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How SRCC students were left with silly one-upmanship jokes, 'scripted' attack on Congress

By Salman Khurshid* 

Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) invited me to join their Business Conclave 2023 event last week. There was a panel discussion proposed on Indian Media and Western Media. Other panelists were Mani Shanker Iyer, Sudheendra Kulkarni, J Sai Deepak and Prof Anand Ranganathan of JNU. What was to be discussion was assumed to be a debate by the last two eminent persons against the three of us.
Our spontaneous seating on the stage perhaps encouraged that impression. The moderator Shalini Singh, was indeed moderate and pleasant, and as should be, but is becoming rare, did not take sides.
Mani made a brilliant beginning by underscoring the limited landscape that made no mention of media in the West Asia, China, South Asia and Japan. But his remark about our uncalled for sensitivity to Western media in matters like the BBC documentary was taken to be the trigger for a full blooded BJP versus Congress confrontation.
I have never seen Mani so puzzled at a public event. If that were not enough fuel, Sudheendra Kulkarni raised the red flag to the raging bull, so to speak, when he compared the freedom of the press in the western world with the timorous attitude of ‘Godi’ media at home.
My own intervention was supportive of the two colleagues but went on to underscore the inability or reluctance of our system to implement prohibition on cross holding and media ownership by business houses. But our opponents obviously found little fodder for their appetite there.
The Ranganathan-J Sai Deepak duo then jumped down our throats. Curiously the former, whose confession of being a Stephanian preceded his carefully chosen quips, quickly turned the ‘debate’ to scoring points about how bad the record of the Congress party had been over the years in banning books.
He did not have a teleprompter of the kind PM Modi uses but relied on his mobile phone to read out an exhaustive and, indeed, an exhausting list. But stop, wonders never cease: the cherry on the cake was, ‘the BJP is doing what the Congress did all along!’ The thunderous applause that he received sporadically did not quite indicate if it was just fun or ideological appreciation.
Finally I thought the applause got to the point of saying, ‘thank you, get on with it now’. But I might be biased in making the remark that ‘a plague on both your Houses’ from Romeo and Juliet is an invitation for anarchy in politics.
Sai Deepak pretended to be scholarly and demolished the liberal claim of Nehru by alluding to the Constitutional Amendment that introduced reasonable restrictions in Art 19 (1) (a). Did I also sense a cynical disappointment with the Courts of the land? 
This was no place to explain the reasonable grounds for the inclusion of reasonable restrictions that have held the ground since then, except that the courts continue to wrestle with the contours of reasonableness.
One may look at the Kashmir 4G and MediaOne judgments to get an idea of what it takes to balance security concerns of the state and individual rights of the citizen. These are matters that SRCC youngsters deserved to discuss vigorously, something underscored by their packed house presence and active response to the speakers. Instead they were left with some silly one-upmanship jokes and scripted attack on the Congress.
We were left wondering if we had done any service to ourselves or to the young generation that lined up to hear us
When it came to respond to the anti-establishment (of the past) the time keeper signalled a schedule guillotine. The event had started late and there was another event to follow. As a result we were left wondering if we had done any service to ourselves or to the young generation that lined up to hear us.
The underlying issues that were sought to be uncovered or incidentally surfaced are the same that are troubling the country. One line jokes will not do in the national discourse even if they passed muster at the SRCC. On the other hand it might be said that here there is no time constraint but we cannot forget that the clock continue to tick. Here too time will run out.
Then our predicament might be the one spoken of by the American hero, General George S Patton:
“Then there's one thing you men will be able to say when this war is over and you get back home. Thirty years from now when you're sitting by your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks, 'What did you do in the great World War Two?' You won't have to cough and say, 'Well, your granddaddy shovelled shit in Louisiana.' No sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say 'Son, your granddaddy rode with the great Third Army and a son-of-a-goddamned-bitch named George Patton!”
The SRCC audience will be able to tell if we left a little mark or just came and left.
---
*Senior Congress leader, former Minister of Foreign Affairs. Source: Facebook timeline

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