Seven days before Reuters published its exclusive [Narendra Modi interview], a privilege denied by the PM-aspirant to an Indian news agency or channel, we had been contacted persistently by a Reuters correspondent.
Not Ross Colvin or Sruthi Gottipati who now carry the journalistic honour of grabbing moments with a man who rarely likes to be questioned, especially if the questions are persistent like say those of Karan Thapar in 2007.
Thapar keen to get to the bottom of what Modi actually felt about 2002, did not simply casually record – as Reuters has done – Modi’s response but asked, insistently, whether Modi actually regretted the mass reprisal killings that had taken place, post-Godhra, on his watch.
Modi simpered, dithered, glared and admonished…when none of that worked, and Thapar persisted, Modi did what he does best.
He walked out.
Not so with Reuters, that managed its exclusive but failed to, conspicuously, persist with any accurate, difficult or pinching questions.
The young man from Reuters who finally tracked me down in the Sahmat office at 29 Ferozeshah Road last week was clueless, he said, about Gujarat 2002. Apologetic about this ineptness, he kept saying that his bosses had asked him to track down the SIT report.
They had not bothered to contact us directly.
We insisted that he, read Reuters, do what fair journalism demands: look at the SIT clean chit in context; examine also the amicus curaie Raju Ramachandran’s report that conflicted seriously with the SIT closure and clean chit (opining that there was material to prosecute Narendra Modi on serious charges).
Both the SIT and the amicus were appointed by the same Supreme Court.
We insisted that Reuters examine the Supreme Court Order of 12.9.2011 that gave us the inalienable right to file a Protest Petition; we pointed out that Reuters must read the Protest Petition itself that we filed in pursuance of this order on 15.4.2013, peruse the arguments that we have been making before the Magistrate since June 25, 2013.
We tried, as best as we could, to communicate that Reuters should read the SIT clean chit in the context of these overall developments.
No, No, said Reuters that had possibly already bagged the interview by then.
Who says a politically important interview should address all developments and facts, in a nutshell, tell the whole and complete story?
Much better to perform a tokenism, throw in a few questions about 2002, not persist with questioning the man charged with conspiracy to commit mass murder and subvert criminal justice with the complexities and gravity of charges and legal procedures that he currently faces – and which are being argued in Open Court in Ahmedabad.
Easier to be glib, grab headlines in all national dailies including by the way the one in Telegraph which is the only newspaper to report that Modi used “kutte ka baccha” not puppy as an analogy for which creatures may inadvertently get crushed when a “road accident happens.”
Never mind that many have been convicted for criminal negligence when they drive and kill.
On business and development, too, while Reuters plugs the man themselves in the first paragraph of the interview, there are no real probing questions on foreign direct investment, the Gujarat government’s back out to solar power companies (reported two days ago in the Economic Times) and so on….
So, quite apart from the more than despicable “kutte ka baccha” comment that Modi reportedly made, quite apart from the fact that he chose Reuters for his debutante mutterings not a national agency or channel, what is truly tragic about the whole exercise is the compliant journalism that it reflects.
The Reuters interview is not a dispassionate or thorough exercise that attempts to genuinely probe opinions and views. It is a sensational tokenism.
Teesta Setalvad is Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace