“Indian or Chinese?” Sounds like the polite query of a maitre d' as he conducts you to your seat in an expensive multi-cuisine restaurant? This is not about such mundane things as the choice of cuisine in a restaurant.
The issue at hand is much graver and concerns our nation’s safety and integrity. ‘Is it Indian or Chinese?’ is the question that puzzles the viewer after watching the highly hyped television programme - which we shall see.
Robin Aitken former journalist with the BBC, who holds the BBC guilty of an "unconscious, institutionalized leftism", has this to say about modern broadcast journalism in general and the BBC in particular in his eponymous assay, Can We Trust The BBC?
“All news broadcasting, indeed all journalism, is about constructing ‘narratives’ which give the audience a coherent framework within which to judge current developments. Thanks to its reputation, most people tend to trust the BBC’s chosen narratives.” (Aitken, Robin, 2007, Can We Trust The BBC? London, Continuum, p. 17 - 18)
Replace BBC in the above paragraph with NDTV and you will see the issue in the Indian context.
ECONOMISING WITH THE TRUTH!
During the Watergate hearings, Richard Nixon was reported to have pleaded that he did not ‘lie’ but ‘only economised with the truth’.
On March 12 2008, NDTV repeatedly telecast in its news bulletins and also as a text scroll seen at the bottom of the screen that “BJP and RSS workers attacked the CPIM headquarters in New Delhi.” There were interviews with Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechuri who lamented the fascist attacks, with sombre expressions suitable for the occasion, all injured innocence. The other party to the incident the BJP did not seem to get a chance to provide its side of the story at least till late evening. Viewers were led to believe that the BJP, which aims to rule Delhi after the next general elections had done the unthinkable by resorting to unprovoked street violence throwing missiles and physically injuring people inside the building. And that this was the true colour of the BJP.
The next day’s Indian Express had this front page headline: “Kerala violence reaches Delhi”. The report explained that BJP and RSS workers demonstrated outside the CPIM headquarters in New Delhi protesting against the killing of their workers by CPIM cadres in Kannur, Kerala. Further, it appears the provocation for the peaceful demonstration turning violent came from within the building with presumably the CPIM cadres inside the headquarters throwing stones and other missiles at the demonstrators.
Aitken’s point precisely was, economising with the truth and screening out the inconvenient other versions of the truth can maul the truth and do a real disservice to the audience:
“There are competing narratives - other versions of the truth which may also be valid. Reducing complexity – screening out confusing detail so that a clear storyline emerges – is a necessary part of the journalist’s job. But it can do a violence to the truth; the real world is a messy place of confused motives, unintended consequences, coincidence and serendipity. By fastening on to a narrative and excluding anything which complicates the storyline, journalists can do a real disservice to their audience.” (Aitken, Robin, 2007, Can We Trust The BBC? London, Continuum, p. 17 - 18)
Have you noticed the young – and not so young - anchors seeking to solve the mysteries of the universe in half hour debates with guests known for their proclivities and sometimes even half-baked knowledge? Aitken believes that their ‘often unwarranted, confidence in their own judgement’ results in damaging distortions:
“Many BBC journalists really do believe they ‘know how it is’. When that, often unwarranted, confidence in their own judgement is allied with a strong, collective ‘line’ on a major story it often results in damaging distortions.” (Ibid. p. 17 - 18)
THE ‘BIG FIGHT’, INDIAN OR CHINESE?
NDTV’s ‘Big Fight’ on February 16 2008 (Should India talk tough on border dispute?), was about Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh. As the programme is a presumable sequel to Arun Shourie’s press conference and / or his article, ‘Shilpa Shetty Trumps Arunachal again’ published in the Indian Express on February 12, 2008, let us look at the background.
In a press conference held during the winter session of parliament, Two BJP MPs from Arunachal Pradesh, Tapir Gao and Kiren Rijiju narrated incidents relating to Chinese incursions into their state. In one such incident, in the first week of November, 2007 Chinese soldiers blew up a Buddha statue - well inside Indian territory - which was there as long as anyone could remember and which local inhabitants worshipped.
In the same press briefing, Arun Shourie explained how ‘cartographic aggression’ precedes physical aggression and the need for eternal vigilance. He narrated the concept from a book entitled “Why Geography Matters?” by a well known geographer, Harm de Blij. According to Shourie, Blij’s book cites a Chinese publication entitled Physical Geography of China, by Zhao Sonqiao (1986). In its maps
“China’s border is simply assumed to lie deep inside India, and the mountains and valleys thus claimed are discussed as though they are routinely a part of China.”
According to the author a map on the cover of the book looked a bit strange to the trained eye.
“Why? Because, in the south, it takes from India virtually all of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, plus a piece of the state of Assam.”
The author asserts,
“Make no mistake: such a map could not, in the 1980s at least, have been published without official approval.”
And he warns,
“It should put not just India but the whole international community on notice of a latent trouble spot.”
Cartographic aggression is a strategy adopted by aggressor nations in which they publish maps showing the areas they claim as part of their territory; repeat the claim; keep on repeating the claim; grab the areas; hold the area and finally face the world with fait accomplis. This was what Saddam Hussein did before he annexed Kuwait. Iraq published a map in 1990 showing Kuwait as its 13th province. A little later Iraq marched its armies into Kuwait and annexed it. And China did it. The maps published by China in the 1950s showed Tibet as the palm of a hand, several Himalayan kingdoms, India’s North East Frontier Agency (or NEFA later renamed Arunachal Pradesh) and large parts of Assam as its fingers. In reply to India’s feeble protests then, China replied that the maps were published during the colonial era which it had had no time to correct. Later it used the same maps to claim 90,000 square miles of Indian territory and annexed it.
Following the press conference, a television channel invited Shourie for a discussion on the subject but the programme anchor played the devil’s advocate to plead China’s case and accused Shourie’s party of being alarmist. When Shourie pointed out that the Chinese ambassador to India claimed Arunachal as part of China the anchor wondered whether it could just be rhetorical! Further discussion with Shourie was cut short as the anchor moved on to another juicy controversy involving Shilpa Shetty.
In another country the faux pas - which the anchor wondered could just be rhetorical - would have led to a serious diplomatic row and perhaps leading to the ambassador declared persona non grata. The matter is so grave. The ambassador did not detract his statement or tried to explain it away as a misquotation; he reiterated it in another context. India did not even offer a feeble protest. This is the substance of the independent foreign policy for which the left and other secular parties support the secular Congress government! China did not distance itself from the ambassador’s claim. On the other hand, according to Shourie, Chinese think-tanks held seminars in which the participating scholars, diplomats and strategic thinkers declared that “Arunachal is ‘Chinese territory under India’s forcible occupation’; that it is ‘China’s Tawang region’; that it is ‘Southern Tibet’ which must be brought under the control of the Tibet Autonomous Region.”
Chinese Map showing Indian territories from Aksai Chin to Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory.
N. B.: It is not known whether this is the same map that was shown on the cover of Physical Geography of China by Zhao Sonqiao mentioned above, but it gives the reader a general idea of Chinese claims. What is noteworthy is that the disputed areas are not marked with broken lines as is the custom in such circumstances. Wikipedia, the website which published it claims that it made it as neutral as possible. It can be accessed from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/China_administrative.gif
We do not know whether it was the same channel which trumped Arunachal for Shilpa Shetty but NDTV’s February 16 Big Fight, (Should India talk tough on border dispute?) has a curious cast of dramatis personae. The presence and view point of an independent expert on China and strategic affairs like Arun Shourie or Brahma Chellaney, would have lent credence to the debate - there was none. But, would you believe, it has a Chinese character: Ren Yan, Correspondent, People’s Daily, of the Peoples’ Republic of China was a participant in the discussion!
Kiren Rijiju, BJP MP from Arunachal Pradesh explained the safety and security concerns of the citizens of Arunachal Pradesh - to put it mildly; the danger of being gobbled up would have more suitably described the situation. It is not difficult to imagine how insecure Arunachal’s citizens feel with foreign soldiers – not known for their benignity – stomping around at will in their neighbourhood. Kiren Rijiju felt that the Indian state should have made a strong vocal protest to the Chinese ambassador and affirmed that Arunachal was a part of India.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the Congress Spokesman dismissed the issue as the usual BJP’s ‘crying wolf’ syndrome. According to him the external affairs minister had affirmed that Arunachal was a part of India that was enough. The fact that the ambassador of a neighbouring country was guilty of the most un-diplomatic conduct when he claimed ownership an entire Indian state was ignored. That the claim was made on the eve of the Chinese prime minister’s visit to India was ignored. The fact that it was reiterated was ignored. Now a strange piece of logic was brought into the debate. ‘Would America assert that Alaska was a part of that country and do it repeatedly?’ The fact that USA’s neighbour Canada - or for that matter China - never claimed Alaska and therefore there was no need for America to claim ownership of the state or do it repeatedly escaped the erudite lawyer.
Nilotpal Basu, of the CPI (M) was all injured innocence. His party had all along been advocating peaceful negotiations as a means to settle the dispute with China for which they were described as traitors. ‘Peaceful negotiations’ - after China had betrayed a friendly neighbour’s trust; after China invaded a peace loving country; after China gobbled up and had been sitting on 90,000 square miles of Indian territory for over forty years – and now claiming more! Well! If this were not a case of the ‘wolf and the lamb’ story from the Panchatantra! The fact that in all these years his party had not uttered a word in condemnation of China – calling it imperialist, expansionist et al. seems to have escaped Comrade Basu.
And what did the debate conclude? Kiren Rijiju’s concerns were tossed aside on the floodtide of Singhvi’s eloquence. Prakash Javedkar’s protests were dismissed as a paranoid party’s undue alarmism. Comrade Ren Yan, could go home with the satisfaction that the ruling establishment and popular media in India alike support China’s cause because they had to spite India's principal opposition. It would not be difficult to imagine the possible headline of his subsequent column in the People’s Daily: Indian media concurs with Chinese view on Tawang!
Is it, ‘The Big Fight’ then Indian or Chinese?
TAILPIECE: The following letter appeared in the Letters columns of The Asian Age, on February 21, 2008:
Sir, With reference to the news report Karat wants Israel spy sat debate in parliament (February 11), these CPI (M) members are themselves China’s spy satellites in India. How can anyone miss that? Should people living in glass houses throw stones?
R. N. Shanbhag Mulund (East), Mumbai