and competence. Not everyone in the party agrees with Arun’s self-assessment. There is even talk of Modi loyalist Amit Shah getting it. If he does, he will be the first home minister in independent India to occupy the ministry while out on bail.
See it, believe it
Media connoisseurs are agreed that John Freeman’s Face to Face interviews on BBC TV constituted a broadcasting landmark, pioneered a new style of interviewing. They were recorded between 1959 and 1962 with luminaries like Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell, Evelyn Waugh, Martin Luther King. I caught them when the series was about to end. What made the interviews extraordinary wasn’t just the masterly but studiously polite interrogation, but also the fact that you never saw the interviewer’s face, apart from shots of the back of his head. Because Freeman was out of shot, only his questions could be heard: the camera instead focused relentlessly on the interviewee. Some of the Face to Face interviews are available on YouTube. I bring it up because I heard Freeman is still alive. He’s 99 and lives in a London nursing home. Besides being the supreme TV interviewer of the 20th century, he was a Labour MP, high commissioner to India and the US, and a “first class ladies’ man”. He married four times. More. For a couple of years he was the editor of the vastly influential weekly, The New Statesman, which for decades was my Bible. It has, alas, fallen on bad times. May I recommend to my friends Karan Thapar, Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt (yes, she’s still a friend), if they have not already, to catch Face to Face on the net.
Sale on the fly
Now that everyone (except P. Chidambaram) believes the Ambanis run the country, here is a joke which might amuse. An Arab travelling on a plane sees a pretty air-hostess and rushes to the captain. “I want to buy the air-hostess,” he tells the captain. “You can’t buy the air-hostess, she belongs to the plane,” he is told. “Then I want to buy the plane.” “You can’t buy the plane, it belongs to Air-India,” the captain says. “Okay, I want to buy Air-India,” he replies. “You can’t buy Air-India, it belongs to the government of India.” The Arab persists, “Then I want to buy the government of India.” “Sorry chum,” says the captain, “it’s already been sold to the Ambanis.”
I was glued to Zee Cafe, watching the gripping series, House of Cards.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta AT outlookindia.com