How come we carried out this survey on BBC’s offices in Delhi, even as we are going big on our G20 presidency?
I’m not sure I understand your question. What is the contradiction between bringing BBC under the ambit of India’s nation-building efforts and our year-long leadership of the grouping of the world’s 20 largest economies?
Now, you are the one being obscure. How can sending income tax sleuths into the offices of one of the free world’s most prominent media organisations, soon after it brought out a documentary that sought to tarnish the image of our leader, not be seen in the larger world outside, particularly the member nations of the G20, as a punitive measure that restricts media freedom in our country? And what do you mean by describing the raid as a nation-building effort?
Do you even keep count of the simplistic assumptions you make when you ask such a question? Let’s take them up one by one. Let’s start with the one about how other G20 members care about what happens in the country that happens to hold the rotating presidency of the grouping for a year. Which country held the G20 presidency before India took it over this January?
It was Indonesia.
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Right. But did you know that before that mid-November summit in Bali last year? And would that meeting have hit the headlines, but for US President Joe Biden’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping after extended acrimony between the two nations over trade, COVID and the former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan?
Well, no. I must admit that even my friend, who is a journalist, was unaware of this honour having been bestowed on Indonesia at the beginning of 2022. But Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is not in the same league as our leader, right? When India holds the G20 presidency, that would count for more, won’t it?
You’ve heard of Putin?
Of course, who has not? President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, who reportedly sees a Czar when he looks into the mirror.
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No need to be snide about one of India’s most reliable partners. Do you know him because of what he does or because he, too, had presided over the G20?
I must say that I know of Putin’s daughter, Putin’s fabled palace, his shirtless forays into the wild, and, of course, his Special Military Operation in Ukraine. But I do not recall his G20 association.
Few do. Russia held the G20 presidency in 2013, and held that year’s summit in St Petersburg. Putin presided over it, naturally. But today, he is persona non grata in most capitals of the rich world. The G20 presidency bestows no lasting glory, my friend.
In that case, why is our leader going so big on the G20? If people of G20 countries don’t care about G20 events, why hold so many G20 dos in so many parts of the country?
Why? Are you worried about the expense? Look, these events make news within the country. India’s G20 symbol, the lotus, would get displayed on prime-time TV round the year. People would learn to associate our national flower with India’s enhanced status in the world, and our own leaders. And towards the end of the year, we will hold our own summit of world leaders, in which people will see our leader being warmly embraced by leaders of powerful nations, with the lotus bathed in a golden glow in the background. Do you think this will be of any help, come 2024?
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I’m beginning to think you pay too much attention to some spiel on subliminal marketing by some management guru or the other.
You are the one who suspiciously resembles someone from the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, totally insular to any new knowledge. Actual experiments in a British supermarket have shown that when shoppers hear Italian opera music in the background, the probability of their reaching for Italian, rather than French, wine increases by some 10 percentage points. And, on days the music played is French, French wine sales are higher.
But don’t you think global leaders would be put off by this action against the BBC, soon after we banned their biased documentary?
If they are of the kind to be put off, they would be put off by the documentary itself, without any help from the subsequent raid on the BBC.
But don’t we care about foreign leaders being put off by seeming restrictions on free expression in India, when they make India’s democracy a critical differentiator when it comes to choosing allies?
What do you mean, fistbump? Don’t be cryptic.
In 2018, dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khahoggi was killed, dismembered and the resulting parts dissolved in acid at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It is widely believed that the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the killing. Western media was full of this for some time. Joe Biden declared MBS a pariah. Yet, see what happened last year, when the US wanted to release the pressure on oil prices that had become a big thing in their mid-term elections. Biden toured the Middle East, met with MBS and exchanged fistbumps.
The US had sanctioned Venezuela, too, but is now accepting Venezuelan oil. When it comes to a choice between deference to democratic norms and hardcore interests, what hope do norms have?
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What hardcore western interest does India serve?
The West needs all the allies it can muster to rein in China. And the one ally they must have to prevent China emerging as a global hegemon is India.
Okay, so we can afford to smack the West on the nose, and they will politely wipe the blood off and keep talking. Still, what is the point of doing it?
It tells our base we have truly thrown off our colonial shackles and are absolutely sovereign.
Okay, I get that. But how is the raid a nation-building exercise?
How many investigative agencies can you name, off the top of your head?
CBI, ED, NIA, SFIO and the police, of course.
Did we send in any of these at the BBC? We sent in the Income Tax department. Collecting the tax due is a vital nation-building exercise. The G20 is all for putting an end to aggressive tax planning via Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) measures. By raiding the BBC, we strengthen our nation and the G20 agenda. Any more questions?
(TK Arun is a senior journalist based in Delhi. This is entirely a work of imagination, any resemblance to any living person is unintended and irrational.)
(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)