P.M.’s TIME is up!
Pehley, let’s get a few things into perspective. TIME magazine itself is on life support. Time was up for TIME more than a decade ago. Just like all life drained out of the once iconic LIFE much earlier. The magazine business is like that – cyclical. Particularly in today’s zamana in which every internet user is a magazine in himself or herself. And everything is out there – news, analysis, commentary, pictures, quotes, gossip, scoops – the works. Woh bhi, for free! Click... and you have the latest khabar in an instant. In such an environment, why would anybody pay for a slim American weekly that is more expensive than erudite? Given the choice, I’d any day opt for its livelier, more gossipy and better laid out cousin, NEWSWEEK. Or read blogs. Yet, despite its unimpressive circulation and eroded prestige value, some of us in India behave like TIME magazine is the Holy Grail, and every word on its pages represents the gospel truth. Balderdash. For starters, TIME magazine is not exactly unbiased ( which publication is?). TIME has always harboured a political agenda.Its international credibility is not all that high, either. Most American analysts dismiss it off as a lightweight. And in any case, their Asian edition is not read by either Americans or Europeans. So, why the hell are we getting so hot and bothered about the recent “ Únderachiever’story that presents a pretty unflattering portrait of Manmohan Singh?What has the magazine said that we, in India, don’t already know.... or that hasn’t already been said by countless desi commentators across various platforms? There is not a single revelation, insight or even a scrap of tantalising gossip in the flat and somewhat dull piece. The only catchy aspect of the cover story is the bold heading – Underachiever. It is a pretty cruel word to paste across someone’s picture. But there are few who would dispute the accuracy of the description. It is as cutting as labelling the slow coach in a class a ‘Dunce’ in the year book .
Such are the harsh, unforgiving times we live in, alas. Nothing flies without comment. And our poor P.M. has been at the receiving end of some pretty tough criticism. He is hauled over the coals on a nightly basis by over wrought anchors who pounce on any and every issue to run the guy down. That he has made himself such an easy and soft target is of course, entirely his fault. By not opening his mouth even to defend himself against serious charges, “Mum’’Mohan Singh has provided opponents ample opportunities to trash him without a contest or rebuttal. Then comes the TIME article, and everybody crows, “See.... this is what the international community thinks of India’s Prime Minister... shame-shame.”
Without dissecting the merits of the magazine’s arguments, my problem is with its motives. Call me paranoid. But I am convinced most foreign journals have a sly hidden agenda, American publications in particular. If the same magazine (TIME) had carried a pretty glowing tribute to Narendra Modi recently, it is certainly no accident that the Únderachiever’story followed. There is clearly a link... a pattern... to both articles. What the ultimate objective is, I leave to intelligence agencies to fathom.Which is precisely why it is important to add a sack full of salt to such reportage. Just as the Modi story was not taken all that seriously by thinking Indians, we should display the same level of healthy scepticism towards the Underachiever one , too. One can’t blame the editors of TIME for trying their little stunts. In such a fiercely competitive era, it’s fine to pull out all the stops and generate as much publicity as possible in order to get noticed on the newsstand. Sachin Tendulkar had also featured on the TIME cover after his historic 100/ 100 knock, and had been gushingly referred to as the greatest sportsman in the world. This was a bit much. Had they called him the ‘greatest sportsman in the cricketing world’, few would have quibbled.But in its eagerness to court Indian readers for its Asian edition, TIME is obviously going flat out to feature top personalities from the region.And we, of course, over react and fall over backwards with gratitude for having been thus acknowledged and ‘honoured’. The truth is slightly different. TIME , like any other foreign brand, is fighting for readers and ads in this lucrative market. India remains one of the last bastions for books and magazines in a world that prefers to read everything online. Wooing advertisers and readers with such engineered stories is the obvious way forward. Flashing Lists of 100 Most Powerful is another strategy. And we are absolute suckers for similar lists that come with an imported stamp of approval. Let’s call it our Oscars’Complex. Year after year, we cravenly hope at least one of our films will get some sort of recognition at the Oscars. That pat on the back is of such vital importance, we will do just about anything to make the cut and be seen on the red carpet. It is as if we have no faith in our abilities to judge our own worth. Or even that we require a foreign expert to hand out a certificate that validates our position.
After the longest time, I actually found myself feeling sorry for the man who, not so long ago was happily basking in the ‘Singh is King’ after glow. Poor Manmohan Singh. He really should have quit a long time ago! But what could he do? His hands were tied! Madam had not given him permission to do that!And, as the nation well knows, unless Madam gives the go ahead to put in those papers, our P.M. is stuck. And so are we. But we didn’t need TIME magazine to tell us , did we?