Of quotes and misquotes

THE GREAT INDIAN CIRCUS

They talk in haste only to deny in leisure. In that respect they are all one and united. Politicians of all hue do this with alarming regularity and with impunity. And invariably it is the media which ends up as the perpetual whipping boy. ‘The media has misquoted me’ is perhaps the most quoted lament of most of them who land in trouble for speaking out of turn or out of place. This particular trait of the politicians has also kept pace with technology. Earlier they used to deny only press reports. Now they even deny statements made in front of the cameras! A former TNCC president even ‘denied’ a photograph that showed a literally nil attendance at one of his meetings during the last elections.

Neither the press nor the people expect any consistency from our breed of politicians. What is appalling is the frequency and the plethora of such denials that has come to dominate much of the space and time in the media, some of such instances even making it to court. Today’s news is tomorrow’s denial, which again becomes the next day’s grist.

Take the case of Sitaram Kesri. When he made the allegation that the RSS was behind the Kovai blasts, everyone thought the old man must have some reason for saying so. The matter was promptly reported by every newspaper and news channel in the country. Yet a day later, the Congress president claimed that he had been misquoted and he even went on to lecture that the press always had it in them to report falsely. The media was aghast at this assault on their sensibilities. And when they confronted him with proof of his utterances the man deliberately kept mumbling incoherently, taking cover under his age and stature, and the media had to give up. The RSS, however, has not been so forgiving and has sued Kesri for defamation.

Today morning’s papers have their quota of denials too. While Karunanidhi has sought to ‘clarify’ his statements on the need for a CBI probe into the Koval blasts, the bearded oracle of the, CPI(M), Surjeet, has attempted to smoothen some ruffled feathers after his remarks on the President incurred the Rashtrapathi’s displeasure. The TN CM now insists that there would be a CBI probe if the Justice Gokulakrishnan Commission of enquiry recommended such a course of action. But during his earlier averments he had been quite emphatic that there was no need and the State police authorities were eminently qualified to handle the situation and reference to the commission of inquiry came only as an afterthought. But now, in his clarification, the CM has laid stress only on that aspect. Though his clarification cannot strictly be termed a denial, it seeks to alter the entire focus of his earlier remarks.

The CM who never misses a chance to remind the press that he belongs to their fraternity, must certainly know that it is not what he speaks alone makes news. How he says it and in what order, are all also matters of importance to the media as such things offer insights into the mind of the speaker. And the CM’s penchant for wisecracks and oneliners are well known and even well acclaimed by some friendly media. But having learned to relish it the CM must also try to reconcile if there is a rebound. It is the politicians who have to get their priorities right if they have to be quoted the way they intended. But then there is also the lingering feeling they are deliberately vague in order to gauge the reaction to some of their passing thoughts and if the feedback is unfavourable they can always blame it on the press.

Similarly, Surjeet’s statement on the President’s ‘transgression’ was a clear negative comment not only on the President’s actions vis-a-vis UP but also constituted a personal diatribe, whatever be the merits of the accusations. Yet, today the CPI(M)’s only voice has sought to soften the personal snipes by waxing eloquent on KR. Narayanan’s qualities. This time around it is not the press but the BJP which has been accused of distorting his statement. But even a cursory reading of his first statement would reveal who is really distorting.

We in News Today, are inclined to say three cheers to TMC Minister S.R.B for dishing out the mother of all denials. This newspaper’s correspondent was a personal witness to the function to felicitate Gopal for his successful encounters with Veerappan. The Minister in the course of his spirited speech went over-board in his praise of the brigand, when he declared that though Veerappan had killed over a hundred men, he was a true warrior and a lion of the jungle. And not stopping with that he went hammer and tongs against Dawaram, in an obvious comparison between the two and even wondered who was the better of the two. The Minister, later promptly denied having praised Veerappan. It needs to be mentioned here that the satellite channels which lapped up any and every video clipping featuring the life and times of the brigand or his emissary had not till today telecast this particular function. Apparently, several of the VIPs who ‘dis’graced the occasion prevailed upon them to desist as it would have warranted, riot only denials but even apologies.

The quote-misquote syndrome became a culture with the advent of the UF. In these days when even a voice and its own echo say two different things, imagine what fourteen disparate voices, that too in different tongues and dialects, each vying to gain attention, could do to your senses and sanity. The multiplier effect of these varying voices on the volume of contradictions was at the same time devastating and funny. Be it the issue of Congress support or the petro price hike, every statement had an equal and opposite denial. Some denied their own statements while several others denied that of others. The Left hand rarely knew what the Right hand was doing and the UFs leaders during their torturous 18-month reign were more ‘misquoted’ than quoted.

There are many such volte-faces and -somersaults which have only peaked with the advent of elections, with too many politicians in too many parties talking about too many issues. The blow-hot-blow-cold phenomenon that marked the runup to the DMK-TMC ties, the Govindacharya goof-up on his party’s alliance with the AIADMK and the double-speak duo of Kanshi and Mayawati, besides, of course a superstar’s super antics that had left his fans as confused as he is, have all led one to realise the sheer futility and hollowness of the words uttered by the politicians. But then they had never meant what they said all along. It is only the media that had made a story even out of their snorings. No wonder they sneer at us for taking them seriously and finally ending up ‘misquoting’ them. It is a mistake to even quote them, in the first place!

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Jawahar T R