Simple Simon & The PrimeMin

The Americans play this game in a diamond shaped field. It somewhat resembles the game of Cricket, except instead of a wicket-keeper they have an umpire behind the hitter or batter. (Friend points out the umpire stands behind a crouching catcher). They also have the rule “three strikes and you’re out”. The ‘Three Strikes’ rule is also used by American states where a person convicted of three criminal offences is sentenced for life. Simon Denyer is an American journalist with the Washington Post but let’s not take those rules too seriously when it comes to lampooning our Prime Minister. First, the two strikes:

There, one by TIME as ‘The Underachiever’ and two by The Independent as ‘Poodle or Puppet’ (The Independent doesn’t seem to be sure which one). And the third strike was delivered by Simon himself in an article titled: “India’s ‘silent’ prime minister becomes a tragic figure”. For short, I’ll call it “Silent, Tragic figure” (STF).

In a discussion over Simon’s article in the Washington Post calling Manmohan Singh a STF on CNN-IBN on September 5 Manish Tiwari had some interesting statistics to offer. ManishT, the Congress spokesperson, mentioned that “In the last one year, the PM has held 7 press conferences and has given 82 speeches and therefore to say that he is a silent PM is completely erroneous and out of line”. That clarified the ‘S’ part but not the ‘TF’ part. Seven pressers and 82 speeches? Wow! I guess I was measuring climate change in Greenland when all that happened. And yes, Rajdeep Sardesai the “newsman” didn’t ask ManishT “when and where”? As a ‘silent’ observer I can safely risk stating that all those 82 speeches were ‘ceremonial’ speeches and do not amount to ‘talking to the people’ which is what most articles about the STF are all about. Speeches on I-Day, at the UN, at meetings of govt department heads or CMs, speeches at party meets and most recently at the redundant NAM meet in Teheran. ManishT probably also includes maybe a rare speech in parliament. Seven press conferences? Must be the ones mid-air on board Air India One.

Oh yes, I do recall the PM talking to the media and people on the ground too. I remember all those times when he said “I condemn this terrorist attack”, “This is a dastardly attack by cowards”, “Terrorists had the advantage of surprise”, “The guilty will be brought to justice” and many similar ones. The Simons of this world don’t seem to realise that terrorists have the knack of making MMS talk unlike foreign journalists.

Let’s go back in time a bit. On June 28, 2011 this is what the TOI reported: “Manmohan Singh has so far held only three nationally televised press conferences in the last seven years has been prime minister but has not been known to give interviews to the Indian media. He last spoke to editors of some TV channels four months ago”. Remember that one? That’s the one with TV editors where Harish Khare, then MMS’ media adviser, told Arnab GoswamiIt’s not an inquisition”. So June end 2011 MMS decided on an “image makeover plan” and swore “to interact with editors every week” and end this ‘silent’ tag. So he had a meeting with a select group of five chosen editors on June 29, 2011.

Why in an age of excess of communication tools would the PM of the largest democracy on earth call five editors and have a secret press conference with them? And then it was left to cronies like Kumar Ketkar of Divya Marathi and Alok Mehta of Nai Duniya to relay the discussions with MMS and interpret what STF said. For a day both Kumar and Mehta were acting PMs themselves. I had then called it “PM’s friendly fire”. What was promised as a regular weekly meet with the press started and ended with the one single farcical meet on June 29, 2011.

Before you could say “Simple Simon met a Prime-min” the PMO was demanding apologies. Some tweeted he had apologised, then clarified he had not. After thinking about it the whole night Pankaj Pachauri, the current media adviser to PM, sent a written response to Simon. Of all the laments, the classic Pachauri lament was “You told me sorry twice” on the phone. For what? Because the PMO had told Simon no interviews till end of monsoon session of parliament and he carried the article without PM’s version. That interview schedule could be anytime between now and May 2014. You take your pick. Pachauri’s note is like the one of an angry mother to a teacher about bad scores of her kid in the exams.

Of course, our courageous Indian media stood right behind Simon in condemning the demand of apology by the Congress, the govt and the PMO. Even Shoma Chaudhaury ridiculed the apology demand. Every media celeb worth anything condemned the apology demand. Yeah, it was ONE voice! Topping all the condemnations was Barkha Dutt. She was truly surprised that the govt went into a tizzy over Simon’s piece. She even tweeted on September 5: “Odd thing is the Indian media is often just as scathing in its critique of UPA but that doesn’t send the government into a tizzy”.

I really can’t remember when the Indian media was ever nice or fair to the UPA or MMS. They have been so consistently scathing in their criticism that it’s right to believe that the govt is now tired and beyond complaining even. You see, Simple Simon didn’t learn from the Indian media. The most scathing attack doesn’t come through words. It comes through hugs and high-fives. That’s how they rattle the living daylights out of the Congress and UPA. I’m positive if Simon had gotten an interview with MMS he could have hugged him, shook his hands, patted him gently on the back and politely told him with a smile: “Sir, you’re a STF”. That wouldn’t be termed “unethical” as Pachauri and PMO have complained. No wonder Barkha’s “scathing” criticism has never been termed unethical.

Nobody! Nobody in the world expects the most perfect prime minister. Somewhere in the heart of MMS it must have started to bother him over the years that he remains an “unelected” PM. A man who couldn’t win the only election he ever contested cannot have the confidence to act or to talk like one who has. MMS will likely go down as the head of the most corrupt govt India has ever seen. Even worse, he has shown himself to be a man minus scruples in allowing so many scams to happen under his very nose. What Simon Says wasn’t really far from truth, but that doesn’t matter. What another Indian politician said does matter a lot. Yashwant Sinha summed it up neatly when he said MMS is “An over-rated economist and an under-rated politician”. A guilty conscience often throttles speech. A Man Minus Scruples (MMS?) is likely to hear the words “STF” a lot more often. Given the heat over his article, Simple Simon may never get to meet the prime-min.


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