Who butters your bread, Mr. Interlocutor?

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Nowhere in the 395 articles and the 118 amendments of the Indian Constitution, is it permitted for the Government of the day to hire party spokespersons at the expense of the tax-payer. Yet that is exactly what the present Government appears to have done so successfully. The most basic tenet of propriety demands that an officer of the Government, be he permanent or contractual, owes his loyalty to the country at large and certainly not to the political party responsible for his appointment. This laxman-rekha of personal conduct governs the appointees of the most respected institution in India, namely the judiciary. Why then, must it vanish when it comes to holders of quasi-judicial offices?

Much ink has already been spilled about the recent controversy surrounding Justice Katju and his views on Chief Minister Modi. For all the criticism that might be attributable to the former Judge’s conduct, there is one thing he cannot be faulted for. His predisposition towards the ruling establishment is unabashed and unambiguous, not couched in subtle word-play aimed at penetrating the deepest confines of the subconscious Indian brain. This straight-talk is symptomatic of a fearless Judge not used to mincing his words. In his powerful rebuttal , Mr. Jaitley diagnoses Justice Katju’s frequent outbursts as a case of megalomania. While that might be so, Justice Katju must be complimented for not being a hypocrite – for he leaves nothing to the imagination of the common Indian. As the illustrious journalist and Chief Interlocutor for J&K ( that couldn’t possibly sound more pretentious ) wrote in his blog last week, “It is not enough for him to call a spade a spade. He has to call it a bloody shovel.” Mr. Padgaonkar knows a thing or two about subtlety. He makes a fair point too, except the same lofty standards of brutal transparency do not appear to hold true for the journalist himself.


Dileep Padgaonkar and his ilk represent a fast growing breed of editors who purport to be neutral arbiters of political affairs and national news, who claim to espouse nothing but the interest of their readers at heart. Alas, their record shows otherwise. Perhaps what drove Mr. Padgaonkar to pen a spiffy defense in the face of “the BJP’s intemperate attacks” on Justice Katju, was their charging him of being a megalomaniac. He could empathize with such blatant ‘spade-calling’. After all, who can forget that this ‘eminent’ editor once considered himself “second in importance only to the Prime Minister” (sic) . However the similarities end there. While Justice Katju prefers a direct no-holds barred approach, Padgaonkar draws upon his vast reserves of rhetorical erudition to toot the Government’s horn every chance he gets. A brief perusal of his blog-posts and articles reveals a fascination for all things Congress. The corollary of this statement becomes even more apparent in his attacks on the BJP . It is in this context that it becomes all too comedic when he attempts to vilify “anchors, party hacks and sycophants that gush forth from our TV screens night after night.” Sycophancy, after all, is not the sole preserve of official party men alone!

This leads us to an interesting question. What could possibly be wrong about a journalist singing paeans about the party that lights his hearth? A lot. For starters, a gross conflict of interest and the glaring absence of accountability. While quick to criticize Justice Katju for “wearing two hats”, Padgaonkar himself does so with shameless impunity. To turn his own logic on him, what if the Congress led UPA Cabinet indulges in large-scale corruption while the Prime Minister looks the other way –in such a scenario, is Dileep Padgaonkar ethically obliged to tell it as it is to his readers or is he permitted to put a spin on it and sing praises of the Prime Minister’s “statesman like” qualities? Strangely, the standards of personal propriety are applied differently by this part-time government servant and full-time journalist. His conduct raises obvious and serious questions of ethics that cannot be ignored.

An RTI application revealed that an exorbitant sum of Rs. 70 Lakh was spent on the remuneration of the J&K interlocutors , of which Mr. Padgaonkar was the Chief. The work-product of this illustrious group, ‘the interlocutors report’, criticized as unimaginative was not even considered fit for being tabled before the Parliament. Prior to this meaty assignment, the hapless Indian tax-payer coughed up Rs. 2 Lakh a month on this gentleman’s appointment as a member of the National Commission for Minorities; an impotent statutory authority with no executive powers. Hence this leads us to the next question, what does this exorbitant sum of money spent on meaningless assignments bring to fruit for the Government of the day? Professorial reports that reek of academic idealism, destined to be rubbished in trash-cans earmarked for such committee reports? If the Government needed an accurate picture of what the public sentiment in the valley was like, they could have easily commissioned the top brass of Kashmir’s civil servants to draw up a credible report – without wasting an ounce of precious public money.

If journalists accept hand-outs from the Government or corporations or foreign agencies, they have a responsibility to declare their interest in the form of a disclaimer. They have a moral duty to drop their facade of neutrality in their reportage and opinion pieces alike. Young Indians are sick and tired of being constantly deceived and taken to be fools. College students who read opinion pieces have a right to know if the writer has an interest in the cause he is peddling.

Mr. Padgaonkar would do well to ask his conscience if his brand of journalistic integrity is above board.

He might find then, that the answer is blowing in the wind.

Written by Jai Dehadrai >>

Jai Anant Dehadrai is an advocate in the Supreme Court, currently on sabbatical to pursue his Masters in Law at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of the upcoming book, ‘Aequabilis – Fairness, Equity & Justice’.

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Indian Exponent: Who butters your bread, Mr. Interlocutor?
Who butters your bread, Mr. Interlocutor?
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