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Press Conference -Then & Now

Press Conference -THEN-1944

…a few years later, I dragged myself out of bed, was carried down the stairs, and driven in an ambulance to meet the gentlemen of the Indian press.

Indian journalist run amok- Beverley Nichols counts bitter experience (Kaiser-I-Hind. 5/5/1943). That was the general way in which the press described the affair, It was somewhat of an understatement. I hobbled into a room that was packed from floor to ceiling with journalists, most of them young and all of them ,so it seemed, in a state of hysteria. They crowded round the table, twining round my knees, and breathing down my neck. I was almost the only white person present apart from the Chairman , by the name Mr. Horniman. For many years he has been the editor of a violently anti-British evening newspaper called The Bombay Sentinel….It may be gathered that I did not take to Mr. Horniman. That is quite true. It is equally true that he did not take to me. For weeks after the meeting, he filled his paper with gibes, lampoons and insults, No sneer was too cheap, nor rumour was too fantastic for the Bombay Sentinel. The most sensational canard which his paper produced was its assertion, on the front page, that I had been selected by the British Government as the next viceroy of India. For safety’s sake, however he denied the rumour…This meeting was typical of may which I subsequently addressed, for from the first moment it was evident that nobody had any intention of listening. I still did not feel competent to talk about India, and so I began to talk about England instead….After few minutes it became impossible to continue. Creams, shrieks and yells rent the air. ‘Questions….questions!’ they shouted , one after the other, till the other half were trying to pull them down. In the meantime sheaves of papers containing written questions were thrown to the desk. My carefully nursed temperature began to leap up inside, as though somebody had plunged a thermometer into a cup of tea. I was face to dace with hatred- mass hatred. Here was the slogan ‘Quit India’ came into life…The chairman tried o quell the riot. For another few minutes I struggled on. It was useless…It was a startling revelation, to one who had come , like myself, with the idea of an informal chat over a glass of beer….For over an hour the bedam continued. I will make no further comment on it. That is best left to the Indian journalists themselves, of whom there were apparently a few decent specimens in the room, though they certainly made no effort to interfere at the time…The Indian Annalist observed editorially, We only hope that Nichols will not judge India by this disgusting treatment at the hands of half baked journalists seeking yellow press notoriety’.( Beverley Nichols. 1944).


30 June 2011

Well, cartoonists were not invited to meet the Prime Minister but a handful of high profile editors of newspapers were fortunate enough to interact with the Prime Minister of the largest democracy of the world for around two hours. Most newspapers have carried the highlights on their front page. How fruitful was this interaction? Take a clue from the few headlines:

Talk of drift, corruption is propoganda: Manmohan (Hindu)

Manmohan Singh assets himself (Tribune)

No magic fix for corruption: PM (Hindustan Times)

Ready to come under purview of Lokpal (Dainik Bhaskar)

I am not a weak Prime Minister (Navbharat Times)

I am ready to come under purview of Lokpal, other leaders disagree" (Nai Duniya)

I am not helpless, nor am weak: PM (Rashtriya Sahara)

I am not a weak Prime Minister (Amar Ujala)

I am not a puppet: PM (Aaj Samaj)

I am PM, will remain PM (Punjab Kesari)

I PM and party is with me (Dainik Jagran)

Manmohan full of firmness & self-confidence (Dainik Tribune)

PM: I have a job to do, will go when party asks (Asian Age)

I am not weak (Jagat Kranti)

Now take a look at extracts picked up from press release containing corrected transcript of the interaction between the PM and Newspaper Editors.

Opening Remark by Prime Minister of India:

I think that there is a growing perception that this government is in siege, that we have not been able to deliver on our agenda. An atmosphere has been created in the country - and this I say with all humility – the role of the media today in many cases has become that of the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge. Now that way no Parliamentary democracy can function and I would like to tell you that if you are taking governmental decisions, particularly big macro decisions, we don't know all the facts and yet we have to take decisions... We live in a world of uncertainty and ex-post whether it is the Comptroller and Auditor General, whether it is a Parliamentary committee then they analyse post facto. They have a lot more facts which were not available to those who took the decision. I am not saying that it is not possible that some people may deliberately do wrong things, but in many cases it would turn out in that sort of a scenario it is very difficult to operate...These are some of the priorities of our government. But frankly speaking in our country this constant sniping between government and opposition or if an atmosphere of cynicism is created all round I think the growth impulses, the entrepreneurial impulses of our people will not flourish and that is what worries me. We must do all that we can to revive the animal spirits of our businesses... But in the situation that we are faced today, day in day out I think we are described as the most corrupt government. There have been aberrations. But quite frankly I have been a civil servant all my life, except the last 20 years. What surprises me is not that there are corrupt civil servants but that despite all the temptations, so many of our civil servants remain honest and lead frugal lives and this is the mainspring that we have to tap. We must punish the wrong doers but we must not paint all civil servants as babus and contemptuously describe them as a despicable class...

Q –11 : There is an impression that with your government being unable to bring regulatory measures to prevent corruption, you have conceded space to civil society – who are now forcing you to do it?

A – Well there are only 24 hours a day. I spend 18 hours a day on work – without any holidays. Then there are so many extraneous issues – that affects the ability of the government to attend to essential things of the type that we want to do. It will be wrong to say that I am not affected by such things – it does affect me. Many things which are said which we are accused of are not reality. I have always said that we operate in a system where I would like the media to respect the dictum that facts are sacred. I think when facts and opinions are mixed, and conclusions are drawn, where either the government or its functionaries are shown in bad light – I think matters of the court should be left to the courts. Once a case is sub-judice, people in the media must respect that people are innocent till proven guilty.

Q-46. Inflation

PM: I agree. Quite frankly – I did not anticipate the effects of shock injection of liquidity into the system by the United States. I could not anticipate that the Middle East would once again go into turmoil. Commodity prices, food prices, energy prices are variables over which we have no control. And if you exclude these I think the rest of the inflation is still marginally above what would be considered as inflationary. Now we have the no magic wand to bring down international commodity prices – particularly of food grains – we cannot force our farmers to part with their food grains for procurement at unreasonable prices. That will be suicidal to our farmers. One thing what this Government has done is, it has increased the procurement prices in a manner like no one has increased in the history of the country.

Q.48: How would you control Inflation?

A. Inflation is a global problem. Today the Chinese inflation rate for example has also gone up very sharply. And there is so much liquidity in the world, and in an integrated world economy we cannot wish away some problems. Now I believe if oil prices soften and if commodity prices remain where they are we will be able to bring down inflation. I asked Dr. Rangarajan the other day and he said that by the end of March, we should have an inflation rate of 6.5 percent.