A ‘Gridiron’ Dinner Can Help

At 53, US President Barack Obama,  with two more years remaining of his term, has some unusual desires in life. He admits that years in the White House have aged him, the people were aware of this and so were the ‘hawks’ in the Republican party. The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, Obama revealed, had already invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at his funeral! “It is a time for great uncertainty for Americans,” Obama went on.”

“ I have to stay focused on my job. I have one friend, who just a few weeks ago was making millions of dollars a year, and now she is living  out of a van in Iowa.’ The reference was to Hillary, who launched her campaign for the 2016 presidency from the streets of Iowa city. The President did not spare the Republican party aspirants to the White House either. The GOP aspirant to the White House Ted Cruz went around  saying that denying the existence of climate change made him look like Galileo. That was not a true comparison. Galileo believed that the Earth revolved around the Sun though Ted Cruz believes the Earth revolves around Ted Cruz!

There was some mild heckling, and laughter at these comments. After all, the President was speaking at the White House Correspondents dinner at the Gridiron where he and the media stalwarts forgot the usual controversies and differences to freely exchange good-natured banter. This annual event brought out the fact that even sourpuss and unpopular Presidents like Nixon and George Bush did possess some sense of humour.

The Indian political scene is often dull, if not  depressing. The same is the case with the media. Newspapers may change their design, layout, try to be funny at times but nothing alters the basic dullness and, some would say, moronic dullness. It appears the media and our political leadership are made for each other. But should that be the case?Of course, there is the irreversible factor. For instance, nothing in the world can stem the hectoring, bullying and rudeness of Arnab Goswami, one of our leading anchors. But change is needed to introduce some light  moments in our political thinking and news coverage. It is high time the political establishment and the media barons sit together and plan a local ‘Gridiron’ function, which can improve the relations between the two.

But there are plenty of barriers. Unlike the US, we take our politics and media seriously. How can anyone be irreverent towards news coverage and weighty editorials? Will these two ever come together on common points? There is the question of media and political leadership. The ‘Gridiron’ pits the President or the Prime Minister against the cream of the media and questions can be expected on all topics including war, terrorism, sex (of all categories.) The political leader can’t run away from any topic. The Indian political  leadership, from the time we became free, is straight-laced, grim, lacking a sense of humour. The late president Rajendra Prasad, I am told, laughed ‘only in Hindi’. His successor, eminent scholar, Dr Radhakrishnan, would reply only to scholarly questions. If you consider the Prime Ministers, Nehru was all right and versatile enough to handle any questions. L.B.Shastri  had to be provided with special chairs, Morarji Desai would banish liquor and non-vegetarian food and god help the unfortunate correspondent who dared to question the great man on frivolous topics. Indira Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee could be a match for any political reporter once it was decided what language the ‘slanging match’ should be held in.

Coming to the present, NaMo would be happier to hold the meet abroad since the ‘vilayati’ environment suits him, so did the comradeship with Obama. We can visualize the following dialogue as they strolled holding hands on the banks of the Potomac river in Washington DC.

“Hey, Naru. You look terrific in that multi-coloured, bejewelled peacock suit. No Indian Prime Minister had so much colour sense as you have. Pity that our clothes do not lend themselves to such colour schemes.’    “Thank you, Baru, I am still learning. It is a pity you kept me out of the US for such long periods. Lost so much of dress sense. Do you need anything more from us besides the usual claptrap of nuclear power plant spares? By the way, can you spare us the Washington Gridiron Club premises for a couple of evenings? I would like to do a pow-wow with my journalists. Half of them hate me, the other half is scared of me. I understand your Gridiron Club meetings are a big hit. I could watch video recordings of the same.”

With venue finalised the other details will be easier to handle. Speechwriters from the RSS will produce several drafts of Modi’s speech  and he will provide the final touches. It will go directly to the hearts of the journos and other intellectuals present. The PM will now project himself as the citizen of the world since he has chosen to spend more time abroad than at home to make up for the time lost when foreign nations denied him visas to land on their soil.

But there could still be some minor glitches. No mention of ‘beef’ around the dining table. Fruit juices and the local version of Gujarati tea ‘Ukalu’ will be available. A video of Na Mo preparing and selling tea in his boyhood will be shown. The ‘Modi group’ sees no problems in holding the Gridiron meet. No efforts will be made  check the flow of questions from long-winded journalists who, rather than ask irritating questions, deliver speeches. The PM will be flanked by HRD Minister Smriti Irani who will handle questions on US higher education and getting a Yale PhD after just week on the campus. Once the Gridiron is over, a poll among local Indians (Gujaratis) will show that Na Mo was more popular in the Ivy League towns than even Barackbhai.

V Gangadhar

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