Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urgently needs an image make-over. His office, better known as the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) needs some out-of-the-box thinking immediately, as PM Singh’s image increasingly diminishes. The latest example of the PMO’s utter failure has been highlighted in the wake of a disparaging article published in the Washington Post, uncharitably titled “India’s Silent Prime Minister Becomes a Tragic Figure.”
The article by the newspaper’s India bureau chief Simon Denyer has already triggered a political storm of sorts in India. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the Congress party have both come out harshly against the the piece, taking both the writer and the newspaper to task as the government is reeling under the so-called “Coalgate” crisis.
The government’s strong reaction is out of place and unwarranted. In fact, there is nothing in the Washington Post article that is not already being openly discussed in India today. Furthermore, India’s own media has editorialized about Singh in far more unsparingly ways than the American newspaper.
The PMO today shot out a letter to Denyer, telling him how he had failed to live up to journalistic ethics by giving a one-sided version. However, Denyer has stuck to his guns. The newspaper updated the controversial article today and published a correction, but stood by the story. The updated article has been posted on the newspaper’s website which had been down for some time this week.
Denyer gave a point-by-point response to a letter from Pankaj Pachauri, Communication Advisor to the PMO. But Denyer refused to apologize and combatively pointed out that he had requested an interview with the PM on three occasions, and others such as TKA Nair, an advisor to the Prime Minister, as well as Pulok Chatterji, Principal Secretary in the PMO. Denyer says he was never granted any of these. “Those requests were either ignored or declined.”
In response to Pachauri’s contention that Denyer had “apologized” three times during their telephonic conversation, Denyer said, “My apology was for the fact that the website was down and the PM’s office could not post a reply directly. As soon as the problem was fixed, I informed them. I stand by the story.”
The updated article is preceded by a “correction.” The correction, in italicized font, reads,“An earlier version of this article failed to credit the Caravan, an Indian magazine, for two statements that it originally published in 2011. The assertion by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser that (Prime Minister) Singh had become an object of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life first appeared in the Caravan, as did an assertion by Ramachandra Guha, a political historian, that Singh was handicapped by his ‘timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.’ While both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks. The article has been updated.”
The re-edited relevant paragraph reads as follows: “’More and more, he has become a tragic figure in our history,’ said political historian Ramachandra Guha. The historian told the Caravan, an Indian magazine, last year that Singh had been fatally handicapped by ‘timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.’”