A Letter of Complaint and Reprimand

Dear Sirs, I am compelled to write this letter of reprimand in order to apprise you of the sense of repugnance and disenchantment the latest issue of the Outlook Magazine has generated. It was, by all accounts, a sordid example of not only yellow journalism but also slanderous propaganda which I don’t think is the editorial policy of the Outlook Magazine. It appears that the latest issue of the Outlook Magazine carries three write-ups, including the cover story, which not only contain slanderous remarks against the Union Minister of Human Resources and Development, Mrs Smriti Zubin Irani, but also attempts her character assassination. The cover story, written by Ms Saba Naqvi carries unverifiable assumptions and conclusions against Mrs Irani, but also falsehoods as well. Ms Naqvi writes, “But less than a year into office as Union HRD minister, the script for Tulsi, the legendary part Smriti Irani played in the country’s most famous saas-bahu TV serial, is going wrong. From queen bee, she is now in danger of becoming queen-been. She has already been dropped from the party’s national executive set up by party president Amit Shah. And the buzz in BJP circles is that she is likely to “be cut to size”. The possible scenarios being discussed are as follows: that she may lose the HRD portfolio and be shifted to a less significant ministry; that she may be altogether dropped from the cabinet and put to party work; that even if she somehow survives in HRD (she is naturally resisting an ouster and is doing her own counter-lobbying in the party and Sangh parivar), her wings would still be clipped and powerful advisors or an MoS will be brought in.”   Here, a clear attempt to juxtapose her earlier career of a tv actress with her present job as the HRD minister in order to create an impression of her not being fit for the job she’s been assigned is visible. The author takes no pains to analyze her performance in order to arrive at the conclusion she already did in the very opening remarks. Furthermore, unverifiable gossips are written to further cement the impression the author wants to convey to her readers. “The basic problem, say sources in the BJP, is this. She has overplayed her hand in trying to position herself as someone who is close to and favoured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Simultaneou­sly, she has also thrown her weight around in the party, with even colleagues in the gover­nment, as also bureaucrats. Com­plaints of rudeness, arrogance and temper have been carried to Shah, every inch Modi’s man. Flaunting proximity and then being discourteous to others is what has been her undoing. There are numerous stories doing the rounds in the BJP that reveal the unattractive and arrogant side of Shrimati Smriti. For one, well-placed sources reveal that she wouldn’t stand up to greet BJP veteran (and the very polite) Union home minister Rajnath Singh; she would keep sitting in her chair. There is also the story of a verbal cat fight inside the national headquarters of the BJP with another woman leader and an older account of Smriti pushing out a woman who had come to a Mahila Morcha meeting when she was in charge. An important BJP mem­ber also tells a more recent tale of writing to two ministries on a matter involving women. There was no reply from the HRD ministry though the home ministry sent a pro­mpt letter.” The author further continues writing unverifiable stuff in order to push her agenda to defame Mrs Irani. “And it is now publicly known that while the executive met in Bangalore last week to discuss the land acquisition logjam among other issues, Smriti was in Goa and while there went shopping for some clothes. Till this point it’s all pretty regular stuff. But then the nation (or those who watch TV news) came to know that she was shopping when she made a public scene at an outlet of the Fabindia chain in Goa, where she claimed that the security camera was aimed at those who were trying out clothes in the trial rooms; she suggested that ‘peeping toms’ were violating privacy; the store claims the camera was directed at the door of the trial rooms to detect shoplifting. It’s now a police case and so the last word on ‘Smriti in Fabindia’ has not been heard.” I am astonished that despite being herself a woman, Ms Saba Naqvi chose to pass absolutely insensitive comments on voyeurism. I don’t know whether Ms Naqvi approves of voyeurism, but it has to be stated that the Indian Law considers it a crime. How can Ms Naqvi trivialize an issue of voyeurism just to further her hate-filled propaganda against Mrs Irani? “But lots was said on the issue from within the BJP. MP Meenakshi Lekhi tweeted: “Do I smell a rat to obfuscate the BJP national executive meeting? Attempts being made not to cover NE meeting, instead cover some inane issues.” With peeping toms and rats in it, the story was certainly compelling. A member of the NE told Outlook, “Many people at the meeting wondered if Smriti had just had a tantrum and taken her temper out on Fabindia since she can’t shout at Amit Shah and throw files at him.” There have been remarks about Smriti imagining she is the “Jhansi ki Rani about to lop off four heads with her sword”. The punchline of this joke is that this rani may only injure her own head.” Here Ms Naqvi not only misrepresents Mrs Lekhi’s tweet but also completely disregards what she had to say on the very day regarding this rumour of her comments being aimed at Mrs Irani Mrs Lekhi, on the very same day tweeted that “Response to my previous tweet show the intent while one story is relevant as news other story a discussion material, questioning not Smriti Ji but media emphasis.” Ms Naqvi’s agenda stands completely exposed here. This factual inaccuracy and misrepresentation of Mrs Lekhi’s tweet is unpardonable as Ms Lekhi herself had tweeted that whoever wanted to quote or play her tweet should quote both tweets in order to avoid any spin or confusion. Ms Naqvi chose not to quote the other tweet because she has an agenda to propel. In her closing remarks, Ms Naqvi writes that “Ever since she entered politics as India’s favourite bahu (she’s never lost the look she was given in the Ekta Kapoor-produced serial), Smriti has been a star act in the BJP. She has also turned out to be much smarter and quicker on the uptake than other star acts in the BJP, most notably the beautiful and charming Hema Malini, who really does not contribute much beyond her presence. As a politician, Smriti is undoubtedly of a different calibre: she thrives in the cut and thrust of debate, in taking on challengers in the electoral battlefield, in giving smart replies to pesky reporters. She may not have degrees but it’s hard to doubt that she is a smart and savvy woman. Even her enemies do not doubt that she has proved her credentials as a campaigner and a spokesperson for the party.” Here too she forcefully tries to juxtapose Mrs Irani’s previous career with her current job in order to convey the message to her readers that Mrs Irani is not fit for the job she’s been assigned. Not even once did Ms Naqvi even try to analyze her performance as the HRD minister. This is anything but journalism. This is even worse than what we disapprovingly call yellow journalism. Even the term “presstitute” which General VK Singh recently used to describe a section of media which always comes up with cooked up stories against him, too seems mild to describe the disservice Ms Naqvi has done to the profession of journalism in her Smriti, A Fading Memory? article. Unfortunately, this is not all. Another author Mr Mihir Srivastava attempts similar slanderous means to defame Mrs Irani. Mr Mihir Srivastava begins his article, No Jottings, The Babu Has Left The Building, with a disgusting remark against Mrs Irani. “How an actress who has faced the biggest of television cameras of all sizes and shapes could get so rattled by a pinhole CCTV eye, we will never know. Nor why she raised such a shindig in a BJP-ruled state, exactly when the party natio­nal executive was deliberating more important issues. But the Goa incident shows how quickly Smriti Irani has squandered away the goodwill in her 10 months as helmswoman of a most crucial ministry: human resources development.”   Mr Srivastava exhibits her misogynistic mindset in the very beginning of his article by trivializing as serious an issue as voyeurism. I would like to know whether the editorial policy of the Outlook Magazine approves of it. Mr Srivastava doesn’t stop there and further continues peddling falsehoods. He then writes, that “To her credit, in many of her actions, Smriti fulfilled the core mandate of her Hindutva mentors. She introduced ‘Vedic education’ in the school curriculum; replaced German with Sanskrit as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalaya schools; began work to “Indianise” the syllabus; appointed RSS men to key positions; fiddled around with the Teacher’s Day and Christmas holidays; ordered IITs to ens­ure a separate mess for vegetarians.” What ‘Vedic Education’ is Mr Srivastava talking about? Can he provide any evidence to back his claim? So far as the German language issue is concerned, it has to be forcefully asserted that the 2011 MoU between Goethe-Institut and KV Sangathan was never referred, as required under law, to the HRD ministry and was violative of the three language formula and the National Curriculum Framework. So far as separate mess for vegetarians in IITs is concerned, it has to be stated that the HRD Ministry has taken NO such stand on segregation of mess in IITs. Unsubstantiated claims can neither alter facts nor replace them. Mr Srivastava goes on to write, “But less than a year down the line, it’s all coming apart as week after week the HRD ministry hits the headlines for the wrong reasons. “She is defensive and reactive, both at the same time,” says a joint secretary who’s trying hard to evolve some kind of a working relationship with Smriti. “She’s also a bad listener. She should realise that the HRD ministry is a complicated maze. There are so many hallowed institutions, the IITs, IIMs, UGC etc with their own philosophy and work ethics. They are all manned by learned people. There is much to learn before you start to act.” Now just tell me, what Mrs Irani would do if the media is hell-bent on misrepresentation of facts and concoction of half-truths with falsehoods? Is it her duty to verify what media claims? Why should she be blamed for sheer incompetence of journalists? Mr Srivastava quotes someone who cannot be identified and hence what he attributes to that person remains unverifiable. How can one take it as the face value? “So, in a typical meeting, say HRD insiders, Smriti reads up files, asks questions and makes suggestions. “She is articulate, smart and has a quick wit and is intelligent enough to know that she knows little about what she’s dealing with,” explains a vice- chancellor of a central university in northern India. That said, she’s quick to assert an “I know” even when she doesn’t get it. Also, if one tries to instil an idea into her head, or explain anything new, she’s quick to retort, “I know my work” or a “This is not your classroom, this is my ministry”.” I know for sure that Mr Srivastava has never attended any meeting convened by Mrs Irani. He again goes on to quote someone who cannot be identified and hence whatever he has attributed to that person remains unverifiable. “A V-C who is well into his 60s hits the nail on its head. “I thought of her as a bre­ath of fresh air. Her predecessor from NDA-I, Murli Manohar Joshi, a professor of physics in Allahabad University and my contemporary, arguably was the worst HRD minister India has seen. But now I feel Smriti is giving even him tough competition. Ignorance is not always bliss,” he says.”   Again, Mr Srivastava quotes someone who cannot be identified and hence whatever he attributes to that person remains unverifiable. It is noteworthy that in his jest to proclaim Mrs Irani as the worst HRD minister India ever have had, Mr Srivastava forget to back his claim with evidence or arguments. He has not even attempted to analyze her performance as the HRD minister in his article. The unabashed display of hatred and slanderous remarks does a great damage to the reputation of the Outlook Magazine. I would again like to ask whether the editorial policy of the Outlook Magazine is that of slandering individuals and concerted propaganda devoid of even an iota of fact or logic! “Another senior HRD ministry official is so fed up he’s thinking of going back to his home cadre. “She is fairly democratic in her rudeness,” he laughs, “it doesn’t matter if the person is head of a coveted institution or an undersecretary.” In one instance, she is alleged to have thrown a file at an additional secretary-rank officer at a meeting. Later, she apparently apologised to him, saying it was her wedding anniversary and  she was “tense”, even telling him she would “restore his honour”. He, instead, sought a transfer. The tone and tenor of her parlance with ministry functionaries has often been described as unparliamentary. “The PMO knows it,” says another joint secretary in the HRD ministry who has applied to go back to the home cadre, “I hope they do something about it.”” Even in his closing remarks, Mr Srivastava quotes someone who cannot be identified and hence there’s no question of verifiability of whatever he’s attributed to that person. Is this journalism?   To supplement the propaganda propelled by the above two articles and to make what clearly is a slanderous personal attack and character assassination, the Outlook Magazine, it seems, has decided to carry an interview an interview of Ms Madhu Kishwar who is known for her hatred towards Mrs Irani and slanderous personal attacks on her. I demand that the slanderous articles of Ms Naqvi and Mr Srivastava be either reedited or taken down. I hope that you would give a consideration to this letter of reprimand and act to reinstate the reputation of the Outlook Magazine, besmirched by latest issue.

PS: The Goa police has cracked the FabIndia voyeurism case. One of the store staffers is the accused.