Posts Tagged ‘Ambika Soni’

New Delhi: Since the shock announcement on August 4 that India’s most powerful politician Sonia Gandhi was to undergo surgery in the US, barely a word has leaked out about her health.

The silence in most of the Indian media about the 64-year-old’s condition and the refusal of the ruling Congress Party to divulge information has raised some uncomfortable questions about transparency in the world’s biggest democracy.

The independence of the media and the country’s openness – it passed a Right to Information Act in 2005 – are a source of national pride, often contrasted with conditions in secretive regimes elsewhere in South Asia.

“I was really shocked to see in regular Congress Party briefings, the media present there did not seek information, did not demand information,” the editor of the Business Standard newspaper Sanjaya Baru says.

“We have had silence from the media… There is nothing about Mrs Gandhi’s health and she’s the most important politician in the country,” he said during a debate on the CNN-IBN news channel.

The Business Standard has been the most aggressive of the Indian newspapers – it demanded answers in an editorial – and Baru believes they are entitled to information.

On India’s boisterous cable news channels, which are normally quick to pressure and criticise the government, Gandhi has featured rarely, with news and debates focused on corruption or the national cricket team’s recent defeats.

Gandhi is the widow of assassinated former premier Rajiv Gandhi and wields enormous clout from her power-broking position as Congress Party president and coalition chairperson.
Since she was admitted to hospital, aides to the leader have confirmed she spent 24 hours in intensive care and was recovering from successful surgery at an undisclosed location, believed to be New York.

The government has argued that further disclosures would be made by the famously media-shy political boss if she desired.

“Only that much information would be shared which they would want to share,” Information Minister Ambika Soni said last week.

Speaking on Monday, Gandhi’s politician son Rahul, who has been left jointly in control during his mother’s convalescence, told journalists that “she is much better” without elaborating.
In the absence of concrete information about the woman who heads the ruling party and chairs the ruling coalition, speculation has been rife on social networks.

A few anonymously sourced news reports have attempted to fill the void.

The investigative current affairs magazine Tehelka reported that Gandhi was operated on at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, while the Deccan Herald newspaper said she had undergone surgery for cervical cancer.

“When you are in the public domain… you cannot claim the benefits of privacy of the private citizen,” the editor of The Hindu newspaper, Siddharth Varadarajan, told CNN-IBN.

“I think it is something that people have the right to know. What we have heard so far is wholly inadequate.”

Others have suggested that the cosy relationships between top journalists and politicians in India means the Congress Party has been able to impose a code of silence among senior editors.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a political analyst and journalist, said he believed the Indian media had done their best to cover the story, but were being wrongly starved of information.

“Do public figures have a right to private lives? Most journalists believe they do,” he said. “But as soon as your personal life in whatever way starts impinging on your public life then everyone has a right to know.”

He contrasted the handling of Gandhi’s problems to those of 78-year-old Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who underwent a highly publicised heart bypass operation in 2009 which was fully disclosed.

Singh, a diabetic, had previously undergone surgery for prostate cancer.

“Everybody speculates. Nobody has the foggiest idea,” Thakurta said of Gandhi’s condition.

(Source: AFP)

I feel that the Shahrukh Khan issue is blown out of proportion. One should admire the steps taken up by US airport to safeguard its country. Think of  doing the same in India! It is almost impossible to do so here. Here people want to show their superiority by disrespecting laws. Everybody is eager to show that they are above law and are VVIPs.

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was detained at Newark airport in New Jersey and questioned for over two hours after his surname came up on an airport alert list on Saturday. The actor was on his way to Chicago to attend an Independence Day event and, ironically, was in the US to promote his new film, My Name is Khan.

Later, SRK said: “I was really hassled by the authorities at the airport because of my surname. They wanted to know why I came to the US and where I was staying,” he said.What is wrong in doing routine security check-ups? The detention of SRK was for security purpose and is not a big deal. No 9/11-like incident occurred in the US because of strict vigil and I believe it is a good thing for any country to observe laws strictly.

There should never be any compromise when it comes to security. This is not the first time that an Indian film icon or a VIP was detained at an airport in the US and subjected to severe checks.

Mr George Fernandes, then defence minister, was made to remove his shirt and shoes at Washington’s airport on an official visit. Even former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam was frisked by Continental Airlines officials at New Delhi’s IGI Airport.

In April, Malayalam actor Mammootty was similarly separated for questioning  by security officials at JFK Airport in New York for more than two hours after his name popped up on the computer screen at the immigration counter. Mammootty, whose full name is Muhammadkutty Ismail Paniparambil, arrived at the airport by a British Airways flight and was taken to a separate room for interrogation on his purpose of visit to the US and other details. He was allowed to leave the airport after the Indian consulate contacted authorities and explained he is a popular actor in South India and has visited the US many times in the past.

Not just Muslims or Asians, the cops had not even spared Rock legend Bob Dylan, who was detained by police in Long Branch, New Jersey. Police officer Kristie Buble did not believe him when he Dylan told her his name, so she asked him for identification. When Dylan said he did not have any identification with him, she detained him and took him to the site where he claimed the tour buses were located.

Union I&B minister Ambika Soni’s remark looks very irresponsible. India should adopt similar stringent security measures not as a tit-for-tat to teach a lesson to Americans, but to safeguard the country.

Will all this brouhaha really change the racial profiling in the US. May be all this would have not blown out of the proportion if the officer had told SRK: “Oh, I’m sorry sir. I didn’t know that you are a superstar in India!”

I feel that the whole episode reaffirms the idolatry of VIP status in India. If a person is a politician or a movie star, why should he or she be exempted from security checks? Why shouldn’t they be detained? Why should VVIPS of our country just co-operate with authorities when it comes to security measures? They shouldn’t expect everybody to know their status and position. It’s true that film stars reach a wide audience, but should not think everybody knows about them. These VVIPs should visit any of our villages to know if people really know about them. They can’t recognise several film stars or politicians. If Angelina Joile and Brad Pitt are well known faces abroad, it need not be the same here. Not may will recognise them if they come to India. Likewise, there’s no big deal if people can’t recognise our film stars there.

Our VVIPs should learn to obey the rules and laws of other countries when on visit and stop crying fr such incidents. They need to follow the motto: Be a Roman when you are in Rome.