Dear Barkha Dutt: The Buck Stops Where?
On the of latest edition, (telecast a few hours ago, on the evening of the 15th of January, 2013) of ‘The Buck Stops Here’, (a flagship news show on NDTV anchored by Barkha Dutt) – ‘India-Pakistan:Another Tipping Point‘, Admiral (Retd.) Ramdas, former chief of the Indian Navy said he knew that Indian forces have beheaded Pakistani soldiers in the past. Gen. (Retd.) V.P. Malik, former chief of the Indian Army contradicted him, and said this had never happened. Barkha Dutt was silent on this matter.
Below is a summary of some highlights of the discussion.
Around 21:15 minutes into the programme, Admiral Ramdas says, “Beheading of Troops has been going on from both sides has been for some time, I mean there is evidence of this…”
Barkha Dutt, eager to change the subject, nervously interjects and says ‘I want you to comment, Sir, on Sporting and Cultural ties, because that is what has been hit today…’. Why is she so anxious to change the subject? Is it because Admiral Ramdas is clearly speaking about something she personally does not want spoken about?
Then, a little later, Ms. Dutt asks Gen. Malik to speak, she also asks him to talk whether ‘Sporting and Cultural Ties should become the fall-guy’.
Gen. V.P. Malik says (around 24:40 minutes into the program), “…And I don’t agree with Admiral (Ram) Das that both sides have been doing this, I would like to see anybody give me one instance where this kind of inhuman act has been done by the Indian army… I know that with great respect, we not only buried their bodies with great respect…we returned any body that they asked for.”
Barkha Dutt knows what Admiral Ramdas was talking about. As has been pointed out before on Kafila, she has written about it (the decapitation of Pakistani soldiers by the Indian army during the Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999) herself in Himal magazine (June, 2001).
I had to look three times to make sure I was seeing right. Balanced on one knee, in a tiny alley behind the army’s administrative offices, I was peering through a hole in a corrugated tin sheet. At first glance, all I could see were some leaves. I looked harder and amidst all the green, there was a hint of black—it looked like a moustache. “Look again,” said the army colonel, in a tone that betrayed suppressed excitement. This time, I finally saw.
It was a head, the disembodied face of a slain soldier nailed onto a tree. “The boys got it as a gift for the brigade,” said the colonel, softly, but proudly. [Himal]
So that is an instance where ‘this kind of inhuman act’ did happen. So why did she not say so to Gen. Malik. She is not ‘anybody’, she was there, and this is an issue that is being discussed on a show that she is anchoring. How long can it be before she gets called out for the gross irresponsibility of her reticence on this very crucial matter. Was she lying in 2001, or, is she concealing the truth now?
But the buck, doesn’t stop here.
Then, a BJP Politician and spokesman for his party, Ravi Shankar Prasad is asked by Barkha Dutt about the NDA’s record on India-Pakistan relations. She mentions Vajpayee as the architect of the India Pakistan Peace Process , Kargil, Parliament Attack, Hijacking of IC 814, Historic Ceasefire of 2003 etc.
Ravi Shankar Prasad begins, not by immediately addressing Barkha Dutt’s question, but by contradicting Admiral Ramdas. Around 26:39 minutes into the program, Ravi Shankar Prasad says – “…Mr. Ramdas has been a distinguished Naval chief, but for him to make a comment that even Indian forces have been beheading, I am happy Gen. Malik contradicted him very conclusively, Admiral Ramdas you need to understand that Pakistani people will lap up your comment, and seek to condemn Indian army in no uncertain terms, I am seeing that happening, for heavens sake don’t make these sweeping comments.”
“Don’t call on Heaven, Mr. Prasad” (Admiral Ramdas says, attempting to interject) but Barkha Dutt doesn’t let him speak. Once again, she does not contradict, question or challenge Ravi Shankar Prasad. Her evasion in this matter, at this point, when it has popped up on her program for the third time now, is a truly sweeping statement.
Then, Barkha Dutt moves on to Congress spokesman, Avishek Manu Singhvi, and other matters, and other panelists, Ashutosh Varshney and Leela Ponnappa, the question that Admiral Ramdas raised is forgotten, but it lingers, silent, and sullen, like the ghost of a beheaded soldier in the studio.
At the end of the programme, Shahvar Ali Khan, a musician from Lahore, Pakistan says “All the peace loving people of Pakistan are with the grief of the people of India.” He hopes that the present situation will not affect cultural and social ties.
Ravi Shankar Prasad says that he loves Pakistani Ghazal songs, but says artists, sportsmen and people who want peace are “fringe players”.
Then, Barkha Dutt asks Admiral Ramdas for a comment. He says, “If for so many years things have gone wrong, the fault lies not with sportsmen and artists, why punish them for what why have not done?”
Who makes the constituency of peace a fringe, and who makes the dogs of war, the people Shahvar Ali Khan calls the ‘hate-mongers’, on either side of the LOC, occupy the centre-stage, again and again?
If an important television journalist like Barkha Dutt talks about the fact that both armies have committed acts of savagery, which, I repeat, she says she knows, because she has said that she has seen this with her own eyes, it will weaken the dogs of war. This admission, coming from a public figure like her, will make it more difficult for the war-party on either side of the LOC to point their fingers only at people across the border.
Nothing can strengthen the constituency of peace more at this crucial juncture, than a little honest and public introspection, on both sides. Let us hope that will occur. Barkha Dutt can set the ball rolling, if she chooses to. The buck, starts with her.