Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reporting matka results as part of job

Reporting matka results as part of job
Thursday, December 02, 2010 AT 08:09 PM (IST)

A fortnight after I joined a Marathi newspaper in Ahmednagar district, the editor summoned me and to my astonishment, asked me to include an unusual task in my daily working schedule. He asked me to ring up a local telephone number at the stroke of midnight and get results of the day's matka lottery. The telephone number was of the local matka bookie and my job was to get the two and three-digit matka prize numbers selected by Mumbai-based matka king Ratan Khatri.
I was dumbfounded when I heard my assignment. After my experience of journalism in Goa, I had never imagined that ringing up a matka bookie would be a part of a sub-editor's job profile. In a few seconds I found myself telling the editor that I would not like to do that job, which was against journalistic ethics, I felt.
The editor took out tobacco from a sachet, ground it on his palm with his thumb and carefully put it in his mouth. He then asked, "What is unethical in getting matka numbers and  publishing them in next newspaper edition? Most of our readers buy or read our newspaper only for the matka results, they are not interested in the prime minister's speech or other news.”
The editor had worked in senior positions earlier with a national news agency in Mumbai and I had no doubt about his professional integrity. So I listened to what he was saying.
“There is no ethical issue involved here. This is our profession and we've to give what our readers want. Pre-independence era newspapers were run to propagate some or the other cause and did never bother about the financial aspects of the venture. Now the times have changed. And you know too well that even the  most reputed newspapers in Pune and Mumbai carry the matka numbers. The media  is a  business and all of us work for livelihood. Come on, don't be fussy. Here are the local matka "pedhi's" two numbers. Call them at midnight,” the editor said and turned back to writing his editorial.
The editor was not far from the truth. A century back, advertisements were an anathema to journals committed to some missions. Now, not many newspapers have any qualms even about carrying paid news. Is ethics merely a relative concept? Does it change with time, I wondered. I have not found an answer even today. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Anna Hazare A soldier’s journey

A soldier’s journey
Sakal Times
Sunday, August 28, 2011 AT 06:50 PM (IST)
I remember my first reporting assignment related to Anna Hazare two decades ago. I had arrived from Aurangabad to Pune to join a national newspaper. One morning, I, another reporter and a photographer rushed to Wadegavhan near Shirur. Three farmers protesting against the power distribution company were killed there in police firing. The farmers agitation was led by Anna Hazare, who had resorted to his first indefinite fast in Ahmednagar. Hazare was hospitalised and called off his fast only after securing an assurance from the authorities.
A couple of years later, I met Hazare for the first time at Ralegan Siddhi, where he had resorted to a "maunvrat" to demand action in some corruption cases. Reporters would ask him questions and he would write the answers on a note pad. Then in mid-20s, I could not suppress my laughter on seeing this exercise was. I remember being admonished by my colleagues. Visits to Ralegan Siddhi became frequent later. I developed a close relationship with the social activist and once camped in his village for couple of  days to get acquainted with his development projects. To this date, I have preserved my black and white photographs with Anna and the letters Anna wrote to me, acknowledging receipt of newspaper clips on him or news about some of his new projects.
Hazare has always been media savvy. Ignoring protests from his office staff, he would give journalists complimentary copies of books on success stories of Ralegan Siddhi. For some unknown reasons, most journalists from Ahmednagar used to scoff at Hazare. It was  only after some Pune journalists regularly wrote on Hazare in English newspapers that his unique contribution became known in the state and later all over the country.
The fight against corruption has been an issue dear to Anna's heart. For years, he used to launch a fast around the Kranti Din of August 9 and would end it after a token assurance from the authorities. He was criticised and made fun of because of this. Once, about a decade back, Anna teamed up with Mohan Dharia, Baba Adhav and others to take on the issue of corruption. Otherwise, he was always a solitary crusader. Anna had never studied in a college but this former soldier-driver in the army has graduated to becoming a revered leader in the country during the past three decades. Now he is articulate, has clarity of thought and most important, has the moral strength to lead the masses. No wonder, his protests now move the entire country. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anna Hazare For and by the people

For and by the people
Thursday, August 25, 2011 AT 10:33 PM (IST)
During the last few days, the country has seen lakhs of people, especially youths, coming on the streets in support of the Anna Hazare-led agitation for the people's lokpal bill and to demand an end to corruption. What was most striking is that these people marching on streets of various cities and towns are not led by political parties or politicians. The morchas, silent marches or the candlelight processions do not have the familiar flags of various parties like the Congress, BJP, BSP, NCP, Shiv Sena or other major political parties.  
Instead, the protesters are proudly carrying the tricolour -- a thing we are accustomed to seeing only when India's cricket team is battling out against a foreign team. The high-pitch slogans raised at these rallies do not scare any section of society because they are not directed against religious or linguistic minorities or migrants.
The post-independent India has witnessed many national-level and regional level socio-political upheavals. The movements for organisation of language-based states engulfed the country in 1950s. It witnessed unrests in various regions, leading to the creation of  Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and other states. The naxalite movement in the eastern sector has lasted over two decades, claimed many precious lives and posed a threat to the country. The movement against Babri Masjid  and construction of a Ram mandir at Ayodhya has dominated the socio-political life for two decades. It led to a division in society on communal lines.
Prior to the imposition of Emergency,  thousands of youths had joined the agitation in Gujarat and other parts of the country when socialist leader Jaiprakash Narayan gave a call for "sampoorna kranti." The atmosphere was indeed surcharged against the Congress-ruled government at the Centre.
India experienced widespread unrest against the ruling Congress in mid-1970s. This led to the imposition of Emergency. Indira Gandhi relaxed Emergency conditions and announced a general election in February 1977. It led to large-scale protests against the party. Youngsters came onto the streets to welcome the Emergency heroes -- opposition leaders released from prisons. The ire of the people was directed against the Congress and the party was voted out of power at the Centre and in many states.
There is a marked difference in the style of previous popular agitations and the agitation led by the Anna Hazare team. The post-Emergency polls outcome was a peaceful political revolution. But the people's anger was against the misrule of the Congress. This time, the anger is against the omnipresent corruption. The present protests have no place for rasta or rail rokos, arson,  damage to public property. It is reminiscent of the freedom struggle during which common people were never made to suffer.
The people who come to the streets now know very well that corruption is not confined to the Congress regime alone as was manifest in the recent Spectrum-2 or Karnataka mining scandal cases. So naturally there are no leaders of any major political party leading the lakhs of people on streets in the countrywide battle against corruption. Few politicians would like to take up the fight against corruption to its logical conclusion. Opposition political parties would have been quick in hijacking any popular agitation against the ruling party. But none is doing that because none is ready to take so clear a stand against corruption.
The spontaneous participation of youngsters and people of other age groups has dispelled the notion that the masses are apathetic to corrupt practices and other socio-political ills in society. They needed a social activists like Anna Hazare and his team members Kiran Bedi, Arvind  Kejriwal and others as catalysts to arrive on streets and demand improvement in the situation. The Anna team has fired the imagination of the masses and made them aware that they can seek positive changes in the system. The nationwide peaceful agitation could be an unique event in the world. This is an agitation not seeking change in political leadership but an end to the social evil of corruption.
It is too early to say whether the agitation would lead to the passage of the lokpal bill drafted by the Anna team or whether this enactment would help curb corruption to some extent. But the agitation has made people aware of their collective power and that they need not depend on the ballot box or their elected representatives to usher in social and political reforms.
The people's outrage  against corruption will certainly serve as a dire warning to all those involved in corrupt practices. The spontaneous agitation on such social issues will also help to mould civic-minded new generation. Major socio-political movements spring up future leaders. The current agitation will give lessons in leadership to thousands of people and provide future leaders in various walks of life.    Whatever the outcome of the popular upsurge, it surely would not be the last time the commoners will come on the streets to press their demands. The present agitation has already won attention of crusaders in other parts of the world and in future, India's model may be replicated elsewhere. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Kiran Bedi Always a crusader

Always a crusader
Thursday, August 18, 2011 AT 11:12 PM (IST)
Kiran Bedi was deputy superintendent of police (traffic) in Goa when I got acquainted with her as the crime reporter of a local newspaper. The first woman to join the Indian Police Service, she had efficiently handled her responsibility in the traffic department during the ninth Asian Games in Delhi. During the preparations for this prestigious event, Bedi had earned the nickname Crane Bedi as she used to tow away vehicles of the mighty, including those of the staffers of them prime minister Indira Gandhi from the no-parking zones. Bedi was transferred to Goa, specially for coordinating the traffic movement during the Commonwealth heads of government meet (CHOGM) which was to be held in 1983.
The CHOGM was to be attended by nearly 40 heads of the Commonwealth nations, including British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, although British Queen Elizabeth was to return home after attending the New Delhi leg of the meet. It was one of the important assignments in Bedi's career. As a crime reporter, I often accompanied Bedi when she conducted recce of the travel routes of the VVIPs from Dabolim airport to the Fort Aguada beach resort. I found that she was a no-nonsense officer and totally committed to her work. And she would not tolerate anyone's dereliction of duty. I was in my early 20s and did not realise that I was in company with an extraordinary government official.
After the conclusion of the CHOGM retreat, Bedi moved out again to New Delhi. She continued her commitment to work and continued to perform with zeal, no matter what post she was given. For reasons not clear, Bedi was rarely given field posts. Nonetheless she has shone wherever she was sent to do that sort of work. Even while holding the otherwise non-significant post of inspector general of police of Tihar jail, she managed to come out with a wonderful achievement, introducing many reforms in the high-security prison.
What is so remarkable about Kiran Bedi is that she has remained a consistent crusader for social causes throughout her career as a police officer and now has continued it as a civil society activists along with Anna Hazare. She has tried to cleanse the system from whatever level she was from time to time. On her nickname 'Crane Bedi,' she has written in her blog, “A crane removes obstacles -- something I have tried to do all my life.” The country needs many more of her tribe.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Arrest of Charles Sobhraj in Goa

Investigative skills of police lost
Thursday, August 11, 2011 AT 06:04 PM (IST)
Tags: Point of view,   police,   Camil Parkhe
I was winding up my work in our newspaper office in Panaji on a Sunday evening in March 1986 when I attended a telephone call. A newspaper reader wanted to know about the frantic activity going around in Porvorim near Panaji. I made a quick call to the police control room and relaxed when I got the stock reply, "Shant ahe, Saheb." (all is well!)
Soon, I got another call. This time the caller was more specific. Has the police caught a big fish near Porvorim, he asked. That was  an alarm bell for the crime reporter in me. I rang up a police inspector but he too said there was nothing to report. Within half an hour, I had received more calls. Sensing a major story,  I rang up the Goa police chief at 10.30 pm to know about any major raids in the Union territory. He categorically said there was no such thing. Normally, such reply from the top cop would have been final. But a senior colleague who heard my telephonic conversation was smarter. He suggested that we leave on his scooter for Mapusa to see what was happening there.
After arriving at a hotel in Mapusa, we realised that a major event was indeed unfolding there. The police had  succeeded in nabbing internationally infamous criminal Charles Sobhraj, who had recently fled from the high-security Tihar jail. The serial killer was nabbed by a daredevil team of Mumbai police, which had been on his trail for many days. The Mumbai police had not given any clues to the Goa police about the big fish they had in their net.
After midnight, the Mumbai police bundled off Sobhraj into a taxi and sped away for Mumbai. Police inspector Madhukar Zende had nabbed the fugitive. I was glad my senior colleague coaxed me into rushing to Mapusa. Next day, both of us shared a byline for the banner story carried by our newspaper about the arrest of Charles Sobhraj.
The arrest of Charles Sobhraj is one of the classic cases of the investigations by Mumbai police, who commanded a reputation for their investigative skills in those days. Their network of informers and their skill in cracking crime mysteries were talked of with great admiration in the country and abroad. Alas, this skill is now a part of history. During the past two decades, we have not heard of the Mumbai police or any other police in the country making any headway in any major crime cases, including even the revolting terror attacks.