Tag Archives: foreign correspondents

ABOUT #BBC, #IINDIASDAUGHTER & #FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS

I have had the privilege to live for more than 40 years in India.
To my knowledge, only two foreign journalists have stayed so long in this country: Mark Tully, who as you know was for long the South Asia BBC correspondent and myself.
It has long been my opinion that India is A very difficult country to grasp for a foreign correspondent, as it is so different from the West, full of contradictions, paradoxes, baffling parameters, etc. Going from Delhi to Madras, for instance, is like flying from Paris to Athens, because there is absolutely no comparison between the two, as if you have passed from one continent to another. Thus, for a Westerner, say from Europe, where all the countries share more or less the same religion (Christianity), more or less the same ethnic origins (Caucasian), more or less the same food habits (meat) and more or less the same dress code (ties and dresses), India can be a very enigmatic country.
Disinformation about India by the intellectual media .

Yet, not only do we find that Western correspondents are generally posted only for three, maximum five years in India – too short a time to really start getting the ABC of the subcontinent; but also, that most of them have – before even reaching India – very strong and biased ideas, prejudices, misconceptions, on the country they are supposed to report about in an impartial and fair manner. The film #IndiasDaughter will only add to the misconceptions.
Forget the fact that by the time they leave India, these foreign correspondents have even been more reinforced in their prejudices: the Hindu “fundamentalists”, the “persecuted” minorities of India, the “Human Rights” abuses performed in Kashmir by the Indian Army, plus the usual folkloric the stories about India: the “dashing” maharajas (who are absolutely irrelevant to modern India), the “atrocities” on Indian women, as portrayed in a warped and skillful manner by #Lesleeudwin, who has a Pakistani father (see my previous post: no country in the world as India has given such an important place to its women), or the “horrible” sati and bride burning (an old British trick to show Hindus in a bad light).

I was lucky. First I came to India when I was very young, with hardly any prejudices, because I had never really thought about India; I was also immensely fortunate to have spent my first eight formative years in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondichery, where I met the Mother, a formidable Presence and read at length Sri Aurobindo, India’s modern Avatar, Revolutionary, (the first Congress leader to have advocated India’s Independence, if necessary by force), immense Poet, Philosopher and Yogi (yet totally ignored by today’s Indian youth); I was also extremely lucky that when I started journalism in the early 80s, I did freelancing assignments in rural areas, particularly in the South: Kerala’s extraordinary Kalaripayat, the ancestor of all great Asian martial arts; the beautiful Ayyappa pilgrimage, also in the jungles of Kerala; the Ayanar sculptures in the villages of Tamil Nadu.

And this led to my most important discovery, which endured to this day: namely that the genius of India was (and still is) in its villages – and not in the cities — where an arrogant intelligentsia and a more and more westernized youth, have less and less idea about their roots and culture.
Even so, it took me ten years to feel that I was beginning to understand India and to discard the ideas I had somehow picked-up along the way: that the Congress was the best party to lead India out of communalism; that secularism was the best option for the country, given its incredible ethnic and religious diversity; or that the RSS, the VHP and other Hindu groups were “violent” and dangerous. On a more positive note, it also took me ten years to understand what a wonderful culture and civilization Hindu India had been — and still is in some way: how Hinduism never tried to use the might of its armies, as Islam and Christianity did, to convert other nations; how Hindus always recognized the divinity of other religions and never shied from also worshipping in Buddhist temples, Christian churches, or Muslim mosques; how India, since time immemorial, has been the land of refuge for all persecuted minorities of the world: the Jews, the Parsis, the Syrian Christians, or today’s Tibetans.

It also took me ten years to see, that far from being the fundamentalists described by the British and today’s Indian Marxists, Hindus have been at the receiving end of persecution for 1,600 years: first wave upon wave of Muslim invasions, which tried, in the most ruthless and horrifying manner, to wipe-off Hinduism from the face of the earth; then the more insidious European colonisation – but no less harmful – witness the Portuguese who crucified countless Brahmins in Goa, or the British under whose “enlightened” rule 30-million Indians died of famine. And it is not finished: today’s Hindus are still killed in Kashmir, in Bangladesh (see Taslima Nasreen’s book Lajja), Pakistan or Afghanistan.

It also took me a long time to understand that Indians -Hindus sorry – are sometimes their worst enemies: Indian journalists have often taken-up like parrots the slogans coined by the British to divide India and belittle its civilisation; Nehru blindly adopted most of the set-up left behind by the English, without bothering to borrow from India’s ancient genius and, as a result, India’s constitutional, judicial or educational system is totally non-Indian and only produces western clones.
This is why today, instead of trying to counterbalance the very untrue and negative image that the film #IndiasDaughter is spreading around the world, #NDTV & other Indian Medias are only stoking the fire and adding to the damage.
Cry O my Beloved India. Look at what Thy children are doing to Thou
Francois Gautier

THE Hindutva, Sex and Adventures (continuing) CONTROVERSY

The controversy over who wrote Hindutva, Sex and Adventures(Roly Books, New Delhi): Mark Tully, or myself, continues unabated. Critics keep on implying I wrote the book – and Mark Tully did not. Yet, as I have already said, I am a much more ardent – and militant – defender of Hindus than Mark Tully ever was and will ever be. The brand of Hindutva proposed in Hindutva, Sex and Adventures reads rather mild to me. In reality, I think that not only Dharma, the Truth that is behind Hinduism, is the very foundation of Indian civilization, but that if it dies, as it is attacked today from all sides: by Christian conversions, islamization, marxism, westernization & minorytism, it would be a catastrophe for the whole world.

If you read between the lines of most of Mark Tully’s books, you will see that he says – albeit in a diluted manner – that: a) secularism is a colonial left over; b) Hinduism constitutes the genius and the base of Indian civilisation. There is no doubt that Sir Tully is a well liked personality. But Mark was never too bold in his moral stands: see how he is now saying that Hindutva, Sex and Adventures is affecting his reputation. Why should he be ashamed of being a defender of the Hindus? I am not. In fact, I find his establishing a dialogue in the book between Imla, the Indian journalist, who is a diehard secularist (as most Indian journalists are) and Andrew, who gradually realizes that Hindus are a very wonderful – but persecuted people, is a brilliant ploy. It is a pity that every single critic has demolished the Hindutva part of the book, without even bothering to analyse the very important points Tully raises on Kashmir, Ayodhya, Sonia Gandhi, or Islamic terrorism.

Mark Tully may also have wanted to atone for his coverage of South Asia. I remember when we were both reporting on the Valley of Kashmir in the early nineties, that he would always highlight human right abuses on Muslims by the army, but hardly ever spoke about the 400.000 Kashmiri Hindus who were chased out of their ancestral homeland by threats, violence, rapes, torture and murder – and today have become refugees in their own countries. Mark Tully is known for his ‘fair’ reporting, but actually, he and the BBC coined phrases and set standards in reporting on South Asia, which still stand today and harm India’s image. Many of us know that since the mid-eighties Pakistan encouraged, financed, trained and armed Kashmiri separatism. But Mark always made it a point to say: “India accuses Pakistan to foster separatism in Kashmir”; or :”elections are being held in Indian- held Kashmir”; or “Kashmir militants ” have attacked an army post, instead of “terrorists”. All the other foreign journalists, yesterday and today, (except myself and maybe Tiziano Terzani) have followed the BBC’s benchmarks.

 This near colonial attitude towards India has even influenced today’s politicians in the West. For instance, Obama’s present foreign policy of thinking he can fight terror by making a frontline state of the very country which fosters 3/4th of the terror attacks in the world, and of putting the screws on India so that it negotiates with Pakistan, even at the cost of compromising on its sovereignty in Kashmir, is a direct offshoot of the BBC’s reporting in South Asia for 25 years. We also can read between the lines and know that Mr Obama is pressuring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to give-up India’s military nuclear programme, leaving her at the mercy of not only Pakistan’s , but also China’s formidable nuclear arsenal.

The irony is that the Indian Government seems to be enamoured of Mark Tully. But if you observe carefully, he was a strong detractor of Indira Gandhi, particularly on Blue Star and during the anti-Sikh riots. Though he praised Rajiv Gandhi in his beginnings, he became a critic of his style of functioning in the later years, specially after the IPKF fiasco. And he has been saying “that the moribund and leaderless Congress party has lashed onto Sonia Gandhi, who is Italian by birth and Roman Catholic by baptism”. (‘Nehru Dynasty’ for the BBC).

The below extract of Hindutva, Sex and Adventures seems to reinforce that statement.

EXTRACT “HINDUTVA SEX AND ADVENTURES”: SONIA GANDHI

 – I am coming to Delhi to cover Sonia Gandhi’s election as President of the Congress party, Imla said. They met at the Taj Mansingh for a cup of tea before walking to 1 Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters. Andrew could see that she was getting more and more snappy and she was actually looking for subjects about which she could disagree with him, sometimes violently, for she definitely possessed a very bad temper.

 They had such a fight about Sonia Gandhi. Andrew had found Sonia Gandhi quite likable when she was just Rajiv Gandhi’s (the pilot) spouse, a loving wife, who had adopted the Indian way of life; a good daughter in law: Indira Gandhi died on her lap on the way to the hospital, after being shot by her Sikh bodyguards; and more than everything, a good mother, who doted on her children and tried all her life to protect them. Andrew suspected she had kept her Italian passport, even after taking the Indian nationality (India does not allow you to hold two passports), but he had met quite a few foreigners in Delhi who also retained their origin passports after having obtained the Indian one. He had toyed himself for some time with the idea of taking the Indian nationality, now that he spoke Hindi quite fluently, but it was too difficult to travel with an Indian passport. He did not mind also her remaining a Christian: after all, he was still one himself. Indeed, one of his Italian journalists friends had prayed with her, along with Rajiv Gandhi, at a mass in Calicut with the bishop officiating – that was her private business. But after her husband was blown to pieces by the LTTE, he observed a drastic change in her: she did not seem to trust anybody anymore, became aloof and suspicious. He watched with dismay how the Congress leaders, some of them men and women of substance, whom he knew personally, applied pressure on her to enter politics for years. He had learnt also, through some well placed friends, that gradually, via the Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi foundations, she started controlling huge amounts of money. He knew also that in India money means political power, as a party needs hundreds of crores of rupees to win a general election. Thus, he thought that in her fortress of Janpath, surrounded twenty-four hours by security, she gradually lost touch with the reality of India.

Andrew, who had met her a few times after Rajiv’s death, thus took discreetly his distances with her, though in typical British fair play, he never made any comments publicly.

 When they reached the Congress headquarters amidst unprecedented security, which Andrew thought was unwarranted, considering there had never been any threats on Sonia Gandhi’s life, there must have been at least a hundred other foreign correspondents awaiting the crowning of Mrs Gandhi. As usual, Sonia made them wait (once when Andrew was covering Sonia’s campaigning in Hospet, Karnataka, she was late by eight hours). She lived literally next door in Janpath, but she finally arrived in a caravan of vehicles, with dozens of security guards running around her car, as if she was the American president. When she got out, most Congressmen bowed down in front of her, while some even touched her feet. Andrew was shocked: he felt that it was debasing for Indians, people of talent and culture to scrape down in front of someone who in the West would be an average person. But most of his colleagues did not seem to find anything wrong in it. As for Imla, she was smiling. Sonia’s election as Congress President was a foregone conclusion, nobody really opposing her. It’s like the crowning of an empress, thought Andrew.

When they were walking back, he had an argument with Imla:

– It would be impossible for a non-Christian, non-English, non-White Hindu woman, to become the supreme ruler behind the scenes in England, he said. Don’t you find this a little humiliating?

– Not at all. It’s because you don’t understand us, she retorted, we accept the others, not like you Britishers.

He tried to remain cool:

 – But this goes to extremes, Imla: there are a billion Indians, many talented; can’t you find one of your own to lead this country ?

 This time she was getting angry:

 – She is one of our own, ok? She has an Indian passport, she wears a sari, she speaks Hindi and she has India at heart. Not like some of your Hindutva fanatics, she threw at him.

 – You know I am not Hindutva, he replied, hurt

 – Oh yes, you are… Your sympathy goes to them now. That’s why you hate Sonia Gandhi.

– But I don’t hate her my dear, I just think that she wields too much power, being just an elected MP like hundreds of others…

But Imla had already stormed away and hailed a rickshaw to go back to her aunt….