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India: Another gaffe from the PM's office -- a defense of the one-sided story

Manmohan Singh has perfected the art of keeping silent, even if he has a ways to go in public speaking. Unfortunately, his office doesn't know when to keep mum.
Manmohan Singh 2012 9 6Enlarge
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gestures as he attends a function at The Bose Institute in Kolkata on June 2, 2012. (DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Though his public speaking could use some work, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- dubbed an underachiever and an ineffectual ditherer by the foreign press, and much worse by his trenchant critics at home -- has perfected the art of keeping silent. Unfortunately, his support staff don't know when to shut up.

In an ill-considered and disproportionate response to the latest salvo from Simon Denyer at the Washington Post, the Congress Party's Ambika Soni lashed out and demanded an apology, according to Indian media reports.

"The article on the prime minister by a paper like Washington Post is unacceptable. The claims made there are completely baseless and we reject it," she told reporters.

According to the Press Trust of India, Soni said she would take up the issue with the Ministry of External Affairs and other government departments and act against it. "They had done this kind of things earlier and had apologised. If the Washington Post has written things like this against the prime minister, trust me I will take strong action against them," the agency quoted her as saying.

Officially, the PMO's reaction was somewhat more tactful.  In a letter addressed to Denyer, which the Post dutifully posted on its website, Pankaj Pachauri
Communications Adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, primarily takes issue with WashPo's decision to run the article without first interviewing the prime minister for his perspective.

"Despite all lines of conversations open, you never got in touch with us for our side of the story though you regularly talk to me about information from the PMO. This story thus becomes totally one sided," Pachauri wrote.

In addition, he said, "You have been telling the media here in India that your request for an interview was declined though the mail below says clearly that the interview was declined “till the Monsoon Session” of the Parliament which gets over in two days."

Denyer responded, "I requested an interview with the PM on three occasions, and also with T.K.A Nair, Advisor to the Prime Minister, and with Pulok Chatterji, Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. Those requests were either ignored or declined."

"When I made my final request for an interview with the PM in July,'" Denyer goes on to add, "I was told on July 30 'The PM has declined all interview requests till the Monsoon session is over.'"

"At that stage the current session of parliament (known as the Monsoon session) of parliament had not even begun. There was no mention of the possibility of an interview afterwards. In any case my story touches on the fact that parliament has been adjourned every day throughout the current session by opposition calls for the PM to resign, which is a story I felt should be told, interview or not."

The most ridiculous thing about this exchange, of course, is that the article that caused this brouhaha is nothing new. At best, Denyer has thrown some new verbiage onto the list of criticisms that have plagued Singh for the past year -- adding "ineffectual" and "dithering" to Time's "underachiever" and a host of other criticisms. At worst, he snagged zingers from historian Ram Guha and others that first appeared in The Caravan without crediting the Indian magazine. It was getting a lot of hype on social media. But it would hardly have had the staying power it has attained now, if the PMO had been savvy enough to ignore it. 

But there's another point worth making here, in defense of the so-called "one-sided story."

Pachauri rightly points out that journalistic standards require that reporters get both sides of the story. But there are notable exceptions. If we were to decline to write about a subject simply because a source on the opposite side of the issue refuses to talk, we'd be giving politicians, companies, and criminals power to kill a story anytime they like. Writing about Enron? Nope, we won't talk to you. Criticizing Obama? Stand in line with a thousand other journalists for an interview. 

Nor, as Denyer points out, should the classic stalling tactics be honored. Singh's office reinterprets a "not now" as a promise that the PM planned to grant WashPo a one-on-one in as short a time as two days after Denyer's critical article appeared. But no such interview was scheduled. And even if it had been, neither Denyer nor WashPo had any guarantee that new, more pressing matters would force the PM to cancel.  Ineffectual or not, as the case may be, Singh is a very busy man.

According to the PMO website, the prime minister has granted only seven interviews since as far back as 2009, when he met with WashPo family scion Lally Weymouth -- though it's possible there are some others that didn't make the cut for the web. How likely was it that Singh was really going to do an interview with Denyer right after the Monsoon session? Make your own judgment. But I can tell you I'm still waiting for a visa from a foreign government which shall remain nameless, where I was planning to interview an unfriendly public figure. And I have never heard back from at least a dozen companies that I've written critical items about over the years.

What's more, should WashPo really be following the PMO's schedule? It doesn't appear so in this case, but a request to delay a story until after the end of a parliamentary session could very well have political implications. Perhaps the content of the story might have been taken up by the opposition, if it was published when it could still make a difference. Or perhaps the paper should have given the PM two weeks' time to respond, before they decided to publish. Newspapers, after all, are now in the business of publishing "aged news."

My take: If the prime minister, or the prime minister's office, wants to share the government's side of the story, they have a million ways to do so, all of them more effective and less embarrassing than a "shame on you" letter to the bureau chief of the Washington Post.

To start with, they could start actually granting interviews.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/india-singh-gaffe

Against Treason More than 1 year ago
President Bush and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a joint press conference in New Delhi on March 2, 2006. Bush's proclaimed a "landmark deal" that trades nuclear technology and jobs for Indian mangoes. Animated sequences are mixed in with live video footage from the conference. Bush talked about the nuclear agreement with India, his desire to continue the outsourcing of jobs to India by expanding free trade agreements, and his support for allowing more Indian workers to use H-1B visas to come to work in the U.S. Mangos that Glow in the Dark :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgukFLIzOCw
Harimohan77 More than 1 year ago
EXCEPT CONGRESSMEN IN INDIA NO ONE IS FEELING WORKEDUP FOR CALLING PM MANMOHAN SINGHAS UNDER-ACHIEVER, MENTALLY DEAD. PUPPET, ROBOT , SLAVE AND SLEEPING PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA. MEDIA IN INDIA IS GAGGED AND STUFFED WITH CURRUPT MONEY TO GIVE FAIR ASSESSMENT OF GOVT OF INDIA. BESIDE THIS , CABINET OF MINSTERS OF PM MANMOHAN SINGH IS BEHVING AS SUPER SUPREME COURT AND NOT BEHAVING AS POLITICAL SET UP GOVERNMENT . TRAGIDY IS THAT THERE IS HARDLY ANY ACTIVE POLITICIAN IN THE CABINET OF PUPPET PM MANMOHAN SINGH AND ALL THE CONGRESSMEN ARE BEHAVING AS ARROGANT AND SELF -RIGHTOUS LAWERS.ANY ONE WHO OPENS MOUTH AGAINST MEGA CORRUPT SCAMS IS CHASED BY PREMIER INVESTING AGENCY - CBI ON THE ORDERS OF PMO. COMMON MAN IN INDIA HAS BEEN VENTING THEIR FEELINGS BUT LEADERS IN LOWERS WRE GING DEAF EARS AND THE FAIR AND ACCURATE ANALYSIS BY FOREIGN MEDIA IS LATE TO ASSESS THE NON ACHIEVER , UNDER PERFORMER, PUPPET , SLEEPING, NONELECTED ARROGANT PRIME MINISTER MAN MOHAN SINGH AND HIS CABINET. CONGRATULATION TO FORIEGN PRESS TO PUNCTURE THE FALSE IMAGE OF NON CORRUPTED OF MANMOHAN SINGH -PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA.
Hari1920 More than 1 year ago
There is no need for a foreign media to criticize MM's current plight; when every one in India knows about it. I mean it is no longer a news item. Feel sorry for such good leaders who lead entirely on the success of economic policies. True a leader should know when to quit without dragging the term and inviting cheap criticism; especially from arrogant & bulling western media that targets poor nations for their livelihood. I wonder if Washington Post has the same guts and sincerity to so arrogantly criticize US or Chinese leadership.
Nargathi More than 1 year ago
Sluggish peoples are around PM's Office like President of India's Office. PM's Office is reacting immediately on the remarks by Washington Post, what happned to Cauvery Tribunal matter? How long they are sleeping. PM's Office is worst than President of India's laziest officce. They do not have the time to talk about IPL t 20 matches, where do they have the time to resolve cauvery dispute.
nautanki_no_1 More than 1 year ago
Hey nargathi, What is the need to discuss Kaveri when all the necessary water required has been given as and when TN has demanded by Karnataka as per the Supreme Court order. Your great CM knows how to turn begging for water into a political advantage. people supporting such ill-minded leaders are as bad a contributors to this country's failure as are its leaders.
Chandrasekhar Burra More than 1 year ago
It is shame not on WashPo but on our political leaders, especially, our PM Singh for being in such a state of total defenseless situation. Excuses, Excuses and Excuses, from our political leaders has reached a critical peak, that it started pulling down the fame of even the so-called honest leaders like singh. Why can't our PMO grant one interview to WashPo (or) atleast some high media rep in India? They are scared to death to discuss and defend the allagations (actually, I believe they are facts) on them for all the scams. I sincerely feel, PM Singh deserves this criticism and also as a failure, as it is his silence and nodding to corrupt politicians that lead to so many scams that we were hearing so far. He is as culprit as someone actually doing wrong. No excuses. I'm glad that WasPo brought this article.
Tarakad Sivaraman More than 1 year ago
So the Washington Post story, tearing apart Mr.MMS(More and More Scams Man Mohan Singh) has left him and the Congress party red faced and fuming at the temerity of a U.S. paper in criticising our beloved(sic!) PM.Well truth is always bitter,particularly when it is flashed in a reputed english foreign newspaper.It reminds one of the Sufi story of "The Emperor without Clothes!",where,having been conned by two swindlers into parting with a huge sum of money for transparent clothes which would,according to the swindlers,be invisible to all who were incompetent or stupid, and with no courtier daring to mention that the King was naked for fear of being branded stupid and incompetent,it was left to a little innocent boy in the crowd to exclaim "Look daddy, the King is naked", leaving the whole nation aghast at the truth.This is what has happened to our MMS,clean Singh,who,though supposedly a man of personal integrity and honesty,has turned a blind eye to his crooked cabinet ministers looting the nation high and dry and proved to be a total wimp and abject and pathetic failure in governance.What is galling is that if he is a man of that much integrity, he should have quit the chair even before the Coalgate scam happened,with the preceding 2G,CWG,Adarsh scams already shredding his clean image to shreds.At the end of the day it only emphasises the old quotation, "POWER CORRUPTS AND ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY!".
Andrew Mohan Charles More than 1 year ago
Another botched up idiotic venture by the hired hacks of lobbyists who failed to understand that the colonist mistakes are fresh in the memory of civilizations in the neighbourhood. Bad timing while sending in an emissary too. Or was that national politics there botching up diplomacy. Everybody is having a laugh at the emerging society trying to deal with civilizations.
inigo antony More than 1 year ago
Do you think Leading a country like India is easy? The problem is the Indian media will do anything for TRP ratings. As soon as some on from the west writes an article about our prime minister, the indian newspapers shove it down our throats as if to tell us "see even they think so". Big deal. Its not the gospel. If you think he has not done a good job then vote him out in 2014 but until then, give him a chance.
Mystic M More than 1 year ago
Just walk on the streets, Manmohan Singh is being called worse things than the Wpo article. Somehow congress have never been bothered by what the majority of this country's population thinks of the PM. Why are they then so worked up about Wpo? And if it really hurts... do something! like putting the corrupt behind bars and actually doing some work. And no 5.5% is not because of Manmohan Singh, it is despite MMS. He has done nothing in the last 8 years except get a useless nuclear deal passed
G More than 1 year ago
That is because criticisms from citizens of a country is one thing, and criticisms from foreign sources are different. The powers in the West do not spare any institution to use it to influence foreign governments. And the West will use their media to drive their agenda. Washington Post article is one such.
Koduvayur Venkateswaran Raghuram More than 1 year ago
The ‘Dritharashtra Syndrome’ that is being practiced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, over the Coalgate issue, to be totally emotionless, to become blind and to get tongue tied, when the country sought some rational comment on corrupt practices that are being perpetrated by the UPA government. Observation by the Washington Post that the Prime Minister is dithering on vital issues concerning country’s economy, to look the other way and remain silent as his cabinet colleagues are filling up their own pocket, out of various scams in the country, is quite apt and rational. Indian newspapers and visual media too had pointed out PM’s marked change and his unacceptable approach to remain silent – without even making a casual comment to express his government’s stand on these serious allegations demanded of a Prime Minister of a secular democratic country.
Nandkishor Muley More than 1 year ago
Dear Jason Overdorf, DISCLAIMER:I am not launching protest against your or W article ! (you guys are always fond of such things, that's why disclaimer first ! ) Our PM might be silent, ineffectual or whatever or might not be as claimed by author (I am not denying or confirming it, simply because It doesn't make much sense !) but as an Indian citizen, I feel international media should respect the dignity of post called Prime Minister of biggest democracy in the world and should choose there word judiciously. Its not about Manmohan Singh, Its about a constitutional position he is holding in Republic of India. I just doubt that Wpo would have done the same with Wen Jiabao if he would have denied the same request of interviewing ! If I understand correctly, the role of media is to put forth the truth and let the readers make judgment and not the other way round ! The only thing I didn't find very nice about Simon's article attitude he displayed towards PMO of Republic of India. Regards,
Rajesh More than 1 year ago
If it is about the sanctity of the constitutional position of PMO, Manmohan singh doesnt show a bit of that. Any self respecting man should have either acted when all these scams happened in front of his eyes or would have resigned knowing he cant do justice to the post he holding.
Nandkishor Muley More than 1 year ago
Dear Rajesh, I completely agree with you but its not only Manmohan SIngh to be blamed for everything; we as a nation have elected him for this post and if he is not doing justice with it (luckily) we have right to elect a better PM very soon. I do not want to ignore his apathy towards all scams my point is let us maintain the dignity of the position he is holding rest we can correct in next elections ! As far as international media is concerned, they should understand scope of their operation and respect constitutional positions ...I see his article as a insult to the position and not to the person called Manmohan Singh (who may very well deserve this !) Regards,
RajeshR More than 1 year ago
This is utter non-sense and stupidity. Manhoman was NEVER ELECTED. In fact, he lost the elections- That is people have REJECTED him. The Italian missionaries through Sonia Maino have put him in that place so that they can loot this country. Pity that there are FOOOOLS like you. That is why this nation is being looted. Keep in mind, in future your kids also have to bear the brunt of your stupidity.
Nandkishor Muley More than 1 year ago
Dear Rajesh, I respect your opinions but it sounds that I have encountered senseless person. 1. Please if you can read Hindi or English (I think you can) go and read constitution them you will realize meaning of election. As far as Manmohan Singh is concerned, I am not his supporter (for your knowledge about Manmohan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manmohan_Singh, http://www.csir.res.in/external/heads/aboutcsir/leaders/president/CV-manmohan.pdf ) 2. I think rude (I hope you have realized why I am calling you rude ! Its so un Indian to use such rubbish language UNNECESSARILY !) people like you brings bad name to my country. Before speaking anything against anyone start looking at your contribution to our country-teaching people how to yell ! We as a country doing, supporting and tolerating corruption NOT Manmohan alone. What are you doing for it ? 3. Last but not least please go through wiki links read them carefully, Half knowledge is always dangerous If you cant resist using bad words please buy a dictionary and learn some good words there are plenty of them in almost all languages . You cant make your point by using such words. Get well sooon
nautanki_no_1 More than 1 year ago
RajeshR, The reason why our country fails/failed all the time is not because of people who would respect their own country's sovereignty whom you are calling fools but because of EMOTIONAL FOOLS like you who react to everything broadcast-ed by the media. If not for people like you/me scared to take up issues by raising our voice against the system(discussing/arguing on the net doesn't count), we could have built a great country. At the end, i'd like to say i do not respect your opinion and i strongly believe that the BJP(not NDA) has played a very good game this time by buying international media to accuse our PM.
Mystic M More than 1 year ago
Yes as a leader of this country and for facilitating all the scams in his government he is to be blamed for everything. And no we as a nation did not elect him to be our PM. Please check the vote share. The congress on its own does not have a majority. So the majority did not think the party is worthy enough to run the government. They just had enough to cobble together a coolition. Neverthelss winning an election does not give anyone the right to allow rampant loot of this country. And no I do not agree that the international media has any obligation to not call a spade a spade. For thier shameful acts, these shameless people should be shamed for the whole world to see. And no neither the Chinese premier nor the American one has done anything close to the utter chaos this government has caused in India. So they dont deserve the same treatement
vaman More than 1 year ago
Dear Nandkishor, You and I don't elect the prime minister. PMs are `made' in India. The majority party leader can just pick up a rag picker on the streets of Delhi and declare him/her the head of government and all the elected members of her party will say `Heil' whatever
Nalini Ranjan Panigrahi More than 1 year ago
Nobody except the crowd around 10 Janpath are worked up because of the article of WashPo because all of us know that what is written is true. As the PM is reluctant to talk even in the Parliament, which he describes as tu-tu-mein-mein, what was the guarantee that he would have met the correspondent of WashPo. Will Mr. Pachauri clarify when the PM last addressed a press conference. Admit it Mr. Pachauri, your boss is mortally scared to meet the press, not to speak common people.
srissy1980 More than 1 year ago
lol.. The worst PM ever we witnessed in India. he doesn't have a moral responsibility and accountability irrespective of multi-crore scams that coming to light everyday. Shame on you Mr. Manmohan!
Brij Kaul More than 1 year ago
It has become a fashion for Foreign journalists to speak on the" silence' of PM. Man Mohan Singh.Mr Singh doesnot believe in show off,calling press conference and spelling out periodic achievements ,new strategies etc. He is a silent Achiever. With Western Economy at its lowest ebb,India manages to pedaloff with 5.5 % growth rate . This obvious achievement should be lauded rathern than criticising PM . I hope the foreign press understands it and makes a point . Brij Kaul
sanjiv More than 1 year ago
THE ARTLICLE WAS NOTHING TOPICAL, COULD HAVE WAITED A FEW MORE DAYS. A JOURNALIST FROM WHEREVER HAS NO RIGHT TO BE SO VINDICTIVE AND JUDGEMENTAL. I THINK WE INDIANS TAKE TOO MUCH NONSENSE, TIME TO THROW OUR WEIGHT AROUND LIKE THE CHINESE.