March 15, 2009AsidedictatorForeign AffairsIndiamediaMusharrafPakistanpoliticstelevision

Brains and Thapar

Who in India really cares what they say on TV anyway?

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Karan Thapar is terribly impressed with Pervez Musharraf. We may not agree with (General Musharraf’s) arguments and often we disapprove of his tough language”, he writes, but it’s impossible not to admire his courage and be impressed by his performance.” And you may walk away from a Musharraf encounter put off by his personality but, despite that, you also know you’ve just met a very special man. That’s why Musharraf has fans in India and not just foes.”

Well, at least one Musharraf fan has come out of the closet and declared himself.

Mr Thapar makes two arguments: that General Musharraf is better than Indian politicians because the latter are not prepared to pit their arguments against challenges.” And second, that Pakistani leaders open themselves to the Indian media but their Indian counterparts do not reciprocate. Therefore, Mr Thapar implies, the Pakistani leaders are better.

(Those of you who want to wipe the coffee off your shirts or keyboards can do so now. Sorry.)

It the rarefied world of TV studios where Mr Thapar resides, a telegenic personality might suffice as a quality for being a good leader. But in the reality of India’s democratic politics and constitutional governance, it is insufficient. And perhaps even irrelevant, for there has hardly been a telegenic prime minister since Rajiv Gandhi, and lot of nice things seem to have happened in India since then. As General Musharraf proves, regardless of his actual record, anyone can defend himself on television—provided he has a nice suit, decent wit and good English. It’s quite another thing to convince, cajole, compromise, threaten and force through a political agenda democratically and constitutionally. Guess why General Musharraf retired?

This is not to say that Indian politicians shouldn’t be more media savvy. They should. But that being articulate on TV and delivering good governance are two very different things. And the comparison with Pakistani political leaders is absurd. For all his failings, the least of which is appearing as text-to-speech converter on television, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is infinitely a better leader than General Pervez Musharraf. At least Dr Singh didn’t silence a rape victim so that his TV interviews would go well.

As for Pakistani leaders being generous in giving interviews to Indian journalists, well, isn’t that what you would do if you and your country were in an international doghouse? Pakistani politicians crave international legitimacy: speaking to the Indian media or getting lobbyists to place op-eds in major US newspapers are attempts to attain it.

Mr Thapar forgets that it was an act of great loftiness—and according to this blog, poor judgement on the part of the organisers—to invite a devious and malicious ex-military dictator to India and give him a soapbox. Let’s not forget that Pakistan has been responsible for a proxy-war against India, a war that is ongoing, and General Musharraf was personally responsible for some of the worst bits of it. Instead of calling for his trial as a war criminal, the Indian media dignified him with a place on the podium. Unfortunately, some, like Mr Thapar, are even his fans.

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