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India through media lens

By I.A Rehman

That the Pakistan media does not present a correct or complete account of what goes on in India is known and also understandable. But if anyone tries to probe what it chooses to report and what it does not, the findings will throw considerable light on its preferences and biases.

Generally speaking, anything that shows the Indian government to be in the wrong, or reveals how the politicians in power there are made accountable is worth telling the Pakistani readers in bold letters. A rumpus in the Indian parliament also is a good story while a development reflecting on its power and prestige as a sovereign body is not.

Anna Hazare is the Pakistani media`s hero. For one thing, he is doing what armchair activists on this side of the border want somebody else to do and, for another, he is harassing the Indian government. But when his group was snubbed by the Bombay High Court there was no interest in the story.

The Anna camp had moved the court for the concessional use of a public place for a three-day protest against the Lokpal Bill. While refusing to direct the state government and the local authority to grant the petitioner`s request the court observed: “We can`t allow parallel canvassing when parliament is seized with the [Lokpal] Bill. You can propagate the bill sitting at home … We are a democratic set-up. We have elected a government. Wouldn`t your agitation interfere with the functioning of parliament?” Obviously, not a good story for Pakistanis.

Two Indian generals have lately been in the news. One lieutenant-general of the army was court-martialled on charges of misconduct and severely punished. The Pakistani media did pick up the story but with much less of the relish it usually displays while reporting the condemnation of politicians. There is no point in telling Pakistanis that in India generals can be held to account for graft.

No less interesting is the travail of the Indian army chief Gen V.K. Singh. First, he wanted his date of birth corrected. According to the army record he was born in May 1950 while according to his matriculation certificate he was born in May 1951. The general wanted the latter date to be accepted. That would have put off his retirement from May 2012 to May 2013. The defence minister said `no`. Then Gen Singh asked the Haryana state government to allot him a corner plot in a colony in place of an ordinary plot allowed to him. The request was rejected.

Now it transpires the general had complained before the decision in the date of birth case that the defence minister was treating him as if he was the chief of the Pakistani army. Who is in the right and who is in the wrong, that is not so material as the fact that the heavens are not falling over New Delhi. No catastrophe, no story for Pakistani readers.

However, one is surprised that the Pakistani media has not taken due notice of reports on the Indian people`s lack of food security, even when they are believed to be worse off than Pakistanis. The statistics are stunning. No less than 200 million Indians are getting less than 1,800 kilocalories a day, the minimum required to live a healthy and productive life, according to the UN`s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

No Indian state is said to fall in the low or moderate categories and most states have a serious hunger problem. In the best performing state, Punjab, the food insecurity situation is `serious` and the state ranks behind Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. The worst is Madhya Pradesh, where the situation is “extremely alarming”. Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Haryana are worse off than Sudan. Hindustan Times.

However, it is pointed out that India`s hunger is a problem of access to food, rather than output or availability. Still, in terms of food security India is trailing behind 25 sub-Saharan countries. The Pakistani media`s lack of interest in the story could be due to its desire to avoid an unnecessary debate on the hungry people in its own country or to avoid giving publicity to the Indian Food Security Bill which could raise the state subsidy on food from Rs670,000m to Rs1,000,000m. (All figures taken from a report by Zia Haq in the).

Amongst the issues currently being debated in India that the Pakistani people, especially diehard democrats, might like to be informed about is the role of the election commission in ensuring a free and fair poll in the coming polls in some states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

It seems the chief election commissioner, S.Y. Quraishi, of the Indian Administrative Service, is in full command. He is disappointed that parliament did not adopt the electoral reform legislation in the winter session, despite the law minister`s assurances during his three calls at the election commission`s office. The major reforms include proposals to debar criminals and guarantee transparency of political spending.

At the moment, the election commission is enforcing the code of conduct, monitoring election publicity on radio/TV, and taking action against government servants found working for parties/candidates.

An interesting task taken up by the election commission is the vulnerability mapping of voters. Vulnerability has been defined as the susceptibility of any voter or section of voters, living in any area, to be fully prevented from voting or influenced upon in relation to the exercise of the right to vote in a free and fair manner through intimidation or use of undue influence or force.

According to the election commission the exercise is designed to identify vulnerable voters in advance as well as elements causing their vulnerability and plan remedial action. The identification of vulnerable voters is to be done by section officers who will prepare reports that must reach the election body through the returning officer, the district returning officer and the chief election officer well before polling day.

The election commission has also appointed its own election observers in districts. Some of them will observe the polling while others will observe expenditures (by candidates and supporters) and the conduct of the police. The district administration will facilitate the work of observers through specially designated liaison officers.

The commission`s exertions for ensuring a fair poll are unlikely to be appreciated by professional election-makers. Already the Punjab chief minister has called upon it to “act with constitutional restraint”. He has appealed to the commission to ask its officials to act within the parameters of their constitutional brief and follow the model code of conduct. “Nobody should overstep their constitutional mandate,” he has said.

One reason for the chief minister`s unhappiness could be the commission`s notice to his party for telecasting party/government propaganda without its permission.

Perhaps there is no harm in letting Pakistanis know a little bit about electoral practices/reforms in India, even if it requires a change of lens by the media, subject of course to the condition that India`s good practices can be adopted only if they do not undermine our national security.


Originally published by Dawn

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