Ranjona Banerji: Media booms with Baru book

15 Apr,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


Sanjaya Baru’s book, The Accidental Prime Minister, about life in prime minister Manmohan Singh’s office from 2004 to 2009, has captured media space ever since it was released. Baru, a journalist was media adviser to Singh for the United Progressive Alliance’s first term at the Centre. But what the book is about is another matter: all things to all people.


To the media, not unnaturally, it is about controversy. Baru has attacked the PM and the UPA when they are at their weakest, he has given ammunition to the Opposition, he has confirmed what everyone always knew – that the PM was a puppet and Sonia Gandhi ran the government.


The Government and the Congress have gone into high dudgeon, thus providing even more fodder for the media, what with attacks on Baru. The Opposition is rubbing its hands with glee and smiling like the shark in Finding Nemo.


Baru himself has said he was written things as he saw them and said the publisher decided on the release date, Further, the PM read the book before it was released and said nothing. No comments on that!


The Indian Express has a front page story on how furious Singh’s family is on Baru’s abuse of trust. This is a journalistic coup for the Express, since no one else has managed to get what Singh himself thinks of the matter.


But commentators provide a variety of explanations. Manoj Joshi in Mid-Day thinks that the Congress did itself no favours in protesting about Baru’s book. It has been exposed in its efforts to protect Sonia Gandhi at all costs: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/the-pmo-files/15230074


An edit in the Hindustan Times questions the timing of this book and that of former bureaucrat  PC Parakh on the coal allocations scam: http://www.hindustantimes.com/comment/timing-of-two-recent-books-showing-pmo-in-a-poor-light-is-suspect/article1-1208092.aspx


Jaitirth Rao, founder and former CEO of Mphasis, says in The Economic Times, that Baru is clearly a Manmohan Singh fan who has however decided not to ignore the PM’s faults: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/guest-writer/the-accidental-prime-minister-sanjay-baru-shows-manmohan-singh-in-good-light-with-some-blind-spots/articleshow/33755224.cms


On Monday night, Karan Thapar on his new programme on Headlines Today, ‘To the point’, skilfully conducted a debate between Shashi Tharoor batting for the Congress party and Seshadri Chari for the BJP. Since Thapar does not allow decibel-challenging hysterics on his show, the discussion was interesting and even illuminating.


But perhaps there is some truth in Joshi’s assertion that this matter will only die out when the Congress party shuts up about it. The more it screams ‘Et tu Brute’, the more the media and the Opposition will make merry.




Two surveys on the media in these elections need attention (warning: this is not about election results). CMS Media Lab looked through prime time coverage of five news channels (Hindi and English) between March 1 to 15 and found 429 minutes were devoted to Arvind Kejriwal, 365 to Narendra Modi and 72 to Rahul Gandhi. Not all of this was positive coverage however. The channels scrutinised were Aaj Tak, ABP News, Zee News, NDTV 24×7 and CNN-IBN.


This means, effectively, that between 8 and 10 pm, we have Kejriwal dominating over the rest. Rahul Gandhi frankly is a very poor third while Modi has perhaps fallen a bit, coverage-wise at least. However, Kejriwal got more negative coverage than Modi. In all the allegations thrown around about “paid media” and “paid news” this survey makes for interesting reading.


Of the topics discussed, the list is even more fascinating, keeping in mind the feeling that this election is all about “development”. Personality topped the list, followed by Hindutva, party, development, corruption, public policy and governance.


The full story is here in The Times of India: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/lok-sabha-elections-2014/news/TV-time-429-minutes-to-Kejriwal-365-to-Modi-72-to-Rahul-Gandhi/articleshow/33755909.cms




As far as social media goes, a survey by the Pew Research Centre shows that most Indians use social networking sites to keep in touch with family and friends (90 per cent) and share matter/opinions on music and films (87 per cent). Even religion tops politics – although by one one per cent at relatively low percentages of 36 and 35 per cent respectively.


Perhaps these elections are being fought on the ground and not on social media after all…




Congratulations to The Guardian and Washington Post for winning the Pulitzer for the Snowden leaks.


More power to them.


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